The Death of Hockey, the Economics of Religion, and Chinese Cities
For nearly fifty years, writers have been announcing the decline or death of hockey. But the sport is still around. In Before the Lights Go Out: A Season Inside a Game on the Brink, Sean Fitz-Gerald spends a season in the hockey town of Peterborough, Ontario and follows the local minor-league team. He finds that hockey may still be alive in Peterborough, but there are problems: “Years of struggles on the ice have tarnished the Petes’ brand. Every year that the team misses the playoffs strains the finances a little more. Community-owned and under the control of an elected board, the operation isn’t as spry, perhaps, as it might be. And for all its history and vernacular charm (a towering portrait of Queen Elizabeth surveys all from one end of the ice), the city-owned, sixty-two-year-old Memorial Centre is cramped and cracking, slippery-staired, leaky-roofed. So times have been tough in Peterborough. And yet, for all the uncertainty attending the future of the franchise, there’s a short-term answer to all the team’s problems, the one that always applies in sports: just win . . . He listens to fans and parents and hockey evangelists doing their best to break down the barriers that are keeping kids from the ice . . . Along the way, he learns just how grim the outlook seems to be: the Peterborough Hockey Association is shedding 100 players a year. An even scarier statistic that reaches him from beyond the city limits shows that, across Canada, nine out of ten kids ages four to nineteen don’t play hockey.”
What economics can and can’t tell us about religion: “McCleary and Barro clearly believe that economics has something to tell us about religion as a sociological phenomenon—they insist more than once that religion is ‘sui generis,’ that religion per se is a legitimate object of economic inquiry. And their book is evidence that there is indeed a ‘there’ there. Their findings in saint-making are particularly interesting, suggesting that the process has been used to shore up Catholicism in countries where it is threatened by emerging Protestantism. This sort of insight is made possible by the data-driven approach with which McCleary and Barro are clearly competent. Yet McCleary and Barro also offer us evidence that economic methodology, applied in Beckerian fashion, runs up against real limits where religion is concerned. As much as they tell us, the most interesting part of the book is what McCleary and Barro are forced to leave unsaid. Take, for example, their exploration of the effects of state religion on religious adherence.”
New York City plans to move Arturo Di Modica’s iconic Charging Bull statue. The artist isn’t happy.
In other art news:Police raids across Europe have led to the retrieval of 10,000 stolen artworks and 23 arrests. Picasso’s electrician has been convicted (again) for possessing stolen goods. The former electrician and his wife claimed that the works by Picasso in their possession were gifts.
Astronomers detect record-breaking gamma ray bursts from an explosion in space: “A powerful outburst in a distant galaxy produced photons with high enough energies to be detected by ground-based telescopes for the first time.”
David L. Ulin writes briefly about the early work of Joan Didion: “‘It will perhaps suggest the mood of those years if I tell you that during them I could not visit my mother-in-law without averting my eyes from a frame verse, a “house blessing,” which hung in a hallway in her house in West Hartford, Connecticut,’ Didion admits there, ‘… This verse had on me the effect of a physical chill, so insistently did it seem the kind of ‘ironic’ detail the reporters would seize on, the morning the bodies were found.’ As it happens, such a sensibility very much occupies the center of Didion: The 1960s & 70s. Featuring the first five of Didion’s books, it is a volume marked, in many ways, by dread. There’s the neurasthenic Lily Knight McClellan, who centers the author’s first novel Run River, published in 1963 — a character prone to spells and desperation, locked in a marriage not so much loveless as unconsoling. There’s Maria Wyeth, the protagonist of Play It As It Lays (1970), an actress whose defenses have been shattered, if they could be said ever to have existed at all. There’s Charlotte Douglas, from 1977’s A Book of Common Prayer, an American south of the border, trying to find a daughter who is, in every way that matters, lost. We think of Didion (as we should) primarily as a nonfiction writer, but when one reads these novels together with the essays, her career emerges as a continuum, with lines of thought and lines of influence that move back and forth across the books.”
Essay of the Day:
The Greeks thought of the city as a living, breathing thing. Today, the city is thought of as a kind of technology—a network—used to organize people. Is this a good thing? Bruno Maçães turns to the cities of China for an answer in City Journal:
“Those who have mastered the technology of connecting people online might be forgiven for thinking that a next step would be to do something like that in the real world. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been pursuing its own ‘urban living laboratory’ in Toronto, in a district where it can experiment with new smart systems and advanced planning techniques. Announcing the project in 2017, Eric Schmidt, then Alphabet’s executive chairman, noted that the project’s impetus came from Google’s founders getting excited about ‘all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge.’
“Above all, the Chinese have pushed furthest the notion of the city as product. One of the most important aspects of China’s recent economic development is the profusion of new cities being built from scratch. These aren’t expansions of existing communities but fully master-planned, manufactured centers of economic and social life, often built on newly developed land such as artificial islands or reclaimed desert. On some estimates, China has built more than 600 new cities since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Some of these manufactured cities have been extraordinary successes. Shenzhen rose from a rice paddy into one of the world’s most dynamic metropolises—its economy is the size of South Korea’s—in just three or four decades. But even Shenzhen pales, compared with the plans for Xiongan in Hebei province, a new city that covers over 770 square miles, more than twice the size of New York City. A 2017 Morgan Stanley report estimated the cost of relocating the area’s current residents as new infrastructure gets built to be $287 billion over the first 15 years.
“The temptation to start with a clean slate is easy to understand. China’s largest cities are marred by development problems. To many Chinese officials, the problems are reminders of the country’s failure to master modernization during the century before the Communist Party came to power. The dream of a new country, reconciled with modernity and technology, morphs into a dream landscape of shining new cities. Popular theories of development, moreover, reinforce the view that a country’s economic potential is tightly linked to the quality of its cities. The global competition for power is ultimately not about territory; the economy is what matters. And economic power isn’t about which nation has the biggest companies; after all, firms can relocate or be disrupted. It’s really about ‘ecosystems’: collections of companies, workers, and consumers; clusters of culture, social life, and economic activity. In other words: cities. The notion of a manufactured or mass-produced city begins to make sense.
“Because Chinese society was forced to catch up with the West in a short time, it developed an experience of change very different from—and far more rapid than—what prevails in Europe or the United States. Will China slow down when it feels that it has caught up with Europe and the U.S., or will it keep pushing, developing new technologies with powerful social, political, and human consequences? The next technological revolution will likely be the first led by China, and manufactured cities will be part of that revolution.
“China is uniquely situated to revolutionize the way we think about cities. Simon Leys called it the physical absence of the past. As Leys put it, in Europe, despite countless wars and unimaginable destruction, every age has left a considerable number of historical monuments. In China—a handful of famous landmarks aside (and fully reconstructed, in any case)—what strikes the visitor is the absence of physical memory. ‘Even its most grandiose palace and city complexes stressed grand layout, the employment of space, and not buildings, which were added as a relatively impermanent superstructure,’ observed Sinologist Frederick W. Mote. Chinese cities are almost entirely time-free as physical objects, very different from European cities, with their hearts of stone, their sacred bodies inherited from the past.
“Not long ago, I walked around Beijing, carrying a map from 1900. A little over a century separates today’s Beijing from the one represented on the map, but the cities are dramatically different, not only in the most obvious ways—the city walls were famously demolished in 1969 to build a subway line—but in the small details. Reading the biographies of Chinese writers or artists, I sometimes try to find the street and house of their birth. Invariably, in Beijing, it no longer exists—and this is true even when the artist or writer has only recently died.”
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