Friday, June 25, 2004

England and Portugal: A Spanish View

Having watched the England-Portugal game on Spanish TV followed by reading a full complement of the Spanish papers, I have noticed a striking imbalance in the way that the English press and some blogs have reported the game. The English seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that this was a keenly fought contest between two evenly matched teams. Some reports seem to suggest that were it not for a biased referee and a dodgy penalty spot, the English would be safely ensconced in the semi-finals. El Pais offers a more scientific view: England shots at the goal = 3; Portugal shots at the goal = 23. The headline of El Pais' report "Heroic Portugal; Mean England." The paper goes on to excoriate Erikson's defensive tactics and to say that had Saez (the Spanish manager) followed such a strategy he would never be able to walk the streets again. No one thought that the Sol Campbell disallowed goal was any thing other than a foul.

The Ugliness of the English

I have just learned that I'm not the only one to think that the English are on average physically the ugliest people in the advanced industrial world, but now there is a site devoted to this topic. A quick scan of that site suggests, however, a class explanation of the ugliness of the English. I doubt that this is either true or fair. Ugliness, I suspect, is spread equitably across the socio-economic strata of the country. A well-designed social scientific study ought to be able to confirm this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Beauty of Rooney

In an important post, Chris Brooke has commented on the sheer physical ugliness of the English football team. I think he is partly right on this point. Rooney et al are repulsively ugly. But the point Chris misses is that the players are quite representative of the nation as a whole. Having spent time recently in five countries, I think it would be hard to deny that English men and women are on average the ugliest people in the advanced industrial world. Americans--at least outside of California--run the Brits close, but that's largely (excuse the pun) a function of their obesity. Unfortunately, Brits, poor loves, all appear to have squished up features with one of them--be it a nose or (in Rooney's case) ears--wholly disproportionate to the others.

English Football Hooligans:

Sampling this evening the cafes of Vigo harbor, we discovered that the town—hardly a town with 300,000 people—is swarming with football fans: Dutch, Danes, and Germans for the most part. Auna--who looks like some Platonic form of the Scandinavian female—struck up a conversation with a doleful Dutch couple. Their team’s defeat at the hands of the Czechs seemed to have induced some sort of existential trauma. I tried to cheer them up by explaining to them my ideas about improving the rules of soccer. I’ve now come up with a couple of new ones. Doleful Dutch couple seemed doubtful these rules would catch on. They couldn’t see Edwin Van der Saar putting up with a Head Cam, even if, as I pointed out, Edgar Davids plays the game hiding behind a pair of cool looking shades. We departed with a heartfelt hope that the Czechs demolish the Germans—a dull and talentless team marshaled by the annoyingly competent Oliver Kahn.

In another quiet café around the corner, Auna and I were enjoying a glass of Albarino, the fine white wine of the region, when about twenty drunken singing Danes came in. Our quiet intimacy ruined we left. On our way out of the door, the owner came over to us and shaking his head at the noisy Danes uttered the word “Ingleses.” It made me wonder whether the term “English” has now acquired the new meaning of “any drunken violent behavior displayed abroad.”

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Thoughts of Trent "Helmet-Head" Lott

It's good to hear that the former republican majority leader has not given up thinking about our nation's problems. Get a load of this interview and then thank your God that he's now no longer on our TV screens every day of the year

how do you think the war in Iraq is going?

There are terrorists in Iraq who have been drawn into that part of the world. Every day we eliminate some of them; that's one more that won't be coming here.

What do you mean by eliminate them? Where are the terrorists and insurgents going to go?

Well, they are going to be killed. When they attack our troops, 20 or 30 or 40 at a time are being eliminated.

We can't kill everyone who hates America!

We can kill a lot of them, particularly when they try to kill us.

And you think that will lead to democracy in Iraq?

It's kind of like the song about New York. If it can succeed in Iraq, it can succeed anywhere.

You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.

Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: ''Thank Goodness. America comes first.'' Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.

But unleashing killer dogs on naked Iraqis is not the same as withholding pancakes.

I was amazed that people reacted like that. Did the dogs bite them? Did the dogs assault them? How are you going to get people to give information that will lead to the saving of lives?

Friday, June 11, 2004

Terrorism Ticks Up

Despite the earlier blundering effort of our government to persuade its befuddled citizens that our hapless President had turned the tide of terrorism, it turns out that they got the figures wrong. Terrorism is, after all, on the increase. As the BBC reports:

Global terror attacks are on the rise, says the US State Department, admitting an earlier report - which had claimed attacks were tailing off - was wrong.

The State Department reported in April that there were fewer terror attacks in 2003 than in any year since 1969.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said data in that report was misleading - but said this was an "honest" error.

Bush administration officials had cited the April report as proof that the US was winning its "war on terror".....

Opposition lawmakers had claimed the report downplayed the terror threat to suit the political needs of US President George W Bush, who faces an election this year and wants to show the public his anti-terror strategy is a success.

Democrat Congress member, Henry Waxman, accused the government earlier this week of distorting the initial report.

Mr Boucher said Mr Waxman's allegation was being addressed.

He added that errors in the report had begun to become apparent in May.

He said a revised report was being prepared and it would show a steep rise in the number of attacks compared to the original analysis.


Given the mounting dangers that we all face, it is rather surprising that the US and British press has paid so little attention to the arrest in Italy this week of Rabei Osman El Sayed ("Mohammed the Egyptian") who was the mastermind of the March 11 attacks on Atocha Station (Madrid). There are at least five important points--all taken from today's EL Pais (unfortunately not available without a subscription)-- to learn from this arrest:

1. The attacks on Spain were planned well before September 11 2001. They had nothing to do with Spain's involvement in the Iraq War.

2. "Mohammed" who had trained in explosives in the Egyptian army and who, in turn, had trained terrorists in camps in Afghanistan, was planning attacks throughout Europe including Britain, Germany, Holland, and France. Indeed, a plan to bomb the Paris Metro was in an advanced stage of planning.

3. "Mohammed" was heard on his tapped phone bragging of the number of female martyrs he had lined up to carry out future suicide attacks.

4. Mohammed had managed to recruit a number of Richard Reid ("the Shoebomber") types to carry out further attacks. These were, for the most part, a bunch of low level street criminals (Morrocans for the most part) who had become converts to a radical form of Islam while in prison.

5. Contrary to the claims of some of my more blinkered right-wing compatriots, the European police (including the Italian and Spanish police forces) appear to be arresting genuine terrorists rather than the hapless innocents the FBI keeps picking up.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Improving Soccer: Final Points

The remaining improvements to the rules and watchability of soccer:

7. Require Players in the Wall to Keep their Hands on their Heads Until the Free Kick is taken.

Like a number of the earlier suggestion, this rule-change, which would be quite easy to enforce, is designed to hobble the defence. This rule would make the defending players much more reticent when facing a free kick in front of goal. Not only would players be unwilling even to form a wall, but they would likely turn their backs or dive to the floor when the free-kick is taken. The result? More goals.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Improving Soccer: Some Further Points

A number of my correspondents have asked me to clarify further the reasoning behind some of the improvements I suggested in an earlier post. I'm happy to oblige:

1. A Thirty Second Rule

As in basketball, this rule forces a team to do something with the ball within a certain period of time of gaining possession. This rule would stop a team simply passing the ball laterally all afternoon. It would make for a snappier, more attacking game. Perhaps, given the fact that a football pitch is bigger than a basketball court, a one minute rule might work better. But these picky details can be worked out later.

2. Offsides in the Penalty Box Only

Try and ask a Brit to explain off-sides, it's like asking them to explain tipping: they haven't got a clue. Sure they can repeat to you the rule. But they don't know why it exists. As far as I can tell, it's to stop "goal poaching." It prevents a striker from standing in front of the goalkeeper the entire game and making a general pest of himself. Granted that this actually is a problem--and I can't personally see that it is--then offsides ought to apply only in the penalty box. This would create more space in the midfield and stop the annoying "offsides trap." I don't know the history of the offsides rule, but I suspect it was implemented by an organization of goalkeepers to further keep down the number of goals.


3 AND 4--These are no brainers; no further explanation of their advantages are necessary.

5. Require Goalkeepers to stay on their line the entire game.

This simply extends the requirement that goalkeepers are under when facing a penalty. If goal keepers had to stand on their line the entire game, they would be unable to narrow the angle when facing strikers. This would likely increase quite considerably the number of goals in any match.

6. Require Goalkeepers to Wear Head-Cams

This suggestion has the merit of both increasing the number of goals and enhancing the pleasure of the TV audience. Goalkeepers never head the ball, so requiring them to wear head-cams--in the form of something like old miner's helmets--would not be too much of an imposition. Perhaps the head-cam would limit their mobility, but that's no loss. It simply means more goals. The TV audience would enjoy seeing penalties, corners, and free kicks from the goalkeepers' perspective. This suggestion should be implemented as soon as possible.

Monday, June 07, 2004

10 Ways of Improving the Spectacle of Soccer

The last time I spent any extended time in Britain the whole country was in the grip of World Cup fever. I now fear the entire place is about to come down with an even more virulent bout of a related disease. I have nothing against sport. I’m an avid fan of NBA basketball, women’s tennis, and beach volleyball. Like any man, I’ve spent a good portion of my life in front of the TV cheering on my teams. But soccer (as we call it in the States) bores the pants off me. There are simply not enough goals. I’ve been giving this problem a lot of thought over the last few years and have come up with some solutions.

Here are ten ways of making soccer a greater spectacle. Some of these suggestions (1 through 3) are direct borrowings from US sports, including (3) which is taken from the US Major League Soccer. Other suggestions (5 through 8) are designed to hobble the defence and, in particular, goalkeepers, the bane of the modern game. Limit their ability to make saves, and we could always enjoy high-scoring matches. The last three suggestions (8 through 10) do not involve changes to the rules of the game, but aim only to spice things up a little for the TV audience.


1. A 30 Second Rule.
2. Abolish offsides outside the penalty area.
3. Shoot-outs rather than penalties to ensure that each game has a winner.
4. Extend the goal posts two meters.
5. Require goalkeepers to remain on their line throughout the entire game.
6. Mandatory Head-Cams for Goalies
7. Make all players forming “a wall” place both hands on their heads until the kick is taken.
8. Abolish half-time.
9. Topless cheerleaders.
10. Bottomless goalscorers—players ought to celebrate by taking off their shorts rather than their shirts.

FURTHER CLARIFICATION:

A number of my correspondents have asked me to clarify further the reasoning behind some of the improvements I suggested in an earlier post. I'm happy to oblige:

1. A Thirty Second Rule

As in basketball, this rule forces a team to do something with the ball within a certain period of time of gaining possession. This rule would stop a team simply passing the ball laterally all afternoon. It would make for a snappier, more attacking game. Perhaps, given the fact that a football pitch is bigger than a basketball court, a one minute rule might work better. But these picky details can be worked out later.

2. Offsides in the Penalty Box Only

Try and ask a Brit to explain off-sides, it's like asking them to explain tipping: they haven't got a clue. Sure they can repeat to you the rule. But they don't know why it exists. As far as I can tell, it's to stop "goal poaching." It prevents a striker from standing in front of the goalkeeper the entire game and making a general pest of himself. Granted that this actually is a problem--and I can't personally see that it is--then offsides ought to apply only in the penalty box. This would create more space in the midfield and stop the annoying "offsides trap." I don't know the history of the offsides rule, but I suspect it was implemented by an organization of goalkeepers to further keep down the number of goals.


3 AND 4--These are no brainers; no further explanation of their advantages are necessary.

5. Require Goalkeepers to stay on their line the entire game.

This simply extends the requirement that goalkeepers are under when facing a penalty. If goal keepers had to stand on their line the entire game, they would be unable to narrow the angle when facing strikers. This would likely increase quite considerably the number of goals in any match.

6. Require Goalkeepers to Wear Head-Cams

This suggestion has the merit of both increasing the number of goals and enhancing the pleasure of the TV audience. Goalkeepers never head the ball, so requiring them to wear head-cams--in the form of something like old miner's helmets--would not be too much of an imposition. Perhaps the head-cam would limit their mobility, but that's no loss. It simply means more goals. The TV audience would enjoy seeing penalties, corners, and free kicks from the goalkeepers' perspective. This suggestion should be implemented as soon as possible.


7. Require Players in the Wall to Keep their Hands on their Heads Until the Free Kick is taken.

Like a number of the earlier suggestion, this rule-change, which would be quite easy to enforce, is designed to hobble the defence. This rule would make the defending players much more reticent when facing a free kick in front of goal. Not only would players be unwilling even to form a wall, but they would likely turn their backs or dive to the floor when the free-kick is taken. The

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The End of Comments

I´m afraid I have had to disable the comments. Like a number of other leading and influential political blogs, my posts attracted an unhealthy number of nationalists, racists, and just plain loonies. Sadly, many of my fellow Americans refuse to accept the lessons of Abu Ghraib. I stand by everything I said. And just to rub salt in the wounds of misplaced patriotism, I cite again the offending passage:


The Chuck Graner argument. The torture, humiliation, and brutality of Abu Ghraib are not, as Don Rumsfeld protested, "Un-American." They are quintessentially American, as today's FT reports. Chuck Graner and Ivan Fredericks are standard issue US Prison Guards. We brought our particular form of homegrown horror to the Middle East. And there's plenty more where that came from. While we Americans like to pretend that we are a force for good in the world, there are many features of our society--features that we don't like to discuss--that are sick. We remain, in many ways, a violent, vulgar nation of religious bigots. It is hardly surprising that other peoples do not wish to be occupied by us.


People are free to email me, I will try to incorporate replies into future posts.

Friday, June 04, 2004

More on Tipping

I have received a slew of emails in support of my earlier post on tipping. Admittedly, most are from expatriates, who also feel shafted by the British double-tipping con.

And for a learned and brilliant discussion of the undemocratic nature of tipping, see Daniele Archibugi´s new piece in Dissent. As Daniele further points out: the best discussion of tipping is to be found in the opening scene of Tarantino´s Reservoir Dogs.

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