June 24, 2006
One of the more popular postings on World Cup-related blogs has been an attack on the lead announcing team for ESPN-ABC's broadcast, Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Boycotts of the English language broadcasts have been proposed, an online petition has been started, demands that the Disney corp apologize for this massive affront to American soccer fans: a veritable clusterfuck of indignation. For most of the people watching, it's hard to see what the outrage is about. The broadcast sounds like a typical American sporting broadcast, not unlike what you would hear if the sport was basketball or baseball, the sport O'Brien hails from.
The real reason for the outrage is simple. Native-born American soccer fans are elitist pricks. Soccer is the only sport that is regularly attacked in the sports section, so we have to had to develop a pretty thick skin over the years. We have had to go out of our way to get our soccer fix, hitting pubs at 5 in the morning to watch Premier League games, picking up rudimentary Spanish to follow the broadcasts on Univision. As a result, we have come to see ourselves as a Band Apart: we're not the ones with the problem, it's the ordinary American sport fan, who despises soccer as an element from a foreign culture, that misses the point. When the World Cup comes around every four years, the sport picks up more than a few casual fans, fans who aren't in the slightest bit interested in the Bundesliga or the lastest fixing scandal in Serie A, but who are intrigued by the international flavor and intensity of the event, and those fans easily outnumber the native-born fanatics.
So it's not like Dave O'Brien is doing an inept job announcing the games.* Any American announcer would be getting blasted; every American who has attempted to announce World Cup games in the past, from Jim McKay to Mario Machado to Charley Jones to J.P. Dellacamera, has been blasted by the American Soccer Fan. It's part of the snob appeal of the sport, not unlike how the connoisseur of the music felt when Ken Burns did his documentary on the history of jazz; if an American is doing the game, and he's bringing techniques learned and crafted from announcing other American sports, he's going to get roasted. It says less about the quality of O'Brien's work and more about the chip on the shoulder that the native born fan has towards American culture
*One of the attacks, I swear to God, is that one of the announcers allegedly called the English goalkeeper Paul Robinson, "Paul Robbins", a syllable that probably gets dropped a hundred times during the Premier League season by announcers trying to think on their feet in the middle of a game.
June 23, 2006
Incidentally, Sunday's telecast on ABC featured a look-in at fans of the Korean team at a packed Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Many of those fans chanted and sang in Korean, and waved Korean flags in celebration after their team scored late to tie France. And yet, none of the Minutemen xenophone-types were complaining about such blatant disregard for the feelings of true Americans....
There are a variety of reasons people seem to like to get their hate on at us, especially Markos, and I'll try to spell them out as I understand them without bothering to argue with them.Of those, I'd say 2, 3 and 4 are simply the nature of the beast; you support candidate or cause A, and supporters of candidate or cause B will get upset. Kos, especially, is feeling the heat for that right now. 1 is definitely not true, since many of the uber-blogs on the left are relatively new (like FDL and C&L, both of which came after 2004), and Kevin Drum has been around awhile without resting on the laurels earned back in 2001-2.
1) A-list bloggers have shitty blogs that no one should read but people just read them because they've been around for so long.
2) A-list bloggers are supporting the wrong candidates/causes. They are doing X, but they should be doing Y.
3) A-list bloggers suck up all the attention from better bloggers who everyone should be reading.
4) A-list bloggers end up representing the "netroots" but they shouldn't.
5) A-list bloggers aren't generous enough with their links and should be providing more publicity for other bloggers.
6) A-list bloggers are stupid and they're ugly and nobody likes them.
5 and 6, though, are definitely true, and is one area where the Right has us beat. The most frustrating thing for any blogger starting out is to get attention, but conservative bloggers have the good fortune that people like Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus and Hugh Hewitt are very generous with their links (perhaps too generous; it would have nice if someone had bothered to perform due diligence before linking to Thomas Lipscomb several weeks ago), sending traffic to many different sites every week, and nurturing allies for the future. These guys get lots of e-mails, requesting or demanding that they link to one thing or another, and lord knows that must be terribly annoying, but they still manage to spread some of that wealth around.
And if you've sent such an e-mail in the past, of course, there's nothing like receiving a rude response, or having an "A-list Blogger" (cute terminology, btw, straight from the Social Register) cite something of yours without giving you credit, to ensure an enemy for life. It shouldn't be any surprise that the lack of civility, of common decency, towards one's adversaries that has become so endemic in the blogosphere, should also reflect an unpleasant personality by the blogger. As Richard Nixon might attest, and as George Bush has discovered the past eighteen months, if you've kicked a lot of people on the way up, your inevitable fall is going to be pretty ugly. Your enemies will do what it takes to get even, and you'll find out that you made fewer friends than you thought.
This group was easily the worst of the tournament; the Ivory Coast, Czech Republic, U.S.A., Poland, Serbia, and possibly even Paraguay would have all qualified ahead of Ukraine had they been placed in this group, and the Ivory Coast would have undoubtedly won the group. FIFA definitely needs to do a better job seeding next time.
June 22, 2006
What I don't understand is why there was such fine concern in the first place. An allegation that one prominent blogger is currently being investigated for securities violations, while another gives props to candidates who employ his buddy, is plenty serious. The old, "I can't talk about it right now, it's still being investigated" excuse, while it may justify the silence of the defendant, isn't an excuse for me, or anyone else, to keep quiet about the matter. We're supposed to be speaking truth to power, after all, and a similar pattern of conduct wasn't acceptable when it was Karl Rove being investigated.
And hoping the story will die out if we don't respond is, frankly, pathetic. I only hope the words "Let's starve it of oxygen" don't become the blogosphere's version of "give 'em an hors d'oeurve, and maybe they won't come back for the main course."
Italy has very little incentive to win tomorrow, and neither, for that matter, does the Czech Republic. The optimum result for both teams would be a tie, since both could advance. In fact, Italy would definitely advance, and the Czechs would in almost every other scenario; only a Ghana victory would knock them out. Similarly, a 1-0 loss to the Czechs would also likely assure both teams of advancing in almost every scenario. The U.S. would either have to blow out Ghana, or Ghana would have to win; a tie or close U.S. win sends both forward. Both teams can watch the scoreboard, and if Ghana strikes first, they can react accordingly, but if it appears that our game is a taut, close affair, there's no incentive to open things up.And, as I predicted last night, once Ghana scored in its game, in the 22nd minute, it was only a matter of time before Italy would break loose, scoring five minutes later...ah, forget about it. I can't rationalize this away. I was wrong. Big time. Smythe sucks.
The best part of the game was actually the first fifteen minutes, with both teams applying intense pressure, and contrary to my prediction, both teams came out firing. The Azzurri played today they way a World Cup contender plays, and they could easily won by a more lopsided score. The Czechs looked old...a much bigger disappointment than the Americans, since they were supposed to go far in this tourney, and their dominant performance in the opener was supposed to be The Tell. Instead, it just showed how overrated they were.
In the aftermath of the game, the ESPN crew really took off after Bruce Arena, another sign that it's a bad idea to have former national team players doing the commentary. Ghana was favored going into the game, and could have advanced with a draw. Thus, they played more cautiously than they did against the Czechs, and took advantage of a Reyna blunder and a blown call by the ref for their goals. Any tactical decisions that a coach might make are going to get mooted when the refs are calling phantom fouls in the penalty area. As for the rest, Ghana has a great team, and the big reason the U.S. couldn't work its game plan was that Ghana wouldn't let them. It was a tough group, and two good teams were destined to go home early. It just so happened that one of them was the U.S.
The other complaint was that the U.S. was doomed following their 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, which supposedly put them in a hole from the start. Putting aside the fact that the inspired effort against Italy was largely due to the weak effort in the opener, the fact is, had the U.S. tied the Czechs rather than lose, they still would have been eliminated by today's loss. Had they tied the Czechs and Ghana, they would have been eliminated. In fact, had they beaten the Czechs, 1-0, the loss today to Ghana would have sent them home on goal differential. The important game was today, as it turned out, and they didn't get the job done, but the reason for that is what Ghana did, not what the U.S. failed to do.
June 21, 2006
It's a little bit more complicated than that, movies generally having to focus on a core audience beyond Ivy League mathematicians, but it does explain why the U.S. has its work cut out for it tomorrow if it wants to advance to the second round of the World Cup. On paper, it's simple: the U.S. has to beat Ghana by four goals. That gets Team U.S.A. in, no matter what else happens. Since that is highly unlikely, the Americans not having scored four goals in a game for some time, and Ghana having just manhandled the same team that beat the U.S., 3-0, in the opener, the next best scenario is for the U.S. to beat Ghana, and Italy to beat the Czech Republic.
Even if the first thing happens, I think it's unlikely the second will. Italy has very little incentive to win tomorrow, and neither, for that matter, does the Czech Republic. The optimum result for both teams would be a tie, since both could advance. In fact, Italy would definitely advance, and the Czechs would in almost every other scenario; only a Ghana victory would knock them out. Similarly, a 1-0 loss to the Czechs would also likely assure both teams of advancing in almost every scenario. The U.S. would either have to blow out Ghana, or Ghana would have to win; a tie or close U.S. win sends both forward. Both teams can watch the scoreboard, and if Ghana strikes first, they can react accordingly, but if it appears that our game is a taut, close affair, there's no incentive to open things up.
There is one obvious benefit to winning the game: avoiding a second round matchup with Brazil. But Italy wins the group with a tie, unless, of course, Ghana wins. However, an Italian victory knocks out the Czechs, while a decisive Czech victory would almost certainly eliminate the Italians. A safe, defensive battle would likely help both teams, while a wide-open, offensive match would kill the loser. And if there is anything the Azzurri does really, really well, its play dull, tactical, defensive soccer. So it looks like we'll have to wait til 2010....
In the course of two years, Wade has gone from being a prodigy to being the Greatest Player on the Planet, while Shaq has just gotten old. It is safe to say that the Heat were carried to the championship on the tired shoulders and injured knees of Wade, while O'Neal spent a good portion of the 4th quarter in the games the Heat won on the bench, with Miami too paranoid to let him perform his clown act at the free throw line unless it was absolutely necessary. He won another ring, of course, and he still is one of the top centers in the game, but he now even less The Man in Miami than he was in L.A.
The record of the four CONCACAF teams in the 2006 World Cup is an abysmal 1-7-3, with only Mexico's 3-1 victory over Iran in the first game breaking the monotony of failure. If this were the NCAA Tournament, CONCACAF would be the 2006 Big 10.
So this morning's murder of Saddam's defense counsel by men purportedly working for the government should cause some reflection on what we've created in that country. The third defense lawyer to be executed since the trial began, Khamis al-Obaidi had been a low-key figure, exchewing the bombastics of his co-counsel or the buffoonery of Ramsey Clark, stating only weeks ago that "if we withdraw out of fear it will not be a shame for us as lawyers but for the entire Iraqi judicial system." Had this case been tried before a real court, at the Hague, he would still be alive.
June 20, 2006
Yet O'Reilly, like many other people, clings to the fantasy that he is a stiff among the swells. He plays this chord repeatedly in the book, a potpourri of anecdotes and opinions about life in general and his in particular. He had a very strange experience as a graduate student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (which let the likes of Bill O'Reilly through its ivy-covered gates, he is careful to note, "in an effort to bring all sorts of people together"). Other Kennedy School students, he says, insisted on being called by three names, none of which could be "Vinny, Stevie, or Serge." Their "clothing was understated but top quality … and their rooms hinted of exotic vacations and sprawling family property. Winter Skiing in Grindelwald? No problem." They tried to be nice, but Bill was nevertheless humiliated, in a Thai restaurant, to be "the only one who didn't know how to order my meal in Thai."Having attended a prep school with some of the same swells O'Reilly speaks of, let me add that if you couldn't speak Thai, you were made to feel small by the kids from the mansions and country clubs. Even today, when one of the richies patronizingly corrects my pitiful attempts at "the Thai", I feel the same sting. Damn you, Ben Sherwood....
I should explain this last one to those who may not have been aware that Thai is the lingua franca of the American WASP upper class. The explanation is simple. American Jewish parents only one or two generations off the boat often spoke in Yiddish when they didn't want their children to understand. Italian-Americans used Italian, and so on. But WASPs only had English. (They tried Latin, but tended to forget the declensions after the second martini.) So they adopted Thai, which they use in front of the servants and the O'Reillys of the world as well. (At least it sounds like Thai after the second martini.) When they turn 18, upper-class children attend a secret Thai language school, disguised as a ski resort, in Grindelwald.
June 19, 2006
Ratings so far for the 2006 World Cup have improved dramatically over 2002, which is not surprising considering the last Cup took place mainly in the wee hours of the morning in America. But the U.S.-Italy war on Saturday got the highest ratings for any soccer game in this country since the '98 Final, almost doubling the numbers for the third round of the U.S. Open and the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals, and nearly matching the numbers the same network got the following night for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Today's games will be the true test of the number of soccer fanatics in America: it's one thing to get sports fans to watch the home country on a weekend, and quite another to tune into Switzerland and Togo at 6 in the morning.
Matt Welch and Luke Thompson are officially deities. [link via LAist]
Word spreads that Ann Coulter is supposed to be coming, with Mickey Kaus. Mickey is ostensibly a centrist Democrat, but has long seemed to have a fetish for blonde Republican pundits. This is not to imply that they are or are not dating -- I have no idea.
So anyway, while talking to Christian Johnson and Donna Barstow, I see Mickey arrive with the Ann-tichrist herself. Donna says I have to talk to her; that she would if she were more familiar with Ann's work. Christian is anxious to get a picture with Ann. It's funny how there are people here who have probably used all kinds of invective to describe her, yet immediately wanted to talk to her. Liberal blogger Joseph Mailander, for one, was seen conversing pleasantly with her, and I hope he blogs about what was said, cuz I'd like to know.
Andrew's a fan of Ann's -- I hear a fragment of a joke he tells her that begins "There were these two black guys..." but I didn't catch the punchline. It was probably funny.*
I ask Matt Welch if he'd met her. He responds "Have you met Eichmann?"
Matt is amused to snap a picture of Joseph and Ann. At first, I thought he was just trying to get one of Joseph in the same frame as Roger L. Simon The Man Who Created Moses Wine, whom Joseph frequently and amusingly beats up on metaphorically. Roger looks to have gained weight since last I saw him. Too much lounging around in pajamas?
I did not speak to Ann, though had I done so, I'd have asked what church she attends. I can tell you that she's very tall, freakishly thin, and has big hooters, though not obviously fake ones.
I tell Matt that I'm thinking of a joke along the lines of "What's the difference between Ann Coulter and a turd in a box?" I haven't figured out a punchline, but it probably ends with "....and the other is a turd in a box."
*No, it wasn't funny, since he wasn't overhearing a joke. See LYT's apology here.
June 18, 2006
One of the stars for France is their bald goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez. Barthez, who at one time was romantically involved with former supermodel Linda Evangelista, bears an uncanny resemblance to the late character actor, and original "Dr. Evil", Donald Pleasance, whose perhaps most famous for his recurring roles in the Halloween movies. But Pleasance earned a special place in movie lore for starring in films featuring two of my favorite actresses. In Cul de Sac (1966), directed by Roman Polanski, he played the owner of a castle who is visited by a mobster on the lam, along with his girlfriend, who is played by Francoise Dorleac. Ms. Dorleac was on the cusp of stardom when she was killed in an auto accident the following year, at the age of 25, and she was, almost impossible to believe, the prettier older sister of Catherine Deneuve. And of course, Pleasance also played the father of Smythe's World icon Phoebe Nicholls in Blade on the Feather (1980), a deliciously tawdry spy thriller in which my blogmuse, playing a spoiled young adult version of Varuca Salt, gets nekkid with co-star Tom Conti. Neither Dorleac or Nicholls really have anything to do with Fabien Barthez, Dorleac having died the year before Barthez was born, and there being no evidence that the infrequently-working Engish character actress has ever met the French goalkeeper, but as Nicholls' character would say in the above movie, "come on daddy, play the game...."
Meanwhile, it seems that anger at the officiating has been limited to these shores. Elsewhere, the red cards handed out to Mastroeni and Pope have been defended. The Times of London reporter opined that "The match was to finish with just nine men on either side. Simone Perrotta was stretchered off after being caught by the boot of Carlos Bocanegra, and there were no substitutes left to take the field. Ugliness had finished the contest that neither side deserved to win." Der Spiegel agrees, while the title of the Sydney Morning Herald's article on the game ("U.S. Point Way as Red Mist Descends") must be seen clearly seen as a commentary on international disapproval of American foreign policy. Kevin Drum also backs the ref, while moderating a good discussion of the game in his comments section.