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07 June 2002  

Happy trails to you… That will do it for week seven of The Goliard Blog. Thanks to all of my readers who tolerated last week's blogbreak with nary a scolding e-mail. (Of course, that could just mean that people decided to wander off and not come back; but I'll optimistically interpret the silence as kind-hearted indulgence instead.) As always, thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you back here again on Monday.

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ON OTHER PAGES

"Trust me…I'm a rat." (Preceding quote shamelessly lifted from Bananas in Pyjamas.) A former roomate of the lovely and talented Eve Tushnet now has her own blog, memorably titled The Rat. The first day's content included an excellent post on St. Petersburg and Russian literature. "The Rat" is obviously highly intelligent and an excellent writer, and we should encourage her. So go visit her site already.

She also provided a valuable service in furnishing a link to this New Yorker cartoon. All of you who know me can make up your own jokes.

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 
 

SPORT

England vs. Argentina, Round Five…and Six? Today's World Cup match between England and Argentina, the fifth in a series that stretches back to 1962, had all the intensity and strong play that I had expected. But when it was over, I had the distinct feeling that there was still unfinished business here…that this latest chapter in the rivalry between these two nations has not really been closed, not yet. Could there, in fact, be another round of England vs. Argentina yet to come, in this very same World Cup? I think it is a distinct possibility.

In order for both these teams to advance from their "Group of Death" to the knockout round of the tournament, Argentina will need to beat Sweden, and England will need at least a draw (to be safe) against Nigeria, in the final matches of Group F. Argentina, I think, has ample skill to defeat the Swedes, though their victory will be far from a sure thing. England earning a point against Nigeria is a much surer bet; the Africans have already become the second team eliminated from contention in this tournament, and will have little to gain from the match. If both England and Argentina win—the most likely scenario in my book—England will win Group F, and Argentina will take second place.

The two teams would then each be two victories away from a rematch in the semi-final (to be played in Saitama on the 26th). My projected brackets show England needing to beat Denmark—which is quite manageable—and then defeat its quarter-final opponent, which could be Costa Rica, Russia, Belgium, or Japan…all of whom are ranked over ten places lower in FIFA's World Ranking. The South Americans should face a much tougher road to the semi-finals; my brackets have them matched up against Senegal (the team that upset France in the opening game) in the first match, then Brazil in the quarter-final. It is possible for the Argentines to prevail, certainly; but will they really pull it off? My head says don't bet on it…but my gut feeling is that there will be a semi-final matchup between Argentina and England in this World Cup, and that it will be a match for the ages, one that today's encounter has only served as a well-played prelude to.

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GOBBETS

Another battle against Al Qaeda. Sad news today from the Philippines, where Martin Burnham, an American Christian husband and father who was held hostage by an Al Qaeda-linked Muslim terrorist group for over a year, was killed in the course of a rescue undertaken by Philippine armed forces. One other hostage, a Filipina, was also killed; Burnham's wife was among those successfully freed. This should serve as a reminder that Islamic terrorism may be based in Arab lands, but is not confined to that area, even after the fall of the Taliban in non-Arab Afghanistan. Thanks to Nota Bene for calling my attention to the story.

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You say Croatia, I say Hrvatska… The way we anglicize foreign place-names has always puzzled me. Specifically, I do not see why anyone found it necessary to change some of the perfectly simple names, nor can I understand those English place-names which seem completely unrelated to the name in the local tongue.

There are some alterations that I understand. Your average Anglophone could be expected to stumble over "München", and "Munich" isn't a bad substitute for it. I will even grudgingly approve of rendering "Moskva" as "Moscow", owing to the dual problems of transliteration and unfamiliar sounds. But why go to the trouble of changing "Roma" into "Rome"? Is the extra syllable really that great an imposition on the English-speaker? How about turning "Brasil" into "Brazil"? Was the letter "z" on sale the day we decided to do that?

As for the weirdly different English names, I suppose if I did enough digging in the reference library I could find perfectly good reasons for why "Deutschland" became "Germany", "Magyar" was changed to "Hungary", and "Hrvatska" was rendered as "Croatia". But I sure can't think of any off the top of my head. (And what is so hard about "Magyar" anyway, when we seem to feel no compunction about inflicting "Kyrgyzstan" on the Anglophone world?)

Radical changes, at least in lettering, are of course made necessary by many Asian languages, but I still see no reason why we couldn't have come closer to "Nippon" (as it sounds in the local tongue) than "Japan". And it is clear to me that either "Peking" or "Beijing" (or possibly even both) must sound completely wrong to the Chinese.

It is because of my confusion on this subject, combined with my natural love for foreign languages in general (a love which is, unfortunately, unaccompanied by any great facility for actually learning them), that I was entirely in favor of the tendency in Salt Lake City to refer to the next host of the Winter Olympics as "Torino". It sounds like a much more happenin' place than "Turin", if you ask me.

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Equal treatment. The Justice Department's disclosure that it would be applying special scrutiny to those who seek to enter the United States from terrorist-supporting countries was greeted by predictable howls of outrage from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other usual suspects. "What is next? Forcing American Muslims to wear a star and crescent as a means of identification for law enforcement authorities?" asked CAIR's head, Nihad Awad. Of course, the Justice Department's new procedures have exactly nothing to do with American Muslims, but this does not change the fact that CAIR is understandably concerned that our government might act insensitively towards those foreigners who have sworn to kill us all. And so, in order to accomodate their delicate sensibilities, I would like to propose an alternative plan: That Arab Muslim visitors to the United States should receive the same fair, courteous, and even-handed treatment that American and Israeli Jews receive when visiting Arab countries. Would that be better?

As I see it, this alternative plan would present the folks at CAIR with a choice. Either accept it as fair and reasonable on both ends, or condemn Saudi immigration and customs policies right along with America's. Or they could plump for a third option of hypocritically denouncing America's rules while remaining silent about Saudi outrages. But our sensitive and honorable friends at CAIR would never do that, would they?

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FRIDAY FEATURE

We don't need no stinking Friday Feature. Yup, you guessed it, the Friday Feature is still missing in action. It may actually make its long-awaited (and once-aborted) debut in the weeks to come—or it could turn into the longest-running tease in blog-land. Quite honestly, I'm not sure which of these will be the case; otherwise I'd have put the Friday thing out of our collective misery long ago. As it is, you'll just have to keep tuning in to see what happens.

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 


06 June 2002  

SPORT

Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Today Saudi Arabia became the first team to be eliminated from contention in the World Cup, losing to Cameroon by a surprisingly narrow 1-0 margin, after having been crushed by the Germans 8-0 in their first match. (I guess that phone call from the Saudi defense minister was helpful after all.) Let's all try not to cry too hard for them.

The Saudis never really looked like belonging in this tournament, despite their relative success in packing the defense today; and indeed they only made it to Japan when the Iranians managed to lose to Bahrain (Bahrain???) in the final round of Asian qualifying. The fact of the matter is, talent is still awfully thin throughout the Asian Football Confederation (especially when their teams play in the absence of boisterous home crowds), and this must be kept in mind when Sepp Blatter seeks to readjust each continent's share of places in the World Cup finals, an ambition he disclosed when travelling around Africa—on a plane provided by a suspected backer of Al Qaeda, no less—to campaign for his re-election as president of FIFA:

After the 2002 World Cup we will sit down to see how the different slots will be distributed at the 2006 World Cup. It would not be correct to make it just for the strongest teams. We must have geographical distribution and also give access to those that have never been in the World Cup.

Why, that's a capital idea: Hold a world championship for the planet's most popular game, but don't invite all of the world's best teams. This is reason #562 to be disgusted by the re-election of Blatter. (See Andrew Jennings' commentary on ESPN.com Soccernet for a sampling of some of the other 561 reasons.)

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 
 

Cool clocks. I really like the large, traditional match-time clocks (that is, the kind with a minute-hand) that appear on many of the scoreboards in the Korean World Cup venues. They are typically placed to the left of a giant video screen, which I find a pleasant juxtaposition of the old and new. And even if the analog (or digitally-rendered analog) clocks weren't old-school cool, I would still favor them as being more appropriate for soccer, which has always maintained a pleasant approximateness about its timekeeping.

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ON OTHER PAGES

In defense of the Beautiful Game. The Brothers Judd have posted an indictment of the sport of soccer, claiming that according to the standards of the great Russell Kirk (of happy memory) the sport is profoundly un-conservative. Drawing from Kirk's description of the Conservative Mind, they make the following arguments (see their full article for the relevant citations from Kirk for each point):

(1) Divine Intent : when He made us in His image, he obviously intended that we use our hands.
(2) Variety and Mystery : In soccer you chase the ball--kick the ball--chase it again--score once in awhile--start over. So where's the variety and mystery? every game is identical.
(3) Equality : soccer is popular in schools precisely because it requires no skill. Every doofus on the school yard can run around and kick a ball. It's no surprise all the socialist countries love the game.
(4) Property : you can't even pick the stinkin' ball up so there's no such thing as possession. Even the fans don't get to keep the foul balls. All you really need to know about soccer is that little kids don't bring their mitts to the games.
(5) Tradition : American soccer tradition, is an oxymoron.
(6) Change and innovation : give it another two or three hundred years and maybe we'll accept the game. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are in first and all's right with the world.

Even if some of these arguments are tongue-in-cheek, I feel duty-bound to offer a rejoinder to each of them in turn:

1) Divine Intent: So obviously, when He made us in His image, He did intend for us to slam into each other repeatedly at high velocity wearing helmets and cumbersome pads, as in American football. Whereas He didn't anticipate that we would run a lot and kick things. Okay, if you say so…

2) Variety and Mystery: Soccer is full of both. Just because the elements of baseball are simple—throw the ball, hit the ball with a stick, catch the ball, run around the bases—doesn't mean that I don't see something new almost every time I attend a baseball game. And it's the same thing with soccer. As far as mystery goes, soccer has more of it than the more popular American sports. A single cruel twist of fate—a defensive lapse, a referee's call, a missed penalty kick—can wipe away an entire ninety minutes' worth of solid work. A single brilliant free-kick, or a single crazy carom off a defender, can change the course of a World Cup. Whereas in a sport like basketball, there is so much scoring all of the time (and I'm not just talking about Wilt Chamberlain's bedroom here) that the fan is not often left with singular moments of mystery, wonder, and importance to take home with him. (This is also, by the way, the reason why basketball is the major sport least suited to a thirty-second highlight segment on SportsCenter. When over 200 points have been scored all told, how much insight can you really give the viewer by showing a half-dozen shots go in?)

3) Equality: Not only does soccer have inequality, but critically, it has a means for the better teams to move up in the heirarchy of their sport, and the worse teams to move down. I am speaking of promotion and relegation. In both England and Scotland, for example, there are four divisions in league football. Consider the Premier League to be the equivalent of Major League Baseball, and the First, Second, and Third Divisions to be Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A respectively. At the end of every season, the best teams in each division (except for the top one, of course), move up to the next level, whereas the worst teams move down. If the Tampa Bay Devil-Rays were a Premier League outfit, therefore, they would be rapidly closing in on earning their much-deserved ticket to AAA baseball; and they would risk continuing to fall to lower levels unless and until they got their act together. Whereas successful minor-league franchises such as Buffalo and Richmond would not have to go beg the Commissioner to expand the Major Leagues to their cities—all they would have to do is win ballgames and stay solvent, and they would earn their promotion to the next level. In the real world of American sport, however, the likes of the Devil-Rays and the Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Timberwolves are secure in their positions no matter how badly they play, making them an undeserving aristocracy, and thus antithetical to my American vision of conservatism. By contrast, soccer's promotion and relegation exemplify the principles of meritocracy and natural hierarchy, and should be welcomed by conservatives everywhere.

4) Property: You have actually made soccer's case for it by your choice of example. Baseball fans are your classic rent-seekers: they come to the park wanting something for nothing, and will wrestle with each other and even reach into the field of play (thereby disrupting the game) to get it. You couldn't ask for a better metaphor for the culture of entitlement. Soccer fans, by contrast, show respect for other peoples' property by returning errant soccer balls—which quite obviously do not belong to them—to the field of play. If they want to take a ball home they buy one in the team shop. It is of such humble building-blocks that a strong culture of private property is constructed.

5) Tradition: American tradition of any sort is an oxymoron, at least at the start. Certainly baseball tradition was an oxymoron when that sport's leagues were still brand new. But it need not be forever so; and that is no reason to condemn world soccer, which has traditions much deeper than any American sport save baseball would dare dream of. My favorite team, Aberdeen, has been playing in the top Scottish division continuously since 1903, and at the same home ground no less. And I should feel embarrassed comparing the tradition of my beloved Dons to that of the Florida Marlins or Anaheim Mighty Ducks for what reason exactly?

6) Change and Innovation: I will grant that soccer's rules have not been as unchanging as those of the National League (though the Junior Circuit's designated-hitter rule is a huge plank in baseball's eye), but they have been practically etched in stone compared to the rules of basketball, hockey, and most especially American football, which lays claim to being the sport with both the most convoluted, and the most frequently amended, rulebook in the world. Most importantly, world soccer has never attempted to institute in-game video review of the referee's decisions—an anti-conservative monstrosity if there ever was one.

Having thus demonstrated that soccer is in fact deeply resonant with Kirkian conservatism, I will look forward to seeing the Brothers Judd at a 4:30 a.m. World Cup viewing party someday real soon. Don't be afraid, fellas…we soccer fans may be rabid, but at least we don't bite much.

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 
 

THURSDAY POEM

The last stanza of this poem by Shelley is, I think, especially poignant in light of current events in both the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Must hate and death return? We are all fallen men, and always shall be—and so I am afraid they probably must, though let us not cease to pray that it be otherwise.

HELLAS

THE world's great age begins anew,
  The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
  Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
  From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
  Against the morning star;
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
  Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
  And loves, and weeps, and dies;
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.

O write no more the tale of Troy,
  If earth Death's scroll must be—
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
  Which dawns upon the free,
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,
  And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
  The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if naught so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.

Saturn and Love their long repose
  Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
  Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.

O cease! must hate and death return?
  Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
  Of bitter prophecy!
The world is weary of the past—
O might it die or rest at last!

Percy Bysshe Shelley

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 


05 June 2002  

SPORT

Goooooool! United States 3, Portugal 2: More than just an upset…this was a miracle. The match has been over for hours and hours, and I am still a bit giddy. (Well, giddy by my standards anyhow; on the Brazilian scale of giddiness, by contrast, I'd be surprised if I rated any higher than "mildly pleased".) This, along with a busy schedule, helps explain why I haven't felt like blogging much today.

Everyone needs a little happy insanity in their lives, and soccer is where I get mine. Especially at World Cup time. Onward to win the group, boys!

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WEDNESDAY BOOK

The Wednesday Book could use a little comic relief, I think, and that is why this week I am dusting off an old favorite, Holidays in Hell by P.J. O'Rourke. This was the book that sold me on P.J. O'Rourke, starting with his selection of a quote from Buckaroo Banzai to appear at the opening: "Wherever you go, there you are." The basic concept of Holidays in Hell is that the intrepid author travels to the most dangerous and miserable parts of the world that he can get to, from Beirut to Jim Bakker's "Heritage USA", and then describes them for the reader in vivid, telling, and hilarious detail.

As this book was published back in 1988, there are chapters which may strike the reader as dated. Yet at the same time, some of this material reminds us about aspects of the world of the late 1980s that we really ought to remember—such as how the trendy lefties of the day were completely and willfully snookered by the wonders of Soviet Communism (making it no surprise that today these same people see only bright and cheerful things in Castro's Cuba). Other parts of the book are more timeless, such as O'Rourke's "Third World Driving Hints and Tips":

LEARNING TO DRIVE LIKE A NATIVE

It's important to understand that in the Third World most driving is done with the horn, or "Egyptian Brake Pedal," as it is known. There is a precise and complicated etiquette of horn use. Honk your horn only under the following circumstances:
1. When anything blocks the road.
2. When anything doesn't.
3. When anything might.
4. At red lights.
5. At green lights.
6. At all other times.

Some of O'Rourke's better sentences have stayed lodged in my memory, word for word, since I first picked up Holidays in Hell. My mental picture of Poland, for example, was forever influenced by his discussion of Communist concrete:

Commies love concrete, but they don't know how to make it. Concrete is a mixture of cement, gravel and straw? No? Gravel, water and wood pulp? Water, potatoes and lard? The concrete runway at Warsaw's Miedzynarodowy airport is coming to pieces. From bumpy landing until bumpy take-off, you spend your time in Poland looking at bad concrete. Everything is made of it—streets, buildings, floors, walls, ceilings, roofs, window frames, lamp posts, statues, benches, plus some of the food, I think. The concrete that hasn't cracked or flaked has crumbled completely. Generations of age and decay seem to be taking place before your eyes.

Yet all of this is new. The Poles rebelled against Nazi occupation in 1945, and the Germans, in their German way, dynamited Warsaw house by house. Some stumps of churches and museums survived, but nothing major in the central city is older than Candice Bergen. And the place is dirty with a special kind of Marxist dirt. I've seen it before in Moscow, Rostov and East Berlin. It doesn't reek like the compost heap squalor of Mexico City. It isn't flung all over the place like the exuberant trash of New York. There's no litter. There isn't much to litter with. It's an orderly and uniform kind of dirt, a film of dry grit and slough on everything and an atmosphere lachrymose with diesel stink and lignite-coal smoke.

Start reading the above-quoted article, "What Do They Do For Fun in Warsaw?", in the book and I guarantee you won't be able to stop.

Content advisory: Most of this book was originally written for the magazine Rolling Stone, and is composed accordingly.

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04 June 2002  

SPORT

What a country. Yesterday's worries about rough play notwithstanding, I think that this is shaping up to be a fabulous World Cup. And nowhere was it more fabulous yesterday than in Busan, Korea, where the South Korean team earned its first ever finals victory over Poland, 2-0. The Koreans were much better than I had dared hope, playing with spirit and desire, and crucially keeping Polish chances at goal to a bare minimum. No doubt the team was greatly helped by the presence of a sea of red-clad fans, who clapped and cheered and sang and played drums and waved flags and scarves through the entire match. Fill the Maracaña with fervid Brazilians and you would still not be able to match the atmosphere in Busan today. Simply amazing, and I would wish the Koreans further success in their next match…except that one will be against the United States.

I had expected not to like the Japan vs. Belgium match, and in the first half it did not fail to disappoint. In the first half-hour the teams racked up nine fouls and only a single shot on goal apiece. Because of this, and the fact that Belgium's orange uniforms and Toda's indescribably-red hair had been wreaking havoc with my already-shaky television reception, I started to zip through the rest of the match on fast-forward. But then something miraculous happened. Belgium's Wilmots scored with a lovely bit of skill in the 57th minute, and two minutes later the Japanese equalized. A watchable contest had suddenly broken out, in what I had tipped to be the first 0-0 draw of the tournament. It did still end in a draw when all was said and done, 2-2, but not without some help for the Belgians from the referee, who failed to blow his whistle when a breakaway Japanese attacker was brought down from behind at the edge of the box, and shortly afterwards nullified a Japanese goal with a questionable foul.

Memo to defenders: Don't trot around the penalty area with your arm in the air when there's a shot to defend. You can appeal for offsides later; first try to prevent the goal if you can. Today's case in point: The Japanese defenseman who just might have been able to get to Van Der Heyden's lob that scored Belgium's second goal, if only he hadn't been walking with his arm in the air and looking for the linesmen instead.

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ON OTHER PAGES

Your special day. Pete Vere, a canon lawyer in Florida, has posted many illuminating thoughts on matrimony, and particularly the various reasons why so many failed marriages wind up at his tribunal. Amy Welborn, picking up on some of his points, took note of "the huge money-devouring train that weddings have become, making it difficult for spouses-to-be with doubts to step off, kept aboard, as they are, by concerns that 'everyone's invested so much in this...I don't want to disappoint them...'"

I agree with Welborn and Vere that the contemporary wedding-as-spectacle is a problem, and would propose an additional reason why. Wedding magazines and planners like to pander to the bride by speaking of "your special day", and in many cases this indeed seems to be what the whole wedding is about: the woman, the bride, as Queen of the World. I have never heard anyone speak to a groom about his "special day", because it's not about him at all, is it? And it's most certainly not about the relationship between the bride and the groom; if it were, then the religious content and import of the ceremony would be every bit as much on the bride's mind as the length of her train.

The fact of the matter is, weddings loom in the imaginations of young American girls mostly as bigger, better versions of the senior prom. Not every bride is as far gone as the title character in Muriel's Wedding, but I would venture that a large share of young females have been mentally planning some aspect of their wedding since they were in primary school. And in all this planning, the groom is always merely a prop. This should alarm grooms, and the parents of grooms. For some reason it doesn't seem to.

I have a modest proposal for dealing with the problems that modern weddings create. I think that every young woman ought to have a lovely wedding spectacle provided for her on, say, her twentieth birthday. The marriage vows themselves would only be simulated (to use the canon law term), with a handsome-looking rent-a-groom playing his part; but in all other respects it would be the full-bore extravaganza that most American brides plan for themselves. After the bride returned from her "honeymoon" trip—she would have the option of going by herself, or continuing to tote along the rent-a-groom as a prop sleeping in a separate room—she could then get on with her life; and when she was ready to enter into true matrimony she and her fiance could marry in a simple, modest, and unheralded ceremony…or even elope.

As a guy, I think this idea has great promise.

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Our daily Steyn. In the pages of London's Spectator, Mark Steyn is right on target once again:

The Saudis discriminate against Americans all the time: American Jews are not allowed to enter the ‘Kingdom’, nor are American Episcopalians who happen to have an Israeli stamp in their passports. But America cannot be seen to take any similar measures, though it has far more compelling reasons to.

James Woods puts it very well: ‘Nineteen of 19 killers on 11 September were Arab Muslims — not a Swede among them.’ But au contraire, in a world where the EU officially chides the BBC for describing Osama as an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’, we must pretend that al-Qa’eda contains potentially vast numbers of Swedish agents, many female and elderly. Even after 11 September, we can’t revoke the central fiction of multiculturalism — that all cultures are equally nice and so we must be equally nice to them, even if they slaughter large numbers of us and announce repeatedly their intention to slaughter more.

No, Islam does not really mean "peace"…not in our day, not in the Middle East. The Arab Islamists want to kill us all. It's really as simple as that. In light of this state of affairs, it is suicidal for us to try to treat all religions and ethnic groups the same, and to continually take pains to express our solidarity with all the peaceful Arab Muslims out there (all three of them). We cannot afford to seek out the "good" Islamist, and base our policies on this mythical creature, any more than we could have successfully dealt with Communism by chasing after the illusion of the "good" Communist, or fascism by lavishing goodwill on the "good" Nazi.

We must employ Machiavellian clarity. Every last Muslim from the Middle East who seeks entry to the United States must be considered a threat to the national security until proven otherwise. The same goes for every person of that background who is already here but not yet a U.S. citizen. We should exercise extreme caution in admitting these people, and not hesitate to expel them the moment they show any signs of involvement with radical Islamist groups. We should also immediately cut off the flow of Saudi money to their network of Islamic "cultural centers", which they have been using to propagate their dangerous Wahhabi ideology worldwide.

Either that, or we can choose instead to strip-search the occasional grandmother from Omaha and elderly Medal of Honor winner, congratulate ourselves for being so enlightened, then roll over and go back to sleep. In which case we will only be ensuring the success of an attack on the American mainland, using some sort of nuclear device, before the end of W's second term (or, as looks more likely by the day, his successor's first term). Sweet dreams.

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TUESDAY QUOTATION

After four years in Geneva, Sabina settled in Paris, but she could not escape her melancholy. If someone had asked her what had come over her, she would have been hard pressed to find words for it.

When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose. And Sabina—what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being.

Until that time, her betrayals had filled her with excitement and joy, because they opened up new paths to new adventures of betrayal. But what if the paths came to an end? One could betray one's parents, husband, country, love, but when parents, husband, country, and love were gone—what was left to betray?

Sabina felt emptiness all around her. What if that emptiness was the goal of all her betrayals?

Naturally she had not realized it until now. How could she have? The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us. Sabina was unaware of the goal that lay behind her longing to betray. The unbearable lightness of being—was that the goal? Her departure from Geneva brought her considerably closer to it.

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (translated by Michael Henry Heim)

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03 June 2002  

SPORT

Brickbats for ABC Sports. I have been watching the World Cup mostly on Univision (which is free-to-air on channel 34 here in Atlanta, a godsend to the cable-less soccer fanatic), but caught ABC's coverage of two matches this past weekend, and was taken aback by the poor quality of the production. The very worst problem was that the commentary consistently ran about a second ahead of the video. (Memo to ABC: It is a lot less exciting when you know the outcome of a shot before the ball is even struck.) There were many other difficulties. A long series of replay cues, with the World Cup logo sweeping across the screen, which were not followed by replays. Audio problems throughout the first half on Sunday, accompanied at one point by an "ESPN Bristol" test pattern right in the middle of a decent chance on goal. Large chunks of post-game segments overlapped by mis-timed station breaks and a long, silent ABC logo screen.

If these were live broadcasts, that would be one thing…but the folks at ABC had over seven hours between the end of each match and broadcast-time to clean up the most glaring errors. I realize that ABC can hardly be expected to assign its "A" or even "B" team to a sport with ratings as low as soccer, and I really don't mean to be churlish, but shouldn't they feel a responsibility to find people who are at least minimally competent in producing national network broadcasts?

The studio segments had their problems as well. The recaps of other matches were far too short. Is it too much to ask to see all four goals in a report on a 2-2 match? That wouldn't have to take great gobs of time, would it? At least the studio analysts were bad in an entertaining way. Eric Wynalda kept resorting to forced humor in an apparent attempt to ward off an imminent assault by fellow analyst Giorgio Chinaglia, whose mood alternated between irritated superiority and menacing bemusement. At times Chinaglia looked like a man who would bolt the studio were he not being held there at gunpoint.

ABC would do well to take their cue from Univision. I get more out of the Spanish channel's pre-match analysis even though I speak barely a word of the language. In addition, Univision has a much better presentation of the starting lineups, play-by-play men who really share their excitement with the viewer, and a Colombian soccer analyst who is a little easier on the eyes than ABC's crew.

Finally, a memo to the directors responsible for the international pool video: I really like to see the referee actually show the yellow or red card to the player. I'm sure I am not alone in this. Somehow a booking doesn't seem quite real unless you actually see the card—so show it already, and then you can move on to the replays of the foul.

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Cup crazy. Assorted thoughts on the first four days of World Cup action:

• What happened to the Cameroon team that won the African Nations Cup with its iron-clad defense? Perhaps their Odyssean journey to the World Cup took more out of them than I had first thought.

• Argentina looks like the team to beat in the early-going. In their first match, they made the formidable Nigerians look impotent, and were clearly playing on a whole different level than the other teams. But there's still plenty of time for others to find their groove…

• How much did Adidas pay to have the cameras give us so many loving close-ups of the official World Cup ball (which bears a large Adidas logo) before goal kicks?

• Memo to David Seaman: Lose the ponytail. It would look ridiculous enough on any member of England's squad; but it is twice as egregious hanging from a goalkeeper's head. Keepers should give off a forbidding aura, not that of a middle-aged hippie. Fabian Barthez has the right idea.

• Memo to the entire Argentinian squad: Get haircuts. Real men shouldn't run around wearing the soccer-player equivalents of scrunchies and hairnets.

• The early front-runner for the Coolest Goal Celebration award is Senegal, for the little dance-around-the-shirt-that-scored-the-goal routine in their victory against France.

• The best venue for television purposes appears to be the Sapporo Dome. The design is memorable, the roof eliminates the problem of mixing sun and shade, and the primary camera angles are just super.

• The point of a penalty kick is to make up for a scoring opportunity unfairly denied. That being the case, shouldn't the kick have to be taken by the player who was fouled? Why don't the laws of the game require this?

• There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to the booking of players for dissent. I will watch whole bunches of players complain and whine to and lobby the referee all afternoon without consequence…and then suddenly some random player will look at the referee wrong and be shown the yellow card. The only explanation I can think of is that perhaps the offending player made some really nasty remarks, which would of course typically escape the notice of the television viewer.

• The cheap little dead-ball cheats that players try to pull get really tiresome. On a free kick, the ball will migrate towards the goal, and the wall will migrate towards the ball; and the referee's repeated gestures telling players to get back where they're supposed to be go unheeded. Worse, I have noticed that defenders are now starting to rush the ball right before it is struck; they look for all the world like American football players trying to block a field-goal attempt. And the real estate can really be chewed up on throw-ins, as a player is liable to start out standing a few yards ahead of where the ball went over the line, and then run a good ten more yards towards the opposing goal while making his throw.

If I were a FIFA referee, I would take a hard line in such matters—after moving a wall back the required fifteen meters, I would warn the players that if they crept forward even a few centimeters before the kick was taken, everyone in the wall would immediately go in the book. (Maybe that's one of the many reasons why I am not a FIFA referee.)

• On the subject of cheap stunts, has anyone ever gotten out of a yellow card by pretending not to notice the referee and wandering off, and avoiding looking at the referee and his card at all costs? If I were in the referee's shoes, this would make me very angry very quickly. (Again, a good reason why I am not a FIFA referee.) I think that when a referee beckons, a player should be obligated to walk straight over and look the referee in the eyes, or else see his yellow card instantly transformed into red.

• The two prior notes are along the lines of pet peeves; but there appears to be a much more serious refereeing issue developing at this World Cup. (More serious, too, than the questionable penalties and unfortunate offsides calls, which make their appearance in every tournament.) I am referring to the general roughness of play, which to my eyes peaked in today's Brazil vs. Turkey match. Each side was called for roughly a score of fouls, and shown cards of both colors, yet still the Korean referee did not come close to keeping matters under control. Even a seasoned Highland League barbarian (I use the term fondly, please note) would have hesitated to step on that pitch in the second half.

FIFA has done a fine job of cracking down on dangerous sliding tackles (and is making progress on cynical diving too), but the aggressiveness and physicality has simply found another outlet in the form of NHL-worthy body-checks, which have been met with far too much indulgence so far in Korea and Japan. Shirt-pulling is also threatening to get out of control. Now, a certain amount of physical play is a normal and acceptable part of soccer, but when it is not kept strictly controlled the "beautiful game" disappears, as flair and finesse and dexterity are shoved aside by hacking and checking and pulling. (This is hardly a tragedy in the likes of the Highland League, but is a crying shame when the world's best players are meeting in the sport's greatest competition.) FIFA's officials should study the tape of Brazil vs. Turkey over the next couple of days, and take steps to ensure that we do not see anything quite this violent and dirty again in this tournament.

• To conclude with a positive note on officiating, my fellow-countryman Brian Hall deserved praise for his refereeing in the Italy vs. Ecuador match. I thought he called a good tight game without being oppressive, especially in the first half. Also, I am glad to see that FIFA is taking a closer look at Brazil's Rivaldo, who helped get an opponent sent off with a ridiculous bit of play-acting at the end of the match against Turkey. He wasn't shown a card at the time, but hopefully that won't stop FIFA from finding a way of throwing the book at him after the fact…especially as he has been defending his outrageous bit of foul play in the press.

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MONDAY FUNNY

This week the Monday Joke becomes the Monday Funny, so that The Goliard Blog may escape the limits of the mere joke, and bring you all manner of things which are funny. Such as the excellent website Engrish.com, dedicated to the hilarity which so often results when the Japanese encounter the English language. The following T-shirt slogan is a good example:

"envirob"
is the essence of weird life.
It will makes you too ill.
Try our extraordinary works.
you can find
it's another standard.

I think I'll pass on the envirob for now…as well as the product bearing this warning label:

¡DANGER!
A dangerous toy. This toy is being made for the extreme priority the good looks. The little part which suffocates when the sharp part which gets hurt is swallowed is contained generously. Only the person who can take responsibility by itself is to play.

All-righty then. Some other items on display at Engrish.com must simply be seen to get the full effect; and I also very much enjoy the short and simple ones, such as the sign over a doorway reading "EMERGENCY TRAP". ("When you need a trap right away…" the website authors comment.) So go visit the site already. However, because it can cause one to start laughing uncontrollably, I recommend that only the person who can take responsibility by itself is to view Engrish.com.

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Welcome back Kotter Goliard. As promised, The Goliard Blog returns today, with lots of toys for girls and boys…whoops, that's Santa Claus, not me. Well, the blogging is back at any rate.

I should give fair warning that, with the FIFA World Cup having kicked off on Friday, your humble author is already deep in the grip of footballitis, and will be posting frequently on soccer-related matters throughout the month-long tournament. As for those readers who don't care for soccer…well, I would like to graciously accept their point of view, and simply reassure them that there will continue to be many non-World Cup posts here in June. But I just can't bring myself to do it.

I must, instead, urge you to get with the program: to discover, and then yield to, World Cup madness; or, failing that, to at least give some notice to the greatest single-sport event that takes place, or has ever taken place, here on planet Earth. A lot of good exciting soccer has already been played—with 25 goals and no scoreless draws through the first eight matches—and much more of it awaits. As an Arthur Miller character once said: Attention must be paid. (Yes, even here in soccer-averse America.)

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