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14 June 2002  

Ciao until Monday. Thank you for reading week eight of The Goliard Blog. I may be deep in World Cup madness, but I still managed to find my way to the computer to blog at least something each day this week, and will endeavor to do so again next week. A full schedule of non-soccer-related blogging may not reappear, however, until the closing of the tournament at the end of this month. As legendary manager (and one-time captain for Scotland) Bill Shankly once said:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death.
I'm very disappointed with that attitude.
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

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ON OTHER PAGES

You learn something new every day. It is a great pleasure when someone who knows more about a topic than I do picks up on something I have written about and provides some yummy details that I had been previously unaware of. Such as Rat's Nest's highly educational comments on my post "You say Croatia, I say Hrvatska…". The most delicious set of obscure facts, which I will now have at my disposal to bore unsuspecting interlocutors with for years to come, is this:

"Japan" is actually from a medieval Chinese pronunciation (via Malay) of characters now pronounced er4ben3 (incidentally, "Nippon" is actually a Sinicized form of Nihon, the native pronunciation of those characters. In the 1930's, the Japanese militarists decided, for some reason, that "Nippon" was the only acceptable pronunciation. As a reaction, the "Nihon" pronunciation is much more common in modern Japan than the "Nippon" pronunciation, although the latter is not unknown).

What can you say about a country that has trouble even figuring out how to pronounce its own name? When the homogenizing aspects of globalization start to get you down, you can always count on the Japanese to present a refreshingly inscrutable and just plain foreign sign of contradiction, and I say God bless 'em for it.

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SPORT

World Cup update. Three words: We owe Korea.

Now for a look at the broader picture. With the first round of the World Cup finals complete, here is how each confederation fared:

AFC (Asia, 4 ½ places allotted): 2 of 4 teams advanced, both of them host nations playing in front of home crowds. The other two teams were the worst performers in the tournament. Iran, who earned AFC's additional "half-place", lost their playoff with Ireland and so did not even reach the finals.
CAF (Africa, 5 places allotted): 1 of 5 teams advanced.
CONCACAF (North and Central America, 3 places allotted): 2 of 3 teams advanced.
CONMEBOL (South America, 4 ½ places allotted): 2 of 5 teams advanced.
OFC (Oceania, ½ place allotted): No teams participated, as Australia, who earned OFC's "half-place", lost their pre-finals playoff with Uruguay.
UEFA (Europe, 14 ½ places allotted): 9 of 15 teams advanced.

FIFA may want to carefully consider these numbers before they decide to take several more places in the finals away from UEFA, as they have been hinting they might. If it were up to me, I would take one-half place away from AFC and from UEFA (leaving each with a whole number of slots, eliminating the need for one of the awkward inter-confederation playoffs), and give CONCACAF a fourth spot. (To whom else would you expect a North American like myself to award the extra place?) I would leave CAF alone for now despite their dismal performance in this World Cup, because I know Africa's teams are much stronger than they may have appeared in this tournament…but if they disappoint again in the next World Cup I might change my mind.

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WORLD

About those Dutch coalition talks… Those of you who read my analysis of the Dutch election results last month may have been wondering how the negotiations for forming a new government have been going over the last four weeks. I have been wondering too, but have not been able to find out a single thing via the Internet or any other source. Rod Dreher, who was in the Netherlands last week, was kind enough to clue me in on why. He reported that it is against Dutch law for anyone representing a political party to say anything publicly while talks are in progress, and he was thus unable to find out anything during his own visit to The Hague.

All I know, then, is that negotiations are continuing, and that they are starting to drag on a bit long even by Dutch standards. Dare I flatter myself by venturing a guess that prospective Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is biding his time, in accordance with the suggested strategy outlined by yours truly? (I suppose I just did.)

UPDATE: It turns out that the above information may not be entirely accurate. Or even a little accurate. A note from a Dutch friend states that it is not against the law for politicians to publicly discuss the negotiations, and that in fact members of the parties involved have been talking to the press almost daily (it is still true, however, that there might as well be such a law in place, so far as the world's English-language press is concerned). It is also noted that a mere month does not qualify as "a bit long" considering that talks went on for six months or so back in 1977. The reason it takes so long is that the parties involved are not only divvying up ministerial posts, but settling on a detailed "regeerakkoord" ("governing accord" or "letter of intent"), where they set out the new government's policies on a whole host of issues, and by which they are legally bound once the government has been formed and the document approved by Parliament. My correspondent further reports that the current negotiations, which they are hoping to wrap up by mid-July, are aiming at a regeerakkord that is more vague than usual to give the new government maximum flexibility, which sounds wise considering the unusual election results and the uncertainty which that has introduced into the mix.

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FRIDAY FEATURE

The truth about the mysterious vanishing Friday Feature. Frequent visitors to The Goliard Blog (both of you) have no doubt grown frustrated over the not-very-funny joke that my promised Friday Feature has become. This week I am happy to finally offer a full explanation.

I am a longtime fan of crossword puzzles, and had fairly recently begun to experiment with creating them myself. Thinking that such puzzles would make a fine end-of-the-week diversion for The Goliard Blog, I moved my Friday Poem up to Thursday, started posting teasers about the new feature, and set to work learning just enough HTML to be able to create web pages on which my crosswords could be posted. As I put the finishing touches on the first "Goliard Crossword", I decided to run it by an individual known for mentoring novice constructors. Much to my surprise, she was of the opinion that my work would likely be publishable (after some glaring cluing problems were addressed). The promise of earning modest fame, and even more modest fortune, from my efforts was enough to cause me to abort the launch of the Friday Feature, and pursue other avenues.

I am now happy to report that my kind mentor was right. The puzzle that she helped me polish is to be published as the daily Universal Crossword (edited by Timothy Parker) for Thursday, August 1st. It will be available at various sites online, and may even appear on-dead-tree in a newspaper in your area.

Life has been on the busy side for me lately, but I am trying to take time to work on further crosswords to submit for publication. If and when such puzzles are accepted, I will be sure to inform you of when, and by whom, they are to be published. If I should wind up with some completed puzzles that I am happy with, but that I cannot interest anyone in publishing, I may make them available here at The Goliard Blog on the odd Friday. Or I may come up with an entirely different Friday Feature in the weeks to come. Stay tuned to find out.

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13 June 2002  

ON OTHER PAGES

Thomas More's new chapel. Ad Orientem has made me very happy with a nice post today on my beloved alma mater's planned Chapel of the North American Martyrs. A drawing, and several links to articles and webpages related to the chapel's architect Duncan Stroik, are included. For more images of the proposed chapel, see the relevant page on the Thomas More College website.

When the chapel is built Thomas More will, I am confident, become the only college in the world with a main quad bounded by a chapel, a library, a farmhouse, and a barn. (The refectory, student lounge, some classrooms, and the existing chapel are in the barn.) Currently it is, of course, merely the only college in the world with an incomplete main quad bounded by a library, a farmhouse, and a barn.

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Another web Goliard. The editor of The Goliard Online e-mailed me recently and suggested that I might want to provide a link to that very interesting web publication. I am happy to do so, even though their contributor known as "the Bookwoman" seems to have a way of making it very difficult to focus on the books she reviews. (I have phrased that a bit coyly because I do not know whether the Bookwoman would take being referred to jovially as "a near occasion of sin" the right way.) This "other" Goliard is kinda hard to describe (but most definitely quirky), and kinda hard to pin down what it is all about really, which seems to suit these folks just fine, as witnessed by the following words from their "Editorial Policy":

Nobody on the Goliard staff has formal training of any kind in forming opinions nor are any of us qualified in any way to pass judgment. We may comport ourselves as if we are however and make no apologies on that score. We do not accept contributions of any kind, either written or monetary, from anyone who is not one of us. Becoming one of us is either impossible or relatively simple depending on your world view. If you long to be one of us, you probably aren't. If you suspect there are idiots behind this enterprise, you are invited to join.

I am pleased to be among those who meet the necessary qualifications, and might just try taking them up on their invitation sometime. (But as I do not long to be one of them, I am naturally in no hurry.)

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Resign. All of you. The folks at National Review's "The Corner" have, quite naturally, provided a link to their former publisher (and current publisher of D Magazine) Wick Allison's call for all the American bishops to resign, in an open letter to those bishops published today in The Dallas Morning News. (Note: the DMN has joined the ranks of newspapers which require a pesky, but free, registration in order to view its articles.) I found the following paragraph to be particularly graceful, and to make Allison's startling suggestion easier to swallow:

In Catholic doctrine, the laying on of hands made you heirs to the Apostles, but it didn't exempt you from the foibles that afflict us all and even were known to the Apostles themselves. The most charming thing about the Gospels is their candid recounting of the disciples' shortcomings. One moment they are squabbling over rank, the next moment they are scratching their heads over one of Jesus' parables. There are times when even the most devout reader is startled by their obtuseness. The truth is, they don't seem to have been the brightest light bulbs in the display case. Nor do they give an impression of steadiness under fire. When trouble came, most of them ran away. According to John, they weren't even very good fishermen.

I guess our bishops are worthier heirs to the Apostles than I had realized.

In the same newspaper today, Bill Bennett has an excellent article which only calls for the removal of some of the American bishops. Now here is a brand of "moderate" opinion I can stand…

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THURSDAY POEM

"Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe." — The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes.
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
see if I don't!
— Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz

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12 June 2002  

WEDNESDAY BOOK

This week's Wednesday Book is one I made mention of a little while ago: Leaving Katya by Paul Greenberg. If you follow the link to Barnes & Noble.com, you will find detailed reviews (some of which give away large chunks of the story, please note) and an excerpt from the novel. In this space I will not try to be as comprehensive, but will simply mention some of my impressions of the book by way of recommendation.

Leaving Katya is a short, first novel composed of straightforward, even spare, prose. Yet it hints at mysteries much deeper than that description would seem to indicate. Heavily autobiographical, the novel tells the story of the difficult and rather tenuous relationship between Daniel, a young American man with slacker tendencies, and Katya, a Russian who leaves the soon-to-be-former Leningrad for New York to be with him. Katya, combining as she does the dual mysteries of womanhood and Russianness, seems to remain distant and alien in some fundamental way to Daniel throughout the book. Katya is conscious of this, and perhaps is consciously using it to her advantage from time to time, as when she tells Daniel's psychiatrist father, "We Russians feel all sorts of things you couldn't begin to imagine." This is one of the many places where the book rings absolutely true—Russians, and especially Russian women, are quite fond of speaking of the "mysterious Russian soul".

Try to say "mysterious American soul" with a straight face and you will gain insight into the gulf that separates Katya's and Daniel's personalities. Daniel may be passive-agressive and less than open in his conversation, but he proves transparent enough anyway, especially in comparison to and in the eyes of the Russians, who seem instantly able to diagnose him as having a "weak character"…a quality apparently as immutable in Russian eyes as Daniel's fingerprint or blood type. This is not an uncommon Russian diagnosis of an American male (though not quite as common as "uneducated", which I believe to be the most frequent verdict handed down for both American men and women), but it hits too close to home for Daniel, and feeds his feelings of inferiority, already stoked by his ongoing difficulties in finding his way in the world.

I would have liked to have seen the novel delve further into the question of why Daniel became so deeply enamored of Katya so quickly, and how much of this had to do with her being Russian. An exploration of this topic might have helped shed some light on the still-growing mania for Russian brides that can easily be spotted in the most cursory search on the Internet. As a longtime follower of Russian affairs, I took notice of this phenomenon some time ago and have wondered just how much it can tell us about American and Russian society today. Are American men drawn to this business mostly by misleading promises and their own fantasies, or is there a fundamental brokenness in relations between the sexes in our country—or, more controversially, some deeply worrisome or unattractive qualities of many contemporary American women—that helps push these men into the arms of Slavic strangers?

And what about the women? Precisely what is it that makes crossing the ocean and depositing oneself in a profoundly alien environment appear to be a decent option to them? What might this tell us about the priorities of Russian women, and about how they view marriage? Are they, like Katya, prone to so strictly ration openness, trust, and intimacy, even in their marriages, that marrying a relative stranger is not as radical a departure from the usual practice for them as it would be for an American? Or is all of this, in both countries, simply a fringe phenomenon that one should not waste too much time analyzing? Some folks with keener sociological insight and greater personal experience than myself really ought to take a look at all this and write about it. I would be most interested to learn what they had to say.

I should mention that issues other than Russian-American interaction are also explored in this book. I was particularly struck by the surprisingly clear illustration, in the chapter entitled "Beautiful Things", of how openness to new life is a powerful source of strength in a marriage, and how being closed to it can be destructive of intimacy.

Content advisory: This novel contains some frankly sexual—but far from salacious—bits of narrative, particularly (and quite necessarily) in the chapter just mentioned.

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 


11 June 2002  

SPORT

Fate and Uruguay. My nominee for Most Unfortunate Early Exit from this year's World Cup is Uruguay. The South Americans, appearing in the Finals for the first time since 1990, lost to Denmark 2-1 in their first match, unluckily suffering a slew of close, missed chances for themselves and then a late (83rd minute) go-ahead goal by the Danes. In their second match, Uruguay held the French, and their bad luck, at bay in the only scoreless draw of the tournament so far…but then misfortune came roaring back, with a vengeance, in today's contest against Senegal.

The Africans were 3-0 up by halftime, two of these goals having been inflicted on Uruguay by the match officials, who were acting—as they so often do—as stand-ins for Fate. The first goal had come from a penalty kick, awarded after a Senegalese attacker was somehow brought down in the penalty area without actually being touched by an opposing player. (FIFA, by the way, ought to come up with some way of rewarding players who make contact, real or imaginary, with an opponent yet manage to stay on their feet, as the getting-knocked-over-by-a-feather routine can get awfully tiresome.) The third goal had been scored by a player who, the replays made clear, was offside; but in a reversal of the usual pattern of this World Cup, the referee and linesman had allowed the goal. (It seemed to take a little while for the officials to make their final decision…perhaps Fate had to whisper in their ears more than once, and more loudly than usual, to sell them on the goal.)

Uruguay thus came out of the dressing-room facing a grim end to their World Cup campaign, but the gloom was lifted suddenly when Richard Morales scored only 17 seconds into the second period. All at once the Uruguayans began to play like a team that had forgotten—or simply didn't care—that Fate was against them, and their cause utterly hopeless. Through their daring and spirited and desperate efforts to conjure up a miracle, they somehow managed to draw even with Senegal, Alvaro Recoba scoring in the 88th minute to make it 3-3. An astounding feat, yet not quite enough. Uruguay would need a win to survive on this day, and so needed one more goal before the final whistle. One more goal, which Fate was determined to deny them in savage fashion…a goal which would be dangled in front of them, then cruelly snatched away.

This occurred in the second minute of extra time. Fate placed Richard Morales three yards in front of a gaping goal, unmarked, as a shot rebounded off the keeper and soared high into the air…and then descended steadily and directly towards his waiting head. Morales, the very man whose foot had restored the team's hope at the start of the half, killed that same hope with his head as he sent the ball wide, in what Reuters' reporter justly wrote was the miss of the tournament.

How to explain such misfortune? Some readers may deny that it was misfortune at all, and place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Uruguayans, who through a series of individual mistakes, culminating in Morales' spectacular error, managed to earn their early exit from the tournament. Others may concede an element of luck in these events, yet deny that the misfortune might carry any deep significance. I, however, argue that Fate's fingerprints can be seen all over Uruguay's defeat; and what is more I believe I know why.

The Football Gods, who now and always love the Brazilians above all other nations, are still angry with Uruguay for having heartlessly taken the World Cup from Brazil in the space of twenty-five awful minutes at the end of the final match of the 1950 tournament. That the Football Gods have not yet been appeased—even after fifty-two years of Uruguayan World Cup futility—is explained by the fact that this great outrage occurred at the Maracaña, the massive stadium constructed in Rio de Janiero specifically for the 1950 World Cup. The Maracaña was yet unfinished when the first match of the tournament kicked off; and the true Brazilian fan knows in his heart that, even as it grows old and crumbles, it is unfinished still, and ever shall remain until the day Brazil wins the World Cup on its hallowed pitch. This consecration of their great cathedral of football had been planned by the Brazilians and the Football Gods for that long-ago Sunday in July; but the Uruguayans dared to intervene, interrupting, profaning, and delaying perhaps forever that blessed event. I fear that many more years, and many more episodes of World Cup frustration, will yet lie ahead for the Uruguayans before the Football Gods concede that they have atoned for this greatest of football sins.

The Brazilians, of course, are another matter. I do not believe they shall never forgive.

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TUESDAY QUOTATION

The Bush Administration desperately needs to absorb the lessons of The Prince—particularly chapter XVII, from which I am taking today's Tuesday Quotation:

And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved. For of men it may generally be affirmed, that they are thankless, fickle, false studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready, as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour of need they turn against you. The Prince, therefore, who without otherwise securing himself builds wholly on their professions is undone. For the friendships which we buy with a price, and do not gain by greatness and nobility of character, though they be fairly earned are not made good, but fail us when we have occasion to use them.

Moreover, men are less careful how they offend him who makes himself loved than him who makes himself feared. For love is held by the tie of obligation, which, because men are a sorry breed, is broken on every whisper of private interest; but fear is bound by the apprehension of punishment which never relaxes its grasp.

— From The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (translated by N.H. Thomson)

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10 June 2002  

SPORT

World Cup update. All teams have now completed two of their three matches in the group phase of the World Cup (the results of which determine who goes forward to the knockout round and who is sent home). Here is an update on the current state of affairs, along with various random comments:

•  Two teams are already assured of a place in the next round: Spain and Brazil.

•  Five teams are officially out of the running. In order of elimination they are: Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Slovenia, China, and Poland.

•  Ecuador and Tunisia are for all practical purposes eliminated, as it would require extremely unlikely sequences of events to save them. If Paraguay and Turkey are to advance, they will need to light up their already-eliminated opponents (Slovenia and China, respectively), and pray that the already-qualified leaders of their groups do not decide to take the day off in their final matches. Several other teams are also in deep trouble, including defending champions France, who join China, Poland, and Saudi Arabia on the dishonor roll of teams who have not yet scored a goal in the tournament. (At least the French have only yielded one goal so far, unlike the other three members of the club, who have coughed up an astonishing twenty-one goals between them.)

•  The referees have continued to be uneven but passable, while the linesmen have commited the real officiating crimes of this World Cup thus far. The Italians were the most victimized, having had at least one and possibly two goals unfairly snatched from them in their 2-1 loss to Croatia. A draw against the Croats would have left Italy in a vastly better position; and if both goals had been allowed, giving Italy the win, they would have qualified outright that day. If the Italians do not get the points they need against Mexico and are sent home, I would advise the World Cup officiating crew to not schedule any vacations in Sicily in the near future.

•  Signs of improvement were visible in the refereeing of Turkey's second outing. Instead of getting away with murder, as was the case in their first match against Brazil, the Turks only got away with aggravated assault against Costa Rica. Now it is admittedly hard for me to view the Turkish team objectively—I have been chummy with too many Greeks and Armenians over the years for that—but I do not think I am going too far out on a limb by nominating the Turks for Most Brutal Team in this World Cup. I would also like to nominate them for the coveted title of Worst Singers of Their Own National Anthem. (Tune in for the pre-match festivities when they take on China this Thursday, if you haven't heard them yet. You will be amazed.)

•  Today's match between Belgium and Tunisia inspired me to nominate the Tunisians, who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time writhing on the ground in real or imagined pain, for Most Fragile Team of this World Cup. The clincher here was that they were playing Belgium, for crying out loud, not a squad of hard men like Turkey.

Any unpleasant feelings caused by this award should, however, be salved by the other title I am nominating the Tunisians for, that of Most Honest Squad. In their post-match comments today, the coach and several of his players came right out and admitted that they have no chance of beating Japan by two goals, which would be necessary for them to advance. "We don't really have much of a chance against Japan, they are at home with their own crowd, they have a very, very good team and it's going to be very, very difficult," said the coach, Ammar Souayah. Defenseman Hatem Trabelsi was even more blunt: "Japan are the strongest team in the group and the favorite. Tunisia can't win the match against Japan. It is too difficult for us. We only try to make it a good match." C'mon, fellas…tell us what you really think.

•  The most common injury over the past few days—or at least the most noticeable—was the profusely-bleeding gash over the eyes. I counted at least three players who suffered this malady after in-air collisions with opponents' heads. One lucky player was even subjected to a bit of on-field surgery, when the gash on his face was sutured as he sat behind one of the goals. Lucky viewers around the globe were treated to generous close-ups of this procedure by the television directors, who must be frustrated former medical students. More than one of the injured players re-entered the game with copious amounts of gauze wrapped around their heads, making them look like escapees from the local hospital.

•  One tiny little thing that I really like is the way the nets are suspended these days. The netting is tied to posts located a little behind and beside the goal, giving it a nicely-squared appearance, and causing the ball to playfully run along the inside of the net when a goal is scored…a thing that I find particularly pleasing.

Some days I'm awfully easy to please.

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MONDAY FUNNY

I wrote the following after receiving one too many dubious "interesting facts" e-mails in my in-box. You will find it funnier if you have been plagued by such messages too.

THINGS THAT MAY NOT BE TRUE BUT ARE INTERESTING . . .

•  Refrigerators last longer if you put rubber bands in them.
•  Peach pits are used in making bullet-proof glass.
•  On the U.S. $10 bill, the "flag" flying over the Treasury building is actually a pair of undershorts.
•  There are no clocks at all in the movie "Star Wars", but if there were, they would all read 4:20.
•  Cuba is the only country in the world which, spelled backwards, is "ABUC".
•  There are only two words in the English language which end in "-ing", jousting and foisting…that is, so long as you don't count any of the others.
•  Under Osama bin Laden's beard is a tattoo of Mickey Mouse.
•  In England, the Speaker of the House may say "Order!, Order!" all he or she likes, but is absolutely forbidden from shouting "Spam!, Spam!"
•  Porky Pig cartoons were banned in Israel because he wasn't kosher.
•  Clark Gable had a third nostril, which had to be painstakingly airbrushed out of each frame before his movies could be released.

And last and definitely most important:

•  The average list of "interesting facts" that comes to you in your e-mail is at least 63% made up…and that number is even higher for lists containing alleged percentages of things.

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