Saturday, June 26, 2010


It was a beautiful game—perhaps the best soccer I’ve seen this decade—devoid of questionable calls by refs, cheap tricks by players and histrionics by all. In the end the best team—Ghana—won simply by playing better in the first half, scoring early, and showing superior skills at ball-handling.

The Ghanaians in the first 45 minutes of play swarmed the ball like a wedge of maddened honeybees. Their quickness was amazing to see and their relentless pursuit of the ball at anytime and anywhere kept the Americans off-kilter. The West Africans charged more often, ran faster and harder, slid greater distances and headed the ball higher than did the US team. It was that simple. And yet, in its own way the Americans won by not giving up. In the last seconds of the overtime, they were still charging ahead, and when the final whistle blew there was no doubt they’d given their all.

There were amazing moments in the crowd as well: Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton, side by side, the singer’s cavernous mouth in a gleeful smile as the former President whispered in his ear; Americans with astounding face-paint, outdone only by Ghanaians in a sea of green and orange; Ghana’s President, John Atta Mills, leaping to his feet and pumping his fist in the air when his team scored its second goal.

I like soccer, always have. The athletism of good players in undeniable—who else can sprint a hundred times in 90 minutes? I love the non-stop action, the minimal involvement of good refs who know that the heart of the game is full of minor infractions, but only the important fouls should be called. The synchronized runs of good forwards passing the ball back and forth is chess-like; I like the crowds—well, all but the hooligans from the British isles.

Though millions of American kids play soccer, the professional game has never really caught on in this country, though it is making headway. Every four years when the excitement of the World Cup catches up with even the unwary, the game gets a nudge, a bit more popularity. It will never replace football or basketball as America’s favorite sport—and that’s fine, as far as I’m concerned—but I think in a decade or three, we might be as familiar with the names of the goalies as we are with those of our favorite quarterbacks. We’ll come to better appreciate the incredible skills all these athletes manifest, and venerate them as we do Olympians. Can’t come soon enough for me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The World Cup

Yesterday the French were eliminated from World Cup play-offs. Does it sting? Well, yes, a tad. After all, the Ivory Coast was once a French colony, but it my mind this just means the French did a good job teaching the Ivorians ball-handling (or footling). The American equivalent, I suppose, would be for a Philippino team to win the World Series.

Was I dismayed? Not a bit. Did I expect the French to make it past the opening rounds? No. Let’s face it; the French are extraordinary at single competition and horrible in teams. Climb Kilimanjaro blindfolded? The French did it. Cross the Atlantic on a windsurfer? Yep, that too.  Drive the Dakar-Paris rally? Yes indeed. Tennis? Oh yeah, we’re pretty good at that. Win at a team sport? Not on your life. When it comes to organized play, to the coordination of individuals on a playing field, my brethrens thrive on chaos and disunity. Just before the last game, the team defied its coach, leading to massive replacements of team members.  We French, when it comes to sports, are masters at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Americans, who won earlier today with a late-game goal against Algeria, have benefited from an increased US interest in the sport but I don’t think that in the States soccer will ever be placed very high on the pantheon of physical activities. Americans like ‘burst’ sports, high intensity followed by periods of rest. Football, basketball, and baseball are all burst sports that allow viewers the opportunity to get snacks, talk on the phone, go to the bathroom. Soccer is a continuous effort rarely halted for longer than seconds. Referees do not slow down the game by explaining their calls. A match might be decided in the time it takes to flush the toilet.

Soccer is also theater, as opposed to action movie. There is balletic quality to the movement of the players down the field, and an economy of movement not found in other sports.  And few players of other games come close to matching the histrionics of a soccer forward who has been downed by contact.  The tears! The handwringing! The grimaces of intense pain!  All vanish as soon as a penalty is called—or not called—but it makes watching a good game as interesting as anything offered on stage.

The officiating of international soccer leaves a lot to be desired. Since referees do not have to explain or justify calls, pretty much anything goes. Today, a ref disallowed an American goal, calling the US off sides when it wasn’t. There’s no recourse. Earlier in the Cup a non-English speaking Malian referee did the same thing when the Americans were playing Slovenia, so that the Americans, instead of winning 3 - 2, ended up with a 2-2 tie. There’s talk of instituting instant replays in world matches, but I don’t see that happening. The charm of soccer is its intensity and speed, and stopping the game for play review would ruin it. Better training for the officials is needed, no doubt, and it will come in time.  

Soccer has yet to find its true niche in the US. It may or may not do so, but it’s at least heartening to see that—at least for as long as the American teams stays in the competition—there’s a resurgence of interest in the sport.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The F*ckers Are Winning

It’s tourist season in Washington, DC., and the hordes are back. Giant buses monopolize parking and impede traffic, clueless drivers from the hinterlands block crossroads and turn left on red, high school senior classes gaze, point, giggle or looked bored.

I wonder if they realize that the f*ckers have won? 

By the f*ckers, of course, I am referring to the various terrorist factions throughout the world that have managed to nibble and gnaw at the small daily freedoms once allowed us.

Recently, the Supreme Court closed its front entrance on Capitol Hill. Terrorist fears are cited.  The Old Executive Building, a beloved architectural nightmare downtown boasts a 12-foot-tall chain link fence.
Pennsylvania Avenue fronting the White House has of course been closed to traffic since the Reagan years.

Entrance to most if not all government buildings is allowed only with an ID card. Full body scans at airports following impossible delays as our carry on luggage is checked and we are forced to dispose of any bottles of liquid larger than 3.4 ounces. The latter, by the way, includes snow globes, so don’t buy one at the airport gift shop.

Still reading? If you live in the Western world, your life has been influenced—probably for the negative—by the actions of others who have your worst interest in mind. Terrorism has led us into unwinnable conflicts on two fronts. More than 5000 American soldiers have died, and these wars will have cost us $1.08 trillion by the end of 2010, according to the Center for Defense Information.  The breakdown looks like this.

Estimated War-Related Costs, Iraq and Afghanistan

In billions of budgeted dollars
2001+ 2002

Enhanced security
Unable to allocate


1. Includes $5.5 billion of $7.1 billion appropriated in DOD's FY2003 Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-48) for the global war on terror that CRS cannot allocate and DOD cannot track.
2. Of the $25 billion provided in Title IX of the FY2005 DOD appropriation bill, CRS includes $2 billion in FY2004 when it was obligated and the remaining $23 billion in FY2005. Because Congress made the funds available in FY2004, CBO and OMB score all $25 billion in FY2004.
3. Includes funds in the FY2007 Supplemental (H.R. 2206/P.L. 110-28), Title IX, P.L. 109-289, FY2007 DOD Appropriations Act (H.R. 5631) designated for war and funds for other agencies in H.J. Res 20, P.L. 110-50, the year-long Continuing Resolution. VA Medical estimates reflect VA FY2008 budget materials and CRS estimates. Amounts for foreign and diplomatic operations reflects State Department figures.

Think of this! What could this country do with a trillion dollars? Repair old schools and build new ones? Upgrade hospitals in rural areas? Fix the electricity grid? Re-invent something like Roosevelt’s Work Program Administration? Clean up the environment…

Wars are always costly; they’ve been known to bankrupt nations.  So here’s a suggestion or two. Force the countries harboring terrorists to be accountable. That means freeze all the accounts they hold in European, Asian or American banks. Treat them like the international pariahs they should be and do not allow their citizens to come here and take advantage of us, our educational system, our kindness. Terrorists want to kill us, and they don’t play fair, so we should allow no quarters.

If we use our resources intelligently, fighting terrorism shouldn’t cost a trillion bucks, and we don’t have to let the f*ckers win.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Meanwhile, in France...

France, my country of origin, is in a pickle.

There are three to five million Muslims in France, including one million who are French citizens. There have been Muslims in France since the beginning of the 20th century, but it was only in 1967 that their number topped one million.

France on January 1, 1994 had 58 million residents. The French population has been increasing by about 400,000 annually, due to 300,000 more births than deaths, and 100,000 immigrants. Half of all French immigrants, and 40 percent of the asylum seekers, are from Africa.

In the past, France had an assimilationist attitude toward immigration--immigrants were expected to learn French and to conform to French values in public. Muslims have begun to challenge assimilation just as France, like other industrial countries, is debating the best way to integrate minority immigrants.

In the fall of 1994, the French government officially banned girls who wear "ostentatious" headscarves from attending public schools. Some Islamic associations immediately attacked the headscarf ban as a symbol of French intolerance for minorities. In more recent times, there has been much talk about women wearing burkas and a few days ago, in Nantes, 220 miles west of Paris, the issue came to a head. This port, the sixth largest city in the country is home to some 750,000. Police authorities there issued a traffic ticket to one Sandrine Moulere, a native-born French woman. Ms. Moulere was driving her car while wearing a full-face Islamic veil and the police claim this impaired her vision. She, in turn, said she could navigate through traffic as well as any motorcyclist wearing a helmet. So far, a fairly simple matter.

But, it turns out, Ms. Moulere, born Christian, converted to Islam some time ago. She is the common-law wife of an Algerian native, Lies Hebbadj. Hebbadj obtained a French passport through his marriage to another French woman. He now lives in a multi-house compound with three other women and 15 children. French authorities claim this is polygamy and that Hebbadj is a welfare cheat who has been collecting money through his female companions. Hedbbadj says that he is married to only one woman but has three mistresses. Having mistresses, he claims quite rightly, is not illegal in France.

Like I said, it’s a pickle.

The issue of course has little to do with driving skills. It touches on assimilation or the lack thereof, on unemployment, on minorities seen as siphoning funds from the system. Here is fear of change—felt by both the native-born and the immigrants—consternation, distrust, chauvinism, the immovable object meeting the irresistible force.

Personally, I’m with the French. My views, mentioned many, many times, is that it is the job of the newcomer to adapt to his/her new country. That means learning the language, accepting the mores, taking part in the culture rather than defying it, and becoming a worker among workers. Save the national dress or religion-defining attire for special occasions. Don’t do animal sacrifices in view of the neighbors, and work with the system rather than take advantage of it. We’ll all be happier then.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I deal in words. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by their power, their idealism, and, often, their cruelty. I know more English words than the average English-speaker (French words too, but that’s another story), and I infuriate friends by pointing their grammatical errors and inappropriate use of a noun, verb or adjective. In other words, I’m a word snob, guilty of having had a love-hate relationship with expressions, vocabulary and language. According to Confucius, words are the voice of the heart. Henry Adams called them “slippery,” and Josh Billings advised that “there’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.” All these thoughts are correct and yet fall short. 

Why then, is it so hard to communicate? How does it occur that what I say is routinely misinterpreted, and what I hear is often not what the other person has said? Do I know too many words or too few?  Perhaps it’s a mistake to believe what Mark Twain once said, that “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Words, of course, can be amusing too, particularly when misused. I love spoonerisms (kneak wees [weak knees], cuss and kiddle [kiss and cuddle]), and malapropisms (passing like sheeps in the night, the use of brunt force, a man of great statue.)

But the truth is, I think I’ve lost my trust in words. Like statistics, they’re made to be manipulated.  Listen to an ad on the radio or television. The object is to make you react to something you really have little interest in. Print ads work the same way, trying to elicit your curiosity or, at the very least, spur a reaction.  For me, the game lies in figuring out how to parse them: what word is designed to move me, to attract or, on occasion, to repulse. What skills do writers of any stripe employ to direct my feelings? How successful are they?

Recently, a large arms manufacturer took out a full-page ad in my local paper to tell me how a competing company’s product was both inferior and over-budget, while  misrepresenting its ability to do what it was purported to do, i.e., kill a lot of people from a great distance. It was a really well-written piece of propaganda. I read it twice, felt a small degree of outrage over the wasteful use of my tax dollars. I should write to my congressman!  Then rational thought took over and I turned the page.

Ha!  Nipped it in the butt!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BP, Once Again

OK, let’s recap. A couple of Republican Congressmen are saying the BP oil spill is not a disaster. Trying to address such a statement would be like talking to a coconut. It’s not worth discussing so I’ll just assume that anyone—Republican, Democrat, Tea Partier, Independent—making such a statement simply enjoys the warmth of the idiot spotlight.
Here is the time-line.
April 20.  The Transocean rig called the Deepwater Horizon explodes and 11 crew members are killed. Crude oil begins to seep out though no one knows this yet.
April 22.  The rig sinks. As it does so, it crumples the massive pipe that connected it to the wellhead.
April 24.  More than 5,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface, robot submarines find that oil is leaking from the damaged pipe.
April 28.  BP tells the media that 1,000 barrels of crude are leaking out each day. The government estimates that the actual number is 5,000 barrels a day.
April 29.  Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, in one of the better understatements of the year, tells the press that the spill is “of national significance.”
May 4.  BP seals one of the three leaks but this has no effect whatsoever on the overall amount of crude spurting out.
May 6.  First confirmed landfall of oil.
May 7. BP tries to contain the leak by lowering a huge dome over it. This doesn’t work.
May 16. BP brings in a container ship and attempts to siphon the oil off the surface. It also continues to use a highly toxic oil dispersant.
May 19. The Environmental Protection Agency chimes in and says the dispersant is too toxic and tells BP it has 72 hours to stop using it. BP claims it’s the only dispersant that works.
May 20. BP is accused of (pardon the pun, I can’t resist) muddying the waters. In order to prove its transparency, the oil company starts to post a live video stream of the oil leak.
May 21 to 26.  An additional 25,000 barrels of crude leak into the Gulf.  
May 27.  The above number is not accurate, as revised estimates now point to 12,000-19,000 barrels per day are pouring in the Gulf. Top Kill, BP’s latest stratagem appears to be working. But it’s not.
June 1.  BP denies the existence of underwater oil plumes but scientists have already found one that is 22 miles long, six miles wide and 1000 feet deep.
June 2.  BP stock plunges. Some scientists now believe the worst case scenario has oil leaking out until Christmas.  Sarah Palin tells the world that environmentalists are responsible for the incident.
June 3.  Fishing restrictions extended to cover 37 percent of waters in the Gulf.
June 6.  BP says recent efforts to cap the leak have begun to work.  Tankers have sucked up a total of 670,000 gallons over a two-day period. The government estimates between 500,000 and 800,000 gallons are leakingout daily.
June 7. The Somethin' Else Cafe in New Orleans no longer serves jumbo shrimp.
As it stands, the US and other nations have launched criminal investigations into the explosion and sinking of the rig, and the ensuing leak. BP has lost more than a third of its market value since the crisis began. Beach towns report the lowest tourist attendance in decades. More to follow.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The New Colonization

Articles in both the ultra-right and ultra-left media have proposed a novel interpretation of the recent immigration waves. We’re being invaded, they say, a soft sort of invasion with little violence save for skirmishes along the US/Mexico border. I want to propose another possibility. We’re being colonized.

Call it what you will, the fact is that as of 2006, the United States has accepted more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined. In 2006, 1,046,539 individuals became American citizens.  That was a record, by the way. And since the liberalization of immigration policies in 1965, the number of first-generation immigrants living in the US has grown from 9.6 million in 1970 to some 38 million in 2007. Add to this some 11 million illegal immigrants in 2008 and you begin to see the scope of the issue.

Obviously I’m not anti-immigration. I became a naturalized citizen of this country in 2001 and I did so because I truly love the US and its people. Well, most of them. What I see that bothers me today among many recent arrivals is a strong dislike for their adopted home even as they take advantage of the country’s bounty—education, investment opportunities, health care, religious and personal freedom.

So call it new colonialism.

 When Europe parceled out large chunks of Africa in the 1800 and 1900s, the prevailing philosophy was to pirate a colonized country’s resources while very much keeping the native population at bay, using it as a cheap source of labor. Essentially, be it the Brits in India, the French in North Africa or the Dutch in South Africa, the colonizers established British and European enclaves that were closed off to the natives. Colonizers spoke their own languages and often imposed it on the locals as a second tongues. They worshipped as they pleased and sought convertion of the native population. They took the natural resources—oil, gems, wood, silver and gold, copper and nickel—and exported them. There was little respect for the native ways, thoughts, beliefs and history.

Times have changed. Today natural resources are no longer what’s being sought. Today the resources are social—gainful employment, schools and higher education open to all for nominal fees, complete freedom of movement, inexpensive food and transportation, plus a host of welfare options available to nearly everyone. The new colonizers are taking advantage of all these and many have little interest in America’s future. The concept of democracy is alien, and like colonists of earlier times, many new colonists show little interest in building and remaining here.

That’s sad. And dangerous, I think.  This is a nation founded on immigration and aculturization. When the former grows and the later diminishes, there are bound to be problems. We’re being colonized.  This is not a good thing…