5 Things I Have Learned While Watching the 2010 World Cup

I’m a very casual fan of soccer. My appreciation for the sport has grown slowly over the last four to five years. I did not grow up playing the sport. The handful of times I did play soccer it was in high school gym class with no explanation of the rules. Games resembled hockey matches without pads except a large ball was involved and we didn’t use our hands…There were lots of downed bodies and no “injury breaks.”

The sport I played as a child the most and the one I still love the most is baseball, with my favorite team being the Chicago White Sox.

Anyway, here are the five things I have learned so far while watching some of the matches during this year’s World Cup in South Africa.

5) The vuvuzela is an instrument that to my American ears is about as appealing as Chinese Opera (though Farewell My Concubine is an excellent movie).

If I had to choose between listening to thousands of people blowing those vuvuzelas and listening to orchestras play works by Schoenberg or Aarvo Part, I’d take the mass of vuvuzelas. Besides, the vuvuzelas have seemed less annoying as the tournament has gone on.

4) It’s fun to watch a sport without being interrupted five thousand times for commercial breaks.

In fact, there are no commercial breaks in a soccer match except during halftime. You get to watch, on TV, an entire half of soccer without being interrupted by a “message from our sponsors.”

Baseball has commercials in-between innings and pitching changes. The NFL and NBA have commercials during timeouts and breaks between quarters, and there there’s the whole Halftime Bonanza. Not to mention the sinister “TV Timeouts” they throw in for good measure. Because of this, the last five minutes of an American football game takes 15 minutes. For basketball, it’s even worse, the last five minutes of play will take a half-hour to get through.

All hail the commercial-break-free sport of soccer!

3) Few players who get knocked down during a soccer match are actually hurt.

These guys are much better actors than the NBA’s Vlade Divacs and Bill Laimbeer were in their primes. All it takes is a magic sponge or spray and soccer players are up and running, without limping or wincing. Meanwhile, their team has gotten free penalty kick. (More on the comparison to the NBA below.)

2) Americans who say watching soccer is like “Watching paint dry” or “Watching the corn grow” but then turn the channel to watch a golf tournament or a fishing show have no right whatsoever to critique soccer.

Fishing is a leisure activity where a whole lot of nothing happens, that takes almost no athleticism to perform (unless we’re talking about deep sea fishing but then it’s not fair to compare that to fresh water fishing).

Watching golf with those whispering play-by-play commentators, and the whole demand of absolute quiet, is annoying. Golf takes a lot of skill and mental toughness, but not a lot of athleticism. Put a soccer player and a golfer in a marathon and guess who’s more likely to finish. It ain’t the guy who has someone carry his clubs for him.

1) FIFA referees are as corrupt as the referees for the National Basketball Association (NBA).

For real fans of basketball, the NBA is unwatchable and has been unwatchable for some time. Magic, Larry, and Jordan made it bearable for much of the 80’s and 90’s. But it’s gone back to it’s partially-rigged self. What do I mean? Just look at the box score of a NBA playoff game and you can tell by which team went to the free throw line the most who was the home team. Or compare the traveling calls on someone like LeBron James or Patrick Ewing versus Unknown Journeyman player. The Unknown Journeyman will most certainly not be allowed to take those five steps on his way to a dunk.

Based on the Tevez offside goal, the disallowed goal for England, and the disallowed goals for the USA against Slovenia and Algeria, I’d say the refs are trying to outright rig the matches, or at the very least lean matches toward one team over another.

It doesn’t help FIFA’s cause that they are adamant in their refusal to entertain the idea of the Instant Replay or using goal-detecting technology. Not to mention censoring comments about these controversies on their websites.

(For an explanation of the offside rule, this Youtube video did a pretty good job for me.)

Strong words? How else do you explain so much poor officiating? One really bad call in a tournament would be one thing. But four pathetic calls and we haven’t even finished with the Round of 16?

Let’s hope FIFA gets its act together for the rest of the tournament.

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Saturday Morning Grab Bag

Lots going on. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Someone dares call the iPad a “cultish fad.” Uh-oh. Prepare to receive copious amounts of Mac Fanboy hatemail, Ms. Analyst.

“The iPad’s momentum is not sustainable. It’s not clear that the general public sees the need for a third computing device, and word of mouth about the iPad is not in the top tier of its category,” Mogal writes in a survey report Tuesday.

BP’s Tony Hayward has been given a red card.

Speaking of the BP’s oil spill, for the best satirical commentary on the disaster in the Gulf, read twitter.com/BPGlobalPR.

“Don’t worry about me. I might be out of the limelight, but they are still going to pay me assloads of money. (Hayward)”

On a more somber note, Nobel-prize winning writer Jose Saramago has died. He was 87. I confess I have not yet read anything by him. My sister liked Blindness, but loved Seeing.

Happy Bloomsday

Yes, today is Bloomsday. Read some Ulysses. For fun. Jessa Crispin has an essay at Barnes & Noble about Sylvia Beach and Margaret Anderson, two women who had a hand in publicizing and publishing James Joyce’s Epic Tome. And their reward in the U.S.? A prosecution of course.

Because while Sylvia Beach saw Ulysses and thought it was worth creating a wholly new publishing enterprise for, and Margaret Anderson thought, “This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives,” the authorities looked down from their imperial heights and yelled, “obscene.” When Anderson began serializing Ulysses, issues of Little Review were confiscated and destroyed. When Beach published Ulysses in her little bookshop and began exporting copies to the United States, they were seized at the border, and she had to develop new trade routes. She cleverly sent a man on a ferry between Canada and the United States, “a copy of Ulysses stuffed down inside his pants,” over and over and over again. Anderson was brought up on obscenity charges, accused of “being a danger to the minds of young girls,” but the American literary empire did not mount a protest or come to her aid. Stansell writes, “The trial provoked only mild interest in the press and brought no outcry whatsoever from New York literary critics.” They lost in court, they were fined and fingerprinted, and Little Review never recovered. Anderson moved to Paris. The kingdom didn’t know what it was missing, until, the groundwork laid, the market flooded with pirated copies and the reputation built, Random House came sweeping in to rescue Ulysses.

Yes, the Publishing Industrial Complex came in after the reputation of the book had been built…by other people. It’s a nifty reminder that the big publishing houses have never been big risk takers.

[via Bookslut]

Steve Almond on the New Yorker’s List of 20 Under 40

Steve Almond has a funny and honest piece in The Rumpus (“The New Yorker’s One Over 40“) about his reaction to the New Yorker’s much talked about list of 20 writers under 40 who will be known as the most important of their generation. Almond explains how he was both excited by the work of writers on the list, and how the list depressed him in a narcissistic way by reminding him that he is a writer who he will never be The Next Big Thing. He had one piece of insight that stuck in my mind and was highlighted by a few of the people who commented.

But the real life of a writer resides in showing up at the keyboard every day, with the necessary patience and mercy, and making the best decisions you can on behalf of your people. It’s a slow process. It often feels hopeless, more like an affliction than an art form.

Most of us will have to find our readers one by one, in other words, and against considerable resistance. If anything qualifies us as heroic, it’s that private perpetual struggle. [Emphasis mine]

This reminded me of an essay by Michael Ventura titled, “The Talent of the Room.” You can find it on his website here. I was handed this essay by a fellow classmate in a workshop when I was in my early twenties. Among many other wise things he said,

Writing is something you do alone in a room.

That sentence encapsulates the task, anxiety, solitariness, and struggle of writing. You want to be an artist? Ventura has this to say,

As for whether it [writing] becomes your art – that isn’t really up to you. The art can be there in the beginning, before you know a thing, or it may never be there no matter what you learn.

Pretty daunting and humbling…If you want to write, read the essay. If you want to understand what writers go through, read the essay. Almond touches on some of the things in Ventura’s essay, which is to say that the task of the writer hasn’t changed since Gilgamesh.

I think lists like the New Yorker and Granta put together are interesting places to start. I have doubts about their comprehensiveness. It’s only through 20/20 hindsight with a generation or two behind us that we can often identify with certainty Who Wrote What Matters Most. Would the likes of Faulkner, have shown up on a similar list like this created in their eras? Faulkner’s works were out of print in his lifetime, which is what forced him to go to Hollywood searching for work (if I remember correctly). When Fitzgerald (who most certainly would have made such a list put together in the 1920’s) died there were copies of The Great Gatsby from its second printing still in Scribner’s warehouse. It was a full decade after Fitzgerald died that Gatsby began to rise in reputation among readers.

Even with the Internet, and all its powers of bringing attention to millions of tiny corners of the world, I still think we flatter ourselves into thinking that we can successfully look at our artists now and say, “Yes, this one and this one will stand the test of time. That one won’t.” But it’s fun to speculate in the meantime.