Saturday, June 17, 2006

Battle of the Question Marks: Portugal v. Iran

Game 24, Group D

Iran did not show itself to be much of a contender in this group in its first game against Mexico--itself a side that has been a bit underwhelming. So the Iranian president's plans to trip it to Germany can stop worrying the Germans. And looking at these first five minutes, the president may want to think of taking a vacation from watching for the next 85, too.

Live game commentary…

World Cup Diary: Day Nine's Stumps and Tripes

Thursday’s games turned out to be the most exciting of this decidedly sub-pat World Cup so far: a thrashing (Argentina over Serbia, 6-0), a wonderful surprise (Angola’s Black Antelopes holding off holding off Mexico, 0-0) and in what has to be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, Holland’s stylish 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast’s Elephants. Despite that little shower of goals, the 2.39 goal-average per game is still the second-lowest of the modern era. We need more goals. Read the rest…

Friday, June 16, 2006

Shady Intelligence: Blind Assumptions

From the looks of it, it wasn’t a big deal. At a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Bush took a question from Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times. Here was the exchange, as transcribed by the White House (including the White House’s laugh track):

Yes, Peter. Are you going to ask that question with shades on?
Q I can take them off.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.
Q All right, I'll keep it, then.
THE PRESIDENT: For the viewers, there's no sun. (Laughter.)
Q I guess it depends on your perspective. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Touch . (Laughter.)

What the president didn’t know, but should have if he intended to riff on the subject, is that Peter Wallsten wears the shades because of a degenerative condition called Stagardt’s disease.

Read the rest…

Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup Diary: Day Seven Review and Fishy Chips

From the sounds of it, the United States football team is out of this competition. I don’t need to see another game to know that the team has already beaten itself. It’s not being self-critical and self-loathing the way any good football team would be, its members aren’t merely bitching out their coach and second-guessing his decisions. They’re doing something more revealing about their defeatist mindset: they’re offering up excuses about their own play. Midfielder Bobby Convey: “I think the reason we didn’t do well is because everyone did not do their role, maybe didn’t know their role, maybe didn’t know what to do.” I’d like to hear one back-benching Brazilian player in the history of the sport being caught dead saying “I didn’t know what to do,” or looking to the coach as his reason for being on the pitch. There is an instinctive knowingness about good teams that makes a coach almost superfluous. He’s there to oil the way, not to create it, least of all to justify it. Landon Donovan: “I need to get the ball in better spots. If we’re going to concede that we’re just going to move the ball uphill, that’s not playing into my strength.” Again with the scapegoats. So two days after their defeat, the Americans are still looking backward and downward, their attitudes as negative as their play. Italy must be smiling. The lousy prospects for Saturday’s Italy game are bad enough. But it’s football’s prospects in the United States that will suffer especially if the team continues its ugly-American act. Another game like the Czech fry will reinforce many a stereotype Americans love to kick around about football, setting back the game’s progress in the country. It won’t be fatal. The immigrant upsurge is the wind behind soccer’s sails in the United States. But the national team can provide that extra push necessary to take the game into the mainstream, rather than leave it to the snobs and the rich suburban. Italy of course could fall apart and give the United States a chance. But that’s not the way to win hearts and cleated boots. The United States need to beat an Italy in top form, the way—as one reader put it—the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets at Lake Placid in 1980.

But this is turning into a US-centric mania. And so onto the rest of the field. Read the rest...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Baghdad Drop-Kick: The President in His Labyrinth

It’s one of the many hallmarks of totalitarian leadership that it seeks out secrecy the way a roach seeks out the dark. It feeds on its own deceptions in the shadows of people’s ignorance to accumulate the kind of power that has nothing more than itself as the measure of its worth. We don’t have a totalitarian regime in the United States. At least not yet (the potential is always there when, as in the Balkans, nationalism and religion speak louder than law). But we do have a president who submits freely and increasingly to the totalitarian temptation. His regime could not function without secrecy. His war on terror, his spying manias, his secret prisons, his not-so-secret but no less abject prisons in Cuba, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the corrosion at the heart of their purpose would all be laid bare if a small amount of sunshine was shone on their workings. There is nothing to justify them all but the word of the president. There is nothing to certify the president’s word but a long line of lies, slithers and fabrications that themselves now need protection from being found out. The secrecy, you see, is the veil that allows our Oz of a patriarch to keep up the illusion both of leadership and of the self-fulfilling necessity of the edicts and felonies he’s accrued in his nearly six years at the controls.

Sometimes the secrecy bites its own rear, and sometimes the bite is a colonoscopy of the vacuum at the secrecy’s core. That’s what Bush’s latest drop-kick into Baghad was. The trip was designed to lend support to the new Iraqi prime minister. But how do you lend support to another country’s leader when you, the alleged leader of the free world, have to hide from your own cabinet along the way? Bush only told his junta about the trip—Dick Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld. Pool reporters permitted to go along were sworn to secrecy, forced not to tell their spouses and forced to turn over all communication devices when they reported for the trip. The Iraqi prime minister himself was not told.. Read the rest...

World Cup Diary: Day Five Reviews and French-Kissing

First the United States gets crushed in its opening World Cup game. Then this: “The prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case on Monday advised Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, that he would not be charged with any wrongdoing, effectively ending the nearly three-year criminal investigation that had at times focused intensely on Mr. Rove.” So the United States is really behind as we go into day five, showing the world that they have no game on the field and no case off of it: if they’re not running around in double-armored Humvees, they’re as naked as Napoleon in his whoremonging bath. They played as poorly as any one side did through 11 games. If it wasn’t for the Czechs’ first-half performance, the match would have ranked as the most boring of the tournament (that honor so far goes to the England-Paraguay match). The Americans showed why FIFA’s world rankings are so idiotic. They’re not ranked fifth in the world, and on Monday they played as if they were ranked somewhere in the area of the Azores islands. Worst of all, they were dull, uninspired, a bunch of have-beens until Eddie Johnson was put in, in the second half, much too late to make the difference if Bruce Arena, the coach, had put him in to start the game. Let’s not dwell: the day had some wonderful football, beginning with the Australia-Japan match that the Australians pulled off in what seemed like a monsoon of goals in the last six seconds of the game after the Japanese had held them off and even outplayed them for the other 89.7 minutes. That’s what redeeming football is about: Until that monsoon, and Tim Cahill’s eruption, the Australians had deserved their loss; they walked off the field deserving heroes. The Italy-Ghana game was also a joy to watch—and a worry to the United States, who share the group. Ghana was far more energetic than the US, if not quite the inventive side it needed to be to pierce the Italian defense. But Ghana had a plan, and it almost worked: don’t even try to pierce the defense. Shoot long distance. And with 40 million dollar man Michael Essien doing the shooting, they almost pulled it off. FIFA’s portly pope Joe Blatter called it “the best soccer of the tournament so far,” as quoted in an Associated Press dispatch (did he really call it soccer?), and it might have been, but the Sweden-Trinidad game, despite its 0-0 tie, ranks up there as well. Read the rest...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Asymmetrical Injustice: Gitmo Suicides

The Guantanamo suicides are “appalling,” to use a word favored by the editorialists, only up to a point. They are appalling in what they say about the blight on justice that is Gitmo itself. They are appalling in what they say about the Bush administration’s descent where once only the likes of Soviet and East German and Albanian and Chinese governments descended. They are appalling in what they say about America’s other branches of government—Congress, the courts—for their complicity in Guantanamo, and therefore in the suicides. Congress could at any point since January 2002, when Gitmo became the black hole it is, have legislated against it, clearly and unequivocally. It could have said: The United States does not engage in extra-judicial punishment and kangaroo tribuna`ls. It could have said top the Bush administration: Not over the Constitution’s dead body. Of course it didn’t, conceding that the Constitution since 2001 might as well have been a dead body. It was left up to the courts. They turned it into a game of punts. Chance after chance, with that minor exception in 2004, when the Supreme Court applied a few conditions that the administration quickly evaded, the courts deferred to the Sovietization of American justice. Appalling, all that, but the suicides in and of themselves are not appalling. They are the one liberating action these men have chosen to make, the one act they could perform entirely of their own free will in defiance of the dungeon they were forced into. Read the rest...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup Diary: Day Three: Reviews, Previews & Revenge

Two days, five games, twelve goals in Germany 2006. That gives us an average of 2.4 goals per game, lowest worst in the history of the World Cup, after the dismal one worthy of Dante’s inferno, the 1990 cup held—where else, Italy, land of the zero-zero tie and boring-as-hell football. That one clocked in at 115 goals in 52 matches (there were just 24 teams back then), for an average of 2.2 per game. The last two cups, France 1998 and U.S. 1994 both managed averages of 2.7 goals per game, but the last time we had anything more honorable was in 1970, when Brazil put on its Art Ensemble of Brazilia display in Mexico and those 32 matches (just 16 teams in the competition) resulted in a 3.0 average. And still, that was pretty low compared with previous world cups. Up until 1958, when the competition was admittedly a very clubbish affair (13 to 16 teams participated in its early years), the averages went like this: 3.9 in Uruguay (1930), 4.1 in Italy (1934), 4.7 in France (1938), 4.0 in Brazil (1950), 5.4 in Switzerland (1954) and 3.6 in Sweden (1958). That makes this World Cup’s totals even more dismal. I’m looking for a 3.0 average at least, if this is to be an occasion as joyous as it ought to be. No more of these Ireland-Italy games, no more of these pseudo-chess matches on the pitch.

Then again, we had a match like yesterday’s 0-0 tie between Trinidad and Sweden, certainly the best match of the tournament so far (Reuters gives it to Argentina-Ivory Coast, a fair enough point of dispute). Read the rest of the full preview...