Why I love the World Cup

I realize that trying to convince Americans of the allure of the beautiful game is a fool’s errand. Trying to explain why the rest of humanity loves the World Cup is likewise a path leading to a dead end.

I’m not going to try and convince you of the beauty of the game. I know what the problem is for Americans: not enough scoring. Futbol is actually a lot like basketball, except for the two sports are on the extreme opposite end relative to the amount of scoring that takes place. In this country, soccer is a sport that nine year old girls play while their mothers holler from the sideline.  So it has been for a number of decades now, and so it shall remain.

So why do I love the World Cup?

In some ways, the World Cup is a kind of surrogate for warfare, a place where countries can compete unapologetically, and nobody gets hurt. (Except for Neymar, but you know, not really.) It’s the one time that I can actually feel patriotic about being German without having to apologize for the Holocaust. Also, my team is bloody good, at least most of the time. Like a NY Yankees fan, it’s nice to support a winner.

The tournament is a festival where everyone can get involved. Rather improbable countries, like North Korea, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Iceland have made it to the World Cup. Everyone can have fun, and almost everyone does (except for the Americans, who don’t really care).

And then there are the aspects of it which really do have historical significance. For example, Argentina and England faced each other in Mexico, four years after the end of the Falklands War. That game was famous for two goals, both scored by Diego Maradona, as the Argentinians went all the way to win the cup.  The first was Maradona’s “hand of God” goal – in which Maradona clearly punched the ball in, a fact that the referee did not see – as well as his second goal, in which he slalomed through half of the English defense – thereby restoring a lot of Argentinian post-war pride.

Or 1954, the year that Germany was allowed back into the fellowship of nations after World War II, and managed to win the whole thing.[1]

Or when the United States had to play against Iran at the 1998 World Cup in France, where they lost 2:1 (and provided a lot of satisfaction for the Iranians).

This year Croatia, one of the many republics that emerged from the former Yugoslavia had the chance to play against Russia. In Russia. Former client state against former overlord. Imagine the satisfaction that the people of Croatia enjoyed by kicking Russia, the other big, bad world bully, out of their own tournament![2]

The tournament also allows play between nations who otherwise would never have anything to do with each other. Japan and Senegal, for example. Or Egypt and Poland.  Or Uruguay and France.  Or Ecuador and Germany. These are delicious pairings between teams that have generally never met before. Anything can happen.

There have been some remarkable upsets over the years. For example, in 1966, at the England tournament, North Korea beat Italy 1:0. Nobody believed that could happen, and it’s probably still the biggest sports triumph in the history of North Korea. Or, in 1950 when the United States, featuring an all-amateur team, upset England also by a 1:0 score.[3]

Another beautiful thing about the World Cup, is that it allows countries who have a “golden generation” of players to excel on the world stage. France had its golden generation when they won the tournament on home soil in 1998. Brazil has had several golden generations, but never more so then when they pulverized the competition in 1970. Germany had the first of its golden generations when they also won on home soil in 1974. Most recently Spain won with its golden generation in 2010.

Today there are two teams who have “golden generations” playing at the tournament, and those are Croatia and Belgium. Croatia has, as previously mentioned, made it to the World Cup Final. And Belgium almost got there, just narrowly missing out in losing to France. They still play for the third place game on Saturday.[4]

So there it is, my friends. The World Cup is a world party, one that everybody gets excited about, except the Americans. It’s chance to cheer unapologetically for your country; to have small countries beat big countries; to have matches with delicious historical overtones; to have teams and peoples meet who have never met before.


[1] The Germans have won fairly reliably every twenty years since – after 1954 they won in 1974, 1990, and 2014. (In 1990 they were four years early.) At this rate one can expect them to win again in 2034.

[2] Croatia has now also made it into Sunday’s final against France.

[3] English fans were so incredulous that a lot of them thought it was a misprint, and that England had actually won 10:1. The American goal-scorer was a Haitian-American player who was also a dishwasher in the restaurant owned by the same man who owned his soccer club.

[4] I would have liked to have seen Croatia vs Belgium, two small sides with their golden generations going after each other. I also would have like to see France vs England, two of the traditional powerhouse footballing nations – each with young and promising sides – take each other on.

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Sorry America, Trump gets his Pick Regardless

In the last week I’ve been hearing arguments that Trump should not get a Supreme Court pick while he’s under investigation. That argument has been made by Corey Booker, for example, and is premised on the notion that there could be a conflict – such as about whether the Mueller investigation has the power to force Donald Trump to testify – and that conflict might end up before a Supreme Court with a couple of justices who feel personally loyalty to Donald Trump.

Sorry folks, that doesn’t work.

First of all, that would have meant that Bill Clinton would never have had the chance to pick a justice.

Second, all that would engender is that the opposition party would create an investigation so that the President couldn’t pick a justice.

We’ve already seen how much an opposition party can manufacture unnecessary investigations by watching how many investigations Republicans created about Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Also, the fact that we’re within four months of a mid-year election is also not a good reason to not allow the President to choose a justice. Appointments should be made, and the Senate should weigh in, in the ordinary course of business.

As Barack Obama famously said, elections have consequences.

Oh yes they do. And lots of conservatives voted for Trump precisely because they thought he would reshape the Supreme Court.

What happened with Merrick Garland is that Mitch McConnell, that feckless Machiavellian fucker, just stole Obama’s pick. If a Senator could be impeached, McConnell should be the first up.

 

 

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No one is going to win this argument on the DOJ Inspector General’s report

I’m the kind of person who will actually read the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General’s report entitled “A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election,” or at least the Executive Summary.[1] So let me just note – for those complaining about the length and expense of the Mueller investigation – that there have been not only half a dozen investigations into Hillary Clinton’s role in Benghazi and her use of a private email server, but now also an investigation into the conduct of those investigations. It’s a meta-investigation (if not a series of mega-investigations).[2]

To review, this investigation by the DOJ Inspector General was initiated by requests from Congress, “various organizations” and “members of the public” and focused on the conduct of the FBI in relationship to the investigations into Hillary’s private email server.[3] The IG was charged with answering six particular questions:

  • allegations that FBI policies or procedures were not followed in regards to then-FBI director James Comey’s public announcement on July 5, 2016, and Comey’s letters to congress on October 28 and November 6, 2016;
  • allegations that certain investigative decisions were based on improper considerations;
  • allegations that then FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from participating in certain investigatve matters;
  • allegations that the DOJ’s then Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, Peter Kadzik, improperly disclosed non-public information and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters;
  • allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information during the course of the investigation;
  • allegations that decisions regarding the timing of the FBI’s release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on October 30 and November 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize this release, were influenced by improper considerations.

The report also addresses the allegations by the Trump administration that the FBI is improperly biased towards President Trump.

As noted in the news coverage of the report’s release, the report provides plenty of ammunition for both sides of the aisle to have complaints about how the FBI went about its business.

The FBI’s Impact on the Clinton Campaign

Most observers (other than complete Trump partisans) by now acknowledge that James Comey’s October 28 announcement that the FBI was re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s emails was the “October Surprise” that swung the razor thin margins in Donald Trump’s favor in the 2016 presidential election. The margins were so thin in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (the state’s that eventually put Trump over the top) that even a single percentage point swing would have been enough to make the difference. What this IG report shows is that Comey clearly did not follow the rules with respect to any of his public announcements about the Clinton investigations. What Comey should have done is not made any announcements with respect to his investigations, but leave that to the Department of Justice.

It’s clear, by the way, that Comey thought that Hillary would win the election by a country mile, and that his disclosing information about the re-opened investigation would not make any difference. As the IG wrote:

[W]e found that his decision [to send the letter to Congress] was the result of several interrelated factors that were connected to his concern that failing to send the letter would harm the FBI and his ability to lead it, and his view that candidate Clinton was going to win the presidency and that she would be perceived to be an illegitimate president if the public first learned of the information after the election.

That’s all nice and fine, except the clear protocol is for the FBI not to comment on pending investigations. These announcements almost certainly cost Hillary the election.

Peter Strock and Lisa Page

Republicans, on the other hand, are going to have a lot of fun with FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and Special Counsel to the Deputy Director Lisa Page (who may have been having an affair). What a couple of idiots! Aren’t these people supposed to be FBI agents? Haven’t they ever heard of the maxim to not put anything in an email (or a text) that you don’t want to have published in the NY Times? Especially if you’re an FBI agent!

It turns out that Strock and Page thought Trump was an “utter idiot” and a “disaster,” and wrote so to each other in texts that they exchanged.  They wondered about how destabilizing his Presidency would be. (That just makes them sane in my book, and not necessarily partisans.)

The two of them turn out to have been equal opportunity detractors, as they also hated (Obama-era Attorney General) Eric Holder, House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Senator Ted Cruz, Trump advisor Roger Stone, and Congress “as a whole.” Strock also had criticisms of Hillary Clinton and complained that a fact-checker dismissed Bernie Sanders’s criticism of her as being too close to fossil-fuel lobbyists.[4]

No One Will Win this Argument

No one’s going to win this argument, that’s for sure. Again, there is too much ammunition on both sides. But I still find it highly ironic that Trump so hates the FBI, the agency that basically hand-delivered the election to him on a silver platter.

Instead of firing James Comey, he should have canonized him.

But then there is the little problem of all the illegal shit Trump got into while running for office (not to mention since becoming President) and the fact that somebody has to investigate those things. Republicans will surely dismiss the Mueller report once it’s finished, but people in the middle may see that there really has been a problem with how Trump has been running his presidency as well has campaign, which is basically like an unindicted criminal enterprise.


[1] Given that the report itself is 568 pages, it’s a little much to comprehend in one sitting. And also completely unnecessary.

[2] In short, the number of investigations into Hillary Clinton – which produced no indictments and no findings of criminal conduct – should require all those complaining about the Mueller investigation to just STFU! Of course, that won’t happen.

[3] In one of the delicious twists of irony, the report found that FBI Director Comey was himself guilty of using a private email account relative to some of his correspondence.

[4] Strock was removed from the Mueller investigation on December 2, 2017, as soon as his political texts came to the attention of the FBI.

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Ann Coulter has no Shame

Yesterday I published a post on my own experience in being separated from my parents at a young age for a short period of time.

Last night I came across this: Ann Coulter, claiming that the children being torn from their parents at the border are “crisis actors.”

This is a lot like Alex Jones claiming that the parents of the children shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut in 2012 are also “crisis actors.”

Jones is now being sued for defamation by some of these “crisis actor” parents, and it will be very interesting to see how that case turns out.

For his part, Jones has previously claimed (in his divorce proceedings) that he is a “performance artist” playing a character. Kind of like Stephen Colbert in his now defunct Colbert Report.

Just like Glenn Beck claimed (when it was convenient) that he was just an “entertainer.

Why is it that only Republicans and conservatives get away with this kind of shit? If our side just tried lying outright, we’d be shamed right off of the World Wide Web.

This is the kind of false equivalence that exists between the likes of Ann Coulter, and someone like Rachel Maddow, who takes pains to be as scrupulously accurate as she can.

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The Legacy that Republicans are Creating and will have to Wrestle With

When I was about eighteen months old, my parents dropped me off at a Catholic nunnery for about two weeks. My sister was about to be born, there were complications, and my Grandparents (they thought) had enough on their hands with my rambunctious brother. My father would come and visit me every day – I don’t know if that helped or hurt, since he would also leave without me every day – until my sister was born and they brought me home.

About twenty years later, in my first year of law school, I had one too many hash brownies at a party. I went to bed and then woke up in a complete panic. I was so panicked that I went upstairs to my friends Gabi and Günther’s room and asked if I could stay up there for the rest of the night. That was the kick-off to a period where I regularly had anxiety attacks, which it took me a number of years to get over.

Sometime during that process of calming down my mother told me the story of having dropped me off at the nunnery, an event I had absolutely no recollection of, but which I recognized immediately.

Aha! That was the panic that I had been experiencing.[1]

I’ve worked through this over the years, but there is one lingering symptom left: when I travel overseas, I’m always conscious of being very far away from home. It doesn’t prevent me from traveling overseas, but it can make the experience of it less exuberant. There is a part of me that always has to fight with myself, reminding me that I’m an adult and that I would be no safer if I were back at home.

I’ve been thinking about this while reading the stories of the asylum-seeking children being ripped away from their parents at the U.S. border.

There’s unnecessary trauma being created for thousands of them, on top of whatever trauma was already in play that motivated their families to go on the run in the first place.[2]

This action of ripping children out of the arms of their parents has created a storm of outrage, including by (the rarely heard from) Laura Bush, who authored and op-ed for the Washington Post, and (remarkably enough) Melania Trump, who joined in with Laura Bush (and proved once again that she has absolutely no influence on her husband whatsoever).

In the meantime, Jeff Sessions went before the press to quote the Apostle Paul for the notion that it is Godly to “obey the laws,” a sentiment which Sarah “Huckster” Sanders immediately endorsed with her own Biblical quotations.

This is what happens when you allow people to cherry-pick verses from the Bible. You can find a verse for almost any sentiment.

I’m no Jesus scholar, but it’s my understanding that Jesus was much more concerned with welcoming strangers, lifting up the downtrodden, and sheltering the oppressed. He was, I’m told, no fan of obedience to the Roman empire.

To cherry-pick just one verse of my own:

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

And yet, while large majorities of Americans disapprove of this heartless policy, a clear majority of Republicans approve of the policy.

Oh boy.

There is a large and growing number of Republicans who are going to have to wrestle with their legacy and what they approved of once the Trump years are over. Many of them will discover that whatever moral “cachet” they once had (or were seen as having) has been pissed away in their support of this extraordinarily malicious “President” they so claim to adore.


[1] Let me be the first to admit that I’m not the most courageous person to begin with, and I might have developed anxiety attacks for other reasons. But this was the trigger in my case.

[2] I’ll just add the obvious observation that if Republicans really wanted to keep people from streaming to the border, we here in the United States could do a lot more to improve conditions in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. People don’t undertake journeys like these unless they are completely desperate and at their wits end.

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Sometimes Someone Does the Right Thing for All the Wrong Reasons

President Drumpf and Kim Jong Un met last night (Tuesday morning their time) in Singapore. What will come out of it? Who knows? Even if they come to an ostensible agreement, it’s a long way to that actually meaning something. It’s a long way to actually denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

Here’s the sad thing. President Drumpf isn’t there to make the world a safer place for all of us. He’s there for self-aggrandizement. He wants what Obama has, which is a Nobel Peace Prize. [1] A number of Republican Congressmen already nominated him for the prize last month, when the summit was initially scheduled and before anything else had happened.

Believe me when I tell you that it pains me to say this, but if President Drumpf could get a formal peace treaty between the two Korea’s[2] and get the peninsula denuclearized, he might actually deserve a Nobel.

Sometimes someone can do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

Regardless of what happens at the Summit, it’s only the first step in a long process. The United States and North Korea still have very different expectations for the summit.  The Drumpf administration has announced that anything short of immediate, verifiable and irrevocable denuclearization on North Korea’s part will not lead to the lifting of any sanctions.  North Korea, as pundits have articulated, expects to make discrete steps and expects each of those steps to be rewarded. And, as historians have reminded us, North Korea has reneged on agreements before.

So, we’ll see. But remarkably enough, it appears to be a step in the right direction. And Donald J. Drumpf is involved. Who knew?


[1] Count me among those who thinks that Obama didn’t deserve his Nobel Prize. According to the Committee, Obama received the Nobel for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” They also cited promotion of nuclear nonproliferation and a “new climate” in international relations fostered by Obama, especially in reaching out to the Muslim world. Personally, I think Obama got the prize mostly for being elected President while being black.

[2] Although there is a Korean Armistice Agreement, signed back on July 27, 1953, that never turned into an official peace treaty between the two Korea’s.

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Propaganda in action: Fox News use of Kneeling Eagles

Here at the Skeptic’s blog we have long promised to expose examples of propaganda where we find it, and nothing could be much more delicious than catching Fox News redhanded.

As some of you may recall, Donald Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from the White House since it became obvious that fewer than 10 players were going to show up.[1]

The Donald, to fire up his base, turned it into a patriotic exercise, and Fox News, to pour gasoline on the flames, showed a picture of a praying Zach Ertz and another picture of a group of players praying as proof that they had kneeled in disrespect of the anthem.

The only problem was, the Philadelphia Eagles are one of the few teams that had no players kneel during the anthem throughout the entire 2017-18 season.

Oops.

I’m not sure if Fox News didn’t think that any of the players would notice the discrepancy, or if they were just so eager to rush in with their extra container of gasoline that they didn’t have time to check the facts.

So there it is, my friends. Propaganda in action. If the lie hadn’t been so obvious, they probably would have gotten away with it. I’m sure there are still millions of Fox viewers and Trump supporters who will continue to believe that the praying players were out there disrespecting the flag.


[1] In the middle of their contentious NBA play-off, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have already agreed on one thing: neither team is going to the White House when either one wins the championship. Courtesy of LeBron James and Steph Curry.

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