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Helping Things Get Better

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Life will get better.

Most of my posts on the Fodder’s domestic issues are borderline rambling and have to do with recent Congressional bills, political happenings or a hot-button issue that has taken control of the most recent news cycle. Today will be different. It will be short and to the point. Today, all I want is to draw your attention to a YouTube initiative started by author, activist and media pundit Dan Savage:  The “It Gets Better Project

Founded before the nationally covered, tragic suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, It Gets Better is a forum for happy, openly gay adults to post their own stories of bully-filled, persecuted childhoods (not that all LGBT childhood are by any means) and to deliver one message: “It gets better.” Life gets better. Narrow, close-minded, spiteful people will try to wear you down; but do no, do not,t let them take away your spirit. It gets better. In a time where suicides in the LGBT communities are increasingly prevalent, the testimonials on the itgetsbetterproject channel are touching, powerful and necessary.

In ways, it’s a shame that Mr. Savage and his fellow contributors had to turn to an internet/social media campaign, circumventing the “traditional” media sources, to bring a message to a population of vulnerable teenagers. In other ways, it is a fitting venue considering some in this society would still consider this a “subversive” message.  Either way, all I ask of you is to log on to YouTube and watch a video or two or three. You will be so happy you did.

Listen to a NPR interview with Mr. Savage here.

To add some star-power (so I can tag it an increase some hits!), watch Project Runway’s Tim Gunn‘s testimonial here.

Finally, please “like” the project on Facebook!

The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

Cocktailfodder.com

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

cocktailfodder.com!!!

We are now at cocktailfodder.com! That’s right, we made the jump.

That is all.

LeBron to Miami: A Team-First Tale

July 22, 2010 1 comment

LeBron risked all the grief in the world for this.

Another day, another guest blogger. Today, we present to you, the one and only, Chazzerific. A maverick of the sporting world, Chazzerific’s first post will give you a new take (YES, a new one!!) on the LeBron James free agency fiasco. He will be helping out, from time to time, in the sports section to keep our voice fresh and sharp. So, without further explanation…

Since LeBron James announced his decision to “take his talents” to South Beach, to team up with Dwayne Wade and the newly acquired Chris Bosh, he’s been called a disappointment, selfish, even cowardly. Critics say the King shied away from his chance to be “the man;”  that he gave up his chance to be considered among the greatest players of all time and failed to fulfill his destiny as the second coming of Michael Jordan. At first, I pretty much agreed with these assessments. Then I realized something. LeBron isn’t Michael. There are similarities for sure: in Cleveland he wore number 23 and he can jump out of the gym just like Mike. However, according to NBA scouts, what really set LeBron apart, even in high school, was his playmaking ability, his on-court vision, passing and unselfish play. In contrast, Michael was a scorer. He is the only player to lead the NBA in scoring during a Championship season and he did it six times. The more I think about it, the more I realize that his move to Miami represents an old school, team-first basketball attitude in a new school, big market NBA. The clash between those two worlds has made LeBron one of the most polarizing figures in sports and overall it has given him a bad rap.

No player, even the players we all know on a first name basis – Michael, Kobe, Larry, Magic, and so on – has ever won an NBA Championship by himself. They were all surrounded by talented teammates. In fact, they all had at least one teammate that, like them, that can be identified by a single name. Michael had Scottie. Kobe had Shaq and then Pau. Larry and Magic were lucky enough to have a couple guys each. Larry had Ainge and McHale. Magic had Kareem and Worthy; you’ve heard of them right? In signing with the Heat, LeBron has succeeded in doing for himself what the Cavs, despite their best efforts, failed to do for him. He surrounded himself with great teammates; a group of players that will highlight his strengths as a passer and a play maker and emphasize team-first basketball.

I know what you’re thinking… if LeBron is such a team-first guy, why in the world did he keep the spotlight so singularly on himself during his free agency? I am not about to try and defend the spectacle that was “The Decision.” As mentioned in a previous Fodder posting, everything about that press conference – from the day-long build up on ESPN to the location from which it was broadcast – was a microcosm of everything that is wrong in professional sports today. So you will not find a defense of “The Decision” here.

The new "Showtime?"

But I digress… critics say that LeBron’s move to Miami is selfish, I would argue the exact opposite. Other teams offered him the Sun and the Moon, but he took less money in order to play for the Heat. Wade and Bosh have done the same. It brings to mind something Bill Russell said in a conversation with KG during the Celtics 2008 Championship run: “You may have to put your arms around a couple guys and take them with you, but you can’t drag them. You’ve got to put your arms around them and take them with you.” A look at the Miami’s revamped roster shows that LeBron, Dwayne and Chris won’t have to drag anyone with them. The team-first, self-second attitude has become contagious. The new additions did cost them some young talent, namely Michael Beasley, who was sent to Toronto as part of the Chris Bosh sign and trade. On the flip-side, however, Miami has been able to retain the services of some young talent in both Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem. Haslem, in particular, will provide a hard-nosed defender and another big body down low during particularly physical contests. While talks with NBA Finals regular Derek Fisher fell through, Miami found veteran role players from other places in the form of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard and Mike Miller; all of whom have played at least 10 seasons in the NBA. Alongside D Wayde, LeBron and Chris Bosh, these salty vets will play a key role in helping to mold rookies Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler and Jarvis Varnado.

Critics say that by joining the Heat, “King” James will never be anything more than a “Prince” in the court of His Majesty Dwayne Wade; is that really such a bad thing though? Magic orchestrated Showtime by distributing more often than scoring yet he is still considered among the greats. Isn’t Lebron capable of similar feats? It’s true that LeBron probably won’t score as many points while playing with two other top ten NBA superstars, but they will play extremely entertaining basketball. Aggressive defense will lead to a fast and loose type of offense with James and Wade exchanging high altitude finishes. In teaming up with D-Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron may not be “the man” but he will undoubtedly be one of “the men” on what might prove to be one of the most talented teams the NBA has seen in recent memory.  Even if you put all that aside, let’s face it, the guy gets to do something we should all be fortunate enough to do at some point in our lives… work with his best friends. I mean c’mon, who are you kidding? You would jump at the chance to get paid to hang out with best friends at work all day, especially if it meant you might get to win an NBA Championship (or several) and you know it.

Reinventing the Metaphorical Wheel

July 22, 2010 1 comment

Ch-ch-ch-changesss.

Alright, maybe what we’re about to tell you isn’t that drastic. Well, come to think of it, it’s not even close…. but things are changing at the Fodder. When we posted A Feel for Cocktail Fodder, we mentioned that this blog would be filled with trial and error along the way; our goal was to seek out what works and what doesn’t, what people like and don’t like, etc. So in that vein, we’ve decided to reformat our Thursday content. Of course, we’ll still give you AWC’s brilliant footie posts, but we feel like we need to expand. There are too many other interesting areas of life we need to cover.

Not Your Average Sports” Thursdays are morphing into a sports/pop culture/entertainment/fashion Thursdays; we admittedly haven’t thought of a catchy name yet. This change opens us up to a whole new world of Fodder. We’ll introduce you to our resident movie critic, AWC will enlighten everyone with his fashion passions, the Captain will give you his take on pop culture absurdity and I’ll lambast a few celebrities. Fun had by all. Hopefully it will bring you a whole new palate of Fodder. Enjoy!

The World Cup Wrap-Up: Why this World Cup will hurt the chances of soccer in America, best goals & national anthem and the underbelly of the competition

July 15, 2010 1 comment

Part 1: An underwhelming World Cup with a worthy champion.

Farewell until Rio...

The curtains have officially closed on the 2010 World Cup and I am surprisingly unfazed. I thought that I would feel anxious and saddened by the fact I would have to wait another four years for my World Cup fix; that simply has not been the case. It may have something to do with the fact that this year’s edition of the world’s greatest sports competition was an oddity. There were few roller-coaster matches, no classic encounters, a visible lack of big stars and a cynical, nervy, often negative final match that was mired by a multitude of fouls and a hesitant referee.

The first act of the competition saw 2006’s finalists – France and Italy – exit ignominiously, while the finale saw two European powers – who had never won the Cup before last Sunday – vying for what was once believed unattainable. For the final matchup alone, this World Cup was intriguing. Spain ended up winning the Cup, deservedly so, for the first time in their history due to their display of a style that celebrated slick possession and movement over direct play and goals. Spain had to work hard for their goals in large part due to the opposition putting their players behind the ball and hoping for a counter-attack. The fact that they won the Cup is a testimony to the failure of this strategy and the superior class of the Spanish side. Bravo. Here’s a bit more insight…

The zeitgeist of this tournament proved to be defense and the counter-attack; a style of play perfected by Jose Mourinho, the current boss of Real Madrid. His Inter Milan squad of 2009-2010 succeeded in defeating the all-powerful FC Barcelona in this year’s Champions League Final using the logic of having the opposition hold onto the ball for the majority of the game while keeping defensive shape and quickly taking advantage on the counter. The World Cup Final pitted Spain, a team largely composed of Barcelona players and founded on possession, against the Netherlands, a team who slowly shed the colorful and flamboyant “Dutch” play for a style most in-line with Mourinho’s Inter Milan. According to the de-facto Dutch national philosopher on soccer matters, legend Johan Cruyff, the Oranje renounced their traditional style and played “anti-football” on the pitch. The embodiment of this unfortunate transformation of the Dutch team was Marc Van Bommel. The ultimate enforcer, he was like your friend in grade school who quietly stirred-up a lot of trouble but was never punished for it. Fact: Van Bommel did not receive a SINGLE yellow card for his malicious and incessant fouling until the final against Spain. It was unfortunate to see a team traditionally respected for its creative use of space and fluidity around the pitch resorting to fouling the Spaniards as their only way to slow them and gain a semblance of control in the game. In the end, the “beautiful”game prevailed but I was left underwhelmed. The interminable histrionics and continual fouling led me to walk away from the final happy for Spain but unhappy with how it all went down.

In contrast, the Germany vs. Uruguay 3rd place match gave us a teasing display of the kind of back and forth game that we wanted to see throughout the tournament; the teams were unafraid to make forays into the opposition’s half and they were willing to give up goals as a result. It was a thoroughly entertaining game.

Bold prediction: this World Cup did not help the case for those in America striving to prove to the traditionalists (American football, baseball and basketball fans) that soccer is an entertaining and enjoyable sport to watch. It’s surely not the fact that the games were low-scoring; the beautiful game has always been low-scoring. Rather, it was the way the game was played and the lack of flair and audacity — the stuff that make people’s jaws drop, bar tabs rise, and spirits lift. It all makes a sad truth for American soccer fans.

Part two: Goals of the tournament, best celebration and best national anthem.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Siphiwe Tshabalala

Diego Forlan – World class from the Golden Ball winner

Surprise of the Tournament: Uruguay

Reaching their first semifinals since 1970, the Uruguayans proved to be an industrious, well-organized, and an ultimately creative side to watch. The 3rd place match against Germany was the best tie of the tournament.

Disappointment of the tournament: The “marquee” stars

Rooney, Ronaldo and, to a lesser extent, Messi are just a few of the names on the list of the game’s superstars who failed to perform on the highest stage. What can explain this? I would wager fatigue from long domestic campaigns and, of course, pressure to succeed for their home country and not just for a multinational club.

Best Goal Celebration:

The Black Stars’ celebration after scoring against Australia takes the cake.

Best National Anthem:

One part opera, the other part pop song. I’ll be playing this at a party. Maybe not, but it’s still a cool song.

Part 3: The underbelly of the World Cup.

While the tournament was a bit underwhelming, we can at least say that the social, economic and political gains from having the World Cup in South Africa were significant, right? Well, yes and no. In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski point to scholarly research which shows that the anticipated “economic bonanza” a World Cup is purported to bring (jobs, boost in tourism, investment ,etc.) is, in fact, a misleading notion. Countries compete to host the World Cup because it makes them feel as if they are in the world’s elite and fosters a sense of national solidarity amongst the various classes and groups of society. Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, presides over a country with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world and where a third of the population lives off of less than $2 a day. Before the World Cup, he had to grapple with riots in the shantytowns as well as trying to find new schemes to lower his country’s high unemployment rate. There were many critics who voiced their concern over South Africa hosting the World Cup due to the amount of money that would be spent on infrastructure and stadiums. Improved roads and trains are politically and socially viable goods that can be used after the competition, while the state-of-the-art stadiums will be much harder to fill. (The majority of Japan’s glittering stadiums used in the 2002 World Cup are largely unused to this day; almost lurking in the background to be used as chips for future World Cup bids).

Tom Humphries of the Irish Times recently wrote a decidedly scathing op-ed entitled, “Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us” in which he sheds light on the underbelly of the World Cup. FIFA, or as Humphries likes to call them – “the pin-striped mafia” – were sitting on €2.6 billion in TV and marketing rights before the competition even began and will walk away with the lion’s share of profits. Underestimating the cost of building the stadiums caused the final price-tag to be 2 billion rand more than initially planned. Host cities were thus obligated to pick up the excess. Upwards of 355,000 unsold tickets forced the South African government to buy up tickets and sell them to their own people at subsidized rates. Meanwhile, 450,000 pre-booked rooms were put back onto the market by Market AG after overestimating the number of visitors. The ubiquitous markers of global capitalism superseded the local culture as colorful street vendors in front of stadiums were replaced by proper sponsors’ tents. What should we make of all of this? Is FIFA essentially offering the glitz and glamour of the world’s most popular sporting even while effectively stripping it of the selected host’s local culture and flavor for the benefit of global capitalism? Was the only truly South African contribution to the World Cup the vuvuzela?

There are all questions that should to be seriously pondered as we head into World Cup 2014 in still-developing Brazil…

The Week in Fodder

July 9, 2010 2 comments

A comical new Cold War.

Here we are, back again, for our third installment of the Week in Fodder. (Well, technically only the second considering last week’s was never published.) We have a full slate of Fodderific nuggets for you today: the spy swap, more shenanigans from Silvio Berlusconi, same-sex marriage’s proponent in Massachusetts, LeBron’s ego and a man who swam 750 miles down the Yangtze to visit the World Expo. Enjoy!

World Views:

Spy Swap: Unless you live under a rock or in the Laurentian Abyss (thank you, Hunt for Red October), you have undoubtedly heard about the Russian spies caught last week and their unfolding ordeal with the Justice Department. Last night, the U.S. and Russian governments performed the spy swap that had been the subject of rumblings and grumblings for the past week. Landing in Vienna, the 10 Russians switched positions with the 4 Americans on the inbound plane from Moscow and headed back to the Russian Federation. That was that. I’m sure something more will come out of this whole absurd and bizarre spectacle. Until then, however, it seems that 14 people engaged in a service for their countries and are on their way home to debrief and continue their lives. Comical?

Oh Silvio!: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is up to it again. Citing personal privacy protection, Mr. Berlusconi and his Government are pushing a law that would severely restrict law enforcement use of wiretaps. In America, some would see this as a welcome change from privacy encroachments established by the Patriot Act. In Italy, wiretaps are seen in a very different light: they catch corrupt corporate and federal authorities. As recently as last month, wiretap utilization helped discover the extent of a public works contract scandal that ended up involving the Vatican. Considering Mr. Berlusconi  and some of his Cabinet are under scrutiny in ongoing corruption investigations, it seems fishy, at the VERY least , that he would be pushing these new restrictions with such force. But then again, we should not be surprised, it’s just Silvio up to his old tricks.

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani: As of early Thursday Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, an Iranian and mother of two, was awaiting her “death by stoning” sentence to be carried out by the Iranian government. Reports late yesterday are saying that the sentence will be stayed and that Ms. Ashtiani will not die in such a barbaric manner. The fact that stoning is still a legal and practiced form of capital punishment is truly reprehensible, but this stay, if real, is a victory for human rights campaigners and activists; as it was brought about by a sustained internet campaign started by her lawyer. Just as importantly, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government is not one to kowtow to international pressure. Let’s all hope for the brave Ms. Ashtiani.

Torpedos and the UN: Today, the UN Security Council released a statement on the North Korean sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. Expressing “deep concern,” the statement lacked any real teeth; avoiding the words torpedo or intent. North Korea even called it a “great diplomatic victory.” Once again, the glaring inability of the Security Council to affect any real pressure on problematic regimes is troubling. I guess we can look at the silver lining here: the statement at least called the sinking an attack.

Raul’s Cuba: Raul Castro assumed power in Cuba in 2006 after Fidel’s health deteriorated to a point where he could no longer run his Communist paradise. Hailed as a possible reformer, the Cuban diaspora saw his ascension to power as a path to loosened personal freedoms, travel restrictions and overall political oppression. However, in his first year or so in office, the world was disappointed with the lack of progress on any of these fronts. It seems though, Cuba might be turning a corner. Yesterday, the Cuban government agreed to release 52 political prisoners; bringing the total number of political prisoners in Cuba to the lowest level since 1959. For sure, a step in the right direction.

American Matters:

Downtown Oakland - familiar with riots.

Mayhem in Oakland: Yesterday, a California jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the murder trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Mr. Mehserle shot Mr. Oscar Grant, unarmed and facedown on a train platform, once in the back, killing him on January 1st, 2009. Mr. Mehserle maintains that he was reaching for his taser and inadvertently pulled out his gun. Finding enough merit in this argument, the jury did not convict on the greater charge of murder in the second degree. Residents of Oakland did not agree with that verdict. Taking to the streets, in a scene reminiscent of riots past, the people of Oakland made their opinion known. I am obviously not condoning rioting, but I understand it. It seems unfathomable – in a city that KNOWS, so intimately, of racial tension and violence – that this kind of bias can still exist. Keep an eye on this story.

Same-Sex Marriage: On Thursday, Judge Joseph L. Tauro, a federal district judge in Massachusetts, ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Judge Tauro cited the right to access all privileges granted to heterosexual couples and an infringement on state’s right as the backbone of the Act’s unconstitutionality. While it is too early to tell how this ruling will stand up against the plethora of appeals soon to follow, it will add legal kerosene to the fiery debate. Either way, it’s a win for same-sex advocates everywhere! Love those hippies in MA.

Richardson Joins the Fray: In response to the Arizona immigration law, and the fallout between Mexico and the US that has followed, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has offered to mediate the negotiations to keep the Border Governors Conference from folding under the controversy. Mr. Richardson, the former ambassador to the UN, is adept diplomat and should bring a level head to the discussions. Cross your fingers he can keep the conference above water.

Summer Fatigue: A week long heat wave has been plastering the Northeast since last Monday. Stressing power grids, engendering uncomfortable walks for all city dweller and heating bulldogs to the point of utter exhaustion, the heat has brought summer in with a sucker punch. New York City hit 100 degrees twice this week while Philly hit 102, Baltimore 103 and DC 102. So until the heat advisories and water bans are lifted, Northeastern residents will be struggling to do anything more than sit at their computer and read the Fodder all day.

James’ Joke: “King” James left one city in despair and inflated another with his announcement on primetime national television to “take his talents” to the Miami Heat and play with superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The “Decision” was quintessential, popcorn-eating, American sensationalism. That it was held at the Greenwich, CT Boys and Girls Club is patently hilarious—I had no idea there was even a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich. At any rate, this watershed moment in American sports only serves to reinforce the unattractive reality that loyalty is cheap and sports are a business first and foremost. Cowardly decision? I think so. As a wise Mainer says: “I calls it like I sees it.”

The Yangtze - Don't you want to go for a swim?

Off the Beaten Path:

Yangtze Madness: How badly do you want to attend the Shanghai World Expo? Desperately? You’ll do anything? Well Bao Zhengbing did anything. Mr. Bao swam 750 miles down the Yangtze from central China to Shanghai. Now, 750 miles is a scarily daunting swim under any conditions but just look at that picture to your left. See that? The Yangtze is so polluted it actually turned red. We’ve all been swimming; in a pool, river, ocean, pond. If you swim for more than half an hour, you’re bound to get water in your mouth at some point. It’s an inevitability. Now, extrapolate that out over the time you would need to swim 750 miles. Nope, I don’t think the World Expo is worth it. On the other hand, good for Mr. Bao, that definitely takes some intestinal fortitude.

Cyrano de Bergerac: Just when you thought there were limits to what the internet could replace in human interaction, the burgeoning world of cyber dating has added a wrinkle: one can hire the services of an individual— known as a ghost writer– to essentially write their personal profile in an effort to increase the number of views to their dating page. Wow. There’s steep demand for this ghost writer outsourcing service and as is seen in this testimonial in the BBC article, some people are actually satisfied with the service. More importantly, how does something like this make us feel about the internet? What can you actually believe on the web? Or is this just like applying to a job or having a college counselor look over your resume to make you a more attractive candidate? I don’t know, but maybe all those people on eHarmony.com aren’t the good Christians they claim to be.

Airhead: This story is probably too colloquial and local, but it’s just too good to pass up. A 20 year old man walked in to a Boston-area Mercedes dealership and asked to take a car for a test drive. He then proceeded to try to steal the car with a FAKE grenade. I’m not even sure where to start. Why a fake grenade and not a water-gun assault rifle like the immortal Brendan Fraser? And who is he kidding, how was a real grenade supposed to be confined to hurting the Mercedes employee? Idiocy. Utterly ridiculous.

Winnebago Man: The Winnebago Man. We’ve all seen the YouTube video. (If you haven’t, it’s imbedded below!) Over twenty million views later, a documentary is coming to a theater near you about the man behind the outtakes and profanity. Jack Rebney, the Man himself, now lives a semi-hermetical life in California shirking the technology that has made him an international icon. A truly bizarre story on all fronts… but yeah, I’ll probably pay to see that movie.

Leviathan: Stolen from last week’s missing Fodder, you have to read all the links in this little synopsis. The Peruvian desert has given the world a brand new monstrous creature to inspire fascination: Leviathan. Formally named Leviathan melvillei (yes, in honor of Herman Melville), this beast dined on other whales for snacks and brought 14 inch long (!!!!!) teeth to the predatory table. To put that into perspective, the Great White’s teeth grow up to 3 inches long. I think the real question here is: who would win in a prehistoric ocean fight, Leviathan or Megalodon?

I bet most of our readers think they're the cat's whiskers.

Idiom of the Week:

Tasked with finding the idiom of the week, AWC came back with one that fit for any cat lover: the cat’s whiskers!

This expression comes in handy to describe someone who believes they are better than others in a particular area –beauty, competence, sports, skills, etc.

Example #1: “Ever since she got that promotion, she thinks she’s the cat’s whiskers!”

Example #2: “LeBron James thinks he’s the cat’s whiskers but he hasn’t even won a single championship!

Leave some of your own examples!

Song of the Week: Weekend Girl by the SOS Band

This week’s Song of the Week is going to go back into time to the 1980s when music was delightfully cheesy and slow jams with synthesizers were in full effect. (So, in fact, it’s not really transporting you anywhere because if you turn on your local hip-hop station, you’re sure to find about the same today!) Anyway, “Weekend Girl” by the SOS Band is a classic single from 1985. I would recommend just putting this in the background and fixing yourself one of Captain Adam’s cocktails.

That’s your Week in Fodder ladies and gentleman. Hope you found a conversation starter for the bar, the beach or the cookout this weekend. Until Monday, keep living the good life!

What do an unwashed cashmere sweater, a national anthem with no words, and an erudite octopus have in common?

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Answer: The World Cup.

Spain

So here we are. The final stage of the World Cup. A competition filled with utter disappointments, pleasant surprises, heartbreak, and the power of youth. Spain and the Netherlands will go head to head in pursuit of their respective nation’s first ever World Cup trophy. We will see who will prevail. Until then, here’s a quick overview of last week’s quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

1) Brazil vs. Netherlands

Brazil came in as the undisputed champs, at least in their own minds, and in the first 15 minutes they showed their athleticism, guile, creativity, and superiority against the Dutch who were chasing the game. Felipe Melo, the Brazilian defensive midfielder, started the game as the hero and ended it, unceremoniously, as the villain. His sublime through ball to an in-stride Robinho gave me goosebumps, while his childish petulance and histrionics made me cringe. Melo’s rise and fall in the match closely mirrored how the Brazilians played. They started off well, performing in the superb, only to regress to playing like a wounded animal with no place to hide. The Dutch deserved to go through. For their part, the second half was a clinical exhibition of possession and movement.

2) Ghana vs. Uruguay

This game was a true heartbreaker for the neutral fan. With all the hopes and aspirations of a continent on their shoulders, the Black Stars of Ghana were unable to advance to the semifinals of the competition. The game was theirs to win or lose and Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s star striker, missed his penalty in the 120th minute. Regarding the handball incident that led to the penalty, the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that any soccer player would have done the same thing. While I find the hand ball reprehensible and unfortunate, it was the only play that Luis Suarez had to keep his team in the game. By handing the ball he knew he would be ejected but it luckily (didn’t feel that way at the time) left the fate of the game in the hands of his keeper and the fallibility of the opposition’s kick taker. Gyan missed the penalty kick and Uruguay stayed alive. Well played. Poor penalties sealed Ghana’s fate and left me scratching my head. Not all is lost for Ghana though–they are the reigning champions of the U-20 World Cup and should figure in the World Cup of 2014.

The Netherlands

3) Germany vs. Argentina

Germany absolutely demolished Argentina 4-0 in an impressive exhibition of counterattacking soccer. Argentina failed to adapt their game and remained narrow in their attack with Leo Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Gonzalo Higuaín continually frustrated by the stout German defense. Their midfield lacked creativity while their defense was finally exposed with Gabriel Heinze and Nicolás Otamendi horribly dismantled by the speed of Thomas Müller, Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski.

4) Spain vs. Paraguay

This game started as a bore and then turned into a white-knuckler with penalties on both sides of the pitch within 5 minutes of each other. As expected, Spain dominated possession, leaving Paraguay to chase the game for the majority of the match while creating sporadic opportunities in the front of the Spanish goal. Spain deserved to go through but left a lot to be desired by only scoring one against the pesky Paraguayans.

Semifinal recap:

1) Uruguay vs. Netherlands

This high-scoring affair sure had its moments. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s master-class strike was one for the ages. While scoring three goals, the Dutch still looked quite vulnerable in the back with Khalid Boulahrouz continually making things interesting on the right side of the defense. When asked what the difference was between the 2010 Dutch team and those of the past (’94,’98), the current crop of players stated that they expected to win regardless of how they got there. Long gone are the days of playing beautifully but not getting the results. They have the confidence and expectation to win but the “Dutch Way” is no longer their modus operandi. Check out this illuminating article by Raphael Honigstein about Dutch soccer and the death of total football.

Uruguay was missing the services of the suspended Suarez – leaving Diego Forlan to create on his own chances, which he did – and the sturdy defender Diego Lugano who would have provided more of a test against the wily and melodramatic Arjen Robben. Uruguay can be proud of making it to the semifinals for the first time since 1970 and will most certainly make noise in Brazil in 2014. Brazil will hope that they don’t. Some Cocktail Fodder for you: Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 final in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janiero 2-1. A rash of suicides in the country befell the country, as well as national competition to change the colors of the Brazilian team uniforms. A 19 year old came up with the winning design and won a yearlong internship with the national team.

Goal of the tournament:

The Prize

2) Spain vs. Germany

The youthful multicultural team of Germany finally met its match in the polished, methodical, geometrically ascetically pleasing, near lull-inducing Spanish squad (whew!). Not even a debonair coach with the unwashed lucky blue cashmere sweater could prepare his team well enough. From the beginning of the match one could tell that the Spanish were going to dictate the pace of the match with the Germans occasionally mounting a threatening counterattack. Now, there is something rather interesting and sobering about the Spanish starting 11 that is worth noting: the majority of them ply their trade at either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga. At the start of each season all the teams in La Liga, from Getafe to Real Madrid, have the same number of points (Check out the Alphabetized 2010-2011 standings) However, once the ball is kicked, the season is eventually predetermined with the only tension in the campaign revolving around whether Barcelona will continue its recent dominance or if Real Madrid can overtake them. Valencia finished in third place last year with 25 points between them and second place Real Madrid!  It is only natural that the national team be made up of the players from both squads as they are not only the leagues best paid but also the best players pound for pound. I like to think of this Spanish squad as Barcelona plus 5.

Where it gets even more interesting is in the identity of the player who scored the winning goal in yesterday’s semifinal to propel the team into the World Cup Finals for the first time. Carles Puyol, the shaggy-locked central defender, is from Catalonia; one of the 17 semi-autonomous regions of Spain. Spain could lift the World Cup for the first time thanks in large part to the talent pool generated by FC Barcelona; a well-established Catalonian institution and a sporting representation/symbol of Catalonian independence. I find this quite remarkable. General Franco would be rolling in his grave if he saw what was happening on the pitch.

A World Cup soothsayer?

Here is some more fun Cocktail Fodder for you: the Spanish national anthem has no words. It is one of the few in the world devoid of words. Why is this? Because the regionalism of Spain makes it virtually impossible to create a song that encapsulates what it means to be a “Spaniard.” From Galicia over to Catalonia and down to Andalucía, one finds areas that are politically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from the central government of Madrid. When one of the ESPN commentators noticed that none of the Spanish players were singing the national anthem I almost threw my drink at the screen (not really, but you get my point).

Patrick Cox’s podcast The World in Words from Public Radio International has two excellent episodes in which he touches upon the Spanish national anthem and whether the 2009 Champions league win by Barcelona could be hailed as a win for all Spaniards– definitely worth a listen. Here is the main page (http://patrickcox.wordpress.com/) with the topics of Spain coming up in the first and fifty sixth episode of the podcast.

Finally, check out this article about the “psychic” octopus who correctly predicted that Spain would beat Germany keeping its streak of correct match predictions alive: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/08/soccer-octopus-world-cup-final

Enjoy the final. Until next time, cheers.

World Cup Quarter-Final Predictions

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Soccer City

1) Brazil vs. Netherlands. Friday, July 2 at 10 am EST on ESPN.

History is on the side of the Brazilians who beat the Dutch in the 1994 and 1998 Quarter-finals in the United States and France. The first 30 seconds of the 1994 youtube clip is too funny. Hawaii Five-O meets the pitch! Both teams are playing well at the moment but I would put the Brazilians as slight favorites to win against the Oranje.  Expect tight passing games from both teams. While the Dutch will be more of the adventurous type in attack, the Brazilians will play tough defense and wait for an opportunity to pounce and counter.

2) Uruguay vs. Ghana. Friday, July 2 at 2:30pm EST on ESPN.

Ghana’s Black Stars, the last hope for Africa in this tournament, take on the defensively solid La Celeste of Uruguay in the first-ever clash between the two countries. Uruguay is making its first appearance in the quarter-finals since 1970 and their attack force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez has scored 5 of the 6 goals for the team so far. Ghana will be without the services of Andre Ayew and John Mensah due to accumulation of yellow cards. I expect Ghana to enjoy the lion share of possession in this game but see the pesky Uruguayans advancing on the back of either a Forlan or Suarez goal.

3) Argentina vs. Germany. Saturday, July 3 at 10 am EST on ESPN.

This is going to be a rollercoaster of a game. Both teams are playing attractive, high-scoring soccer and there is some bad blood between the two stemming from the World Cup in 2006. Watch this match with a group of friends and have the beer flowing as the action will be non-stop and the cards may be flying. This game is hard to call but I give a slight edge to Germany and think they can catch the Argentinean defense flat-footed on one of their trademark counters. Also, if there is any game that Lionel Messi could choose to make his mark this would be the one. He needs to step up.

4) Paraguay vs. Spain. Saturday, July 3 at 2:30 pm EST on ESPN.

I obviously expect Spain to win this match and advance and would not be surprised if they have 70% possession of the ball. Paraguay played an uninspiring match against a much weaker Japanese squad and I just don’t see how they will be able to compete with the Spanish. That said, once the ball drops it is anyone’s game.

Here’s another nice little preview:

Wimby’s Marathon

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The stuff of legends.

Pheidippides would have proud. Three days, eleven hours and 980 points later, John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut at the Championships- 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 – in the longest tennis match in history. Beating out extensive classics like the 2008 Federer-Nadal final, Isner-Mahut began on Tuesday (suspended due to darkness), continued into Wednesday (suspended due to darkness) and finally came to a conclusion this afternoon. We’re talking eleven hours tennis people. Now, an average tennis player only runs about a mile in a two hour match. But extrapolate that out over twelve hours (around six miles of fast-twitch muscle cardio), factor in overnight fatigue and add the general pressures of the world’s greatest tennis tournament and you must sit back in awe of what Mssrs. Isner and Mahut accomplished. It’s truly a shame that anyone had to lose. That being said, cheers to the Boston boy Isner. Good luck, keep winning, go USA!

What twelve hours off the tennis court could have gotten John Isner and Nicolas Mahut:

Four viewings of Mel Gibson clad in face paint and kilt in Braveheart.

Roughly fourteen MRIs.

– Three and half replays of last night’s Minnesota Twins-Milwakee Brewers game.

– 2970 continuously microwaved Bagel Bites… I know no one could eat more than three or so, but for the sake of the argument, that is a LOT of Bagel Bites.

–  Five DVR’ed recordings of Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot’s running of the 2010 Boston marathon.

– Eleven listens of any of the following: BBC Newshour, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me or On point with Tom Ashbrook.

– Twenty-two painful episodes of woebegone Friends spinoff Joey… I know what you’re thinking: “Were there even twenty-two episodes of that show Joey?” Yes, yes there were. RIP.

– Finally, and oddly enough, ONE and only one nostalgic replay of their own match.