Chile Has Home “Cancha” Advantage

Chile will easily defeat Switzerland in Group H play today in the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  This may seem like a relatively safe pick.  Chile had something like a 40:1  chance of winning the World Cup according to Ladbrokes going into the tournament; Switzerland 150:1.  Latin American teams have dominated so far with a 67% winning percentage compared to 35% for European teams.  But hold on.  The Alpine nation defeated the team favored to win the tournament – Spain.  Chile on the other hand, bested lightly regarded Honduras, a team least likely to win the Cup.  Switzerland has the momentum, but Chile has the X factor:  LATITUDE.

Did you know that Port Elizabeth, the host city of today’s match, has the same latitude as Santiago, Chile – 33º?  Chile is accustomed to playing in southerly climes and therefore has the home court, the home “cancha”, the home pitch, the home field advantage.  Vamos Chile!

Soccer Players Too Tired To Score?

As I’m watching the World Cup, I think I understand why there hasn’t been much scoring.  No, not great defense.  And it’s not that kicking the ball in the net requires superhuman ability.  I think the players are winded and too tired to kick the ball accurately.  Yes, they are some of the best conditioned athletes in the world, but there is a limit to human capacity.  So I say, shorten the playing field, or the pitch as it’s called in Europe, or la cancha in Spanish.  Shorten it by 40 yards or so.  Fans will say this is blasphemous but players will secretly agree with the idea.  They will.

A Father’s Day Tribute to My Dad

Dad and I at the local DX

My dad died in 1988.  He was only 50.  I’ve never written about his passing, but I think about him everyday.  Who was this man who checked out at such an early age?

He was a complicated man, a man of many moods and talents.  An architect, a tinkerer, a photographer, a reader of science fiction and mysteries and a sports fan.  He was sociable, and introverted, intellectual, but down to earth, a man with a musical ear who played no instrument.  An encyclopedia of knowledge.  There’s was almost nothing he didn’t know something about.  He was like the Internet before the Internet.  Instead of Google, I just asked Dad.  And if he didn’t know, he’d say so – like “that’s a good question.  Let’s think about that”.

Fun loving, caring and at times distant.  A man with dreams and doubts, of promise and disappointment.  A man of cheer and gloom.  Sweet and kind and at times removed.  A man of mysteries.  My father.  And he meant the world to me.  Though sometimes distant, he came to all my games, all my graduations, all my open houses at school.  He drove me to Texas to visit a college.  He picked me up on the side of the highway at 3:00 in the morning when my rented truck with all my college possessions broke down some 3 hours from home.  He was there for me always.   I miss him.  Happy Father’s day Dad!

Latin America on a roll in the World Cup

I don’t like ties in soccer, or in the official lingo, draws.  I’ve been an advocate of sudden death or penalty kicks to decide a winner.  I’ve waged a tireless campaign to promote a new scoring system for soccer.  Ok, maybe not a tireless campaign, but I’ve devoted a paragraph in a previous post to the idea.  In first round World Cup play, I know ties, sorry, DRAWS, count as 1 point, but a draw means nothing to me as a sports fan.  To quote from my previous post, “…it’s as if the game had never been played.”

After looking at some of the results, I was curious to know which continent has posted the best winning percentage.  The result is probably not surprising, but perhaps sobering to European and African fans.  The prize goes to South America, which I am just going to call Latin America (LA) and include Mexico and Honduras.  With 6 teams, LA has posted 6 wins 1 loss and 3 draws.  Of the 10 results, 60% resulted in a team winning.  Europe, with 13 teams is 6-6-7 for a 32% winning percentage.  African teams have only posted 1 win so far.  The three Asian teams are 2-2.  No draws.  They play to win.  By contrast, the 3 English speaking New World teams – USA, Australia and New Zealand are 0-1-3.  The only delegation yet to post a win.

I have enjoyed watching some of the matches.   Team USA launched one of the most impressive comebacks I’ve ever seen in a soccer match against a tough team from Slovenia in first round play.   Chile’s victory over Honduras delighted the legions of fans in the Andean nation.  And Argentina with two wins in its first two matches may be the most dangerous team in the competition.   I’m watching the Netherlands v. Japan at this very moment.  Naturally, it’s nil – nil.

El Jogo B o-o ring

After two days of World Cup soccer and 5 games, there have been three ties and only 7 goals scored.  I know it’s called o jogo bonito,  beautiful game in Portuguese, but I call it el juego aborido, the boring game in Spanish.

I did watch bits of pieces of some of the games, including most of the USA v England match.  Of the teams I have seen, Argentina has impressed me the most in a tough win over Nigeria.  Greece performed  sluggishly against South Korea.   Fortunately, I didn’t see the scoreless tie between Uruguay and France.  I listened to the first half of the match between the Brits and Yanks on Spanish radio and the Argentine announcer made the game sound much more exciting than it actually was.  When I finally got home, I put it on ABC but the English speaking broadcasters were so monotone and uninterested, that I had to flip around to find the game in Spanish to keep from falling asleep.

And those Brits.  They should have easily defeated the Yanks, but they squandered chance after chance to score and pressured goalie Tim Howard all night, who apparently broke a few ribs in a collision early on in the game.   The Yanks simply could not get anything going, and if it weren’t for a botched “grounder” by the Brit goalie Green, the Yanks would have little hope of advancing out of Group C.  As is, with goalie Howard’s cracked ribs, team USA may struggle in the prelims.

There’s not enough scoring and excitement in soccer in my view.  A near goal doesn’t do it for me – it’s like a missed shot in basketball or a long ball that was caught on the warning track in baseball.  Yellow cards provide the most drama in the matches, kind of like a technical foul in basketball or a roughing the passer in American football.  But the worst aspect of the World Cup is that a game can end in a tie.  That’s just not acceptable.  There should be penalty kicks at every stage of the tournament.  And a 0-0 tie – it’s as if the game had never been played.  Shame on futbol, el jogo b o-o ring.

Soccer Needs a New Scoring System

I confess.  I’m not a big soccer fan.  I didn’t grow up playing the game as a kid. I do remember playing a variant of the game as a 6th grader on an outdoor basketball court with a kickball, but that’s the extent of my experience.

I began following the sport a little bit in 1990 when I watched the 1990 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina.  I was in Venezuela at the time and ended up watching the game with some Venezuelan fans who were cheering on Argentina.   They thought I was a soccer player because I had on a pair of Addidas Samba.  And one guy was convinced that I was a fan of Germany because I looked like Jurgen Klinsmann, which, by the way is not true. I told them I didn’t play, didn’t know how to play, but they couldn’t comprehend that, or maybe they thought that my Spanish was bad.  Interestingly, Venezuela is not a competitive soccer playing country, but Venezuelans do love soccer.  I guess this is due in part to Latin American pride in the success the continent has had in the sport and the fact that there are so many families of European decent living there.

I do like watching World Cup soccer, but I’m not wild about ties, especially scoreless ties such as occurred between Uruguay and France in Group A competition yesterday.  Can’t they do penalty kicks at all stages?  Or sudden death? Why not have the players essentially play until they drop?  A tie is like the game was never played.  No winner.  No loser.  And yet each gain a point.  I wonder if teams play to tie.  And why not adopt defensive tactics to preserve a scoreless tie.  Conserve energy.  Win a point.  A win win.  There’s something wrong with that mentality.

Soccer still hasn’t caught on in the States, and I think it never will, precisely because a game can end in a draw.  There’s not enough scoring for the American appetite.  Where’s the equivalent of the three pointer in basketball, a touchdown in football or the home run in baseball?  In these American sports, there are multiple ways to score and various point values assigned to the scoring.  Couldn’t soccer adopt something similar? Let’s say 3 points for a scissors kick goal and 2 points each for a goal as a result of a header or a kick that hits the net in the air.

I’m half kidding of course, but I might be on to something.

RIP Mercury

Ford is finally letting go of its clone brand, the Mercury.  I never much liked Mercury styling.  I came from a Chevy family.  A close friend of mine drove a Ford Maverick, the twin of the Mercury Comet.  This same friend also drove an indestructible Grand Marquis in college that I spent a lot of time in.  It took up two parking places, drank oil like water and probably got 5 mpg, but it was a great car.  We called it the staff mobile.  My wife drove a Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park Station Wagon that was on its last leg when I first met her.  After a year of dating and going through 5,000 pints of oil, we sold it to a junk yard for $25.

The thing I like most about Mercury are the model names:  Comet, Bobcat, Lynx, Zephyr, the Sable, twin of Taurus and the Mercury Cougar. Another friend of mine had a 1979 Cougar that he drove hard and fast.  Wait, maybe it was a Thunderbird.

RIP Mercury.

Umpire Bots at the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

I’m somewhat of a baseball purist.  I like the game the way it is.  I’m not a huge fan of instant replay to review questionable home runs, but I’m ok with it.  I don’t believe, however, that instant replay should be expanded to other calls.  If any close call could be reviewed, games would go on for 4 hours or more.   I suppose baseball could go the route of football and permit each manager to challenge 2 calls a game or something.  But I think expanding instant replay creates a slippery slope.  This could lead to the eventual replacement of umpires.  Computerized cameras could be installed strategically to capture every angle and be programmed to make instant calls.   For the purist, baseball could put an umpire bot with laser beam eyes behind home plate to call balls and strikes.

I’m glad the “near” perfect game pitched by Armanda Galarraga will go down as just that – a near perfect game.  Reversing or adjusting calls after the fact is just too meddlesome.  So the ump blew the call, but Bud Selig did not.  He made the right decision not to reverse the blown call.  Umps are human, not perfect.  If we need perfection, MLB should just replace all umps with machines.  If we begin to review, reverse and revise history, the game will lose it’s appeal, it’s character and charm.

Baseball is a great game.  It’s our nation’s pastime.  Leave it alone.

Clean Energy? Obama’s Carnegie Mellon Talk

In a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama warned of the dangers of our oil addiction and made the case for clean energy, but he did so without mentioning some of the cleanest and safest energy of all, renewable solar and wind power.  Instead of condemning offshore drilling all together, he suggested that it should continue to be part of the equation at least temporarily as we shift to safer, cleaner energy.  But shift to what?  According to Obama, “it means tapping into our natural gas reserves” .  I’m a little suspicious of the word tap.  Sounds like more drilling to me.  Isn’t natural gas a fossil fuel? Aren’t we addicted to fossil fuels?  It’s like taking methadone to kick heroin or oxycontin to treat pain, both “remedies” are highly addictive.  And what happens when the tap runs dry.  Unless we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels considerably, the nation is in for a serious case of the DTs.

The other “clean” energy the President mentioned is nuclear.  If an offshore drilling rig can blowup due to human error, what about a nuclear power plant.  Remember Chernoybl and Three-Mile Island?  Pretty messy. I have this image of Homer Simpson at the controls.  Not only is nuclear power a potentially dangerous pursuit, it’s an expensive one.  Plants cost billions to build and very few, perhaps fewer than 2% have ever been built on time and on budget.

I agreed with some of his plans, such as “putting a price on carbon pollution” and requiring cars and trucks to be more energy efficient.  He didn’t say how efficient, but I say bring the standard up to 55 mpg.  Nor did he say anything about a speed limit.  I’d say bring it down to 55 mph, and save some lives in the process.  He mentioned investing in technology to help the U.S. be a lead player in hybrid battery production, which is not a bad idea, but let’s sell some electric cars too – it’s time to get the “Government Motors” Chevy Volt on the road.

In the wake of the BP oil disaster which may have irreparably damaged the Gulf Coast economy and environment , I expected the President to make a better case for clean, safe and renewable energy.  I also expected that he would blast big oil and demand a moratorium on deep offshore drilling and somehow link clean energy to clean up.  Let’s replace “drill baby drill’ with “clean baby clean” or “clean up baby clean” or “clean baby green”…or something.

65% Can’t Name A SCOTUS Justice, but know Clarence

According to a poll shown on Hardball with Chris Matthews, 65% of Americans can’t name a Supreme Court Justice, not one.  Interestingly, more had heard of the name Clarence Thomas than any other.   I’m not sure why this is so.   He is not a power broker on the court.  He sides or maybe hides with the comfortable conservative majority on nearly every decision.  It might be that Americans remember his contentious confirmation hearings, particularly Anita Hill’s allegations that he had sexually harassed her when they worked together some years before at the EEOC.

But am I giving the average American too much credit, or not enough?  Maybe it’s not Clearance Thomas they remember at all.  Perhaps they remember Clarence Darrow, the attorney who challenged a Tennessee state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the schools and defended one John Scopes, a school teacher who dared to teach Darwin’s theory in the classroom.  There would certainly be some irony here if in fact folks confuse Clarence T. with Clarence D.  Or is it that Americans have confused Justice Thomas with Clarence Odbody, George Bailey’s guardian angel in the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Are Americans really this ignorant or clever… or do we simply not give a damn? If it’s that folks don’t give a crap, it’s a sad day for democracy.