Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

daily existence away from chicago

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Evolution of a Joke

A few months ago, I mentioned Ciela's latest joke. Last night, Ciela showed the gift of a true writer by revising and updating her material.

Take small, green plastic fork.
Place fork on head.
Say, "fork-hat."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Open Letter to My Inept Representative

To the Honorable J. D. Hayworth:

The Scottsdale Tribune reported this morning that you are circulating a petition to revoke the press credentials of the New York Times in response to their stories regarding various surveillance programs orchestrated by the Bush administration.

I find this action reprehensible. In a free and democratic society the press play a vital role. They ensure the actions of the government are transparent and honorable. One of our greatest architects of this country, Thomas Jefferson, valued the press even above the various branches of government. In 1787, he wrote that:

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

The last few years have shown a remarkable lack of oversight by the legislative branch. You and your fellow congressmen have abdicated your responsibility as a check on the executive branch. Without the free press, this administration, with a nod of approval from Congress, would eagerly violate and revoke our civil rights. Thankfully, the New York Times and other media outlets continue to demand accountability in the absence of a functioning legislative branch.

Your actions to censor one of our best papers show an incredible lack of understanding of democracy. Our district is ill served by such an ignorant and dangerous reaction.


Scott Hermanson

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Swimming and Diving


The ref gave Adriano a yellow card for diving. Horaay for Michel Lubos! Maybe he'll ref the Portugal or Italy game.

Ciela learned how to bob this morning. With a count of "two, free" (who needs "one"? everyone knows it's there), she sticks her head in the water. Not very far. Just over her nose. She closes her eyes and opens her mouth and does sort of a pump fake before going under. It's very cute, of course. Especially because she is so short that even in the very shallow end, the water comes up to her chin so that she's this little head bobbing around with waving arms coming up to splash beside her.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Soccer Orb


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Portugal 1 - 0 Holland

What an awful game--but great to watch.

I wanted somehow for them to both lose. My sympathies were with Portugal when Cristiano Ronaldo was hard fouled and had to leave the game. Then I swerved to Holland when Robben got spiked in the shoulder--while jumping for a high cross. You really have to have dangerously high kick to connect with a guys shoulder who is jumping above you.

But then the game just degenerated into thuggish whinery. Only soccer players can combine bullying with such juvenile whining. A Dutch player collapses in agony when Figo gets too close to his face. The Portugese Deco runs away with the ball to try to waste a few seconds. The Dutch, in a remarkably poor show of sportsmanship, refuse to turn-over the ball after play had been stopped with Portugal in possession. Cynical and the mark of a desperate team. I sympathized when Deco took a man down hard from behind. The Dutch deserved it.

But as each card came out--13 in all, I think, with four players being sent off--I disagreed heartily with the ESPN team (and later pundits on the internet, and even Sepp Blatter of FIFA) who claimed the ref was doing a poor job. I thought nearly every card was warranted. The players played like drunk amatuers, and they deserved to be sent off. Costinha handles a ball on a meaningless cross for his second yellow. Just stupid. Deco runs away with the ball when he's already carrying a yellow card. Stupid. The hacking continued until the final whistle. The Dutch deserved to get beat, and Portugal deserve to get beat by England when they have to play without Deco and Costinha. That will be one of the few games in the knock-out rounds that I cheer for a clear favorite. Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland.

ADDENDUM: I especially got a kick out of hearing them constantly say Maniche scored the goal. For those of you without sound on your blog, it's pronounced MANEESH. Kudos to you Manny for such a fine strike.

World Cup in a Teapot Ghana 2-1 USA

Okay, so I didn't think we had a chance to beat Ghana 5-0 or anything like that, but I thought we could beat them. Sure we got hosed by another bad call from the ref, but call or no call, we were not the better team. We just didn't show the conviction or energy that we had v Italy.

So we're done, and no I have to listen to all manner of pundits talk about how this will affect soccer in America. Every four years, the Americans who love soccer and the sportswriters and broadcasters have a mutual wank-fest yelling at each other across the gulf of understanding. The soccer lovers shout loudly about the inability of American sportswriters to adequately and accurately cover a game they know little about. The mainstream sportswriters cannot help but insert smug remarks about how boring soccer is. I find it amazing how each group can continually rehash the same tedious remarks. I side with the soccer lovers--the game is beautiful, full of tension and grace in equal measures.

I enjoy other sports like football (avec helmets), basketball and even a baseball game, but they all lack the fluidity, spectacle and social import of soccer. Basketball comes closest to the grace and fluidity, but is hampered by the fact that scoring happens continuously, diminishing each basket. Additionally, basketball in the final minutes repeatedly stops the action with free-throws and a seemingly infinite amount of time-outs. I watched a couple of Suns-Mavericks games of the NBA playoffs just before the Cup, and it was mind-numbingly frustrating to see the last 30 seconds drawn out for 20 minutes. Football approaches the spectacle, but the NFL ruins the game by creating superficial entertainment all around the action. The fans are relegated to automatons; though in the stands, they are merely watching a very large screen tv. Compare even the most intense rivalry of the NFL to a Barcelona-Madrid game or another match-up between England and Argentina. College football comes closest with rivalries like Michigan v Ohio State or Army-Navy. The stands are rolling with passion and devotion that sweeps the stadium beyond a game and into a transcendent, communal experience. Finally baseball captures an essence of Americana--especially at the minor league level. But even at it's best, baseball is such a bucollic and intellectual game that it simply cannot capture the passion of America. Witness the feeble World Baseball Classic this spring.

Soccer has all these three. Plus, it is a far better game than any of the other three to play. Speaking as a former child baseball player, baseball is a lousy sport for kids (sorry, dad). My memories of baseball are long stretches of boredom in the outfield watching two guys play catch. Baseball is perverse. The most fun in any sport is in the offense. We want to score, we want to be the guy who moves the team ahead. Baseball manages to create a game where almost no action exists on the field, and when it does, 70%-90% of the people on the field are playing defense. The game is so abstract, that at the highest level, they need 4 referees to make the most minute calls.

Football is just an insanely violent sport that shouldn't be played by anyone. Any game that requires so much protective equipment isn't a sport, but a gladitorial battle that ought to be sanctioned by civilized people. It's not so bad on the sand-lot level, with no pads. But any sport that glorifies a 400 pound lump of lard as an "athlete" and perhaps even a star "athlete," needs rethinking. 400 pound people are not athletes. They are medical conditions lacking treatment.

Basketball comes close, but height plays to strong a role in determining the better players. Yet because basketball includes such fast-paced motion, improvisation and teamwork, it comes close to being a viable competitor to soccer as a participatory sport.

Still, soccer can't be beat. Small players are often better than larger ones. No one player can dominate a game without help from teammates. Equipment requirements are minor. And the game, even on the small scale, provides for moments of beauty, even for such a plodding amatuer like me. The graceful arc of the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the net, just beyond the outstretched fingertips of the soaring goalkeeper: this is a thing of beauty that exceeds anything I've done in print. Or take the delicate one-touch passes among three players in the box, each avoiding the crasing tackles around them by fractions of a second until the last drives the ball past a keeper desperately scrambling into position; the action is like the solo cello over the massive power of the orchestra. A theme that sings above the thunder below.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Italy 1 - USA 1

Oh man!

The card on Pablo was the worst. No way was that foul a red card. And doing my best not to be a homer, but Italy's man did deserve sending off. That was a blantant elbow, and McBride had all the blood to prove it. And I'll even admit that the second ball Italy put into the net should have counted. But the second yellow on Pope, c'mon! You don't give that a yellow in the second minute of the second half. Warn him, but don't exile him. Granted, Pope put himself in that position by getting the earlier yellow card. I don't think he should have gotten the second yellow, though. You don't send off a guy for that foul.

But why oh why didn't Arena use his last sub. With about 15 minutes to go, Cherundolo went right around Pirla (I think). He just pushed the ball past and ran right by him. The Italian put up no fight whatsoever. Arena should have pounced and put Johnson or Wolf in. Johnshon and Beasley could have run circles around some of those guys and really put some pressure. It might be overly optimistic to think they would have scored, but they would have helped ease the pressure on us. Time after time Keller was sending balls to McBride and nobody was up there in case he won them. At least Johnson could have run on to one of those and maybe taken it to the corner to eat up some time.

But better, he could have been deadly on a counter attack.

Still, we got a point after being hosed by the ref. And we can control our destiny. Even if the Czechs win, all we have to do is beat Ghana 5-0, I think.

I can't wait until Thursday. C'mon you freaking Italians. Put away those Czechs.

Ciela slept through the whole game.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup

It's about 45 minutes to game time. US-Czech Rep.

The US is going to play a 4-5-1, which is good, I think. Getting both Convey and Beasley on the pitch. I think they have their best 11 on the field with the option of bringing in Wolf or Johnson as subs if they need more offense.

I hope this turns out like Portugal, a fast opening that takes the Euros by surprise and they withstand the frantic attack in the second half.

I'm just hoping for a point.

Ciela and I are watching at home, but all things being equal, I'd rather be at a bar with people who know what they are watching. We seemed forever relegated to steerage in america. The US culture--it's showcaseing of individual effort, mania for stats, and willingness (even desire) to tolerate long stopages in play--will never really embrace soccer's team aesthetic, low scoring and lack of room for commercials. I'm sure that this antipathy may be one reason I like the game. And why I think baseball can be remarkably boring if it's not the world series--or god help me, if I have to play the game.

Okay 40 minutes to game time. Time to go paint my face, hang the big American flag, and crack open a beer. Hey, it's 6pm in Germany.

UPDATE: 0-3. Crap. Where the hell was the team? Blah. Too disgusted to write anything about it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I did my civic duty yesterday and reported for jury duty. Having been a driving and voting member of the populace for almost 20 years, one would think jury duty would have popped up before. But neither Chicago or Cincinnati called on me, and Omaha asked me to serve two weeks after I would have left for Arizona. But here, finally, I would get to test my powers of reason, ethics and democratic ideals in the finest branch of government; the judiciary.

After biking down to the Courts at 7:30am (when it was already 90 outside), I hung around the door with the 30 or so other jurors waiting to be let into the building. Nice that they ask you to get there at 8:00am but won't open the doors until 8:00am precisely. Thankfully it was cloudy. Screening at the Courts turns out to be more restrictive than even the airports. I practically had to strip to my shorts before the metal detector gave me the green light.

I'd like to say that I served faithfully and impartially, wisely deciding the case on the merits of the facts, unswayed by prejudice. But after an hour and half of watching the Travel Channel and reading my book, a couple of cups of free but bad coffee, and a short, uneventful trip around the bathroom corridor and the smoking porch, they let me go. They let all of us go. The defendent had settled and they had no other cases. I volunteered to go ahead and try some Enron executives or perhaps a corrupt Republican official--I'm sure J.D. Hayworth must have something on which we could convict (failure to think humanely and rationally, perhaps)-- but the judge politely refused and quickly closed the door behind me.

Having fulfilled my civic responsibility (catch phrase used no less than 15 times in the ten minute video indoctrination for jurors), I am off the hook for the next 18 months.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Welcome to the Neighborhood

One of the first things delivered to our mailbox after we moved in was a notice that a sexual predator had moved into the same complex. This week, we got another fun welcoming gift in the mailbox: a plain white envelope, addressed to me, no return address. Inside was a brief rant from one of my neighbors, complaining about us riding our bikes in the grass, and threatening to have us reimburse the Home Owners Association for damage done to the common areas. He or she also included a handy photocopy of the relevant page from the CC&R with key passages highlighted. The author of the note really liked exclamation points!!! and had a mastery of that passive bureacratic voice: "the tracks have been traced to your unit." I really like that last part, the refusal to provide a subject to the sentence, leaving me with the Kafka-esque dilemma of a faceless accuser, tracking my movements.

In a number of other ways, the letter is a sad, suburban parody of the Kafka scene. Some person wants to intimidate me by co-opting the power of anonymity and bureacratic revenge. The letter presents itself as a missive from the system, something that cannot be questioned or even acknowledged. My only valid response is to cease riding my bike across the grass to the bike path. Interestingly, the excessive use of exclamation points actually undercuts the threat of the letter. As I always told my students, the exclamation point is most often a scream of impotency, the viagra sign of literary impotence. It is employed as an insistance of power where none exists. As such, Judy pointed out that we probably don't have to worry about this because anyone who would send an anonymous letter over such a miniscule matter probaby would never actually confront us face-to-face.

Such is our entry into the world of the HOA. I worried about buying property where an elected body typically made up of people with too much time on their hads would govern a sizeable fraction of what we could do with our townhome. On my good days, I saw it as a community bound together by a common interest in providing a pleasant place to live. On the bad days, I imagined it to be like every other group or committee I've ever had the misfortune of joining.

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