Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Time To Learn Your Homophones Is Past Due

Yes, I'm aware that the problem stated in Word Crimes is that people, when writing, use the wrong homophone. That is not our problem at hand today. Our problem is knowing what a homophone even is.

We have a private English education school in Provo, Utah called the Nomen Global Language Center. Their social-media blogger, Tim Torkildson, was allegedly fired recently for... blogging about homophones. As Torkildson tells it, his boss, Clarke Woodger (the owner of Nomen), told him upon termination, ""Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality." (Woodger, for his part, says it was more about Torlkildson "going off on tangents" in his blogs that could be considered offensive.)

First off, as we OUGHT to know, a homophone is two words that sound alike. But homophones... well, come to think of it, they're not our real problem here. Our real problem is knowing our prefixes and suffixes. A prefix is something that, when you put it at the beginning of a word, infuses that word with a meaning specific to that prefix. A suffix does the same thing at the end of the word. In this case, 'homo' is the prefix.

The problem seems to be that 'homo' is being thought of as a prefix meaning 'gay'. Not just in this case, but all over. People use 'homo' as an insult meaning 'gay'. That is not the meaning of 'homo'. 'Homo' means 'the same'. Nothing more. When you add it to a word, you are implying that the things that word covers are similar in some way. So:

*Homophone means words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
*Homograph is the inverse; it means words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and sometimes pronunciation as well (e.g. 'ball' could mean the ball you use in sports, or it could mean a fancy dance, or it could mean having a good time at that dance, or it could mean male testicles).
*Homosexual means preferring those of the same gender as you.
*Homogenous means things that are the same.
*Homocyclic means a closed ring of atoms of the same kind. Often this will be carbon atoms.
*Homogony is a botanical term meaning the pistils and stamens in a flower species are all the same length and in the same location.

Boy, look at those hot hot closed atom rings, folks.

Meanwhile, since we're here already, the suffix in homophone is 'phone'. As a suffix, it deals with sound, often words. When you see it ending a word, you can count on the word having something to do with sound. So:

*Homophone means words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
*A telephone is a device you can use to verbally communicate over long distances.
*A saxophone is a musical instrument. So is a xylophone. Or a sousaphone.
*A microphone is something you speak into. So is a megaphone. A headphone is something through which to hear that sound.
*Anglophone means someone who speak English. Francophone is the word for French speakers. Lusophone is for Portuguese. Hispanophone is for Spanish. Sinophone is for Chinese.

Got it? Homophone does not mean gay men making noises. I'm ashamed I even had to type that out.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Internal Programming Note

This time it's an actual program!

Okay, so apparently I will be doing a lot of soccer work in the future. Not necessarily here, but I've decided I want to do a soccer podcast. I missed the World Cup window I was really hoping to hit on the book, and I figure my odds of success just took a hit because of that, so I want to parlay things into something more immediately consumable (and monetizable, hi advertisers!) just in case. A lot of research prep work is pre-done, so there's that at least. I've yet to give it a name, but I'm going over the basic concept of what I'm attempting to do with a potential co-host. I'm hoping to take an expansive view of the sport- not just the major leagues, though I certainly won't turn my nose up at suitable material out of them- and while I'm perfectly fine recapping a game or making day-to-day sports talk, I'm more comfortable discussing the bigger picture. The state of soccer in a given location. Histories of clubs or players or the places in which they play. The myriad ways in which the antics of 22 men and a ball permeate large swaths of the world in which we live, very often in areas of that world that aren't likely to win or even qualify for the World Cup anytime soon.

I went over topics that I might have wanted to do for a fictional sample episode a few days ago, and the things I, at least, gravitated towards were:

*The upcoming MLS All-Star Game, how it compares with other soccer all-star games (yes, they exist), and the use of a league-spanning team playing a marquee overseas opponent when individual clubs are playing them themselves.
*This match-fixer in Singapore being jailed for offering prostitutes as bribes to referees from Lebanon, and a 99-cent-version overview of Singapore's role in match-fixing.
*This suite of rulings from UEFA, regarding events in Russia, Ukraine and Israel, and the various matters and stories surrounding each, one of which I've already brought up on this blog.

I imagine lighter fare would be coming in other episodes, but it's a pretty heavy sample group. And of course, this leaves out anything my co-host would want to tackle, as it'd be his show too.

We have both vowed that what we are not going to do is turn this into one more sports-jock screamfest. I think we've all seen quite enough of those. Discussion's fine, disagreement is fine, that is what talking sports is built on after all, but it's not like disagreement has to exist or even be a relevant concept when bringing up a topic. There's nothing wrong with merely stating fact and providing context.

You know. News.

This, though, all assumes I learn how to operate audio equipment, as I have zero experience with audio and this is a hell of a way to get an education on it. All I can say about that is I'll do my best to not make us both sound like staticy alien robots. Wish me luck. Well, wish us luck, anyway.

Monday, July 28, 2014

TED Talk Night

Tonight I've got a guy named Simon Anholt for you, speaking in June in Berlin, speaking about his creation of a metric called the Good Country Index. Or if you don't want to hear him talk, you can see his explanation at the index's website.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Twitter Account Perhaps Worth Following

@congressedits. CongressEdits is a bot, created earlier this month, that automatically tweets anonymous edits to Wikipedia from IP addresses originating from Congress. You may have heard the occasional story over the years about some office or other getting caught editing their own page or something that they disagree with politically. That was about the only way you'd hear of it previously. Here, everyone's getting caught red-handed every time.

Not that you'd always characterize it as 'getting caught red-handed'; after all, a lot of the edits are as benign as everyone else's. Choco Taco, for example. But there's enough precedent in place that it's worth sifting through the benign edits to find the suspicious ones.

How does Wikipedia feel about this new account? Well, they've since banned Congress from editing for 10 days, so it can probably be assumed that they appreciate the heads-up.

They may also appreciate the legislative editbots that have since popped up in other countries that thought, hey, that's a hell of an idea there; we'd like to catch anonymous edits too:

*Australia (@AussieParlEdits)
*Canada (@gccaedits)
*Chile (@EstadoEdita)
*Denmark (@FTingetWikiEdit)
*France (@wikiAssemblee)
*Germany (@reichstagedits)
*Ireland (@IrishGovEdits)
*Israel (@israeledits)
*Italy (@Parlamento_Wiki)
*Lithuania (@LRSwikiedits)
*Netherlands (@2dekameredits)
*Russia (@RuGovEdits_en)
*South Africa (@parlizaedits)
*Sweden (@RiksdagWikiEdit)
*Switzerland (@swissgovedit)
*Ukraine (@UaGovEdits_en)
*United Kingdom (@parliamentedits, and they were actually around first, but I am American and therefore neener neener)

And as if that wasn't enough, nongovernmental editbots have also popped up, such as for the CIA (@ciaedits), oil companies/defense contractors (@oiledits), pharmaceutical companies (@phrmaedits), Goldman Sachs (@goldmanedits), and Monsanto (@monsantoedits). I'm sure this isn't going to be the last of them; a pretty good approximation of the list as it stands can be found here. And if you want to make a new one, the source code is here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Idiots On The Field: Competitive Cycling Edition

I've written here about what happens when you run onto the field during a sporting event: basically, you become free game for anyone on that field who feels like laying you out, and then you get hauled off by security. In most sports, there are also some physical barriers keeping you from reaching the field: fences, gravity, the like.

In a bike race, this isn't always possible to do. Once a race nears the finish line, the barrier walls show up, and immediately surrounding important sections of the course, but by and large it's quite simply a prohibitive effort to cover each and every foot of a course, especially if it's a long-distance race like the Tour de France and stages routinely top 100 miles in length. Barriers 100 miles long going up and then coming back down every single day for three weeks isn't happening... but that isn't stopping Jon Gugala of Deadspin from fretting about it after the all-but-winner-we're-just-waiting-for-it-to-be-official of this year's Tour, Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, sideswiped a fan on the side of the road who had her back to the action so she could take a selfie. The cell phone went flying.

At least, Nibali's the presumptive winner for now. We'll see if he's still the winner a couple years from now after all the drug tests come in. Because a lot of people don't trust a damn thing that happens in that race anymore and for good reason.

You can't put barriers up over the entire course, but putting them up along more of the course than presently happens, sections likely to be heavily populated, well... maybe that'd be something worth worrying about. After all, fans colliding with the athletes in a bike race is going to have a tangible effect on the race, because the athlete's going to fall down go boom and get passed by a bunch of people or lose a bunch of time getting back into rhythm. He may even need to swap bikes, or if he gets hurt badly enough, withdraw from the race entirely.

As Jens Voigt of Germany, who is competing in his 17th Tour this year, explains it:

In fact, lots of athletes could fall down go boom, such as this incident 6 miles out from the end of a Tour stage.

On the other hand... if you collide with a bike, your punishment comes pretty much immediately, because a guy riding his bike as fast as he can just plowed into your stupid ass. You're going down too... such as the most egregious spectator crash possibly of all time, this guy from the 1999 Tour who wrecked Giuseppe Guerini (who wasn't prevented from winning the stage).

Some more reasons to stay the hell back on a bike race course, you say?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adventures In Polling

Yesterday, Walt Hickey of 538 ran a fun little thing about the popularity of various Star Wars movies and characters. They ran the survey themselves online via a place called SurveyMonkey, which should probably tell you something about the scientific validity, but it's just Star Wars and not a Presidential horserace poll or anything really important so who cares, honestly. Among the things we 'learned': people like the original trilogy more than the new one, Luke Skywalker is the most popular character and, as you'd probably expect, Jar Jar Binks is the least popular. (Also learned: 39% of respondents thought Han shot first, with 24% thinking Greedo shot first. Han did in the original; Greedo had a first shot inserted in the 1997 remake.)

Fun. Silly.

And then Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post got hold of it. As far as I can tell, he looks to be the genesis here, though it's possible that someone else got there first. Ingraham decided to compare 538's popularity ratings of the Star Wars characters with popularity ratings of actual, flesh-and-blood politicians, and of course nobody in real life did too well. He opted to chop out the ratings of Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2, C-3P0, Anakin Skywalker, Lando Calrissian and Padme Amidala- all of which were more popular than all the humans- and went straight for the high-rating Luke, Han Solo and Yoda, mid-table Darth Vader (of course he's midtable, because Vader's a badass), and the lowest-ranking character that beat or tied all the humans, Boba Fett (who drew even with top human Hillary Clinton). And then the humans get rattled off, with Emperor Palpatine wedged in between Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, more humans, and then Jar-Jar slotting in between Rick Santorum and John Boehner, and then the rest of the human contingent, with 'Congress' bringing up the rear.

And then Ingraham, clearly flying into the 'if 538 said it you can accept it at face value' bug zapper, goes right for the headline "Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates". Ha ha, how wacky, weep for the smoldering ruins of your country, America, be afraid, be very afraid. And of course the fringe blog set went and had their fun, though USA Today piled on too, because 538 yo, they're NEVER wrong. I'm not even going to reward the rest of them with a link.

Because this entire premise is founded on crap. You'll notice I haven't given the actual numbers of the Star Wars characters and real-life politicians. That is why. They mean nothing sitting next to each other and it would be adding misinformation to the world to put them next to each other. So I won't do it.

The problem is simple. If you are going to compare approval ratings of disparate entities such as this, you need to do it in the same poll, asking the same group of people. That is the only way to eliminate all the variables, up to and including what the respondents think when they're asked about the relative popularity of real and fictional people. (Never mind that the respondents could very well start giving joke answers once they see what the survey is trying to pull on them, because respondents often view such enterprises as wastes of their time and answer accordingly.)

538 was using a fairly informal poll on SurveyMonkey (even if they did supply the raw data). The actual politicians were polled seriously, using Gallup and using what is almost certainly a 100% different group of people, of wildly different demographics. The two simply do not equate. You've basically taken some random one-off Internet poll and mistaken it for the Pulse Of The Nation.

This just frustrates me to no end. There are people that bust their asses, day in and day out, to make numbers mean something. People that crunch data, make double-super-positive sure that the mix of people they're asking is reflective of their target constituency, explain it in the most accessible and thorough manner possible. Many of those people work for 538, which is why even a silly poll such as this came with the raw data of every single respondent attached, and why they were asked basic demographic questions: home region, income level, education level, age and gender. For all that data to be completely flushed down the toilet because some guy ignored all the numbers except Darth Vader's end approval rating in one poll, the presidential candidates' approval ratings in a completely different poll, and the number 538, and posted it and had people take those disparate end numbers at face value drives me crazy.

56% of those responding to a phone survey in Ellensburg, Washington favored the building of a new middle school. Meanwhile, 56% of respondents in a poll of MLB players before this season declared Mike Trout as the best player in baseball. Therefore, Mike Trout and a middle school in Ellensburg, Washington are equally popular, right?

The difference between my comparison and Ingraham's is that you can more plainly see how stupid mine is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Today's Dumb Thing I Learned Is A Thing


That is, jumping off a pier or a harbor wall into the sea. It seems to be the coastal British press that has to deal with this, chiefly, and that's where the term is residing. It's not any sort of a new craze or anything, not by a longshot. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a whole page and everything on it, a signifier of how often they have to deal with this that they had to make a page for it.

There are two major problems here: first, you probably don't know what's under that water or how deep it is. The lifeguard who jumps in after you knows, but you don't. Second, you don't know if there's a riptide waiting to drag you out to sea... which is why the lifeguard will be jumping in after you. And this doesn't cover the potential shock of cold water, or your ability to swim away even if you don't get pulled out to sea (two more reasons for said lifeguard).

Now, this is not to say it isn't an inherently bad thing to jump. Recently in Ocean Beach, CA, about 600 kids jointly jumped off a 30-foot pier. But there's a reason they did it: they were junior lifeguards in a four-week water safety training program, they were under the watchful eye of real lifeguards that, again, knew exactly what the conditions were at water level, and it was done with the express purpose of training them not to be afraid of the water. They paid a $75 donation to the Junior Lifeguard Foundation to get to do it. Their parents jumped too.

I hope I should not have to tell you not to try it.

All The Noises

Are you tired of attempting to categorize songs into some type of genre? Are you sick of attempting to determine whether a song is pop, rock, country, country pop, pop rock, indie pop, indie rock, or possibly something that has the word 'metal', 'house' or 'punk' in it?

I'm not sure how exactly you're going to take today's link.

There's a man named Glenn McDonald at the site Echo Nest. What he's done is create a scatter plot of 1,251 different musical genres. Each genre is clickable, presenting you with a sample song (hover over it with the mouse to find out what song that is), and from there, you'll see similar genres nearby. He has called this plot Every Noise At Once. Click the arrows that show up next to a genre's name, and you'll see another plot of artists grouped under that heading.

Then he went and did other things with it, such as show what cities are prevalent in producing. For instance, London is responsible for 28.3% of the genre labeled 'talent show', because it appears to encompass X-Factor alumni, including One Direction, and that's largely based in London.

Then there's a second genre called 'more talent show', which appears to cover alumni from The Voice, and a third called 'idol', which, well, you should be able to guess that one and probably recognize a lot of names on the plot.

I'll be hunkered over this thing for a long time now, if you don't mind.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Apparently This Is Just A Soccer Blog Now

Not really the intent, but dang it, it keeps coming up. The intent today was to start talking about the general mess going on in Ukraine. The civil war that's been basically instigated by Vladimir Putin and how the pro-Russian separatists have lately faltered. The shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, with all hands lost, and how the rebels- who appear to have fired the shot- look to also have taken all the bodies from the crash.

And then a soccer angle showed up, and I remembered how I like to stay away from the angles that have already gotten heavy coverage. So, I guess, here we go again. (Well, aside from the statement from UEFA on July 16 that they think it would be a slightly bad idea to make Russian and Ukrainian clubs play each other right now, nor would it be a good idea to hold any games in Israel due to their latest skirmish with  Palestine.)

The top club in Ukraine, having won the last five league titles, is Shakhtar Donetsk. They'll be seen in the group stage of this year's Champions League, again, for the fifth straight year. Their performance this year, though, may be lacking in both. On Saturday, Shakhtar traveled to France to play a preseason friendly against Lyon. Lyon won the game 4-1. That's not the worst part of Shakhtar's day. The worst part of Shakhtar's day came when six of their players decided that they had zero interest in returning to Ukraine and, seemingly, defected.

Five of the six have been identified, none of them Ukrainian, so that seems like it'd be more or less straightforward. Four of the players are Brazilian- midfielders Douglas Costa, Alex Teixiera and Fred (not the same Fred you saw at the World Cup) and forward Dentinho, and the fifth is Argentinian forward Facundo Ferreyra. None of the five have yet played for their country at senior level (Costa, Dentinho and Teixiera have played for Brazil at youth level), but all have appeal to clubs hungry to add a piece to their own arsenals. Manchester United and AS Monaco, in fact, are already making a move for Costa.

Given the profiles of the other five, it's possible, in fact likely, that the sixth is South American as well. Brazilians make up about a third of Shakhtar's roster; Ferreyra was the only Argentinian. This means they have more of a capability to get out of Dodge than the players actually from Ukraine. Which ought to prove troubling for any Ukrainian club with players who do have somewhere else to go if they decide they want no further part of the conflict either, especially players out on loan.

In fact, it's rather troubling for Ukraine in general. The players are far from the first non-Ukranian nationals to run, with the east in particular abandoned in large swaths by Ukrainians and foreigners alike. Vietnam has taken steps to evacuate any citizens that they have in the country. Donetsk is seeing people not involved in the fighting leave as fast as they're able to pack up, assuming they are in fact able to flee. The players are simply high-profile examples of this. The one circumstance to watch here is that they are under contract to Shakhtar, who in the end has the power to release them to a suitor club or not. If the suitor club offers up enough money, that should be a fairly easy decision, as it usually is in soccer. But the loss of all five of these players would gut Shakhtar's roster... a fact that appears to be at least partially out of their hands.

The two major questions, therefore, become, first, where do the players ultimately end up, and second, is that it or do more players follow them out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Internal Programming Note

I lost a kitty today. My cat Tiger died this afternoon at age 21, which is a good, long kitty life, and in line with how long kitties last at our house. We had three others alongside Tiger over the course of my childhood; they made it to 18, 21 and 23. Female cats typically last 13-15 years. It was a peaceful death; she wasn't in any pain aside from arthritis.

So forgive me if I'm not exactly up to writing today or even tomorrow. It's kind of hard right now.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Indoor Soccer Is Not Soccer

NOTE: Minorly edited for clarity.

Wednesday, as previously noted, I was one of the 31,237 people who descended on Miller Park to see Chivas Guadalajara take on Swansea City; the game ended in a 1-1 draw after Chivas converted a questionable penalty call in second-half stoppage time. It was a really attacking game, if you ask me, in more ways than one: there were plenty of scoring chances, and the game was very physical, with a double red card coming out at one point in the second half, which you really do not see often. It was a heavily pro-Chivas crowd, but aside from Chivas and the much smaller Swansea contingent, there were a lot of neutrals who came out supporting the idea that soccer was in Wisconsin, and wore the apparel of whatever team it was they did support. Just from my personal observation, I counted the following clubs and countries noted in addition to the two actually present:

Countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, England, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United States.

Clubs: AC Milan, Ajax, Arsenal, Aston Villa (me), Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Celtic, Chelsea, Chicago Fire, Club America, DC United, Dynamo Kiev, Everton, FC Barcelona, Liverpool, Leon, Leones Negros, Los Angeles Aztecs, Manchester City, Manchester United, Monarcos Morelia, Palmeiras, Paris Saint-Germain, Queretaro, Real Madrid, Seattle Sounders, Tigres, Torino, Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan Athletic.

Let me repeat: 31,237. That is better than last year's average home attendance of either club in their domestic league. I heard word at the game, albeit secondhand, that the stadium workers were already thinking about doing it again sometime because every aspect of the game from atmosphere to pitch condition to actual game went spectacularly (aside from not having a good way to tell who's who because there weren't any names on jerseys or programs or scoreboard display).

But do not tell this to Boro Sucevic, former head coach of the now-defunct Milwaukee Rampage, though. The Rampage was an indoor soccer team, as is the still-standing Milwaukee Wave. As Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote:

"What scares me is we might be known as a city that will support an event like this and then we move on," said Boro Sucevic, former coach of the defunct Milwaukee Rampage.
Sucevic says Milwaukee never really supported the Rampage or the indoor Milwaukee Wave, despite the fact that championships were won by high-level coaches such as Bob Gansler, Keith Tozer and himself.
A group led by Milwaukee native and former Chicago Fire general manager Peter Wilt failed to attract a Major League Soccer franchise about 10 years ago because there was no appetite to build a stadium.
For that reason, as well as a history of shaky support, the MLS is a pipe dream for Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. Even the second-tier North American Soccer League is not a realistic goal anytime soon without the kind of support the city has yet to demonstrate for pro soccer.
"The bottom line is that in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin, we did not do a good job of supporting our teams, from the Wave to the Rampage and the college teams," Sucevic said.
"Will this match make a difference for soccer here? In my heart I'd like to think so, but I've not seen the commitment."
Boro, let me tell you a thing. There's a reason nobody goes to Wave games, and there's a reason nobody went to Rampage games either. That reason is that indoor soccer is not real soccer, and American soccer fans have never gotten into indoor soccer. Ever. And they've gotten sophisticated enough to where they'd never accept it these days, or ever again. Indoor soccer is a thing where what is usually a six-a-side team plays on a shrunken field surrounded by the same kind of walls you'd have at a hockey game, complete with Plexiglass. There are four quarters instead of two halves. You play on turf, and because you play on turf, nobody is allowed to perform sliding tackles. You can score multipoint goals the same way you can make a three-point shot in basketball.

It is not administered by FIFA, but rather the World Minifootball Federation. As such, the Wave is ineligible to participate in any competition under the FIFA umbrella, nor are its players eligible to be called to national teams unless they go play for a team that actually plays soccer, which they would all love to do except that they've usually been rejected by enough lower-level soccer teams that they've been reduced to playing indoor ball just to keep their career going. These are people that are literally not good enough to play soccer playing a sport that is not soccer.

Did you know the first Minifootball World Cup is slated to be hosted by the United States next year? Neither did I. And I have no plans to attend either. Because I'm a SOCCER fan, and indoor soccer is not soccer. You will never see me at an indoor soccer game. Indoor soccer is a large part of the reason the US has taken so long to be taken seriously: because this is what the world figured we would do to soccer if we ever got hold of it. They were afraid we'd "Americanize" it. And hell, when MLS first came into being, we kind of did. We made the clock count down. We had shootouts to settle draws. We got laughed at. Loudly. We got laughed at so loudly that you will not see a serious American soccer fan caught dead at an indoor game for fear he'll give Europe another reason to marginalize us. Not only is it ignored, it is the enemy.

This is a recording of the Wave hosting the Missouri Comets (from Independence, just outside Kansas City) on March 2. You tell me if this is a thing you'd want to watch more often. (Skip to 24:40 to bypass the pregame show.)

I want real soccer. I don't want the jacked-up bastardization we had to make do with in the years between the NASL's death and MLS's inauguration that sees its national league collapse every couple years and the constituent teams scramble to form another league that will also collapse in a couple years. You know the league the Wave played in in that video? The one they were playing in on March 2? It's dead now. So are the other four leagues they've resided in since their 1984 inception; they've won their six titles in three of those five leagues. They've now migrated to league number six.

One of the Wave's former leagues was the Xtreme Soccer League, which had just one season in 2008-09. It had four teams in it, the others being in Chicago, Detroit and Newark. They had no playoff, because how the hell could you. Why should I have to put up with this kind of sport running this kind of league in order for me to eventually get to see the soccer I actually recognize as soccer? I'm not even talking MLS. Why should I be denied any professional soccer at all just because I refuse to accept a vastly inferior goat rodeo of a product that doesn't even play the same sport? We don't ask potential NFL cities to go support their arena football team. Why should soccer be any different?

I'll come see any two pro soccer teams you put in front of me, club or country. Any two on the planet you want to send to Milwaukee. Grab them out of the Mongolian league for all I care. Just make sure they're not bouncing the ball off of Plexiglass.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Schoolhouse Twerk

It seems today the Internet has decided to take an impromptu English lesson, courtesy of Weird Al Yankovic, who has just released his new album Mandatory Fun (which he claims to be his last full-length album, as going forward he intends to focus on singles to better keep up with a faster pop-culture cycle). Al, as part of the release, is putting out one music video every day for eight days, and today's is 'Word Crimes' a parody of Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke.

And oh, has it ever resonated with the denizens of the Internet. Probably you as well, because how many times have you had to try and get one or more of the following through to someone?

I post the video because, just in case there's something in there you don't know- diagramming a sentence or the Oxford comma, say, which are at least not elementary-level linguistic blunders (I certainly can't diagram)- everything is, in fact, properly grammatically displayed when it's brought up. So there's some Schoolhouse Rock, Weird Al-style, to be had here.

It's not the first time I've seen someone try to make a humorous run at giving the Internet grammar lessons. Years back, the comic Bob The Angry Flower embarked on what it referred to as the Unwelcome Education Project here, here, and also here. Meanwhile, Penny Arcade has its own character, Mr. Period, and his adventures can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

To think we have to go through all this to undo the damage Alanis Morissette did to the word 'irony'.

Back To Reality

I have a sad, because there is no soccer today.

Quick, let's see if there's soccer in the various competing nations! Maybe they have soccer today! Japan, do you have soccer today?

"It’s safe to say fans are disappointed, and there’s another group of people that acutely shares their pain: retailers stuck with boxes of unsold Japanese soccer team merchandise."

You don't have soccer today? You have piles and piles of clearance merchandise instead (figure about 1 yen=1 cent)? That won't do. Ghana, what about you? Do you have soccer today?

"Ghana has asked the Brazilian government to deport about 200 Ghanaian soccer fans seeking asylum in that country as soon as their Visas expire... The fans who were flown by government to Brazil to support the Black Stars in the 2014 World Cup tournament there, have argued that they are Muslims fleeing inter-religious conflicts in Ghana."

...oh dear. Oh very dear. ...Belgium? Do you have soccer today?

"French cosmetics giant L'Oréal has cut its ties with a Belgian football fan it had scouted as a hair model in the stands in Brazil after pictures of her on a big game hunting trip sparked outrage online."

Soccer is very depressing today... religious asylum seeking, big-game hunting... Honduras? Do you have soccer today?

"Honduran President Juan Hernandez blamed U.S. drug policy for sparking violence in Central American countries and driving a surge of migration to the United States, according to an interview published on Monday."

That's the worst not-soccer yet.

CONCACAF can't solve everything, I guess.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Celebrate While You Can

Congratulations, Germany. You've won the 2014 World Cup. How nice. It's been a long road and you're the last one standing on the whole entire planet. Drink up. You've earned it.

But try not to get too comfortable.

As I type this, we are already starting down the road to Russia 2018. The first post-trophy-presentation game has already concluded; FIFA messed with the score ticker app I was using here and I had to take it down, but the road to Moscow started in Seattle mere hours after the final, as the Sounders defeated the Portland Timbers 2-0, in a game involving several players who just got done in Brazil. One of those players was Clint Dempsey, who opened the scoring one week after the United States was eliminated at the hands of Belgium. Perhaps some game, somewhere, in some corner of the planet, started even sooner after Germany lifted the trophy. The window was not large. Three days from now, I'll be in Milwaukee welcoming Chivas Guadalajara and Swansea City to Miller Park, the latter of which sent Jonathan de Guzman and Michel Vorm to play for the Netherlands and Wilfried Bony to play for Cote d'Ivoire. All players concerned who think they might have at least four years left in them have begun the process of trying to make impressions on coaches local, domestic and abroad, especially the coach of their national team, who will soon have to make decisions on who to call to action.

As those national teams are concerned, well, there you have slightly longer to celebrate. But you yourselves, Germany, will be playing your first post-Cup friendly on September 3rd; in a sense, your road to Moscow begins that day in Dusseldorf. And lo and behold, it will be Argentina on the other side of the pitch. Four days later in Dortmund, you'll be starting your Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Scotland. And this will take place a couple weeks after the Bundesliga gets underway on August 22, when your road really begins.

The World Cup qualifiers won't be for a little while after that, but note that they are not overly far in the distance. Let us take a look at the gaps between the finals and the start of the ensuing qualifiers.

Uruguay 1930: Final, June 30. Ensuing qualifiers began June 11, 1933 (Sweden/Estonia in Stockholm).
Italy 1934: Final, June 15. Ensuing qualifiers began June 16, 1937 (Sweden/Finland in Stockholm).
France 1938: Final, June 19. Ensuing qualifiers began... okay, there was a little thing called World War 2 that got in the way, so the ensuing qualifiers began June 2, 1949 (Sweden/Ireland in Stockholm).
Brazil 1950: Final, July 16. Ensuing qualifiers began May 9, 1953 (Yugoslavia/Greece in Belgrade).
Switzerland 1954: Final, July 4. Ensuing qualifiers began September 30, 1956 (Austria/Luxembourg in Vienna).
Sweden 1958: Final, June 29. Ensuing qualifiers began August 21, 1960 (Costa Rica/Guatemala in San Jose).
Chile 1962: Final, June 17. Ensuing qualifiers began May 24, 1964 (Netherlands/Albania in Rotterdam).
England 1966: Final, July 30. Ensuing qualifiers began May 19, 1968 (Austria/Cyprus in Vienna).
Mexico 1970: Final, June 21. Ensuing qualifiers began November 14, 1971 (Malta/Hungary in Valletta).
West Germany 1974: Final, July 7. Ensuing qualifiers began March 7, 1976 (Sierra Leone/Niger in Freetown).
Argentina 1978: Final, June 25. Ensuing qualifiers began March 26, 1980 (Cyprus/Ireland in Nicosia, and Israel/Northern Ireland in Jerusalem).
Spain 1982: Final, July 11. Ensuing qualifiers began May 2, 1984 (Cyprus/Austria in Nicosia).
Mexico 1986: Final, June 29. Ensuing qualifiers began April 17, 1988 (Guyana/Trinidad and Tobago in Georgetown).
Italy 1990: Final, July 8. Ensuing qualifiers began March 21, 1992 (Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico in Santo Domingo).
United States 1994: Final, July 17. Ensuing qualifiers began March 10, 1996 (Dominica/Antigua and Barbuda in Roseau).
France 1998: Final, July 12. Ensuing qualifiers began March 4, 2000 (Trinidad and Tobago/Netherlands Antilles in Port of Spain, and Honduras/Nicaragua in San Pedro Sula).
Korea/Japan 2002: Final, June 30. Ensuing qualifiers began September 6, 2003 (Argentina/Chile in Buenos Aires, Ecuador/Venezuela in Quito, and Peru/Paraguay in Lima).
Germany 2006: Final, July 9. Ensuing qualifiers began August 25, 2007 (Tahiti/New Caledonia and Fiji/Tuvalu, both in Apia, Samoa).
South Africa 2010: Final, July 11. Ensuing qualifiers began June 15, 2011 (Montserrat/Belize in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago).

Germany 2014's final is- well, was, now- June 13. The gap between finale and qualifiers, originally three years, has shrunk to one, and there are not currently signs that the shrinking has stopped. The date has not been decided, nor have the teams involved. But before too long, somewhere, the trophy Germany has just laid claim to will be declared up for grabs once again.

When I close out Olympics coverage, I sign it off with 'see you in (next host city), two years hence.' But I can't do that with soccer. Because soccer never sleeps. All I could possibly have said was 'see you in Seattle later tonight', but I was already too late for that.

So see you in Milwaukee, three days hence. It's a long road to Moscow.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How The Noid Was Destroyed

I am not really in the shape or mood for anything involved on my end today. It's been a particularly punishing two days at work. So I will toss you to Zachary Crockett of Priceonomics, who... you remember the Noid? The old mascot of Domino's Pizza? Have you ever wondered what happened to that guy? Whatever it was, it was probably richly deserved, right?

Well, not quite. I don't think the Noid deserved what he ended up getting.

Friday, July 11, 2014

And Now For Some German Backstory

I suppose it's Germany's turn today, then. They have a much happier memory of World Cup triumph that has off-the-field effects.

Going into the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Germany was still recovering, physically and emotionally, from World War 2. Everywhere they looked in life, there was death, rubble, shame, scorn. It was barely even living as opposed to existing. They, along with Italy and Germany, had not even been permitted to attend the 1948 Olympics in London, and along with Japan were banned from attempting to qualify for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. They were allowed back for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, but came away without a single gold medal, compared to the Games-lead 33 they picked up as hosts in Berlin. The hopes for the 1954 World Cup were thus muted, especially as the nation had by then split into not only West and East Germany, but also a small short-lived nation called the Saar protectorate, administered by France until 1957.

West Germany didn't have to do much to qualify, just win a three-team group against Norway and, as luck would have it, the Saar protectorate. This was not hard, even for postwar Germany. Saar had a tiny talent pool and was just as wrecked as they were, and Norway was a terrible soccer nation at that time. Three wins and a draw (against Norway in Oslo) later, West Germany was qualified.

The Cup that year was set up rather strangely. In each group, there were to be two 'seeded' teams and two 'unseeded' teams. Instead of the round-robin we know today, in 1954 the matches would all be seeded vs. unseeded. A tie in points would end in a playoff game between the tied teams. In West Germany's case, they were quite understandably unseeded, along with groupmate South Korea, who turned out to be there just to make up the numbers, with their squad taken from military clubs who had just gotten done fighting the Korean War; all they had to do to get in was win a two-legged tie with postwar Japan. The seeded teams were Turkey... and Hungary's Magical Magyars, one of the candidates for greatest national team of all time.

Hungary got in after their qualifying opponent, Poland, withdrew for obvious reasons. Only Turkey had any real trouble: their opponent was the much stronger Spain, who the organizers had seeded before they even knew the makeup of the field. Turkey persevered, though, and managed to take things not only past a two-legged tie, but also a third playoff game. Qualifying came down to drawing of lots, which went in Turkey's favor.

So West Germany got to face Turkey instead of Spain. Hungary, predictably, slaughtered them 8-3, but the Germans had little trouble with Turkey, beating them 4-1... and then beating them again in a playoff 7-2 once the two came out tied in the group.

Two more Europeans awaited them in the knockouts, Yugoslavia in the quarters, dispatched 2-0, and Austria in the semis, eliminated 6-1. There was a reason the tournament was in Switzerland; being neutral and relatively untouched by the war, they were basically the only European nation who was a viable host at that point. Germany was devastated, but then, everybody else was recovering too. And they did still know how to play soccer; they'd come in third in 1934.

Hungary awaited them again in the final.

Let it be noted that Germany's team was made up entirely of amateurs, and the Bundesliga wouldn't be created for nearly another decade. But that was largely due to circumstances; after all, occupying Allied forces weren't exactly keen on seeing anyone in Germany organize in any way, shape or form, and who in Germany had money to pay soccer players? They mostly came from clubs that would be recognizable today- Bayern Munich, Hamburger SV, Eintracht Frankfurt, FC Schalke 04- and the 8-3 loss to Hungary came partly from Sepp Herberger sending in his B squad in the group stage; they'd already gotten the first win against Turkey and were sure they could do it again, and Herberger didn't feel like giving the Hungarians a free scouting report. This time, though, out went the A team.

It helped that Hungarian star Ferenc Puskas, who had missed two earlier games due to injury, was not yet 100%, and that it happened to be raining that day, which seemed to be the preferred weather of German captain Fritz Walter, to the point where rainy conditions are to this day known as 'Fritz Walter weather' in Germany.

This is where it irritates me that there's no good video of the game narrated in English. So here's one that at least has an English subtitling (which I'll tell you right now doesn't match up to the narrator.) West Germany's in the white shirts, Hungary is in red which shows up on the video as black because this is black-and-white.

It may have just been a game. For West Germany, for whom this was their first title, it didn't matter. It was something. Anything. Anything to give them a sense of pride again, of joy, of hope. It was something to let them know life might get better. The 1954 final is when the healing truly began, and there are honest-to-goodness academic papers, from out of Germany, that will back up that assertion.

2014 doesn't have quite those stakes, but there are some. Even though it would be their fourth title, it would be their first as a unified nation. It's not going to make East Germany magically heal any more than it already has post-Berlin Wall, but it would give them a title of their own to celebrate, which isn't nothing.

After all, it's not like winning the 3rd-place match is going to make Brazil heal any.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Remember 1978, Albeit Very Reluctantly

Today, Argentina defeated the Netherlands in a penalty shootout to join Germany in the World Cup final. Argentina has won the Cup twice before, in 1978 and 1986.

They only like to remember 1986.

Argentina's military junta led by Jorge Videla was at the height of its power during the 1978 World Cup, which they hosted, and it was used to draw the world's attention away from some of the most sickening acts in modern human memory since the Holocaust. You might be able to find someone that will tell you including the Holocaust. I'll give you two reports on what happened, one text and one video. The text report is from the latest ESPN The Magazine, written by Wright Thompson, and when it says the story contains graphic descriptions of torture, heed that warning.

The video report, produced in 2002 by Jaap Verdenius and Kay Mastenbroek of the Netherlands, and Jan Thielen in Argentina, is below.

Reality In Reality Shows

On Monday, Michael Thot spoke to Cracked's Robert Evans about his experiences seven years ago participating in the CBS reality show Kid Nation, in which a group of 40 kids cobbled together an Old West-style society (under adult supervision). It should come as little surprise to those used to articles about how a reality show operates, but Thot recalled anecdote after anecdote about producer manipulation over the course of the season. None of it was directly forced, but producers can, will, and did make some very blatant suggestions and made sure participants were placed as often as possible in situations that fit the character roles the producers wanted them to play. All 40 of the kids swore, for example, but only one, the designated villain, was shown on air actually doing so.

At the end of the season, in which Thot and three others comprised a committee to decide what three participants each got $50,000 prizes, the rules stated that they could award the prizes to themselves, but this option was never even discussed... except by the producers, who needled them and needled them about it. The aim was to get them to at least bring it up so that the footage of that part of the discussion could be run into the ground and make them all look like jackasses who threw the entire town under the bus. The kids, knowing exactly what the producers were trying to do, refused to give them the satisfaction.

I did not watch Kid Nation. It did not last past the one season. But even assuming that it had, and that I had been watching the entire time, I can say with absolute certainty that I would not be watching anymore after learning of this.

I really don't think I ask that much from the reality shows I watch. As long as I don't believe the premise of a show to be inherently immoral or famewhorish, I'm more or less down for whatever ridiculous premise you want to subject people to. Is it realistic? No, of course not. But that's not how I define the term. The reality in reality TV, to me, is not the setting. The reality is supposed to be 'how do the participants really react to this situation they've been placed in'. Do to them what you will. In fact, manipulate how you will. If you even want to make your manipulation part of the show, that's fine. But what I want is the honest, authentic reaction to whatever it is you do. I do not want to be lied to about what I'm watching. You want to play the devil on the left shoulder and 'suggest' that participants do something? Fine (unless it's a competition and you're trying to manipulate their game-related behavior, then not fine). But then you need to show that to me, and then you need to show me how they react to your manipulations. I want what is shown to me to be, as much as humanly possible, an honest portrayal of what actually happened. Don't hide this stuff. For all you know, I might be cool with it.

Though there is a logical limit. If you're looking for everything to be only as spontaneous and unpredictable as you script it, as it was for this unfortunate soul who never got past pilot stage, just get a damn script and actual actors and make a scripted show. There's a Writers Guild and a Screen Actors Guild that do that kind of thing for a living. Call them sometime.

The number 1 way to get me to abandon a reality show is to have me learn, later on, that you've fundamentally lied to me about what you've shown me. This is how, you will recall, I abandoned Hell's Kitchen not too long ago. Even if I had made my peace with some rather obvious heavy editing, there were other fundamental elements- the sous chefs actively sabotaging the contestants, most notably- that were not forgivable. I migrated to Cutthroat Kitchen, which also actively sabotages, but is open and honest in how they do it. This is not the first time I've left a show for being dishonest.

*I left Man Vs. Wild once it came out that Bear Grylls had been staying in a hotel overnight on several different occasions. The part where survival scenarios had been contrived within the larger scenario by producers was icing on the cake. Discovery Channel was open about this in future episodes. Too late.
*I left Storage Wars after a disgruntled Dave Hester- who was quickly fired from the show- accused the show of seeding lockers using personal items from the buyers, for which they'd be paid a rental fee once they inevitably got them back. (The lawsuit was later thrown out, but in a way that rendered Hester's accusations moot and failed to actually answer it.)
*I could take Pawn Stars' shop getting popular to the point where the main crew hung in the back most of the day and came out mostly to take pictures and handle the televised transactions. I could handle them not showing pawns anymore. But when they started casting for customers ... welp, time for me to go.

I'm not the only one to adhere to this behavior. A simple look at the ratings will show that many reality shows have a short shelf life. For a time, a show is the toast of television, as people tune in en masse to see a certain reality show, only to walk away later after they've seen one too many things staged for the cameras or the participants become too unlike their original selves, in the worst cases acting out in the hopes of simply getting another reality show to be on later.

I know shows can be honest about this kind of thing. I know they're capable of it. Part of the reason the first season of Survivor was so popular, and remains so iconic, is that the participants were not those kind of people. They had no idea what they were getting into, and in a sense neither did the producers. They were all, in their own way, just hanging on for the ride. What happened is, to an acceptable degree, what happened. Even after reality shows dialed in and knew what they were doing, the Mythbusters have remained regular people doing the best scientific work they can (though they've had to have more than one fight with the producers to keep it that way). I gushed about Strip Search partially because of how open everyone, editor included, was about what actually went down (and the contestants usually confirming the authenticity).

The reason the Strip Search contestants could be so open, though, is that their non-disclosure agreements expired immediately upon an episode's airing. If something was not accurately depicted, they could immediately say so. I think that, in the future, one may want to look at the length of a show's NDA in order to get an idea of how honest it's likely to be. If a show's NDA expires on airdate, that's fine. That's nothing to be concerned about. They're just trying to avoid spoilers. If it extends past airdate, though, it may be time to start asking questions of them that the participants legally cannot. If the NDA extends for several years past the show's airdate, it's really time to ask questions, because the show is very likely ripe to hide details that we won't learn about until several seasons in, after they've made a bunch of money already.

I know it's a little extra work to find that out, but an hour or two digging is better than handing over years of your life to a show only to end up feeling betrayed by it. Again.

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Interactive Performance Piece On The Transience Of Immortality

I think that since I've been chatting about art quite a bit lately, it's time we had an art-based Sporcle quiz.

You will be shown the lifespans of 101 different painters, along with two of their major works. Your task, of course, is to identify the artists. The clock is set for 15 minutes.

You will need every single one of them. As of right now, only 11 of the artists have been identified by even half of the test-takers. Only 38 of them have gotten even 25% recognition.


Over the 4th of July weekend, Fast Company ran a piece by Eric Jaffe that, unsurprisingly, drew my attention partly through using the image of a doe-eyed kitten. It was clickbait, of course, but it also was relevant: the article addresses why cute things are as irresistible as they are.

The key word to note is 'kindchenschema'. It's a word invented by zoologist Konrad Lorenz, who had a rather unfortunate World War 2, though not as unfortunate as many of the people he encountered. He was hoping to get into motorcycle maintenance around that time, something not directly violent, but was instead assigned by the Nazis (his studies to that point had led him to believe there was something to eugenics) to evaluate, long story short, reproductive ability based on racial concerns and, by extension, who got shipped off to concentration camps. He was taken as a POW by the Soviets shortly after arriving at the Eastern Front in 1944 and, really, that was just fine by him. He basically spent the rest of his life apologizing for his role in the Holocaust, even after he'd been forgiven enough to earn a 1973 Nobel Prize (shared with Niko Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch) for much more productive things, namely pioneering ethology, the study of animal behavior. By the end of his life, he had aligned with Austria's Green Party.

You can see in Lorenz's Nobel lecture (PDF) that he had learned some hard, hard lessons from his World War 2 years. He closed with this paragraph:

"Between the conservative representatives of the “establishment” on the one hand and rebelling youth on the other, there has arisen a certain enmity which makes it difficult for each of the antagonists to recognize the fact that the endeavours of both are equally indispensable for the survival of our culture. If and when this enmity escalates into actual hate, the antagonists cease to interact in the normal way and begin to treat each other as different, hostile cultures; in fact they begin to indulge in activities closely akin to tribal warfare. This represents a great danger to our culture, inasmuch as it may result in a complete disruption of its traditions."
I think I've pretty much sucked all the cuteness out of this article now. You're welcome.

Anyway. Kindchenschema basically means features not unlike that of a baby. Big eyes, big forehead, rounded features. This is the most effective kind of cuteness. We are, as you might expect, naturally hardwired to be protective of our young. We're more careful, we're more loving, we don't want to hurt the baby. Anything that is physically reminiscent of a baby, puppies and kitties included, is kindchenschema- baby schema- and evokes the same cooing, protective emotions. (Why are big eyes evocative of babies? Simple: your eyes don't grow with the rest of you. You're born with the eye size you're always going to have, so while you're a baby, your eyes are disproportionately large to the rest of your head.

Every once in a while someone looks into this, often invoking Japan and their culture of kawaii, aka deliberately making things as cute as possible. The results of studies done are rather resilient, namely awwwww lookit the cute widdle babby i just wanna eat you right up yes i do!

With one exception: if you're being directly reminded of how you're acting, you can be snapped out of it. The Fast Company article cites (PDF, Page 13) an experiment run by Gergana Nenkov of Boston College and Maura Scott of Florida State in which subjects were shown a normal cookie and a cookie with a cute lion face on it. As expected, the subjects shown the lion cookie were less inclined to eat healthy after that when they were told they came from "The Cookie Shop". But when they were told the cookies came from "The Kid's Cookie Shop", the effect dissipated.

So there is such a thing as cute overload.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Light Off Your Quasi-Legal Fireworks

1. Do not point them right above, in fact nearly AT, your next-door neighbor's house.

I am talking to you, neighbors across the street who are probably out still lighting them now. Seriously? Do not make me go get that annual consumer-safety video where they blow the crap out of training dummies.

Failed Game Show Pilot Repository

There is no higher purpose for this today. The thing is, I'm a game show junkie, and these are the kinds of things someone decided weren't good enough for me to spend all day watching in my childhood years, or my early adult years, or my not-born-yet years. None of these game shows made it to air. You will usually deduce why fairly quickly.

I will show them in alphabetical order.

$50,000 A Minute (note how they swiped the theme music for This Week In Baseball, and they weren't the only game show to do it)

Caught In The Act (Snopes might help regarding something a contestant mentions here)

Decisions, Decisions (with celebrity player David Letterman)

Finders Keepers (I think I'm high now)

Get Rich Quick

Going Going Gone (in two parts; Part 2 here; note that this is from the time when women didn't always get to have their first names announced on television)

How Do You Like Your Eggs? (only aired locally to 200 households in Columbus, Ohio)

Monday Night Quarterback (Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; oh, Jerry Kramer, don't do the Packers like this)

Party Line

Says Who?

Talking Pictures (hosted by Ted Allen prototype Allen Ludden)

Top Secret (I don't think contestant Wendy knows how riddles work)


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

High Art Is Overrated

I'm going to pay dearly for this, I just know it.

Well, I guess I had this coming after the jazz talk yesterday about music genres being cyclical and there not being anything wrong with that. Because on my wires today, there's an article about classical music. Namely, the Nielsen numbers for the top-selling classical albums. The writer, Norman Lebrecht, doesn't consider the top three items on the list to be truly 'classical' music, and they sold a dismal 1,789, 253, and 173 copies respectively. Lebrecht doesn't even bother to list the numbers below that, dismissing them as "peanuts".

His headline: "Last Week, No Classical Music Was Sold In The USA".

You could probably guess that, as classical music has found itself in some embarrassingly low-profile situations in recent years. Not too long ago, I linked to Forgotify, a site that plays tracks that have never been downloaded on Spotify a single time. I don't think I've heard so much classical music in my life. And then there's this ad, which I think you're probably familiar with, even though it's opera, which is really in the same boat so let's toss it in:

This is what opera companies and symphony orchestras will do these days just to get mass-market work. That and video games. A fair amount of the music you hear in video games over the past decade or so is created by orchestras, several of which get entire shows specifically out of playing it. As far back as 2002, EA Sports made a huge show of showing off how they wrangled the services of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for that year's official World Cup title, which now might only be unusual in the sense that they didn't go get licensed music instead. It's right there in the game's intro:

And used in an actual game context:

And really, if we're going to declare any genre as actually 'dead', classical would be it, as these are some of the few places where you can reliably hear new classical music, along with TV and movies (the London Philharmonic has a very good working relationship with Doctor Who). You're sure not hearing it on a radio, and although you'd think you'd hear new music played by the local symphonies, that's not the case. An article by Greg Sandow from 2003- and the situation hasn't changed since- explains that the people who buy the bulk of the tickets to orchestras greatly prefer familiar music. New works- and 'new' in this sense basically means any point after World War 2- are derided as 'too challenging'. Thus, orchestras don't play them, because they would like to not go broke because their regulars won't show up anymore. They stick to Mozart and Beethoven and Vivaldi. If you're actually out there making new classical music, good luck finding anyone willing to play it for you no matter how good it is, unless of course you want to put it in a video game or a movie or a TV show. It's like speaking Latin.

Honestly, though, and I may not make many fans by saying this, but I've felt classical music to be a little overrated. It, opera, particular artists and works, just in general the things that are widely accepted as 'high art'. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with them per se, but the mindset that these are the things you have to start liking in order to be truly cultured has always grated at me a bit. I think it has something to do with where and when it was modern and popular: typically, Western Europe, during the age of exploration, conquest and colonialism. The time when the most influential and powerful region of the world was at the peak of its global influence. It would only be natural to be nostalgic about the time when your little corner of the world was at its best, or at least its most powerful. I think that's where it comes from, at least in part. But it kind of gets done at the expense of the rest of the world.

When I was at the Milwaukee Art Museum, for instance- and it's a good museum, mind you; we're not talking some backwater thing here- I went around and wrote down all the nationalities of the pieces on display that day. There were two rooms devoted to Haitian art, so good on them for that, but in the bulk of the museum, it was overwhelmingly European and American. In the tourist map supplied by the museum, you'll find rooms labeled 'Renaissance Treasury', 'Northern Renaissance', 'Southern Renaissance', 'Northern Baroque', 'Southern Baroque', '18th-Century English and Italian', '18th-Century French', '19th-Century German' and '19th-Century European'. All on the first floor, not far from the entrance to the collection (which starts you off with the real antiques, the things from ancient Greece and Rome and Egypt).

Meanwhile, in the entire museum, there was one piece from Canada. One from India. There was one piece from Central America; it was from Mexico. There was one piece from South America; it was from Chile. Tucked off in a corner of the top floor, there was one room devoted to the whole of China; one room next to it devoted to the rest of eastern Asia (including more China), and one small room dedicated to the entire continent of Africa. And the Asian and African works weren't even modern. The Asian works were chiefly ancient, centuries or even millennia old, and the African works were... is anthropological the right word? I don't want to go that far, really, but it was all tribal; things representative of an entire people. Never the name of an individual artist; never a purpose-built piece of explicit art. It all had a functional or cultural purpose to it. A scarf here. A mask there.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned Oceania or western Asia. That's for a reason. Save for the presence of Israel, the Middle East was totally absent. No Australia or New Zealand or any of the Pacific islands.

I don't think the Milwaukee Art Museum means that kind of geographical or chronological bias; I don't think they really even know they're doing it to that extent. And it's not like they're exactly the only one; I'd be willing to bet if you looked around the art museum near you and did the same once-over, you'd see something not all that far off what I got in Milwaukee. Domestic art plus a whole lot of 15th-19th-century Western Europe.

My point is that the world's got a lot of culture to it. Culture is simply anything people do together. That's all it is. Art is any form of expression. They're very broad, very simple concepts at their core. For us to declare that any one particular culture at a certain place and time is 'best' and that you have to consume it in order to be 'cultured' is wrongheaded.

There's a guy ESPN hired as part of their World Cup coverage, a local artist named Jambeiro. Jambeiro's been commissioned to create a mural telling the story of the Cup. He's been given 180 feet of wall stretching from ESPN's studio out to Copacabana Beach, and every day of the Cup, he's supposed to cover six feet with the biggest image of the day. (No word on how he's supposed to handle days like today, which have no scheduled games.) This is a tough, tough assignment the guy's been given, but the thing is, this is art that's done all the time where he lives. This is part of their artistic expression. This is part of their culture, and it's going to stick around a while and stay part of their culture after the Cup is over and the rest of us go home. And to ignore that, to ignore or even actively suppress any culture, because some other culture is 'better' or their art 'higher' only works to help destroy that culture. (There is the assorted case where it probably should be destroyed, but that's a whole other talk.)

One should not also automatically assume that our own era's culture is just silly little 'pop culture'. After all, all that high art, opera, classical music, ballet, half the stuff in Florence, it was shiny new pop culture once too.

Speaking Of Saves

It's the end of America's excursion in Brazil, though goalkeeper Tim Howard did absolutely everything in his power to keep from having to board the plane home. His 16 saves- which proved to be one fewer than was required in the 2-1 extra-time loss- is the most by any goalkeeper in the World Cup since the stat began to be tracked in 1966. The previous recordholder was Ramon "El Loco" Quiroga of Peru, who in Argentina 1978 fended off the Netherlands 13 times en route to a scoreless draw in the group stage. (Quiroga, though, still has the record after 90 minutes; as Howard had 11 saves entering extra time.)

Howard, of course, would trade them all for a win.

So I looked for other things being saved right now.

*Pets. Should your home catch on fire, unfortunately, sometimes the pets aren't able to be scooped up and brought out of the building in time, and they're subject to the same oxygen-deprivation problems as humans. Today- Tuesday- an anonymous someone dropped off 36 pet oxygen masks, which is a lot, at the St. Paul (MN) Fire Department. They're planning to put one on each of their fire trucks; if you're suddenly deciding you want one for your dog or cat, it'll run you $48 personally, or you can arrange for a donation to your local fire department here.

*A bear. Bear with its head in a jar, folks.


...hahahaha. Nothing's saving jazz. See, I don't really think music genres get 'saved'. Rock and roll lived and died in the 60's. Disco lived and died in the 70's. Hair metal lived and died in the 80's. Grunge lived and died in the 90's. They just evolve and combine and morph into new genres. There is nothing wrong with that, either. Music genres are just a reflection of the times. You make music in a way that mirrors how you see the world. The genre doesn't literally die, even; it's just nobody really using it anymore. It's still there anytime you want to pick it up again. If Bruno Mars wanted to make a ragtime song tomorrow, there's nothing stopping him. But at the same time, there is also nothing stopping him from crossing ragtime with bossa nova and hair metal to make an entirely new genre, except of course for the forces of sanity.

Really, folks, rule of thumb: if you ever find yourself saying "X genre isn't dead; it's just getting started!" or any form of that sentiment... it's dead. You do not say that when it isn't dead. You don't feel like you have to defend its life when it's not dead. You just make the music and get on with it. It's beyond saving as a popular force.

Even if Tim Howard were singing it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And Now For Someone Who Didn't Qualify

One of the first things you think of regarding Brazil, alongside soccer and Rio and Carnival and all that is on display in Carnival, is the Amazon. We're done in there for the Cup, as no more games are scheduled in Manaus, but one of the main things you probably know about the Amazon- aside from anything you might have gotten out of those videos I linked you to earlier in the Cup- is that it's been getting progressively deforested for decades. Likely, you think of it as the world's most dramatic deforestation.

Until recently, you'd be right on that point, but according to a study by the University of Maryland (the original of which is behind a $32 paywall), while they're still not looking good at all, Brazil no longer has the title. It's been rather forcefully taken by Indonesia. In 2012 alone, Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares (3,243 square miles, aka nearly the size of Puerto Rico) of primary forest, a rate that is accelerating; Brazil lost 460,000. Indonesia is a quarter of the size of Brazil, mind you.

At least 40% of the Indonesian logging was illegal logging. At least. That's how much was done in areas explicitly off-limits to logging. There's no word on how much more of it is illegal, as the data had to be taken from satellite photos because official government data was deemed unreliable.

As the World Cup isn't going to Indonesia anytime soon, let's hope this isn't the last you hear of it.