Wednesday, June 11, 2014

John Oliver on FIFA and the World Cup

And here is comedian, TV host John Oliver expressing with great comedy the same ambivalence toward the World Cup that I spoke of in my previous post.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Beautiful Game?

I love sports.  I watch them, I play them, I read about them, I talk about them with friends, always trying not to sound too bro-ishly knowledgeable, even though I usually am. ;-)

I've been so conflicted the past several days by the nature of sport.  The meta-narrative that encompasses the global sports marketplace has moved so far beyond the frivolity of stick ball in the cul-de-sac or kids shooting hoops after school. The pick-up soccer of so many kids' youth grows up and fades into a global scheme of underhand deals, machismo, abuse and greed.  Yes, greed is the prime mover, that which compels people who ostensibly love soccer as much as I to become blinded by power and money and to tarnish the joy of the game that started for them on a beat-up patch of grass in their hometown.   

As elated as I am for the start of the World Cup, the chance to cheer on my US National Team and to see Joga Bonito on display, I am well aware of the discontent within the very borders that will host the games. Many Brazilians, though they love futebol, feel hoodwinked by their government or by FIFA and bemoan the lavish spending on football pitches while children go hungry, while infrastructure crumbles. 

Millions will gather to celebrate soccer, and their respective countries.  People from different backgrounds, economic classes, regions will be unified under their flag, unified in their love for the sport.   But then the greed. How many sex slaves and prostitutes will roam the streets of Brazil in these coming weeks forced to work by greedy pimps who know the business opportunity at their doorstep. This teeming, young, largely male mass of people will go looking for something other than football between games, and what abuse, drugs, coercion will have been wrought to make sure they find it.

I love soccer, I hate the global business. I hate the betting syndicates that rig matches, the rich, powerful men in suits who make decisions for their own good rather than the good of the game or the globe.  The opportunistic pimps who take advantage of what should be a celebration and turn it to a nightmare for many women and girls.

And Then There's Qatar

As if the tension in Brazil doesn't cast enough pallor on the Copa Mundial, allegations of tremendous sketchiness abound in Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The whole effort may topple if the allegations are proven.  The cynic in me feels there is little hope of that happening, but maybe, just maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is too much evidence stacked against the greedy SOB's who have taken over our game, the beautiful game and made it into a trade-able commodity.   

But in Qatar, the scourge is far greater than bribery, blackmail or whatever else powerful people did to rig the vote.  Qatar has turned into a modern slave-state thanks to the World Cup.  Too many migrant workers have already died in Qatar under terrible, hot, slave-like labor conditions, and there are many stadiums left to build.  One life lost was too many, how many more are greedy construction corporations who are hand in hand with the Qatari government willing to sacrifice?  

So, you see, I'm conflicted, determined to pull good and beauty from the sport and do what I can to fight the greedy, ugly parts.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Merry Christmas Card

Photo Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Party Hardly - Bubbly Addendum!

Whelp.  If those couple of personality tests I took in highschool and college are to be trusted (believe me, I was BARELY in the camp of any of the letters) then I am a Myers Briggs ENFP.

Thusly, according to this fun little libation-matcher, I am "Champagne."  Lucky, bubbly me.  I guess I do bring life to a party.  

So, if I'm champagne, I at least get to be from a lovely region of France (oui!!), pair nicely with lots of different things, and can be fancied up with some Chambord (read: make-up, jewelry or other finery) for a Kir Royale, my favorite, highly-nostalgic apertif.  

And you?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Party Hardly

I’ve come to realize that I’m generally a great party GOER, a terrible party THROWER.  Sure, I’ve had many a casual dinner gathering here at the house, hosted a few Valentines parties, New Years get-togethers and the like, but no one will ever put them down in the pantheon of “great parties.” If they do, it won’t be because of the amazing sides, killer atmosphere or flashy decor, but for the people and the conversation and the BYOB wine they drank. (And maybe the raucous piano and guitar sing-alongs)

November and December are festive-season central.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and most intimidatingly, my daughter’s birthday.  While Hadley is filled with joy and anticipation, I’m stewing over details like...what to do, who to invite, what to serve, when to gather.  My aversion to party-hosting is particularly acute for my kids because I love them so dearly I don’t want their birthday to suck.  Plus, I’m rather obsessed with things “working out” and making sure people have a good time, and aren’t disappointed, or overburdened.  I want them to think I’m creative and funny and with it and not completely lame because I buy a tray of nuggets and Publix cake for kid parties, or don’t have an awesome theme. 

I think I might have problems.  And I probably need to just be okay with my penchant for hosting “low-key” events.  

The thing is, I love a good party.  I will BRING the party, and maybe even food or wine, or an at-the-ready playlist of good tunes. Just don’t make me plan or host.  I’ve served as casual DJ at parties, been asked get the dancing going when everyone else is wall-flowering.  I’ll talk to strangers and enjoy connecting with people over small and big details (for a while, then that exhausts me).  I’ll bring the crazy white-elephant gift and whoop whoop when someone trades for the tacky boxers or the leg lamp. I’ll after-party with the bachelorette at a seedy dive-bar.  I may be exhausted afterward, but I'll enjoy it.  I think I might be an extrovert.

My friend Kristin is an AMAZING party host.  Her kid birthday parties are color-coordinated, fun, engaging, the food is adorable and kid-friendly and tasty.  There are marked glasses for adults, things on sticks in faux grass, seasonally appropriate decorations. There are games and beautifully packaged party favor bags for the kids.  I love that Kristin is just delights in that stuff. Its a beautiful thing. While I’m sure its a tiny bit stressful in the lead-up, she really loves to do it for her kids, and her friends, and we delight in it.   

The thought of getting together half the awesome stuff she does is purely exhausting to me, and doesn't seem enjoyable. 

So as my daughter’s birthday looms and the details remain unfinalized and I keep telling myself she’s just 4 and won’t care.  I just hope my friends and family know and love me enough to grant me grace about the poor party throwing thing.     

My babygirl is worth celebrating. Low-key throw-together or birthday-bash style, we’ll have lots of love.

And babyJesus is worth celebrating (which is why I’m really looking forward to GOING to a friend's Christmas party.) 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Veteran Story

Eleven. Eleven. A day we honor those who have served our country in times of war and peace,  those men and women who gave themselves over to something bigger than themselves.  My Dad is one of those people who joined the US army.  But Dad wasn't born in the US, he was born in East Germany.  Some of his earliest memories involve fleeing to the woods around their town to escape bombs dropped from American planes.  Yet he found his way to Uncle Sam's doorstep.  And ran into some future veterans along the way.

I think about this story on Veterans Day, about the first Americans Dad ever met - US servicemen.  (This excerpt is from his memoirs, multi-year project he and I have labored through together.)

"Eventually, all bombardments and artillery stopped, and the rain of bombs and fire was
replaced by hundreds of thousands of leaflets floating and fluttering peacefully from

allied planes. The leaflets advised residents to surrender and lay down all weapons and

receive the American occupation forces. Our neighborhood was covered with paper

and we scurried around to collect the excess as cheap firewood. All civilians were

also instructed to prominently hang out white sheets of surrender from their houses

and apartments. Each house in our neighborhood quickly sprouted a white bed sheets

tacked to one of the windows. For the sake of our lives, we did what we were told:

display a white flag of surrender or be prepared to die. Not all in our neighborhood were

supportive of the new occupation. There were more than a few die-hard Nazi supporters

in our neighborhood who hung their white flags under duress, with tears in their eyes.

However, the majority of us were more than glad to surrender with the symbolic white

flag if it meant that the bombing would stop and the war would be over. We just wanted

to start living life again, as normally as we could amid piles of destruction. Our dreams

were understandable, but how does a family, a community start living again when a

sizable part of the city lay in ruins, with no food, no jobs, no infra-structure,

no water, no electricity, no stores, no public transportation, and

few glimmers of hope?

A day or two after white flags bloomed from neighborhood windows, the first convoy

of trucks loaded with American infantry slowly moved into our neighborhood.

They stopped only fifty yards from our house at the end of the street where Bernie and I

happened be outside playing. We eyed them carefully and found that they looked very

friendly - not at all like the cruel enemy they were accused of being. There must have

been at least twenty of them on the first truck. With smiles on their faces, they waved

for us to come over. We cautiously approached the green-clad soldiers as they started to

unload the trucks. We were in fearful awe, as if toy soldiers and trucks from a strange

land had materialized in front of us. One of the soldiers jumped off the back of the

truck and grabbed my shoulder in a friendly way, as if I had helped him off the truck.

He smiled and said something to Bernie and I in English, which of course we did not
understand. But the language barrier quickly evaporated as he handed my brother

and I a chocolate bar and a stick of Wrigley’s chewing gum. We were delighted by this exchange in the international language of candy! We quickly devoured the treats,

savoring every sweet calorie in our sustenance-deprived tummies. The soldiers laughed
and smiled a lot, which, combined with their “peace offering” was just what we needed

to allay our fears that the Americans were a ruthless enemy. That short meeting at the

end of our street was a tentative but positive beginning to the American occupation of our

Dad's school picture in E Germany

Dad, United States Army

Friday, July 05, 2013

Gender (in)Equality in Tennis

A documentary film entitled Venus Vs aired on ESPN a few days ago.  I did not watch the piece, but from the previews I surmised it was about tennis great Venus Williams and her battle for equal prize money in women's tennis. 

ESPN surely planned this film to air during the final few days of it's Wimbledon coverage, highlighting the brave fight of one of America's most decorated athletes to gain equality in what has for more than a century been largely a "gentleman's game," most pointedly in the realm of compensation. 

I am a female, and an athlete, a tennis player, a tennis fan, and an advocate for initiatives like Title IV which opened the door to girls and women to realize their potential as athletes in schools where once they may not have been able to.   Which is why it has been a bit puzzling to me that since the airing of the Venus Vs previews, I've been so hung up on the issue of equal prize money for female tennis players.  I'm against it. 

I feel like the last several days of Wimbledon tennis have solidified my argument.  If you watched Thursday's first women's semifinal between Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli and Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, you were treated to a little over an hour of tennis, culminating in a lop-sided victory for Bartoli.  The seemingly dis-satisfied crowd clapped politely, still working their way through their first glass of champagne, wondering why they paid that kind of money for women's semi's tickets. 

By contrast, Friday's first men's semi-final featured almost 5 hours of two of the worlds top players bludgeoning the ball at each other.  There were 'tweeners, turf dives, aces, winners from unbelievable court positions.  I was riveted, the crowd was going nuts, and when it was over, a victory for Novak Djokovic, both men were spent.

In light of these contrasting contests, it seems utterly unfair that Kirsten Flipkens, who may or may not have broken a sweat, should get the same check as Juan Martin Del Potro, who may still be in an ice-bath recovering.    The toll on the body is greater for men's players, there are more high-profile injuries, retirements, walk-overs.  Higher-risk, higher reward, right? Fortunately for the paying fans on ladies semi-final day, the second match was a fantastic one, giving them about 2.5 hours of great quality hitting.  Yet that "long" match was closer to the average length of a given men's match.

I'm not necessarily advocating for a change of the ladies format from best of 3 to best of 5, but just for honest consideration that the reward for winning these matches should not be equal (note: apparently many women's players are willing and in favor of moving to a best-of-5 format)

Mustn't tennis governing bodies consider the business of tennis?  Ticket demand, sponsors, merchandise sales.   Equal-pay advocates have argued that the women's game is more popular in many cases, and true, athletes like the Williams sisters carry a higher profile than most men's players. However, beyond them, and say, Sharapova, I think the high-profile scale has been tipping recently toward the boys. 

Consider that over the course of today's men's match, Wimbledon was able to offer 5 times more commercial spots for their official sponsors, sell 5 times more overpriced bowls of strawberries and cream, and get a bunch more clips on SportsCenter.

There was much hub-bub a few summers ago when the Japanese women's team, having recently lifted the World Cup trophy, were not flown to a tournament on a chartered plane, standard treatment for Japan's men's team that has has far fewer accolades.  That's an argument I can get on board with.  They all play 90 minutes, they all have hard training and travel schedules, and the ladies lifted the damn cup.  Fly them fancy, equal treatment.  But lets have some honest consideration about this tennis prize money thing.  It pains me to not be on board with Venus and Billy Jean here, but equal pay just doesn't make as much sense to me in tennis.

And for what it's worth, I'm pulling for the German and the Scot in the finals.