Friday, June 11, 2010

W is for the World Cup

When I was a kid, I didn’t believe in soccer. I thought it was a game that we sometimes played at school, and while it was it fun enough, it was just a temporary diversion from the real sports we played.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned the truth. I learned the truth about soccer around the same time that I realized there is a difference between patriotism and xenophobia, America isn’t the center of the universe, the government is filled with crooks, and my television set doesn’t really care about my well-being. It came as quite a blow.

What am I getting at? I’ll be blunt: Americans have been deceived. Not only does soccer exist, and not only is soccer a real sport, it’s THE sport. (Now, I’m not saying it has to be YOUR sport, but it is without question the world’s favorite sport.) Despite the smear campaign against soccer that has been put on by American sports media since forever, soccer is the game that the rest of the world reveres the way Americans revere basketball, football, and baseball . . . combined.

And it’s not just because they’re “all a bunch of stupid foreigners.” Trust me. I used to think that too (By the way, foreigners think our disliking of soccer is proof that we are hillbillies. . . . Oh, the misperceptions). It took me years to clean out of my head the hate ingrained in me by my culture and to accept that soccer is really, really cool. And the World Cup? It is nothing short of the best sports tournament in the world. So, to help all my readers who know little about soccer or the World Cup, I have made a list of ten things to know going into this year’s tournament.

1) Everything I just typed is true. Soccer is cool, and the World Cup is the best sports tournament in the world. Let that sink in for minute. . . . Are you letting it sink in? . . . Okay, let’s move on.

2) Like all sporting events, it’s only fun if you care. There is no better way to care than to realize that to most of the countries involved these games are way more important than the Olympics. For all the reasons we love the Olympics, we should really love the World Cup. These games literally impact international relations (more on that in a bit). And if nothing else, keep in mind that these nations take the results of every game very seriously. Many foreigners don’t call soccer “THE sport,” they call it “everything.” Sad but true.

3) The best (and usually most exciting) team in the world is Brazil. They play soccer the way the Harlem Globetrotters play basketball, and they have won more Cups than anyone. However, this year they are playing a more defensive style, which is making their country irate.

4) If you’re betting on the Cup, it is usually a safe assumption to assume that Brazil and Germany will go far. Since 1950, either (or both) team has been in the final of every World Cup except two. And those two times, one of them took third. This year, Germany doesn’t look as solid, but that hasn’t mattered in the past . . .

5) The best teams to have never won it: Netherlands and Spain. Netherlands is notorious for being super-talented and then underachieving in the tournament (having failed in two finals). Spain is a favorite this year alongside Brazil.

6) Even though England has won it (1966), they act like they are the most cursed team in the world. Their famously over-excitable media goes nuts during the World Cup. While England has a great team this year, they always expect to blow it in the big games. Think city of Cleveland multiplied by ten. Preparing for their opening game against the U.S., the English media has been especially arrogant. Much like they were the last time these two teams played (1950), the Brits are belittling the Americans every chance they get and they expect to beat us easily. By the way, the U.S. won that game 60 years ago.

7) America’s soccer program is on the rise, but we aren’t there yet. Remember how Butler got to the National Championship game this year during March Madness? Before the tournament, it wouldn’t have been inconceivable for them to go there. But do you know anyone who actually put them there on their brackets? Me neither. US Soccer is the Butler of the World Cup. They could, but they probably won’t. U.S. players to watch: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley. Possible surprises: Jose Torres, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, and Robbie Findley. (By the way, my favorite American player is Clint Dempsey. Check him out below.)

8) The World Cup is always controversial. There have been multiple incidents involving “shady” refereeing. Too many to detail in this blog, but just know that many teams have had good reason to feel cheated—because they were cheated! Also, there was the time Maradona used to his hand (um, that’s illegal in soccer) to score the winning goal. There was the time Germany lost on purpose to screw over Algeria. Then there was the time a Kuwaiti official stormed the field and demanded a French goal be overturned (and remarkably it was). And there was the time Mussolini had the Italian players stand and hold the fascist solute until the French home crowd stopped booing them. Remember, this isn’t just about soccer; for many it is about it’s everything—politics, country, pride, everything.

9) Lionel Messi is a househould name everywhere but in the States. Why? Because he is the world’s best soccer player. This also makes him the most famous athlete in the world right now, believe it or not. Sorry Tiger, LeBron, and Usain. Other stars to make yourself acquainted with: Wayne Rooney (England), Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Kaka (Brazil), and almost everyone on Spain’s team.

10) The host nation has advanced out of group play in every World Cup in history. Never before has the streak been in more doubt than in this tournament. South Africa is on a roll right now, but few believe they can advance. Speaking of a team with little hope, let’s discuss North Korea. A country that has kept itself isolated from the entire world (not to mention reason), North Korea come out to play in the World Cup. Because of the nature of the country, nobody really knows what to expect from them. They are in a group that has three other very good teams (including the 1st ranked Brazil team and the 3rd ranked Portugal team), so they probably won’t advance. But you never know. While we’re here, the format of the tournament goes as follows. 8 groups of 4 teams. Everyone in a group plays each other once and the top two go on to a single elimination tournament.

My Prediction: I think England or Spain will win the tournament, and while I expect the U.S. to advance out of group play, they will at most win one more game. And I hope more than anything I am wrong.


Today’s recommendation: Immerse yourself into the World Cup and have some fun this next month. If you want more, here are some things to Google: the significance of the number 10, Argentina’s coach Mardona, and key World Cup injuries.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

V is for Virginia is for Lovers

I have no idea how this idea of Virginia being for lovers came about. Nor do I think it makes any sense. Regardless, I decided to play a game where I take a spin on the old adage, cutting and pasting 40 different places with their own themes. My biggest goal is that someday a bumper sticker maker will see this post and take some of my ideas. I, of course, will then expect some royalties in return.

Virginia is for lovers.
West Virginia is for loners.
Las Vegas is for seedy people.
North Dakota is for winters.
Madagascar is for children.
Florida is for old people and alligators.
Hollywood is for sale.
Philadelphia is for affectionate siblings.
England is for pale people.
Texas is for big things.
Kenya is for runners.
Columbia is for drug lords.
Nebraska is for passing through.
Maine is for lobsters.
Paris is for buttheads.
Gotham is for villains.
New York is for haters.
Seattle is for nerds.
Alabama is for hillbillies and Reese Witherspoon.
The Internet is for predators.
Ireland is for leprechauns.
Arizona is for orange people.
Canada is for insecure people.
North Korea is for the oppressed.
Provo is for Mormons.
Detroit is for unions.
Georgia is for friendly people.
Hawaii is for men with flower shirts.
China is for workers.
Idaho is for white people.
San Francisco is for the different kind of lovers.
The Shire is for drinkers.
Washington D.C. is for liars.
Polynesia is for eaters.
The Vatican is for popes.
Wisconsin is for the morbidly obese.
Alaska is for men.
Delaware is for real—no really, it exists.
America is for Mexicans.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

U is for Humor U

Hello faithful readers,

I am desperately trying to get to ‘W’ by Friday. So, as I prepare for the most important blog I’ve ever written (my World Cup preview), here is something to satiate your funny bone and hopefully make you think. I do stand up with a group called Humor U. This clip is from a set I gave in April.

While we’re here, I would like to formally announce that I will focus my efforts on my novel. Thanks to all of you who gave your two cents. I almost got enough to buy a hamburger.


Today’s Recommendation: Start studying up on the World Cup. If you love sports, there is no reason to not make the most out of the best sports tournament in the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

T is for Top 20

Since I haven’t decided yet on which book to work on (see “S”), I think I’ll spend some time with my blog. And since we all love lists I decided to make my top 20 albums list. However, after 15 it became kind of a crapshoot; I couldn’t decide which albums to include and which to leave off. So, while the title of this post clearly reads Top 20, this is only a Top 15. Sorry to disappoint.

Rules of the list:
1) This is a favorites list, not a “best of.” If I were stranded on a tropical island (really, who wants to be stuck on a desert island?), these have to be the honest-to-goodness albums I would take with me. While I’d love to include a Miles Davis or a Bob Dylan album on here to make myself sound impressive, I’d be lying.
2) No Best ofs or Greatest Hits allowed (or any compilation album for that matter). Sorry Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Marley, The Clash, and Steel Pulse; know that you’d be on this list otherwise.
3) It has to be a complete album. In other words, if I’m constantly skipping songs in the album, it shouldn’t be on this list.
4) No more than one album per artist. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
5) No female artists. (This rule isn’t real, but at least it explains my lack of the opposite sex. Before you call me sexist, remember that Lisa Hannigan does a lot of background vocals for Damien Rice. Also, Natalie Merchant and Dixie Chicks weren’t too far off this list . . . sort of.)
6) Finally, the music must be written by the artist performing the music in the album. Sorry 90% of famous musicians today. Rules are rules.

The Beatles - Rubber Soul
They were out of the teeny-bop, girl screaming days, and not quite immersed in the drugs and psychedelic phase. And the sound is good.
Favorite three songs: “In My Life,” “Girl,” and “I’m Looking Through You”

Radiohead - Pablo Honey
Incredibly impressive and very listenable.
Favorite three songs: “Stop Whispering,” “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” and “Creep (Acoustic Version)”

REM - Automatic for the People

This was my all time favorite when I was like 14 years old, and somehow it still remains a personal favorite.
Favorite three songs: “Drive,” “Nightswimming,” and “Find the River”

Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and all His Friends

Coldplay is for some reason one of the most polarizing bands ever. People either love them or hate them. I have to admit I am on the side of love. I feel like those who bash Coldplay are like Apple lovers who bash PCs vehemently. (Really? PCs suck? You had a better idea in the 90’s to revolutionize the home computer? Huh.)
Favorite three songs: “Death and all His Friends,” “Lost?”, and “Viva la Vida”

Tom Petty – Wildflowers
My favorite road trip album.
Favorite three songs: “Crawling Back to You,” “Wildflowers,” and “It’s Good to be King”

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

Great when played in the dark. Creepy, but true.
Favorite three songs: (There are essentially four songs on this album; let’s not point out my least favorite)

Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

I had a real hard time deciding between “Shepherd’s Dog” and this one. So I went with the one I fell in love with first. Besides, any album that is almost entirely about death has to be on my all time list. This is also a made up rule.
Favorite three songs: “Naked as we Came,” “Each Coming Night,” and “Sodom, South Georgia”

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
One of only a few on this list that I would seriously consider for all time favorite. (For more info, see “H”)
Favorite three songs: “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Jesus, Etc.,” and “Kamera”

Jack Johnson - Brushfire Fairytales
Simple, yet beautiful music. (By the way, I dig his new album)
Favorite three songs: “Inaudible Melodies,” “Posters,” and “Flake”

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
Chalk full of tunes that will get stuck in your head (in a good way).
Favorite three songs: “Gone for Good,” “Pink Bullets,” and “Young Pilgrims”

Counting Crows - August & Everything After
This album answers the question: What would have happened if Da Vinci’s first painting was the Mona Lisa? Apparently, it doesn’t help to start your career with your masterpiece. Regardless of what Counting Crows have become, this album is proof they were once brilliant. This is a classic autumn-time album.
Favorite three songs: “Raining in Baltimore,” “Rain King,” and “Round Here”

Damien Rice – O
Passion + passion + folk music = Damien Rice.
Favorite three songs: “Delicate,” “Blower’s Daughter,” and “Cannonball”

matt pond PA – Emblems
This is our surprise entry for sure. But what can I say? I listen to it abundantly, there are a handful of songs I love, and the title of my novel was taken from this album. 2 & 2.
Favorite three songs: “The Butcher,” “New Hampshire,” and “Bring on the Ending”

U2 - Joshua Tree
As with Iron & Wine, I struggled on which album to include here. I usually would say “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” but if I’m stuck on a tropical island, I've decided I want this one. Which is ironic if you consider the title of the album I decided to leave behind.
Favorite three songs: “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Running to Stand Still,” and “In God’s Country”

Joshua James - The Sun is Always Brighter
I am pretty sure I was present when about half of the songs on this album were performed live for the first time. My friends and I used to go to “house shows” where Joshua would perform in someone’s basement or living room. There would be anywhere from 20-100 people at each of the shows. But regardless of the size, Joshua would always give it his all. He puts his heart and soul (and demons) in every number he writes and performs, and his music is as “real” as anything you’ll find anywhere. I have a handful of memories of watching him perform and thinking, “Wow--this man has it!” You know, “it.” I honestly believe that if Joshua wanted to make “hits” and sell tons of records, he could be as big as anyone, but because he chooses to write about the stories untold, he’ll only make it big slowly (as he is already doing).
Favorite three songs: “Commodore,” “Geese,” “Lord, Devil, and Him”


Today’s Recommendation: Hate the Lakers.