Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sta-ha-har Spa-ha-ha-han-ga-ah-ah-ah-la-la-la-led Ba-ha-ha-ha-nuh-uh-uh!

Is there another country that plays with its national anthem as much as the United States? I was thinking about this on Wednesday night as I watched Kelly Rowland meander and "ooh, ooh, woo" her way through the Star-Spangled Banner before the England v. USA friendly. It is apparently musically sinful for American artists to perform the anthem straight. I realise that the United States prides itself on being a creatively ambitious country, but all that "huh, whuh, whoa" stuff makes it difficult for people to sing along, which is kind of what you'd like to do before an international match.

But it did manage to make Wembley feel more like an American sporting event, complete with random booing. As soon as England fans were able to determine that it was indeed the U.S. national anthem that was being sung (somewhere around "... o'er the land of the free..."), a handful of them started in with jeers.

Soccer fans everywhere (save, perhaps in the United States, where we live in fear-respect of our anthem and are therefore terribly uncomfortable booing another one, unless it's being played while a heel marches out during a pro-wrestling event) seem to do this. What's amusing is that the recipients of the booing always take it really personally, going so far as to make ridiculous claims of racism. I'm looking at you, country whose name starts with a "C."

I don't buy that. I mean, honestly, how many people in England (who would attend an international soccer match) are really going to boo the United States on principal: "Boo! You're overweight, unnecessarily capitalist, self-involved, bogged down in Iraq, saddled with a government that doesn't care about the majority of its citizens, and disliked by all your neighbours... Oh... Wait, a second..."

I'm pretty sure booing is much more simplistic than that. For the most part it's just a matter of child-level "cheer for the good guys, boo for the bad guys" thinking. To save deep insult, countries should stop playing their national anthems and instead develop boo-able ditties. They should have Iron Sheik-like mascots to stomp around and raise the ire of opposing supporters.

Unfortunately the U.S. wasn't able to exact revenge for the booing, going down as pretty much everyone expected. Although it's worth noting that England had put forward, arguably, the very best team it is capable of fielding and still didn't manage to do anything for 38 minutes. Usually when you go up against "a second-division team of spoilers" (fuck you sideways, John Motson), you don't have to field your big guns. But Capello felt the need.

I think that's proof that the U.S. is, slowly, coming into its own soccer-wise. I am convinced that sometime in the near future the rest of the world will get its wish and the United States will show genuine interest in the game. The world wants this for the money, but, of course, it will backfire on them because it will mean Yanqui supremacy. Then the world will have to turn to rugby and responsible financial management to find things that they are better at than the U.S.

But that day hasn't quite yet arrived. U.S. soccer is still dominated by strangely good-looking athletic fellas with unique names. For so many years soccer was the sport of the likeable fellow who wasn't quite enough of a prick to play home-grown sports like football, baseball and basketball. They are the sort of guys who don't scream, "Big game, fellas! Let's get fuckin' psyched!" before a match (a), because they realise it is silly and unnecessary and kind of negative. Take a look at the current roster and you'll see that most of those dudes are from California.

One thing fans need to do before the game gets truly big in the States: develop a few of our own songs. The majority of chants and songs recited by fans are lifted straight from English supporters. Anywhere they say "Eng-ger-lund," we've simply replaced with "U-S-A." Obviously, this trick fell a bit flat on Wednesday.

And one random additional note from Wednesday's match: Wayne Rooney is 25 years old. I am 32. But his hair is thinning considerably faster than mine. Bwahahaha!

(a) A guy on my rugby team used to do this before EVERY MATCH, no matter who we were playing.


- Slightly witty name for a band. -

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are People Really Suffering?

In a fit of whimsy (a) this week I decided to record myself reading my latest column. I realise that this is a sort of poncey thing to do, so I have come up with a few lame attempts at justifying myself:

1) I always wanted to be one of those "snarky commentary" guys you hear on NPR. But since I am not from New York or Jewish, the odds of my getting that gig are minimal.

2) Due to Congressional incompetence blind people aren't getting a chance to listen to as many audiobooks. It breaks my heart that there would be a blind person out there who might miss out on my column, so I've taken the initiative to provide the service on my own. I have no idea how blind people are supposed to navigate themselves to my blog, though...

3) There is no #3.

Anyway, here it is:

(a) Fit of Whimsy is a good name for a band

Monday, May 26, 2008

You don't like chat?

Have I ever told you about my utterly strange job interview in which the interviewer walked out on me? I was applying to work for an internet company that would go belly-up about a month later.

This was in the final throes of the internet boom, when people were still being paid to do fuck all. Indeed, the job I would eventually land paid me to do so very little that I started learning Welsh just to keep my mind active. And we all know how that turned out.

The internet company in question was one of those that believed in the catch-all website concept and was trying to build one targeted at college students.

There persists to this day the ridiculous idea of the portal website, a site from which a user embarks on his or her internet journey, or which encompasses the whole of his or her experience. Are you smelling the bullshit yet? The idea is to build a website that a user would never really need to leave, which translates to audience numbers more appealing to advertisers. How long a person stays on site can often be more important than the actual number of people visiting. But the very nature of the internet makes portal websites a bit foolish. In the same time it takes to come across the dating section in you can just find a website that focuses solely on dating. I think attempting broadcasting via the web is silly.

But no one ever listens to me. If they did, there would be a fucking bullet train running from Reno to Las Vegas, and North Dakota would be a penal colony.

Anyhoo, I went into this interview and cottoned that the guy interviewing me was certain he was onto a winner. He was immensely proud of his clunky no-central-theme website and genuinely excited in talking about it. This probably should have been a clue to me that honest criticism of the product wasn't going to score me any points. So when he asked, "What do you think of the chat feature?" I should not have said: "Actually, I'm not such a big fan of chat. I tend to think of it as a waste of time."

Chat rooms were frustrating experiences of redundancy and flame wars. Nothing of worth was ever said and they were almost inevitably dominated by a minority of flamers (a) who made the experience unpleasant and unproductive

"You. Don't. Like. Chat?!" the interviewer spat in disgust. "OK, uhm..."

Then he got up and walked out. He never came back. After about 10 minutes of sitting there, I stole half a dozen donuts and left.

Almost a decade on, chat rooms are thankfully a thing of the past for everyone other than child predators, but the desire to somehow incorporate users' opinions/feelings into content persists. One method is discussion boards but those are equally clumsy and flame-ridden and require too much effort to maintain.

Recently I heard about Slantly which is a mildly diverting cross of discussion boards and Twitter that I think is supposed to integrate with content, but I'm not 100% sure how. I still don't quite get it, but that hasn't stopped me from joining for the sake of being able to state my opinion in yet another place on the internet (because, you know, four blogs just isn't enough).

My favourite Slantly opinion at the moment: "Professional athletes should be paid in marijuana and iced-out bling."



Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Evgeni

Say what you want about political voting, but I personally believe that if you manage to secure Evgeni Plushenko as a back-up dancer, you should win Eurovision.

For those of you playing along at home, Eurovision is an annual song contest/festival of the absurd that is sort of the grandfather to things like "American Idol." Representatives from 43 European (a) countries perform original songs ranging from predictable pop to the delightfully absurd. Indeed, it is the really strange element that people have come to love about Eurovision.

In recent years, some Western European countries have resorted to sending representatives that are either deliberately shit or deeply ironic in response to their feeling that it is impossible for them to win because of various countries' tendency to vote politically. Britain particularly hates this situation because it often results in no one voting for them, save Ireland -- who I think vote pro-Britain more out of Euro-cynicism than anything else.

In Britain, Eurovision is linked with the snarky commentary of Sir Terry Wogan, who has now suggested he may give up on the thing out of exasperation with voting trends. But I think he really missed a key element in last night's Russian win, namely Evegeni.

For our friends in the Home Nations, Evgeni Plushenko is a big-name figure skating champion. We even know who he is in the United States. We know about his long rivalry with Alexei Yagudin and that he always has some odd toy animal with him in the kiss-and-cry area.

Sir Terry, though, clearly had no idea who he was, referring to him as "the ice-skating Michael Flatley." Related to this, Sir Terry was also clueless as to the fame of Serbian (b) national Vlade Divac. My guess is he was clueless on these because Britain is shit in both figure skating and basketball.

But my point is, if you put forward a spastic bisexual Russian chap and back him up with Evgeni Plushenko, you are cranking the camp dial to 11 and you blatantly deserve to take the prize. Good on you, Russia. See, you can make friends without poisoning people.

(a) Israel is in Europe, apparently.

(b) This year's Eurovision was held in Belgrade, Serbia -- "the city where being alone is unacceptable," according to one of the local presenters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Burning bridges to the 21st century

British people are often fond of levelling completely unfounded accusations against other peoples (a). One that I've heard from time to time is that Americans are too soft on their political figures, refusing to satire them in anything more than a loving way. Here's a clip that goes against that:

(a) They also claim that we are incapable of irony -- such as the irony of someone from the United States criticising an entire island of people for their perceived-by-him tendency to criticise large groups of people.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bumbling second-class conditions are the new hotness

"Like much of America these days, the airline industry feels tired, worn down, and old.

That is surprising in a country that often likes to think of itself as the best.

Arguably, it once was, but the airline industry - like the health system, like schools, roads - you name it, feels like it is just creaking along and leaving its passengers ever more frustrated.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Eric saves the blog

I am presently in the midst of revising (FTYPAH: "studying") for exams, so blogging has fallen way down the priority list -- still above housecleaning but well below watching "I'd Do Anything" (a). So, I was all set to let the blog go into its usual other-things-are-happening languishing state, but now Eric has given me something to post.

Here are a few videos from a recent performance of the Secondhand Ska Kings at Minneapolis' Fine Line. It's a group of people in their 30s pretending they are still in college. But they are betrayed by the fact that they are in tune:

On this one you get to hear funky, funky Eric sing. An interesting thing to note is that Eric is always like this. Watch his mannerisms and this is pretty much how he acts all the time. No, really. Go to his house and you'll see him acting like this while he's watching TV, making food, etc. Actually, don't go to his house. His wife would not appreciate my sending a load of people over to visit.

Apparently, the fellas have taken on Markéta Irglová. What's with the chick on keyboards? Who is that? Do I know her?

One of my favourite things about Secondhand Ska Kings is that I know most of the members. Eric has been my best friend for 20 years; Matt (the guitarist who hides to the left of the screen) used to live next door to me in Ballard Hall (b); Bryce (the trumpet player) used to live across the hall from me and Matt; Scott (the other trombone player and singer on two of the songs) is the guy who always riles me up by suggesting that Welsh is really Klingon. I am hoping that I do, in fact, know the female keyboardist and that I have shagged her.

(a) Yes, I realise that every time I admit to watching these shows I fall a little further in the eyes of Chris and Jenny. By now they almost certainly regret ever having let me stay in their home.

(b) Note that this is an all-male residence hall. Trust me, it's even worse than it sounds.