Why I’ll back the Dutch in the World Cup final


Spain is the obvious favorite in today’s World Cup final, and I don’t need a psychic octopus to tell me that. I saw the match against Germany, which was all the convincing I need. Ball-handling, passing … it makes me wonder what the American team was even doing in the tournament.

Then again, I owe the Dutch an apology. I had a chance to watch their thrilling match against Brazil, but didn’t for the same reason that, well, apparently some of the Dutch expressed. Or, as Mark Steel noted:

“Are you hopeful?” I asked Josef. “Yes,” he said, “I am hopeful we’ll keep it to less than 5-0.”

So, yeah, I owe an apology for skipping that one. Who knew? Apparently, not even Josef suspected.

And while I have a masochistic side that prefers to cheer on underdogs in many circumstances, Steel also made the case, indirectly, why the Dutch really need this one more than Spain:

The Dutch, it seems, watch their team in the West End of London, not in one bar but in the general area ….

…. The reason is the Dutch aren’t brought together in London by where they live, but where they work. Several thousand are employed by the banks and companies whose offices are around there, so they flock to the chain pubs of Soho; the places into which endless research has been poured to make it impossible to create any atmosphere at all. The muzak, the bouncers, staff wandering around with ear-pieces; this all makes it less exciting than watching a match in a branch of World of Leather.

And for the quarter-final against Brazil this wasn’t helped by the sullen nature of the fans. As the game approached they ordered their burgers, and sat in small groups with no sense of being collective, which took some effort as they were all in orange, and when the team appeared one man clapped on his own, which was probably Arjen Robben’s dad. A few of them sang along with the national anthem, but either this was extremely half-hearted, or the Dutch anthem goes “buuur phew ffffff baaa I give up” ….

…. Maybe they’d have been jollier if they’d lived up to their stereotype, by announcing, “If there is a ball in our goal then this should not make us worry, instead just relax, maybe have a little massage and maybe some sex and this is good and we can hope for an equaliser.” Or they could reserve one screen for porn with expert comments provided by Mick McCarthy.

Outstandingly moderate was Dan, tall, slender and in an immaculate suit, the picture of someone young and in the city, except he was wearing an orange tie. “I see you’ve gone a bit wild with the tie,” I said. “Yes,” he said, “I think that it helps to support the team if I wear this tie.”

Dan was a management consultant in Covent Garden, and added: “This afternoon I have many things to do but I decided I should leave them until later, which is not really correct but I think I must watch the game.”

I mean, really, as an American, I know people who don’t care about the game in general that will take time off work to watch the American team try its hardest to not embarrass itself. And a Seattle tavern at nine in the morning was a fine time to witness these folks finally understanding why fútbol is the world’s game as Team USA scraped by Algeria, only to lose a few days later to Ghana, whereupon they promptly forgot what they had learned.

It does seem a strange contrast to stereotype, though, getting wild with the tie. The American view of the Dutch is either tulips and windmills, or Amsterdam. The idea of a bunch of bank employees feeling guilty for supporting their home country in a soccer tournament just isn’t part of that package. But for Dan, Josef, and all of the Dutch soccer fans in London’s West End, I’m going to back their team against Spain. If for no other reason, I might suggest the Dutch need this one more than the Spaniards, and so I raise my glass, wish them luck, and wonder how things got to the point that we have a freakin’ octopus picking winners in the tournament.

Labor Inaction


Mark Steel, a watermelon, a young boy, and a plastic fetishI mean, really ….

At last, someone’s come up with a clean, decisive system for holding elections. The way it works is everyone has a vote, and then the management of British Airways and a judge decide the result. They’ve tried this method with the ballot for a strike amongst cabin crews, who voted 7,482 to 1,789 in favour. So the courts ruled that this didn’t count because the Unite union didn’t mention, in some of its announcements, that 11 ballot papers had been spoilt.

There has been the odd critic of this ruling, such as the President of North Korea who said, “Oh that’s going TOO far”, but you can see BA’s point. Because there may have been many union members who were only prepared to support the strike as long as the number of spoilt ballot papers wasn’t a prime number. Imagine how cheated they’d have felt if they’d lost three days’ pay, assuming the number of spoilt papers was 12 or something divisible by seven and then they’d found out the shocking truth when it was too late.

So the courts decided the strike was illegal and the ballot has to start again. This time it could be 10,000 in favour and none against, and a judge will say, “It still doesn’t count, because the union didn’t announce the result in a Geordie accent.” So Unite will comply with that, and the judge will say, “No, that was Middlesborough. You’ll have to start all over again.” The next vote will be annulled because the union reps didn’t convey the result as a piece of contemporary dance, and the one after that won’t count because a writing expert will declare some ballot papers were marked by a voter’s left hand, which is the Devil’s hand and Satan isn’t registered as a paid-up Unite member. Then there’ll be a rule that as they’ll be thrown away in the event of a strike, each in-flight dinner should have a vote, which will be assumed to be “No” if they don’t bother.

This would make more sense than the statement by BA chief Willie Walsh, who said, “The vast majority of our staff have demonstrated they don’t support this strike.” He can say that because unlike the union, which is relying on the shady evidence of the number of votes cast, he’s going on the more dependable basis of what he sort of reckons.

Maybe you missed this during the brouhaha about the British general election. I did, sort of. I mean, I remember hearing talk of a BA strike. I remember hearing about the vote in favor of a strike. But the rest of it I somehow missed.

Not that any of that matters from the far side of a continent on the far side of an ocean from Britain, but there is something amiss when it’s the comedian‘s explanation of something that makes us say, “Oh, that makes sense. Why didn’t you say so before?”

Truth is stranger than fiction, and it is my understanding—gleaned from some dark recess of my past—that this is because sooner or later, fiction is obliged to make some manner of sense. But if one ever doubts this maxim, they need only look to the free world, and the devices by which we keep ourselves, more or less, free.

Anne Frank and the Pearl Necklace?


Mike Scott - New Jersey Newsroom - March 24, 2010The inimitable Mark Steel, on that grimmest of papal scandals:

The Pope’s own preacher managed to make life even trickier for his boss, complaining that criticism of the Catholic Church on this issue was similar to anti-Semitism and “Collective punishment for Jews.” Of course. I’m sure when a priest is told the children he abused want action to be taken against him, he thinks “I tell you what, now I know exactly how Anne Frank felt.”

Still, I suppose we should be grateful he didn’t add “But none of the priests used condoms so at least they’re all good Catholics.”

(Cartoon by Mike Scott for New Jersey Newsroom, March 24, 2010.)

Amateur night on the town


Mark Steel proposes:

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve so it’s going to be FUN. Because this is when you’re not only allowed but encouraged to get drunk ….

…. New Year’s Eve is like those boards that local authorities put up for kids to graffiti on, or the chants that baseball fans are directed to sing by stadium announcers. By making these acts official the fun is ruined ….

…. [Y]ou’ve a better chance of having a brilliant time at Christmas and New Year if you ignore the fact it’s Christmas and New Year. Or join a religion that insists the Christians are three days out, then get absolutely smashed on January 4th.

There are a couple of other holidays like this; there is plenty of drinking and revelry on the Fourth of July in the United States, and wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day, 2008, moved to the ides of March to avoid everyone getting drunk on Sunday and being hung over on Monday?

I once asked a friend of mine if he had any plans on St. Patrick’s Day, and he said, “No, not really. Too many amateurs out tonight.”

He has a point.

Continue reading

That evil bastard: Steel on The Sun on Brown


Mark Steel takes on the British press—or, more specifically, The Sun, a prominent, Murdoch-owned tabloid—for its efforts to bring down Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

You can forgive Mrs Janes anything, given the circumstances, but the Sun has made a front-page issue of this spelling business, claiming his tatty handwriting proves his lack of concern for soldiers, which seems a slight exaggeration. They might have had a point if he’d sent his condolences in the form of a limerick. Or if he’d sent a text with a grumpy face on it. Or if he’d reversed the charges when he made the call. But in the list of priorities when dealing with a war, accurate punctuation must come a fair way down. This is why, as far as I know, none of the First World War poets wrote “Worse than the crash of the shells sent to bomb us, General Haig writes a dash where he ought to put commas.”

Even so, the front page, then two more pages, then a page of the whole conversation, then a cartoon are dedicated to this story, and you can hear the whole taped call on a website. Tomorrow there’ll be an advert with a picture of a pouting woman in a nurse’s outfit, saying: “Ring 0898 600 500 to hear Naughty Naomi read out the whole letter with spicy spelling.”

The Sun has declared Mrs Janes “Mum at War,” and the poor woman is their weapon for the week for belittling Brown. If she’s not careful they’ll tie her into a deal like a record company, and she’ll be barred from displaying any grief or anger anywhere except by a Sun reporter, who will have full exclusive rights to print them, mash them into a dance track or whatever they fancy.

Yet strangely, they were the most enthusiastic supporters of the war in Afghanistan, even depicting politicians who opposed the war as wobbling jellies. You’d think that it might have occurred to them that this could involve an element of danger, what with wars in Afghanistan tending to fall a bit short when it comes to health and safety.

So now they protest the reason for the deaths is the lack of helicopters and suitable jackets, but they could suggest another method which could radically reduce the risks, which is to no longer fight the war at all, the major success of which has been to give Afghans the democratic right to not to vote for a corrupt leader in a fiddled election that’s re-run and cancelled.

I don’t know what to say. This whole thing seems so foreign. After all, we Americans don’t have a similar experience. You know, a news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch in permanent campaign mode against political figures they don’t like? Politics may make strange bedfellows, but it also can define the idea of cognitive dissonance.

News from across the Pond


It makes for a good punch line:

    Anyway, isn’t he supposed to be Middle-East peace envoy? Surely he won’t want to give that up just while he’s achieving such staggering success in that post. But this appears to be what happens to him; he wrecks a place, then gets the job of uniting it. Even Bin Laden didn’t have the cheek to say “Aha, there’s a vacancy for President of the New York Tall Buildings Appreciation Society. I think I’ll put in for that.”

    Mark Steel, on Tony Blair

Darwin Day?


Looking ahead to Darwin Day, Mark Steel notes that “;What creationists really hate is that we emerged by accident“. It’s a good enough headline, I suppose, and the bit about the parasitic wasp certainly makes a point. But the creation debate has gone on long enough that some certain trends are impossible to miss:

Charles Darwin would probably love the fact that the 200th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated with radio shows, documentaries and exhibitions, but he might not have enjoyed the way that furious Christians still despise his theories and try to prove the Bible is more reliable.

For example, the Discovery Institute has announced that: “We want students everywhere to speak out… for the right to debate the evidence against evolution and turn ‘Darwin Day’ into ‘Academic Freedom Day’.”

But they’re lucky Darwin isn’t forced on us the way religion has been, otherwise the national anthem would start: “Our Gracious Queen will be saved or not according to a series of factors that are sod-all to do with God,” and once a week school assemblies would start with everyone singing: “All things biological/ All matter sweet or frightening/ Are Godless, real and logical/ See – where’s the bleeding lightning?”

The creationists demand that biblical theories are taught alongside Darwin’s theories of natural selection, which might sound reasonable except that creationism depends not on evidence but on faith. If all theories are given equal status, teachers could say: “Your essays on the cause of tornadoes were very good. Nathan’s piece detailing the impact of warm moist air colliding with cool air, with original sources from the Colorado Weather Bureau, contained some splendid detail. But Samatha’s piece that went “Because God is cross” was just as good so you all get a B+.”

With Darwin’s two-hundredth birthday approaching, it’s just a timely reminder that it is a difficult—at best—proposition to hold “intelligent design” as a science, since the central theory, conveniently, cannot be tested.