June 29, 2014

Counter Coulter

There was a bewildering article about soccer written by one Ann Coulter, who is apparently a conservative political commentator. From what I can tell - it's not easy to read through the article's ranting - she seems to say soccer is a liberal plot to make Americans like the metric system, and will inevitably lead to the nation's moral decay, QED.

It's hard to fathom how a columnist is so willing to write about something she doesn't understand. I don't think Coulter has watched a soccer match in her life. Or not a good one, anyway. It's the only way someone can claim that "Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer".

June 23, 2014

Soccer Flags

You wouldn't necessarily notice much in the US, except in ethnic neighbourhoods, but football fever is on. As in: soccer! Mostly you can tell because cars have started to sprout from their side windows these small flags, fluttering in the breeze, and indicating the country supported by the driver.

As of this writing, it's early days in the 2014 World Cup tournament, so things are still relatively mellow. But as the final matches approach, the countries whose teams have made it to the semi-finals will suddenly break out in the national colours. In the Netherlands, everything turns an eye-watering orange, in one of those country-wide nods to the royal house originated by William of Orange.

June 16, 2014

Google Car: the case for the improbable

When I was a freshman, and an international student newly arrived in the United States, I learned to my astonishment that "breakfast cereal" means not Kellogg's corn flakes or Alpen Muesli - the only ones I had encountered before - but an entire isle of variously shaped and coloured offerings. My first grocery shopping trips where always whole-afternoon affairs.

I also found out about this game called football. Where feet are hardly used at all. Apart from that the rules were all mystifying to me: even the shape of the ball was something I'd never seen before, like a lemon gone wrong. Of course, there are plenty of other games with obtuse rules, such as cricket or snooker, and odd ways of keeping track of the score, such as in tennis or snooker, and creative and unusual orders of hitting the balls, such as in pool - or snooker.

My freshman year was the first year my dorm had gone co-ed. There were plenty of kind upperclassmen who were eager to explain the rules of football to a foreign newcomer. But I waved away the kind offers, and set out to divine the rules just from watching the games. It was a jumble. Here were these guys with shoulders like the Incredible Hulk's and legs like Rudolf Valentino's, huddling, bending, throwing the ball in the wrong direction, and then all running around in incomprehensible patterns that made my friends shout an appreciative "Yeah!" I remained throroughly mystified.

[The Obamas' dog probably has a better idea of why he's running than I did about the rules of football.]

But one day I wandered outside, into a pickup game of touch football. My friends invited me in, on the principle of learning by doing. It was kind of them: really, I had no clue what was going on.