Saturday, April 20, 2019

Making Football Great Again


If memory serves me right, most Americans used the term “AMERICAN Football” more regularly decades ago. It seems like the “American” part of the name was gradually dropped over a generation or two, especially as the word soccer was adopted for that "other" football game. In spite of the increased Major League Soccer (MLS) popularity in the US these days, it’s not going to be easy for soccer to regain its real name in the US anytime soon (especially if it continues to be called Major League SOCCER). But I guess it’s one battle at a time on the road to greatness.

For all the technology applied in sports today, logic can play a sketchy part here in the US. There is hardly any “foot” in American football, but sure. Let’s call it football. And then there’s the “WorldSeries... don’t get me started  on that one. Anyway, I love the fact that fútbol / fußball is evolving into the American mainstream... slowly but surely.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of goofiness in “soccer”. The theatrics really need to stop, I say drag their asses off the field by their nuts when it’s an obvious fake (please watch Ozzy Man Reviews on soccer “dives”, truly priceless). And yes, a scoreless match should not be rewarded with a “draw”. Off to the penalties shootout for the lot of you. But don’t forget: last Super Bowl’s final score was the equivalent of a 1-0 soccer score: there was only one touchdown in the entire game. So a touchdown is six points plus a practically guaranteed extra point, for a total of seven? Adorable, but why not thirty four plus a practically guaranteed twelve for the PAT?

By the way, for those of you that live in a mutually exclusive world, it is possible to appreciate both sports. I’m a football (soccer) AND American football fan myself. Even if I’ve been condemned to deal with the ownership of the Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, I happen to be a Bengals fan, though I refuse to give any money to the current passionless franchise owner.

Speaking of money, what cracks me up is the TV broadcasts of soccer in the US. I don’t know how Americans, especially the broadcasters, are going to deal with the soccer culture of not showing commercials for 45+ minutes... Good lord, it’s like you’re asking them to hold their breath for 45 minutes.

Here’s the thing about sports and commercials. Besides American football I happen to be a basketball fan as well. But have you ever tried watching the last five minutes of the game on TV? For the love of Tostitos, I don’t know how many commercials I can stomach before I’ve forgotten what I was watching. Thank heavens for the Pepto-Bismol commercial or I would forget how to handle the previous barrage of junk food they sent my way.

Between basketball and American Football you have to think: these are supposed to be 48 to 60 minutes games, respectively. OK, add fifteen minutes of half times, but still: the average Sunday football game is a 3+ hours broadcast, for eleven minutes of action time (calculated by the Wall Street Journal a few years ago). ELEVEN MINUTES. For the love of life, I know people that have sex longer than that (or so they tell me).

Here’s a head-scratching excerpt from that WSJ article: “The average NFL broadcast spends more time on replays (17 minutes) than live play. The plurality of time (75 minutes) is spent watching players, coaches, and referees essentially loiter on the field. An average play in the NFL lasts just four seconds. Of course, watching football on TV is hardly just about the game; there are plenty of advertisements to show people, too. The average NFL game includes 20 commercial breaks containing more than 100 ads.

Which of course, brings us to the mother of all commercials... you guessed it, the Super Bowl. Ask any red-blooded American and they’ll even admit it: “I don’t care about either team but I love watching the commercials!” Wow, now that’s an impressive accomplishment by our marketing boys & girls. Maybe we should just have six straight hours of commercials every Sunday, interrupted occasionally with score updates from real sport games.

But enough sarcasm, let me wrap up this sporting commentary on a positive note. When it comes to sports, what you grew up with as a kid and shared with your dad, mom, siblings, and friends... is priceless. I don’t care if it’s baseball, football, American football, basketball, hockey, tennis, rugby, or cricket... what unites all sporting games is passion. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. That’s what has always made sports great.


Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don't care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root
For the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
Aahh.
For it's one, two,
Three strikes you're out
At the old... ball... game!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

There Goes The Neighborhood



Dear future generations: I’m not sure how you’re going to deal with this, but this is not the way it was supposed to work out. No, “we” didn’t start this fire. Some of us are still fighting for a better way, but this... nope. Not going to work out.
“Roscosmos”, “NASA”, “ESA”, “ISS”, those were small steps for humanity in the right direction. But this shitshow? Ouch. I don’t know who hurt the folks who voted these three-ring circus grifters into leadership, but the damage inflicted just keeps getting more surreal.
We were supposed to have figured this out by now. Obviously not... “Ownership”. “Exploitation”. Hey, here’s an awesome disruption for you: the sun! Our star, fuck yeah. Build a wall of spaceships around it, claim ownership and rights, exploit the hell out of that ball of gas. Build pipelines, tap the shit out of it. The moon? The moon is for losers. He who mines the sun will own the entire solar system.
So this is how natural selection in the universe works. Huh. From our lack of contact it’s getting to be painfully clear that those who figure life out are well served by steering the hell clear from us. Two types of life in the universe: those who figure it out, and three-ring circus grifters.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Immigrants


"Brothers can you spare some room?"
There are two kinds of immigrants: point-to-point and Gypsy. The P2P immigrant - you know the one, my grandfather came to New York from Sicily, or my lawn guy came from Mexico City to Houston - is the more historically understood. It is also equally romanticized and vilified. Dig deep enough and everyone finds a P2P immigrant in their ancestry. At an almost perfectly Iinear correlation, the farther back people dig the more romantic it gets. Your immigrant ancestors were good, hardworking people. Factory workers by day, wholesome family patriarchs and matriarchs by night. To the faithful we are all children of the biblically larger-than-life Adam & Eve (peculiarly white in most visual interpretations, but I digress). To the empirical we are all children of stardust.

The Gypsy is mostly vilified. Human tolerance for the un-rooted is limited. Mistrust sets in, and it is almost impossible to eradicate. Ironic, since the gypsy does not stick around long enough to entertain the fears of the rooted ones. 

There is a third kind of immigrant, deserving of mention and respect, the Forced Immigrant. But for the purpose of this conversation let’s focus on immigrants who technically had a choice, regardless of consequences. In theory, we can consider the Forced Immigrant a branch of the P2P. Migrant workers or corporate globetrotters can be a subset of the Gypsy, but if they keep going back to their point of origin, or end up there, they are technically not immigrants. A peculiar hybrid are Gypsies that eventually pick a place and plant roots there for the rest of their lives. Gypsy-to-P2P crossovers, if you will.

Nation of Immigrants” is simplistic political pandering. We are a migrating planet, never mind nations. We are on a rock that is hurling through universal space at a resulting speed of approximately one million miles per hour. Let me unpack it this way: at that speed the entire human race is gypsying through the equivalent of seventeen countries per minute. Hyper-movement is not an option, it is the de facto autopilot of life.

The absurdity of immigration perceptions can be illustrated by simple examples. A man living in Toronto, Canada who drives an hour and a half to Buffalo, New York is a Canadian immigrant. But wait, it gets better: a woman who moves five blocks, from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso is a Mexican immigrant. Meanwhile a family can move 5,823 miles from Kure Atoll, Hawaii, to Riviera Beach, Florida and not be an immigrant. To be clear: that distance is roughly a quarter of the earth’s circumference. Way farther than any Italian immigrant to New York travelled.

This level of absurdity was not lost on Europeans. Against much greater odds than the average heartland American can comprehend, Europe opened its borders within a lifetime to twenty-eight nations, with almost as many cultures and languages. “For Czech, press 24...  But it’s not just about arbitrary borders and physical proximities, is it. It’s also about those elusive jobs, beliefs, customs, rituals, habits, languages, looks and smells.

Pragmatic realism sets in. The EU and the US have been experiencing sympathetic pains since the traumatic events that took place between 1993 and 2001. The earlier event (1993) was the year the European Single Market was born. It rose from the ashes of two World Wars and one Cold War, in the name of “four freedoms”: movement of goods, services, money, and people. As it turned out, the union had to settle for three out of four freedoms. That free movement of people thing has not worked out so well, creating a seismic social shift to the far right all across Europe. As for the latter event (2001), it was one infamous September morn in America that almost broke the needle for Americans, slamming it to the far right. 

Enter Sandman. We talk a big game about “the almighty buck” in America, but we should really consider quitting the charade. The prime directive of our lives is, and always has been, the almighty fear. Fear rules the world, not money. Money is just what most people believe will make the fear go away. In the words of the fearsome Skar,  follow me, and you’ll never go hungry again! Money buys you a personality, so that you’ll never be lonely again. Money, regardless of how it’s obtained, will buy the adulation of millions for someone who will make you great again. 

In every family’s lineage there was once an immigrant who was feared. Who was persecuted. Who was hated. Not recognizing this basic scar of life constitutes a fear, hatred, and persecution of your own kind. 

In the meantime, should you choose to refute that premise, let’s join hands and recite the Purebred’s Creed - shall we?

Immigrants steal jobs.
Immigrants rape.
Immigrants sell drugs.
Immigrants murder.
Immigrants will hurt your children.
Immigrants create “no-go zones”.
Immigrants are dirty.
Immigrants will take Christmas away.
Vote for me, Sandman. 
I alone can make the immigrants go away.

...

“Hush little baby don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet in your head
Exit light
Enter night
Grain of sand”

-Metallica, “Enter Sandman”

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Race to A Brave New World

"Welcome to Walmart! You bring dollars, yes?"

Two-thirds of the world’s Top 100 economies are not countries or governments at all: they are corporations. Half of the Top 40 are corporations. Walmart is in the Top 10. Let that sink-in for a moment: Walmart. In fact, the mega-retailer more than doubles Russia’s economy. The Top 20 corporations combined are richer than the U.S., which happens to be the world’s richest economy.

The US Democratic Party may be one of the few left wings in the world not to understand this very essence of the global balance of power. Ironic, since it holds a sizable share of the world’s richest economy. As a London-based wealth manager told The Guardian last month, “I think what people fail to realize is that governments are now just little parishes. Who do you think is more powerful: Procter & Gamble or the government of France? P&G, of course. They can set down their business anywhere in the world they please. And high-net-worth individuals are the same way.” The problem was, he said, that onshore governments – particularly some in Europe and North America – didn’t yet understand their place in this new hierarchy. Thus, he added, “Social democracy is creating too big demands on the wealth creators.”

Some truth in the wealth manager’s view, though somewhat overstated. First of all, Cincinnati’s own P&G would be so honored to take over La Patrie, but at only 5% of France’s revenue it would fall a diaper or two short. Still, point taken, especially when it comes to multinational agility and the tapping of global markets. P&G is certainly better poised than France to penetrate the globe, if market virility were still a Freudian thing. Coûter les yeux de la tête, a wise Frenchman might say. Too high a price to pay for global domination. And therein lies the greatest of all human paradoxes: The less we do, the more we demand of others; the more we do, the more we demand of others. I’d like to meet these “others”. Apparently they’re the ones who get shit done.

Meet “the others”. The top three Chinese corporations combined could be in the G8. Hell, China would make the G2, never mind the G8 - IF it were invited to the Capitalist's Club.  But perhaps it’s that age-old Chinese wisdom that empowers them to brush off the snub: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member!” (from the Tao of Groucho).

Let’s slow down here for a moment. Something is not adding up... China? In the G2? Three of the world’s top four corporations are Chinese?? To quote from a more streetwise Tao: WTF? Surely the ONE thing (hold up Curly’s “One Thing” finger when thinking of this), the ONE reason China has traditionally been dissed from The Club has to do with the S-word. You know, “Socialism”.

Let’s cut to the chase: it’s the over-the-top repression that keeps China from The Club. That would be all good and great if it weren’t for the elephant in the room of America’s prisons. The U.S. incarcerates at a rate of more than SIX times the average G8 nation. Let that one sink in for another moment. It almost doesn’t matter who represses more, they are both on a collision course with shame and unsustainability. 

The number one and the number two economies of the world are on an amazing race to the next seismic paradigm shift: Socialized Capitalism vs Capitalized Socialism. Who will win? I can’t say for sure, but at the rate they are both repressing their citizens the race is starting to look more like a dystopian novel than a quest for a better world.

...

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

-Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World"



Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Bracket Club



Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had not been born yet when “The Breakfast Club” was released. That was back in ‘85, though by itself the timeline is irrelevant. I mean, let’s keep it real: generational bragging rights are lame. So when the dog-whistlers at FOX News recently “outed” AOC’s celebration of the film, AOC’s reply was refreshingly well played. As dancing goes, her interpretive middle-finger to false conservatives was a welcomed breeze of fresh air in swamp-land. Her brief reenactment outside her D.C. office was a classy je ne regrette rien STFU to the rage peddlers at FOX. Way classier in fact than her freshman colleague, US representative Rashida Tlaib, with her “motherfucker” crosshairs remark. Nothing to do with the language by itself, gender, or ethnicity - Donald Trump doesn’t sound smarter when he says it either.

The reason it is relevant that Ocasio-Cortez had not yet been born in ‘85 is key context. Since we are talking about a powerful American tradition here - the induction of an incoming political freshman class - the dance bit was poetic-assist in AOC’s case. Whether she was aware or not, she was being introduced to the old Potomac Two-Step. 

Back in 1985 the Soviet Union was still a very real and present danger. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The mutually assured destruction of our planet as we knew it was something no other generation had ever experienced. It was a world gone m.a.d. indeed (we even coined a clever acronym for it). So, no: the Breakfast Club dance was not exactly the celebration of life AOC interpreted. As the language of dance goes it was a brave new wave - not quite salsa (AOC’s Caribbean roots may have betrayed her there). Our Breakfast Club fab-five were definitely not expressing sensual joy, that’s for sure. It was a time of awkwardness, a time to be tense.

As the gods of evolution would have it, the tension finally blinked. Somehow we survived armageddon. The daily threat of a nuclear holocaust stopped, sometime around the fall of the Berlin Wall. Political pundits like to credit the Kennedy-Reagan era, with fair credit where credit is due. Others may be more pragmatic, calling the Soviet collapse a failure to engage with an inevitable global capitalism. Either way there was a “roaring nineties” feeling in the air, a celebration of sorts as the world watched the implosion of the mighty Soviet. Amidst champagne and red carpets, Hollywood proclaimed that "greed is good".

Enter class warfare, back from the sidelines of nuclear preoccupation. Where there is unbridled wealth, there is greed. And where there is greed, there are tax brackets. No one really ever wonders much about the existence of tax brackets, probably for good reason (watching paint dry, etc.). But it is worth a quick reflection. Let me try to unpack it by keeping it simple: tax brackets are essentially a mathematical punishment on greed. Some American voters who have been around the block more than once might recall the flat-tax proposals, resurrected every other presidential campaign. It is typically presented as a way to fix a convoluted tax system. A system that admittedly has evolved into a god-forsaken hydra monster. Sure, those who make little enough to fit their income into a 1040-EZ form are typically not in the line of fire. But if the 1040-A does not quite cut it for you either, my condolences: off to the serpentine hydra’s mouth you go.

Which brings us back to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her recent casual remark that the very rich should be subject to a 70% tax bracket. Well. If she ever wanted to be targeted as the enemy of half the people she sure is a smooth-talker. It’s not just the 1% that have rattled their sabres on that declaration of war. They have savvily enlisted an army of 49% to fight on their behalf. A 49% that, to every American liberal, remains an enigma wrapped up in a mystery, inside a puzzle. Just like a Russian nesting doll.

Unless Ocasio-Cortez learns how to dance to the awkward tension of socialized capitalism, her politics will become irrelevant in the evolution of the great American experiment. Her Bracket Club dance reduced to a less-than-memorable flashdance. Back at the Breakfast Club, (spoiler alert)... that dance ends with a fist pump to the sky. Unforgettably frozen in time. A celebration of how five corners of America walked in as irreconcilable differences, and walked out with unspoken respect for each other. It was a fist pump in defiance to all those who grift the life divisive.

Hey, hey, hey, hey.





........................

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Raging of America

The dark side of our minds is nothing but a kangaroo court. It is a survival-of-the-fittest chamber where every second of our lives checks-in. It is where the gatekeeper of fear protects us within inches of our lives, so that we may live to see another day. 

Human DNA is coded to abhor the unknown, which explains the kangaroo courts. The vast majority of our lives is engulfed by the unknown. It also explains our love-hate relationship with science, and our radicalization of religion. We love science when it provides practical solutions to our problems. But we grow bored when it demands we don’t jump to conclusions. Which is when some turn to faith. Not the “turn the other cheek” religion, mind you. The “cut their babies in half and stone the women to death” religion. The radicalized genre, designed to fit agendas of convenience. 

Off-center politics are a fluid zig-zag between convenience and fear. It’s not that the so-called “left” and “right” wings of society don’t contribute with their share of work and basic values. It’s that their rage-filled pinball lifestyle cannibalizes the lion share of the value they generate. They create and perpetuate an anger-infested netherworld where distortion rules. 

Wing politics are ushering in a new Dark Age of humanity. A Dark Age that introduces the notion that the rich and majority are victims of persecution. A darkness that hides the reality that the poor and minorities are oppressed in part by themselves. An age that escalates an entitlement war to a crusade. A rage defined by our Hollywood romance with revenge-based justice. A dark rage that threatens way more than our lights at night if climate and energy do finally implode: it foreshadows the end of the precious gift of life in our corner of the universe. A wasted life gone dark because it could not figure out how to evolve without choking in the vomit of its own rage.


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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Death of a Statesman

"The Statesmen Death Waltz"
Will you let me go for Christ's sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?” 

- Willy Loman, “Death of a Salesman

Every salesperson has a Willy Loman somewhere deep in his or her heart of darkness. A frightened boy-man who understands the power of confidence, the magic of conviction. The path to success does not exclude the presence of Willy Loman in a salesperson’s soul: it merely separates those who successfully negotiated Loman’s demons at any cost from those who couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. In an imaginary sequel to Arthur Miller’s epic story, one could conceive a surreal version of It’s a Wonderful Life, but in reverse: Willy gets to find out what his life would have been if he had been a successful salesman, at any cost. In the end, he begs his guardian angel to return him to his life of anonymity. An ordinary life, as his son Biff had begged him to consider. A life where he did not sell his soul for thirty pieces of silver.  

Selling is relationship-building. Nothing more, nothing less. Barring a few irrelevant exceptions, buyers will almost always find their way to sellers they trust, or like, even if they end up paying more. The lowest bidder is a hit-and-run sub-segment of capitalism, the stuff that floats like debris but never runs deep. 

Well over a decade ago I decided that selling was at the heart of what we all do. Whether we know it or we don’t. Children sell clowning or good behavior in exchange of their parents approval. Lovers sell their best behavior in exchange for the promise  of undying love. Professionals sell a perception of irreplaceability in exchange for job security. And successful business leaders-statesmen sell whatever you’re buying. And they’re damn good at it. Believe them, nobody does it better. Nobody.

It would be a sin of false-equivalence to say that all business leaders or statesmen have sold their souls to be where they are. The truth is, we have no way of knowing the true proportion of constructive vs. destructive forces on that front. Pick your battles carefully there, and pray to the gods of mercy that you were more right than wrong at the end of your day.

Mercy being what it is, Willy Loman is not the only one that dies in the end. Destructive salesmen-statesmen sooner or later die as well. Figuratively or literally. And karma being what it is, the statesman who can no longer tell the difference between selling and lying has already been dead inside for years.


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Making Football Great Again

If memory serves me right, most Americans used the term “AMERICAN Football” more regularly decades ago. It seems like the “ American ” pa...