Video Replay and Football (Soccer)

The “world’s most beautiful game” took another big hit last week when, in extra time, France captain Thierry Henry used his left hand twice to guide the ball. Both the referee and the linesman missed it. The resulting goal was enough for France to defeat Ireland and qualify for the World Cup 2010. As expected, there was an outcry from the Irish fans, but I think that the incident left a bad taste in the mouth of any true football fan. It is reminiscent of Maradonna’s “hand of God” use of hands that gave Argentina the victory over England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal.

The “hand of Henry” has brought France to the lowest level of cheaters, joining Argentina and Italy as countries to be despised and rooted against. (Italy reached the quarterfinals in the 2006 World Cup through a dive by Grosso in the penalty area. He was awarded a penalty instead of a red card, and the Italians got through on the ensuing goal. Video surfaced after the match that showed Italian players practicing just that kind of a phony fall.)

What can one do about these cheaters? Is it time for the use of video technology? The Bleacher Report (November 18, 2009) for one says,

This is yet another example of a crucial goal unfairly given, when video technology would have prevented the injustice from ever happening.

How long will it be before FIFA and Co. finally get their act together and implement video technology in football, to stop blatant mistakes like this happening on a regular basis?

Video technology has entered a number of sports. It is now an integral part of American football. It has also found its way into rugby and cricket, and it is even used in baseball. In the last three sports, the use of replay is strictly limited. In rugby, it is used to determine whether a try has been scored in cases where the referee is unsighted. In cricket, it is used in close run out situations. In baseball, it is used to determine a home run in ambiguous circumstances.

Where video replay is currently used, the resumption of the game has to wait until the play has been reviewed, either by a referee off the field or by the umpires through a replay booth. And delay is the main argument against using video replay in football. Video replay works best in situations where there are appropriate stoppages of play, as in American football. Round ball football has a converse philosophy. The game at its best is continuous. Interruptions from fouls and throw-ins are minimal, unlike the two or three minutes stoppages for video replays.

The only time when video replay might make sense is in the confirmation of a penalty. In the three cheating examples given above, replay would only have picked up on Grosso’s cheat. Maradonna’s happened outside the box, while the referee and linesman saw nothing questionable about Henry’s to warrant a replay.

Video replay, however, could be used after the game, in this way: The referee, in the presence of the linesmen, would review the game. Any illegitimate goal would be negated, provided there is indisputable evidence, such as in the case that Henry was involved in. This kind of ruling could be used in normal league play, where the result of the match is translated into points.

The post-game replay, though, could not be used in matches where a result is required, as in the France-Ireland game. One argument is that France’s tactics changed after the “goal”, playing defensively for the last seventeen minutes. This is not a problem. With post-game replay, France would know that the goal would be negated (after all, the captain Henry knew he used his hands), and so it would not have changed its approach in the remainder of the game, since there was still the need to score a legitimate goal. The problem comes with the next step. If after the overtime, the game still stood at 1:1 on aggregate (as would be the case, if France’s goal were negated), the match would have to be decided on a penalty shootout. Hence, the post-game replay would not work.

I think the solution should be as follows: Ban the offending player from the rest of the competition. In this case, France would still go to South Africa, but not Thierry Henry. Henry could still play for his club, and even for his country, but not in the 2010 World Cup competition. (Of course, if at the time during the game Henry had admitted to the referee that he used his hands, the goal would have been overturned, the game resumed with a free kick and Henry with a yellow card could then be eligible to continue playing in the competition.)

Penalty Shootouts

I think most fans would agree that the use of penalty shootouts is not the most satisfactory way to decide which team wins the match. They are a necessary evil for the situation, where a decision has to be made and overtimes have been exhausted. The kicks put great pressure, not just on the goalkeepers, but also on the players who are expected to make what is a relative easy goal. For the keeper, it is less a matter of skill than making the right guess. As they are now, penalty shootouts are not a real test of competing skills.

Penalties during the game would remain unchanged, but end-of-game shootouts could be improved if the ball were placed outside the box in the penalty arc area. The player could choose where he would place the ball. A kick from there would be less of a “gimme” for the player and less of a guessing game for the goalkeeper. Both players would have to draw on their skills to succeed in either making a goal or preventing a goal from being scored.

2012: A Space Idiocy (but a Movie to See)

Is the world really coming to an end in December 2012, as the new movie 2012 suggests? There are certainly sites on the Internet that say it will, by a large rogue planet, maybe four times the size of earth – our nemesis, this time coming to finish us off for good.  Indeed, this planet Nibiru is returning after a close encounter with Earth 3,600 years ago. All this adds up to good movie material, but is it really going to happen?

Scientists like those at NASA say no. In fact, since they are beset by mail from worried citizens, they are at pains to squash such thoughts. One good source of their response is at

If this planet were going to hit us in 2012, it would be already in the solar system within telescopic sight. Some web sites claimed it would be visible to the naked eye by spring 2009. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned seeing it yet? The answer from the alarmist is the hoary old “government conspiracy” theory. “They” aren’t telling us, so we won’t panic. This is so ridiculous that it’s laughable. The United States government could hardly keep every astronomer in the world quiet, let alone the thousands of amateur astronomers around the world.

The idea that the Mayan calendar predicts this dire event is also nonsensical. To the Maya, the end of a cycle and the start of a new one was the cause of celebration – a far cry from the doomsday idea.  The Mayan “doomsday” was originally predicted for May 2003, but since that date passed without astronomical incidence, the date has now been recalculated to the winter solstice of 2012. Doesn’t this remind you of religious predictions of the “rapture”? When it doesn’t happen on one day, “recalculate” and set another date.

Associated with the rogue planet theory, we also hear obfuscating statements in pseudo-scientific gobble-de-gook, such as “galactic alignments”, “dark rifts” and “mutated neutrinos”, which don’t make any sense and don’t make the fiction any more real except perhaps to the uneducated.

Nibiru is a name that appears in the Babylonian poem Enuma Elish. It is associated with the god Marduk. Scholars are not sure what Nibiru is or what it may refer to. Marduk is the god that corresponds to Zeus or Jupiter. In planetary terms, Marduk is the planet Jupiter. I for one am prepared to accept the planetary nature of Nibiru, but it is not an unknown planet. Nibiru is the planet Venus, whom the Greeks associated with Athena (not Aphrodite, who was the goddess of the moon). Recall that in Greek mythology, Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus. The planets Venus and Jupiter are therefore closely linked. (See my “Scientific Orthodoxy and Venus”, August 26, 2009 below). We have the same association with Nibiru and Marduk. If Nibiru is a planet, it is the planet Venus, now safe in its inner orbit around the sun.

The alarmist statements, the misleading web sites, the pseudo-science, the misrepresented Mayan references – all this hoohah has one direct commercial object: Go see the movie! Guess what? I will, but not because of these idiocies. No, special effects suck me in every time, even as I groan at the nonsense the characters spout, trying to make it all sound scientifically feasible.

The Log Ness Monster

It is interesting that despite the evidence of science, myths continue to be perpetuated in the face of such evidence. One such myth is the Loch Ness monster. The solution to the sightings appeared in an article by Robert Craig, published in the New Scientist in 1982, but it is most often conveniently overlooked.

Fake photos aside, such as the most famous plesiosaur-like neck sticking out of the water, there is no doubt that there have been sightings of something in the water at Loch Ness, one of the four very deep Scottish lochs (or lakes), this one almost 750 feet deep. At two other deep lakes, Loch Morar and Loch Tay, there have also been “monster” sightings. The fourth deep lake is Loch Lomond, but there have been no sightings here.

One other very deep lake should be included in this group, but this one is not in Scotland. It is Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. It belongs in this group because there have also been “monster” sightings there.

What do these lakes have in common, apart from the “monster” sightings? Why have there been no sightings at Loch Lomond, a lake that appears similar to the others in all respects?

The answer has to do with a kind of tree, the Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris). These lochs were once surrounded by large forests of Scots Pines, including the lake in Norway. The exception in our list is Loch Lomond, which had no pine forests.

The “monster” starts with a Scots Pine, a very resinous, tarry tree, falling in the water. It becomes waterlogged and sinks to the bottom where the pressure is equal to about twenty-five atmospheres. Here under this enormous pressure, the log begins to decay, forming small bubbles of gas. The gas is trapped by the sticky resin, which gradually expands out of the log. Eventually enough gas bubbles form to lift the log off the bottom, and it begins to rise.

As the log nears the surface, the outside pressure decreases; the bubbles begin to expand rapidly and start bursting. At the surface they explode, partially breaking the log into pieces, churning the water violently until all the gas is released.  Some of the pieces fly up, and occasionally a trunk is momentarily ejected as the log disintegrates. Quickly the gases are released and the log sinks back down, heavier than water, never to rise again.

Remnants of such logs have been found ashore.  The process of decay and building up gases can take as long as a century, and because it is almost that long since the surrounds were populated by those trees, the age of the “monster” sightings is practically over.

The decay of these logs only occurs in very deep lochs, since very high pressure is needed to build up buoyancy in the logs. Naturally, it will only happen where the right kind of logs lie deep in the water. The conditions were right at Loch Morar and Loch Tay, and the famous Loch Ness in Scotland. They were also right at Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. These are the lakes with “monsters”.

So why do we ignore the evidence of science? Has too much mystery gone out of this world? I suspect this is the reason why we want to hang on to our notions of UFOs and aliens, of Big Foot and the Yeti, and of the one that we regard most affectionately, the Loch Ness monster.

Christian Implants and Other Wonders

Carrie Prejean, as a conservative Christian Miss California, got her first nationwide publicity when, in answer to a Miss USA pageant question, she said that she was opposed to gay marriage. She was criticized for her answer, but what did the interviewer expect? Should she have lied? It was a stupid question by an idiot who had his own agenda. She was entitled to express her belief and she should be admired for daring to say it. Her later preparedness to switch off Larry King, during an unacceptable line of questioning, shows that she still has spunk.

The publicity from the gay marriage answer, however, led to other revelations, and she lost her the Miss California title. The subsequent happenings made her look like an airhead, especially when she proclaimed that Sarah Palin, the primo political airhead, was her idol. Some commentators suggested a joke Palin/Prejean presidential ticket for 2012!

First, it turns out that she had breast implants. Prejean defended these by saying that there was nothing un-Christian in getting them. “I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it says you shouldn’t get breast implants.” Then she had posed for half nude photographs, which she blamed on the wind blowing her top open. She did not say it, but there’s nothing in the Bible that says you shouldn’t pose for nude photographs. Then a solo sex video surfaced. Then many more. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you shouldn’t make masturbation videos. Now she has had a firm offer for a porn movie. Carrie, there’s nothing in the Bible that says …

I shouldn’t make fun of her conservative Christian rationalizations, since the fabric of her world may be crashing around her, or perhaps those fifteen minutes of fame are being effectively extended. Maybe her Christianity will allow her to venture into the seedier world into which she seems to be heading. If so, I feel kind of sorry for her.

Conservative Christians are very good at rationalizing. In Prejean’s case, what may be embarrassing to her, is no more than harmless amusement to the rest of us. Where it is not harmless, is when it appears in the people to whom we may someday entrust society and government. The ultra-right wing of the Republican Party is trying to purge the moderates of the party, and, together with the “screamers” on radio and Fox News, it defines itself solidly as Christian.

But what kind of Christianity is this?

It is certainly not the caring, charitable kind of Christianity we associate with Jesus, when its main characteristic is denial, when it takes rather than gives, when it says no to need and care. It is a selfish Christianity without moral depth and without charity. Christianity with implants!

It is okay to lie and deceive, both openly and through manipulation. We can divorce our wives, even as they are confined to bed with cancer. Adultery is fine, because our colleagues will forgive us (which is just about as good as God’s forgiveness.) We can send prurient emails to boy pages we lust for. Being “unclean” (Matthew 16:10) is now perfectly fine and Christian.

Additionally, we can now place money above morality. We can bow to special interest groups that line our back pockets with green and then we go and do their bidding, even if it flies against national and humane interests. We operate as back pocket gophers and persuade ourselves that this is in everyone’s best interests. Yes, our Christian implants say; yes, yes, we can worship both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

The two references I gave are to actual words of Jesus. The rest of the Bible, both old and new, has many prohibitions that are either ignored or simply flouted by these professed Christians. In fairness, I should point out, though, that when it comes to health care, the biggest back pocket gopher seems to be Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, who is neither Republican nor Christian, but the political conservative Christians are not far behind.

Prejean defended her implants by saying that there was nothing in the Bible against them. But the actions of the super-conservative Christian Republicans fly directly in the face of what is proscribed in the Bible. Clearly, they must have implants that allow them to put on this front.

The wind is blowing.

Your implants are showing

And you don’t care.

God is all knowing

And you will be going

To you know where.

Tea Parties

Republicans around the country have organized “Tea Party Rallies” to protest health care reform, among other things. They draw their inspiration from the Boston Tea Party, which helped spark the American Revolution. Protestors turn up in support wearing teabags; that is to say, they go “tea bagging.” Little do they realize that tea bagging is also a fraternity ritual, drawn from the similarity of a tea bag to a scrotum.  So the sweet conservative ladies turn up at the rallies with their tea testicles hanging from their hats.

At these rallies the tea baggers listen to rants against the government. At a recent rally, they witnessed the Minority Leader of the House, John Boehner (Republican, Ohio), commit a big boner to go with the teabags. Waving his pocket copy of the Constitution in his right hand, he declared he would quote from it, and went on to orate, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!” Oopsie! Your ignorance is showing, sir! These words are not from the Constitution, but from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

Boehner’s ignorance is a gaffe that a congressman should not make, let alone a potential leader of the house, but it was not much more than a gaffe. There are, however, errors around the Boston Tea Party, which are not gaffes, but which are consciously perpetuated. In a fifth grade classroom last week, I had to listen to ignorance among the patriotic hogwash that was being inculcated into their young minds. Not all of it was hogwash, of course, but not one item was free of it.

There is no doubt that the Boston Tea Party was a very important spark leading to the American Revolution, and that generally it was about taxation without representation. One reading told the fifth graders that King George removed all the taxes, except the one on tea as a lesson to the colonists who then had to pay high taxes on tea. This is bullshit. The Tea Act of 1773, passed by the British Parliament, removed the tax on tea, requiring only American duty to be paid on tea coming into the colonies. The effect was that the price of tea, legally entering the colonies, now cost half the original price. In fact, tea in the colonies was cheaper than tea in Britain, since the British still had to pay the tax.

The main importer of tea was the East India Company, and the Tea Act was seen as favoring the company, enabling them to undercut American importers and (above all) tea smugglers. And there is truth in that, and there was understandable resentment by leaders in the colonies. But it was NOT about high taxes. Significantly, among the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, the group who engineered the Tea Party, was the wealthy John Hancock, who made his pile from … smuggling tea.