Football and Video Replay II

After the blunder by the referees in the England vs Germany match, there have been more calls for video replay. The amazing error occurred when the referee disallowed what was clearly a goal by Frank Lampard against Germany. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced well across the goal line before German keeper Neuer snagged it on the rebound and continued the play. Neither the linesman nor the Uruguayan referee saw the goal.

News stories have made the comparison to another contentious moment in the 1966 World Cup when England played Germany in the final. A similar kick from England’s Geoffrey Hurst struck the bar and landed on the line. Hurst was awarded the goal, even though no goal had been scored, and England won.

After this last blunder, once again there have been calls for the use of video technology, including from England coach Fabio Capello.

FIFA has been reluctant to introduce technology, and with good reason. FIFA president Sepp Blatter says,

No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else?

Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport.

Soccer is also a game that at its best is continuous. Interruptions from fouls and throw-ins are minimal, unlike the two or three minute stoppages that video replays would require.

The solution need not be the technology. FIFA is already considering adding two more referees to be placed behind the goals. This seems to be the best solution. The area patrolled by these referees would primarily be the penalty box, where many fouls occur that are missed by the main referee and the lineman who is at best 32 meters away. The goal referee would be positioned at the side of the goal away from the linesman, and he would have been in a perfect position to verify Lampard’s goal or deny Hurst’s “goal”. (He would also have seen the two handballs from Thierry Henry that put France into the World Cup competition in place of Ireland.)

Football Karma

If there is anything like karma in sport, we witnessed it in Group A of the World Cup. France only made it to the competition through cheating in the final qualifying match against Ireland, when Thierry Henry used his left hand twice to guide the ball so he could kick the all important goal. Both the referee and the linesman missed the red card foul.

At the World Cup, the performance of the French team, who were highly fancied, has been embarrassing at best, and the behavior off the field can only be described as shameful. The latest implosion began when one of the star players, Nicolas Anelka, was sent home for an abusive outburst at the manager Raymond Domenech, a man who was not above using astrology to make some of his roster decisions. To support Anelka, the team refused to practice and watched television instead. Domenech had to read a statement from the team to the press. His replacement was announced before the last humiliating game. The players had lost confidence in him, if they ever had much to begin with. After the last match, a 2:1 defeat by lowly South Africa, Domenech refused the customary handshake with South Africa’s Brazilian coach. The French players, who flew to South Africa first class, were sent home on a cheap charter flight.

In the end, many of the French fans were rooting for South Africa and, when France was eliminated, the Irish were celebrating.

Football (Soccer) Divas

When we watch the World Cup matches, we see the country’s best players on display. As a general rule, they are also the best paid players, most of them being multi-millionaires. We may not see it on the field, but off the field there are diva-like demands. Brazil required that the hotel pool be kept at the exact temperature of 90 degrees. The team also wanted a constant supply of hot coffee and no chocolate. North Korea (no millionaires here) demanded a private floor at their hotel. Other countries had their own demands or brought equipment, food, and other amenities from the home country to satisfy the players.

The greatest demands came from Argentina. All rooms had to be painted white. The food requirements included ten hot dishes a day plus fourteen salads, three pasta dishes a meal and three desserts, and ice cream to be available 24 hours a day. And the dapper coach of Argentina, Diego Primadonna, who wears a suit on the sidelines that must have cost more than the average yearly income of an African, demanded that his suite be remodeled with more expensive toilets and bidets installed. The South African Sunday Times reported that Maradona’s 450-dollar bidet features a heated seat, a warm air blow dryer and front and rear bidet wands. Maradona also had two thrones installed! Does this have something to do with the bidet?

Fortunately, the spoiled behavior does not generally translate onto the field of play. One exception is the Diving Diva, Cristiano Ronaldo, the captain of Portugal, who throws himself down at every opportunity in the hope of extracting a free kick from the referee. Any touch on His Elevatedness from an opposing player and down he goes, appealing for a foul. At least twice in Portugal’s opening game did this action result in a free kick against him, showing that the referee wasn’t going to take his histrionics. Let us hope the remaining referees are alert to the antics of the Diving Diva.

Vuvu … What???

What distinguishes South African soccer fans from the rest of the world?

Answer: They are deaf!

The vuvuzelas are those noise-making plastic horns that are being blown at every World Cup soccer match. They are also being blown from dawn to dusk in the streets wherever soccer fans congregate. The noise level of each horn is 130 decibels, which is above the human pain threshold and which causes permanent hearing damage. The players complain about the noise on the field and, above all, the disruption it provides to on-field communication, making it difficult for them to play their regular game.

The noise also affects television viewership. With some games, it is difficult to hear the game being called over the “incessant whining of locusts” or the “buzzing of angry bees.”

Not unexpectedly, there have been many calls for banning them, at least from during the games. Initially, Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, said no because he worried about Europeanizing the competition. In other words, the vuvuzelas were part of the South African cultural identity. Yes, the vuvuzelas did originate in South Africa twenty years ago, based on the traditional antelope horns, and yes, South Africans commonly play them at soccer games, but how can a cheap tube of plastic only twenty years old be considered part of South African heritage?

Now at least the head of the World Cup organizing committee, Danny Jordan, is considering a ban, probably not the least reason being some talk of lawsuits. If there is to be a ban, it should not come until the completion of the first round in fairness to the competition. Let all teams and all games in the round be played under the same conditions. Once the competition moves to the round of 16, the all-important knockout games begin. At that time, it would be appropriate to ban the interfering buzz so that the teams can play to their full potential.

The New Feminist Lie

As the Republican primary for the Governor of California reaches Election Day, the two main candidates continue to seek the conservative vote by trying to depict themselves as ultra-conservative on issues while trying to paint the other as essentially liberal. The truth is neither candidate is a true conservative. This race serves to illustrate the dilemma many Republicans face to get the support of their own people.

At the other end, there is the problem of broadening support beyond the Right. The easiest way to do this is to take a book from advertisers and misrepresent. Advertisers have long used the idea of female empowerment to sell products to women, with the empowerment being little more than sexism. Similarly, Sarah Palin now calls herself a feminist. But she is not a feminist in the established sense of the word. Her “emerging conservative feminist identity” is simply a new set of words to describe women who don’t agree with women’s rights, who are against the use of contraceptives and who are anti-abortion. The catch phase is nothing more than a lie, designed to get support for a party that consistently votes against women’s rights.

Feminists (not Palin’s faux feminists) are more intelligent than that to fall for the lie, but as advertisers know, you can fool people some of the time, and if you keep hammering away, you will fool even more. Eventually perhaps, we will reach a 1984 world, where catch phrases have lost their meaning, and we all mechanically respond to the lies that are being fed us.

Obama’s Waterloo?

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may signal the end of trust in the President Obama, just as Hurricane Katrina damaged President Bush’s standing. Considering all the aspects of the oil disaster, it is difficult to see how the administration could have acted otherwise. But we the people expect more. Although the public’s general view of the government comes with a large dose of cynicism, when we find ourselves in a situation like the BP oil disaster or Katrina, we expect some superhuman solution to the crisis.

The truth of the matter is that there are some crises that are so great that they are beyond the ability of the government to deal with immediately and in a totally effective way.

The 9/11 attack was a major crisis that fell within the range of our ability to act, and the government did react swiftly and effectively identified the source of and responsibility for the attack. Until we were diverted into the irrelevant Iraq war, there were only small missteps that could be criticized.

In the case of Katrina, it is true that Bush made some goofs, but overall it was clear that the extent of the crisis was well beyond the country’s ability to deal with it immediately and effectively. When the waters retreated, most of the blame fell unfairly on the shoulders of Bush, and he and his administration will forever be marked by the failures of Katrina.

Will we see that same with Obama and the BP oil disaster? Obama’s main misstep has been not to be seen to be angry with BP. As the disaster develops more and more into a major catastrophe, I think it is quite likely that we will tar Obama with it as part of his legacy.

Interesting Apples

Don’t let the supermarket apple selections fool you into thinking these are your only choices. There are thousands of different kinds of apples. Only a few of them are grown in large enough quantities to be produce. Some of the apples in your store are nowhere near as good as apples you never see.

Our supermarket Nob Hill over the year offers up to fifteen or sixteen different apple varieties. Most other supermarkets offer considerable fewer. Sometimes you can get different kinds at farmers’ markets or roadside stands, but even here, knowing the limited experience of their clientele, the selections often duplicate what is common available.

One solution is to grow the more unique apples yourself. Rather than duplicate the fruits that are readily available (and unfortunately also offered in nurseries), try to get varieties that are not common. Usually these are available through mail order. Here are some less common apple trees.

One of my favorite apples is Pixie Crunch. It’s a small apple, rarely larger than a crabapple. The operating word is “crunch”; this is one noisy apple to eat. I can never have only one of these little beauties because they are so good. Whenever I walk past the tree in season, I pick one or two to crunch on and I’ll take more on the way back. The tree is prolific, but we always want more. A common reaction from someone who tries one is, Where can I get a tree?

Two trees, developed by the PRI universities, not only have great apples, but are also disease resistant. William’s Pride, which fruits in early August, produces wonderful tasting apples and they don’t ripen all at once, so you can pick them through August. At the end of the month, the Priscilla ripens, another great apple and that keeps for three months.

The Scarlet O’Hara, also from PRI, provided a surprise for us last December. The fruit ripened in mid-September, and we had them all eaten by the end of the month, or so I thought. The apples are a little unique in flavor but very good. Then, just before Christmas, I found a solitary Scarlet O’Hara in the refrigerator, where it had been forgotten. After one bite, I immediately regretted eating them all in September. In those three months in the fridge, the apple turned from a good apple into a really great one. Now we know to save them for later.

An interesting, rare apple is the Princesse Noble. This apple originated in the 16th century in northern Germany, where it is still grown (also in Holland and France). There it is better known as Alantapfel (or d’Aunée in French). Princesse Noble is a common alternative name. The Dutch brought the apple to Indonesia when Indonesia was still their colony. There it can grow at elevations over 3,500 feet.

The apple ripens in October. The fruit is not very large. The shape is a little elongated and it is yellow with red stripes. The flesh is fine-grained, breaking but not very firm, and tends towards yellow in color. While the Princesse Noble may not be the finest dessert apple on the block, it is good, with a delicate aroma and a pleasant cinnamon-spicy taste.

Pink Pearl apple trees are often available at nurseries. They produce an apple with pink flesh. More interesting is the Niedzwetzkyana, a dark red apple with bright red flesh from Kazakhstan, the place where apples originated. These apples are great for making red apple pies and sauce. They are also good to eat if they are left on the tree to ripen longer and get sweeter.

One apple often available at farmers’ markets is the versatile Gravenstein. This variety makes a great backyard apple. The fruit ripens in August. This apple grows on a large tree and fruits so heavily that one has to cull as many as three fourths of the crop. The Gravenstein is an excellent apple for eating and cooking. It makes the best apple pies and it is our apple of choice for drying. We dry the slices by simply blowing air over them, no heat. After a week in the freezer, they will keep on the pantry shelf until the next season. For apple pies, we use apples before they are fully ripe, and we blanch the slices first for even cooking.

Gravenstein apple blossoms are sterile, so if you grow this one yourself, you will need an apple tree of a different variety to be sure of pollination. For best pollination, it is a good idea anyway to have more than one tree, unless your neighbors have a tree. The blooming times of the trees I mentioned overlap for the most part. The exception is matching Priscilla with Pixie Crunch or Scarlet O’Hara. Priscilla comes into flower in early March, while the other two only come out in early April.

Descriptions of apples may be found at various sites. Here are some.

All About Apples:

Apple Journal:

Dave Wilson Nursery:

Trees of Antiquity: