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A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog

Friday, July 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a Croatian filibuster on the football field ]
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In extra time, Croatia’s Mario Mandžuki? had a nine-minute, operatic breakdown, a syncopated series of stops, starts, and seizures, which defined the match and took it away from England.

I jeep looking for sports metaphors in political reportage, and now, in a New Yorker article titled World Cup 2018: The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic I find out all about players feigning cramps as a delaying tactic when games go into overtime —

— and it’s a clear analog of the Senate’s filibuster tactic. Either one could be a metaphor for the other, soccer for politics or vide versa.

**

Sources:

  • New Yorker, The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic
  • US Senate, Filibuster and Cloture
  • **

    Oh, and, The England vs. Croatia World Cup Match Made for Some Awkward Television:

    One segment of the pre-game show was given over to a National Geographic Channel report on Russian Buddhism. If this was intended as outreach to soccer fans so ardent that they always burn in suffering, then perhaps it did some spiritual good. But, as an effort at a culture-enriching sideshow, it was unsuccessful, so out of sync with the analysis and hype surrounding it as to be charming. The correspondent said to the monk, “O.K., so, if everything is an illusion, what’s truth, then?”

    I couldn’t exactly miss that, given my interests, could I?

    Max Boot on a subtly strategic game..

    Thursday, July 12th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — by thinking of soccer as strategy I see how to make it relevant here ]
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    That time when Germany and Argentina faced off in the final of the World Cup 2014 —

    — Germany’s Mario Götze scored the match-winning goal in the 113th minute. That’s drama for you. That was last time..

    **

    France will face off against Croatia Sunday for the World Cup, soccer’s peak and pinnacle — but that’s not to say all the excitement this year is yet to come. Strategist — well, military historian — Max Boot has been unexpectedly riveted by the lead-in to the Cup Final, and explains why:

    I have thrilled to every dramatic turn:

    The 70th-ranked Russian side getting to the quarterfinals by beating Spain on penalty kicks, only, in a bit of poetic justice, to lose on penalty kicks to tiny Croatia. South Korea, another underdog, defeating top-seeded Germany, thereby allowing Mexico to advance. (Delirious Mexicans showed their gratitude by buying drinks for every Korean they could find.) Lowly Japan leading mighty Belgium by 2-0, only to have the brilliant Belgians storm back and win on a last-second goal. (The well-mannered Japanese players were heartbroken but still meticulously cleaned out their locker room and left a classy “thank-you” note.) Powerhouse Brazil, the favorite after Germany’s defeat and the winningest team in World Cup history, losing its quarterfinal match in part because of an improbable own goal. England, a perennial disappointment that won its only World Cup in 1966, exceeding expectations by advancing to the semifinals — only to lose to Croatia (population 4.1 million ), which became the second-smallest nation to reach the final.

    This, of course, only hints at the drama that has enthralled much of the world’s population

    **

    Boot backends his power paragraph, as you see, with the word “drama” — and goes on to speak of poetic justice, an undergog, delirium, gratitude, lowly Japan, mighty and then brilliant Belgians, a last-second goal, powerhouse Brazil the winningest team, an improbable own goal, a perennial disappointment — that would be England — and Croatia, the second-smallest nation..

    Drama, which is emotion.

    Underdog is the key word here, indicating that which we instinctively support as decent humans. And decent humanity is the inner nature of the game here, as subtle strategy is its outer formalism.

    With all your elbow pads and helmets, America, you failed to make the true “World” Series, the World Cup — oh yes, Boot is suitably humble about that:

    I assumed that, as the greatest country in the world, we must have the greatest sports. It never occurred to me there was anything commands my attention, sympathy and praise. about using the term “World Series” for a contest in which only U.S. competitors (plus one token Canadian team) take part, while disdaining the true World Cup.

    Me? I’ve probably never written about sports since I was forced into produce an essay on “goalposts” in my painful youth. But Boot’s conversion touches me. Amen, or its secular soccer equivalent!

    **

    I mean, there’s something in the tone here, an emphasis on emotion, with ecstasy even at least hinted at..

    And then you see the New York Times today commenting on body language in Brussels, again an emphasis on irrepressible emotion. Right at the heart of the NATO fault line..

    President Trump kicked off his trip to Europe with a biting critique of the United States’ longtime allies, declaring at a breakfast meeting that Germany “is captive to Russia.” Next to him, three of his senior officials seemed uncomfortable at times, pursing their lips and glancing away from the table.

    I mean, at breakfast.. pursing their tell-tale lips.

    We really need to focus our attention on the factor sometimes called “morale”. Call it esprit, spirit: it’s the better half of the battle, or of any contest.

    And then, here we go with the “underdog” again, in today’s WaPo:

    The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, inhabited by 173 people, may seem unassuming, with homes made of wood and tarpaulin and surrounded by animal pens. But its strategic location puts it at the heart of the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

    What taste does that paragraph leave in the mind, the heart, decision-making?

    **

    And Boot didn’t even mention the small artificial earthquake detected in Mexico City “possibly due to mass jumping” when Mexico scored against Germany..

    The soccer cup, the wrestling belt

    Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — London Bridge terror attack and Tham Luang Cave complex rescue, Chiang Rai, Thailand ]
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    Here’s a DoubleTweet. I’m presenting you with two previously unconnected tweets, because I feel their juxtaposition highlights somethung of interest — in this case, trinutes paid by sporting entities to people who’ve gone through exceptionally difficult circimstance in a manner that testifies to their fortitude and courage:

    The heroic cop is presented with a WWE championship belt — his t-shirt on the day of the London Bridge attack had featured WWE wrestler Sami Zayn, so there’s a ouroboros there for bonus points, eh?

    Guenigault was released from hospital last Friday and received a surprise visit from the 14-time WWE World Champion who praised his immense bravery.

    “To run in the direction of a scary situation that can’t even be described in words, to help others, for that to be your instinct to help others – that is a hero,” said Triple H as he presented Guenigault with the belt.

    “People say a lot of times that they watch WWE because these guys are like real-life superheroes. Well, Charlie is a real hero.”

    **

    Okay, and:

    The team in the cave had expressed interest in the World Cup, and the head of FIFA — which needs some good PR at this point anyway — invited them, health permitting, to come to Moscow for the finals, but it wasn’t to be, health didn’t permit.

    The suggestion that they should receive the Cup was a nice one..

    **

    Parallelism, with a side of ourob. Enough said?

    Two new sports metaphor articles, or make that three

    Sunday, July 8th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — with my salutations to John Wilson, Garry Kasparov, Mike Sellers ]
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    I asked the innocent-seeming question, Can one play chess on a checkers board? on FaceBook today, and the conversation veered to the topic of hierarchies of games — is chess inherently superior to checkers, for example, so that playing chess on a checkers board seems ok, but the idea of playing checkers on a chess board is mildly offensive?

    And that led to the question of a hierarchy of games, which in turn sent me scurrying for ideas of the form x is playing tic tac toe while y is playing chess and similar. In the course of my research:

    I’ve seen tweets that say “Mueller is playing chess; Trump is playing tic tac toe.” and “Putin is playing Chess. Trump is playing Hungry Hungry Hippo.” I’ve seen “Cruz is playing chess and Trump is playing tic tac toe”. I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic tac toe Kim playing chess.” I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.” — I’ll have to come back to that. I’ve seen “What if Kim Jong-Un is the one playing chess while Trump is playing Chinese checkers?” I’ve even seen Ann Coulter saying “Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.”

    Ouch!!

    And the cake-topper — Garry Kasparov, world chess chamption and Russian opposition leader:

    **

    I’ve also come across a popularity-based hierarchy of games, in a National Review article titled The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics:

    I’ve seen a few cultural shifts in my day, and the first one came via early-1970s headlines proclaiming “Baseball No Longer the National Pastime,” after polls showed that football had become America’s most popular sport.

    Then:

    After brushing off the 1980s soccer scare, football remained unchallenged for decades.

    Then:

    But now football is losing fans for a number of reasons, and David French has written a splendid summary of why basketball, specifically the NBA, continues to rise in popularity.

    Here’s where sports as a metaphor for politics clicks in:

    A while back, Nelson George glorified basketball’s taunt-and-flaunt style as the “black athletic aesthetic,” and while Donald Trump is one of the whitest men on earth, he has clearly absorbed the essentials of this climate of thought. The chief factors of the black athletic aesthetic have been summarized as intimidation, humiliation, and improvisation, which together give a pretty good description of Trump’s style of governance.

    The kicker

    :I’ve said before that Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.

    **

    There’s plenty more of you to enjoy, but I want to bring in another article with a strong sports correlation. It’s Ann Coulter‘s piece from 28 March this year, titled 3-D Chess — It Only *Looks* Like Trump Is Throwing Away His Presidency!. It starts off with her picture, here reduced yet still large —

    — and under it a subhead:

    I can’t wait to see Trump’s next move in his game of “3-D chess”!

    Then, expanding:

    He has now signed a spending bill that, if it actually did what it claims to do, prohibits him from building the wall, hiring any new ICE agents capable of making arrests, and building any new detention facilities for illegal aliens.

    The strange thing is, as commander in chief, he doesn’t need congressional authority to do any of these things. But he obviously doesn’t know that.

    Why? BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING 3-D CHESS!

    There’s some irony involved — or isn’t there? I am unfaamiliar with Ms Coulter’s style. Then:

    It’s all part of the act, you fools! Trump is making the Democrats think that, even though they don’t have the House, the Senate or the White House, he needs Chuck Schumer’s permission before moving a muscle.

    Carefully observe the master. He gives up everything and — in exchange — gets NOTHING. See?

    Yup, Irony:

    This shows what a master strategist Trump is. He throws out the rulebook! You know what else, suckers? Now he can put out a paperback edition with a new chapter, How to Give Up Everything in Return for Nothing.

    The wins are already rolling in. Guess who’s suddenly dying to negotiate with Trump? That’s right: Kim Jong Un. One look at how Trump negotiates and Kim couldn’t wait to sit down with him.

    I can’t give you all the details, but:

    Thanks to Trump’s 3-D chess, he may well be in line for an endorsement not only from Boeing, but also from the powerhouse Bush family. [ ..] 3-D chess, baby! Trump has lured Republicans right into his trap.

    And finally:

    I can’t wait to see what comes next!

    Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.

    **

    At which point I need something of a palate cleanser, so I’ll introduce you to a third article I stumbled on while getting this far.. in the National Review again — Donald Hall and the Nature of Time in Baseball Country. This in turn references a George Plimpton piece from the NYT titled The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature. Aha, a hierarchy afoot! Here’s Plimpton’s opening salvo:

    SOME years ago I evolved what I called the Small Ball Theory to assess the quality of literature about sports. This stated that there seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes — that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls. I capped off the Small Ball Theory by citing Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” perhaps the most universally known of sports stories, in which bird shot (very small balls indeed!) is an important element in the plot.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t respresent my friends John Wilson and the late Bill Tunilla by suggesting that Roger Angell on baseball is as fine as anything written about golf.

    ANyway, it’s the Plimpton piece I wanted to get you to, and that splendid opening paragraph. Birdshot, indeed!

    Until next time..

    GeoPol, the Kremlin & Putin’s Games in the New Yorker

    Saturday, July 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — see also GeoPol, the White House & Game Theory in the New Yorker ]
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    Playing Hockey Against Vladimir Putin, By Ben McGrath,July 3, 2018:

    In May, playing hockey in an annual charity exhibition alongside a half-dozen former N.H.L. stars, in Sochi, Vladimir Putin scored five goals and assisted on four more. In previous years, despite learning to skate only in his late fifties, he’d scored as many as eight. “Western journalists ask me how it’s possible,” Slava Fetisov, one of Putin’s teammates and a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, told me recently. “Let’s say Pavel Bure or Sergei Fedorov”—Hall of Famers both—“score two goals, and the President scores five or six or seven. I say, ‘You have to be in the right time, in the right place.’ That’s what our President does. He’s got a good shot. He understands the game. This is unteachable. If it’s in your genes—your blood—you can play.” Fetisov, who serves as a senator in the Russian Duma, referred to Putin as “one of the most popular leaders in the world,” and added, “this is one of the most unique examples in the history of big politicians, to show they can play the hardest possible sport.” He meant this, he explained, in the sense of providing a healthy model for children, who might otherwise succumb to “street challenges,” like alcohol and drugs. He cited other examples of Putin’s “God-gifted” athleticism: “He can ride the horse, he can swim, he can skate, he can ski, he can do judo and sambo and karate.”

    One can be plenty familiar with Putin-related propaganda—the pectoral flaunting on horseback, the black-belt demonstrations—and still be surprised to hear it reinforced so explicitly in conversation. Fetisov is revered by sports fans on two continents, not only for his grace on the ice but for his courage in standing up to the Soviet regime that sought to prevent him from playing in the United States—which, he told me, is the only country other than Russia where he can imagine wanting to live. “The people are so warm, so friendly, so patriotic,” he said of Americans. The fact that relations between the two countries have devolved almost to Cold War levels is a source of distress for Fetisov, he said, and so, two months ago, in the interest of diplomacy, he smuggled an American filmmaker onto the ice in Sochi as a player on Putin’s opposing team.

    The undercover on-ice agent was Jon Alpert, a winner of sixteen Emmy Awards, and the career leader in penalty minutes—“No one is really close,” he says—for a New York- and New Jersey-based beer-league team called Gitler’s Gorillas. Alpert is sixty-nine and skates with the slightly bent ankles of a novice, although, as a hockey-besotted teen-ager, he tried, unsuccessfully, to walk onto the varsity team at Colgate. He has a more distinguished record when it comes to securing journalistic access, calling himself “a normal guy who has gotten into really unusual places.” He founded the Downtown Community Television Center, in 1972, with his wife, Keiko Tsuno; its Web site describes him as “the first American TV reporter to enter Cambodia after the Vietnam War,” “The only Western reporter to interview Saddam Hussein” between 1993 and 2002, and, in reference to Iran, “The last reporter to gain entry into the Embassy where the American hostages were being held.” In conversation, he is no less prone to pointing at the scoreboard. “I did the last interview with a guy before the Taliban cut his balls off,” he told me.

    His presence in Sochi was a kind of audition for a would-be film project he is calling “Putin on Ice.” Alpert wants to face off against Putin, one on one. “I plan to use analogies,” he said. “Cheating on face-offs, keeping your head up, using violence to settle disputes. We can find a parallel in hockey for everything that’s going on between Russia and the United States.”

    **

    Okay:

    We can find a parallel in hockey for everything that’s going on between Russia and the United States.

    How’s that for sports metaphors?


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