Friday, December 02, 2005

Putting the biscuit in the basket

There's no good reason for the title of this post, as I'm just bored and thought I'd jot a few things down. Call it an exercise in free writing, or maybe its just babbling. We'll see.

Anyway, the title comes from the immortal Dan Patrick - Keith Olbermann Sportscenter days on ESPN, when they anchored the show before Keith bolted for more money and selling out on Fox and Dan suddenly became ESPN's elder statesmen and "respectable" journalist. I t was a hockey goal call in the day of irreverence and fun home run calls, biting comments and the time when modern sports casting was born.
Since then, the catchphrase has become a ubiquitous part of any sporting event. I find this disturbing because few sports casters (Stu Scott being one of them,) actually have a talent for coming up with memorable catchphrases. Most sportscasters should just realize that they really aren't that funny instead of desperately trying to plow through god-awful phrases.

This is also the trend in football, where play-by-play announcers try to be funny and it just doesn't work. One particularly good Czech commentator is the exception to the rule. Instead of going to an old and used catchphrase, he comes up with new ones all the time, displaying and incredibly sharp wit, deep knowledge of pop culture and literature, and good common sense. If you ever get the chance and you speak Czech, listen to a game done by Jaromír Bosák. Honestly, I know of no better play-by-play man commenting football today.

I have work to do at work, but I'm avoiding it at all costs. I think the main reason I'm shirking is that I've been with this company for five months and have done very little over that time in the way of work. In other words, I've sat on my ass and surfed the net for five days a week for the last five months. This tends to make a person lazy. And I was lazy to begin with. On top of that, I was used to working at my old job, but here I'm just not used to it at all. Here I have neither describable working habits nor the desire to work.

I'm seriously dying for a new job. It's not that I need tons of cash and high-powered posts. In fact, I've grown out of any illusions that I could ever be a big boss man. I just want a nice calm job where I make enough money to live comfortably, where I don't have to deal with people, where I get a chance to write or translate, where I don't have to write marketing crap (as I do when I work here), and where I go home with a clear head. That's all I need.

Is that too much?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

U2 - Best Band Evahhhh?

I started bringing some mp3s into work to play into headphones. It helps kill the tedium and even helps me concentrate when I actually have something to do. Right no I have a modest 20 or so albums on my work computer (as opposed to the gigs and gigs of music I have at home and the 170 or so CDs that I actually bought). Last night I was looking through my files wonder what music to take to work, copied some U2 albums onto a flash disk and plugged them in today.

I've always really liked U2. I've always said that The Joshua Tree is one of the five best albums ever made, but lately I've been neglecting the boys from Belfast. So today I bring in Achtung Baby.

Holy shit!!!!

I remember being in 7th grade listening to Achtung Baby in the back of the ski bus on the way to go skiing at Swain Ski Centre in the asshole of upstate New York on some Saturday morning in the middle of winter. The bus is dark, most people are sleeping. The trip takes about an hour and a half. I'm sitting along, third seat form the back, blasting Who's Going to Ride Your Wild Horses on my walkman, staring out into the dark barren fields alongside Route 17. I keep re-winding the tape to play each song twice, some of them three times. Sometimes I kept wanting to hear One over and over again, sometimes it was So Cruel, sometimes it was Acrobat.

Now, some 15 years later (no dear god say it ain’t so!!!), I see just what a piece of genius the album was. Did any album capture the Zeitgeist of the post-communist euphoria as well as Achtung Baby? Seriously, how did the U2 manage to tap into every fiber of the time in the early 1990s when people really believed that it was the end of history? This is truly amazing stuff.

If you haven't listened to the album in a while, dust it off, pop into the CD player (or cue it up in WinAmp), put your headphones on (this is key) and think back to when you first heard songs like Mysterious Ways and Even Better Than the Real Thing. Think about was going on in your life and in the world. Then listen to the album again, this time as though you were listening to it for the first time. that's the really amazing thing. It still sounds fresh and new. Innovative. Creative. Edgy.

Put that album together with All That You Can't Leave Behind, The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle and Hum, even Zooropa and Pop have grown on me in recent years. What does this mean? Well, if you ask me, (and you won't, but I'll continue anyway) U2 is the Best Band Evaaaahhhhh!!!! Seriously, say what you want about the Stones, the Beatles, Floyd or Zeppelin, U2 has been fresh, new creative and ballsy for more than 25 years now. No band has their track record of trying new stuff and making it work, the record of concerts as cultural events reflecting the times instead of just "shows." Best Band Evaaahhhh!!! You can argue with me, you can discuss the fact, but that's about all you can do....

And on a sidebar: do you realize that Bono has adult kids? How do you have a teenage life when your dad makes a point of having a rock star image? Who do you rebel against? How do you deal with all your girlfriends secretly wanting to get into your dad's pants? It's like the skit on the old MTV show The State with Doug. Remember Doug - the kid who wanted to rebel so bad but all the adults around him were really cool?
"That's a lot of oregano Doug."
"Better be, I paid 150 bucks for it."
"Doug, I don't want to be your prin-ci-pul, I want to be your prin-ci-PAL."

Or better

"Bob Dylan's not dead Doug, I produced his last three albums."
"Oh, you mean Uncle Robert?"

Is this what you have to deal with if you're Bono's kids?

Am I bugging you… Didn’t mean to bug ya… Okay Edge, play the blues!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Are you ready for some futbal redux

Tonight's the night! Yup, the second leg of the Czech Republic vs. Norway qualifier at home. to recap, the Czechs won in Oslo 1-0, meaning any win or tie sees the Czech advance to the World Cup final tournament in Germany next summer. The Norwegians would have to win by at least a score of 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, etc. in order to advance on a greater number of away goals.

Regular Czech team captain Tomáš Galásek is ineligible for the game thanks to cards. He should be replaced by Jan Polák, a fantastic young defensive midfielder with a leg of dynamite. Other than that, the Czech line-up is the same as in Oslo. The captain’s armband will be taken over by Pavel Nedvěd. I've already laid down my two bits on him so we'll skip that part.

Yes, I'm nervous. Yes, I'm worried that with the World Cup being played next door (most of the stadiums are within easy driving distance from Prague), my team might not make it. The World Cup will never be closer. I will never have a better chance to see my national team (in fact, both national teams, since the U.S. has already qualified) play in the only true World Championship. I want to go so bad it hurts. I think I'd sell a kidney for tickets to the three opening round games provided the Czechs pull out a win or tie tonight. I want to go for the atmosphere, the sheer size of the tournament, the highs (and lows) of being at the stadium for an important game. I often daydream about the trip to Germany, which me and three buddies have already planned... I have to stop now as I'm already rambling, but suffice to say I will be one huge ball of nerves all day and then tighten up even more for 90 minutes, and I hope it's only 90 minutes, later tonight.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I gots my edjumacation

Shanghai Jiao Tong University recently released a study of the top universities in the world. I gotta say that I was surprised and proud that my alma mater, Cornell, came in at number 12. On the other hand, if my school was so good, how come I've had a string of lousy jobs?
See the entire list of results and methodology here:

On a similar note, Slate polled a bunch of famous and influential people on their favorite books that they read in college. Read that piece here:

When I was filling out my profile here on Blogger, I had the hardest time filling out the favorite book section. When I read this article I tried to think of the influential book I read in college was. Now, I was a double major in History and Russian and Eastern European Studies, so I read a lot... No, I mean I read A LOT. However, I can't recall a single book that left a mark stronger than any other on me. There were some that I enjoyed immensely, like say Anna Karenina, but I also read that before college. I really loved A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (actually, I really dug 19th century Russian lit). But in terms of books on philosophy or history, of which I read thousands of pages, I can't remember a single book that left some sort of mark on me.

There were books I found interesting: Marcuse, Weber, and Habermas come to mind. There were also books I despised. Anytime I saw Kant on the reading list for a class my eyes rolled back in my head. The point being, all these influential people have these milestone books to their names, most of them saying how they changed their lives, and I only remember books I enjoyed for the literary aspect, far short of life-altering experiences. Now maybe this is where I went wrong. Maybe if I had read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead like Mark Cuban did (and seriously, who is surprised that he named this book), then maybe I would now be owning Slavia Prague instead of my dead end job.

It's baaaack....

Say the title of this post in the creepy voice from Poltergeist. Yep, winter has returned to Central Europe. Now, if you're in Russia, Siberia or the extreme northern Midwest, stop reading right now, because I have nothing to complain about in comparison with you.

Winter in Prague, is, without a doubt, miserable. The first thing you notice is not necessarily the cold, but the lack of light. For example, it's only November 15 and it gets dark at four in the afternoon. By the time the winter solstice rolls around, the sun will start to disappear before three o'clock. In the words of Bill Simmons: not good times.

Not only is the very little daylight, but what little there is gets blocked out by the constant cloud cover. Thanks to pollution, several atmospheric factors that I don't understand and the geographic lay of the land, clouds cover Prague for almost the entire winter. This means that it's grey all the time. Grey: the color of winter in Prague.

The weather also helps bring out something you don't notice as much in the other seasons, namely, that the city is really polluted. I read a couple of months ago that Prague has some of the highest dust concentrations of any city in Europe. Smog is also a major factor in winter, which is not as true in other seasons.

The final factor that makes Prague winters so miserable is that there is a lot of moisture in the air. Now, as anyone from Russia, Siberia or the extreme northern Midwest will tell you, a dry cold is much better than when there is moisture in the air. Wet moisture makes it feel much colder than it actually is and also multiplies the wind-chill.

Basically, that's the winter in Prague in a nutshell: dark, grey, cold, grimy, foul-smelling, drafty, and wet.

You know why people talk about Prague spring as being beautiful? It's because after the winter here you've earned the spring. You've survived the fact that few people clear sidewalks and were lucky enough not to slip and fall and break your hip. You're a year tougher after slugging through the nasty smelling, cold, grimy air. You've made it through another season of darkness into the light once more.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is McCain making his move?

Some of you may have noticed that I'm partial to John McCain. Though I lean to the left on many issues, at a point when America is sorely divided into red and blue, the only person I see as a uniter is the Senator from Arizona. He is undoubtedly a war hero (until the POWs for Truth start raising their heads), he has gobs of integrity, he is a reformer that can reach across the aisle. He has the respect of his colleagues and the respect of the people. There is also the matter of his candor, something that this article discusses:

I personally was very disappointed when McCain campaigned for Bush last year and I somehow got the feeling that someone was holding a gun to his head. I can't see him willingly campaigning for Bush, who despite deploying the most soldiers since Vietnam has consistently lower veteran's benefits, which I consider particularly foul. Maybe I'm just being an apologist for McCain, but that’s not the point.

I supported McCain over Bush in 2000 and I hope that he runs again in 2008. In order to gain credibility, however, he needs to distance himself from the current administration as much as possible.

My question is whether this calling out of Bush to admit mistakes and speak the truth about the war is his first step in moving away. For one, his record of credibility, accountability and honesty is something that Bush cannot match right now. At the same time, there is little to suggest that Bush will actually admit any mistakes, which could therefore put further distance between McCain and the administration without hurting the senator as Bush's capital shrinks and gradually washes away. This then opens more space for McCain to criticize the administration, leading to him throwing his hat in the ring for 2008 and pulling out the big guns against Bush.

McCain has a huge advantage over any of his possible rivals in that he is willing to admit he made a mistake. He also has said something very important: the job in Iraq must be done. I was against the war from the beginning, but once a country as volatile as Iraq is broke, you gotta fix it. The price for failure in Iraq is more that the United States and the rest of the world can afford. Bush has shown he doesn't know what to do with the problem, but McCain could, especially because he's not afraid to bring in experts from all spheres and political orientations to simply get the job done. In short, McCain looks for experts while Bush brings in the cronies.

I'm hoping that this call for honesty, which in effect is attacking Bush where it hurts the most right now, is the first step towards McCain making a run for the presidency. Personally, I'd much rather see him in the post than any other of the possible candidates, on the right (Frist) or the left (Hillary).

A sigh of relief

Norway 0 - Czech Republic 1

Whew... More relief than joy in this result. The game was played on a pitch that looked more like a beach volleyball ground that a football field. This should have helped the Norwegians with their height advantage and heading ability. However, the field came back to bite them in the ass the defender guarding Vladimír Šmicer slipped and fell in the box just a Karel Poborský sent in a great center from the right side in the 32 minute. Šmicer easily put the ball into the back of the net and gave our side an important away goal. The play started with a give-and-go between Borussia Dortmund playmaker Tomáš Rosický and Pavel Nedvěd (I cry your pardon) who then pushed the ball through down the sidelines for Poborský.

The goal was typical of what is good about Czech football right now. Quick combinations coupled with pinpoint execution. This was hampered on Saturday somewhat by the quality of the pitch, but should be in full form in Prague on Wednesday, where the pitch will be in perfect condition.

I'm going on the record right here and admit that I was wrong about Nedvěd. He played well, not a superstar, but certainly one of the better players on the field, making a couple of good free kicks, directing the game and even almost putting in a header; something unique for the diminutive Nedvěd who was several sizes smaller than the Norwegian defensemen.

The real star of the game, however, was the defensive line anchored stoppers David Rozehnal and Tomáš Ujfaluši. These two were effective in knocking down long centering passes for the Norwegian strikers while playing a clean game. On the right wing of the defensive line, Ajax Amsterdam’s Zdeněk Grygera played a great game, but his colleague on the left side Marek Jankulovski, who plays for AC Milan, was an absolute star. He was effective both on defense and on the overlapping attack, was able to steal the ball, make something happen in the middle of the field and execute passes well. The only thing we missed from him was his thundering shot, but hopefully that will change on Wednesday.

Team captain Tomáš Galásek played a fine game policing the midfield, effectively breaking up the Norwegian attack. Unfortunately, he picked up a second yellow card of the qualifying round in the game, which means he cannot play on Wednesday. However, his backup, Jan Polák, is almost as good on defense and has a cannon in his leg.

All in all, I'm optimistic about the game on Wednesday. The pitch should help our side control the ball, taking apart the Norwegian defense and picking and choosing shots. The Norwegians have to score in order to have any hope of advancing, which means that they'll have to open it up a bit and bring more players on the attack. This will open up holes in the defense, especially for aggressive striker Milan Baroš, who should be able to exploit the holes with his speed and attacking style. Should the defense play another solid game, we'll see you in Germany in the summer of 06 :-)))

Friday, November 11, 2005

One note about Nedvěd...

Nedvěd left the national team after the EURO in kind of a funk and he kept denying rumors about a return to the team. He kept saying that he wasn't coming back, then he would hint that he would, then a couple of months ago he said there was no way he was coming back after national side coach Karel Brückner said he wasn't going to beg any players to play; a move that pissed off most people who then started calling him a prima dona (which is more or les the truth).

Nedvěd has been one of the more dominant players in Europe the last four years. He's won three Italian league titles, but he can't put it together in big games. Four years ago, when the Czech Republic was playing Belgium in World Cup Qualifying Playoff, Nedvěd was team captain and refused to talk to the media leading up to the two games. The team ended up bombing and playing like they were afraid to lose instead of wanting to win. This was especially true of Nedvěd, who was trying so hard it hurt and eventually let himself get a stupid red card before the end of the second game at home, which the Czech team lost in an embarrassment.

Two years later, Nedvěd's club Juventus was in the Champions League finals, but he didn't play because he picked up a stupid yellow card in the dying minutes of the semifinal when his team had the game sown up.

At the EURO that summer, after winning the Golden Ball for the best player in Europe, Nedvěd hits a bomb off the crossbar from a wide-open position just outside the box early in that all important game against the Greek. He pulled up lame a couple of minutes later. Had he nailed that shot, the Greeks open up their defense to get some scoring chances and we have a different game.

My point being, Nedvěd has shown that he's not the best player for big games. He's overly motivated and makes mistakes or injures himself. Now, there is no doubt that the strategy for tomorrow and Wednesday will be to let Nedvěd dictate the tempo and the offense. I say this now to avoid accusations of Monday morning quarterbacking, but I'm a little uneasy that he's placing his reputation as an international on this playoff, knowing that he's going t motivate the hell out of himself and the players around him.

Nedvěd is not Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Brett Farve, Derek Jeter or any other "proven winner." This is more like Peyton Manning, A-Rod, Patrick Ewing or Dan Marino. He is the superstar who has yet to prove himself on the larger stage. He's the player that has yet to come through in the big game the way Zinedine Zidane did in the World Cup in 1998, or Ronaldo did four years later. This makes me nervous as our chances hinge on a guy who might be just a little too psyched up.

Are you ready for some futbal?

Big game coming up tomorrow. The Czech Republic plays Norway in the first leg of their World Cup Qualifier Playoff.

Basically, the process goes like this: All European teams are divided into eight groups that play a round-robin qualifying tournament over two years, the group winner automatically qualifies for the Big Dance in Germany next summer. All the teams that finish second then play a home and home playoff for the final spots.

The Czech Republic finished second to the Netherlands and Norway finished second to Italy. Now it comes to a game in Oslo tomorrow and a game in Prague on Wednesday. The team that scores more goals in the two games advances. If the score is tied, the team with more away goals advances. If this figure is even, then we go to the worst possible scenario for the fans of either team: the shootout.

On paper, the Czech team is the stronger team and the odds-on favorite. But, it's November and it's Norway. The field looks like Fallujah and in soccer, like the in any sport, anything can happen.

This would be the first time ever that the Czech Republic would be in the World Cup, the only true world championship in sports. (You know that's true, the entire world plays soccer, the entire world takes part in the qualifying rounds leading up to the tournament).

The last time Czechoslovakia was represented was at Italy 1990. This is a big thing as one of the better generations in Czech soccer history is on the way out. Guys like Pavel Nedvěd (who made a comeback to the national team for this playoff after not having played for the side since the semifinals of EURO 2004), Karel Poborský, Vladimír Šmicer and Jan Koller aren't coming back for another shot at this tournament. The team was a phenomenon at the EURO two years ago, being dubbed the best footballing team of the tournament by many experts. Unfortunately, Nedvěd, the star of the team, pulled up lame early in the first half of the semifinals against Greece, which played an ugly, defensive style. The team had it's chances, but lost on a fluke, last-second header in overtime. Right now, the Czech Republic sits in fourth in the FIFA world soccer rankings, behind Brazil, France and the Netherlands.

What I'm saying is: this is a unique opportunity for this team to do some damage at the second-largest sporting event in the world (only the summer Olympics are bigger). An entire country of sports fans is nervously awaiting kick-off, hoping to come away from the first leg with at least a draw and some away goals. I'll be watching, fixed to the projection screen TV in my buddy's basement pub, sitting in one of the best seats in the house. Frankly, I can't wait.

There are still people who trust Bush?

Read this on Yahoo news today:

First of all, I still wonder how people can still trust this guy. Even my parents have started calling him "jelimánek," which is the Czech equivalent of "dumb little boy who doesn't know any better." Even the Republicans are headed for the high ground trying to avoid being caught in the floodwaters building around this presidency. Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum just snubbed Bush in favor of speaking at an American Legion! Santorum!!!
The question is now, who's next to bail. More significantly, when does John McCain break for a run at the presidency? You know he's just sitting there waiting for the right moment to safely deep-six W and launch his version of the Republican renaissance.

One thing the article did clear up for me was this: “Whites, Southerners and evangelicals were most likely to believe Bush is honest.”

Yup, so we got the bible thumpers propping up the president. Wonderful, this is what we need more of, bigoted whites who believe they are the keepers of the one Truth.

hmmmm... then there's this piece of insight:
"I know he is a man of integrity and strong faith," said Fran Blaney, a Republican and an evangelical who lives near Hartford, Conn. "I've read that he prays every morning asking for God's guidance. He certainly is trying to do what he thinks he is supposed to do."
Wait a minute, you're giving the leader of the free world the benefit of the doubt because he prays to god and he thinks he's doing the right thing? That may be one of the dumbest things that I've ever heard!
Let's make a list of other people who fit that description, just off the top of my head:
Benito Mussolini
Oliver Cromwell
George Custer
Jim Jones
David Koresh (we can on with the cult theme, which is a bit scary, but we'll stop there)
Warren G. Harding
Neville Chamberlain

That's what I came up with in like five minutes. We've got cult leaders, utter failures, incompetents and dictators. Especially the whole cult angle scares the hell out of me because it seems like people who still support Bush after all this time are more like fanatics that rationally thinking human beings.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fucking spam!

I had to change my settings and allow only registered users to comment because I was getting spam in comments. Yes, fucking spam in comments! Blogger, what's up wit' dat?

I wish this was last year

So this year's elections, which in the end mean didley squat, were won by the Democrats. Let me ask you something, if you voted for Bush last year, how did you not know he would screw up everything he touched? I've talked about this before, but not only is he not the sharpest tool in the shed, he's also a bible-thumping cretin. How did you not know he would try to put a crony on the Supreme Court, when he puts cronies into every post he can? How did you not know he would screw up a national disaster when he screwed up a war?

The really horrible thing is that he'll be there for another three years. THREE YEARS!!!!! How much more can he screw up? How many more of his incompetent sidekicks can he put into positions where they will harm the country? How many more of his competent sidekicks will be indicted? Is it too early to call him the worst president ever? Are Harding and Grant off the hook?

Another swing on this is what he's doing to the Republican Party. Although Bush now seems like the culmination of GOP dominance over the American political system, in reality, he will be remembered as the man who tore the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower apart. He's the one who will eventually drive the spike between the libertarian, small government, low-tax Republicans and the Christian creeps. The interests of these groups are starting to go against one another as one wants less government control, while the other group wants total government control of education, ideology and foreign policy. This is not a good mix for them.

On the other hand, victory has not been handed to the Democrats yet. They now have a unique opportunity to profile themselves as he party of the balanced budget and fiscal responsibility. Also, with the Republicans marching to the right, they can capitalize on the center if they can become a party with a clear leader, vision and be more inclusive.

This is the stuff porn films are made of....

Cheerleaders, bathrooms, lesbian sex.....
I swear this is the stuff porn films are made of, except in a porn film the entire line of girls waiting to go to the loo would end up daisy chaining.