Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Global commerce has surely ground to a halt as people the world over are hunched in front of their computers, tantalized by the World Cup and paralyzed by indecision over which fist to shake in righteous slightly xenophobic sports anger (ergonomists would say to alternate except when you need double-barreled fist shaking action for particularly odious soccer-playing nations). The World Cup is by far the world's greatest sporting event, with the possible exception of September Northwestern games against uncomfortably plucky FCS teams under the watchful eyes of dozens of fans disguised cleverly as more than 17,000 by the Northwestern Ministry of Comical Soviet Statistics.

Comparison of Northwestern's reported home attendance for the
Towson game versus other important world phenomena. Note
that the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling Competition and Wake
was canceled last year due to overcrowding after local officials
literally begged people not to attend. An unauthorized cheese
rolling took place to a crowd of only 500 rebellious cheese rolling

The Cup has provided plenty of drama so far, with late goals and goal differentials deciding who advances past the knockout stages while the rest of us hold our breath for a breathtaking FIFA lot-drawing ritual. The most entertaining part of the World Cup so far has been the Shakespearean collapse of the French team featuring a brooding madman, insults that are much funnier when comically translated into clumsy English (although nothing can top "I prefer the whore that is your sister" for inelegantly transcribed soccer-related zingers), the always crowd-pleasing division of the team into opposing camps, and the occult mystery of astrology.

The FFF has been blamed in keeping the despised Domenech around
because he carried the burden of the glorious French mustache
throughout his playing days. His reign bears certain similarities
to the also gloriously-mustachioed French President Jean Casimir-Perier,
who lasted only six months as president in 1894 before resigning, claiming
that he had been marginalized by the ministers who taunted him with
unnecessarily mean-spirited legislation such as "resolved: this legislature
moves to level the President's comically lopsided head"

Casimir-Perier only took the reigns of office because of the horrific assassination of Carnot, who I will venture to guess was the last modern head of state that was actually stabbed to death. Carnot found himself enmeshed in an endless whirlwind of anarchist vengeance. The whole episode stems from the guillotining of anarchist bomber Ravochol, which prompted a retaliatory bombing from another anarchist named Auguste Vaillant, who was then executed and avenged by bomber Émile Henry whose death along with Vaillant prompted Sainte Geronimo Caserio to take a dagger to President Carnot in an act of brutal simplicity that would have immensely frustrated a nineteenth century French version of Frederick Forsyth.


It is time to turn from the depressing notion of anachronistic assassination techniques and turn to the far more exciting world of botanical piracy. In 1876, Henry Wickham returned from the Amazon with an unheralded find that would eventually give Britain control of the world's rubber supply and destroy the Brazilian economy. That find was 70,000 seeds of the hevea brasiliensis plant, the world's most bountiful rubber tree.

Joe Jackson's The Thief at the End of the World describes Wickham as a sort of bumbling over-eager botanical agent working for a sinister Kew Gardens hell-bent on gaining control over valuable plants the world over (of course, as far as I'm aware, Kew is no longer an international center of botanical intrigue; the only piracy there is the ridiculous demand of £13 just to get in the place). Jackson excellently evokes the Amazon as a vast cornucopia of horrible tropical illnesses and incessant attacks from tiny organisms that live only to attack or lay eggs in the last places that a human would ever want eggs planted by anything. Wickham's act of piracy itself involved a rather disappointing lack of swashbuckling, as he managed to successfully secret the seeds onto a fortuitously empty freighter-- unlike the gloriously apocryphal Robert Louis Stevenson pirates who menaced people with an eighteenth century Cockney argot or even submarine-using South American drug navies, Wickham's theft involved a lot more monitoring of moisture levels than the futuristic Johnny Mnemonic theatrics that the term "biopiracy" would suggest.

It would in fact be even more shocking if a
nineteenth century person who gained notoriety
for practicing devious botany did not have a
spectacular mustache

Wickham never gained much financially from transporting rubber trees and spent his life moving increasingly to the fringes of the British Empire in a perpetual state of financial ruin. The seeds he brought back eventually became forests in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), while any attempts to tame the rubber tree in the Amazon fell into ruin. The most amazing attempt came from Henry Ford, who purchased 2.5 million acres of rainforest in order to create a massive rubber plantation that he humbly named Fordlandia. In typical Ford fashion, he sought not only to turn the chaos of the Amazon into an efficient natural factory, but also make it a vast city where he could mold workers into his idea of moral and model employees. Inspired by its vast success in the United States, Ford instituted prohibition in his borders; workers and locals cleverly circumvented this by erecting a series of taverns, brothels, and other houses of vice just outside Ford's jurisdiction and hilariously named it the Island of Innocence.

However, the best part of the book is a barely mentioned aside discussing Wickham's family. His great-grandfather, a minor aristocrat, lost his estate due to royal treachery. The comically villainous George IV, who spent most of his adult life as the Prince of Wales fending off his father's bouts of insanity and iron will to live, dealt with his position by becoming a bloated, gout-ridden pox on British society. In this case, the Wickham ancestor foolishly made a wager with the Prince on a horse, in a time when horse racing was so spectacularly crooked that skill in picking the ponies more often than not corresponded directly to skill in hiring unsavory underlings that could most successfully cheat. The Prince's men put weights in the jockey's pockets; even though the cheating was discovered before the race, the hapless punter was done in by either misfortune or, as I would wager, some other sort of undiscovered skulduggery such oat manipulation or using horse psychiatry to rob the horse of its equine self-confidence. The details of the race were published in Gentleman's Magazine, a publication that no doubt prided itself on showing different ways to cheat at horseracing until two people were forced to shoot each other in the most dignified and civilized way possible.

Both George Cruikshank (left) and James Gillroy portrayed George IV as
a corpulent, scheming Jabba the Hutt-like figure, with the title of
Gillroy's painting effective eulogizing the hefty monarch as "A
voluptuary in the horrors of digestion"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Championship and Realignment Emporium

The big story in Chicago is of course last night's thrilling over-time Stanley Cup victory for the Chicago Blackhawks over the Philadelphia Flyers. This is a good thing for Mayor Daley, who can successfully horde the thousands of pounds of foodstuffs he bet against Philadelphia's elegantly named Mayor Nutter. Apparently, the plan was to assail Philadelphia's food bank-using population with arteriosclerosis; the ridiculously voluminous list of wagered items included 500 slices of cheesecake, at least 60 deep dish pizzas, something called "toasted macaroni," and enough beef to startle the late Upton Sinclair including 1,961 Vienna Beef polish sausages and 2,010 hot dogs. The package also included an appearance by four tommy-gun wielding gangsters, three crooked aldermen, and a personalized dressing-down from Ozzie Guillen.

The win has galvanized a city behind the only competently run professional sports franchise in town compared to the impotent Sox, incompetent Cubs, gormless Bears front office, and coach-punching Bulls brain trust. The Cubs have been maddening to the point where Lou Piniella has developed a spectacular beard implying an enthusiasm for box car-based transportation that should come off when Hawks players shave their grizzled attempts at facial hair.

In the Big Piniella Mountains
The Riot always walks
And Zambrano only smashes
With his left hand after balks

There's a crowd to roar
And a run to score
And you can bellow to an umpire
That his mom's a whore
In the Big Piniella Mountains

Lou would do best to shave the beard but leave his upper lip alone if he wants to join the Chicago Distinguished List of Mustachioed Coaching Champions.

The mustache is a prerequisite for Chicago coaches who want to win it all. Note that
Ozzie Guillen is grandfathered in because although he won the 2005 world series
with a Van Dyke style goatee, he did sport the tremendous 'stache seen on the right
when he played shortstop for the Sox in the 1980s but also out of fear that
neglecting him would somehow land me as a footnote in Guillen's Nixon-like
enemies list including Magglio Ordonez, Jay Mariotti, "Cowboy" Joe West, The Sox
marketing guy tasked with preventing him from making death threats over twitter,
and the late Sonny Dogole.


Nebraska is expected to join the Big Ten and start a complex chain of realignment that will leave the Big 12 a dessicated husk of a conference. Nebraska's membership might be the beginning of more teams in the Expanding Ten until it gains subsidiary conferences across all levels of college athletics including the NAIA and junior colleges (which will be known, of course, as the Littlest Ten). The addition of the Cornhuskers is no doubt motivated largely by the scintillating rivalry with Northwestern ignited at the 2000 Alamo Bowl. And who could blame the fanbases after the teams were pitted against each other with the prestigious Alamo Shaped Trophy at stake to determine a marginal increase in the arbitrary post-season college football rankings?

A chart showing the importance of the Northwestern-Nebraska rivalry to the new
Big Ten with a rating of zero Pacinos indicating a general unawareness of the
existence of Northwestern football

Nebraska has not been to Evanston since 1931, where they suffered a 19-7 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats who no doubt took advantage of the comically archaic 1930s football rules including time fracture wickets and the Pernicious Poem Place. Including the disastrous Alamo Bowl, the 'Cats are 1-3 all time against the Lads from Lincoln, which will give them incentive to finally avenge that 12-0 shutout from 1902.

The Big 12 is essentially gutted, with Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State expected to join the Pac 10. Other major realignments will certainly affect the rest of college football, including Notre Dame, which is expected to disband its football program live up to its Fighting Irish moniker by creating North America's top-flight hurling program and eventually challenge powerhouse Counties Kilkenny and Cork.


The World Cup may be the world's greatest sports spectacular, but it does itself a great disservice by limiting itself to countries that actually exist. Congratulations are in order to Padania, the winner of the 2010 VIVA World Cup fought amongst nations that have been denied international recognition, bond over a common language across international borders, or incorporated into France in 1486. This year, the VIVA World Cup, designed for national soccer teams not associated with FIFA, involved six teams competing in Gozo: Padania, Iraqi Kurdistan, Occitania (a new-comer that had participated in the Europeada 2008 contest for Europe's national minorities such as Danes in Germany, Catalans, Sorbs, Roma in Hungary, and the North Frisians), Provence, the Two Sicilies, and Gozo.

Obviously, I fully support the N.F. Board and their tournament, but six teams is not nearly enough, especially since someone needs to rise up and challenge the Padanian juggernaut, which has dominated the tournament since they joined in 2008 (the inaugural tournament featured Sapmi pummeling Monaco 21-1). The tournament should expand to absorb non-FIFA competitors such as the 2006 Elf Cup that featured Crimea, Găgăuzia, Tibet, Greenland, Northern Cyprus, and Zanzibar (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan also participated but are actually FIFA members, so they sent their futsal teams). More importantly, the Cup needs to expand to North America so that Newfoundland can send a team.

Newfoundland was, in 1919, technically a British Dominion, equal in status with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Newfoundland never equaled the prestige of its sister dominions, partly because it did not join the League of Nations and send representatives to demand German reparations at Versailles. Hit hard by the worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s as well as a spectacularly corrupt and useless government, Newfoundland was about to default on its loans. With its back against the wall, Newfoundland did what any small country would do in its situation: attempt to sell Labrador to Canada, presumably asking what do we have to do to put this fish and iron-ore rich Atlantic region in within your federal authority today. Canada didn't bite and in 1933, Newfoundland accepted a loan from Britain with the caveat that it give up its Dominion status to a Commission of British and Newfoundland representatives. British representatives found dealing with the shiftless and embattled government taxing, with one frustrated representative writing to a friend that: "I am sorry; I can only say I have done my best, but this infernal place is a hopeless proposition; the sooner it sinks into the sea, the better."

Newfoundland Prime Minister Richard
Squires managed to rebound from a 1923
arrest on corruption charges to regain the
government in 1928. He was ousted from
power again in 1932 when accusations of
corruption sparked a riot in St. Johns.
He was not reelected

Newfoundland joined with Canada in 1946, but can almost certainly put together a powerhouse soccer team that can take on upwards of three Sicilies.


With the Crosstown Classic, the NBA Finals, the World Cup, and the Rod Blagojevich trial in full swing as well as the pillaging excitement of college football realignment, it's almost too much excitement to handle. Obviously, realignment puts the resurgent Wildcats in a precarious position with the addition of more powerhouse teams to the conference, but worse comes to worse, if things sputter out, they can form a tournament for Conferenceless FBS Teams in non-sanctioned football events.