The World Comeuppance

There are few turnabouts more satisfying than when the cynic who thinks he’s calculated everything to his own benefit finds himself suddenly betrayed by the evil to which he’d accommodated himself. Extra points if he mocked the boring sincerity of those who moralised blah blah blah.

Which brings us to the World Cup. Anyone planning to attend or support the games has to be willing to ignore the corrupt process by which Qatar was selected; the thousands of labourers worked to death to build the facilities; and the foul mistreatment of women and sexual minorities by the Qatari authorities.

Eight years ago it was reported that the Qataris were already breaking the promises they had made to be allowed to host these games. They broke their promises to improve working conditions. They broke promises to allow LGBT+ visitors to attend the games safely. Most fans were happy that these promises were made, providing them cover to enjoy the World Cup, and were indifferent to whether the promises were kept.

But can they enjoy the World Cup without beer? Personally, I have zero appreciation of sport, but I have always accepted that other people really seem to dig football. But I do need to point out that the number of people who enjoy watching football completely sober seems to be rather small. Hence the dismay, that the theocratic dictators turned out to actually sincere in opposing alcohol, and are willing to take an economic hit to ban it from the tournament sites. Shocking!

Nerve agents and the World Cup

Here’s a crazy theory that I need to write down, because no one else seems to be saying it: Could it be that the Novichok poisoning of two ordinary British people in Amesbury was not, as most have assumed, an accidental effect of residual Novichok somehow lingering after the Skripal poisoning in eight miles away in Salisbury, but rather an intentional effort to keep Theresa May away from the World Cup.

British politicians and royals are staying away from the World Cup in protest against the March assassination attempt. Of course, no one cares. Putin has his spectacle. But May was hedging recently:

THERESA May has hinted that her World Cup boycott on royals and ministers attending the football tournament in Russia could be dropped if England were to make it to the final.

When questioned whether her stance could change, the Prime Minister said she is taking the decision “every game at a time” but the Government had been “very clear” about why the position was taken.

Wouldn’t that be just the sort of psychopathic trolling that would appeal to Vladimir Putin, to raise the embarrassment level for British politicians to come, or prevent them from basking in the reflected glory of their football team?

Political doping

Who would have imagined that elections could be swayed by political-performance-enhancing drugs?

Trump, in full “unshackled” mode, told a crowd of supporters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that Clinton, who has won both presidential debates according to most polls, seemed “pumped up” at the beginning of the second debate last Sunday, but that he thought her energy then waned as the debate went on. So, in Donald Trump’s reality, it of course stands to reason that she was thus “pumped up” on some kind of performance-enhancing drugs, and they should both take drug tests before the third debate.

I dispute the claim that this is fully unshackled. If Trump were fully unshackled, he would demand that Clinton be subjected to a medical gender test, like South African runner Caster Semenya. After all, as Trump has so eloquently put it in the past

Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.

(“Frankly” is great. He’s giving us the straight dope now, as opposed to the politically correct pabulum that he is otherwise forced to espouse.) She should have to prove, then, that she’s not a man. It clearly wouldn’t be fair to allow Hillary Clinton to run for president as a woman, with all the advantages that women are known to enjoy in presidential campaigns, while actually benefitting from a higher testosterone level than her male opponent.

Imagine if it didn’t come out until after the election that Hillary was doping. What would we do then? Would her victory be annulled? Would she be banned from political competition for four years? If her testosterone levels are too high, would she be forced to take suppressing hormones? Would she be required campaign as a man? Perhaps she’d have to sexually assault a campaign worker, to even things out? The mind boggles.

Surfin’ NSDAP

I think we can all agree that the entire 20th century has conspired to make this sentence from the April 11 1933 NY Times the most bizarre political analogy since the New Jerusalem:

Screenshot 2016-05-12 09.28.28

Cleverly mixing his sports metaphors, Rev. Clinchy went on to say

Germany has been down for the count of nine and now she is arising to her feet and beginning to assert herself, and Hitler knows how to capitalize on that.

Hitler and Germany conducting a boxing match on a surfboard. The cartoon practically draws itself.

European Seilschaften

The image of Seilschaften, of a group of mountain-climbers connected by a rope, is as frequently used in German political discourse (both verbal and visual) as cricketing terminology in British. One common use is to represent self-interested political actors who look out for each other reciprocally. But the Greek crisis puts me to mind of a different sense of the term. The nations of the EU climbing the mountain of prosperity. Greece is lagging, but is also stuck in a position where it is blocking other members of the party. So they offer generous assistance, just long enough to manoeuvre it into a place where they can cut the rope and let it fall into the chasm without taking anyone else with it. Of course, there’s the extra piquancy that Europe’s leaders were primarily protecting private banks rather than their citizens and taxpayers.

Social climber

What is it about rock climbing that makes it such a useful synecdoche for enjoying your life? In an article about an unusual case about a girl whose lawsuit against a sexually abusive teacher foundered when her claims of “loss of enjoyment of life” seemed to be contradicted by a happy Facebook page, I was struck by the comment

Melissa’s account was mostly locked to outsiders, but some pictures were visible: Melissa hanging out with her boyfriend, Melissa working at a veterinary hospital, Melissa rock climbing, Melissa out drinking with friends… Nor did it support her claim of “loss of enjoyment of life,” which one judge has defined as the loss of “watching one’s children grow, participating in recreational activities, and drinking in the many other pleasures that life has to offer.” Rock climbing is a recreational activity; drinking with friends is one of life’s pleasures, after all. Last month, the court ordered Melissa to hand over every photograph, video, status update, and wall message ever posted on her Facebook accounts so that the school district may search for more clues that Melissa is secretly thriving.

And that reminded me of an article many years ago in Harper’s about American casualty adjustors, whose job it is to put a price on someone’s life for purposes of wrongful death suits.

I ask them to evaluate my worth, and they tell me that outdoorsy people are worth more than people like me, who stay home and read. “People have no sympathy for somebody who sits alone on his couch, drinks beer, eats food, and is a load,” Ed says.

“That’s why nobody likes me,” says George. “It’s how sympathetic you are. People go, ‘He rock climbed,’ you know. `This guy enjoyed life. He was out there doing things.’ You cherish life more if you are interacting with it.”

When did you stop sexually assaulting women other than your wife?

It is a cliché of the legal trade: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The paradigmatic damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t trick yes-or-no question. Everyone knows it. Thus it is with a sense of awe that I read of this comment by US Representative Steve Cohen:

“I don’t keep up with football, except college football, except Eli Manning or Peyton Manning. And Eli and Peyton don’t do sexual assaults against people other than their wives,” Cohen said during his rather perplexing response.

Amazingly, it appears that no sarcasm was intended:

“Congressman Cohen misspoke, abhors sexual violence of any kind, is a fan of both Manning brothers, and deeply regrets any confusion,” spokesman Ben Garmisa told The Tennessean. “His intention was simply to indicate that Eli and Peyton are committed to monogamous marriages.”

It seems like such a simple intention could have been realised more simply.

Creative destruction (Updated)

Headline on the NY Times website:

TV Chief Takes 2-by-4 to a Proposed Cable Merger

I was at first confused by the reference. Having grown up around my father’s lumberyard, I naturally think of a 2-by-4 as a basic element of house construction. For those whose experience of lumber is shaped by Mafia films, it’s an implement of destruction. (It’s interesting how the pop-culture image of organised crime has been shaped by the somewhat coincidental situation of the New York-New Jersey crime families who largely laundered their money through construction firms. Think “cement overshoes”.) I am reminded of the period in the early 1990s when skinhead mobs in Eastern Germany and Berlin suddenly started attacking foreigners, particularly but not exclusively asylum-seekers. The favoured weapons were baseball bats. I remember an article from around 1993, where a police expert was interviewed about why it was that baseball bats were ideally suited to be used as weapons, in addition to their advantage of having a legal use that endows carrying them with a superficial legitimacy, despite the fact that, as the German association of baseball enthusiasts admitted, the total number of baseball players in Germany was estimated at just a few hundred, substantially smaller than the number of baseball bats that had been sold in the past year. In any case, baseball bats (“Baseballschläger”) have become routine emblems of violence in German newspaper headlines, with no further explanation required, specifically xenophobic neo-Nazi violence. For example, when Der Spiegel reported on a government-sponsored youth music initiative with a CD of songs opposing neo-Nazi violence, the article was titled

Tonträger gegen Baseballschläger     (Recordings vs. Baseball Bats)

Interestingly, when Bill Gates handed over control of Microsoft to Steve Ballmer, Der Spiegel covered press reports with a headline “Baseball bat in his hand”, referring to an LA Times report that said

Ballmer, der dafür bekannt ist, dass er bei internen Besprechungen herumbrüllt und manchmal Anordnungen gibt, während er einen Baseballschläger in der Hand hält… (Ballmer, who is known for screaming during internal conferences, and sometimes holds a baseball bat in his hand while giving orders…)

It sounds much more menacing in German.

Update: Somehow I forgot the famous lyric from the gospel song Oh Mary Don’t you Weep (what I take to be Pete Seeger’s revised lyrics; at least, it’s clearly not part of the original spiritual, and does appear on Pete Seeger’s recordings, and later versions):

Moses stood on the Red Sea shore

Smotin’ the water with a two-by-four.

Pharaoh’s army got drowned.

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep!