Futbol Flopping

So, when was it that we as a civilization were endeared to making success by faking misfortune? Was there a high-water mark that hard work, dedication and “nose to the grind stone” was surpassed by showmanship and exaggeration of injustice? If so, I must’ve missed it whilst I was busy engrossed with my head down working tough jobs for meager wages and trying to better myself. I digress….

I’m sure to earn a lot of scorn, and maybe get a small bit of praise for the following. I am not nor have I ever played the game of soccer. Except once in the late 80s in Mississippi at an Air Force Base. At the time we had these British and Irish gents enlisted in the USAF. I’m not sure they still have this program, but at the time someone from the UK could serve in the US military and earn citizenship. Anyway, we had a series of “football” games on Saturdays in which their prowess and skills clearly outshone mine. But it was all in good spirits and no flopping broke out.

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I’m sure by now most people are aware of the art of flopping. Basically, it’s the melodramatic display an athlete takes when pushed or physically challenged. This “malingering” to gain an advantage has some historical precedents, but it’s about the same con we take to work on the sorrow of others.

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2014/06/30/140630ta_talk_paumgarten

Like most Americans, I don’t dislike soccer, but also don’t take the same rabid fervor to follow every aspect, stat and angle of the game. I just don’t see the same religious dedication to details as one that can recite the ERA of top baseball pitchers of the MLB or the mundane facts of Fantasy Football as one who follows the NY Red Bulls or the LA Galaxy. But like most of us who run furiously to catch up to the accelerating bandwagon of the World Cup, I watch with an attention span that has an expiration shelf life of about 3 or 4 weeks.

So, it was my surprise to see top athletes from around the globe fall in apparent ersatz injury. I’m not saying these athletes don’t experience pain. For God’s sake, just the physical skills necessary to play at such a level are amazing. But when I see someone get bumped, then fall down on the pitch and writhe in such agony as to mimic the death scene of Sgt. Elias in the movie Platoon, then instantaneously bounce up and run at full force as if nothing happened…..

This normally may not disturb me except that I am acutely aware of the story of Bert Trautmann. You see, Bert was a German POW in WWII who stayed in England and played soccer. Bert was the goalie for Manchester City in England’s prestigious Football Association (FA) cup final in 1956 against Birmingham City. In the last portion of the game, an opposing player collides into Bert with his knee on Bert’s neck. Bert is knocked out flat but is revived and assumes his position in the net, playing all the while his one hand caressing his sore neck. He actually stopped a key goal and eventually Manchester won the FA cup. Afterwards, Bert complains but soldiers on to meet Queen Elizabeth at the closing ceremony. Three days later it was discovered that the knee-neck collision actually resulted in the dislocation of 5 vertebrae in his neck, one of which cracked in half, potentially being fatal. I can only imagine what Bert Trautmann would say about the flopping antics of the World Cup if he were alive today (actually he died on July 19th 2013).

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Trautmann

Flopping exists. Flopping has always existed in one form or another. But have we rewarded flopping in our society? I can’t imagine Tom Joad (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grapes_of_Wrath) falling down in pain in the fields of Weedpatch Camp to elicit sympathy from local sheriffs. But then again, if they had YouTube in the Depression, his antics may have gone viral, ensuring him of his 15 minutes of fame.

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Travelling by Google Maps – Lower East Side Manhattan

“Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby, ain’t nothing like the real thing. I play the game, a fantasy. I pretend I’m not in reality.” – Marvin Gaye

Screen Shot Greenwich Village

Now I’ve travelled around the world and have set foot in 6 of the world’s continents. Some of the places have been simply majestic while others where a lucid blur of bewilderment. Being a New Jersey native, my adventures to New York City were slow at the start. I began, as most tourists do, with the obvious: the bright lights and sensory overload of Mid-town and Times Square. But once you get past the amazement of the cacophony of sounds and over-stimulation of neon lights, you notice, slowly but gradually until it overwhelms you the pungent smells and oppressive crowding (not to mention the crass commercialization). Disclaimer: I still love New York.

Eventually, like some moon fighting the gravity of its orbit, I ventured further and further away from the center of this universe. I began to explore the wonders of Central Park (where else can you be in a city of over 8 million people yet feel the solitude and peace of nature?). My wanderings would then take me to Chelsea, Union Square, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, the Bowery, SoHo, Bronx, Brooklyn, et al. Over the years, and the many years, I would take the weekends for a Walk-about, sometimes with no rhyme, reason or destination to discover more and more places, always finding new adventures and niches of history and culture tucked away in some non-descript place yet seeped with such mysteries and links to layers and layers of the past. Take Greenwich Village, for example. One street may be the epicenter for powerful protests and riots in the 60s for civil rights, and then 20 years earlier be the same place where Bob Dylan and the foundation of folk music percolated, and yet 20 years earlier saw the likes of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway among others, and years before that the likes of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, just as an example. There are parts of New York that act as a home that gets rented out by pillars of American literature, music and politics, passed on like some celebrated baton using the geography as the base.

So, what does this have to do with Google Earth? Well, I’ve always wanted to explore the likes of Cherry Street along the lower East Side. According to a fabulous book called “The Gangs of New York” by Herbert Asbury (published in 1927), the lower East Side was THE heart of Manhattan in the beginning of America. It was the location of the very first Executive Mansion of the President of the US, George Washington. Naturally, with the echoes of history in my mind I wanted to explore this place.

First, I should’ve been keyed in to what this place had become when I realized that NY’s MTA has no stops in that area. Walking tours tend to avoid this region. I’ve always wanted to see what Cherry Street had to offer, but could never find a reason or time to witness it, until I did a virtual walk with Google Earth.

Within Google Earth, this feature of Street View brings you right down into a virtual panoramic show. As a kid in the 60s, all I had were Nat Geo magazines and encyclopedias to discover what was outside in the great unknown (and books, and 3 TV stations…). Obviously, we all know that the Armies of Google have traversed through most cities with their NSA-like vans capturing images at the street level. I finally decided to do a virtual street tour of Cherry Street from the comfort of my home to see what I was missing. And I missed not that much. It seems that the lower East Side, north of the Brooklyn Bridge is nice, but very non-descript. Rows and rows of apartment buildings and Chinese restaurants but none of the unique flavor and history one would expect from this part of town. So, in the end, using the internet and Google Earth, I saved myself from a trip to see something I had over-hyped in my mind.

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Will Google Earth destroy spontaneous and adventuresome travel, or be another tool to prepare the traveller. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Epilogue: Once I started travelling by Google Earth (Street View), I decided to “visit” a city I had always wanted to see but never got close to: LA (3 days in Riverside doesn’t cut it). I did a virtual tour throughout most of the city and came away with a new perspective. These results are for a future blog.

Screen Shot El Camino Real

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Flowers and Gardens in New York City (NY Botanical Gardens)

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When one travels, you have to take into account the equation of risk and reward. The “risk” comes in many shapes, sizes and flavors. The risk may be the obvious: personal safety, disease, and/or loss of financial gain. Risk can also and usually be more mundane, in that the time and energy you expended may not be worth the effort. How many times have you embarked on a trip with maximum effort and little gain? How many birthday parties, barbeques or even concerts have you gone to and then afterwards, in a sincere moment of self-reflection say to yourself, “well, that was a complete waste of my time.”

The reward on the other hand, can be as varied as the personal capital invested. Was that trip to Chicago REALLY worth it? They say you make your own adventure, but that entity known as fate, she has a say in how it goes down as well. This is all very heady stuff for the following photos, but in this case we had placed the New York Botanical Gardens as on our “must see” list of things. I refrain from using the well-worn term ‘bucket list’ (damn! I just used it). Travelling through the Bronx certainly qualifies in the risk column, (a colleague who’s from that area best described it as “sketchy”) but when you get to see the wonders of the gardens, the reward is certainly worth the effort. If you love horticulture, it is very close to Nirvana. Even if you only slightly adore nature it will lift your spirits and is well worth the travelling risk.

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Flying the Flag

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The following is an accurate, true story of a vignette of my travels. It’s a story of pride and hubris that inflicts all mankind, whether we care to or not. I promise it’s only slightly embellished, but the spices of this need not detract from the overall flavor of the meal.

After the tragedy of 9-11 the world was in shock of the magnitude of horror and in solidarity with those victimized. At the time I was deployed with the US military in a foreign land, and in the days following the local nationals who worked in the mess hall wore paper patches emblazed with “We are With You” safety pinned to their chests, part of this in solidarity and part to say in an indiscreet way “it wasn’t me” to avoid any wild xenophobic hysteria.

When I arrived back in the States I was quickly dispatched to the headquarters of US Central Command for a new assignment with follow-on instructions waiting. In the days following 9-11, a coalition of nations sent their troops – their best and brightest to serve at the headquarters, part out of diplomatic arm-twisting and part out of military necessity (verdict still pending). The USCENTCOM Coalition compound was quickly becoming a military Hoover Ville with trailers upon trailers of foreign military work centers occupying a fenced in area. As more and more nations rushed to join the fight against terrorism, the logistics of housing this sprawling Levittown of trailers became a challenge. If this compound were truly a US military endeavor, regulations, hierarchy, tradition and irrational reasoning would settle it rather easy. But now a new angle had to be considered, which was the delicate art of diplomacy.

In my first few days at USCENTCOM, I became acquainted with some ‘kiwis’, New Zealanders. I knew of New Zealand, I heard of New Zealand, but I never worked side by side for weeks on by with a kiwi. New Zealanders sound like Australians but Heavens above they are NOT Australians! There is a difference. If a German from the outskirts of Munich meets someone from Toronto they may make mistake him or her for an American, but the Toronto citizen will adamantly state they are Canadian! To the unaided eye, it may seem not a big difference but please don’t insult Canadians, or New Zealanders for that matter. Beef may seem all the same but there’s a huge difference between prime rib and tenderloin.

During the early days of this Hoover Ville trailer park, I’m told by very reliable sources that one nation (RUMINT has it it was the Poles) decided to erect a flagpole outside their trailer and proudly displayed the Polish national flag, the first country to do so, and obviously without clearance. Immediately the next day, another nation (again, RUMINT), the Italians, felt slighted and THEY erected a flagpole and flew the tri-color of green-white-red. These flags were prominently displayed and not too long afterward the contagion of national pride spread throughout the camp. In a matter of days the Hungarian, Canadian, New Zealander and other national flags began sprouting up like dandelions after a warm summer rainstorm.

But even better, each nation decided to fly THEIR flag with an even HIGHER flagpole, to out-do their compatriots. Flagpoles began rising higher and even higher in a cascading effect of hubris. In days, this Tower of Babel began to become an unwieldy diplomatic mess.

“So what happened”? I asked my source. “Well, eventually someone of highest rank came through and issued an edict that all flags had to be of a certain height” was the response. Military policy and regulation had come in and issued a sense of reality. Yahweh decided that He had enough and obliterated the Tower of Babel in Babylonia. USCENTCOM used bureaucracy to limit this tower to a certain height, and that was that.

After this initial rush of hubris, the open display of pride, at least for the flags, was tempered. There’d be other forms of national pride in this trailer park of international military assistance in the weeks ahead, but at least in this initial “raising the flag” in the opening days, common sense prevailed, at least for a short moment.

And that is the truth.

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Discourse on Technology – Giving Your Life Away to ‘Her’ (or HAL)

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I know I must’ve said this once before, but standing atop a mountain ridge gives one a distinct advantage to see from up high both sides of the mountain. Being born before the tsunami of the Information Age also gives one a clear reflection of what life was like before intrusive technology. I feel that being born only on one side of the mountain or more aptly, in the midst of the hurricane, one only knows the hurricane.

In modern times, writers, philosophers, artists and scientists have been enamored with the thought of creating a “machine” that can think like us, do our bidding (those tedious “honey-do” chores) and be our companions. We since deemed this ‘life’ as Artificial Intelligence. According to Futurists, this Rubicon will be crossed in a mere 38 years (or even sooner).

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/06/science/20111206-technology-timeline.html?_r=0

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We seem racing towards this goal to create a being that will emulate and serve us. The intentions are good, as is a certain road according to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, or Virgil, or even Samuel Johnson. Look it up.

But when we create this AI-self, what will we ask it to do? According to some writers, machines and technology, which was supposed to free us up with an abundance of leisure time, has instead multi-tasked us to the point where we’re drowning in a sea of things to do. (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2014/05/26/140526crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all) Will then, this AI-self be our savior to free us of our menial tasks? In the movie ‘Her’, an AI Operating System comes to the rescue of the main character in both the mundane chores of scheduling appointments as well as the emotional rescue of his life. We trust Her, not realizing that ‘she’ was made in our image – which includes EVERYTHING about the human character. Be careful of what you wish for…

HER

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And of course, in the movie ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ the HAL 9000 computer had been given complete control of the Discovery One spaceship. HAL is ultimately given a moral dilemma and makes his decision. How does one exactly write the code for morality into a machine? And which version of morality?

This may all seem like futuristic sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. But is it? How much have we already given control over to something that will do the things we don’t have the time or the effort to be bothered with? Will our laziness and willingness to “let ‘someone’ else do it” be our undoing? As someone born before the Information Tsunami, I predict it will slowly creep into our lives like some kudzu vine and over time ‘just be there – as it always has’. I wonder if Siri dreams of electric sheep?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Androids_Dream_of_Electric_Sheep%3F

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Falling (Addiction) – Part 2 Part B

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One day in the very near future, when bio-geneticists isolate the addiction gene, and determine that they’ve identified either a genetic ‘cure’, or (as is usually the case) a pill to ‘fix’ addiction (irony inserted here) we as a civilization must address a greater issue.

Addiction as we all know comes in many shapes and sizes; gambling, food, sex, consumerism, alcohol or drugs, to name just the usual suspects. For many of us, we know of or must deal with someone with an alcohol or drug addiction (or a variation thereof). And if in the future ‘they’ meaning some multi-national conglomerate like Pfizer, Abbott, Eli Lilly et al devise a drug cure (or more likely a vaccine) for addiction, would they in some strange sci-fi scenario be pressured by the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Bacardi and so forth to suppress their findings?

I remember back in the 1970s during the height of the OPEC oil embargo, people were whispering that the auto industry had secretly devised a car that could run on 80 miles per gallon. ‘They’ were just waiting for the price of oil to rise so high, then to unleash their Frankenstein. But the monster never materialized, at least not for another 40 years. Which makes me think that if the pharmaceutical and bio-genetic marriage of industries ever did isolate the addiction gene, they may be willing to create the ‘cure’, if only if they could generate enough profit to make it worthwhile. The alcohol industries would only ramp up their advertising Blitzkrieg to make drinking seem even more social and fun…kind of what they do now.

But addiction is not a fun ‘Great Game’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Game) to be played out by hyper-rich industries now or in the future, or least shouldn’t be. It’s a terrible and debilitating disease that ruins people, families and society. And trying to address addiction is not as simple as saying to someone facing it to “Just stop!” or “Use will power”. You can’t fix it with an episode of Oprah, Dr. Oz or Jimmy Swaggart. It’s a complicated and messy procedure that involves so many factors that there is rarely one simple solution. And even in the near future if some Multi-National Corporation devises a ‘cure’, I don’t think it’ll fairly address the root causes.

For now, the most adequate salve is for support, compassion, and love. Addicts desperately need help from societies and government, and that’s an understatement. Often they live in quiet desperation and are ashamed of their condition. We shouldn’t wait for a pill to cure them. We need to offer a lending hand to those in need, now.

First post on addiction October 12, 2013:

http://kuppajodotcom.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/falling-part-2/

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Passion – Vegetarianism

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One must have a passion in order to survive this game called life. Without a passion, the daily slog becomes just a daily slog.

You can admire something without actually being part of it. I admire the extremely hard work and fierce dedication of the US military Special Forces. I’m not a Spec Ops guy…I’ve met my fair share of Spec Ops folks and have worked with them (and let me tell you they are NOTHING like what Hollywood portrays). They are the consummate quiet professionals. But I am not part of that club. I admire freethinking bohemian folks (some used to call them hippies). I’m not part of that group but I admire their dedication. I’ve also met my share and they are nothing like what movies portray them (well, kinda sorta).

I am not a vegetarian. I admire vegetarians but I also like my occasional favorite meal of medium-rare filet mignon with fries (avec des frites) joined with a nice glass of nouveau Beaujolais. But I’ve also had some scrumptious meals of portabella mushrooms, falafel and whatnot. Vegetarian meals can and are just as great as standard meat-fare, but require added attention and work.

Here’s my non-vegetarian perception of vegetarian cooking: it sometimes requires additional prep and can be more costly when counting in the added peripheral ingredients. Over time, it CAN be more expensive and time consuming but in the long run is definitely much more beneficial to the system. It’s not unlike financial planning; most of us neglect this and suffer the consequences later on in life. With attentiveness and focus, we can keep this ship on tack and to a safe port without too much concern. Healthy eating is more than a lifestyle – it’s an investment in the human vessel we call our bodies.

A few years ago one of my daughters, who was 16 at the time, watched a YouTube video about the cruel and savage treatment of animals for food. She announced quite adamantly to me with all the passion of Martin Luther nailing his treatise to the church doors at Wittenberg “I am now a VEGETARIAN!” I had grunted to my wife, thinking I was out of earshot (but apparently not): This’ll last about 3 weeks” to which my daughter (within earshot) said, “I heard that!” She remained a vegetarian for about a year, maybe out of spite, maybe out of passion, but it did require us to be creative and imaginative in making meals for the entire family via non-meat recipes.

My youngest daughter has now opted for the vegetarian route, and as we are somewhat prepared we searched the exhaustive data banks of the Internet (which, thank God is available because in the pre-internet era be we’d probably be eating lettuce, lentils and leeks). We came across this recipe, which I must say, as a non-vegetarian vegetarian was VERY good. The special trick was to add the meatless meatballs from Trader Joe’s, which are EXCELLENT. A wonderful recipe that I heartily endorse. I will say, for those who like their chili with a bit of fortitude, you may need to add some extra spices of choice.

The Internet has done amazing and fascinating things for mankind. It has also done some horrible and sinister things as well. But it has allowed the diaspora of information on information, particularly for recipes. Here’s one I endorse for a vegetarian chili:

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Vegetarian-Chili-in-the-World/Detail.aspx?evt19=1

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