Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What do Luis Suarez and My Three Year Old Have In Common?

My three-and-half-year old son has something in common with one of the most talented soccer players in the world, and I’m not exactly happy about it: They both bite.

“No bite, Drew!” 

Those words, sadly, have been said around our house far too often in recent months. We thought he was through the biting phase – which usually happens for most kids around age 1, or maybe 2, when they are forced to move on from binkies (pacifiers) and other oral addictions, yet aren’t quite equipped with the words needed to express themselves.

“Don’t bite! Use your words!” That’s something that has been yelled – sorry, I mean emphatically suggested – around our house over the years.

We thought our boy understood that biting is widely considered socially unacceptable, and we figured he understood it years ago. I mean, he’s three after all. Three year olds know this, right? At least, three-year-old girls do. And that’s all we had experience with before he came along.


Use your words, Luis!
Then, in recent weeks, the boy bit two of his sisters; Teeth marks and all. We were very disappointed. We scolded him. We gave him gargantuan time-outs. Like solitary-confinement-type punishments. But, we convinced ourselves that it was just a phase. As parents of older kids often tell us, “This too shall pass.”

Clearly it would, because biting just isn’t something adults do.

Enter Luis Suarez.

For those who don’t pay attention to soccer … or news … or Facebook … or random banter around the water cooler … a world-famous soccer player, who plays for Uruguay’s National Team and led the English Premier League in goals this past season as a forward for Liverpool, went ahead and bit someone during a World Cup game.

That’s right. He bit someone.

Sadly, it wasn’t his first offense. He’s bitten before; He's bitten twice before to be precise -- and to sound vaguely like a bad 80s’ song.
 
Suarez served a suspension for biting an opponent in 2010 in a Dutch league. Then he did it again last year in the Premier League. This past year he seemed more intent on scoring goals than chomping on opponents, so lots of people forgot his cannibalistic past. Then, with a global audience watching one of the biggest matches of the world’s biggest sporting event, he struck again.
 
Chomp!

One Millionaire Bites Another. Again. 
Here he is, a 27-year-old millionaire striker for a World Cup favorite, and you just know there’s a parent somewhere in Uruguay (or watching in the stadium in Brazil) muttering, “No bite, Luis! No!”

This world-class player, and now world-renowned jerk, may have just written his own exit from international soccer, and possibly the professional game altogether, all because he couldn’t grasp what most three-year-olds understand: that biting is unacceptable.

Most three year olds -- except mine, that is.  

Still, I’m holding out hope that our child will learn this lesson, at least before he starts kindergarten.

If not, there’s always soccer.


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Monday, June 16, 2014

Average American's Guide to Soccer Lingo

Thanks to the World Cup, many Americans are watching soccer and rooting for the U.S. team for the first time in four years. As we all know, it’s not enough to yell "GOAL" for two minutes straight without taking a breath when we score. You have to do your best to also sound like a real soccer fan during the rest of the game. 

While it's easy to remember the general rules – like no hands – some of the lingo may be a bit harder to understand. So here’s an unofficial guide to some of the terms thrown around by announcers and all of us soccer fans, alike.  

The Basics:

The Pitch – The field.
To be a real fan, you need to sound like a fan.
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

Pace – It just means speed. But if you want to sound like a loyal fan, you need to say things like, “That squad has a lot of pace.”

Nil – Zero: for example, Mexico won an exciting match 1 to nil.

Draw – a tie. (Gasp, they have ties in soccer!)  

Equalizer – a goal that ties the score. Simple enough.
 
Related to the Rules:

Regulation Time  -- This is the 90 minutes the game is played, made up of two 45 minute halves. Often just "Regulation."

Stoppage Time/Added Time – Actually, the game is played for at least 90 minutes. While the clock on the screen runs continuously, the official game time is kept by the official. Yes, it's meant to be confusing. He keeps track of time lost to goal celebrations, substitutions, and millionaires writhing in pain because someone stepped on their toe. He adds time at the end of the half, and the end of regulation, and then stops the game once he feels good and ready.

Extra Time – Not to be confused with added time, extra time is overtime. We’ll likely see lots of extra time once the knockout phase of the World Cup begins. Note: You can have added time that's added to extra time.

Booked, or booking – Whenever a player gets a yellow card, they are booked, as in the referee adds them to their little black book. In usage: “That was a justifiable booking.” Yellows are the official caution card in soccer. Two bookings and you’re sent off.

Sent Off – When a player gets a Red Card or two Yellows, they have to leave the game. They get “sent off.” Sending offs are severe, as the player can't be replaced and their team goes down a player, and their side has to play with just 10 men. The player "sent off" also has to miss subsequent games, though the teams can replace them in the next game.   

Offsides (updated) – A slightly confusing penalty that involves the number of defenders between an attacker and the goal. Basically, when the ball is advanced to you, you need one defender and the goalie (or 2 defenders total) between you and the goal. But it all depends on where they all are when the ball is played, not when you get it. It also matters how it's played, and by who, and whether the "offsides" player is involved in "the play," and yada, yada. Basically, it requires more words than I care to write. So, here's a link.

"A High Line" – Using the offsides rule to their advantage, many teams have their line of defenders creep up the field, making it more likely for offensive players to be called offsides when a pass comes their way. Also known as an offsides trap. Doing so is often described as "playing a high line."

Set Piece – Any “play” that starts with a free kick or corner kick where the offensive team has a chance to score. Teams practice set pieces, and will usually have a plan they are trying to enact, like scoring.

The Stripe – The little line 12 yards out from the goal where penalty kicks are taken from, wither due to penalties or tie games after regulation time and extra time. When a penalty happens in the box during the game, the referee will just point to the stripe, and announcers will say, "He's pointing to the stripe!"

Penalty Kick – We all should know this one, but it's a free kick from the stripe. Any penalty by a defender inside the penalty box can result in a penalty kick. Non-serious penalties inside the box are often ignored due to the severity of penalty kicks.

Terms To Show You Know A Bit More About Soccer:

First Touch – Used to describe how a player handles the ball when it comes to them. “He had a brilliant first touch.” Just to be clear, it’s not the first time a player touches the ball in the game, just on any given play. (Be careful, overuse of this phrase can take you rather quickly from soccer cool guy to soccer douchebag).

Clean Sheet – When a team or goalie records a shutout. Not necessarily a win, as it could still be a 0-0 tie. In usage, "If the score holds, this will be Costa Rica's second clean sheet of group play.
  
The "Counter" - Short for counter attack. Often times teams will play a defensive strategy, waiting for the right time to launch a counter attack -- usually after a failed corner kick, or some other play that brings the other team's players deep into their end. Usage: "Here they go on the counter."

Flick-On – A header that subtly redirects and advances the ball closer to the goal or toward another player. A player can also "flick" with their foot, in which it's a quick redirection pass. 


Ambitious – Soccer commentators love to give out subtle jabs, a common one being “Well, that was a bit ambitious.” That means someone shot from too far away, or passed it forward beyond the range of an attacker. Imagine a quarterback throwing a bomb way-over the receivers head on first and ten: That's ambitious. (It can also be used to describe an unnecessary slide tackle, which may result in a booking.)

Terms in International Play:

Cap – Earned for appearing in an international soccer game for your country. "Tim Howard has over 100 Caps."


Cap-committed – Once a player has played in a game for a national squad, they cannot switch and play for another. Several German-American dual citizens play on the U.S. team.  Once thy appear in a game for the U.S., they become cap-committed to the team. Yay!?

Friendly – Game held between two squads, usually national teams, in which nothing is at stake. Also, a fancy word for a scrimmage.


Advanced Lingo:

EPL – English Premiere League: The top professional league in England, and one of the most highest playing pro leagues, so lots of top world players play there. There are other top European leagues, including ones in Germany, Spain and Italy. These leagues are actually better than the EPL in some ways, but none of those can be abbreviated.

Tika Taka – A style of play made famous by the Barcelona FC professional team and the Spanish team. It’s the short, controlled, one-touch passing that make it look like your just playing with the other teams' minds.

False 9 – This one is tough. It describes a position on a team when that team plays without a true striker, and rather has a midfielder who moves forward into that role in attacking situations (they are the False 9). It’s the soccer equivalent of the Wildcat.

Ballon d'Or – This is the Golden Ball, given to world’s top player each year. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo won the latest Ballon d’Or.  Argentina’s Lionel Messi won the previous three. France’s Franck Ribery did not win it this year, and he was mad about it. Not to be confused with the "Maillot Jaune," which is the yellow jersey worn by the leader of the Tour De France.
 
*****
 
And, here are a few Quick Compliments which can be blurted out randomly between sips of your beer to look like you know what you're watching:
 
"Nice Touch"
 
"Great Ball"
 
"Brilliant!"

Now, good luck rooting for the American team. And remember, after the World Cup, you can just forget all these terms for another four years.

Go USA!


P.S. If there are any other confusing terms, let me know and I or another soccer geek will interpret, and it'll get posted here.




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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Omnivore Dad's Dilemma

The words I’ve dreaded since we started feeding these kids have just crossed my pre-teen daughter’s lips.

“Dad, what would you think if I wanted to stop eating meat?”

“What!? Like a, like a vegetarian?”

“Yes. Exactly like that. ”

Ay Caramba! Really? A vegetarian?

Now, I consider myself a reasonable man. I make certain food and I expect that food to be eaten … Hmm. That sounded frighteningly like King Triton before he blew up the Prince Eric statue. Anyway.

I do consider myself a reasonable dad. And, don’t get me wrong, I fully support the decisions by other people to become vegetarians. I’m not an anti-vegite (not my term). I have lots of friends who are vegetarians. … Boy, this doesn’t sound good.

I swear. My two sisters, whom I adore, were each vegetarians for years. I have a sister-in-law now who’s a vegetarian, I think. Maybe even two. I try not to pry about such matters. I really do support people who make that choice. Really.

It’s just that I kind of like meat. Sure, I’ve struggled with the concept of killing animals a bit. I remember when I read “The Jungle” back in my freshman year of high school. I avoided hotdogs for at least a solid two weeks. But I just couldn’t stay away. There’s just too much about meat that’s appealing.

You say Tomato, I say ...
You are not becoming a vegetarian!
Besides, we’re also kind of “foodies” in our house. We try to make and eat lots of cool dishes. French peasant food, southern bar-b-que, authentic Mexican, half-ass Thai, you name it, we make it and eat it here. And almost all of it has meat at its core. We even add chicken to our meager attempts at Indian food. My wife often makes fun of me because when I shop for our meals I like to pretend I’m a Top Chef contestant and always start by picking “the proteins.”

We not only eat meat proudly, but we're foodies in the shows we consume. I can survive months on a steady TV diet of Iron Chef and Anthony Bourdain. Pretty much all Tony does is travel the globe eating meat in tube form while he exalts the mere existence of pork fat. That's my favorite show.

And it’s not just me, my kids all love watching cooking shows, too – kind of the way my siblings and I loved when a “nature” show came on the tube growing up. In our family these days, the Food Channel is rivaled only by HGTV as most watched network. (Oh, and Disney, of course).

My daughter, who now wants to be a vegetarian, used to consider Cat Cora her personal hero. And just a few weeks ago she suggested that she and I make the 5 mother sauces this summer. She’s going to be bummed to learn animals must die for at least two of those sauces. Three if you’re a crazy vegan and count eating eggs as animal death.

Simply put, eating meat, cooking meat and watching people cook meat are regular occurrences in our house.  

But it’s more than that. There’s also a practical aspect. I do a lot of the cooking and food shopping in our house. Sure, it’s easy to throw a veggie burger on the grill, or order the cheese pizza to appease the vegetarians among us. But, what about all those other meals? Am I supposed to make Tofurkey every meal? Or tofish? Or topork? Do we have to find meat alternatives for everything? How will I do that? And how much will that cost?
A brisket that we cooked and ate
recently. BTW, those wood chips
are for smoking, not for eating.

I certainly want to be a dad who supports his kids, who helps them become who they want to become. And I totally respect the thought and perspective and conscientiousness that goes into something like this. But my kid? Already? She’s only freaking eleven. My God. At this rate she’ll be moving to a hippie commune and drinking only beet juice before she’s old enough to drive. Sorry veggie friends. Just venting.

I imagine this is just the start of her spreading her wings and asserting who she is.  All happening just as I’m settling into my ways. Is this what I have to look forward to? Is this what all those older parents were referring to when they'd wink and smile and say, “It only gets better?”

This is a big test. Am I going to be a parent who stands in the way their kids’ individualism, or am I going to help them grow?
 
Ugh. Why couldn’t she just give up television? Or discover punk rock music? Or become a Mets fan?

As for my thoughts on the whole vegetarian thing, I have personally come to accept the fact that we humans are omnivores by nature. We have teeth designed for tearing flesh, and our bodies need protein. Sure, it’s lonely atop the food chain. But that’s where we find ourselves  – usually.

In my life, as I’ve thought more about the food we eat – which I have done, a lot -- I’ve certainly believe we need to fully understand where our food comes from, to know how hamburgers are made, to know how cheese is cultured, to know what it takes to grow vegetables. I’ve helped promote policies that support local farmers and the whole “slow-food” movement. And I make decision based on sustainability, and environmental impact, and the humane treatment of livestock. There’s virtue in that.

But damn it, if someone roasts a pig, I’m there with a fork in hand. (And maybe some Achiote paste, for good measure).

So, this eldest child of ours has left me with yet another dilemma. I want to support her, but I really don’t want to start cooking two meal options every night.  And, as much as she may be considering giving up meat, I am not.

So, what’s a dad to do?

Help me, Bobby Flay. You’re my only hope.



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Thursday, June 5, 2014

What’s Really Wrong With Politics is You…

Anyone who steps back and observes the current state of our politics knows there is something very wrong. And I think I have a sense of what it is. I’m not talking about recent rulings on campaign finance, high-powered lobbyists, or the prevalence of extremist factions; I’m talking about something deep seeded in each of us.

The real problem is our individual inability to separate our own opinions from the facts.

Don't get me wrong. Opinions are good. We should all have some. But we need to know when our opinion impacts our ability to see the facts.   

Consider this: It’s sport analogy, so my apologies in advance. But, have you ever watched a game where something questionable happens to your favorite team. It could be a possible fumble, or a charge/block call, or a handball (for those few soccer fans). Are you the type of person who watches the replay and lets the facts tell the story? Or are you like most fans who let their loyalties cloud their adherence to reality, and just look for some evidence that will make your team’s case?
 
No one ever admits to being that fan, but they are everywhere.  


Fumble! Or is it?
Well, it depends. Or does it?
Darn you, truth!
I’ve watched games with people I consider to be highly reasonable and intelligent who will yell at the screen that it wasn’t a fumble because the knee was down, when anyone with eyes could see the ball came out first. They made up their mind well before they took the time to see what actually happened. And no facts will change it.

In sports, at least, there are referees. Even if we think they are blind or total bums sometimes, they are there.

We don’t have any real referees in American politics. Sure, the public gets to vote every few years, but that’s hardly consistent or decisive enforcement. We used to have the media to act as a referee of sorts. But I fear one of the many side-effects of the changes that have taken place in journalisms in the past two decades is that nobody thinks of journalism as an effective referee of the truth anymore. Sure, many journalists still see that as their role. But when a few major outlets struggle with the opinion versus fact divide, and the mere definition of what constitutes a media outlet has so undoubtedly changed, that battle is lost.
 
Now, the closest thing we have to a referee runs on the Comedy Channel. Some people think he's a bum, too.

So, in reality it falls to each of us to wade through it all, and make our own decision about what is real and what isn’t, to separate science from fiction, and to know the difference between the truth and only partially-true talking points.  
 
Sure, having the people in charge is good. Call it the marketplace of facts, or the democratization of reality. Yet, if many of us can’t even tell a fumble when we see it, how are we going to do with the big questions?

Take the Benghazi attacks, as an example (and I know some people have just started yelling at their computer screen). This was certainly a horrific event that cost American lives. We should know what happened and understand it. But are any of the actions associated with it impeachable, as some of my Facebook friends have suggested? If you say yes, ask yourself if any of the actions by the previous administration associated with the attacks on the World Trade Center were impeachable too? Very few among us will say yes to both. Many more will say yes to one and not the other, driven not by facts but by our political predisposition. This is but an example.

Every day things occur in politics that cause similar reactions. Politicians do nefarious things, like telling lies or having affairs; And they do less nefarious things, like accepting campaign donations or supporting policies we might disagree with. How we react to such things often has less to do with the facts and more to do with the letter after their name. This isn’t a Republican problem, or a Democratic problem, it’s an every damn one of us problem.

In the post-referee world, or the world where everyone is their own referee, the human aptitude for bias and the ability to create our own reality is severely hampering our political process.

Sadly I don’t know that there exists one cure-all answer to the problem. We can’t resurrect a media that will act as our truth referee, not in this social media-driven, click-bait obsessed, post-modern “journalism” world. It really does come down to the individuals, which is fine when we consider ourselves as the arbiter of truth, but kind of scary when we think about all the idiots out there who don’t agree with our clearly-superior opinions.

But I also know that most people, in some shape or form, have an inherent sense of fairness. I’m not talking about economic fairness, or even equality-under-the-law fairness. Rather, I mean a general sense that there exist something formerly known as the truth, and that it’s only fair that the truth should be respected. That would be fair.

So next time we see some political story break, involving characters we all know, we should stop and observe before we form an opinion. And we should all ask ourselves, did that football come loose before the knee touched the ground? There is usually an answer.
 
Of course, that's just my opinion.