i love fútbol — i fucking hate fifa

I love fútbol. I love the game and I love the term fútbol. It just sounds and looks so much more interesting than either ‘football’ or ‘soccer’. Plus fútbol more appropriately reflects the international nature of the game.

I particularly love women’s fútbol. It’s not quite as fast as the men’s game, but I prefer their style of play. There are fewer players who engage in diving, there is more emphasis on teamwork, there are fewer prima donnas, and above all there is more pure joy from the players in their athleticism. Women’s fútbol is simply more fun to watch.

So I’m completely over the moon that, in just over a week, the Women’s World Cup will begin in Canada. And I’m completely pissed off about the way the best women fútbol players in the world are being treated.

Women's Soccer vs. Iowa

There has never, in the entire history of the World Cup, been a match played on artificial turf. Until now. All of the venues in which the Women’s World Cup will be played this year have artificial surfaces. That’s bad — bad for the players and bad for the game.

It’s bad for the players because playing on artificial turf increases the chances for injury. We’re not just talking about turf burns, which may seem relatively minor (but aren’t); we’re talking about serious injuries. There are more ankle injuries — some of which might only slow a player down, some of which might cause a player to miss a game, some of which might end a career. Artificial turf can cause a metatarsophalangeal joint sprain — more commonly known as ‘turf toe’ — in which a player’s big toe becomes hyper-extended. Have you ever had a toe injury? It changes the way you walk (assuming you can even wear a shoe), so imagine how it affects a player in a running sport. And if that’s not bad enough, playing on artificial turf increases a player’s chance of concussion. That’s true even for American football players — and those guys wear helmets.

Turf burn

Turf burns

It’s bad for the game because the increased risk of injury affects the style of play. Here’s what Heather O’Reilly — a midfielder on the US team — had to say about playing on artificial turf:

“Slide tackling on grass – you know, you get up, you shake the grass off, get the dirt off. On turf unfortunately, a little layer of your skin comes up with every slide tackle so you get turf burns. Those diving headers that are so exciting on the world stage aren’t going to happen on artificial turf because you can get injured. So it changes the game quite a bit.”

Another problem is the ball moves quite a bit faster on artificial turf. That means more balls going out of bounds, which translates into more throw-ins, which results in less action on the field. The rhythm and fluidity of the game changed.

wambach 2012 olympics

Let me say it again. Playing fútbol on artificial turf is bad for the players and bad for the game. Here’s former Canadian national team player Carrie Serwetnyk on the issue:

“[The decision to use artificial turf] like saying that women’s Olympic track would be taking place on a cinder track instead of a rubber one.”

It’s pretty much unthinkable that the same decision would be made in the men’s World Cup, or in any of the qualifying matches. So why is the Women’s World Cup being played on artificial turf? Because FIFA, the organization that runs international fútbol, has no respect for women as athletes. That’s it. That’s the entire reason.

How do we know that? Because when the women players learned they’d be playing on artificial turf, they complained to FIFA. Sixteen months before the World Cup starting date, more than 70 top-ranked players from at least 17 national teams signed a letter, asking FIFA to insist on grass surfaces. FIFA ignored them. So the women sued FIFA, accusing them of gender discrimination, arguing that men’s teams would never be forced to play on an artificial surface instead of natural grass. FIFA refused to publicly address the lawsuit, and stalled. Eight months ago the women asked the court for an expedited hearing, since the turf would have to be changed before the games began. FIFA continued to stall and refused all attempts to negotiate. According to their lawyer, some of the women involved in the suit were threatened with suspension from their local governing bodies.

In January, when it became clear nothing was going to happen, the women withdrew their suit to concentrate on preparing for the World Cup. FIFA didn’t comment.

alex morgan ankle injury

There’s a lot of money in FIFA. A lot of money and a lot of secrecy. The bonuses — not the salaries, just the annual bonuses — for FIFA officials in 2012 amounted to more than thirty million dollars. The recently indicted FIFA officials were accused of taking more than US$150 million in bribes.

How much would it have cost for FIFA to equip the World Cup 2015 stadiums with grass? Between three and six million dollars. Money wasn’t the issue. The issue was the health and safety of the women players. The issue was respect.

I love fútbol. I love the Women’s World Cup, and I’ll watch almost every match. I love fútbol. But I fucking hate FIFA.

memorial my ass

Yeah, I pretty much dislike Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong; the idea of honoring the men and women who died while serving the nation — that I respect. But that’s not really what Memorial Day is anymore. Now it’s mostly a day to say something nice about veterans, maybe see a parade, go shopping, then eat a hamburger. And you can usually skip right to the hamburger.

The thing is, a lot of folks don’t even understand Memorial Day. They get it confused with Veterans Day, which is a different beast altogether. The confusion is understandable, on account of they’re both about people in uniforms and big big big shopping discounts and picnics with hamburgers.


Allow me to ‘splain the differences. Memorial Day is the one where you say nice things about folks that actually died while in uniform.  Veterans Day is the one where you offer ritual thanks for everybody who put on military harness — dead, living, somewhere in between (and if you think that’s just a figure of speech, go visit a VA hospital).

I like Veterans Day. That’s what we call it in the U.S., although most Western nations call it Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. I like it because it still retains some meaning. It’s still celebrated on the same day — the anniversary of the end of the First World War. The 11th day of the 11th month.SM-Memorial-Day-Maddness-mattress-hub-0515-homepage

Memorial Day used to have meaning. It began as Decoration Day — a day when folks would decorate the graves of soldiers who died during the American Civil War. It was an organic holiday. It began spontaneously, on different days, in different years, in different parts of the nation. Folks just went to cemeteries where Civil War troops were buried and decorated the graves. You know, out of respect.

One of the earliest Decoration Day events took place in Charleston, South Carolina. Union prisoners of war had been interned at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club. More than 250 of them died and were buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. In April of 1865, a small group of freed slaves reburied the bodies in individual graves. They constructed a fence around the burial site, and put up an arched entryway with the inscription Martyrs of the Race Course. Then on the first day of May, some ten thousand former slaves and some white missionaries decorated the cemetery with flowers, and they held a picnic on the site.

New graves of Union soldiers at the Washington Race Course

New graves of Union soldiers at the Washington Race Course

Now that is a serious show of respect. Over time, Decoration Day became Memorial Day and through some sort of osmotic agreement, it was celebrated throughout the nation on May 30th. At least it was until 1968, when everything changed. But I’ll come back to that in a bit. First let’s reduce this national holiday to the personal level.

In April of that same year, 1968, a young photographer named Art Greenspon shot this photograph in the jungle southwest of Hue. Alpha Company of the 101st Airborne had walked into an ambush. Several killed, more wounded. Bad weather prevented any medevac until the following day. So the troops sat awake all night, in the rain, with their wounded and dead, wondering if they’d get hit again. The next day, when the rain lifted enough for a medevac, Greenspon got this shot of a soldier directing the chopper. By that point it had rained so long and hard that when Greenspon tried to rewind the film in his camera, it stuck to the pressure plate.

Here’s some military esoterica for you: the first choppers take the wounded; the last choppers take the bodies. The bodies can wait; they’re not going to get any more dead. Greenspon flew out on a chopper filled with body bags. When he got back to his base, he discovered most of the shots weren’t usable. This one was.

greenspon vietnam

Art Greenspon was paid US$15 for that photograph. That’s all he’s ever been paid for it. A week later he and another photographer, Charles Eggleston, found themselves in a firefight outside of Saigon. Eggleston was hit by rifle fire and killed. One of the bullets passed through Eggleston’s hand, which slowed the round enough that when it hit Greenspon in the face, it didn’t kill him. Instead, the bullet lodged in his sinus cavity. In order to remove the bullet and minimize the facial scarring, the surgeons broke his cheekbone from inside his mouth.

Two months after that, during the darkest days of the war in Vietnam, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The intent of the act was to change the date on which four holidays were traditionally celebrated in order to create three-day weekends. Great news for workers and a boon to commercial enterprises. The effect, however, was to trivialize those holidays. Now Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day are all about mattress sales and potato salad. We’re not really thinking about the men and women dying in jungles or deserts; we’re thinking about buying summer clothes.


Oh, we’ll still say nice things about the men and women who died in uniform. We’ll still have parades (that very few people attend), and politicians will still give speeches (that very few people will listen to), but mostly we’re just glad to have that extra day on the weekend, and a chance to save a buck on a mattress, and hey, it’s a good time of year for a picnic.

But Memorial Day isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about picnics. It’s about the people Art Greenspon flew with in that chopper; it’s about those bodies in the bags.

So yeah, I pretty much dislike Memorial Day. I don’t want to see the parade. I don’t want to buy a pair of cheap-ass flip-flops. I don’t want to hear any fucking politician thanking the troops for their sacrifice.

I want politicians to stop sacrificing them.

ADDENDUM: Last year on Memorial Day I wrote about my accidental visit to the local cemetery in the small town of Maxwell, Iowa. This year, while running around, I made an intentional detour to Maxwell. It looks exactly the same as it did last year (and probably for the last umpty-ump years) — flags lining the tiny town center, and all over the cemetery.

Maxwell, IA. Memorial Day, 2015

Maxwell, IA. Memorial Day, 2015

It doesn’t make up for the apathy and commercialism, but there’s something innocent and fundamentally decent about the way these small towns continue to honor their dead.

long title, short poem

A Short Poem in the Style of e.e.cummings Celebrating Iowa Congressional Representative Steve King, Who Recently Stated President Obama is Moving Our Country to the Left Towards the Ideology of Karl Marx

are you fucking

ADDENDUM: It appears some old man hippie beatnik read my poem in public a few years before I wrote it. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

And there it is.

in which i praise a texas republican

I have on occasion frequently mocked Republicans from Texas. In my defense, that particular breed of Republican richly deserves mocking. If you have any spare mocking lying about, spend it on Republicans from Texas. You won’t find a more mock-worthy group of folks.

So I’m delighted to say that today I have nothing but praise for one specific Republican from Texas. I’m talking about former Texas State Representative Todd Smith of Euless (which, by the way, is also known as ‘Tree City USA’.and which, I’m reliably informed, ranks ninth in the percentage of same-sex couples among cities in Texas — two facts that are completely unrelated. Which is a good thing, otherwise Republicans in Texas would likely engage in radical deforestation).

Why am I praising Republican Todd Smith? I’m about to tell you. But first, let’s chat a bit about Jade Helm 15. If you aren’t familiar with Jade Helm, let me first assure you it’s NOT the name of a Marvel Comics superhero. It’s actually a U.S. military training exercise scheduled to take place over a couple of months this summer. Similar exercises have been run in the United States for decades. But we live in Lunatic Times, which means there are a LOT of really stupid, paranoid people (almost all of whom belong to one or another febrile subset of the Republican party) who see Jade Helm as a strategy by our Muslim Kenyan president to…well, the true purpose of Jade Helm depends on which conspiracy theory you prefer to see revealed in ALL CAPS!!!

Here are some of the favorite theories. Jade Helm is a plot to: 1) Give Texas back to Mexico, 2) Impose martial law on…somebody, probably Texans, but can you trust Obama to stop there?, 3) Allow Baraq Hussein Obama to seize control of the entire nation, cancel the presidential elections, and declare him Dictator For Life, 4) Disarm patriotic, freedom-loving gun-owning white Christian patriots and intern them in FEMA camps, 5) Prepare a staging area in the American Southwest for Chinese troops to invade across the Mexican border, 6) Same scenario, only with Russian troops who’ve been arming Mexican drug cartels, 7) Same scenario, only with drug cartels and Islamic terrorists who have been training together for months in Juarez, 8) Same scenario again, only with United Nations peacekeeper troops.

caption maybe

The Russian Gambit — Jade Helm Variation

The evidence for these plots? Somebody spoke to a guy who is a former SEAL who says he saw a train with cattle cars fitted out with shackles. This completely reliable information can only mean the government is going to arrest Christian patriots and haul them to indoctrination camps. Also, Wal-Mart has closed several stores because of “plumbing problems”. Obviously this is a ruse. In reality, those stores are being converted into food distribution centers to feed the invading Chinese/Russian/drug cartel/ISIS/United Nations invasion troops. Also too, the US military has announced its intentions to operate this so-called “exercise” as a means of pacifying resistance, and they’ve asked permission from both State and County governments to conduct the exercise in their territory — and that’s completely fucking suspicious. Also too plus in addition, when asked about Jade Helm, military spokesmen claim it’s just a harmless exercise — and they are liars, because it’s perfectly clear that:

For years now, our veterans, Christians, patriots, gun owners, constitutionalists, pro-life advocates, small government supporters, small businesses, real journalists in the press, anti-corruption activists, anti-UN Agenda 21 advocates, anti-global warming supporters, anti-war patriots, anti-criminal immigration supporters, have all been targeted by this administration as enemies of the United States, even within government documents. Are we supposed to trust that they have pure intentions now?

Clearly, the people who believe any of these theories — or even spend a moment seriously considering them — are totally fucking nuts. Or suffering from some sort of terminal prion disease. Or both.

Infected with Jade Helmism

Gov. Abbott desperately trying to save Tinkerbelle

One of those people is Greg Abbott. A lot of folks confuse Greg Abbott with Bud Abbott. Easy mistake to make. Bud Abbott was the chubby putz who was half of the classic comedy team of Abbott and Costello. Greg Abbot is the putz who is the newly elected Governor of Texas. Gov. Abbott, concerned for the “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties” of Texans, ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise.

And that finally brings me to Todd Smith. Smith served 16 years in the Texas legislature. He’s a solidly conservative Republican. And he just wrote the best goddamned letter to Greg Abbott. Granted, Smith’s prose is a tad convoluted, but it’s the thought that counts, right? I’m going to print the letter in its entirety. It’s that good.

Dear Governor Abbott,

Let me apologize in advance that your letter pandering to idiots who believe that US navy Seals and other US military personnel are somehow a threat to be watched has left me livid. As a 16 year Republican member of the Texas House and a patriotic AMERICAN, I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do. I’m not sure which is worse. As one of the remaining Republicans who actually believes in making decisions based on facts and evidence — you used to be a judge? — I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by those who instead make decisions based on internet or radio chock jock driven hysteria. Is there ANYBODY who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is cancer on our State and Party? It is alarming that our State Republican leadership is such that we must choose between DEGREES of demagoguery. I know that in many cases you are the better of the two demagogues (see the Lieutenant Governor driven nut job rant regarding your Pre-K program as a recent example). Having been there, I also know that politicians are not always able to speak their mind because they represent large groups of people and not just themselves. But this bone that you have thrown to those who believe that the US Military is a threat to the State of Texas is an embarrassing distance beyond the pale. You are Governor of Texas! This is an open request–from a ghost of our State’s recent Republican past–that you act like it. Enough is enough. You have embarrassed and disappointed all Texans who are informed, patriotic Americans. And it is important to rational governance that thinking Republicans call you out on it.

And he signs it sincerely. How great is that? Pretty great, is how great.

I’m confident I’d have some serious ideological and political (and grammatical) differences with Todd Smith, but at long last there’s a Republican (and one from Texas) who is calling bullshit on these lunatics and the Fuckwit Collective politicians who pander to them.

Yay for Todd Smith.

intercession, and all that

Today, apparently, is the National Day of Prayer. I wasn’t aware of that. I was completely and utterly ignorant that the United States has a National Day of Prayer. I’m not at all sure why we need a National Day of Prayer, but we have one and it’s today.

I learned today is the National Day of Prayer when a friend asked me, saying “Hey, Greg, did you know today is the National Day of Prayer?” He then urged me to go to the National Day of Prayer website and “leave a snarky comment”. When I asked why I’d want to do that, he said “You’re good at snarky comments.” Which didn’t really answer the question (does that count as a snarky comment?).

I did go to the website, on account of I’m curious about stuff like this. And I discovered the mission of the National Day of Prayer, which is

[T]o communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families.

Well. Okay, then. Good on the Christians, I guess. Very thoughtful of them to pray on behalf of America’s leaders (seriously, it IS thoughtful, though I’d be interested to hear some of those prayers involving President Obama). The website also states:

The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds.

All Americans. Transcends differences. All backgrounds. Unless, it seems, you’re not Christian. That difference, not quite transcended. (Is that snarky? I guess it’s kind of snarky.) Still, thoughtful and all that. The website also includes the official prayer for the National Day of Prayer. Which is pretty old school, with bits about being humbled and broken, and cries for mercy, and a reference to ‘you are our only hope’ (and I’m sorry, I cannot hear that phrase without mentally adding ‘Obi-wan’ and c’mon, you did the same thing, fess up).

There’s a National Day of Prayer video, because you can’t have any sort of national day without a video.

It’s a racially diverse video. There’s young white woman whose boyfriend tells her he just wants to be friends, there’s a hard-working white laborer whose boss tells him he has to work late, there’s a middle-class white woman whose middle-class white husband doesn’t believe in the Bible, and there’s a black kid in sneakers who lives in a neighborhood where other black kids gamble on the sidewalk. The National Day of Prayer apparently allowed the black kid to walk right through a group of thugs shooting dice, caused the middle-class white husband to join his wife reading the Bible, informed the hard-working white guy that he should work even harder, and…well, the young white woman still doesn’t have a boyfriend, but at least she’s white and has a nice sofa on which to cry. So there’s that.

I noodled around for a bit on the National Day of Prayer website, but I didn’t leave a snarky comment. Not because there’s no snark-worthy material there, but because why should I go out of my way to offend Christians? That just seems silly and spiteful. Yes, there are Christians who, despite the fact that we have an actual National Day of Prayer (not to mention national Christian holidays), continue to believe Christians are somehow being suppressed and victimized. And yes, there are a lot of Christians who are astonishing hypocrites.

But so what? Most of the people I know are Christian in some sense, and most of them are good people. I can’t blame them because they share some religious beliefs with people who are total assholes.

But you know what would be cool? If we, as a nation, had a National Day of Not Being a Dick. That would be cool. Or a National Day of Maybe We Should Trust Women to Make Their Own Reproductive Decisions. I’d also like to see a National Day of Get Off Your Ass and Take a Walk or Ride a Bike. Or how about a National Day to Eat Vegan? I’m not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but I think it would be worthwhile for people to consider the moral consequences of their food choices. I can think of a LOT of national days that seem more relevant and important than a National Day of Prayer specifically for Christians.

If I prayed — if I believed in Something or Someone to pray to — I’d pray for something like that. Even if there wasn’t a national day for it.