Yesterday, I watched the second half of the World Cup match between USA and Germany. And I realized that it was the first time in my life that I was watching soccer on television. Or off television, for that matter. Now, I’ve seen clips of highlights from big games over the years. I very likely even kicked around a soccer ball in grade school. But I’d never really focused on the game for an hour, paying attention to the players and the strategies and the progress of play. It was fascinating. And exciting! And in the end, the American team lost to the Germans – but they both advanced to the next round because they had better records than the other teams in their group blah blah blah it gets a little hazy from there…

FIFA, the international football league, holds a world championship called the World Cup. And that’s appropriate, since every nation on earth fields a team to compete. Every nation? I dunno. But certainly most. 204 teams began competing last year for the 32 tickets to play for glory in Brazil 2014. (USA is now through to the round of 16, which is remarkable, because no one gave them a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that far. Bravo.)

It got me thinking about American Football. Like FIFA, the NFL culminates its season each year in a ‘world championship’ called the Super Bowl. Of course, American Football is played in exactly ONE country on earth: America. (NFL likes to hold pre-season ‘exhibition’ games in places like London and South Korea… but it’s always two American teams playing each other in those “soccer” stadiums.)

Now, I know I will be branded a traitor or a communist or a terrorist or all of the above for saying this, but it became obvious to me as I watched soccer – world football – being played that American football would bore the rest of the planet to tears.

soccerclipartpicNo, it’s true. It really is. Soccer is pretty much 90 minutes of the sport actually being played: running, kicking, jumping, heading, shooting, missing, scoring… when there are fouls they are called and the free throw or kick is taken and the game just continues… there are almost no interruptions… substitutions just happen… the clock never stops. If something happens to delay play (like some idiot running on to the field), then a few minutes are added at the end. So they play and they play and they play and someone wins, or there is a tie. And that’s OK too. Can you imagine an NFL game ending in a tie? Americans don’t understand that. It is about whether you win or lose… not about how you played the game.

Imagine trying to explain American football to one of the 7 billion non-Americans on the planet. Giant mounds of flesh and bone are encased in military-grade gear and are paid millions of dollars to mostly run into each other. Occasionally a nimbler version will escape the mob and run part or all of the way down the field to score. Sometimes the guy who throws the ball will throw the ball, and sometimes the mound of flesh he throws it to will catch it. When that happens, he will almost instantly be buried under many mounds of opposing flesh. Progress is measured in yards or feet or inches. There are 100 different fouls which will cause whistles to be blown and little flags to be thrown. The clock get stopped and whenever anything happens.

Soccer’s two 45-minute periods take 90 minutes to complete.

American football’s four 15-minute periods can take three hours to complete. Not counting the multimedia halftime extravaganza. Very often, the last 10 seconds ‘on the clock’ can be stretched out to 15 minutes of delays and kicks and thisses and thats. And then the lawyers get involved.

Also – and this really must be said – soccer players all look like athletes, lean and toned and able to run around for 90 minutes almost without stopping. They wear shorts and cotton jerseys. No padding. No helmets. No face cages. No suits of armor. And it can get rough from time to time, but they all seem to know that they are there to move the ball down the field and score – not to commit televised manslaughter.

Oh, and there is no instant replay in soccer. Shit happens. Officials call it. Play continues. No tantrums. No crybabies.

I’m sorry, America. Maybe I’m biased. After all, I live in a city that has a professional soccer team – the LA Galaxy – but no NFL football team. And I’m OK with that. In fact, I’d rather see tax money spent on schools and roads and health care rather than on a glistening new stadium gifted to some billionaire team owner. I don’t even know where the Galaxy play. Just sayin’…

There you have it. If I got it all wrong about football – American or otherwise – please be sure to sack me (or flash a yellow card) in the comments. In the meantime, I’m rooting for Team USA in the World Cup. Maybe this soccer thing will catch on?

The End (so far)


[020] Stardust

We are stardust.
Billion year old carbon
We are golden.
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
– Joni Mitchell

For a species that was mucking about in the slime just last week (in geologic time), our civilization has advanced at a pretty good clip. In the space of only ten thousand generations, our illustrious family went from taming fire to screwing in lightbulbs to igniting the ion thrusters of interplanetary probes. We are golden. But we pay a price, small or large, for every step out of the darkness.

Take those lightbulbs, for example. Humans are too puny to be seen from space. Even Chris Christie. You can’t even see the giant bridges he sabotages, or what he ate for lunch. So you’d never know there are 7+ billion of us scampering around on this orb. Until nightfall. Because what do we do in the dark? We turn on the lights!


500 million people in North America. Will the last one to leave shut the lights?

And do we ever. In this night view of North America – from the Arctic to Aruba – those zillions (actual number) of lightbulbs reveal our major cities, tiny towns, the highways and byways that connect us. The coastlines are well defined (everyone wants waterfront property); the lakes and oceans are absolute black. But look – there’s the tiny little speck of Bermuda floating in the middle of the Atlantic, halfway between Nova Scotia and Puerto Rico. You’d never see its pink sands and pink tourists in the daytime version of this photo, but it shines like a beacon at night.

I’ve never orbited the Earth on a satellite or space station, and (having seen the film Gravity) I never will. The closest I’ve come to that vantage point was on a flight from Cape Town to London. I woke up in the middle of that flight, middle of that night, disoriented. The cabin was darkened in ‘sleep’ mode, and everyone seemed to be complying with the suggestion. Where am I? I raised the window shade and was gobsmacked by the sight. My camera was stowed, but this is what I saw:

Cape Town to London - Night over the Med

Cape Town to London – Night over the Med

As the BA jumbo, seven miles high, approached the north coast of Africa, the velvety black Mediterranean Sea spread out before me like a jeweler’s cloth, scattered with diamonds twinkling the outline of Continental Europe. It’s one of those moments of my life which I can revisit simply by closing my eyes. Feeling my forehead and cheek pressed against the coolness, trying not to fog the window with my breath, hearing the low thrummm of the engines, wishing the plane would circle this spot for hours. That didn’t happen. I had already been granted one wish that day. BA had wrapped up a very nice upgrade for my 40th birthday.

So, lightbulbs. (If there is an award for Best/Most Digressions in a Blog Post, will someone please nominate me? I think I’d win. My acceptance speech would take three weeks.) Lightbulbs, right. Thomas Edison’s invention and its progeny certainly make our world a brighter, safer, more productive place. And a spectacular sight to behold from on high. But those same lights cause a sort of cataract to dim our sight for the real pyrotechnics: the view when we look UP.

Our home planet (Earth) orbits a star (the Sun) which flies through the universe as part of a pinwheel-shaped galaxy we call the Milky Way. This blog (and everything else in our solar system) can be found halfway out from the bulging center, along one of the pinwheel’s spiral arms. When we look up at night and see the milky haze of stardust and starlight arcing across the sky, we are looking toward the galactic center of the Milky Way, edge on.


The Milky Way Galaxy as seen from the Atacama Desert in Chile

Most of our night skies do not look like this, thanks to the light pollution from all of those brightly lit mall parking lots, gas stations, baseball diamonds and interstates. I live in the middle of Los Angeles. I’m lucky if I can see the full moon. This photo above shows the Milky Way in all of its glory, from a place with one of the darkest night skies on Earth: the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Here is the most amazing video, Ancients by Nicholas Buer, which sparked this post:

There are several hundred billion stars like our sun in that cosmic cloud of our galaxy. And there are several hundred billion galaxies like our Milky Way in the endless expanse of the universe. Some uber-geeky types speculate that there may well be billions of universes beyond that. But I think they just make that shit up. I mean, it’s not like you can prove anything like that. Like god or something. Oh, wait…

The Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way Galaxy

I came face to face with the Milky Way, once. The darkest night sky I’ve ever been under was a billion years ago (it seems) on an idyllic holiday with idyllic friends on the Caribbean island of Nevis. We had a taxi driver named Marlon Brando (why would I make that up?) who took us late one night to a local hangout waaaay off the beaten path in a jungle clearing on the beach. It was just an open-air pavilion packed with people, locals and touristos, dancing in the dank Carib humidity. In the wee hours of that morning, almost dead from happy dance exhaustion, my clothes soaked through, I stumbled out to the beach, looked up… and just gasped at the sight of it. We are stardust.

We are stardust looking back at stardust… which may be looking back at us. Like that bathroom mirror infinity. Only better.

The dark night sky makes me happy.
Day 020 #100happydays