17 Jun

World Cup

The problem is, we don’t have cable TV. So we can’t watch many World Cup games at home. ABC shows games on the weekend, but if you want to see, say, Ecuador vs. Costa Rica, you need cable. And half the time, you need Univision, the U.S. Spanish-language cable network.

Since it’s good Spanish comprehension practice in addition to often being the only option we have, Eileen and I have frequently gone over to her parents’ house to watch the Univision live broadcasts of the games. It’s been fun. We engage in a similar ritual of camping in front of the Ruzicka TV every summer for the Tour de France.

With the World Cup, however, we’ve had the unique experience of seeing both Univision broadcasts and ESPN/ABC broadcasts, all of which are targeting people living in the U.S. but different cultures within the U.S.. Univision roots for pretty much all of the South and Central American teams, since it’s mostly targeting hispanic immigrants. There’s a little more emphasis on Mexico, but they celebrate victories by Ecuador, Argentina, and Brasil pretty equally.

It’s been interesting noting the difference between the Univision coverage and the ESPN coverage. This country is obviously not too into soccer (which really should be called football, just, you know, cuz of logic), but I’m not here to criticize us for that. Yes, I happen to like watching soccer way more than baseball, golf, football, or basketball, but sports spectating is a social phenomenon.

I was just having this discussion with some other teachers on the last day of school. One of them remarked that he just can’t get into soccer. I told him about how insane it was to be in Quito when Ecuador beat Brasil and Argentina. There was a real feeling of unity. People were waving Ecuadorian flags out their car windows and honking. You could have gone up to complete strangers and hugged them. It was great.

And it made it hard not to get into it. If you are surrounded by people who love a sport, chances are that you’ll get into it. I admit to watching several “March Madness” games — in part because of the hype — even though I normally don’t watch much basketball.

Of course, there are other factors involved in fandom. You’ve got to understand the game; you’ve got to appreciate its difficulty and the skill of the players; it helps if you get to know the players’ names and faces. But I still contend that the social aspect of sports is really the most important.

All sports are absurd. When you sit back and think about them, they’re silly. Many of them involve attempting to put a ball in a designated place. Isn’t that just a little bit wierd?

If the U.S. wants to remain stalwart in its shunning of the most popular game in the world, that’s actually fine with me. I’m not going to complain about it. That being said, Univision’s coverage of the World Cup kicks ass. The few times I’ve seen the ABC/ESPN coverage, it’s been more about gossip than about the games. One example was ABC’s touching little human interest story on Landon Donavan’s selfless dedication to his future brother-in-law. Another was the “controversy” surrounding Eddie Johnson’s outrageous comparison between soccer and war. Like sports and war have never been compared before. Give me a break. I think one could argue that sports are a healthy manifestation of the same sorts of instincts that cause war and that the war metaphor works. In fact, with that metaphor in mind, consider the following statement: the U.S. chooses its own sports.

16 Jun

In Which Tember Learns to Hate Traffic Jams

Once, while I was talking with my mom on the phone, she informed me of a doggie IQ test. I don’t remember all of the tests — which might say something about my IQ — but each one consisted of a task (such as extracting a treat from underneath an overturned cup), which was then timed and assessed by the speed with thish the dog completed it.

Mom explained each test to me over the phone, and I proceeded to administer them to Tember. The first test was to put a towel over her head and shoulders and see how fast she freed herself. She did it in about three seconds. In fact, she did most of the remaining tests in three seconds or less, thereby qualifying as a “genius.” I don’t know how difficult the tests actually were (I found them pretty easy), but I believe she’s proven herself in some other ways.

She has learned, for example, to get worried any time someone starts to use a printer since it usually just makes people angry. She also learned just this past week to hate traffic jams. We were on our wa to Milwaukee when we hit some stop-and-go traffic. I was trying to keep the stops gradual so as not to throw Tember around, but at one point, the cars ahead of me stopped very suddenly. I realized how suddenly they were stopping only mid-way through my gradual stop, at which point I started chanting “shit” cuz, you know, sometimes that helps. The problem is, Tember is familiar with such chants (thanks to the printer, for one). She started pacing around the back of the car until the traffic cleared up, when she relaxed and lay down.

The next day, as we were leaving Milwaukee, we again hit some stop-and-go traffic. There were no close calls, and thus no “chanting,” but she still got agitated. Until we hit a smooth flow of traffic.

Later, as we were entering Madison, I put it to the test. I tried some quick slow-downs followed by some acceleration, and sure enough, I got a pacing animal in the back seat.

06 Jun

Why I haven’t posted in the past few days

It’s one of the oldest mom lessons there is: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

The last two weeks of school are never good from a teacher standpoint. You’ve got failing students suddenly taking interest in your classes and scrambling to turn in late work; if you accept it, you need to grade it all; you’re dealing with the usual load of end-of-the-year essays and final exams and whatnot; you’ve probably got parents calling you or parents calling guidance counselors who are calling you; you’ve got all sorts of little paperwork to do (things like textbook return forms); and if you have any students who piss you off, they’re guaranteed to get under your skin in these last few weeks. If you haven’t started yet, you’ll begin having school-related panic dreams soon; they’ll last until a week or two into summer.

June 5th (also known as the final day of Timmas) was, foreseeably, a horrible day. It was the last day of classes, to be followed by three days of exams. I had fumed all weekend about the students who were pissing me off, and on Sunday night when I was trying to fall asleep, I just kept rehearsing angry speeches I was going to deliver to those students. I ended up getting out of bed around midnight — after unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep — and surfing the internet for the lyrics to a song by Vincentico called “Los Caminos de la Vida.” The song had been running through my head all day; it’s lyrics were oddly comforting. The translated chorus goes something like this:

Los caminos de la vida, (the paths of life)
no son los que yo esperaba, (aren’t the one I hoped for)
no son los que yo creia, (aren’t the ones I believed they’d be)
no son los que imaginaba (aren’t the ones I imagined)

Los caminos de la vida, (the paths of life)
son muy dificiles de andarlos, (are very difficult to walk)
dificiles de caminarlos, (are very difficult to travel)
y no encuentro la salida. (and there’s no way to avoid them — literally ‘and I can’t find the exit’)

After watching the music video a couple times, I headed back to bed around 1:00. I find it fascinating that a song whose thesis is pretty much “this difficult life is not what I had hoped it would be” could be so soothing to my troubled mind. I guess I don’t find it that strange, just fascinating. When life sucks, it’s somehow nice to know that it sucks for other people. That’s funny. “Los Caminos de la Vida” ended up being the first song I heard on my birthday and an appropriate anthem for the crappy day that followed. Given, it didn’t comfort me much later in the day when I was scolding the student who had missed 30 days of class, but years from now, which do you think I’ll remember? The student or the song?

The good news is that in light of recent events, I’ve decided to postpone Timmas until June 10th, so there are four more days of Timmas! Woot!

01 Jun


I just saw this word on the national spelling bee. It was the word that tripped up the 2nd place speller. It means “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” Author J.D. MacDonald defines it as “homesickness for a place you have never seen.” Ha! I love that.

In google, it returns 390,000 hits, way more than hukilau, an earlier word that means “A Hawaiian fishing party usually involving many people and much revelry” and which only returns 146,000 hits. Still, I find both those numbers staggering. There are actually almost 400,000 websites that mention “weltschmerz.” Crazy.

The final three spellers were girls. It’s not unusual for a girl to win; in fact the contestants are almost 50-50 boys and girls, and previous years’ winners are just as often girls as boys. But it does make the third-to-last word, “kundalini,” poetically appropriate. It means, “The latent (female) energy said to lie coiled at the base of the spine.”

But the winning word is even more poetic. When the second place finisher erred on “weltschmerz,” the announcers commented that the final girl would have known that word since it was German and since her dad speaks German. (Turns out that spelling bee commentators make just as many hasty conclusions as most sports commentators; how would they know for sure she knew it?) The final word, “Ursprache,” which won said girl the competition, was also German in origin, and (here’s the poetry) it means, “parent language.”

It’s humbling what these middle schoolers know. I mean, for them, words like ennui and paroxysm are child’s play. Most days, I can’t remember how to spell alligator. So I have no Schadenfreude for the losers. I was pained for each of them. Ah the weltschmerz; in an ideal world, we would all be winners.

Actually, strike that. If everyone wins, then victory is meaningless. I bet there’s a German word for that. Auschkugel: victory rendered meaningless by its being shared with everyone.