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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Biiiiiig Post Re:Fricking Soccer

Thoughts I had While Watching the World Cup 2006

by Michael "Soccer is OK" Pape

Short of possibly abortion or The Jews, there isn't a subject more divisive in this world than soccer, the world's favorite sport. I'm not going to speculate about the reasons for its popularity right now, because like most Americans this is my first time thinking about soccer, and that line of questioning seems like it's about 3 levels above where I'm comfortable. I'm currently watching the cute little African country of Ghana play the big bad Czech Republic, the #2 team in the world. Ghana is up 1-0 early in the second half, but that lead will almost surely not hold. It's at minute 57:15, which means that there's 32:45 left plus "stoppage time," or as I call it, "garbage time." The refs stop the clock for penalties, injuries, fake injuries, and so on -- that time is added up and put at the end of the 90 minutes so the clock can run continually. I can't decide if that's neat or lame. On the one hand, you don't really know when the game is going to end. On the other hand, the clock is always running. This is the kind of thing that makes the game seem so foreign to US viewers, who just know that the clock oddly counts forward and doesn't stop when the game ends. But it's always been done this way, so they sure ain't stopping for us wasteful imperialist Americans. Like I said, I can't decide how I feel about it. It's soccer...what can I say?

Last Part of Czech Republic vs. Ghana

64:29 -- Ghana gets a free kick because the Czech D broke down completely. I'll explain "free kick" in a second, but a Czech player got a "red card" for arguing with the ref, and was kicked out of the game. On a red card, he cannot be replaced. He's in the eternal penalty box. That means the Czechs are playing 10-on-11 for the rest of the game. A player who looks like Jesus skulks to the sidelines. The Czech fans want the refs' buns on a platter. Finally, the penalty kick is executed (it's like a one-on-one between a kicker and the goalie where the ball is laid at the edge of the penalty box and the kicker gets one shot), and the ball hits the side of the goal and bounces harmlessly away. The Czechs dodged a bullet there, but they still have the one-man disadvantage and the one-goal deficit.

74:45 -- The Czech goalie (who some say is the "Best Goalie in the World." Of course, they say that about almost every goalie, including the US guy who gave up three zingers to this same Czech team earlier in the week) is under attack from the ebola-like Ghanese (Ghanian? Ghananana?) offense. The Chechs can't just sit back and play defense because they're losing, and Ghana smells blood.

77:10 -- No. 17 butt-checks an African and gets called for a foul. Less than a minute later, another African is tackled. These Czechs are all over the place, and they can't seem to attack without being called for offsides. In soccer, the offender cannot be behind the defense unless the ball is either in the air or past them. It's a rule that prevents about 10 goals per game.

81:26 -- In Europe, booing is expressed by whistling. Seems like more trouble than it's worth, and what about those people who can't whistle? Save it for the beautiful ladies, everybody.

82:45 -- Ghana scores, mostly because the Czechs have ceased to play defense. Poor best goalie in the world. 2-0, hungry people. The Ghananians just sent in a guy named "ping-pong." He has the pineapple hairstyle of Kid (of "Kid n' Play) circa 1988. Hey, the announcers just said that the President of Ghana promised each player $20 thousand for each World Cup win. Wow. I guess I won't feel sorry for those guys anymore...they might be able to move someplace nice with that much money. Sun City, here they come.

88:49 -- 11 seconds left, and "ping-pong" just got called for his second straight offsides on a breakaway goal. In between those two stupid mistakes, a Ghanian (the announcer called him that) defense totally fouled a Czech player in the penalty box, which should have caused a penalty kick, which would have created at least a little momentum for the Czechs going into garbage time. Sounds like a whistle convention up in here.

2:54 of garbage time -- The Czechs take their best shot yet, a screaming line drive that the African goalie has to jump up to block -- it was reminicent of the Dwight Clark catch that beat the evil Cowboys in the early 80's. They then take their second best shot, but it too is blocked. Looks like we have a new "Best Goalie in the World." The refs then blow the whistle and the game ends, making the last two shots totally irrelevant in retrospect -- there was no way the Czechs could have gotten another shot off if they would have gotten a goal there. Now we know, and feel a little ripped-off. But hey, it's soccer -- what can you do?

After the first post-game set of commercials (there are none while the game is going on, thankfully -- the one thing I really like about soccer as a TV sport, and it makes one wonder what the world would be like if all sports were run this way, with the always-upticking clock, garbage time, and no time-outs. You know garbage time in the NBA would take like an hour, followed by about an hour of commercials. It would also eliminate the iconic last-second shot. Robert Horry's career would have ended three years ago) the feed comes back to shots of the stadium and crowd noise, but no announcers. At one point, somebody starts singing, and then stops when he realizes he's on the air. Hey, if they keep messing up like this I'll watch soccer more often.

So anyway, the Ghana Beans end up winning 2-0, and that makes it time for us to examine what the match (foreigner for "game") means. The teams are in groups of 4, and they play each of the other teams in the group once. That means three games. Ghana was 0-1 before today, and the Czechs were 1-0. They are both 1-1 now. If the US beats Italy, then all four teams in the group will be even at 1-1. This will set up a pair of single-elimination games: US-Ghana and Italy-Czech Republic. You get three points for a win and one for a tie, which means that a win will get you into the next round for sure, and a tie will put you at the mercy of the tie-breakers, which are mystical and unexplainable, just like all tie-breakers. But to get to that scenario, the US will have to win today. That game is coming up next, so put on your star spangled underwear and grab a Budweiser, Coors, Miller Lite, or other domestic beer. No, no, that's right -- Miller is now owned by the Germans. Put that High Life down. Oh, just forget it.

"World's Right; We're Wrong?"

Between games I want to point out an article I read in last week's SI by a guy named Steve Rushkin. It's called "World's Right, We're Wrong," and it's all about how US sports consumers are stupid for not liking soccer. It's the kind of reverse xenophobia that's become common in the Bush era, and it's about half right -- he's right about it not being the boring pointless girly third-world distraction most Americans seem to think it is; but he's wrong about it being a super-exciting near-perfect sport that Americans hate just because we think we're better than the rest of the world. Let's examine his points, or at least the ones I can extract from his sarcasm:

1) Our attitude toward the World Cup "illuminates many of our least flattering qualities as a nation," such as "breathtaking incuriosity about the rest of the world." So, we should like soccer so we understand people in other countries? I can't even begin to explain how wrongheaded that is. You can't force people to be interested in some sport by guilting them into it. If you could, the WNBA would be gangbusters right now. So what if our indifferent attitude toward other countries is shown? I thought this was about sports.

2) We don't like to appreciate foreign innovation, so we don't appreciate the head-dribbler. Yeah, so a guy from Brazil can dribble with his head. Rushkin claims this is a quantum leap forward for soccer, but for that to be true, the majority of players would need to be doing it. It's a bit, a freak show, and it still almost always ends in failure. Soccer is popular because it's remained the same for so long -- not because its innovative. The point is moot.

3) We fear the ponytail. He's right, but we're totally in the right about this. Sports in the US appeal primarily to men, and only women could like a man in a ponytail. We invented a term for a guy like this, remember? "Sensitive Ponytail Guy." Ponytail=loser, as far as real men are concerned.

4) Related to 3), Soccer is viewed as a game for pansies; However, soccer players are "fitter" and "more concussed" than pros in other sports. Whenever you're referring to a sports player-man as "fit," it's not a compliment. Personal trainers are fit. Richard Simmons is fit. And "more concussed?" Think about it -- every other shot is with their heads. Of course they get head trauma. Maybe soccer players would seem less girly if they didn't all look like wannabe fashion models who spend hours on their hair. Another suggestion: stop playing dead after every collision. It's pathetic and everybody hates it.

5) It has the best names of any sport. Which is better: Ronaldino or Boubacar Aw? I thought so. College basketball, still the king.

6) We don't care about the world. Well, the world does hate us, and it's become a chicken-egg thing at this point. Which came first, the hate or the lack of caring? I don't know. As for the attempted guilt trip, see no. 1).

7) Soccer is great! Watch a bunch of highlights, and you'll see! You could claim any sport's greatness by only watching highlights. Usually, highlights just mean bad defense. Plus, NBA guys do way more amazing stuff every game, and they're not really even trying most of the time.

He concludes with the statement: "If you don't like soccer, you don't like sports -- you only think you do." This is exactly the kind of thing that turns people off. Again, you could totally say that about any sport. "If you don't like high-school lacrosse, you don't like sports." See? It's all competition, and nothing else. The truth is, most sports fans like some sports better than others. I agree they should keep an open mind, but if they decide that soccer sucks, do they have to also decide that American football and baseball and basketball and hockey also suck? Perhaps we Americans have developed specialized tastes (from watching people dunk, hit people, and blast homers) that ancient low-scoring soccer can't hope to satisfy. Perhaps we actually are different from the rest of the world, and everyone should be ok with that. Perhaps we're both right. Perhaps we should examine:

The Wrongness of Outright Dismissal

The World Cup is a wholly unique sporting event in our world, and only the Olympics can claim to fan the flames of national pride like this soccer tournament does (and the Olympics are about 1/10th as intense). The fans are absolutely insane, and on top of that global politics provides tons of (actually, not fake-) fascinating human-interest stories for every team. Take Iran, for example. Yes, on the surface, we in the US would like to see them fail, but in Iran the hard-liners who want to turn Israel and America into smoking corpses also hate the soccer team and all it represents. It stands to reason that if the Iranian soccer team does well, the relative moderates will gain support, and that's good for everyone. And there are a bunch of considerations like this, from players being murdered for kicking the ball into their own goal (as has happened in Columbia) to players in Ghana being awarded huge sums of money for a win. Clearly, this event means more to the fans and participants involved than any other sporting event in the world, and that makes it fun.

And while scoring is indeed a rare occurrence, the game of soccer is not boring if you understand it well enough. Yes, most of the excitement ends in utter failure, but it's still filled with more ups and downs than any other game besides possibly its icy counterpart, hockey. The players are fantastically skilled and constantly doing amazing things with the ball and their feet. It's definitely not just a bunch of virile-looking and hairy men running around aimlessly -- that kind of talk comes from ignorance, not observation.

The Correctness of Conditional Ambivalence

That's not to say that the World Cup is the bee's knees; There are grains of truth in all the American criticisms of it. Let's examine some common ones, and the soccer freaks' responses:

"Nobody Scores" vs. "Baseball and Football games go for hours without scores, as well."

First of all, the way football and especially baseball are set up, the higher the game's score, the longer it goes. That means a 1-0 baseball game will take over an hour less than a 9-8 steroid-and-HGH-fueled hit festival. As I said, all soccer games take 90 minutes plus garbage time, and the clock never stops. An hour of no scoring in football is a quarter-and-a-half; in baseball, it's about half the game. In soccer, it's 2/3 of the game, and remember the clock has been ticking that whole time. This makes an hour of scoreless futbol seem like a constant string of failures, which is exactly what it is. Players miss passes, miss shots, commit drive-killing penalties, and miscalculate angles over and over again. The rules for offsides are pretty clear, and yet Ghana and the Czech Republic just combined for about 25 offsides in one game. This killed 25 possible scoring chances. At times, it seems like the goal is covered by a clear plastic sheet. This is unacceptable. Plus, when somebody says your sport is boring, don't use baseball as a contrary example. Everybody knows baseball is boring, but we're stuck with it.

"Nobody Likes It" vs. "It's the Most Popular Game in the World."

This seems to be the main issue between the pro- and anti-soccer factions. Nobody here likes it (and in fact expressing affection for soccer will get you ridiculed among most hard-core sports fans, as if you just said you liked the -ick- WNBA), and everybody (and I do mean everybody) "out there" does like it. Billions of foreigners can't be wrong, can they? Well, they grow up with it as part of their national identity. It's not our fault we fell in love with Football Sundays and people in pads hitting each other. It's not our fault that compared to our version, World Cup futbol looks somehow both wimpy and graceless. And it's certainly not our fault that we can't get excited over a 1-1 tie where somebody's faking a foul every 30 seconds. Yes, the World Cup is fantastic drama, but it's also extremely weird-looking to our American eyes. Both sides of this debate need to step off and realize that the other has a point, before I get cranky. Oh, wait, the game's starting...

US vs. Italy

The national anthem of Italy sounds like an opera. As the US anthem starts, there is a loud cheer, and all the US players have their hands over their hearts. It's amazing to see that sung in an event where it actually means something. There are a ton of US fans there, hoping against hope that Italy can be defeated today. The Americans have never beaten Italy before. Let's see if these red,white, and blue underdogs can pull a Ghana and even up this group.

The first thing I notice is that the Italians are dressed in blue. Don't they know what colors the Italian flag has? Are pizza places going to have to get new boxes now? What gives? The US is dressed in white shirts and midnight-blue shorts, and look vaguely like cruise-ship workers.

The announcers are distressingly American. Soccer should always be announced by either dry British queens or anybody speaking Spanish.

2:00 -- The US gets its first offsides penalty. How hard is this game, really? Come on. And what does it say about a sport when a major defensive tactic is running the wrong way in an effort to cause an offsides penalty?

6:00 -- The Blue Meanies get a weak shot off against Kasey Keller (sp?), who the announcers call "The Greatest Goalie in the World." I swear I'm not making this up.

7:45 -- This is why nobody scores in soccer. The US just had a looping kick into the penalty box that Landon Donovan couldn't get to. The ball bounced out of bounds with nobody touching it...oh, the US just failed again. Failure failure failure. I hate soccer.

10:02 -- The US has had a number of good scoring chances that they are doing nothing with. A typical play consists of a guy on the side kicking it to the middle of the box where there are seemingly 20 blue guys waiting for it, heads a boppin'. But the Italians can't even get it past midfield, so I guess that means something, or more accurately, nothing. 0-0.

14:02 -- The US keeps stealing the ball from the Italians, but then running into the impenetrable Italian D. A US player was fouled in the little circle above the penalty box, which causes a penalty kick that the Italians can stand in front of while covering their genitals. Guess what? The US fails again.

17:05 -- I just saw Reyna (a US failure) kick the worst pass I've ever seen. He looked like Antoine Walker throwing it into the stands. Yuck.

20:20 -- Another US failure leads to a Yellow Card for the US's Pope. The Italians in the stands start singing some lame Italian song.

21:45 -- Italy scores a goal in response to what was clearly the Italian Goal Song. The US was going to try to draw the Italians offsides, but predictably Pope failed and paid for it with a "header" goal. The US is 0-14-1 in World Cup play when the opponent scores first. Should I turn the game off now?

26:45 -- A super-gay goal off the Blue Meanie Christian Zaccardo's shin ties the score at 1-1. That's right, they couldn't score, so they had to use the body parts of the Italians. What a good Christian that guy is. I hope he doesn't get murdered. Think about that: You get on the World Cup team for your country with dreams of being a hero, and you score a goal for the other team. That's pretty messed up.

27:47 -- Derossi of Italy gets hit with a red card for Dikembe Mutomboing a US player's face with his elbow. It's the first real-looking foul I've seen in this World Cup. 11 vs. 10 the rest of the way, baby. All of a sudden, the World Cup has opened way up for these American failures. Can they manage to succeed despite themselves?

33:33 -- The announcer just said that for security purposes, the only team bus that doesn't have the team name on it is the US bus. Well, by a very short process of elimination, wouldn't the terrorists be able to figure that out? I'm just sayin'.

34:50 -- Italy sends in a guy nicknamed "The Snarling Dog." Can't wait to see where this goes. The entire Italian team looks like guys you'd meet in a seedy bar. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

35:10 -- The referees mess up an offsides cal and probably cost Italy a goal. When soccer rains, it pours. The fans' whistling can be heard all the way in Brussels.

39:00 -- Reyna just fouled the Snarling Dog, then they hug. Since all these guys play for (and get paid lots of money by) European club teams, they all seem to know and respect each other. Where's Ivan Drago when you need him? Did the Soviets even play soccer?

41:20 -- The US almost hit a 35-foot laser goal. The ball bounced off the top of the net. Even with only 10 Blue guys on the field, the US cannot get a close shot. As an aside, how come there aren't more black players on the US team? The only one I see is Pope, and he stinks.

44:00 -- Mastroeni (a US player, oddly) is given a red card for tripping. It's a crap call. What is this, the NBA? The announcer calls it a "make-up call," and the faker who was fouled is carried off on a stretcher, only to get up 5 seconds later. I hate soccer.

After garbage time of 2 minutes, halftime begins. It is 1-1, and each team is absurdly down to 10 players. I'm not sure if that'll mean more goals or less goals in the second half. Clearly, the US just has to keep aiming for Christian's shin, because they're a bunch of girls who can't score themselves.

46:00 -- Pope gets a red card, the announcer says the refs should be fired, and everybody is stunned. Italy gets a penalty shot with the nut squad in front of him. Announcer: "All these people paid good money to see this game, and the referee keeps kicking people out." The fouls did seem lame compared with the Italian Elbow. I hate soccer.

48:49 -- The US is up in fouls, 20-7. They appear to be totally getting jobbed. But then again, I don't know anything about soccer. With all the whining, I feel like I'm watching the NBA playoffs again.

51:45 -- Carlos Bocanegra (another US player, amazingly) almost returns Christian's favor by heading a ball off the top bar of the US goal.

54:10 -- The US is getting totally angry at the refs after every whistle. They've been given a ready excuse by the red cards -- time will tell if they use it.

56:18 -- I've heard a lot about the greatness of the US's Landon Donovan, but he looks like just another dude out there. Reyna just passed it to him at a weird angle, and Donovan acted as if he was too good for the ball. Plus, he looks like a college freshman, one that works on a cruise ship. Oh, he just kicked it out of bounds again. Sign this guy to a huge contract, Linchester FC United.

61:00 -- An Italian just slapped the ball with his hands, but there was no call. The announcer says that it was inadvertent. We didn't have that exception in high school gym class, that's all I know.

61:42 -- A guy with Jesus hair is back for the Italians. The US just sent in another black guy, one that had a horrible game against the Czechs. Will we have some sort of redemption story here?

62:30 -- Landon Donovan makes a great play that almost results in a US goal. I take everything I wrote at 56:18 back.

64:10 -- The black guy scores a goal, but McBride of the US is clearly offsides. Redemption abated, everybody get back to their seats.

66:44 -- It seems like the US is playing with more guys than Italy, not the other way around. An Italian leaves the game with cramps or something, and the game is momentarily even. Oh, he's limping back. This guy is taking fakery to a whole new level.

67:50 -- A blue guy almost gets it into the side of the goal. Another Blue guy, Laquinta, or "The Inn," lies around like he got fouled. This happens a lot.

69:40 -- An Italian gets a yellow card, and the announcer says that call didn't deserve it either. In the ensuing scrum, the black guy almost gets another goal.

72:00 -- The Greatest Goalie in the World makes a great save. Did you know he lives in a 1000-year-old German castle? Weirdo.

74:50 -- Playing with 9 guys, the US is getting tired. Italy still looks outmatched though. These guys are supposed to be a powerhouse? The announcer just said the refs "blew the game" again. I guess FIFA doesn't pay the announcers' salary. We need more announcers like this.

78:00 -- The US has a lot of guys with great 1-on-1 skills. They're totally schooling the boys in blue on the outside. Black Guy just had a breakaway, but was tripped. No foul. Go figure.

81:41 -- Everyone on the field is exhausted, and every time somebody threatens they are tripped. They aren't calling anything now. ABC just showed a feed of people in Times Square watching a giant TV that's presumably showing the World Cup. Everybody looks cold, and nobody's cheering. Not exactly an advertisement for soccer.

85:00 -- Black Guy has another chance, but fails. Don't these guys get tired of failing all the time? C'mon, cruise ship workers, score one of your own goals. Italy has had several chances to score here, but either Greatest Goalie or offsides or blue ineptitude have ruined each one.

87:55 -- "The Inn" misses by a mile. Take the Inn out. Put the Snarling Dog back in, Italy. This is some boring soccer here. Looks like they're playing in slow-motion. Actually, it looks like your typical NBA regular season game.

89:43 -- The announcer says, "The crowd is just itching for some activity." I thought these players were supposed to be fit.

:55 of garbage time -- Black Guy just reaches up and hits the ball like an idiot, and they actually call it. Redemption aborted. Better luck next "match."

1:30 of garbage time -- The US goalie kicks the ball downfield and no US players chase it. Coming back, Keller makes a save. Looks like it's time to look neutral, because this is going to end in a tie.

3:00 of garbage time -- Black Guy runs downfield with the ball, but ends up falling down like a dork as the game ends. The Italian fans are singing a song that sounds like the Pet Shop Boys song "Go West" or the praise song "Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart." I don't think it was either one of those songs, though, since they aren't gay or thankful right now.

Back in the studio, Brent Musberger is telling us that the ref who gave out the red cards was previously suspended for "irregularities" and kept out of the 2002 World Cup. One of the analysts, a former soccer tool, says that there are "two kinds of referees -- bad ones and worse ones." He follows that with "Players win games, coaches lose games, and refs ruin games." Spoken like a true player. I guess this gives them something to talk about, since the last 20 minutes of the game was mostly players halfheartedly running towards the ball and kicking it out of bounds. I hate soccer.

For the USA soccer team to avoid total obscurity and make the second round, they have to beat Ghana and Italy has to beat the dirty Czechs. It's just that simple. I personally just hope they score a goal.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Leave for a Week and Craziness Happens

It's been a pretty good week, considering the last time I was this far west I saw a bomb explode in a garbage can near Janet Evans during the Atlanta Olympics. Poor Janet Evans. So far, the 3-0 US World Cup loss has been the worst thing that has happened. And then I go to and see the movie news for today, June 15, and all heck breaks loose.

The US is flexing their muscle to get closed. They're threatening to leave Russia out of the World Trade Organization if they don't destroy it. Oh, well -- mafia in some other country will pick up that lucrative ball and start running with it.

The Australian Parliament is attacking the new "Fast and the Furious" sequal, not because it sucks but rather because it teaches kids to drive badly. Someone should tell them that that's kinda the whole point.

The Parents' TV Council (PTC) and the American Family Assn. (The dreaded AFA) successfully got CBS fined 3.3 million dollars for showing a "teenage orgy" during an episode of Without a Trace. Weirdly, the PTC was offering the clip in question on its web site, which gave busybodies a chance to see the orgy for themselves. CBS is claiming that the only people who sent in a complaint were whipped up by these two orgainizations, and therefore never watched the show. Lost in all this hubbub is the fact that Without a Trace sucks.

My Name is Earl is coming out with a special DVD-only episode sold with its first season DVD package. It features an alternate universe where Earl tries to punish anybody who's ever wronged him. Epth Nation loves this sort of thing, and expects to see more of it in our DVD extra/internet age.

Neilsen will soon be adding internet viewers to their ratings system. So, you three dudes, you will be counted now.

World Cup ratings are up, and clearly, Epth Nation is partially to blame. We apologize to the sports fans of America, who were treated to a rollicking 1-0 Swedish victory over Paraguay, crushing the hopes of that depressed South American drug factory. Sorry for getting you interested in soccer once every four years.

In other news, Iran told Fox News that they would be willing to help the US in Iraq.

There is nothing else to say. Good news in Iraq? Good news in Iran? Iran talks to Fox News? Iran willing to help us?

Man, they must really want nukes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oregon is Weird

Tillamook Cheese Factory and Multi-Purpose Enterprise.

People are doing the chicken dance in the next room, so forgive me if this post lacks focus. Actually, some of my nephews have a CD of the world's most catchily annoying songs -- the chicken dance, the new and "urban" electric slide, the so-called "Hamster Dance," YMCA, The Limbo, etc.

Actually, I'm now watching Germany play against Poland in the World Cup. As far as I can tell, the relationship between Germany and Poland in soccer is the same as the Packers and the Bears. Both respective fan bases hate each other, but the team that's not as good really hates the other team. Packer fans hated the Bears in the 80's, and that reversed in the 90's and 00's. The fans of the "good" team feel smug and postmodernally "so over" the whole rivalry, which in turn infuriates the fans of the "bad" team and whips them into even more of a spiteful frenzy. Anyway, this post isn't about Germany and Poland, although it probably should be. Did you know that 121 soccer hooligans were arrested the night before this soccer game, 20 of whom were having a "practice fight." What is that? Were they practicing for a real fight, and if so why didn't they bring practice knives?

We're at minute 73 of a 90-minute game. I have a feeling this one is going to end 0-0. What are the Germans and the Polish supposed to do with that?

This is how wars get started. Imagine a tie between the Packers and Bears. There would be mass confusion about how to feel. Pray that never happens, ok? Oh, good, Germany just scored. The natural order of things has been preserved. Poland just felt invaded all over again.

No, this post is about Tillmook, OR, home of the regionally-famous Tillamook Cheese Factory. It took a 40-mile drive up the coast on Pacific Coast Hwy 101 to get there, but boy was it worth it. First of all, the drive is absolutely gorgeous. Oregon is a haven for large evergreen trees, and they grow in packs just about everywhere. There are also cows all over the place, which is strange because in my experience cows are found on great boring wide-open plains and not picture-perfect green valleys a mile away from the ocean. It's very much like a mountainy version of northern Wisconsin, and I feel right at home here, especially when eating cheese.

There's no way to explain the climate and vegetation of Oregon, actually. The best way to learn about it is to watch Twin Peaks. Even thought that was filmed in Washington state, it looks very much the same. It's like a whole different planet than Texas exists in, and it's in the same country. God bless the USA. From the mountains, to the valleys, and all that.

We drove up the coast on Hwy 101 (or, as I called it in my head, Depeche Mode 101) and passed cows and mountains and cows and trees and bigger trees and browner cows and towns and dirty-looking restaurants and more and better cows. Eventually we needed some gas, so we stopped at a Shell in Beaver, OR. The number one thing about Oregon you probably don't know is the fact that you can't pump your own gas. That's right, there's no such thing as self-serve. When asked the reason for such a hassle-intensive and un-American practice, one local resident told us that it's ostensibly for safety and labor purposes, but the real reason is that Oregon just likes to be different*. Anyway, even though we were warned, it's hard to imagine just how stupid mandatory full-serve is until you've experienced it. Gone was all the convenience of paying at the pump, as well as the ability to call an audible in mid-purchase. And I thought the Wright Amendment and "Michigan Lefts" were dumb. I feel like anything is possible now, in terms of stupid legislation. What's next, someone scolding me for tying my shoes in public? The mind boggles.

After getting pumped in Beaver, we made our way past even more cows, mountains, treeless hills that looked like a war-zone, rivers, sand dunes, cows, and a giant WWII-era blimp hangar that now holds an "Air Museum," whatever that is. I'm imagining planes, but with Oregon being the environmental state it is, the place might be entirely devoted to different kinds of air. We drove on without checking it out because we were getting antsy for some cheese.

Tillamook, OR is a mile-or-so long strip of town located right on Depeche Mode 101. The Cheese Factory is on the north edge of the town, and so we were getting worried when we passed all this stuff coming from the south and still didn't see it. There was actually no chance of missing it, because it's a giant oxydol-white industrial complex with "Tillamook Cheese Factory" written in large happy blue letters on the side. As we drove up, I got slight flashbacks to my brewery tour of a couple weeks ago, but only slight because this place is about 1/100th the size of Anheuser-Busch, and has the clean smell of dairy and sugar rather than the dirty smell of hops and yeast. Upon entrance to the Cheese Compound, you are bombarded with a number of different food-related shops to choose from: The Farmland Cafe', a full-fledged restaurant with lots of greasy food; A Fudge Shop that claims to be run by farmers, and whose friendly counter people will gladly tell you the approx. distance you are from Portland and how long it will take you to get there; A Frozen Fun Food (not sure about the name) shop with some seriously tasty strawberry cheesecake-flavored ice cream; A gift shop with all the different varieties of Tillamook cheeses, including every cheese factory's nuclear weapon, fresh squeaky cheese curds; and a self-guided tour of the plant that consists of 2 big rooms and a bunch of big machines and disinterested workers. Yeah, the tour is boring, but it has free samples. I guess that's the default attitude one must take during every factory tour, no matter which kind it is.

We saw the factory, ate some free samples, bought some ice cream, made yummy noises, bought a bunch of cheese, bought some refrigerator magnets, and felt like my parents the whole time. I don't think I have to tell you that it was a fantastic and magical place, filled with all manner of cheese.

There were a lot of old people there and a lot of families with teenagers. I don't know what that means, but it was nice to see teenagers who didn't seem too cool for their parents. Is that a feature of Oregon? I like it.

A word of warning, or perhaps opportunity: There are no black people in Oregon, or at least none that I don't personally know. Everyone we see no matter where we go -- restaurants, cheese factories, hiking trails, casinos, grocery stores, etc -- is as white as the smocks worn by the cheese factory workers. This strikes me as strange, given the high levels of acceptance and environmental smackdownism** that I've seen. So this might be a good time for black people to move out here. It's beautiful, it rarely snows, and everybody has a sheen of love and acceptance painted over them by force when they move in. Yes, it rains a lot and it's not what you would call warm, but I definitely sense an opportunity here.

Or maybe it's lily-white for a reason. A sinister reason. Somebody needs to investigate this.

Gotta go...the Electric Slide is on.

* How is Oregon diffferent? Let me count the ways...The gas-pumping thing, lack of a sales tax, legal medical marijuana, legal assisted suicide, a Portland P.D. that refuses to cooperate with the FBI, and about 10 other things that are too complicated to explain here but would blow your mind if you heard them. I asked this Oregonian (my brother-in-law Pete) the gas pump question and was given a long flowing river of insanity. In the end, I felt glad that Dallas just has rampant crime and no city leadership.

** For example, they charge you 5 cents upfront for aluminum cans, and you get the money back when you recycle them. By that I mean 5 cents for every can. Also, I've seen a number of restaurants with signs by the napkins imploring people to take only as many as they need. I'm trying to picture either of those situations happening in Texas, and all I end up with is some wounded store clerks and a guy in cowboy boots taking wads of napkins and throwing them at people. Texans value their independence quite a bit, and Oregonians apparently just like feeling like they're better than the people in all those other states.

Mickey Rourke: Notorious or just Sketchy?

When I'm doing stuff with people, many of them wonder if their antics or the antics we experience will "make the blog." I'm here with my wife's family, and most of the stuff that goes on here is stuff I'd rather not bring up in a blog setting. I hope that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. One thing that must be brought up in public, however, is a Scattergories issue that blew my mind. The category? Something Notorious. The Letter? M. My answer? Mickey Rourke.

I didn't get the Scattergories point, and I'm still whining about it two days later. Who's more notorious than Mickey Rourke? Hitler, possibly. I asked for an example of a notorious person and my wife came up with Al Capone and Rasheed Wallace. I'm pretty sure Rasheed never donated money to the IRA or supported President Bush, is all I'm sayin'.
Discuss. Agree with me. Read this article from 2002.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The New Face of Failure

The USA is down 2-0 in their most important game in this "World Cup." It also happens to be their first game, so we went from overhype to crushing disappointment in about half an hour. I've been watching the game, and I don't understand what's so great about this current US team. I liked them better when they were underdogs. They're playing sloppier soccer than Angola, for Pete's sake. They look like a high school team out there. It takes them 10 seconds to get the ball out of bounds, and all their passes seem to be aimed at the heads of the Czech Republic players.

The big question now is if the USA can recover from this loss, and if they can't, who do we root for? The obvious choice is England, since only about 70% of their country hates us. And had they not tried that taxation without representation crapola, we might still be the dirty English. Second choice? Mexico, because they'll be a part of us soon anyway. We will assimilate them like the Borg. Plus, they beat those nuclear Iranians 3-1 yesterday. Brazil has a bunch of cool players that do bits (such as dribbling with one's head or going by one's first name), and they came up with churrascarias. I suggest we implement a Monroe Doctrine of sorts here...we root for the New World against the Old World. Get off our land, European Union. Or...allow us to beat us on your land, I mean.

Also, it's hard to root against African countries. It's hard to root against people who need food.

Also, it's ghostly weird to have them playing in the stadium at Nuremberg. Maybe this Germany thing wasn't such a good idea. Can Europe ever get out from under Hitlers shadow? Maybe this so-called World Cup will help.

Note I never mentioned whether or not I thought the US could recover. I figure they'll micraculously tie Italy and beat Ghana, and the Republic of Czech will miraculously lose to Ghana and Italy, and the US will squeak into round two where they will lose 5-0 to Brazil because they'll never be able to get the ball from the head-dribbling guy.

Oh, did I say they were losing 2-0? I meant 3-0. Soccer is so harrrrd. I'm ready for football season.