Monday, February 14, 2005

FC Barcelona solidly defeated Zaragoza, 1-4, on Saturday night; Real Madrid won 1-2 against Osasuna in Pamplona. Defending champion Valencia lost 1-2 against Deportivo de la Coruña, which is also having a lousy year, pretty much putting the last nail in their coffin. They'll be lucky to finish third the way they're playing, and they no longer have any hope of catching Barcelona.

The Zaragoza-Barça game started out in the second minute with a ridiculous own goal; Zaragoza defender Toledo made a surprise poorly aimed pass back to third-string goalie Ruben, who failed to stop it, and it dribbled right into the goal. 0-1. Game over right there. Give the Barça an advantage like that and you're toast. Zaragoza did manage to put up a fight; they played with their defense up, in an attacking position, attempting to catch Barcelona with the onside trap. This worked a few times. Then Ronaldinho fed Etoo through the Zaragoza defensive four, and Etoo flicked it to Giuly coming in on his left, and it was 0-2. Then Ronaldinho received a pass in the middle of the field, paused, looked up, and vaselined a pass right over their heads; Etoo was off like a racehorse, controlled with his chest, put the ball down, flicked it over the goalie's head, and tapped it in. 0-3. Wonderful. This one will be replayed over and over for years. Zaragoza scored the "goal of honor", a very nice play, as their forward blasted home a shot from the top of the area that somehow found its way through Márquez and Puyol, who were all over him, and wrong-footed Valdés, who might have stopped it had he not been surprised. In his defense, he probably didn't see where the ball was coming from since there were two defenders all over the guy blocking his view. Then, off a corner kick, Márquez, who along with Puyol is an excellent player with his head (in both senses of the word; he and Puyol play up on corner kicks while smaller guys like Giuly, Xavi, and Van Bronckhorst play back, rather like safeties in American football), "combed" the ball (changed its direction with the top of his head). 1-4.

The second half of the game was pretty rough; Zaragoza did a lot of hacking, and our badass boys in blue, especially Belletti, hacked them right back. No cards in the first half. Six in the second half, two yellows for Barcelona and four for Zaragoza. Rijkaard was afraid Giuly and Van Bronckhorst were going to get broken and replaced them with somewhat larger people; I would have put in Albertini just to hack somebody Italian-style but Rikjaard preferred to use Iniesta, who is always the first man off the bench--which I think is brilliant use of this guy, who has unlimited potential but is only 21, so you get him twenty or thirty minutes a week of top-level competition without wearing him down--Sylvinho, and then Gerard.

The crowd was obnoxious. They're all pissed off because they think the refs have been favoring the competition, and they really took it out on this particular ref during the game; this guy was actually not too bad. Players from both teams shook his hand as they all ran off the field at the end of the game. Meanwhile, the crowd was throwing shit on the field, especially at Belletti, who takes the corner kicks from the right side, and at the very least certain racist elements--maybe even most of the crowd--were taunting Etoo with the well-known ape noises; Etoo responded, after scoring 0-3, with an ape-dance in celebration of his goal. Gotta admit the guy has attitude. He's quite a personality. He's also rumored to like the high life a little bit too much, though; supposedly he parties down at the Puerto Olímpico.

By the way, I think Barça's road uniforms are ugly as hell. They're medium-blue with strips of very dark blue that makes them look like Inter Milan. I'd go with two different sets, one in a dignified navy blue and the other in a moderate burgundy. Or, if they decide they want to go with a completely alternate set of colors, how about red and yellow, which are the colors of the Barcelona, Catalan, and also Spanish flags?

It is also a total joke that Barça claims to wear no advertising on their jerseys. OK, they don't have a corporate logo right in the center of the shirt like 99% of teams have. They merely have the Nike swoosh on the upper right front and the TV3 logo on their left sleeves. The hilarious bit is that they were talking about getting a corportate sponsor and sullying the front and center of the glorious jersey of the Barça, and they were trying to talk to several different companies about it. Well, how about, maybe, one of the Big Four Spanish corporations, Telefonica, Repsol, BSCH, and BBVA, or Seat, or another car maker, or a major producer of consumer goods like Coca-Cola, or La Caixa, or some established, prestigious company like that, somebody who will add to your respectability? No, they seriously discussed a proposal from, get this, an Austrian internet-gambling company. Yeah, great, that's gonna make us look just swell, promoting gambling, which is itself a cancer on sports as the recent German betting-and-game-fixing scandal makes clear. Gee, one wouldn't think that the gambling company would be able to put a little pressure on the team they're paying like ten million bucks a year to sponsor, would one? Fortunately, that proposal got shot down.

The Barça owns a couple of shops called "La botiga del Barça"--I know they have one down at the Maremagnum mall at the foot of the Ramblas--and they sell all manner of Barça junk you don't need. I figure that's fair enough, every team does that. They have everything you could imagine, from stuffed toy lions to motorcycle helmets, with the Barça logo on them. My problem started when I noticed that they have, or at the very least had, last time I checked a couple of years ago, Barça wine. Well, all right, wine is a traditional part of the local diet, and if the Barça can ally itself with a good winemaker and make them both a little extra money, I guess that's OK. Hell, low-to-moderate wine consumption is actually good for you. But they also had Barça whiskey. Right there is where I get off. That's hard stuff and definitely not part of the traditional local diet. Here's the Barça promoting drinking for the sake of drinking, which, to be frank, is the reason people drink hard stuff. And, even worse, so bad it's unimaginable, is that they had Barça CIGARETTES. If there's anything as ridiculous as a sports club, and the Barça is a real club, not just a corporation, sponsoring smoking, I can't think of it. Well, maybe the German supporters of gay rights for penguins. Or the entire Forum de les Cultures. Or the Plan Ibarretxe. Or any words that come out of Zap's mouth. Or anything that was supposedly decided at the Porto Alegre hippiefest. Or the entire concept of the Burning Man festival. Actually, it's not that hard to think of a whole bunch of really ridiculous things, but Barça brand cigarettes is fairly high on the list.

On TV3 recently they showed a documentary called "The New Puritans". I saw a few minutes of it. Same old shit. Go to Idaho and find some Turner Diaries fans. Mention Janet Jackson and Howard Stern. Interview a couple of Jesushead nuts, visit one of those suburban megachurches, remind everyone that there are some hardcore antievolution wackos out there, go to some small town where they've passed a law against letting your buttcrack hang out while you're walking down the street, and that's it. Then pontificate on how these Protestant crazies are really running George Bush's regime and will soon take over the world!

Same old formula. Don't mention that, say, the American government does not subsidize religious schools. Or that the idea of an obligatory public-school class in religion would be impossible there. Or that abortion and divorce are both actually legal and easily available in the States, which they certainly aren't here. Or that most American Christians, who are Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and the like, are moderates. Or that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and nonbelievers manage to live together in the US with minimal frictions; most frictions that exist are caused by intolerant nonbelievers who resent anything that smacks of Jesus. Or that there is simply no evidence that the Bush administration is working for Jesus first and America second, and making such charges is akin to those leveled at Kennedy and Al Smith that they would be loyal to the Pope first and America second, or those leveled at Jews throughout history that they were working for Judaism first and their country second.

By the way, I want to wipe out one common "There's-no-freedom-in-America" argument in America that is completely ridiculous. It is the following: "If you go topless in America you get arrested." Well, no, actually, if you go topless you are requested politely to put your top on. If you should wish to go topless, there are certain designated places it can be done. The reason is quite simple. Some people object to seeing topless women walking around, and it's a social norm that you must at least wear a bikini at most beaches. That, frankly, does not seem like a limitation of freedom to me. And, I ask: would the Europeans who complain about not being allowed to watch women tan their tits at Pacific Palisades make similar complaints if they were visiting, say, Iran? Isn't it a little arrogant to go to someone else's country and demand that they change their social norms for you? And isn't it ridiculous to judge a country on its position regarding topless sunbathing than its position regarding, say, the right to a fair trial or the freedom of speech and assembly or the separation of church and state or the idea of checks and balances or the principle of judicial review or the rule "One person, one vote" or equal civil rights for minorities or the rule of law as codified in the Constitution.

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