Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soccer Hooliganism Invades America

Soccer hooliganism, often referred to as “the British disease” has finally come to America. It was brought by the supporters of the English team, West Ham United. Recently they played an exhibition game with the Columbus Crew in Columbus Ohio. West Ham fans wandered; as they would put it, the entire length of the stadium, and entered the section inhabited by the Crew’s most ardent supporters and started a fight. There was little security in the area, because soccer games in America are a family friendly experience: safe, fun, and cheap.

Whenever I tell someone that I’m a soccer fan, they usually say something like, “Isn’t that the game that causes all those riots?” It’s a good question, because the game of “football” (soccer) has been associated with violence since its beginnings in 13th century England. The term hooliganism originated in the early 60s. It has been linked with the televising of games and with the reclaiming of the game by the working class.

In the medieval times, football matches could involve hundreds of players and would be used as an excuse to settle old feuds, personal arguments, and land disputes, in what were essentially pitched battles (not so unlike those crazy Mayan Games where the losers had their heads cut off).

Now it is even organized. Rival hooligans will pick pre-arranged locations away from stadiums, in order to avoid police, to have their fight. Cleveland Browns and Pittsburg Steelers fans seem like attendees at the Ice Follies, compared to these guys. British fans hit the headlines the most, because of their tendency to spread their violence onto the international stage. Hooligans in the rest of the world, usually fight their battles at home, expressing local, regional, and sub-national rivalries. Most incidents occur at club-level matches, while supporters of the national team abroad are better behaved. The English are the obvious exception to this rule.

In the 70s, the hooliganism started to spread to other European countries, when a similar “proletarianisation” of the game evolved. The Marxist sociologists, figurationalists, social scientists, and empirically oriented researchers all have theories now, about the how and why.

What they have concluded is anybody's guess. But I can tell you, that it is clear that one form or another of disorderly behavior has occurred in every country in which soccer is played. So far it has been avoided in America. What we don’t need is for our youth to have British idiots teaching us how not to behave. I just hope that it is not a near-universal and seemingly inevitable accompaniment to the game.

Football violence often results from excessive alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, little research has focused specifically on the role of alcohol in football hooliganism. I’ll bet you 10 to 1 odds that the West Ham fans who wandered into the Crew side of the stadium were not drinking tea. Some investigators, however, have recently claimed that drinking can aggravate violence.

Do you think?

Ask any Cleveland Browns fan, who grew up going to that ‘Old” stadium on the lake. There were sections of the stadium that you just knew not to wander into. You knew that after the beer started flowing, there were going to be fights breaking out frequently. But the NFL has done an incredible job of stifling any of this kind of behavior in the recent past.

The British authorities are just now starting to reduce football hooliganism. It has largely been a reactive measure—increasing sophisticated policing, surveillance, and monitoring techniques, segregation of fans, and putting restrictions on alcohol. A friend of my wife and I, who lives in London and grew up a West Ham supporter, e-mailed us after we sent him a copy of an article about the Columbus incident. He said that, “Violence at matches was a big problem in the 70s and 80s and it still flares up when the teams travel abroad, and the idiots are away from the eagle eye of the local plod (that’s us in the Met). Its not tolerated here, a massive police presence including mounted officers used as cavalry, dogs, helicopters etc. sees to that.”

Now I keep mentioning the Cleveland Browns, because they are my “West Ham.” I grew up in Cleveland and have been a life long supporter. When you go to a game these days, the presence of security is so prevalent, that you can’t even light up a cigarette without security coming down on you before you take your second toke. The team actually hired the former head of The United States Secret Service, Lewis C. Merletti, as the person to keep tabs on every movement within the massive structure with a seating capacity of 73,200. There are so many security cameras, that nothing goes unnoticed. As Ross Benjamin said, “It became apparent very early that we needed more cameras to give us eyes where we couldn’t necessarily put people. It also helped us to clearly identify our primary security objectives: protect our fans, players and employees; reduce liability; help deter criminal activity; and apprehend and prosecute offenders.”

My wife and I attend MLS soccer games also and we enjoy the “family” type of environment. Please, keep West Ham as far away as possible. Bring Fulham Football Club back (they are the team the Crew plays often in exhibitions). They are a great team and have great fans, not only in London, but here in Ohio as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Can't Drive 55!

Oil prices have soared to a startling$145 per barrel, and the national gas price average is hovering above $4 per gallon. And as many consider all of the possible strategies which could ease this burden on American drivers, the 55-mph speed limit is starting to be hashed over. For those of you who remember, it was imposed in the mid-1970s and remained in effect for 20 years. In 1974, in response to an oil shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo, Congress set the speed limit at this fixed number and saved Americans 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day.

The Energy Department correctly predicted that at lower speeds, cars would operate at optimum efficiency. It turned out that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly at speeds higher than 60 mph. Each additional 5 mph above 60 costs drivers another 30 cents per gallon. Even hybrid vehicles (only now becoming the rage) also lose efficiency at higher speeds. A hybrid that averages around 38 miles per gallon can reach 50 mpg at 55 mph. When that increases to 65 mph, the efficiency drops to a mpg in the low 30’s.

Since 55 was abolished, states have been free to set their own speed limits. This has been logical. The highest are found in the inland West and the lowest are found in the Northeast. Some are in a class by themselves, and rightly so. In stretches of West Texas, where your nearest drugstore is only a short 200 miles away, 80 mph is the limit. When there is only cactus and jack rabbits within a 500 mile radius, does 125 mph seem like a crime?

The idea of another 55 mph speed limit is as bad an idea as bringing back the bell-bottom pants!

Studies have shown that the reduced speed limit lessoned the nation’s highway fuel consumption by only 2 per cent. The answer to our problem is not limiting the speed on our highways; it is by addressing our consumption in ways that really matter. First of all, let’s face it, Americans don’t reduce their speed because of imposed limits (a Michigan state traffic study supports this). “Reducing a speed limit doesn’t reduce how fast people drive,” said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Akans.

It turns out that speed variations are more dangerous than high speeds. Agencies, country wide, are working together to actually raise speed limits from 65 to 70 on freeways in order to improve safer, uniform traffic.

The real need is to address our oil demand. The amount of oil consumed during rush hour traffic in any major city seems to be more of a concern than what is happening on our nation’s highways. While oil consumption in other industrialized countries has either leveled off or declined, in the United States, oil demand has soared 38 per cent since the original oil shock of 1973.

The Bush administration’s focus has been to increase the supply of oil, which also happens to be the priority of the energy industry, instead of finding ways to cut back on energy demand. Barrack Obama’s spokesman said that he would leave setting speed limits to the states and would focus instead on renewable energy and improved efficiency. Getting the automobile industry to increase the average mileage per gallon requirement would be a good start. Increased diligence towards finding renewable energy, carpooling, and limiting trips is a far more promising strategy.

Go on & write me up for 125
Post my face, wanted dead or alive
Take my license n’ all that jive
I can’t drive 55!—Sammy Hagar

And as someone said, “Otherwise it seems like another ploy to get money by writing tickets.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Movie Monsters: The New Kid on the Block

Since the very early days of movie making, movie buffs have been spellbound by the transformations of the actors through makeup, into monsters and fantastic characters. The makeup artist was not only an artist, but also scientist experimenting with materials. Actors like Lon Chaney did his own work, using things such as wax, fish skin, and grease paint to lay emphasis upon certain facial features for different roles.

At first, producers were unsure if audiences would attend “horror films.” But after the success of a stage version of Dracula, they were convinced at Universal Studios to proceed with the play Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre in 1930, by Peggy Webling, which had premiered three years earlier in London. They cast an obscure English actor, William Henry Pratt (Boris Karloff) to play the monster. His success in this movie made him a star. The film became an instant classic and started the new genre of the horror film.

The man who transformed Karloff was the makeup artist Jack P. Pierce. He was the head of Universal’s makeup department and devoted three months to researching anatomy and surgery for the project. He concluded that a surgeon who was going to transplant a brain would cut the top of the skull straight across, wedge it open, put in the new brain, and then sew it shut. Ergo, the flat, squared off head. Pierce was involved with almost every film the studio produced in this genre.

Before the ability to enhance our monsters through computerized digital manipulation, the makeup artist was the creator of our favorite movie monsters such as: Erik, The Phantom of the Opera; Zenobia, The Gypsy Witch; The Adominable Dr. Phibes; The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Count Dracula; The Mole People; The Mummy; The Fly; The Wolf Man; and Count Orlock.

Finally, there is a new kid on the block. He can use all of the new technology, but his creations pay homage to the great makeup artists of the past. In fact, he spent almost ten years as a makeup supervisor before starting his career as a director. I’m referring to Guillermo del Toro, who learned about makeup and effects from the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Del Toro was born in Mexico in 1964 and was raised by his Catholic grandmother, which is probably why the use of religious relics and artifacts seem to always make it into his films. His favorite movie monsters are Frankenstein's monster and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

He weaves magical things and magical occurrences into the life of his films, with the brush strokes of a surrealist painter. As he put it, “It feels like I have to have a melting watch. It feels like I have to have a melting face next to it. It feels like an eye should be floating in the sky.”

Does this sound like anyone familiar to you?

Where I grew up the Salvador Dali museum, before it moved to Florida, was in nearby Beachwood Ohio. I became a huge fan of the surrealist, as did many of my friends. I even now own a Dali etching.

Guillermo del Toro uses clockwork designs and motifs, archangels, insects or insect imagery, and likes to use amber as a dominant color in his films. He has also said, "So I riff on things and I riff like a stream of consciousness. The head of the faun has the horns and so does the reproductive organs of a woman, and the tree and the dagger and there are so many echoes in the movie (Pan’s Labyrinth) of this shape, so what I do is I work on my notebook.”

He is in a position to follow his heart these days, something that few directors are able to accomplish presently. He turned down a chance to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2008) to work on Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008).

Jack Pierce studied human anatomy in an effort to make the non-human characters more lifelike. Guillermo del Toro disarms us with his curiosity, through the “supranatural” dimension (instinctive or collective), to place his characters and images into the creature concept.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The New Veil of Accusation

You can now rate and review good and bad neighbors (emphasis on the bad) before you move into a neighborhood. The argument is that this can help you make a smart real estate decision. The information is contributed by the people in these neighborhoods. Rotten Neighbors is the real estate search engine. And here’s the catch—most of the postings are anonymous. It gets several thousand “hits” per day.

Let us talk about creating an atmosphere that fosters a sense of guilt by innuendo and how this creates a corrosive presence. It is through the internet that we can find this gangway to intellectual and social cowardice. Even though the internet provides freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in one connection, it also is now available for trafficking in innuendo and argument by implication.

Normally, neighborhoods have been rated for Noise, Safety, Appearance, Services, and Traffic. Now you can peruse for types of neighbors: the careless dog owner, the talker, the racket maker, and the scariest of all—the helper (beware of little old ladies bearing cookies). Using Google Maps, Rotten Neighbors shows homes of the accused (Red Monopoly-style houses for rotten and Green for good). Thanks to the internet, you can dig up all the dirt with only a few clicks. Remember—running a background check isn’t very difficult these days.

Unfortunately we have already seen, as social networking sites and internet blogs continue to increase in popularity and use, the opportunities for defamation have also increased. Defamation, by definition, is spoken or written words (and now Monopoly houses) that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person’s reputation.

Fortunately, we are also seeing blogs and social networks coming under the scrutiny of new legal rulings, where defamatory statements are presenting several potential sources of liability and recovery for the person whose character was defamed. The problems with bringing action, though, largely lie in proving that the defendant actually made the posting. If that connection can be made, a stronger case can be made. This usually requires the expertise and cost of an attorney who is experienced in cyber law and internet cases, to help with evidentiary sources.

So why is this a corrosive issue? It impacts our culture. Our heritage of liberty rests on moral equality, reciprocity, toleration, and as John Locke said, applying the same law to “the favorite at court, and the country man at plough.”

I have an idea--

Let’s go into a potential neighborhood and offer up some “witch cakes.” This comes from a part of our rich history, when in 1692 Mary Sibly (Salem Massachusetts) instructed John Indian (a slave) to make a witch cake, using traditional English white magic to discover the identity of the witch who was afflicting the girls of Salem. The witch cake was made of rye and urine from the afflicted girls and fed to a dog. When the dog ate the cake, the witch would be hurt because invisible particles she had sent to afflict the girls remained in their urine, and her cries of pain when the dog ate the cake would identify her as a witch. This superstition was based on the Cartesian Doctrine of Effluvia. If you hear any screaming from any of the households, don’t purchase any adjoining property.

But if this seems to hold the proxy of false accusation, perhaps we could take a little council from the good book: Everyone is to be secure against slander and false accusation. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbors’ life.” Leviticus 19:16, Deuteronomy 19:15-21.