Till the End of the Day

Sure, we got two intensely exciting World Cup matches. We also got two major Supreme Court decisions:

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court ruled 5-4 that the federal government cannot mandate a “closely held” company to provide coverage for contraception if it’s against their religious beliefs. I have to admit to almost agreeing with: “Alito’s argument is stronger [than Ginsberg’s], but the law—as now interpreted—is pretty dumb.” On the other hand, perhaps it’s an illogical disaster. At the very least, it highlights why insurance should be provided by the government and not private companies. More at SCOTUSBlog.

In Harris v. Quinn, the court ruled 5-4 that home health care workers are only kind-of public employees and therefore don’t necessarily have to pay for or be represented by their public sector unions.

Put together: A SCOTUS war on women and workers.

Could the Islamic State, nee ISIS, go after Lebanon next?

The most rapidly growing metropolitan area in the U.S. is a Manhattan-sized retirement village that is basically a city owned by one company.

The Great Secession: Faced with sweeping social changes, conservative Christians are walling themselves off.

That’s it. Go outside and have some fun.

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It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye, Except to Greece: Weekend World Cup Recap and Monday Preview

Spain, Italy, England, Uruguay. Mexico, Cameroon, Croatia, Australia. Honduras, Ecuador, Japan, Cote D’Ivoire. Bosnia, Iran, Ghana, Portugal. Russia, South Korea, Chile, Greece. Gone. Flights booked, bags packed, tears shed, shirts exchanged. Every one of those teams came with the hope of playing in the Grand Final on July 14, and every one of them was sent home at least two weeks early.

Those first four teams up there are former World Champions: Spain and Italy having been the last teams standing at the previous World Cups in 2010 and 2006 respectively, broken at having crashed out so soon. Some countries really were just happy to be there, to soak up the sun and play against the best in the world, to show that they could compete with those best, even if they couldn’t beat them. They gave it a run and will be welcomed home as champions, even though they didn’t win a single match. Others will spend their long flights home thinking about what went wrong and what might have been.

Portugal exited in the group stages thanks mainly to Pepe’s temporary insanity and Cristiano Ronaldo’s lack of fitness. How different are things for Portugal if they only lose to Germany by a single goal, Pepe isn’t suspended, Cristiano Ronaldo is at 100%. Does Uruguay manage to get past an exciting and attacking Colombia without suspended Luis Suarez and the accompanying swarm of distraction? A dubious stoppage time penalty in Cote D’Ivoire’s match against Greece sent the former packing and the latter to the round of 16. Greece couldn’t net a second goal against Costa Rica despite spending an hour with a man advantage and plenty of opportunities. How confident are the Elephants that they wouldn’t have been so wasteful given that chance?

Mexico rode the stellar goalkeeping of Guillermo Ochoa* and a taut defensive system to the knockouts, only for it all to come undone in 15 minutes against the Netherlands. Up 1-0 in the 80th minute, it surely seemed like El Tri would continue to frustrate the Dutch as their 3-5-2 turned into a 7-1-2. But the ball came free near the penalty spot on a perfect back-header from substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Wesley Sneijder seized it. A bolt of lightning between two defenders and past Ochoa, who could do nothing about it. Had Rafa Marquez been in the right place, as he had been all tournament, the ball never reaches Sneijder; had Huntelaar’s header been slightly misplaced or Sneijder a little late to react, the defense could have reorganized; had Ochoa been one stride nearer the trajectory, he might have produced another stunning moment of brilliance. Instead, minutes later, Marquez fouled Arjen Robben in the box, Huntelaar put a second behind Ochoa and Mexico exited at the Round of 16 for the sixth straight World Cup.

The Dutch move on to the quarterfinals and their Group B runners-up go home. Chile always had a hill to climb to get to the final 8, taking on the hosts in front of a wild crowd. But they made a game effort of it, playing their style and not allowing Brazil to take them out of their game. The two goals came early for both teams (even though both were really scored by Chilean players), and for 90 minutes, they played to a stalemate. Neither team seemed to really want it to go to penalty kicks, but as exhaustion kicked in, it became inevitable.

Penalty kicks are a crapshoot. They go in 80% of the time, and most of the time they don’t it’s either the result of a correct guess from the keeper or a mishit ball from the shooter. In a sport that is primarily about movement, about finding space for one’s self and creating it for one’s team mates, about closing down that space while maintaining the ability to change direction, ending on penalty kicks removes this aspect completely. Yes, the game is about scoring goals, and penalty kicks do that. But the one-on-one nature of them is far removed from what makes soccer so interesting (to me, at least). But they are dramatic. And so a game that featured great passing and cut-throat defending can end not on a perfectly weighted throughball or a thundering counter-attack, but this:

chile-post-sadness HNNNNNNNNNNNNGH

But they can’t play forever. The penalty shootout is the worst way to end a game, except for all others. The field is too large, the game-time too long, the players too human, to keep running around after two hours. This is not hockey where short shifts allow players to catch their breath, or football where there are frequent and unlimited substitutions. The shootout is evil, but it’s a necessary one. And sometimes, you see a player’s, a team’s, a country’s heart break, and you can pinpoint the exact moment.

Costa Rica and Greece also played the full 120 and went to penalties. As I mentioned above, Greece managed this despite playing with 11 to Costa Rica’s 10 for about an hour. I would like to write here that this says more about Costa Rica’s gutty performance and represents their triumph over adversity, but I can’t. This says more about Greece than it does Costa Rica. The Greeks managed to score two goals in three group stage matches and only advanced because the second was a penalty awarded in the dwindling moments of their game against Cote d’Ivoire — in 270 minutes of soccer, they scored one goal from open play. They smother games by crowding their own third and sitting back, playing long balls down the sidelines and hoping to catch the other team off-balance. This doesn’t have to be dreadful to watch, but it is when the Greeks do it: all half-second-late tackles, shoving and runs to nowhere amounting to nothing.

They managed to make Costa Rica’s “hoof and hope,” longball after longball to Joel Campbell look damned near attractive and creative. Costa Rica did emerge from the match an even more impressive story, the shirts of their remaining players translucent from expending every ounce of energy they possessed. The Ticos and their fans will long remember holding out against Greece as a great victory for their country, tenacity triumphing against long odds. I will remember it because they saved us from watching another match involving Greece. With legs and lungs as beaten as Costa Rica’s are likely to be on Saturday, they will truly be up against it when they kick off against the Netherlands.

So who goes home today and who lives to sweat and fight for another week?

NOON: Alongside the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil and Colombia, France look to be in tremendous form. 3-0 over an overmatched Honduras and 5-2 over an overrated Switzerland put them into the knockouts before a leisurely stroll around the Maracana against Ecuador in which neither team really put for much effort. They were behind only Germany (who benefited from Pepe’s madness), the Netherlands (Spain’s collapse)  and Colombia (who played in probably the weakest group) in group stage scoring, and feature one of the better goalkeepers left in the tournament — perhaps the best keeper who doesn’t look at least a little bit like Common — conceding only two goals to a very attack-minded Switzerland side (which, I know what are the odds that the Swiss are attacking).

They face a Nigeria squad that drew Iran 0-0 in a game that is exactly what people who hate soccer think soccer is like. Though they made a game of it against Argentina, they gave it away on both sides of halftime (not that there’s any shame in having Lionel Messi beat you). Nigeria barely escaped from a rather poor group and haven’t looked like they stand much of a chance against a team that brings as much to bear on both ends of the pitch as France does. They may be able to break and create a few chances to bring some excitement and tension, but Les Bleus’ firepower will likely be too much for them, and Africa’s last hope will exit the tournament.

4:00: FENNEC FOXES Y’ALL. I don’t know that Algeria will be able to withstand the German … wait, nope, not going there. I’m not sure that Algeria can hold off the advance of the … NOPE. Algeria may not succeed in taking the game to the Germans, and will certainly pay a price for trying to get goals, but they are not afraid of taking their chances and capitalizing on insurg … DAMMIT. Algeria will use their youth — both its speed and its fearlessness — and play their game, rather than sit back and allow Germany to att … JESUS. I’m fairly excited to see how this match plays out, as Algeria don’t seem inclined to play for penalties, the Germans won’t be interested in being out there for a second longer than necessary, and both teams provide some exciting players who combine well with one another in midfield and up front. Both defenses have weak spots, and Germany surely have more talent at the back and in goal, but if Ghana could get two past them, there’s no reason to believe that Algeria can’t. YES I DID IT. This match has the potential to be a great one for a neutral (careful) but could also turn into a German blowout (heyyyyyy) if the Algerians lose their heads and pick the wrong spots to try to get explosive (BUDDY) against the mightier power (STOP).

Anyway, that’s where we’re at right now and we’ll only know how it shakes out after it happens.

*I don’t remember who pointed it out on the twitter machine, but he looks exactly like Josh Radnor (Ted from How I Met Your Mother) and now I can’t unsee it.

Morning Constitutional – Monday, 30 June 2014

Good morning, everybody. Amy Adams traded her first-class seat on a Detroit-to-LA flight to a U.S serviceman in uniform. Now, your morning constitutional:

ISIS has declared that the land it occupies between Syria and Iraq is now a new Islamic caliphate and is demanding allegiance from all Muslims.

President Obama expected to nominate Bob McDonald, a West Point graduate and former Proctor and Gamble CEO, to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Companies are increasingly asking employees to sign nondisclosure agreements, which may prevent people from reporting abuse or fraud, and may run afoul of federal whistleblower protection laws.

A United Airlines flight from Chicago to California had to make an emergency landing in Kansas after the plane’s evacuation slide deployed inside the cabin.

After a hard weather-beaten first quarter, the U.S. economy is roaring back, led by strong job and sales gains.

Are tea partiers really less willing to compromise than extreme lefties?

How Hillary won over the skeptical left.

Oklahoma congressional candidate Tom Murray will contest Rep. Frank Lucas’s primary win because “…it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike.”

Astronomers discover Earth-like planet 16 light years away.

Prince Harry fixed a Chilean family’s television just in time for them to watch Chile play in the World Cup.

Finally, woman starts fire to kill spider. gets arrested for arson.

Till the End of the Day

Hizzah Friday. Tomorrow starts the knockout stage of the World Cup, and I couldn’t be more psyched. Well, anyways, here’s some things to look at tonight:

 Today in Fuck You: Wisconsin Republican candidate for Congress Karen Mueller bemoans same-sex marriage legalization because marrying your sibling will be next, of course. Sounds like somebody is scared of her feelings for her sister.

Putin’s economic model is showing signs of strain as it is more and more cut off from global finance,

A new mammal has been discovered, a tiny little shrew that’s actually closely related to the elephant.

Some great reporting on how Jeff Bezos is taking over the Washington Post and emphasizing growth as opposed to just more downsizing.

The rise of the (black market) DIY abortion pill in Texas, where you may have heard it’s getting way harder to get a legal abortion.

I, for one, 100% applaud ABC’s decision to dump Jenny McCarthy.

Bookstores are closing, e-books never really caught on: What’s the future of reading, then?

Nature apparently hates men, part infinity: Every American hit by lightening so far in 2014 has been male.

Over 60% of the restaurants on Kitchen Nightmares are now closed.

Kyle Beckerman’s engagement photos are LOLs.

That’s a full lid. Enjoy your weekend, everybody. Stay cool.

The Knockout Game (not that knockout game): Weekend World Cup Preview

Yesterday was probably the happiest I’ve ever been after watching my team lose, and J Reed’s post yesterday in its aftermath summed up my feelings in words better than I could have put together (ed. note: that can’t possibly be true). Because of the way the group stage is set up, all the US had to do yesterday was not lose badly, and they’d see themselves through. Ghana helped by losing to Portugal, who needed to make up considerably more goals than the Black Stars would have. The US weathered the first fifteen minutes, which was one wave after another of German assault on poor Tim Howard (God Bless Him and Keep Him) and a beleaguered defense, after which they held their own, giving as good as they got for a good 40 minutes or so, Thomas Mueller’s goal notwithstanding.

Mueller's goal against the US
Damn that was a beaut.

Mueller’s goal was an absolutely beautiful shot, and other than the Nani goal off of Cameron’s miscue, every goal the US has conceded has had a measure of the gorgeous. Mueller’s perfect curl off a Howard parry goes up there with Cristiano Ronaldo’s inch-perfect cross and Asamoah Gyan’s goal in the opening match. Making your opponent work that hard to score, allowing goals only when they are the result of breathtaking artistry combined with tremendous effort and world class skill, is what every team strives for. You can’t keep them all out, but the US (Cameron-to-Nani excepted) kept all but the most miraculous in the field of play. The US got some good goals as well. Dempsey’s (PBUH) opener will be long remembered in the annals of US Soccer and Jermaine Jones’ dagger from deep against Portugal was among the best shots you can take from that distance. Brooks’ header and Deuce’s crotch thrust goal were more hard work combining with luck than anything else, but they all count the same.

And that’s the point. If the US can continue to stymie and frustrate opposition in front of goal, then there will be more space for the US attack, with the other team committing more players forward. This is how the US wins, and how they want matches to go. As the opponents tire, and bring more players into their attack, the US springs to life and rushes past on the break. Early goals make the job easier for the US, but they aren’t as necessary as they are for teams who rely on sustained possession and intricate passing. And it’s not as if the US is incapable of holding the ball and stringing together magical passes, simply that they aren’t built around doing it way, for better or worse. This is a team that huffs and puffs for 90 minutes assuming you can’t keep up with them the whole time. Until the last twenty minutes against Germany, they were right. They have until Tuesday at 4:00 to get their legs and their lungs right.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the knockout stages, which means no more playing for a draw and no more tidy 2-hour timeslots. They play the full 90, and then, if still tied, they go on to two 15 minute overtime periods. It’s not sudden death, but the limited time on offer can certainly make it feel that way if your team is the one that concedes. If they play all 120 without a winner, they proceed to penalty kicks, which is stupid and probably unfair, but no one has come up with a better idea aside from letting them play until only one player is left breathing (ed. note: this is far preferable to penalty kicks).

Brazil and Chile kick it off at noon, which should be great brunch viewing. Neither team is likely to put themselves in a shell around their own penalty area, although Chile are a much more defensive team than Brazil. The host country has had their share of problems at the back, however. Whether it’s been lack of communication and familiarity, a deliberate plan to get players forward or simply players who aren’t at their best, Brazil’s back line has been their weak point, and could end up as their Achilles heel. The matchup to watch (even though they’ll infrequently be matched against one another) is the Exploding Ham Cart that is David Luiz and the half-rock, half-tree, half-bomb defusing robot that is Arturo Vidal. As Chile has become the hipster’s choice of this Cup, Vidal has become the “guy you don’t know about but should.” He is strong and stout, capable of destroying would-be attacks with brawn and intelligent enough to snuff them out by superior positioning and anticipation. In attack, he uses the same combination to overpower and out-think defenses. Every time he and Luiz are within a few yards of each other, it’s going to be worth watching.

In the late game, Uruguay will be without the services of Luis Suarez, suspended for four months by FIFA and thus out for the rest of the tournament. They still have plenty of firepower up front with Edinson Cavani, who looked like the only Uruguayan really up for it against Italy earlier this week, and Diego Forlan, who despite his advancing years can still light it up for 90 minutes on the right day and against the right defense. Jose Pekerman’s team will focus their energy on containing those dangermen and getting the ball to their number 10, James (Hahm-Ez) Rodriguez, who’s been outstanding so far working off Teófilo Gutiérrez. Colombia certainly had the better group stage, but also had the benefit of playing considerably lesser teams than Uruguay.

The Netherlands look to open the scoring early on Sunday against Mexico. Though they looked suspect briefly against Australia, they have otherwise looked like the most complete team in the World Cup (with the possible exception of France). Despite what was considered an inexperienced and suspect back line (by yours truly as well as most observers in the months before the tournament) , they dismantled and dismayed Spain and put two past the very stout Chilean defense without conceding any. Mexico were thought to be lucky to be here, and indeed, they were only so through the grace of the US. But since qualifying, they have been on a tear. This is another match that should see some excitement and action, though Mexico can certainly become an overly defensive team if they get put under enough pressure. 

Sunday’s night game is likely to be the most dour affair of the second round, as neither Costa Rica nor Greece look to pour on the goals. Greece will continue its push to have soccer classified as a hate crime by placing everyone in a defensive crouch, relying on two and a half creative players to win free kicks in dangerous areas in order to score. Costa Rica won Group D, with wins over Italy and Uruguay before drawing England in a game that meant little to either team. Beating those two teams is something of an achievement (as is emerging from those games with 22 legs, 22 arms, and no bite marks) but no one seems to believe in the Ticos as real challengers. Beating Greece won’t change many people’s minds, but it will still put them in the quarterfinals. Costa Rica are also the only team who relies on a guy named Yeltsin.

By the time you go out for dinner on Sunday night, there will be 12 teams left in the tournament, and half the quarterfinalists will have been decided. That means that as much fun as this World Cup has been (Every team scored at least one! Even Greece!), it is swiftly drawing to a close. The next week should be a little cagier than the group stages, where a loss didn’t automatically put you on a plane (which, thank God), but there is still plenty to cheer and celebrate, and some moments of stunning quality yet to come. Enjoy the weekend and see you Monday.

Morning Constitutional – Friday, 27 June 2014

Good morning, everybody. Courteney Cox is engaged to Johnny McDaid. Now, your morning constitutional:

Seven months after rejecting it and setting off massive protests, Ukraine signed the economic and trade treaty with the European Union.

Prominent Shiite leaders across Iraq are increasingly calling for President Nouri al-Maliki to step down.

Even as it looks more and more likely that Iraq will fracture along ethnic and religious lines, fragmentation offers little to solve the overall conflict in the country.

What the Supreme Court was doing yesterday in its decision in the recess appointment case. Scalia, making up history again.

The Supreme Court also yesterday overturned Massachusetts’s buffer zone around abortion clinics. They don’t seem to mind the buffer zone around their building, though.

Ugh, Congress. Pretty much done until after the midterms. But, they still have to fund the Highway Trust Fund, which is set for insolvency in September. They also have to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.

Massachusetts raised its minimum wage to be the highest in the nation. It’s still not a livable wage.

Pew: 80% of conservatives think the poor “have it easy.”

How the Pentagon Papers are connected to the insider trading probe hitting Congress.

Hospitals getting into the big data game to create profiles on patients to identify those at higher risk.

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but don’t put your tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Finally, EPA employees asked to stop shitting in the hallway.

Thank God Pepe Was an Idiot so the U.S. Could Advance, or WHOOO DID WE WIN THE WORLD CUP YET?

Sunday, I was ready to celebrate the U.S. advancing to the next stage of the World Cup. I was watching USA-Portugal at my favorite local, managing to get seats at the bar because I’m overly punctual and anxious. Portgual was looking if not worse for wear, at least potentially beatable. I was surrounded by perhaps a hundred rabid and drunk-since-brunch USA fans, a group that was made more fun by the addition of about ten unafraid Portugal fans.

It’s always more fun watching your side win when fans of the opposing side are nearby. Because schadenfreude.

Then Portugal score that first early goal against an uneasy U.S. side that was playing a new and uncomfortable formation* and all I could think was, “Okay, whatever, I’ll take the fucking draw.”

Then the U.S. came ahead, and I was ready. Ready to celebrate, ready to be relieved that the Group of Death was done. That Germany, despite their dominance (if weak backfield) wouldn’t even be a factor. We all were. Then the referee added five minutes** and this shit happened:

The whistle blew just seconds after, and we all left the bar. A night that could have been full of reverie turned to dejection. But, we drew! That’s all I wanted; that’s all we needed. But, dammit, now Germany was the wildcard, we all thought. If we drew, we’d all advance. That’s what mattered.

The good news: We advanced! But the bad news.

Were it not for Pepe being an idiot and getting himself a red card, we probably would not have advanced.

It was easy to think of Germany as the wild card in our group, but turns out, despite some hardships versus a strong-attacking Ghana side, they were definitely the dominant squad in the group. However, Portugal was nearly as good. Turns out, though, that Portugal was the wild card.

Team USA advances because despite being tied for points with Portugal (thanks to a lucky win against Ghana), Portugal lost huge against Germany. And Portugal lost huge to Germany because Pepe was a fucking idiot and left them one man down for most of the match.

However, as we saw Sunday, and some of us saw today, Portugal with a full team is a fucking tsunami. CR7 will get you when you’re not looking, and you’re often not looking because Eder or Nani are about to put the ball the net.  Basically, this:

But, thank our lucky stars Pepe was a fucking idiot whose antics let Germany score a ton of them in the first match.

This is all not to say the U.S. doesn’t deserve to advance. They’ve played some inspired soccer, even in today’s loss. If you watched the first half of the match and thought the U.S. didn’t have a chance of winning it all, then we had to have watched different matches. Strong passing, a defensive formation that was like unto a da Vinci drawing, and hard tackles, steals and runs were enough to make you believe.

It’s easy to say that Bradley seemed a little off, until you realize that it was fucking pouring almost the entire time and the pitch was almost flooded. I’d like to see how you handle the quick touches a center midfielder needs to handle in those conditions. Germany had the same troubles, but their play didn’t depend on the center of midfield as strongly. They also sucked on defense. 

But, despite an incredible U.S. defense, Germany’s offense managed to let one through, which seemed inevitable due to Germany maintaining possession of the ball on the U.S. side for most of the second half. That it was only one is a major testament to the back line and His High Holiness Timothy Howard.***

However, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement after losing the match. We were this close to advancing by winning, on a Sunday evening, and instead, we advance despite losing, at two o’clock in the goddamn afternoon while we’re at stupid work.

I’d like to think that had we won, I’d have just walked out the front door and into the nearest bar, ordered a double shot of Jim Beam, and removed my shirt, but I doubt it. I am, after all, kind of  an adult, and I need my job to pay the rent.

Doesn’t matter, though. We play next week, probably against Belgium. The final test of whether fried potatoes should be dipped in mayonnaise or ketchup. I’ll give you a hint: one of those is fucking disgusting.

* Still don’t know why the fuck Klinsmann thought a 4-5-1 was a good idea. I’m glad we finally settled into a more comfortable (and better fitting the personnel) 4-2-3-1.

** Has anybody figured out why so many matches have been getting so much stoppage time in this tournament? I mean, before this year, I’m not sure I’ve seen a handful of 5s in the hundreds of matches I’ve watched.

*** Despite not having the international superstars that many of the strongest teams have, we have a embarrassment of riches in the goal. As a Villa supporter, I can say that Brad Guzan, who’s along for the ride but will see exactly zero minutes of play, is nearly every bit as good as Howard, who is probably the best goalie in the world. Again, as a Villan, I’d love to see Guzan play a bit, but of course he won’t. However, Howard is 35, so this might be his last World Cup. Just know that Guzan is ready.

Update/Epilogue:

I didn’t even get into the refereeing, which was just terrible. Not sure if it was the conditions, or the particular ref, but the calls were in general terrible. It was evident right away, when in the opening minutes, a German player fouled a U.S. shirt, and the ref stopped play, even though Jermaine Jones had the fucking ball and was about to run up the field with it. Some of the bad calls also went to Germany, to be a little fair, but only to cover up the fact that he obviously had been paid off by Germany and turned around and bet the money on Germany.

I leave you with this, because it’s awesome and Dempsey’s been a hell of a captain of this squad: