21.9.06

Comments, Comedy and Chavez

Comments, Comedy and Chavez
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez really got it right yesterday during his speech before the UN General Assembly. I’m not talking about his repeated use of the “devil” to describe President Bush or about his thumping of resident idiot Noam Chomsky’s latest anti-American book. Rather, there are two things that Chavez stated correctly. Frankly, most clear-headed Americans have realized this for quite some time:

1. The United Nations in its current system does not work and is anti-democratic.
2. The United Nations needs to be moved out of the United States.

Those two points were dead on. While the UN was a good idea in theory, the truth of the matter is that this organization serves just about as much a purpose as a Cindy Sheehan book signing. It’s useless. Furthermore, a system that’s supposed to be democratic will not be democratic when less than 50 of the member states are actual democracies! Brilliant deduction, Hugo! It really is not hard to see the UN’s downfalls. They have been numerous, humorous and embarrassing.

The day has come for the UN to pack up and leave. Would any organization ever tolerate a building placed on its property that would continually be the center stage for dissent, disapproval and denouncement all the while being funded by the condemned organization? That notion is absolutely ludicrous! Yet, we continue to not only allow such a building on our land but also fund it with our own money. The United States annually takes on 22% of the UN’s budget which totals $423 million. That is way too much money to give to an organization that remains the haven for ineffectiveness and unabashed anti-American vitriol.

To allow the low-lifes of the world the ability to spread their hate message on our soil is unacceptable. The US should leave this defunct organization, withdraw funding and watch them cry foul.

Now, this brings me to the actual speech of Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan leader is certainly no friend of the US, albeit he might be buddy-buddy with anti-American Cindy Sheehan. His behavior in front of the UN General Assembly was to be expected – this coming from a man who compared Israel’s recent attacks to the Holocaust. Not to mention, his good buddy denies the Holocaust even happened.

It was more of the same in regards to his speech. His speech was basically a repeat of the speech he gave before the UN in November of last year. Instead of coming across as an inspirational voice to a competent audience, Chavez was the court jester in the presence of buffoons. It was good to see him continue in his comedy routines – repeatedly calling Bush “El Diablo” and claiming the spot in which he was standing smelled like “sulfur”. And while the name-calling and jokes may have been entertaining, the rest of the speech contained no other useful information besides the two accurate points he made about the UN. The true class was shown when President Bush chose not to even comment on Chavez’s statements – they merit no response.

Furthermore, it’s truly difficult to try and listen to people like Chavez and Ahmadinejad rant on evil America when the hypocrisy is slapping them in face. Maybe if these countries were the bastions of freedom and democracy we could take them more seriously. Rather, the bashing of our country is a fa├žade for their respective self-interests. It’s okay, it’s easy to hate number one.

However, if there was one tell-tale sign that our time in the UN has come to an end, it would be how Hugo’s speech was received: the prolonged applause. Apparently, most of the UN General Assembly would be in agreement with Mr. Chavez. An alarming scene and definitely a justifiable reason to leave an organization as futile as the UN. When dictators and oppressors are praised, truly the UN’s claim to be the proclaimed international forum to engage in discussion and promote peace and freedom around the world is a joke.

(Written for the University Standard, September 2006 Vol. 1 Issue 2)

The Sicilian Specialists

It's a great day to be a fan of Palermo!

The Sicilian Specialists
Roberto Gotta

One of the things that has always amused me and the more iconoclastic among my colleagues before a big match in Italy is the customary press release by the home club, whichever it is, announcing the number of foreign countries that will watch the game live.

Tevez or no; Palermo out-thought and out-fought West Ham at Upton Park.
Some of the numbers in the past beggared belief, and one would have had to try hard to keep a straight face in learning the Sicilian derby and top of the table clash between Palermo and Catania on Wednesday night was going to be broadcast in 180 countries.
First of all, surely there must not be that many in the whole world, although at times I suspect the former Soviet Union itself broke up in no less than 150 different nations, most of them with a name ending in 'stan'.

Second, how do you keep count, really? And then, at least half of those nations dropping in to watch - and it's always a cute round number, 180 or 250 or 300, not 157 or 183 - would have had trouble locating Sicily and the two towns on a map, or know something beyond obvious cliches.

Speaking of which, not that some East End entrepreneurs bothered to check their facts and read their history books, last week, when they made the mother of all shortcuts in summing up what a name evokes for them by printing T-shirts with the words 'The Hammers v The Mafia' as Palermo visited Upton Park in the Uefa Cup.

I was there and was amused and disheartened by the bare-boned rudeness of those jerseys more than offended, but the visiting fans and writers were deeply offended by the juxtaposition, which brought a tense, typically rhetoric-filled response - even before a ball had been kicked - by the Governor of Sicily.

Not exactly what the good-taste doctor ordered, perhaps, as he's been under investigation for alleged links with - you've guessed it - the mafia.

The best reply, of course, was Palermo's on the Upton Park pitch, that night. It took a few minutes for them to find their feet, just as some of their correspondents in the pressbox had been overwhelmed by the magnificent intensity of the local fans' chanting at the beginning of the match. I always get a kick out of watching how first-timers in an English stadium react to a level of noise which is on a completely different planet to Italy's.

But once Palermo absorbed West Ham's furious start they were clearly the more poised side and deserved the win. So it may or may not have been exactly 180 countries being beamed the satellite signal of Palermo-Catania on Wednesday night, but those who did enjoyed one of the finest displays of attacking, worry-free football in recent times.

Palermo won 5-3, bringing the aggregate score of their first two home matches this season to 9-6 and more significantly lifting themselves to the top of the table in style, with eight different players having so far found the net for the Pink Ones' eleven goals.

Catania's Palermo-born striker Giorgio Corona, who plays with the lower part of the right leg of his shorts rolled in inside his underwear, put the visitors ahead with an identical goal to the one Hernan Crespo would score a few minutes later for Inter at Roma.

Taking the ball at the defence on the left side, he feinted inside then turned outside, embarrassing Christian Zaccardo (Philippe Mexes was the one left stranded by Crespo in Rome) then side-footed the ball home with his right foot through the feet of goalkeeper Federico Agliardi, a hero on Sunday at Lazio, but who would later gift Catania an equaliser at 2-2 by completely missing the ball while trying to chest it down while on his knees, a don't-try-this-at-home feat if ever there was one. He apparently believed a teammate had touched the ball last and did not want to handle it.

The derby game was marred by crowd trouble, all too predictable given the circumstances and the horribly customary Italian habit of knowing you will hardly get punished for your acts of violence, but as with the mafia thing, the bad deeds of few should not receive front page notice at the expense of the good deeds of most.

Among them the Palermo players, who shifted gears in the second half after allowing Catania, newly promoted and on four points now, to dictate play for much of the first period.
Palermo's tactical sophistication is superb. Midfield general Eugenio Corini, 35, is a natural leader. He ran back to comfort Agliardi after putting Palermo level within two minutes of the goalkeeper's blunder and then pulling the strings in a Pirlo-like role, flanked by goalscoring midfielder Fabio Simpicio and hard-running Giovanni Tedesco, another local lad who equalised Corona's goal, alongside the creativity of David Di Michele and the hard running of Mark Bresciano.

Francesco Guidolin, who returned to the scene of his latest triumph after an indifferent spell at Monaco, does not get much press because he never allows himself to indulge in the glad-handling that earns other managers a sympathetic ear from the media, but has always struck me as a hard-working fellow with little time for self-promotion if not of the tactical kind.
Fulfilling the predictions of many, he showed up for the post-match interviews wearing a pink shirt - not only Palermo's colours, but also the shirt donned by the leader of cycling's Tour of Italy, the least Guidolin, a renowned cycling enthusiast, could do.

It's early doors yet, but you can just sense Palermo are on a roll now, and could well be challenging for the Scudetto because of above-average talent, versatility, variety and a reasonably deep bench, although they will need to keep scoring a lot to offset the potentially awkward state of their defence, despite the presence of World-Cup winners in Cristian Zaccardo and Andrea Barzagli.

They also found an unlikely supporter in Alessandro Del Piero, who on being asked on live TV some time ago which side he rooted for now, replied, with an almost completely straight face, 'Palemmo', imitating a local's way of pronouncing their town's name.

11.9.06

Remember 9/11

It was the event that defined our generation. A half decade ago, most Americans woke up to just another day while most of us were getting ready for another day at high school. The morning papers were covering the latest news on the Chandra Levy case. Just how innocent was Gary Condit? If those names don’t ring a bell, you’re not at fault – the Chandra Levy case would very rapidly disappear from headlines all over the world. The world abruptly changed on September 11th, 2001.

What we saw that morning was unlike anything Americans had ever seen before. It hit close to home – much closer than the attack on Pearl Harbor did. We were caught off guard. As Americans, we had always felt a sort of invincibility towards the rest of the world. Yet, the terrorist attacks on American soil shattered that nonexistent cloak of invincibility and left us as a nation in utter shock and disbelief.

As a senior in high school, I could have never imagined that an event such as this would take place in my lifetime. After all, it was very easy to read about the defining moments of past generations and the struggles they faced while always thinking in the back of my mind that I was fortunate to live in the period of “Pax Americana”. Minor conflicts such as the First Gulf War or Desert Storm (as I remember it) were just that – minor ones. Yet, September 11th became the next chapter in our history books. What was previously the post-Cold War Era became the pre-9/11 and post-9/11 periods.

Now, the five-year anniversary is upon us. A lot of questions have been answered and even more still remain. How far have we come since that fateful day? More importantly, what do we remember about the events that took place? I’m sure many of us could pinpoint the exact time and location of where we were when we first heard the news. Yet, in the midst of all this, have we still forgotten?

While many would scoff at the idea of us already forgetting about 9/11, I caution you to stop and think about that for a second. I know that we recognize the date and even might take a moment of silence, but I believe that most of us have let the poignant images and actions of that day fade from our memories. Sure, we all remember the sight of the World Trade Center towers collapsing to the ground. Some of us even can vividly recall the plane that struck the Pentagon and of course the heroics that thwarted the final plane from reaching its destination by crashing in Pennsylvania.

But what has September 11th become other than a date frequently mentioned in passing? I remember thinking after the first anniversary had passed how long it would take before 9/11 loses the impact it had that first year.

Instead of a period of reflection, September 11th has become a sickening launching pad from politicians and people on both sides of the aisle. It is all too easy for one of these politicians (Democrats and Republicans alike) to try and use the date for their benefit. The media can also be blamed for its grouping of 9/11 with other present events. You can rarely read an article now about 9/11 that does not reference another conflict that is going on right now. September 11th was its own event – it should be mentioned that way.

Now there are films out covering 9/11. It was only a matter a time. After all, only a month or so afterwards, the entertainment industry was salivating over the idea of producing such a story and placing it on the big screen. Who would get the rights to the story and who would be the first to go ahead with its development? Obviously, one year was too quick to put something out. Yet, here we stand five years later and several movies have already covered the tragic events. I should clarify that I am not stating that any sort of movie or film depicting 9/11 is wrong. Rather, the motives behind the development of such a movie are questionable. One can claim that these are for the sake of those who gave their lives on that day – but is that the truth? Or does that person see a paycheck? After all, such a story would quickly bring in money.

The point is this: We should be remembering September 11th for what happened. The lives lost in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania should never be forgotten. What we saw was a nation whose qualities, values and character – which had always been talked about in the past (namely, the World Wars) – come to fruition on that day and the weeks and months following. America and the rest of the world saw our resolve and our strength in the midst of fear and uncertainty. We had done it in the past and we did it again. The unprecedented levels of unity in our nation were incredible and it is sad that it took a tragic event to bring us together. Yet, five years later, we are perhaps more divided than ever. This September 11th, take a step back and reflect on the day that defined our generation. Are we taking those lives that were lost for granted? Remember them – we owe them that much at the very least.
(Written for the University Standard Sept. 11th Issue)