Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Trench Connection

Like the happy trail on a Greek belly dancer, the numbers can get a little fuzzy, but this year the US Federal government is fixing to discharge almost enough new debt to surpass all the new debt dropped by all other governments combined. Uncle Sam, official babysitter of Earth's reserve currency, is once again far and away its most profligate debtor.

Simultaneously, 2009 US military spending accounted for nearly half of Earth's total military spending. According to the SIPRI, even after combining the bomb budgets of the other power brokers; Russia, China, the UK, and France, with the next 10 "big spenders," the rest of Earth's military tab only totaled 38.8% of earthly defense spending (remind you of anything?), leaving America with a 7.7% edge.

OKAY...so the US is blowing w-a-y more on military expenses than everyone else. Got it. And we're also issuing w-a-y government debt than everyone else. Right, still listening...

Do ya think there might be a link?

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's not the Heat, It's the Commentary

Finding loopholes in anti-torture law is a full-time job. Most people don't have time for two full-time jobs, so in place of lawful genital-tasering, they resort to small talk about the weather. It scratches the torture itch while keeping them out of jail.

Summer is when the serious INQUISITORS come out. You won't read this in your New York City guidebook, but congregating around street vendors this time of year is the surest way to experience the weather-talk version of the rack. Here's the torment you'll encounter each time two strangers meet:

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, another hot one!"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "Yeah, humid too."

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, what's it supposed to be like tomorrow?"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "I hear it's going to be even hotter."

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Will it be humid too?"

Meathead-eorologist #2: (Eyes bulge) "Gee, I don't know! This looks like a job for Weatherman!"

[Meathead-eorologist #2 steadies his trembling hands just long enough to flick on the Weatherman-Signal; flooding the muggy sky with a W-shaped distress sign. Will our hero respond in time?]

Weatherman heroically answers the call.

Weatherman: "YES, IT WILL BE HUMID TOMORROW."

Repeat after me: It's summer. In New York City. It's going to be hot. What's that, you're feeling the heat? So is everyone else. No need to mention it. If it were 95 in January, we'd have something to talk about.

Do you spend every December 23rd telling strangers how Christmasy it is?

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, it's really Christmasy out here!"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "Yeah, tomorrow's gonna be even merrier."



My Twitter feed is partly funny with a chance of haze: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Coming to a Half-Empty Stadium Near You

Like David Beckham before him, Thierry Henry becomes soccer’s latest star striker to be plucked from Europe in hopes of spurring Americans to care about MLS:

Thierry Henry's move to the New York Red Bulls will help Major League Soccer in its goal to become one of the "world's elite soccer leagues'', according to the organisation's vice-president of marketing and communications.

As it was with Beckham, the Henry experiment will fail.

Beckham had far more fame and visibility ahead of his coming to the LA Galaxy, and that still wasn’t enough to attract anything beyond a short term buzz for the team and league. Henry is much less known in America, so the idea of turning him into a “star” ambassador for the game is fantasy.

Beckham hailed from the UK, a country most Americans are still relatively well-disposed to. Thierry was born near Paris, and is bound to trigger the usual slap-dick antics Americans heap on anything French-related (brace yourself for hacky French accents and deafeningly unfunny surrender jokes).

And like Beckham by the time he reached MLS, Thierry is past his prime, so it is doubtful we are about to be treated to a one-man exhibition of soccer at its finest that will inspire a generation of Americans to ditch LeBron, cast off the Air Jordans of their forefathers, and demand a pair of soccer cleats.

A similar “ambassadorship” was tried with Pelé, who in 1975 was recruited to the New York Cosmos of the now defunct NASL. Pelé was a more accomplished and more US visible player than Henry. Pelé also had some political cache, and was playing in the era of Muhammad Ali; probably the golden age of politicized sport (Henry lacks these advantages). And despite all that, and despite playing in a media-saturated glamour town, Pelé’s presence failed to reap the lasting dividends US soccer believers were banking on.

Can New York soccer lightning fail to strike twice? Yes it can.

Henry will spark some sizzle early on, but that sizzle won’t even reach the levels ignited by Beckham’s arrival. Then we’ll be barraged with the familiar round of tired, soul-searching columns wondering why Americans don’t get soccer. The proposed solutions will be the usual calls for “better coaching” and “better promotion at the youth level.” Maybe the conversation should instead begin with the fact that the rest of Earth calls it football, and we already have a sport called football, thanks very much, whose popularity and stature towers over all other US athletics.

Hilarity aside, maybe it’s as simple as Americans just preferring high scoring sports. Hockey scores are similar to soccer’s, and in terms of visibility, hockey has long been a distant fourth among the four major US team sports. Coincidence?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Miami Vice?

The backlash against LeBron’s announcement-o-thon has gotten a little overdone. Well, lest anyone think this sports fixation is an American phenomenon, bear in mind that David Beckham’s 2003 physical exam aired on 39 channels across the globe, and included a pay-per-view broadcast. Yeah, we do have bread and circuses, but don’t let your reaction to them turn you into a sideshow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Don't Fret on Me

How times change. When Jimi Hendrix strummed his famous Star-Spangled Banner, it was considered high treason. Straying from tradition on any incarnation of any American symbol was secular blasphemy (fortunately, Jimi's antics predated Gitmo, though he might have enjoyed being waterboarded).

Nowadays, even the curmudgeonly jingoistic Fox News, famous for displaying an American flag on the screen during newscasts, nonchalantly boasts a July 4th American flag bikini slideshow on its homepage.

My, oh my. Old Glory will just have to accept that in 2010, not even Fox is a no-thong zone.