Berlin

Look Who’s Afraid of the Three Lions
June 26, 2010

Some of my earliest memories are of international football matches, between England and Germany among others, like the game this Sunday afternoon. I can’t honestly claim to have seen the famous England 6-3 defeat at the hands of Hungary in 1953, or even to have been more than vaguely aware of it. Much later, my friend A.J. Ayer told me that he had been taken to the game by Arthur Koestler, still enough of a Hungarian to gloat over his native country’s victory. In the following year came the “Miracle of Berne” when those same magical Magyars lost the World Cup final to West Germany.

I Have A Dream
June 25, 2010

Four years ago, Mexico had a chance to make history by bringing down Argentina. I was there, in Leipzig, in that beautiful, modern stadium built literally inside the shell of the older, pre-war arena. It truly was a gorgeous sight. And when the Mexican team went up with Marquez’s goal early in the game, it became even more so. But it didn’t last. The Argentines tied soon enough and then, with a goal endlessly repeated in our nightmares, won with a kick that surprised even its modestly talented author, Maxi Rodríguez. It was sad. Once again, Argentina proved unbeatable.

Go, Gattuso, Just Please Go.
June 24, 2010

At one point in the Italy-Slovakia game today, Peter Drury, ITV's commentator in the UK, said of Kamil Kopunek, who'd just scored Slovakia's third goal, "he need never kick a football again; he will bore his grandchildren forever!" It was a funny comment, but immediately I wondered if, in fact, Drury was not only referring to the goalscorer who had finally put paid to Italy's attempts to defend their crown, but also to that heinous, 32-year old midfield attack dog, Italy's excerable Genaro Gattuso. What a joy it will be to never see him in the World Cup ever again -- yes, please, go away and b

Is English Special Because It's "Globish"?
June 21, 2010

Most of the mainline reviews of Robert McCrum’s Globish – of which there have been so many so fast that I am in awe of his publicity people -- are missing what is fundamentally wrong with the book. Herewith one linguist’s take on this peculiar book, within which all evaluators seem to perceive a certain fuzziness, but few are catching that it is based on an outright error of reasoning and analysis – as well as an infelicitous volume of downright flubs. McCrum starts with the well-known fact that English is now the world’s de facto universal language.

Is Italy Fatally Insular?
June 17, 2010

I’ve been reading Rob Hughes for many years, always with interest, but a recent piece of his in the New York Times (from his On Soccer column in the International Herald Tribune) made me wonder about the pretzel logic that can sometimes accompany political correctness.  The theme of his article published on June 15 was that Germany, thanks to its multicultural team, was displaying a new vigor, while Italy, top-heavy with, well, uh, Italians, was on the skids: There seems to be a new, vibrant, powerful Germany: a side whose players are too young to fear defeat and whose diverse ethnic backgroun

The England Catastrophe
June 13, 2010

Well, I said 1-1 before it started.  (Not publicly or anything, so you'll just have to be believe me.)  And although that prediction was partly a defense mechanism, I never shared the conviction of most of my fellow England fans camped out at Foakeng's Lucky Bar yesterday afternoon -- or of the jingoistic papers from which they seemed to take their cue -- that this would be easy.  Those England fans, by the way, seem to have mellowed a bit.  I may be wrong about this, but I have the feelling that if, hours before the kickoff of England's first World Cup game in say, 1986, you'd worn a Germany

Beyond the Line
June 11, 2010

In early April, silly flags were already flapping all around Beirut. A non-resident would think that dignitaries from the entire United Nations were about to make an appearance, adding a touch of color to our city. According to numerous sources, the flags had sprouted much earlier. As early as January, my sister made sure to tell me. I don’t think any earlier than that, my mother said. People were too busy with Christmas and New Years, and in 2009, Ashura, the Shiite holiday fell at the same time—far too much going on for anyone to concentrate.

The Art of Antithesis
June 02, 2010

The Bars of Atlantis: Selected EssaysBy Durs Grünbein Translated by John Crutchfield, Michael Hofmann, and Andrew Shields (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 323 pp., $35) Descartes’ Devil: Three MeditationsBy Durs Grünbein Translated by Anthea Bell (Upper West Side Philosophers, 136 pp., $25.95) Durs Grünbein’s scintillating essays flare up off the page in extravagant fashion, displaying here a philosopher (Seneca, Nietzsche), there the natural world (deep-sea fishes); here a poet (Hölderlin, Rilke), there an obsession (addictive diving).

The Wizard
May 22, 2010

Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic By Roman Koropeckyj (Cornell University Press, 549 pp., $45) It was Poland’s peculiar luck to receive its literary matrix, its cultural subtext, the source of its national mythology, from the hands of a provincial genius, a Romantic poet and mystic, in the first half of the nineteenth century. Imagine the creative possibilities, and the inevitable perils, of such a provenance.

The Prisoner Intellectuals
May 05, 2010

The key to understanding radical Islam and Communism? Prison culture.

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