World Cup Qatar 2022, Part One.

The Greatest Month in Sports is back, though a little later than it normally is. Normally it coincides, roughly if not entirely, with the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, due to blazing hot Qatar outbribing everyone else for the hosting rights, it coincides with college and pro football’s playoff races and the NBA and NHL getting into the swing of things. Deciding whether to watch football or football is an unusual dilemma.

Anyhow, as I get back into coaching school soccer, I’m in the sort-of-ironic position of following the top levels of the beautiful game less and less. But I’ll go ahead and make my uninformed group picks right now. The US was thoughtful enough to qualify this time and is in Group B with England, Wales, and Iran. I honestly believe England is getting worse over the years despite their trip to the Euro final last year and the semifinals in Russia in 2018, but they should win the group, beat the relatively weak second-place finisher from Group A, then lose embarrassingly in the quarters. The US on paper is better than Wales and Iran and should advance, but we’ll see. Berhalter often disappoints, but at least he got us back into the tourney so hopefully that’s something to build on.

Now to look for the group Italy landed in.

Let’s see, Group A: Holland should win, perhaps not easily, but they should win. I think Ecuador will finish second since Mane’s injured for Senegal. Qatar should finish fifth out of four, but be proud that they could purchase qualification.

We did Group B already.

Italy’s not in C, which should be won by Argentina in Messi’s last hurrah (which is going to disappoint despite the hype). Mexico should finish second, but they’re as historically flaky as the US so Poland might sneak past them. In fact, I’ll say Argentina and Poland advance.

D should be France and Denmark, in that order. I’m surprised at how few people are picking France to win the whole thing. Yes, they’re the defending champion, which hasn’t paid off since 1962, but even without Benzema they’re a strong, youngish team that can blow anybody out.

Group E: Germany, then Spain. Germany is a machine being reloaded and is probably pissed about last go-round. Spain met its Protestant wind and is on the wane, but only to second in their group.

F has two of the three best teams from last time around. I thought Belgium was unlucky to lose to France, but that’s life. This time: Belgium, Croatia safely qualify after the first two games, play to a draw in the group closer, Belgium wins on goal difference. Still no Italy, that’s strange.

If everyone’s healthy, Brazil should dominate Group G. I know Cameroon is the weakest in the group, but they earned a lot of good will with me by beating Argentina in 1990 so I want them to advance. They’ll finish second.

So Italy must be in Group H, which they should win, and then second place will– wait, Italy’s not in H. I guess they have nine or ten groups this time around. H looks like a real Group of Death, this is a tough call. Uruguay still has some bite, they’ll win first place. We’ll see whether (and how) CR7 reacts to the Man U controversy via his play for Portugal, but they’ll finish second.

So Italy will win Group I, which inclu– hold on, my editor’s trying to get hold of me.

It’s 48 teams this time, right? I mean I think that’s ridiculous, but there’s 48 teams, aren’t there?

That’s next time? Then where’s Italy? Defending Euro champs?

Out? How? What the hell happened? Bad calls, like in Korea 20 years ago? Gambling scandal? Bribing the refs, or failure to bribe the refs? Give me a minute, let me google World Cup Qatar controversy–

Oh dear.

O glorious night!

Over the last few days, I told anyone who would listen (which was, like, maybe two people) that I was especially unenthusiastic about this week’s Monday Night Football broadcast. I can’t say I expected much from the Bears given that it’s a rebuilding year, but they still failed to meet my expectations. Apart from a Week One comeback against the Niners, the Bears had been awful. Their performances ranged from getting blown out against the Packers to somehow failing to score more than 7 against the Washington Trademarks despite multiple trips to the red zone. I don’t have the energy to explain the disappointment. It was whatever comes after acceptance.

But tonight’s game was, for what seems like the first time in ages, actually worth staying up past my bedtime for.

Chicago got an early lead, blew it, then took it right back and didn’t let go. They didn’t mentally collapse. Fields looked great (but I don’t like the way he slides; it looks risky). The running game was good despite [a] the offensive line being nightmarish this season and [b] having an injury to the starting center early in the game. The defense was great, and I don’t care if they were playing a pair of young QBs– beating Belichick is beating Belichick.

One of the commentators said it was the sort of win that might just turn the fortunes of the franchise. I say pass the Kool-Aid.

It was the first time the Bears had ever won at New England, the first time they’d beaten New England or Belichick in nearly 22 years, and their biggest win against New England aside from Super Bowl XX.

And for the second time in league history, the Chicago Bears hold the all-time record, outright and alone, for most regular season wins.

(The first time was from 1921 until three weeks ago.)

Re cur.

This evening I deserved a fast-food burger combo. Thus did I sally forth to Corporate Burger Restaurant X, navigate the drive-through, and order one hamburger, some fries, and a drink. The voice in the kiosk informed me that I owed $9.50. I pulled forward to the payment window and handed the cashier a crisp twenty-dollar bill.

The cashier looked in the till and said, “I don’t have fifty cents. Is that OK?”

This has been happening more frequently at more restaurants. At first it was mostly local joints, but now it’s spreading to bigger places like CBRX. When it happens, the cashier is usually just a few pennies short, in which case I don’t mind forgoing my change. I might even let a dime slide if I’m in a good enough mood. But fifty cents is pushing it.

I get that there’s a whole lot of upside to going cashless. I love being able to use my phone to pay for bills, gas, and groceries, and the feds love being able to use Alexa MMT Edition to pump trillions of dollars into circulation instantaneously.

If you’re not too busy burning cash for heat, you can guess the downside.

It used to be that paper money was the most dangerous currency due to being the most inflationary. You could increase the face value of paper money merely by printing higher numbers on it. But my God, these last few years* have reminded me that ink and cotton fiber have nothing, inflation-wise, on plain old electrons. Without a whole lot of the fiscal and monetary discipline that our leaders aren’t exactly known for, those electrons are not going to hold their value. At least not compared to bills and coins.

So I’ve decided to start hoarding more cash and coins. When Putin launches the nukes and the EMPs set us back a few centuries, and when nobody remembers how to print US dollars or mint US coins because the instructions were online, my coffee cans full of change might just be valuable enough to buy a decent-sized fief and hire an army.

And that’s why, when the cashier asked, “Is that OK?” I said, “No.” I got my twenty back and paid with a card. Shouldn’t have offered cash in the first place. Kid gave me a dirty look, too; might’ve figured out my plans. Better bury the change in the backyard.

* I know I should have written “last several decades,” but [A] I wasn’t alive for the whole process, and [B] there’s a difference between a ramp and a wall.

“Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory.”

Happy 246th birthday to the United States, and happy sesquicentennial birthday to Calvin Coolidge!

This Fourth, I am drawn back to a letter by our most underrated founder, John Adams. His July 3rd, 1776 letter to Abigail Adams is known for its poor prediction that the Second of July would be the big holiday. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it warrants another look. He laments the delay in declaring independence, then comes around to its advantages before making his slightly-off prediction about the holiday:

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . . We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States. — We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada …. You will perhaps wonder, how such a Declaration would have influenced our Affairs, in Canada, but if I could write with Freedom I could easily convince you, that it would, and explain to you the manner how. — Many Gentlemen in high Stations and of great Influence have been duped, by the ministerial Bubble of Commissioners to treat …. And in real, sincere Expectation of this Event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid, in promoting Measures for the Reduction of that Province. Others there are in the Colonies who really wished that our Enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the Colonies might be brought into Danger and Distress between two Fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the Expedition to Canada, lest the Conquest of it, should elevate the Minds of the People too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered Us. These jarring Views, Wishes and Designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary Measures, which were proposed for the Support of that Expedition, and caused Obstructions, Embarrassments and studied Delays, which have finally, lost Us the Province.

All these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean the Prevalence of the small Pox among our Troops …. This fatal Pestilence compleated our Destruction. — It is a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart.

But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it. — The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. — Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. — This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

We lightly mock his mistaken prediction to this day, but I’m sure he could live with it. Adams’ larger point is in the last paragraph, and he was vindicated.

Happy 112th!

As I stared into my refrigerator on this, my grandmother’s 112th birthday, I was reminded of her frugality and creativity with food.

Gram would, as many of her generation did, save every unused ingredient and unchewed morsel in the freezer for insane lengths of time. It made sense; she came of age in the starving-est time in American history (…so far) and that stinginess, that resourcefulness came in handy back in the Depression and the War and served her well up right until the end.

Thus were reheated lasagna rolls never more than a few minutes in the oven away.

Thus was frittad never more than a few eggs, some onions, and a jaunt to the garage freezer for God-only-knows-what-else away.

Thus were vegetables snuck into chocolate chip cookies, which, now that I think about it, was not merely for the sake of sneaking nutrients into children’s diets, but for the sake of stretching various foodstuffs as far as humanly possible. The sense of betrayal was never enough to keep us from eating the cookies, and yielded, as the years passed, and as I had to reduce dessert consumption anyways, to appreciation for her wisdom.

We would joke about how long ago any particular dish or ingredient was first frozen, partly because it was probably better not to know the truth, partly because it was one of the Old Girl’s trademarks. But so long as Gram made it in her kitchen and served it at her table, it was good either way.

Happy 112th birthday to Gram!

Happy 122nd!

I’ve been much worse than usual this year about updating the blog. At the speed events move these days, it feels like either I don’t have the time or I don’t make the time to comment before a day’s headline becomes yesterday’s papers. Or at least that’s the excuse I’ll make for now. But I’ll make time for the digital remembrance of my grandparents’ birthdays.

My grandfather would have turned 122 this year, which would blow my mind more if I didn’t then remember that everyone else I know, myself included, is getting older, too. No photo this year. There are so precious few photos of our ancestors compared to the avalanche of snapshots and selfies that we have today, but I was nonetheless taking too long to settle on one and decided to get to typing. I have a year to settle on one for next year.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of his graduation from high school at age 22. I should’ve saved his graduation photo for this year. Oh well. Back then it was more acceptable to finish high school in a less-than-timely fashion, if at all, especially if your formal education was delayed by having to work to help take care of the family, or– as in some other cases back then– by a world war, or a global pandemic, and so on. But he did graduate from high school, and then from the former Armour Institute of Technology, and then MIT.

So he did OK. Because back then, what else were you going to do, aside from the best you could?

The block editor on this rinky-dink WordPress thingy is a nightmare. It has frozen and kicked me out three times in the last 15 minutes, maybe because it’s been so long that it doesn’t recognize me anymore.

Merry Christmas 2021!

Dr. Hmnahmna reminded me that I hadn’t posted yet. So here, presented with no comment other than my hope that your Christmas was and remains Merry, is this year’s digital Christmas card.

Not literally everyone; I expect there’s going to be enough of that going on economy-wide in the next year or so. I just mean everyone on the coaching staff and in the front office of, as I think Sandburg once wrote, “a certain team, from a certain Mid-western town, that starts with a ‘C,’ ends with an ‘O,’ and in the middle is ‘HICAG.’”

Fire Nagy anyway.

This is the first time in ages I’ve felt like writing about the Bears, and the first time in even more ages I’ve actually written about the Bears.

Last week’s nightmare against the Browns almost left me as hopeless as when Trestman was coaching. Almost. Idiot coach? Check. Horrible performance? Check. Losing the locker room? Perhaps. There was a shot of Nick Foles on the sideline clearly saying that Nagy’s offense wasn’t working, and there were other hints–body language, effort, postgame tweets– of the team starting to give up.

But this week, Nagy had the good sense to let Bill Lazor call the plays. Either that, or someone in the front office had the good sense to force Nagy to do it. We now have statistical proof that Lazor runs the offense ~8 times better than Nagy (47 yards on offense last week), and the passing game 185 times better than Nagy (…one net passing yard last week). Fields had great run support, had enough time to throw some midrange and long dimes, didn’t screw up on short passes a la Trubisky, and didn’t spend half the game getting slammed into the ground. This week, a crumb of hope appeared at the bottom of Pandora’s box. Granted, it was against the Lions, but there’s hope nonetheless.

And yet, Nagy must go. The Bears cannot afford to take the chance that he’ll start calling plays again. It’s happened before; last year he gave the play-calling duties to Lazor, but took them back during the offseason. That cannot be allowed to happen again. Let Lazor, or Desai, or even Pettine take over.

Maybe you let him keep his job if they win the Super Bowl this year. I was going to say “if they win a playoff game,” but given the expanded playoffs, that’s not enough progress and too great a risk of keeping him for my taste.

First day back back.

Today was the first day of classes, and the first day with all the kids back in the building. It seems strange to have to point out that those are separate things. Last year, almost all of my classes were a mix of brick-and-mortar students and on-line students. I couldn’t find a headset that sounded clear enough to the students or in the recordings, so I was anchored to my desk in front of my laptop. This arrangement was functional: the on-liners could hear me lecture, and I could interact with the live chat if necessary. But the constant view and angle were mind-numbing.

But this year, there are no on-liners. It was strange to not have to rush to set up new on-line meetings between classes, or to record every class, or to wonder whether someone was actually present. It was strange to see so many actual reactions on actual faces. Even the ones that were still masked. Even if the reactions were eye rolls, or exasperation, or simple expressions of boredom.

And sometime during my second class of the day, it clicked that I could pace up and down the central aisle, like in the Before Times. And I did for a bit. I could even teach from the other end of my classroom. And I did for a bit. It was liberating.

I even thought about putting the beat-up old lectern back in the spot it inhabited for nearly a decade prior to the lockdown, in the northeastern corner of the room, and leaning over it to yell at the kids for emphasis, and rapping the front with the Waking Stick to demand and win everyone’s rapt attention. Like in the Before Times. I didn’t stop class to set it up today, but it will be set up by the first bell tomorrow.

It’s going to be a good year.

The poor kids were stuck in their seats for an hour-and-a-half, but that’s beside the point.

“Let it begin here.”

Happy 245th birthday to the United States, and happy 149th birthday to Calvin Coolidge! I just realized I typed in the wrong number for Cal’s last two birthdays… but he wouldn’t have said anything about it anyways.

This year’s post is brief: my photo of Henry Hudson Kitson’s Minuteman statue, which stands on the Lexington Battle Green, where the war began in 1775.

The statue has come to symbolize one Captain John Parker. It’s not actually him, partly because there are no known paintings of him and partly because he was a member of the non-minuteman majority of the Massachusetts militia. But the locals say it may as well be Parker, reputed to have ordered: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” It began there.