During the Jahiliya, the pre-Islamic era in the Middle East, each tribe contained a Shair, who was the designated poet and bard, the keeper of received wisdom, denigrator of the wicked and the inimical, the preserver of the tribe’s lineage and glory. Arabic poetry, a notoriously strict poetic tradition with a strong emphasis on rhyme, saw its heyday in that dawn time. The poetic form was neither chaste nor loose, but something in between, an earthy qareen (companion) whose duty it was to portray the full range of life in the desert. The qasida (ode) of Imru al Qays, for instance, reads like a wide-ranging treatise on heritage and lust. The poet himself, however, meets his end wearing a poisoned shirt gifted by his patron, the king, whose queen he seduced. This poetic tradition survived, rarely practiced but well-remembered and respected, well into the Islamic era and into the present.

Music, however, fell out of favor in many parts of the Islamic World somewhere in the Middle Ages, seen as a wicked art leading the righteous into sin and temptation. Attitudes varied from region to region. Turkey, for instance, had a vibrant musical scene throughout its history, as did Iran, parts of the Western Arabian peninsula and North Africa. It remained tightly regional in much of the Eastern part of the Arabian peninsula. The traditional mudhainas, the slave songs of the Sharqiya region of Oman, remained confined to the province. It would be quite shocking to come across a Muscati who had any notion of its sound. Lebanese pop and Egyptian telenovelas, however, were the unifying media factors across the entire region. Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab and the like were everywhere in my youth. Arabic music itself, however, seemed to me as existing in a time warp, forever 10 years behind the music of the West. It is not until recently, as recently as the Arab Spring in fact, that Arabic music has broken out of its shell and become truly worthwhile.

This modern music is revolutionary. This is the music of a people speaking for themselves, becoming Shairs as they spit rhymes and play acoustic guitars in the face of the military police. Here is the mild-mannered Engineering student Ghassen Hamdani aka Tiger Man bouncing his rasta way through a two-week illegal detention by the military police on trumped up terrorism-related charges in Tunisia, the lone country that came through the Arab spring with lasting political change. Here is Cairokee, the band who were teargassed at Tahrir Square. Here is Torabyeh, the Jordanian rappers who were held up by Benjamin Netanyahu as the harbingers of ISIS in a naked political attack on the Israeli left. The campaign ad involved masked fighters asking for directions to Jerusalem only to be told “Take a left”. Yet it goes on. Much of modern Arabic music is not simply revolutionary in the traditional sense of rising up against a nation-state but also in fighting prevailing attitudes. Here is Dam, a Palestinian hip-hop collective, bringing in Amal Murkus to speak about honor killings and the rights of women. The chorus reminds us that if the murdered woman could turn back time, she would draw, she would write, she would sing. This was also the function of the Shair, to remain in constant dialogue with the Sheik through the medium of his people. In this way, the tradition is continued.

A strong satirical current runs through the music directed inward. Egypt’s Sharmoofers bemoan the compromises of modern life in the same way that Lebanon’s Mashrou Leila lament the materialistic nature of marriage. A quick aside: Mashrou Leila were briefly notorious for the first overtly pro-gay Arabic single of the modern era, “Shim el jasmeen” where a lover wishes he could introduce his partner to his parents, spoil his kids, and be his housewife, but alas, they live in different houses so they must simply smell the jasmine and forget their nights. Secrets, what one can and cannot say, occupy a central place in these songs. Even the ballads, like El Morabba3’s “Ya Zein” are, on their face, about asking love (O Beautiful) to reveal secrets, but the secret revealed involves depleted uranium. For a more straightforward love song, try Ghalia Benali’s cover of the Tunisian classic. Pain is a recurring motif in these songs. Amr Diab’s contribution to this playlist is literally titled “I pity you, my darling” but it’s only truly brought to the fore by Natacha Atlas informing us that happiness is only the last resort after a life full of regrets. How our hearts try to chain us! Lena Chamamyan’s song of the moon singing to the sea understands that pain while setting up a distinctly Parisian ambience.

My favorite song, however, is +/-‘s Fogel Ghaim (Above the clouds). It soars in a way that reduces me to a child listening to music for the first time.


Joyeux Noel

December 25, 2014

H/T: Bring Your Sister, the best Zlatanblog on the internet.

Disbelieving abuse victims

November 4, 2014

Apropos of a conversation I had re: Jian Ghomeshi, we really should, as a goddamn civilized culture, stop defaulting to disbelieving victims of abuse, of any kind. Honestly, we make up our minds without literally all the evidence all the time, but it’s shameful that we need 500 forms in triplicate before taking the word of a woman over a powerful man. Instead of immediately going “she’s doing it for the money/attention/because he’s rich and famous” and making excuses for a powerful person we don’t know, maybe consider that the powerless have much less to gain by speaking out than the powerful do. I will always, even if you’re my friend and accused, default to believing the victims of abuse, every single time. Put simply, Jian Ghomeshi is a terrible person. I liked his interviews, just like everyone else. He’s still a terrible person. Don’t make excuses for him.


August 17, 2014

I discovered, about three years or so ago, that most of the authors I loved were male. Besides the occasional Jeanette Winterson and Jayne Anne Phillips, the skew was so heavily one way that I was obviously missing out on so much great literature. So I decided to make a conscious effort to fix that. And now I have a list of five female authors to go with the list of female male authors whose works I will read forever. I highly recommend all of these books and am excited to see where these authors will go next.

1) Helene Wecker- The Golem and the Jinni

2) Monica Byrne- The Girl in the Road

3) Emily St. John Mandel- Station Eleven

4) Nalo Hopkinson- The Salt Roads

5) Tea Obreht- The Tiger’s Wife

A poem-in Arabic, no less

February 13, 2014

I wrote this ages ago. My Arabic is epically bad and remains where it was, at a 4th grade level. With thanks to my friend Sultan and, of course, the great Mahmoud Darwish, one of the finest poets of all time.

صور ثابتة من منزل في أطلال

الأطفال لن يتوقفوا عن الصياح حتى ترسل الشمس خيوطها , و هم مقّيدون
الى الجذور الخضراء لأغنيتنا الخجولة .. نادهم الى جنبك , أماه ! , حيث تهويداتك
تكمن جنبا الى جنب مع ذكرياتهم , مع الأنهار في عيونهم اليائسة .. و لتسلمي سقف
في بتلات ابتسامة .. أماه ! , هل ستعيديهم الى الرحم حيث هم مجهولي الهوّية ؟
هل ستسرقين من عيونهم هذا المنفى و تطيينه في كل الأماكن الصحيحة , حتى هو يكون
محض قصائد ؟
لقد فقدنا مدن قريبة جدا من الأرض ,, حتى في هذه الأنقاض
يجب أن تكون هناك أغنية ….

أسمعينا , ملائكة , تلك الأغنية الحلوة من شبابك , ليست هذه , تلك الأخرى عندما
كلاكما تمرحان تحت الزيتون , أنت و هو , معسّل الأطراف تتشابك عادة , و العشاّق يهبطون
الى الأرض لجرة الذاكرة الحافظة .. أسمعينا , ملائكة , تلك الأغنية الحلوة , مخبأة
فقط في فضيات فظيعة لأمك , لا النشوة نفسها , لا القمة مطلب , لا عظام , في كل مكان , لا غضروف .
تعال , غن لنا من الأشياء العتيقة , ابن بيت للذاكرة مع خيوط من شعرك ..
يجب على أطفالنا أن لا يتوقفوا عن البكاء حتى الفجر ,
عندما يجبرون من قبل فرق نارية للملائكة العليا على التخلي عن أنشودتهم ..
ملائكة , تعالوا الى جانبنا , حيث أشعتهم تتحد مع ضوء السماء .
أخبرهم أن أجسادهم هي وحوش , أخبرهم أن حوافرهم تنمو ,
أن ظهورهم تزهر مع عبء الحقيقة ..
أخبرهم أن جرس كبيرة معّلقة تحت ذقونهم
أخبرهم أن يمشون من دون صوت

There is no spoon. There is no bus either. By this I mean that we did not park the bus against Barcelona.


Note the number of times Messi tried that. Zero.

So this merits a long-winded tactics/history lesson.

I tend to think of football as a game of attrition and flair. A defensive team wins by outlasting the other team in a war of attrition, draining resources and frustrating opponents, while an attacking team feeds on the exuberance of attack, prizing attacking flair and flashy play. Sure, most teams fall somewhere in the middle, particularly depending on the scoreline and personnel but the basic philosophy remains fairly constant. 1-0 is just as valid a path to victory as 5-4. Neither is necessarily easier (to do mostly one or the other requires immense concentration and discipline) so teams that fall closer to the extremes are rare and iconic and should be celebrated. Unfortunately, modern fans have an instinctive hatred and lack of comprehension over what defensive football aims to do. To not attack all the time or to not demand maximum possession is considered a failure of imagination. What it really is is a failure of comprehension.

With that in mind, I think it useful to go over what two of the more iconic and reviled defensive formations of the modern day are all about and what they mean in practice. Catenaccio and the infamous Parking the Bus. I don’t want to go over how they were applied in the past so much as highlight how they function in the modern game.

TL;DR Milan did not play either of those two formations against Barcelona. To say they did is to misunderstand defensive football in general and is nothing more than an unthinking slur.


Iconic and Italian. While it was the brainchild of an Austrian and dates back to the 30s, Catenaccio is closely associated with Italy and Italian football through the dominance of La Grande Inter in the 60s and onwards into the 80s. The basic idea is a withdrawn team with a 3 man defense with a sweeper right in front of the goalkeeper set up in a reactive formation. The sweeper would be permanently camped in the penalty area to sweep up any attacks that make it through the defense. Each defender would man-mark an opposition striker with the spare defender doubling up to break up threatening attacks. Spare full-backs might join the counter-attack and the sweeper, a ball-playing defender in the mold of Franco Baresi or Matthias Sammer would play the ball forward.


Catenaccio fell out of favor for two obvious reasons:

  1. The Sweeper would naturally play opposing strikers onside by being so deep.
  2. Man marking moved to zonal marking

The only modern team that I have seen that utilized Catenaccio successfully was Greece in 2004. You know, the anti-football ohmygodtheydontdeservetobeinthecompetition Greece under Rehhagel.

Very strict man-marking with four narrow defensive minded midfielders. Modern catenaccio is a very reactive way of playing. The sweeper doesnt sit right in front of the goalkeeper in theory. It doesn’t seek to funnel opposing teams to the flanks necessarily. It simply seeks to intensify coverage in the final third. Match the opposition man-to-man but leave a spare in the back is what you need to know.

When France played two strikers, Greece man-marked them both and had their sweeper Dellas, possibly their best player in that tournament, clean up. Dellas, being super positionally aware, performed the same role whether they played a three man or four man defense and in extreme cases, an eight or nine man defense. Dropping back so deep invites the opposition to attack, allowing room for Seitaridis and Fyssas to counter when given the opportunity. If my memory serves, the Greeks did commit in numbers to their counterattacks, which is another feature of Catenaccio which makes it a lot more than a super-defensive strategy. It is a mark of the systems effectiveness that Greece suffered a comparable number of fouls in Euro 2004 to the flair attacking Portugal and conceded an approximately equal number of free kicks. They also committed fewer fouls than all teams except France, Germany and Italy. Catenaccio is not a reckless commit-all-the-cynical-fouls system either.

As those three stats should tell you, attrition. That is the name of the game. Greece did receive more yellows but its the yellow cards/tackles made ratio that is the true measure of their defensive solidity.

Parking the Bus

This is the modern anti-football, the antithesis of the beautiful game, the Mourinho-ization of Joga Bonito, whatever else you want to call it. The two most famous games using this style would probably be Inter-Bayern/Barca and Chelsea-Barca, both in the Champions League with the spotlights shining.


The basic idea is super-strict zonal marking, to play narrow and have six or seven defensive minded or defensive players. Two DMs in front of a flat back four or three DMs in front of a flat back four with the aim of creating a wall of blue (and black) in front of the penalty area. There is very little actual pressing or doubling up. The threat of a multiple-team looms, of course, but that’s simply a function of the wall and not what happens in practice. A bus team is quite happy to let their opponents play as many short passes in front of them as they please. Defending in the middle third is decidedly casual unlike in the final third. Attacks are expected to come into the final third at which point the stand is made. As a consequence, opposing teams are funneled towards the flanks. Packing the penalty area leaves no way to pass through and the best bet is to win an aerial duel with a tall striker who can also hold up the ball. Teams that park the bus are inviting shots from range. Unlike with catenaccio, this style is much more cynical and invites more yellows/tackle.

Possession is retained by hoofing the ball forward and hoping the forward gets it. Petr Cech probably passed more to Drogba than any of his teammates. The counterattack isn’t really committed either. The DMs stay where they are and once Inter were a man down after yet another Busquets swan dive, not even the wing backs really joined in the attack.

Parking the bus is actually defensively quite risky. Teams take shots from a manageable distance and the organization can fail quite easily to a moment of magic or a lapse in concentration. If Barca had converted their chances against Chelsea, they might well have won 6-0. This would not have happened at all with catenaccio. (See: Greece at the Euros). Messi broke through multiple times. Teams like Barcelona thrive on spaces between defense and midfield. While yes, there is little space, Messi received the ball mostly in sight of goal. Messi never once dropped deep to recover the ball. The attacks were not started from deep but from in front of the halfway line. This is a less than ideal situation yet nine times out of ten, Barca should be able to pull out a victory.

How does that differ from what we did?

We did not park the bus because:

    1. The majority of tackles were made in midfield (on our side of it, sure) and not in defense in sight of goal, which is a defining feature of the bus. In fact, Messi only set foot in the box with the ball once.
    2. There was man-marking. Xavi in particular. The bus does not man mark. It cannot spare players.
    3. Midfield pressing was not casual. When a 4-3-3 (Barca) is set against a 4-5-1 (Milan), the spare man in midfield could be thought of as a sweeper if you really, really want to draw a Catenaccio-ish parallel.
    4. Abbiati hoofed it forward while praying frantically approximately 0 times. The positions from which Montolivo directed long balls were much further forward.
    5. DMs joined in the attack. If we were parking the bus, Muntari has no business being all the way up front or scoring. Muntari and Boateng were directing traffic basically, a much more active role than allowed by a bus. They drove Barca players into triple teams high up in midfield.
    6. The idea wasn’t to make Barca play through the flanks. They were not supposed to get there at all. This is made clear by the number of times we saw Alexis Sanchez (approximately zero) or the number of times we saw Jordi Alba threaten after the first ten minutes. Barca, happily, were content trying to play the middle.
    7. Force Barca to play through the center. This is not a characteristic of the bus. SES tracked back to cover overlaps, allowing Constant to basically man mark Pedro. Boateng did the same on the other side, allowing Abate to double team Iniesta much further up than Abate would have if we were playing the bus. Messi collected the ball deep on the right then cut inside time and again.
    8. I have no idea what Fabregas was supposed to do so I literally have no thoughts about him. Theoretically, he might have been expected to dart between the covering banks but he didnt really do that and the passing lanes forward were clogged leaving only the center open.
    9. Pazzini did not ever attempt to pull a Torres and run at them. Instead he dragged the defense this way and that and at points was Bojan-like in getting himself trapped. The long ball route to Pazzini was more hold-up than a true single striker bus strategy.

This was a game of which Sacchi would be proud but it was not a bus.


Image credits: http://viajealcorazondelfutbol.blogspot.ca

Before I begin, I’ll admit that my two favorite shows are Better off Ted and Terriers. Both were cancelled, given the run-around and are apparently only popular with critics and people who are late to everything. And no, I haven’t watched much Archer. I’ll get to it.

The idea that “women aren’t funny” has been around for a long time. Christopher Hitchens theorized that this had something to do with brain chemistry and the evolutionary value of humor. Men need to impress women and they do it through humor. Women, on the other hand, have no need to impress men since men already find women pants-droppingly funny. “Men have to pretend, to themselves as well as to women, that they are not the servants and supplicants. Women, cunning minxes that they are, have to affect not to be the potentates. This is the unspoken compromise,” he writes. Leaving aside the obvious heteronormative bullshit embedded in that comment (as well as all evolutionary psychology), it raises an interesting dichotomy: humor at someone else’s expense and humor at one’s own expense. Popular culture and talking heads seem to agree that women’s high sex status makes them unfit for humor at other people’s expense (too mean, too cruel, coming from the Goddess on her Throne) and therefore the only funny woman is a woman that is self-deprecating to a fault. TV, by and large, reflects that popular prejudice but it is indeed changing. It mostly agrees with the premise that ladybrains are wired only to play damsels in distress, emotional melodrama queens and non-threatening straight foils. All of these archetypes are, after all, women who have lost their pedestal and are therefore capable of humor.

The women of Community, for instance, are flawed but not self-deprecating, certainly not in the way that Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, Queen of self-deprecating  humor and the reigning Champion of the Thunderdome, is self-deprecating. Liz Lemon has stains on her shirt. She’s a woman. That is funny. Liz Lemon, a slob who could do better, is a clear example of the sort of TV woman who is funny because of the dissonance between her status and her reality, at least for the five people who watch NBC programming. Tina Fey’s character is made ugly in order to be funny. Our expectations of attractive women demand this. Even Tina Fey’s uproariously funny Sarah Palin impression relies on the “attractive woman being less than perfect” trope to some degree. In this case, the ugliness of Ms. Palin’s ignorance was enough but the riff still requires that trope for its power. As TV grows up, we see that it is possible for women to both be attractive and funny and self-aware. Community’s Annie, played by the consistently excellent Allison Brie, is not only given actual jokes where she isn’t just a foil but she remains attractive, even when the sexualized parts of her (her boobs) are transferred into the vessel of a monkey that lives in the vents and hoards stationery. The Monkey is literally called Annie’s Boobs. Annie’s Boobs are funny on their own, divorced from Annie, and form the basis of unrelated subplots. In this way, the show allows us to see the real Annie, boobs and all, be funny while still allowing for the kind of humor that is, apparently, only the province of adolescent males.

Only two women on TV, however, are/were playing women with power being funny without apologizing for it. It is no surprise that they are the best female comics on TV. I enjoy Sarah Silverman but she’s a little too complicated for this piece so pardon her exclusion while she bangs Jeff Goldblum in front of Nick Kroll. One, obviously, is Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a high-strung bureaucrat/elected official managing the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, Indiana. Not only does she not apologize for power, she wants more of it. She risks her comfortable niche to run for elected office. And, what’s more, she’s good at her job and sincere about her intentions. Those are both things that she should not be able to do under prevailing theories of humor. A sincere, hard-working bureaucrat, of whatever gender, is a mindfuck. The other, and my favorite, is/was Better off Ted’s Veronica Palmer, played in the most insincere way by Portia DeRossi. Veronica works for Veridian Dynamics, the archetypical evil corporation that subverts all the things people love. Can you think of something suitably evil? An octo-chicken, perhaps, with its extra drumsticks? A motion sensor that ignores black people? Weaponized pumpkins? Nicotine-flavored ice cream? Veronica is a woman whose unapologetic attractiveness is intimidating, which makes her the perfect boss for the cubicle drones she commands. She is in total charge of her sexuality, a point made clear if not by her subordinates dropping trou at a moment’s notice, then by her affair with the magician Mordor. While she worries that having people know about her double life as a magician’s assistant might harm her, ultimately when she performs, she really does perform. She doesn’t turn her sexuality into the joke in the end but instead, turns our gaze into the joke. There is not an Evolutionary Psychologist/Pseudo-scientist alive that can explain why Portia De Rossi/Veronica Palmer is fucking amazing. She is the ultimate Goddess on her Throne, out of reach and cold. And still funny. And she never does tell you where she hides the dove.

Seriously, guys, how could you cancel this?

The Doggfather has good taste

Snoop Lion repping Milan! I don’t know why this makes me so happy since I haven’t listened to Snoop in years but it does.

I taught a class once focussed on globalization and the sociology of sport. I made this list you are about to see to show immigration patterns and globalization as reflected in the game. Obviously, black players are no yardstick of immigration per se (see: Brazilian-born players playing for countries like Qatar, which doesn’t really have a history of immigration in the legal sense) but they certainly speak to globalization. You will find that the big colonial powers played black players earlier. That’s the legacy of colonialism and how it precedes modern globalization. Former Communist nations didn’t really open up to immigration until recently and that’s reflected here. If you’ll notice only Croatia and Ukraine have yet to field a black player on the international level.

Please don’t infer anything about the relative merits of countries, or the racism contained therein from this list. It is a tool to understand globalization, not a hammer to beat people with. It does not take into account ethnic diversity in any country, only when the first player played. Poland, for instance, has a growing Vietnamese minority, but it seems unlikely that we shall see a Vietnamese-Pole play for Poland soon. 

Group A

Russia– none (though Odemwingie almost did)
Greece-Daniel Batista (1994-1997)
Poland-Emmanuel Olisadebe  (2000-2004)
Czech Republic– Theodor Gebre Selassie (2011- )

Group B

Germany-Erwin Kostedde (1974-1975)
Holland– Humphrey Mijnals (1960)
Portugal-Guilherme Esperito Santo, not, as I thought, the legendary Eusebio  (1937-1945)
Denmark-Carsten Dethlefsen (1993)

Group C

Spain-Vicente Mate (1998-2000)
Italy-Fabio Liverani (2001-2006)
Ireland-Chris Hughton (1979-1991)
Croatia– none

Group D

Sweden– Martin Dahlin (1991-1997)
France-Raoul Digne (1931-1940)
England-Viv Anderson (1978-1988)
Ukraine– none

My friend said this after reading Ibra’s autobiography, “I am Zlatan” and it stuck with me. So I made a banner. This here is the image. The banner size version is after the jump.

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