Monday, February 27, 2006

a very important call



This is a true story, so true it happened fifteen minutes ago.

*dial number*

Ditz #1 : Hello, Wagon Trail Bank here, my name is Autumn, how can I help you?

JLP : Hi, Autumn, I would like to make an enquiry about closing some accounts?

Ditz #1 : Uh-huh?

JLP : Yes, I'm calling on behalf of my grandparents. They have had accounts with your bank for over forty years, but they moved to Ireland twenty-eight years ago. I am actually calling you long distance right now from Ireland. My grandfather passed away over a year ago and now my grandmother would like to close her accounts with you. I would just like to know what we need to do to get this done. [for future reference this is the "explanation speech"]

Ditz #1 : Uh-huh?

JLP : So...what do we need to do?

Ditz #1 : Let me put you through to a banker.

JLP : Ah, ok, thanks Autumn.

*click*
JLP : [under breath] How silly of me to think you were a banker yourself!

*click*

Ditz #2 : Hello, my name is Girlie, how may I help you?

JLP : Hello Girlie...[explanation speech follows]

Ditz #2 : In order to close an account, she will have to come into our branch in person.

JLP : Um, yes, well like I said, we are in Ireland, and I might also add that she is 96 years old.

Ditz #2 : Well, I'm afraid then that is a problem because we can only close an account in person.

JLP : Would she have been advised of that when they informed you that they were moving away?

Ditz #2 : I'm sorry sir?

JLP : So basically you are telling me there is nothing she can do if she can't get on a plane and fly 6000 miles, which incidentally will probably cost her the sum of money she has left in her account.

Ditz #2 : Unfortunately, that is the case, sir.

JLP : And there is nothing else we can do.

Ditz #2 : Well you could call our Customer Service line...

JLP : Ah, ok, well at least that is something...

Ditz #2 : But I can almost guarantee sir that there will be nothing they can do for you.

JLP : Well, I think I will try anyway, may I have their number please?

Ditz #2 : It's a toll-free number, and it is 1-800-ROB-BERY [number may not be precise]

JLP : Thank you so much Girlie for all your help.

Ditz #2 : You have a nice day, sir.

*hang up, dial new number*

Recording : This call is not toll-free outside the United States. If you do not wish to pay for this call, please hang up now.

Another recording : Thank you for calling Wagon Trail Bank Customer Service. Please wait for our next available operator. You call is very important to us. [this message repeated five times in total]

Ditz #3 : Hello my name is Lucita, how may I help you?

JLP : Hi Lucita...[explanation speech] ... and I called the branch where they opened the account and they said there was nothing my grandmother could do.

Ditz #3 : Well there is something she can do.

JLP : There is?

Ditz #3 : Yes, there is. She can send a letter to our Account Closing department.

JLP : Oh, ok, well we already sent such a letter to the branch, it was about three weeks ago, that's kind of why I'm calling.

Ditz #3 : They would have disregarded that letter, sir, they do not deal with closing accounts.

JLP : And they couldn't just forward it onto the Account Closing department?

Ditz #3 : No, sir.

JLP : Right, well then, can I have the address please?

Ditz #3 : No, sir, I'm afraid I can only give that information to the account holder.

JLP : But she won't understand...can I be on the line as well?

Ditz #3 : I'm afraid not, sir.

JLP : But...ok, wait, hang on.

[there then follows five minutes of absolute calamity as I try to explain to my grandmother that she needs to talk to the lady, let her call out the address, while I mute the other line and write it down.]

JLP : OK, it's me again, we now have the address, thank you.

Ditz #3 : That's great sir, is there anything else I can help you with?

JLP : Well I do have one general query...

Ditz #3 : yes, sir?

JLP : You never asked my grandmother for her account number. So in other words, the information you just gave out REALLY could be given out to just anybody, is that right?

Ditz #3 : I'm sorry, sir?

JLP : That's ok, I forgive you. Good day!

*hang up*

JLP : [SINGING TO PHONE] There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole...

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
I RECKON A CAPULET FIRED THE FIRST SHOT…



HEADING? : This week’s guest language for Yahoo’s translator tool is of course Chinese (traditional). When you run it back through into English it comes out : “One tolerates with the strange shag by JL Pagano”. I reckon I’d tolerate it, depending on how strange though…

TUNES : A bit of eighties Britpop nostaliga for me in the car lately – I’ve had the greatest hits of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions in the tape deck reminding me of classics like “Brand New Friend” and “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?”.

STATWATCH : For the first time since I began my obsession with blog stats last May, it seems my Irish site will receive more hits than ABOPATOS for a calendar month [Feb ‘06], and it also recently passed the 6,000 hit milestone.

SIDEWAYS : I saw this DVD last week and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. It was not all about winetasting as I feared and actually had quite a compelling story with interesting twists. Well worth a rental if you ask me. Thelma & Louise for blokes.

CREATIVITY : I penned a new song last week, all about my fiancée Sandra. I won’t lie, I’m a bit nervous about posting it, cos it’s a wee bit mushy! I’ll let it loose on Wednesday nonetheless – it’s called “My Weathergirl”.

BEAD : Speaking of songs, I’d like to give a plug to my mate Dave Dwyer, aka “Bead”, who is a singer/songwriter himself, and he has just started his own myspace site – check it out for a free listen to some of his stuff.

BUSHBASHING : This week’s swipe at the NeoCons is brilliantly executed by this link – check it out and make sure you have your sound switched on. Thanks to Gavin’s Blog for the heads up.

LIBERALBASHING : In the spirit of fair play, I’m allowing one of Dubya’s supporters to bash back this week, courtesy of my blogger buddy James Shott. I never thought a joke involving the Pope and the President could be clean, poke fun at my values, AND be funny. This has it all.

PADDY : Just to keep the chuckle theme going, check out this post from Curly K over at That Friday Feeling, where it seems that Ireland have declared war on the French.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“rugby poem funeral”

“fixing ticking radiators”

“shag till you can’t stand”

“chomping at the bit” *

“the shoot out between the capulets and the montagues at the petrol station” *


I hope they all found what they were looking for.


StatWatch and Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, February 24, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

15 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week I relive what experience I had of the 1986 finals in Mexico.


THE FINALS THAT GOT AWAY

English soccer fans talk about this moment more than they do about 1966 when they actually won the World Cup!


A lot changed for me in the four years that passed between the World Cups of 1982 and 1986. I think they call it puberty.

I went from a nerdy kid in his early teens to a nerdy horny kid in his late teens.

Given that, I could hardly pass up the opportunity of travelling from living with my grandparents here in Dublin to go stay with my mother in San Francisco for nine long weeks of the summer of ’86. I knew staying with her would offer me a sense of independence that I badly needed. By independence, of course, I meant that I was sure I was going to be able to stay out every night drinking and getting laid.

Well, whether I succeeded or not in that quest may make for a more interesting story, but it has no place here. I also travelled with the assumption that I would not miss a moment of the World Cup finals, I mean, for crying out loud, since they were being held in Mexico, I was actually going to be nearer to them than I was in Dublin!

As a point of information, these finals were originally meant to be staged in Colombia, who turned out to be either too poor or too run by drug barons to host the event.

My mother, who is known for her hatred of television, was under strict instructions to have a set in her apartment ready for me to watch the football. Well, she managed to beg, borrow and steal a set from somewhere, and I was supposed to be grateful that it was a colour one at that.

Too bad she didn’t realise you also needed a thing called a “cable box”. When I got there and tried all the channels to see if one was showing the opening game, I was quickly disappointed. She offered to get one of her friends to try and both obtain and hook up the right equipment, but at the age of 17 I was aware enough of my “spoiled-only-child-raised-by-his-grandparents” profile to be too proud to want any kind of special treatment. With that, I told my mother to forget the whole thing, and resigned myself to missing the entire tournament.

Such was the apathy the mainstream American media had towards football back then that for the whole month the sport’s main event was taking place, I did not hear one word about what was going on, save for a couple of column inches in the San Francisco Chronicle. I did hear a lot about a sensational rookie first baseman for the Oakland A’s called Mark McGwire, however.

Though it was a royal pain in the ass, not to mention unbelievable that my nation of birth did not embrace the beautiful game, I managed to have myself an enjoyable summer all round, even if I never did get laid.

One weekend, when I was staying at my Uncle’s house out in the “sticks”, I was on my own as everyone was out running various errands. Although clouds are considered UFOs in that neighbourhood, and it would seem to make more sense to go outside, I was always one to see what was on TV first before I did so.

My uncle DID have a cable box, so I flicked around the channels. To my amazement, I found a game between Argentina and West Germany, though the commentary was in Spanish. After about five minutes, I worked out that it could not be a live transmission as I had first hoped [it would have been two weeks AFTER the final – yes, it’s true, I still hadn’t learned who had won the damn thing].

In those days you still didn’t have the time and score conveniently placed at the top corner of the screen for you, so I was at the mercy of the Mexican TV director to inform me that it was early in the second half, and Argentina were winning 2-0. Just my luck, I thought, even though I do get to see some action without knowing the outcome after all, it seems to be over as a contest.

Well, with a bit of luck, the two finalists managed to turn the game into arguably the most exciting final ever, with the Germans surging back to make the score 2-2 before the Argentinians took the lead for good once more which led to a rollercoaster of emotions from the two sets of fans. It didn’t matter that the commentary was in Spanish – the only word you needed to understand was “GOOOOOOOALLL!!!”

And so I felt I had least tasted some of the excitement of Mexico ’86 as I watched the new world superstar Diego Maradona lift the trophy with his team-mates and celebrate. When I was to eventually return home to Dublin, however, I was to learn that this was not the only game to produce drama by any stretch of the imagination.

The English club season was well under way by the time I got back, but all the talk in the news media was not about how the great teams of the day such as Liverpool and Arsenal and the like were doing. Seemingly all of the Queen’s subjects had converted to religion, since their favourite three words had become “The Hand of God”.

Once again the Republic Of Ireland had failed to reach the finals – I knew that much before I left. Of the “home” nations, three had made it, precisely the same three that had done so in ’82 – England, Scotland, and plucky Northern Ireland. Sadly, the latter two had dismal first round campaigns in Mexico. It was left to the English to keep the home fires burning in the second phase.

Now that the sport’s governing body FIFA had the new “penalty shoot-out” method of deciding tied contests at their disposal, they decided to make the competition a “knock-out” one after the first round groups were completed. And so, 24 was whittled down to 16, and from then on it was sudden-death.

England were shaky at first, but after their 3-0 over Paraguay, they felt as confident as any that they had a chance to go all the way. Enter one Diego Maradona.

See the picture at the beginning of this piece? That’s Diego, jumping for a high ball with England keeper Peter Shilton in the quarterfinal. A split second after that historic picture was taken, Shilton was picking the ball up out of his own net with complete disbelief, as the goal had been allowed to stand. When Maradona was quizzed about it afterwards, he apparently coined one of the sport’s most famous phrases which suggested divine intervention.

Well if we thought English fans were a pain in the arse whenever they won something, we were to discover that they’re even worse when they feel they lost in questionable circumstances. They still bitch and moan about that bloody hand of God even today, twenty years later. Not even the fact that Maradona went on the score a dazzling solo goal with a run from inside his own half that beat virtually everyone in an England jersey keeps them quiet – they would tell you they should not have been 1-0 down in the first place.

As always, the competition had its interesting sub-plots, such as Denmark seeming invincible in the first round, scoring nine goals and winning all three of their games, only to get hammered 5-1 by the Spaniards in the next phase. Then there was Morocco, who furthered the cause of increased African participation by actually winning their group which included both England and Portugal, and only allowing the Germans to edge them 1-0.

Honourable mention should also go to the French, who managed to conquer the reigning champions Italy in the last 16. Finally there was Belgium – who seem to sneak unnoticed past everyone into the semi-finals only to succumb to yet more Maradona magic.

Looking back I suppose you would have to say that it appeared to be destiny that Argentina would lift their second World Cup, just as it was destiny for me to miss the all the action as it happened.

I was determined that no matter what the attraction of travelling abroad in 1990, I was going to be near a television that was showing the World Cup that summer. My wish was to be granted, but nowhere near the way I thought it would be.

Next week – ITALIA ’90 : How Olé Became an Irish Word

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

like a hole in the head


"Um, before your next shot I should warn you that the phrase 'double top' refers to an area of the actual dartboard itself..."


Ah, how I've missed delving into Ananova's "Quirky" files. They can forever be relied upon for inspiration when it appears you have nothing to post about.

This time, it appears our friends over in Holland are having a spot of bother with their aim...



Dutch danger of darts


Holland may introduce new rules after it was revealed at least 120 people are injured playing darts in pubs each year.

Of those, at least 12 people end up in accident and emergency with a dart in their eye, reported the Dutch Consumer Safety Council.

Other injuries include concussion caused by falling dart boards.

Measures now being considered include roping off whole areas in front of darts boards and modified darts.

The game is hugely popular in the Netherlands with the current world champion, Jelle Klaase, hailing from Alphen in central Holland.



I reckon just one blanket rule would solve this problem ...

"Do not either play or watch darts while stoned."

Come to think of it, considering where it is, maybe they should just ban the game altogether...

Monday, February 20, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
LOOKS LIKE I’LL HAVE TO GET MY TUX DRY CLEANED...



HEADING? : This week’s guest language for Yahoo’s translator tool is of course Spanish. When you run it back through into English it comes out : “A LITTLE TO TAKE CARE OF IN EXCESS AND THE UNEVEN PELUSA of Pagan JL”. Any offers to excessively take care of my uneven pelusa?

TUNES : It may have taken him a while to emulate his excellent “White Ladder”, but David Gray’s latest album “Life In Slow Motion” was well worth the wait. The title track and “Hospital Food” stand out for me, but it’s a good listen all round.

CARTOON : Incredibly, the protests are still going on over those Danish cartoons, and blood is still being spilled as a result. It just shows how easy it is to spread hatred. Those who think this is merely a Muslim problem are just as bad if you ask me.

AWARDS : Well knock me down with a feather – I’ve actually made the shortlist for the Irish Blog Awards in the “Best Blog Post” category for my poem “Ní Thosaímid An Tine”. Thank you to everyone who voted for me – the ceremony is on March 11th in Dublin, I’ll keep you posted.

BUSHBASHING : Donald Rumsfeld claims on the one hand that we need to be “smarter with the media” when approaching the “War on Terror”, yet he chooses to square off with Kofi Annan through the press, which surely can only help the Extremists’ cause. It all gets scarier by the day.

HUNTED : If you have seen the movie Donnie Brasco, you will be a bit concerned at the knowledge that someone googled the words “joe pistone current location” and made their way to my Irish blog! Maybe I don’t hope they find what they’re looking for this time…

QUOTABLE : Not sure who coined this phrase, but I whoever it was deserves much kudos – I reckon it succinctly explains just what is meant by the term “human rights” … “Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins.”

HURT : My Oakland Athletics came close to the playoffs last year despite a terrible start, and after signing Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas, they may just go the extra mile in 2006. You can be sure I’ll be boring the pants of you here on ABOPATOS in the coming months.

OVERKILL : There are conflicting reports out there about the cast of the hit NBC show “Friends” coming back for a series of reunion shows. As much as I enjoyed it when it was running, I sincerely hope they leave it as it is.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“bisexual premiership footballers allegations”

“break rocks with other rocks scrubs quotes”

“ball at the club lyrics fags a day”

“foxxy love cartoon kissing video”

“joe pistone current location” *

I hope they all (but one) found what they were looking for.



Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, February 17, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

16 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week’s bout of nostalgia is all about the 1982 finals in Spain.


ARE THEY IRISH OR NOT?

Paolo Rossi had much to celebrate in ’82, but it isn’t just the Italians who will have fond memories of the tournament.


It was with a far more educated eye that I watched the 1982 version of the World Cup finals which were held in sunny Spain.

Though the ’78 tournament was the one that got me hooked on football, I was only 9 years old, and thus wasn’t fully aware of what was going on – it was more everyone else’s excitement that attracted me.

This time, I was 13, and I had spent the previous four years immersing myself in the weekly dramas of the English professional game. What’s more, the club I had chosen to support, Tottenham Hotspur, were going through a purple patch, having won the previous two FA Cup competitions prior to these finals, ironically with two Argentinian players in their squad.

I had also been introduced to a new aspect of the World Cup – the qualification process. Since so many countries enter the event, the sport’s governing body FIFA (who have more affiliate nations than the UN) has to somehow whittle them down to a smaller number of teams to contest the final tournament.

Up to 1978, sixteen nations qualified for the finals. Most of these would come from Europe and South America, and the so-called “unfashionable” continents of Africa, Asia and North America, were allocated just one slot each. For the 1982 finals, FIFA decided to expand the number of finalists to 24 in order to double their representation.

Despite the extra chances of qualification, my hometown team the Republic of Ireland just missed out by the skin of their teeth, with France edging them out on account of having beaten Cyprus by more goals than we did. However, that did not mean the island of Ireland did not have something to look forward to when the summer of ’82 came around.

Most people who grow up here are told stories from when they are in diapers about the country’s history, from whichever standpoint the narrator wished to tell. You can be sure that at some point in the tale, someone was bound to have been oppressed by someone else.

As for me, I was transplanted here at the age of 8. All I knew was that for some reason, there were two Irelands, and being absolutely 100% indifferent to politics, I didn’t really care why. And so, since a team called “Northern Ireland” had reached the World Cup finals, it seemed natural to me that I should support them.

I would have been totally unaware of the history of the game north of the border, particularly its extremely close links to the blatant sectarianism that has crippled the community over the years. I wouldn’t have even known that the success of the 1982 team was a legacy of the late great George Best, who despite having achieved icon status the late-sixties/early seventies, sadly never graced a finals tournament himself.

None of that meant anything to me. These guys were Irish, so they had my unconditional support. I also didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t root for the English and Scottish teams who also qualified for the finals, since having closely followed the English league, I was familiar with all of the players.

So you can be sure that once the finals kicked off on June 13th in Barcelona, I was ready for action. Of course I had my wallchart poised ready to record the results, of course I had my “schedule” totally cleared so that I could take in every second of every game, of course I was full to the brim with anticipation.

Well, what a start the tournament had. The tradition was such that the reigning World Champions would contest the first game. The Argentinians with their new wunderkid Dieg Maradona were expected to sweep all before them. Shame noone told that to the Belgians, who produced what at the time seemd to be one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history by actually beating the holders 1-0.

As it turned out, the Belgian victory would be long forgotten by the time the tournament ended.

To understand the World Cup, you have to understand the nature of a "first round group". To make sure all the teams that qualify for the finals play more than one game, the finalists are first divided by way of a lottery into “round-robin” groups of four teams each. Each team plays the other within the group once, and generally the two teams with the best records advance to the next phase of the tourament, with the other two catching the plane home.

And so, despite Argentina’s loss, they still managed to win their next two games and sneak through, at the expense of Hungary, who raised a few eyebrows themselves by calling into question the wisdom of expanding the representation of North American teams by hammering El Salvador 10-1.

The real drama of the first round, however, was happening elsewhere. Three days after Belgium’s victory, it was eclipsed by the rank outsiders Algeria, whose supporters back home would have been dancing in the streets as if they had won the trophy itself after their stunning 2-1 win over the mighty West Germans.

However, like I said, your first game does not necessarily guarantee that you will advance beyond the first phase. The games that ensued involving the other teams in the group, Austria and Chile, left it all down to the last match between West Germany and Austria to see who qualified.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of Algerians in the crowd to watch the big game. Never before had an African nation made it past the first round of a tournament. The entire nation came to a standstill for what could have been an historic event. Being predisposed to rooting for the underdog as I normally am, I too was caught up in the hype.

What transpired was to change the World Cup for ever. When West Germany took a 1-0 lead in the game, the two countries worked out between them that if the score stayed exactly as it was to the end, they would both advance to the next round. And so, with the cameras constantly focusing on bewildered Algerians openly weeping in the crowd, the two German-speaking countries proceeded to kill the remaining time in the game by simply passing the ball around rather than try to score more goals.

The result of this was to be that FIFA was to insist that in future, the last two games in every first round group were to be played at the same time, so that noone would be absolutely sure what they had to do to qualify. This was quite a concession when you think about it, since two big games running concurrently puts a big dent in advertizing revenue.

Then there was Northern Ireland’s group. Having impressively drawn with Yugoslavia and then being disappointed in only doing likewise with Honduras, manager Billy Bingham’s side were not given much hope in their final game against the host nation Spain. Once more, the form books were to be thrown out the window as Gerry Armstrong scored a legendary goal (even if it was extremely difficult to find a picture on the net) which won the game for them 1-0.

Much like the Algerian win over Germany, the jubilation in the media back here would have you think they had won the World Cup. Whatever was to happen to them after that night, the players’ status as heroes was assured.

Elsewhere, England were impressive in winning all of their first round games, while Scotland seemed to be on the verge of an upset when they took a 1-0 lead over tournament favourties Brazil, only to let in four at the other end which was to mean they were to go home early once again.

For the second round this time, the twelve remaining countries were put into four groups of three. Northern Ireland bravely drew 2-2 with Austria yet succumbed 4-1 to the French. England were all of a sudden unable to score and bowed out to the Germans. Poland caused a shock of their own by reaching the semifinals at the expense of the Soviet Union.

Then there was Italy v Brazil. If I had thought the games leading up to this were thrilling, I had no idea what was in store. The mathematics were simple for this game – Italy had to win to advance, otherwise their opponents would. Since the boys from Brazil were considered the best in the world, I was up for the underdog.

Paolo Rossi socres, 1-0 Italy. Could there be an upset? Oops, Brazil equalize. Surely the Italians won’t score another against this great team. Up steps Paolo again, 2-1. Then Falcao curls in an amazing free-kick, 2-2. With me on the edge of my seat, Rossi completes his hat-trick to win the game. It is impossible in one paragraph to describe just how much I enjoyed this game. It was definitely football at its best.

It was such an amazing contest that the following ones were not to match up, with the possible exception of the semifinal between West Germany and France, which will be best known for three reasons – it was the first to employ the “penalty shoot-out” method of choosing a winner, the Germans came back from 3-1 in overtime, and it involved the most famous example of dirty play ever to go unpunished when German goalie Harald Schumacher executed a running ninja-style kick on Patrick Battiston.

And so after a few questionable tactics from West Germany, it was rather fitting that Italy won the final 3-1 so their inspirational goalkeeper and captain Dino Zoff could lift the trophy.

For the first time and definitely not the last, the final for me was an anti-climax. Still, I was sad when the tournament was over, in that back at the start there were so many possiblities, and the drama that unfolded was unforgettable.
Once again I was eager for the new club season to begin, but if truth be told I was bemoaning the fact that the next World Cup finals were a long four years down the line.


Next week – MEXICO ’86 : The One That Got Away

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the key of a sharp

Shaggy X > Alan Sharp

One thing I have found interesting since I’ve began blogging is the general indifference of the so-called “mainstream media” to the Blogosphere.

However, when you think about it, it’s not all that surprising. These people are qualified journalists and broadcasters, have worked through the ranks to get their word in print, and in the process have had to suffer the indignity of seeing their work chopped to pieces by under-pressure editors.

Then along come these hacks from cyberspace and they get to put their views out there exactly the way they want it. The audience may not be as vast as more traditional sources of information, but the uncensored quality must get their goat just a little bit.

One of the most effective uses of blogs that challenges the media establishment is in the area of reviews. When you read about a film or a book in a newspaper, you have to wonder how much of the sentiments are genuine and how much are pre-written for them by the film distributors.

In a blog, you can say what you bloody well like about anything. And once you get to know and trust someone’s writing style, you can learn to appreciate their take on a particular production.

So without any further ado, for we all know you never want much ado, especially when it’s about nothing, like this particular ado is becoming, I’d like to award the Tenth Shagadelic Contribution To Blogland Award to Alan Sharp over at Random Burblings for his post “52 Movies, 52 Weeks - 5. Munich”.

Reviews are the key to Alan’s blog. OK – I’ll be honest, that’s not true at all. Not only is Alan a published author in his own right, he also has fascinating tales of various adventures around the globe, most recently out in the Himalayas. The whole “key” thing was just a way of linking into the pun I was going for in the title.

Still, he has taken on quite a task in vowing to review 52 movies in 52 weeks. I should know because I put similar pressure on myself with autobigraphical essays and what-not linked to strict time constraints.

Because it covers such a divisive topic, Munich was always going to receive mixed reviews. I found Alan’s take on it to be both honest and forthright, and it makes me want to see the film, without wanting to shower excessive praise on the esteemed director just for the sake of it.

Besides, being a Scotsman, who are supposedly to being stingy what the Irish are to drinking, I guess I should have to presume that Alan is the type who like to get his money’s worth! I hope he knows enough about my writing style to know I’m kidding!

Bravo, Mr Sharp, and take a bow. May the burblings keep randomly coming. By the way, that’s a brilliant word that one cannot help saying with a Caledonian inflection.

PS : The Awards Committee would like to make it clear that Mr Sharp's confirmed allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in no way contributed to the selection process.

Previous Winners :

I > Shandi – “Who says you can’t have the fairytale?"

II > Dol – “Corporate Whore!

III > Buffalo – “Bangkok

IV > Mike Todd – “Et tu, Mike?

V > John - “You Are Not Alone, I Self Harm Too

VI > Michèle - “Toyota Pickup vs. The Monte Carlo

VII > Shan - “Panic Stations

VIII > Red Mum - “The Last Time I Saw You

IX > Paige A Harrison - “Education Is Such A Pain In The Back

Monday, February 13, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
DON’T FORGET TO VOTE FOR ME



HEADING? : This week’s guest language for Yahoo’s translator tool is of course Russian. When you run it back through into English it comes out : “TO A LITTLE PAMPER THE ODD SHAG JL Pagano”. That's the closest to the original so far.

TUNES : To honour their amazing 5-for-5 achievement in Grammy nominations/awards, I’ve been on a U2 buzz in the car lately, with my favourite album of theirs, “The Unforgettable Fire” currently getting airtime. What do Bono & co have to do for their legacy to match that of the Beatles?

SHAME : I still cannot comprehend this story. According to the Daily Mail, the Congo Football Federation decided to wait until their team was eliminated from the recent African Nations Cup before they informed captain Lomano LuaLua that his 18-month-old son had died from a “mystery illness” three weeks before. Absolutely disgraceful.

PUNS”R”US : Since no matter how many records Elvis Costello sells, he will never eclipse the total of his namesake Mr Presley, does that make him The Lesser Of Two Elvis’?

BUSHBASHING : This week’s BushBash is unusual in that I actually feel a bit sorry for the guy. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place – he could hardly avoid Coretta Scott King’s funeral, yet it was the perfect opportunity for his political opponents to criticise him to his face.

MOMMA : Give me a choice between going to see “Big Momma’s House 2” and having my eyeballs pickled, skewered on a cocktail stick and served in a giant martini, I’d gladly spring for the glass. I’m sorry, but this looks like a movie for morons.

COMIC : Best of luck to fellow blogger, Shaggy award winner and regular ABOPATOS visitor Dol for her new comic Don & Doll. If it’s anything like her previous effort Tales of a Receptionist, it will be well worth following.

DICKBASHING : It appears the much sought after “smoking gun” has finally been found. Turns out VP Cheney had it all along, as one of his millionaire buddies literally got it in the neck while out hunting for quail. Or was it Quayle? Jon Stewart won’t be short on material this week!

LINK : This week’s link shout-out has to go to CurlyK at “That Friday Feeling” for being mad enough to link all three (count ‘em) of my blogs! She’ll see sense soon enough I'm sure...

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“new mexico army specialized training program”

“all politics is local who said it first”

“kickin dance”

“sandra storms” *

“sean moncrieff united texters” *

“mairead mcguinness adoption” *

“colin mcglinchey barman” *


I hope they all found what they were looking for.


Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, February 10, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

17 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week’s bout of nostalgia is all about my first taste of World Cup action.


THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL

The hometown team celebrate - on the ground, both the famous confetti and the dejected Dutch


My grandfather handed me a folded up piece of paper and said in his whispery tone with a broad smile : “I think this will interest you.” Little did he know that in actual fact he was giving me my first heavy dose in what was to become a lifelong addiction to the world’s most popular game.

If you were to ask football historians to tell you about the World Cup Finals tournament which was held in Argentina in the summer of 1978, they could tell you many stories about the drama surrounding it.

First, there was the question of international outrage at General Videla’s totalitarian regime in the country, which almost led to the event being cancelled altogether. The sport’s governing body, FIFA, eager to discourage mixing too much with politics, persuaded everyone to participate regardless.

Then, there were the various sub-plots within the competition itself. There was the host nation, eager to win the famous trophy for the first time.

There was the Dutch team, playing for the first time in its heydey without the legendary Johann Cruyff.

There was Scotland’s participation, as they found themselves in the unique position of being the sole represetatives of the so-called “home nations” [the others being England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of whom failed to qualify].

As for my home team, the Republic of Ireland, qualifying for the finals was nothing but a pipedream at this point.

The historian would no doubt tell you how Scotland came within a goal of advancing beyond the first phase of the tournament, for despite being held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by unfancied Iran, they managed to pull off a shock by beating Holland but unfortunately not by enough.

He would then tell you of the suspicious nature of Argentina’s last second phase game. Needing to win by at least four goals against what had previously been an impressive Peruvian side, their opponents seemed to be subject to some kind of Inca curse and allowed themselves to be whipped 6-0 which denied Barzil a berth in the final.

Although the 18-year-old Diego Maradona was not considered to be ready for the international arena, Argentina still triumphed in the final 3-1 over Holland with great players such as Osvaldo Ardiles, Daniel Passarella, and leading scorer Mario Kempes.

But I can assure you, absolutely NONE of the above facts mattered to me as the tournament was progressing.

Regular ABOPATOS readers will know my grandparents brought me to Ireland from the USA in 1977. If you are irregular, now you know too. I was thus thrown headfirst into a new school with new boys with new accents, and they even played sports that were new to me.

Although rugby was the prevalent sport in my school, it wasn’t a very practical game to play at recess, and so instead we used to play football. Eager to fit in, I did my best to participate. Everyone would be talking about clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, so I felt compelled to choose my own, and I plumped for Tottenham Hotspur.

Before leaving California I guess I was beginning to develop an interest in team spectator sports, but I remember the one thing that used to fascinate me more than anything – the statistics, in particular the league standings.

For some reason, probably because I was destined to be a number geek, I enjoyed looking at league standings, and working out what the numbers in the various columns stood for. I used to have graph paper and I would copy them out from the newspaper and make them as neat as possible.

When I started to follow soccer after the great emigration, I realised that this new game had just as much to offer in the line of numbers; in fact, the European leagues contained WAY more teams than the American ones. I was in my element.

No doubt my grandfather had found several of my transcripts of league tables and various stats lying around the house, which was why he approached me on this particular day with the folded up piece of paper. With great curiosity I opened it out to see what it was.

The Official Sunday Times World Cup Wallchart 1978. What you see in the picture is a similar one from 2002.

I’m not 100% sure on the actual paper it came from, but I do know my grandpa had a penchant for the English broadsheets after we moved here. Again, such details meant nothing to the 9-year-old me.

The chart was full of pictures, packed with information on all of the 16 countries taking part in the World Cup finals, but most importantly, there were the spaces where you could fill in the results as they happened and track the progress of the event all the way to the final.

In many ways following international football did wonders for my learning about the world as a whole. When it comes to information, I can never have enough, so I had to consult our National Geographic Atlas of the World (which we still have) to see where all these countries were located.

By the time the opening game of the tournament kicked-off, I was bang up to speed with what was going on. OK - maybe I wasn’t completely sure about all the rules of the game as yet, but I guarantee you I could tell you who was playing who on any given day. As soon as the final whistle blew in each contest, I’d run upstairs and log the score on my chart, and then work out how it affected the standings, and I wondered how the outcome of the next game could affect them further.

“Man, what a geek” I hear you cry. Well, I was an only child raised by his grandparents in what was still a strange country. It all seemed perfectly normal to me.

Needless to say I was beside myself with anticipation on the day of the final. Who was going to win – the hometown boys or Europe’s remaining representatives the Dutch? Given all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the home team, my loyalty was with them. I must have also been amazed at the sea of confetti which was streaming from the crowd before every Argentina game, a sight that became synonymous with the ’78 World Cup.

I would have been on the edge of my seat for the entire game, especially since the sides being level 1-1 after the regulation 90 minutes meant there was to be an extra half hour of excitement, which led to Mario Kempes assuring himself a place in national sporting folklore by breaking the deadlock. Bertoni added a third to kickoff one hell of a party on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Back in Dublin, once the trophy was handed over and the telecast ran through its credits, I went upstairs and scribble “3” and “1” on the chart, and even added the letters “aet” to signify that the result was after extra time. Then I must have thought “Now what?”

Well, it was the end of June, so in just over a month’s time, the new English club season was due to begin. My team Tottenham were to become one of the first to sign World Cup heroes from abroad for their team when they signed both Ardiles and his team-mate Ricky Villa.

For me, the 1978 World Cup achieved one of the famous tournament’s most important goals – to attract new members to the family of football fanatics. When The Sunday Times releases it’s wallchart for this summer’s version in Germany, you can be darn sure my son will be receiving a folded up piece of paper from his Daddy.

Next week – ESPAÑA ’82 : Are they Irish or not?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

menzies the merciless

If you have an interest in both the ethnical complexities of the English language and the scandal and intrigue of political life, this story is for you.

The Liberal Democrat party is the thorn in the side of the British political establishment’s desire for a duopoly to match that of the USA. Their gradual increase in their representation in the House of Commons has been steady despite the grossly unfair "first past the post" electoral system which stacks the odds firmly against them.

When you take into account that Tony Blair’s premiership is well into its final phase and the Conservative Party is getting used to yet another new leader, one would think that it would now be time for the LibDems to strike.

Well, talk about freefall! First their leader Charles Kennedy admits to having problems with alcohol and is forced to resign after a Julius Caesar-like rebellion from those immediately beneath him, then the party is left with four candidates vying for his job, two of which are linked with sex “scandals”, one who is perceived to be too old [the LibDems are supposedly the most liberal party in the UK yet he is older than both Blair and new Tory supremo David Cameron], and the fourth of which is perceived to be just plain boring.

And so it will be very interesting to see who the grassroots of Britain’s influential third party will appoint.

In the meantime, I was very glad to learn yesterday courtesy of the Green Ribbon blog just how the “old” candidate I mentioned, Sir Menzies Campbell MP, pronounces his name and why.

I will leave it to BBC.com to take up the story. I got a real kick out of the poem at the end, but unfortunately you have to read the whole thing first before you get it.

I also found it interesting to learn that the BBC actually has something called the "Pronunciation Unit".

Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?






He's the frontrunner for the Lib Dem leadership, but why is Sir Menzies Campbell's first name pronounced Mingis?

Blame the "yogh", a letter in old English and Scots (see image, above) which has no exact equivalent today.

Pronounced "yog", it used to be written a bit like the old copperplate-style "z" with a tail, which helps explain the discrepancy between the spelling of Menzies and the pronunciation.

The rise of printing in the 16th Century coincided with the decline of the yogh, and so it tended to be rendered in print as a "z", and pronounced as such.

But there's more to saying Menzies than simply transposing the "z" for a "g" when speaking the name.

"You've got the upper 'y' sound from the back of the mouth and the 'n' sound going to meet it," says Chris Robinson, director of the Scottish Language Dictionaries. "There's a sort of assimilation of the two sounds."

According to the BBC Pronunciation Unit, the name can be phonetically transcribed as "MING-iss".

"It rhymes with 'sing' but without the hard 'g'," says BBC pronunciation linguist Catherine Sangster.
[I wonder how SHE pronounces her "g"!!! JLP]

"Think of the difference between 'finger' and 'singer'. In Menzies, you want the 'n' to immediately form into the soft 'ng' from singer."

The yogh takes a softer "y" sound in the word capercaillie, the name of a large grouse, which the Oxford English Dictionary spells "capercailye" or "capercailzie".

The same goes for the Scottish surname Dalziel, pronounced Dee-ELL.

The yogh owes its origin to the Irish scribes who arrived in Saxon Britain in the 8th Century and began teaching the Anglo Saxons to write - before this, old English was written in runes, says Ms Robinson.

It fell out of favour with the Normans, whose scribes disliked non-Latin characters and replaced it with a "y" or "g" sound, and in the middle of words with "gh". But the Scottish retained the yogh in personal and place names, albeit mutating into a "z" to please the typesetters of the day.

Inevitably, however, the euphemistic "z" became a real "z", in some quarters at least. The surname "MacKenzie" now almost universally takes the "zee" sound although it would have originally been pronounced "MacKenyie".

"I had two girls in my class at school with the surname Menzies, one pronounced 'Mingis' the other 'Menzees'," says Ms Robinson.

Often pronunciation can be an indicator of class and status, or geography. But in the case of Menzies it's purely arbitrary, says Ms Robinson, who advises to always check.

Those south of the border might be surprised to know that the newsagent chain John Menzies takes the old pronunciation, and so should be John Mingis.

The company's website has a bit of fun with the potential for misunderstanding, invoking the following poem to make its point:

A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies."


Monday, February 06, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
HOPEFULLY NO RELIGIONS WILL TAKE OFFENSE…



HEADING? : This week’s guest language for Yahoo’s translator tool is of course German. When you run it back through into English it comes out : “A little spoiling and the odd burl by JL Pagano”



TUNES : The latest inhabitant of my car stereo is Sting’s magnum opus from his solo career, the excellent “Ten Summoner’s Tales”.

NOMINATE : Voting for the Irish Blog Awards is now open, and I wish everyone involved well and I sincerely hope the best blog wins…ah screw that – VOTE FOR ME!!! Either Best Blogger or Best Blog Post [or both ;-)]. And be sure to click the box at the bottom that verifies your vote!



SUPER : Seemingly this year’s SuperBowl was the most easily marketable of all time simply because the roman numerals for the 40th edition of the event spelled the letters “XL”. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into the hype when my 49ers aren’t doing well. Congrats to Pittsburgh though.

CARTOON : To be angry about a cartoon portraying the greatest icon of your religion as a violent terrorist is understandable. However, to turn that anger into violent terrorism all over the world is downright hypocritical. I hope we in the west are smart enough to recognise the work of Extremists.



MANAMANA : Got a few minutes to spare and want a bit of cheering up? Click this link from RedMum, scroll to where you see these two creatures, and click play. Guaranteed to evoke both a smile and Muppet-astic nostaliga.

FISHY : Thanks to Kaz and her Yahoo360 blog for this pearl of wisdom : “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day!” Hmmm…beer…



BUSHBASHING : Dubya may be losing friends fast anyway, but when you see a picture like this, you start to wonder just how far up the ladder his dwindling support goes! Thanks to United Irelander for leading me to the pic.

PROCRASTINATION… : …is by far and away my greatest vice. I swear I’m going to do something about it one of these days.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“klingon university courses”

“you and me were never meant to be lyrics”

“pet names girlfriend” *

“picture of clonskeagh mosque, dublin” *

“ya know yerself” *


I hope they all found what they were looking for.

Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, February 03, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

18 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

To start you off, I will re-hash a post from March of last year, when I explore my early years of following soccer, or hang on I’d better say football…

WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST FOOTBALLER IN THE WORLD



Here’s a story about something I used to do when I was young and bored.

It would only last about 10-15 seconds, but in that time, I was The Greatest Footballer In The World.

First, let me be clear on what I mean by “football”. There are several sports out there that go by this name, but as far as I’m concerned, most should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Association Football, or “soccer” as the Americans call it, is the ONLY game that can be legitimately referred to as “football”. Why? Em, because the BALL is primarily propelled by the FOOT, duh!!! There’s your association! All the other sports should be re-named, and here are some suggestions….

“Rugby” is often called football. No way. If anything it should be “carry-ball”. Have you ever tried kicking a rugby ball? The damn thing can go anywhere! No wonder that dude William Webb Ellis decided to pick it up and run with it – he was the only one who had any sense!!!

“American football” is no more deserving of the name. That should be re-named “wear-too-much-padding-and-take-ad-breaks-every-ten-seconds-ball”. A bit long winded I know, but I’m sure there are clever people out there who can chop it down to a more marketable nickname.

“Gaelic football” should be renamed “murder-ball”. While I am sure that there may very well be many balls kicked out there on the field during play, I would venture few are of the leather variety.

“Australian Rules Football” has TWO names that need changing, since it does not appear to have any rules. I thus recommend “chaos-ball”. The misshapen lump of leather seems to be passed in all directions until everyone gets thirsty for a few tinnies.

One thing I will say about the Aussies is that they have by far and away the best and most honest sports commentators.

Here’s an example: imagine David Beckham, arguably one of the most high profile (real) football players in the world, is taking a free-kick close to the goal, a situation which is his forte, and one which normally ends up in him stroking an immaculate shot curling into the top corner of the goal past the despairing lunge of the goalie.

Let’s say this time, for argument’s sake, he makes a complete mess of his kick, and sends the ball soaring towards the back row of the stands.

What would a British commentator say? Master of the understatement, it would no doubt be something like this: “Oh, my word, he WON’T be too pleased with that.” No kidding!!!!

And an American? He would probably blind you with stats. “Yes, well that’s concurrent with Beckham’s goal scoring average on the road, especially after the All Star Break!” , in which case I would need a straight jacket if I actually cared!

Leave it to our friend from Down Under to put it right. As soon as the ball goes high over the goal, he’d say:

“STREWTH, that was BLOODY AWFUL! I know a blind, three-legged dingo with RABIES that woulda done better with THAT one, mate!!!!”

Ah, YES! THAT’S what I wanted to say!

But I digress.

Having properly defined football, I must now describe the other elements required to complete my little routine.

I would rarely do it when alone; it was usually performed when I was hanging out with friends and we were bored out of our skins. Perhaps it was in the schoolyard, during the last ten minutes of recess when we were just loafing around killing time.

My colleagues would be instantly transported to the last ten seconds of either The World Cup Final or The FA Cup Final, whichever was more recent. The score at this late stage of the game HAS to be 2-2, and this can be easily explained.

Being The Greatest Footballer In The World, I had already scored two goals earlier in the game. I then tragically twisted my ankle and to the fans’ consternation had to be taken off for treatment. While I was gone, naturally, the opponents came back into it with two goals of their own. This set the stage for me to heroically limp back onto the field in the dying moments to play through the pain, complete my “hat-trick”, and steal the glory.

So now I have my sport, and my setting. What’s next? Ah yes, a ball!!! Not advisable to use an actual sphere, however. I always got much better control with a crushed empty can of Coke thrown on the ground. Perhaps being a bit high on the cola drink therein is what persuaded me to do this in the first place.

The goalposts can be any two nearby objects that provide an appropriate gap. Even one of your onlooking friends can be one if you know they’re not going to move at the wrong moment.

How about a commentator thrown in for good measure? Doesn’t matter where he’s from. “And he dribbles the ball left, then right, beats three defenders, shoots, HE SCORES!!!!! IT’S THERE!!!! PAGANO HAS DONE IT!!!! OH MY WORD!!!!” I think the American equivalent is something like “HOLY COW!!! THE (INSERT LOCAL TEAM HERE) WIN THE PENNANT!!”

One important thing to note, though - you MUST do the commentator voice yourself. If you let your friends do it, there’s no way you’re going to score. You’re bound to be slide tackled at the last minute or trip over a daisy or something if you leave it up to them.

The last element is that noise you do as a boy when you somehow manage to simulate a hundred thousand screaming voices with one whispering voice: “AAAAAAAHHHH”. As you emit the sound to represent your adoring fans, an elaborate celebration dance is no harm for a finishing touch.

And so, as my schoolmates looked on with varying degrees of boredom, I would manoeuvre a tin can with my foot while I screamed out loud until I would kick it through a gap between a schoolbag and a trashcan and run off emitting a long drawn out whisper as I pulled my sweater up over my head and rejoiced because, for that moment at least, I truly was The Greatest Footballer In The World.

All in all it was a perfect way for a bored preteen boy to pointlessly waste time.

These days I just write for my blog.



Next week - My First World Cup, Argentina '78