Give Referees iPhones II

Yesterday it was good to see the Americans defeated by the team that played better (Ghana) and, for once, not have to worry about whether some referee would make a mistake that clouded the result.

Not so today in the wonderful England-Germany match. There was, of course, another howling, humiliating mistake, this time one that cost England a goal. I'm not sure whether being awarded the goal would have changed the outcome of the game (too many counterfactual hypotheticals), but can you imagine the outcry if Germany had won 2-1, simply because of a referee's mistake?

Arguments can go either way, but what has made the case for electronic review irrefutable is experience. Defending the prerogative of referees to make irreversible screwed-up calls that change game outcomes just can't survive what we've seen as spectators over the past couple of weeks. The Politburo may claim that production targets are being met, but we've just toured the collective farms, and we're gonna believe our lyin' eyes.

Naturally, there will still be holdouts. I'm going to strap on my armchair sociologists' helmet, and venture a few observations. Those who will doggedly defend referees' right to make irreversible game-changing screw-ups without accountability will come disproportionately from Catholic countries. Why Catholic? Two reasons. First, Catholicism is well known as the non-perfectionist's religion — why else was the ingenious institution of the confessional invented? Second, Catholics are at least formally expected to respect the doctrine of infallibility. Do I need to draw you a diagram?

I'd also be willing to bet it's the countries presently or formerly governed by absolutist monarchs that will hold out for the referee's right to err. After all, they're used to showing deference to mediocrity. Another drawback, from this perspective, is that electronic review would seriously hinder referees' ability to throw matches in return for cash or favors. Where's the fun in that?

Where to Watch USA-Ghana?

I have World Cup Fever™

! No worries, though — aside from the pustules, I'm doing pretty well.

Anyone got a good tip for where to watch the USA-Ghana match tomorrow in Duesseldorf?

Scientists in the Basement

ahh, the traditional 4th of july bonfire! such memories...

One of GJ's many invaluable roving informants sent me this book, 'America Through the Back Door'. It's a 1952 East German translation of a book by one N. Vassiliev, who claims to have spent three years in America in the late 1940s. According to the jacket blurb, he promises to show us the "backwardness of the social organization in 'God's own land'", including the desperate farmers who "don't own a single blade of grass on their farms", the misery in the slums, and the "scientists living in basements" (?). Stay tuned for a review an excerpts sometime in the next few weeks!

Does anyone happen to have any more information about this book or its author? (The author's name is 'N. Wassiljew' in the German transliteration, the German translation is by Marga Bork). I'd love to get some background, if any exists.

Firing Someone’s Easier in Latin

One of the quainter sides to life in Germany is the fact that large numbers of schoolchildren (about 10%, according to recent figures) learn Latin in school. But what's even quainter is the reaction foreigners get when they praise this adorable throwback of German educational culture: "No, no, it's not impractical at all! It teaches you logical thinking and helps you learn Romance languages. It helps you in the real world!"

The FAZ decided to test this argument by surveying German companies (g). No, really — they did! The results (my translation):

A survey by this newspaper to which 22 of 30 DAX-listed businesses responded showed: 95 percent of the firms no longer see Latin as a formal selection criterion for applicants. In only one firm — Bayer — were we told that knowledge of Latin might be advantageous for certain selected positions. None of the HR departments said that knowledge of Latin would be the decisive factor in not picking an applicant. In some firms, the question of how useful Latin would be for employees gave rise to a certain amount of amusement.

Well, I suppose that's hardly unexpected. But I hope this doesn't mean kids will stop learning Latin. It's one of the adorable sleepy-village/1950s aspects of Germany that makes life here so charming!

Finnish national radio's Nuntii Latini (news in Latin) page is here, a recent 5-minute audio podcast in Latin is here.

In Need of ‘Respect, Team Spirit, Pride, and Dignity’ (Again).

I love France, despite the hideous character flaws of its youth. But I have to agree with French education minister Luc Chatel, who sums it up with brutal frankness:

"For me, as a supporter of the team, I'm obviously very disappointed.
As a citizen I'm truly indignant by what has gone on, and as minister
for education I am terribly angry," Luc Chatel told Canal Plus television.

Chatel said the
squad had lacked "respect, team spirit, pride and enough dignity to wear the shirt
of any club, from the smallest local side to that of the French national

A quotation from Raymond Aron about another famous French collapse may be worth repeating: "I lived through the thirties in the despair of French decline…. In essence, France no longer existed. It existed only in the hatred of the French for one another."

My Book Now Exists

My first book, Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective, has assumed physical form, and can now be bought on, as you can see by the widget to the right. If you're interested and have an extra couple dozen Euro lying around, please go buy it!

Give Referees iPhones

I've watched several World Cup matches now that were influenced — often literally determined — by obviously wrong referee calls. Not least the U.S.'s victory over Slovenia.

Why do we continue to indulge the Luddite fantasy that a referee running around amidst a throng of sweating, screaming players always has the best vantage point to make the proper call? Probably half the fans have in their pockets the technology to instantly review plays from 10 different angles, in slow motion or fast, with sound or without, on a small, portable, ultra-vivid screen.

But not the referee.

When the referee makes an obviously screwed-up call, this fact becomes evident to hundreds of millions of people around the world within 20 seconds or so. Yet the call will stand, even to the point of robbing a deserving team of a victory. I don't see how this benefits anybody. Those who defend this state of affairs generally resort to mindless blather about tradition or the 'human element' or the supposedly mystical powers of discernment possessed only by the referee. Bullshit. Why should we tolerate human error in soccer referees any more than we tolerate it in, say, airline pilots or neurosurgeons?

I say give the refs iPhones, or something equivalent, with the possibility to instantly review plays. When they make a controversial call, there's a 20-second review period, after which the ref can either confirm or revise the call. Wouldn't slow down the game much, if at all, since there's always at least 20 seconds of milling about and gesticulating after any controversial call anyway. And the sorry spectacle of matches being screwed up by bad calls would become much rarer.

To sweeten the deal, let the refs keep the iPhones!