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G – O -A – L !!

With the end of overtime fast approaching, I had more or less resigned myself to the World Cup final being decided on a shoot-out. In fact, I had just turned to my wife and remarked that I didn’t think there was going to be a goal scored in the remaining few minutes … when Mario Goetze scored. I have since watched the replays of his remarkable goal several times and it remains a thing of beauty, a moment of brilliance. Perfection itself.
Goetze had entered the game almost towards the end of regulation and he produced the magical moment with Andreas Scheurrle, another sub. Both of them were able to outrun the tired Argentine defenders who had been on the field for almost two hours. Schuerrle sprinted down the left flank and fired a perfect cross into the penalty box which the fast arriving Goetze chested down, volleying the ball past Sergio Romero, the Argentine goalie, into the far corner of the net. Romero had no chance as the shot caught him moving the other way. It flashed behind him and into the net in the twinkling of an eye.

There have been other wonderful goals scored during this World Cup. The first was Van Persie’s airborne header in the Netherlands match against Spain. Another was James Rodriguez’s shot towards the end of the Colombia- Japan match when he juked a Japanese defender off his feet before firing the ball past the over-matched goalie. Then Rodriguez again against Uruguay when he received a pass on his chest and , in one fluid motion, fired the ball into the net even though he was surrounded by Uruguayan defenders. There were also efforts by Messi, Sneijder, Shaquiri, Cahill and others. They were all wonderful but Goetze’s was agoals beautiful as any of them and it had the distinction of being the only one in the final of the World Cup. All that was needed was that Spanish announcer who used to go G -O -A -L !

Two other thoughts about the final…

I have to marvel at the thoroughness of Germany’s preparation. They had prepared for every eventuality, saving one of their most dangerous goal scorers for the very end when the Argentine defense would not be able to keep up with him. Earlier, in the semifinal against Brazil, their coaching staff had planned how to control the midfield and weather the initial Brazilian onslaught.

In the aftermath of the match, it was nice to see how the cameras were not focused solely on Goetze. In other sports, the man who scores the final basket, the guy who kicks the winning field goal, the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown gets most of the glory. Not here. Here , the glory was shared and the reserves who hadn’t played a single minute were just as overjoyed as those who had played the entire match. When the final whistle blew, they all raced onto the field and leaped in to one giant pile. Lukas Podolski had been a star on Germany’s previous WC teams ; in Brazil, he played hardly at all. No matter, he was just as joyful as anyone who had played. He took selfies with his son and other players and had his son kick the ball around on the field where the World Cup final had just been played. What memories that child will have ! Who knows but that he might not make some World Cup history himself twenty years from now !

The World Cup final is tomorrow and it should be a good one, the artistry of Messi against the disciplined approach of Germany. I will be rooting for Germany as I have been since the beginning of the tournament but , if Argentina wins, I will be happy for Messi. Leading his country to a victory in the World Cup would cap a glittering career. But , one way or another, it will all be over tomorrow and then there will be a four-year wait until the next World Cup.

I was talking to my nephew this afternoon and he was bemoaning the fast approaching end of this edition of the World Cup. No surprise because he is an avid sports fan who follows many sports. What did surprise me was when my wife expressed similar sentiments a couple of days ago. She is only an occasional sports fan but she was glued to the TV for most of the tournament and, along the way,became quite knowledgeable about soccer. Soccer appeals to her in a way that American football does not. Except for the offside rule, there are no complexities to the game of soccer to befuddle watchers. Kick the ball. Keep it away from the opposing team. Try to shoot it past the goalkeeper. Elemental. All you need is a soccer ball and a piece of vacant ground. No other equipment needed. No wonder it is the # 1 sport in the world. No wonder more people play it and watch it than do any other sport.

I suppose that because the World Cup comes around only once every four years makes it all the more memorable. If it occurred more often, it would not have the same cachet. Yet I find it appeals more to me than even the Olympics. The Olympics have their own allure but they are too big; there are too many things going on, too many judging controversies, too much politics, too many obscure sports of no interest to me. By the half way point, I am sated.

The World Cup is not perfect but it is closer to perfection than anything else. Yes, the traditional powers usually carry the day but, on any given day, David can slay Goliath. Who among us did not cheer tiny Costa Rica’s entry to the quarterfinals? Or feel a thrill as Ghana held mighty Germany to a draw ?

The World Cup has added appeal because it is contested by national teams. The teams are made up of professionals but they are not club sides. Because of this, the fans in the stands are more passionate about the fortunes of their team and it shows. All of us who watched the Brazil- Germany semifinal will remember the sight of the heartbroken little Brazilian boy sobbing uncontrollably as his team unraveled. Or the stunned Brazilian woman with tears rolling down her cheeks.There were happy moments too as fans whose team had just won celebrated in the hands.

Considering the high emotions aroused by the matches, the fans were surprisingly very sporting. They watched the matches sitting side by side, singing their fight songs but seemed to accept defeat with stoicism , sometimes even with grace. Towards the end of the Brazilian team’s rout by Germany, an elderly Brazilian supporter turned to a German fan and handed over his facsimile Jules Rimet trophy. Is that sporting or what?

The fans, the stadiums, the ceremony, the matches themselves with their moments of sheer magic and high tension make the World Cup the premier sporting event in the world. It will be sad when tomorrow’s final is over and we will have to wait four years for the next edition of the World Cup. Still, there is one more match tomorrow. May it be a good one.

Two weeks ago Ann Coulter, the conservative political pundit, unloaded on the game of soccer, averring that ” Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. “ In her column she then proceeded to tell us why she felt so. Here is a synopsis of her reasons with my reactions ; the italicized portions are direct quotes of Coulter’s.

1. Soccer is collectivist. ( … the blame is dispersed and no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability). Really, Ann. Try telling that to anyone on the Brazilian team that took the field against Germany. Or to Jose Luis Scolari, the Brazilian coach. I don’t think they will ever live down the ignominy of that defeat. As for heroes, three of the top highest paid athletes in the world are soccer players. They wouldn’t command that kind of money unless fans lionized them, paid to watch them play and bought their merchandise.
2.Soccer is effeminate. (… a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys.) Soccer demands more from players than any other sport in the world. 90 minutes of total effort, only three substitutions. The only other sport that comes at all close is basketball but it only lasts 48 minutes, has frequent stoppages and players go in and out of the game.
4. Real sport carries the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury; soccer doesn’t. For humiliation, see my response to item 1. As for personal injury, I’d think that Neymar’s injury certainly qualifies, don’t you?
5. You can’t use your hands in soccer. So what? That’s why they call it football in most parts of the world. Duh !
6. Soccer is being pushed on Americans.( the same people … are demanding that we love HBO’s ” Girls”, light rail, Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.)This is so ridiculous it doesn’t deserve a rebuttal.
7.It’s foreign. Well, so what? Not everything good is of American origin.
8.It’s like the metric system, which is also European. That again ? I like the British system but I recognize that the metric system is more logical, has innumerable advantages and is the world standard. Only the U.S, Liberia and Myanmar still follow the British system and we will have to change sooner or later.
9. Soccer is not catching on. Not true. More people watched the Portugal – U.S game than watched last year’s World Series or this year’s NBA finals.
Coulter concludes her diatribe by writing “ If more Americans are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. No American whose grandfather was born here is watching soccer.” Partly true. There is no doubt that many of the American soccer fans are immigrants, particularly Hispanics. However, there is an increasing number of native born Americans who are beginning to like the game. A case in point is my neighbor and friend, a’ real’ American of the type that Coulter would approve of. He is a WASP, was born in this country, and I know he is reading Glenn Beck’s latest book. He also follows the World Cup avidly, ( as do his son and grandson), and he used to coach when his son played soccer as a kid. Now , the grandson plays soccer and loves it.
Ann Coulter’s broadside was so beyond the pale that other commentators have wondered if it was not tongue in cheek. Some have opined that it was deliberately inflammatory because it was a means of keeping herself in the spotlight. I wondered about that myself before rejecting both theories. Coulter doesn’t have a funny bone in her body and while she is a publicity seeker, the references to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy’s immigration law lead me to think that conservative politics is at the root of her explosion. Too bad for her. The New York Times will be around long after Ann Coulter is forgotten and Hillary Clinton will be the President in 2016, if she chooses to run. Better get used to the idea , Ann.

In the thirty five plus years that I worked in New York City, I never drove to work. It would have been foolish to do so because mass transit was so convenient. From our house in Edison N.J, I took either the train or the bus to New York. Mostly , it was the train and it was a pleasure to take my seat and open up the New York Times. Even when I had to stand, the forty minute train ride passed quickly and I arrived at the office fresh for the day’s work. I pitied the poor chaps who had to drive to work particularly if they were commuting into NYC from across the Hudson or from Long Island. Having driven to the City on weekends, I was only too aware of the bottlenecks at the Lincoln Tunnel or the Hudson Tunnel, and I couldn’t imagine having to deal with them morning and evening on a daily basis. I used to hear some of my friends gripe about driving to work and I never thought I would experience it myself. All that changed a couple of weeks ago.

More than ten years into retirement, I accepted an offer to teach part time for the summer. It would mean driving twenty miles to Edison from our house in Somerset N.J, three days a week. I was a little apprehensive about the driving part, never having done it before, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.

It really hasn’t been too bad. Quite pleasant , in fact, for the most part.

That first morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I started out early but even at 7:45 the traffic was building up. Luckily for me, I had to go in the direction opposite to the flow of traffic on Route 287. Except for two minor traffic buildups, I was able to tool along at close to the speed limit and I got to the office in 25 minutes. I was happy I was not going in the opposite direction where the traffic was stop and go. I couldn’t read my newspaper , of course, but there was the newfound pleasure of the car radio. Listening to today’s favorites and yesterdays hits made up for it. (Of course, since I get my news online these days, that option would not have been available even had I been commuting by train today.) The evening drive home was almost as good ; the traffic was a little denser and a five minute stretch of stop and go traffic but nothing to complain about. The traffic in the other direction was bumper to bumper and at times seemed like one giant parking lot. Anytime I felt impatient, I just had to look across and realize how good I had it. I must admit also that there is a sense of independence and well being in driving to work as opposed to commuting by mass transit. No waiting on crowded platforms or scrambling to get on.

I have one friend who used to drive from New Brunswick, NJ to Long Island every day It took him two and a half hours each way and he had to negotiate the heavy traffic over the Verrazano Narrows and the Long Island Expressway. He did so even when he was in his mid-sixties in all weathers , even when it had snowed heavily. I cannot imagine what it must have been like in the evenings when he had already put in a full days work and was staring at the 2 -1/2 hour commute home. I asked him once and he said that the drive passed quickly because he would listen to some audio books on the radio. I know I couldn’t have done it.

I’m fine now with driving to work but it’s because it entails only a half hour drive against the traffic flow, three days a week for the next two months. Those others I see going in the opposite direction, most of them on commutes of an hour or more , I’m glad I’m not one of them. A tip of the hat to them.

The Triple Package

Why some people are more successful than others has always been a matter of great interest to many of us. In The Triple Package, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld explore the cultural traits that explain the outsize success of certain cultural groups in America. Chua and Rubenfeld, both law professors at Yale, are married to each other. They have also written several other books individually and Chua is probably best known for her controversial best-seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother.

The Triple Package refers to three traits which the authors believe are responsible for the disproportionate success of groups such as Mormons, Jews and immigrants from China, India , Nigeria , Iran, and Lebanon. They identify the traits as a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. The first two might seem contradictory to each other but Chua and Rubenfeld make a good case for their premise.

They postulate that members of these groups feel superior to others either because their religion has always taught them so or because they came from privileged circumstances in the countries of their origin. In America, shorn of reasons to feel superior, they work harder to regain their cachet while suppressing their feelings of insecurity vis-a vis their more settled neighbors. Impulse control is an essential attribute for success because it enables people to defer gratification as they strive mightily to get ahead. Even as these traits lead to success, they can also be the cause of future heartache. Superiority can lead to arrogance, insecurity to neuroticism and impulse control carried to extremes may prevent the enjoyment of success. Another negative is that Triple Package cultures focus on material, conventional success and prestige and close off other paths of achievement. There is a telling anecdote about the Taiwanese- American filmmaker Ang Lee whose father had wanted him to become a businessman. When Lee won an Oscar, his father told him there was still time.” You’re only 49″, the father said. ” Get a degree, teach in universities and be respectable.”

Perhaps the most perceptive part of The Triple Package is that American society dilutes and ultimately destroys the traits that lead to the success of Triple Package cultures. As these groups assimilate with the American mainstream, they lose the very attributes that made them successful. Taught that all people are equal, they lose their superiority complex. As they taste success they become secure and less capable of delaying gratification.

The premise of the book is fascinating and it has several interesting sidelights. I knew of the successes of Jews and Asian Americans but not that of the other groups. The Mormons have always been a low key group and it took me by surprise to read that, even with far fewer adherents, the Mormon Church is three or four times as rich as the Catholic Church in America. I didn’t know either that Nigerians- Americans account for the great majority of black Americans admitted to Harvard and that they are prominent in medicine and law.

Other issues The Triple Package touches upon: that success cannot be traced to “education cultures”, “family values” or ” thrifty cultures”. That America was for a long time a Triple Package nation but that this has changed in the last 50 years. That blacks are hurt by negative perceptions and low expectations rather than the lack of the Triple Package. The dynamics of Jewish families. That Appalachia does not have a Triple Package culture but its problems are due to geography, history and the ” resource curse”.

The Triple Package is a well written, well researched book and I found myself nodding in recognition as I turned its pages. There were two points, however, where I found myself in disagreement. In trying to refute the idea that Jewish success is because it is a ” learning culture”, the authors put forward the example of ultra-orthodox Satmar Jews who are yet one of the poorest groups in the nation. However, this is a specious example because the Satmar community dedicates itself to Talmudic study to the exclusion of everything else; this is hardly a foundation for academic success. It also seemed to me that the authors were on the wrong track when they write about the importance of caste in present day Indian society.

The Triple Package tackles a complex subject and it could have been a difficult read. Thanks to original research, groundbreaking statistics and lively anecdotes it is exactly the opposite… a book that is difficult to put down. Highly recommended.

The Triple Package. Amy Chua and Jeb Rosenfeld. The Penguin Press (N.Y) 2014.

My friend Eric told me , more than once, of how people were ranked according to their smarts. According to him,

Ten Gentiles = One Jew
Ten Jews = One Greek
Ten Greeks = One Armenian
Ten Armenians = One Levantine.

The term ” Levantine” is rarely used today but it stands for an inhabitant of the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean comprising parts of Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq Jordan and Israel. Today, the majority of the inhabitants in the area are Muslims ( except in Israel of course) but I think the term originally applied to the Maronite Christians who dominated trade and commerce in that part of the world.

Since many of these communities were traders at one time in their history, I presume this is an assessment of their trading acumen. I’ve never heard of such a “ranking” from anyone else but , since Eric spent his formative years in Hungary, I presume it must be something he picked up in Europe. Not having had much truck with Greeks or Armenians or Levantines I can’t speak to the truth of this ladder but something I read recently reminded me of it.

In their book The Triple Package, authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, write that Lebanese-Americans are among the most successful immigrant communities in America and are ” … close to the top of the charts in terms of median income, percentage earning over $ 100,000, and percentage earning over $ 200,000.” Many of these are Christians who started out as ” pack peddlers”, going door-to-door selling all manner of goods. From such humble beginnings, they graduated to opening grocery stores and other businesses and many became millionaires. The world’s richest man, Carlos P.Slim ( net worth $ 73 million plus) is a Christian Lebanese who lives in Mexico. Other success stories are Joseph J. Jacobs a chemical engineer who founded a well known engineering firm and Alex Massad. According to Jacobs, the Lebanese are descended from the ancient Phoenicians who were famous for their success in commerce. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans acknowledged the Phoenicians superior intelligence, commercial acumen and seafaring skills. Cicero said it was they , with their superior “cleverness” who introduced the Greeks to “ greed, luxury and the unbridled desire for everything“.

Perhaps my friend Eric was right and the Levantines are on top of the heap.

In the aftermath of their defeat in the finals, there are some tough decisions to be made by LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Each of the Miami’s Big Three has an opt out clause in his contract and speculation is rife as to whether they will exercise it. And if they do, will they restructure their contracts to enable the Heat management to get the additional pieces they will definitely need to challenge for the championship next year? The Heat’s lack of a bench was glaringly obvious in the series with San Antonio and there is no way they are going to stand pat in the off-season.

Even before the championship series ended there were rumors that the Big Three would be playing for less money next year in order to get Carmelo Anthony on the team. If that does happen, there will even more Miami haters than ever because it will be another instance of LeBron getting another superstar on his team to win another title or two. However, I don’t think it’s going to happen. One reason is that getting Carmelo is not going to address Miami’s greatest weakness, the lack of a big man who can strengthen their interior defense and rebounding. Carmelo does provide firepower but his defense is nonexistent and he is a ball hog who doesn’t like to share the ball.

I am also curious as to whether the Big Three will all be willing to take a pay cut in the interests of the team. It seems to me that LeBron is more obsessed with winning championships than the other two are. LeBron reckons that greatness is measured in terms of the number of titles won and he wants to get at least six so that he can count himself the equal of the sainted Michael Jordan. So far he has ” only ” two and he has a long way to go. Dywayne Wade has no such ambitions (I think) and I don’t suppose Chris Bosh does either. On the other hand, LeBron was the only one of the three who played up to the level of his contract. Wade has lost a step or two, has no ” lift” and is clearly on his last legs. The fearless , hard-driving style of his earlier days has taken a toll on his body and he is an injury waiting to happen. He has a lucrative contract with a Chinese sneaker company but will he be willing to consider a drastic reduction in salary ? Bosh was never really as good as the other two and he was almost non-existent in the series against the Spurs. Neither of them will command this kind of money elsewhere but for LeBron the sky is the limit ; any number of teams would like to sign him for the max if only they could.

But , if titles are what LeBron craves, which other team gives him a better chance than Miami does? The Lakers, Knicks and Celtics are capped out and years away from contention. The Rockets might be able to sign him but they would have to trade away several key players. Besides, will LeBron be able to share the ball with Dwight Howard and James Harden? As for the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose’s knees are so fragile that I don’t think LBJ would take a chance on signing with the Bulls. Perhaps the Trailblazers are a viable option but I can’t see LeBron leaving sunny Miami for rainy Portland. It would also mean playing in the much stronger Western Conference where just getting to the finals is a dogfight.

For those reasons I think LBJ will stay in Miami but, for the Heat to be able to contend, the Big three will have to take sizeable pay cuts, Wade and Bosh more so than LeBron, and Pat Riley will have to do a super job of replenishing the Heat bench.

P.S one other reason that I think LBJ will stay with the Heat is that he doesn’t want to be labeled a quitter, again. It happened once before with Cleveland and he will want to avoid that at all costs.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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