Book Review:Soccer in a Football World by David Wangerin


Author: David Wangerin
Title: Soccer in a Football World
Publication Info: Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2008.
ISBN:
Summary/Review: Following up on Beastly Fury, the story of the origin of the game of football in Britain, I wanted to know the history of soccer in my own country.  Foreigners and Americans alike will claim that there isn’t any history to soccer in the United States, but the game does stretch back to 1863 when the Oneida Football Club played a pre-codified version of the game on Boston Common.  The British version of Association Football arrived early but did not gain much acceptance at American universities who ended up taking to a modified version of Rugby instead.  Soccer would find its adherents in patches across America especially around Kearny, NJ, St. Louis, MO, and Fall River, MA.  From the 1910s to 1930s, a team sponsored by Bethlehem Steel would be known as being among the best in the country although attracted more attention when traveling than when playing in their somewhat remote industrial town.

Competition began to blossom with the National Challenge Cup (forerunner of the US Open Cup) in 1914 and the emergence of the first viable league in 1921, the American Soccer League (ASL).  Wangerin illustrates that the ASL was a popular league, growing in success and attracting European players as well as developing local talent.  But the ASL and soccer in general were done in by conflicts between the ASL and the United States Football Association and the economic crisis of the Great Depression.  Soccer would be reduced to mostly pockets of amateur competitions played by immigrants for the coming three decades.

Investors in the 1960s decided to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of the game by creating two leagues that would eventually merge to form the North American Soccer League in 1968.  The league grew slowly until the game changer of the New York Cosmos signing Pele preceded an unlikely surge in soccer’s popularity in the mid-to-late 70s.  The NASL expanded way too fast and created an unsustainable model of signing expensive star players from Europe and South America that eventually lead to the league’s collapse.  The best attempt to develop local talent in the NASL was in 1983 when the US national team actually played as a franchise, Team America, based in Washington, but sadly finished last.  A more lasting legacy was children’s and youth soccer leagues resulting in many more Americans playing soccer than watching soccer.

After a brief fling with the hybrid sport of indoor soccer in the 80s & 90s, the outdoor game regained prominence with US men’s team qualifying for the World Cup in 1990 and hosting in 1994.  Major League Soccer was born in 1996 and the US women’s team would gain sudden popularity in 1999 hosting the Women’s World Cup.  By the 200os, the men’s national team were finding success and MLS was stabilizing if not a runaway success.  Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the country but it has found its niche and left a lot of history behind.

Recommended books: The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Once in a Lifetime by Gavin Newsham.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football by Richard Sanders


Author: Richard Sanders
Title: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football
Publication Info: London : Bantam, 2009.
ISBN: 9780593059708
Summary/Review: This is a concise history of the game of association football in Great Britain from its origins to World War I.  Sanders makes it clear that he’s out to bust some popular misconceptions of football’s origins, but I didn’t know much football history coming into this book so it’s all new to me.  Sanders traces the origins of the game not only to massive Shrove Tuesday games played in provincial towns but also to a smaller vernacular game played by farmers and laborers in their free time.  These games were adopted by English public schools that were often crude and violent affairs.  Alumni of public schools created the first football codes to standardize the rules of the games but working class players in the industrial North would also play a role in the organization of the game.

Sanders notes that class conflict was central in the early days of football.  The wealthy elites stood for an amateur ideal that found it not only ungentlemanly to accept pay but even to practice as a team.  The working class were more eager to professionalize the game and thus earn income from their well-honed skills.  A middle class of industrialists who would organize clubs and competitions and eventually the Football League kept football from becoming an elite sport like cricket or from splitting into different codes like Rugby.

I was surprised to learn that football was most successful in the Midlands and North in the early days of the sport and not in London.  It seems analogous to the Pacific Coast League being the premier baseball league  in the United States a century ago instead of teams based in the Northeast and Midwest.  I also had no previous knowledge that football was improved by Scottish players – who basically invented the passing game – and many of the best players in the early Football League came down from Scotland.
Recommended books: The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson, and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: As It Was in the Beginning by Robert McClory


Author: Robert McClory
Title:  As It Was in the Beginning
Publication Info: New York : Crossroad Pub., c2007.
ISBN: 9780824524197

Books by the same author: Faithful Dissenters
Summary/Review: McClory boldly declares that democratization is coming to the Catholic Church, and soon, something not readily evident by the Church hierarchy’s growing conservatism in the past 3 to 4 decades.  His patient and hopeful thesis is built on a well-researched historical record of changing structures within the Church that have always returned to consensus fidelium.  Examples range from the efforts of the people to support the teachings of the Council of Nicea against bishops who campaigned for a contrary teaching to reform of the 20th century evident in the Second Vatican Council.  McClory illustrates a possible future in which the laity is included in a way that seems not just hopeful, but even possible.
Favorite Passages:

If modernity stressed reason, the church stressed faith.  If modernity stressed human progress, the church stressed original sin.  If modernity stressed freedom of thought, the church stressed the binding nature of its dogmas.  If modernity stressed democracy, the church stressed authority.  This stress-filled stalemate was to perdure for the better part of four hundred years.  If there had been even a small opening for discussion and dialogue between these two rivals, I think the church might well have served as a helpful brake on the runaway exuberance of modernity that led to riots, wars, and mass executions, of which the French Revolution is one well-known example.  By the same token, some discussion and dialogue between the two sides might have helped the church realize that many Enlightenment insights were not fundamentally different from some of its own foundational values. – p. 118-19

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Why You Can Disagree & Remain a Faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman
Rating: ***

Book Review: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman


Author: Philip S. Kaufman
Title: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic
Publication Info: Bloomington, IN : Meyer-Stone Books, c1989.
ISBN: 0940989239
Summary/Review:

A provocative title but a well-researched and informed look at many of the issues that divide the Catholic Church hierarchy and many of the faithful today.  Kaufman  explores the development of conscience among the people of the church over the centuries and how it has always been valued when regarding moral questions.  The idea of infallibility in teachings of the church has always had to consider the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) something that has not been considered or reached in many of the controversial issues of today.  These issues include birth control, divorce & remarriage, and democracy within the church.  Kaufman addresses each of these issues in detail exploring Biblical and traditional takes on the issues and how they’ve changed over time.  This is a good book to get an informed look at issues affecting the Church today and realizing that they’re not always as simple or clear-cut as they’ve been presented.
Favorite Passages:

The list of moral questions on which authoritative teaching has changed is long.  Defenders of a call for absolute obedience to all such teaching often hold that the doctrines taught were correct for their own time and circumstances, but that changed conditions and further enlightenment led to the formulation of new positions.  But such a justification can hardly be applied to Pope St. Gregory the Great’s condemnation of pleasure in marital intercourse, Innocent IV’s teaching on witches and the use of torture in judicial interrogations, or Pius IX’s condemnation of the proposition “that freedom of conscience and of worship is the proper right of each man, and that this should be proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society. – p. 21

It is often argued that scandal will be given by a relaxation of current practice [regarding divorce & remarriage].  If available statistics are any indication, lack of compassion toward people in great suffering and need gives even greater scandal.  It is a question of who is being scandalized.  Should our concern be only for those who will not accept change in church teaching?  What of the scandal of those who ask: Is it moral in the face of so much suffering by so many millions of the church’s own members to maintain a discipline with such a weak biblical, historical, and doctrinal foundation? – p. 115

Since God does not govern the church directly, however, but through human beings, it is legitimate and necessary to ask what type of government comes closest to realizing the New Testament ideal.  I doubt that autocracy, in which the educated, privileged few teach and control the uneducated masses, the so-called simple faithful, ever realized that ideal.  Autocracy is particularly inappropriate in the modern world.  The form of church government that accords best with the gospel spirit is democracy. – p. 119

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory, and Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Poverty of Spirit by Johannes B. Metz


Author: Johannes B. Metz
Title:  Poverty of Spirit
Publication Info: Paulist Pr (1976)
ISBN: 0809119242
Summary/Review:

This is a short, but profound book reflecting on the humanity of Christ incarnated and our own human condition.  It’s one of those books that I really ought to reread and meditate upon to do it justice.  Nevertheless I can say that it is a work that is deeply challenging and examines the many forms of poverty that exist in humanity and must be embraced to follow the way of Christ.
Favorite Passages:

“The only image of God is the face of our brother, who is also the brother of God’s Son, of God’s own likeness (2 Cor. 4, 4; Col. 1, 15).  Our human brother now becomes a “sacrament” of God’s hidden presence among us, a mediator between God and man.  Every authentic religious act is directed toward the concreteness of God in our human brother and his world.  There it finds it living fulfillment and its transcendent point of contact.  Could man be taken more seriously than that?  Is anything more anthropocentric than God’s creative love?” – p. 35

“Every genuine human encounter must be inspired by poverty of spirit.  We must forget ourselves in order to let the other person approach us.  We must be able to open up to him, to let his distinctive personality unfold — even though it often frightens or repels us.  We often keep the other person down, and only see what we want to see; thus we never really encounter the mysterious secret of his being,  only ourselves.  Failing to risk the poverty of encounter, we indulge in a new form of self-assertion and pay a price for it: loneliness.  Because we did not risk the poverty of openness (cf. Mt. 10, 39), our lives are not graced with the warm fullness of human existence.  We are left with only a shadow of our real self.” – p. 45

Recommended books: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Awakened from Within: Meditations on the Christian Life by Frere Roger, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Francis Of Assisi and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day.
Rating:

Book Review: Ambassadors of reconciliation by Ched Myers & Elaine Enns


Author: Ched Myers & Elaine Enns
Title: Ambassadors of reconciliation
Publication Info: Maryknoll, N.Y. : Orbis Books, 2009
ISBN:  9781570758317
Summary/Review:
This beautiful book explores the ideas of forgiveness and restorative justice based on the Gospel and Christian teaching.  As a modern example of the teaching of Christ the authors frequently cite the writings and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights activists of the 1950s & 60s.  Both Christ and King demonstrate how through nonviolent action “peacemaking must first be peace disturbing.”  This is the first of two volumes and I hope to find the time to read the second part.

Recommended books: Bound to Forgive: The Pilgrimage to Reconciliation of a Beirut Hostage by Martin Jenco, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow, and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Take Time for Paradise by A. Bartlett Giamatti


Author: A. Bartlett Giamatti
Title: Take time for paradise : Americans and their games
Publication Info: Bloomsbury USA, 2011.
ISBN: 9781608192243
Summary/Review:

When I was young and stupid, I hated Giamatti for banning Pete Rose from baseball.  Over the years I came to realize that Rose is a cheater and a liar, and that Giamatti’s premature death was a great loss for Major League Baseball.   This charming little book shows why.  Giammatti was an intellectual who took time to philosophize over why Americans play games dropping in a few classical references here and there to illustrate his points.  It’s a pretty little book that should be enjoyed by baseball fans or people who want to understand the games we play.
Favorite Passages:

I do not believe human beings have played games or sports from the beginning merely to summon or to please or to appease the gods.   If anthropologists and historians believe that, it is because they believe whatever they have been able to recover about what humankind told the gods humankind was doing I believe we have played games, and watched games, to imitate the gods, to become godlike in our worship of each other and, through those moments of transmutation, to know for an instant what the gods know. – p. 24-25

Recommended books: Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell, This Time Lets Not Eat the Bones by Bill James, Out of My League by George Plimpton.
Rating: ***

Book Review: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang


Author: Ha-Joon Chang
Title: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism
Publication Info: Bloomsbury Press (2011)
ISBN: 97816081916666
Summary/Review:

I received this book as an advanced reading copy through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  Like the title says, it goes through 23 aspects of capitalism that are myths, misrepresentations, or simply bald-faced lies.  Now this book is not anti-capitalism, but the author does seek to debunk the ideology of free-market capitalism (itself misnamed) that over the past three decades has gained an almost religious reverence in political and economic circles.  Some of the most interesting tidbits include:

  • The economic and technological revolution of the internet has been vastly overstated.  We do not live in a post-industrial age and the washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has.
  • There is no such thing as a free market as there is some level of regulation in all markets.
  • Running a company for shareholder interest is inefficient for the company and bad for the national economy.
  • If we assume the worst about people we will get the worst out of them (this applies to the frequently repeated belief that the economy is based on individual self-interest and denials that people are moral agents).
  • Many successful endeavors have been initiated by the government or through public-private partnerships.
  • Regulation works not because the government knows better but because it deliberately restricts our choices within the scope of humanity’s bounded rationality.
  • Bigger government allows people to take more risks by re-tooling their work skills knowing there is a safety net if they fail.

Chang’s writing style can be dry – although there are flashes of good humor – and he gets repetitive since the 23 things overlap often.  I found it an interesting overview of economics and capitalism and makes a lot of good points about what’s wrong with the prevailing opinion.  Of course, I may be predisposed to agree with Chang’s thesis, but I also feel I learned a number of things I never understood before.
Favorite Passages:

“The higher purchasing power of US citizens (compared to the citizens of other rich countries) is owed in large part to the poverty and insecurity of many of their fellow citizens, especially in the service industries.  The Americans also work considerably longer than their counterparts in competitor nations. Per hour worked, US incomes is lower than that of several European countries, even in purchasing power terms.  It is debatable that that can be described as having a higher living standard.” – p. 111

“Simply making the rich richer does not make the rest of us richer.  If giving more to the rich is going to benefit the rest of society, the rich have to be made to deliver higher investment and thus higher growth through policy measures (e.g., tax cuts for the rich individuals and corporations, conditional on investment), and then share the fruits of such growth through a mechanism such as the welfare state.” – p. 147

“When the managerial classes in the US and, to a lesser extent Britain, possess such economic, political and ideological power that they can manipulate the market and pass on the negative consequences of their actions to other people, it is an illusion to think that executive pay is something whose optimal levels and structures are going to be, and should be, determined by the market.” – p. 156

“Unless we deliberately restrict our choices by creating restrictive rules, thereby simplifying the environment that we have to deal with, our bounded rationality cannot cope with the complexity of the world.  It is not  because the government necessarily knows better that we need regulation.  It is in the humble recognition of our limited mental capability that we do.”  – p. 177

Recommended books: The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman, Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston, The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Rating: ***

Soccer Spectating Report 16 May-6 June


With the Champions League final, the European season comes to the end. I watched a lot of teams and lot of games and determined that the clubs I like best are Everton of the English Premier League and Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie. Next year I’m thinking I’ll try to watch as many games featuring those clubs as possible as well as pick out one other “game of the week” featuring European sides. I’ll also continue following Ireland in their Euro 2012 campaign. Of course I plan to continue supporting my home teams the New England Revolution and the Boston Breakers and maybe check out some games from Mexico, South America, Australia and Japan. But I do plan to lower the intensity and I don’t intend to continue writing about it.

I figured this would be my last soccer spectating report, but with the USMNT competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the USWNT hoping to regain the Women’s World Cup, I think I will make two more soccer spectating reports before I quit.

United States 2:0 Japan (18 May)

Another Women’s World Cup warm-up for the USWNT and it felt like it.  It was not an exciting win and Japan seemed overmatched while both sides were more focused on testing things out.  But a win’s a win.

Everton 1:0 Chelsea (22 May)

An exciting final game for Everton who defeated Chelsea on a late-game goal by Jermaine Beckford after they’d been reduced to 10 men.  Everton’s  late season form helps them finish in 7th place which is about as good as one can expect right now with the Big 6 dominating the top 6 spots.

Sporting KC 5:0 New England Revolution (25 May)

Egads, the Revs crushed all the hopes built up by their good performance in their game against DC United in this truly awful US Open Cup qualifier in a torrential downpour in Kansas City.  Well, let’s hope they can make something of the league season at least.

Barcelona 3:1 Manchester United (28 May)

United started off strong, and the goal by Wayne Rooney was impressive, but otherwise were totally overmatched by Barcelona in this UEFA Champions League final.  Barça showed that they are truly great teams of all time by dominating the English league champions.

New England Revolution 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy (28 May)

The Revs showed some signs of life in the second life, but not enough to avoid yet another shutout.  One kind of hopes that they’ll finally pull things together and start playing more competitively for all 90 minutes, but the season is slipping away.

United States 0:4 Spain (4 June)

I had tickets to this game but did not see it live because after being stuck in horrendous traffic was faced with paying $40 for parking at Gillette Stadium who would not accept credit cars.  So rather than find a bank and pay extortionate rates for half a  game I gave up.  It’s really a shame that the Krafts built their temple of greed in the middle of nowhere rather than in the urban core near public transportation.  We watched the replay on ESPN3 and it was disappointing as well.  Spain started their best players and dominated.  Bob Bradley tinkered with his lineup – perhaps a little understandable with the the Gold Cup coming up – but disappointing to people who paid a lot of money to see (or not be able to see) their team compete.

Macedonia 0:2 Ireland (4 June)

Ireland kept themselves in a good position for Euro 2012 qualifying with captain Robbie Keane scoring both the goals.

Boston Breakers 2:1 magicJack (5 June)

Boston picks up another 3 points against the worst-named team in WPS with Meghan Klingenberg scoring her first goal for the team.

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