Showing posts with label soccer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soccer. Show all posts

Saturday, August 21, 2021

American soccer traces roots to textile mills

In the first pandemic summer, I watched and adored the limited TV series, The English Game, which depicted the birth of modern soccer, or association football, in the context of industrialization and labor organization in the 19th century.

Fall River Rovers, 1917
For Boston.com, sports writer Hayden Bird now reveals a similar heritage for U.S. soccer in the communities of once abundant mills in my current home region, eastern Rhode Island and the Massachusetts south coast.  Bird explains in the piece:

[T]he early 20th century boom in American soccer is intertwined with the textile industry. The exponential growth of mills in the late 19th century (following the decline of the whaling industry) led to large scale immigration as skilled laborers were funneled in....

Answering the call were people who already had textile experience: those from Lancashire and the valley of Clyde. These regions, as historian Roger Allaway points out, “in addition to being the heart of the English textile industry also was the area of England in which association football [soccer] had most taken root among working class people in those same years."

And because of this, "textiles brought immigration and immigration brought football."

Bird's coverage embedded this video, which YouTuber soccermavn describes as "[p]erhaps the oldest extant professional U.S. soccer footage—snippets from the 1924 U.S. Open Cup final, played on March 30, 1924" in St. Louis, where the Vesper Buick hosted the Fall River, Mass., Marksmen.  The Marksmen prevailed 4-2.

The article is Hayden Bird, American Menace: When Fall River Ruled U.S. Soccer, Boston.com (June 21, 2018).  Hat tip @voteunion (Aaron Wazlavek), J.D.  See also Dan Vaughn, The Ghosts of Fall River, Protagonist Soccer (Oct. 29, 2018).

Monday, April 12, 2021

From soccer pitch to memoir, and now to White House, Rapinoe shines in USWNT equal pay crusade

Rapinoe speaks at the White House (from White House video).
Today a federal district court in California is expected to approve a partial settlement over working conditions in the equal pay battle between the U.S. Women's National Team and U.S. Soccer.  The settlement leaves the central issue of equal pay in play in the case.

As Tokyo seeks "to blunt" its fourth wave of coronavirus, public support and flat-out feasibility fade for pulling off the 2020 Olympic Games even in the summer of 2021.  An Olympic omission will downplay the news of late March that the U.S. Men's National Team failed to qualify for the Olympics upon a loss to Honduras.  Meanwhile the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) has been training up for another record-shattering international appearance.

Rapinoe, 2019 (Jamie Smed CC BY 2.0)
The USWNT has not fared as well in court as on the pitch.  On the equal-pay front, the USWNT complainants suffered a major setback in a trial court decision in May 2020.  I wrote then that the court's conclusion was defensible on the law, if arguable on the rationale and tormenting for its rank unfairness.  The complainants plan to appeal.

One is left to marvel at U.S. Soccer's shameless persistence of what I can only imagine is a cold commitment to the bottom line.  At some point, the bad PR for the sport in America must become too costly even in the commercial calculation.  And with the winds having shifted in Washington, the women wisely have opened up other fronts in the war.

A soccer legend in her own time and a hero of mine, USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe has been on a tear lately on the PR-and-lobbying circuit.  On March 24, she joined the J'Bidens at the White House to commemorate "Equal Pay Day."

The White House visit had added significance because Rapinoe feuded with Donald Trump while he was on office—see commentary in 2019 by Sue Bird, Rapinoe's then girlfriend, now betrothed—and Rapinoe said she would not go to the White House even if invited.  In March, President Joe Biden ordered resuscitation of the White House Gender Policy Council, and Rapinoe gave the White House visit a positive reviewNewsweek observed that Rapinoe received a White House invite before Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Here is Rapinoe's statement at the White House.  Watch the whole event at YouTube; Rapinoe's four minutes followed statements by USWNT teammate Midge Purce and First Lady Jill Biden.  

Rapinoe got her money's worth out of her ticket to Washington, because she also testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which was "examining the long-term economic impacts of gender inequality."  Her affirmative statement, below, ran only about two and a half minutes.  With experts representing NGOs also testifying, Rapinoe participated in the questions and answers afterward; the full-length video of the committee hearing is posted online (image from House video).

Rapinoe wound up her testimony with the USWNT rallying cry, "LFG."  She has since remained ready to fight when the situation calls for it, recently, as Comic Sands put it, "eviscerat[ing an] NBA star who criticized female athletes 'complaining' about pay gap."  An HBO Max-CNN Films documentary on the USWNT, titled "LFG" (teaser), is set for release later this year.

All the while, Rapinoe has let no artificial turf grow under her feet.  At the day job on Saturday, she scored for the USWNT to pull out a draw against Sweden and preserve the women's undefeated streak.

Rapinoe published a memoir, One Life, in the fall.

LFG.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Ted Lasso heads to UK, will coach AFC Richmond

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Oct. 6, 2020)
A new Apple TV+ show has Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudekis playing southern-drawl-wielding American football coach "Ted Lasso," as he is recruited to coach an English Premier League (PL) soccer squad.

Lasso's fictitious team in the Ted Lasso comedy series is "AFC Richmond," but Sudekis wore an authentic Manchester City FC (my team) hoodie for his interview with Trevor Noah on last night's Daily Show.

Financially regrettably, this show compels my wife and me to re-subscribe to Apple TV+.  We shelved the channel, pending new content, after we finished the highly gratifying For All Mankind (blog), and after I finished the sufficiently compelling if after all tritely pedantic Morning Show (both shows 2019, second seasons forthcoming).

Ted Lasso is a co-creation of Scrubs (2001-2010) creator Bill Lawrence, which scores dispositively in my playbook, though I don't think Lawrence has since re-created that Scrubs magic.  Ted Lasso is a spin-off, or spin-up, of NBC Sports promotional shorts imagining Lasso's appointment as head coach of Tottenhan Hotspur.

 

Incidentally, I'm a consistent critic of NBC's intellectual-property monopoly over PL broadcast rights in the United States.  NBC carves up the PL season so that one would have to subscribe to an impossible, and impossibly expensive, range of commonly owned services to follow a favorite team.  Americans would never tolerate such exploitation of American football broadcast rights.  NBC and the PL are greedily short-sighted, because inculcating loyalty to a single side is essential to sell British soccer to the American viewer in the long term.  It remains to be seen how UK regulators would react were NBC, since merging with Sky, to dare to try such such shenanigans there, where team loyalty is a multi-generational sacrament.  Other sports-loving countries won't have it.

Sports comedy is supremely watchable when it's well executed.  I thoroughly enjoyed Hank Azaria's Brockmire (2017-2020), though I have not watched baseball in many years.  And who can forget comedy-drama Sports Night (1998-2000)?  The West Wing (1999-2006) is too often credited for Aaron Sorkin's introduction of fast cuts and fast-paced dialog into small-screen canon, but it was on Sports Night that he pioneered the art.

The Sudekis interview appeared on The Daily Show just a day after Trevor Noah opened with some Premier League humor (cue to 1:13), noting Aston Villa's defeat of both Manchester United and Liverpool, the latter 7-2.  Noah is a Liverpool supporter.

Here is the trailer for Ted Lasso.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

My Summer Book Report (2020)

Coronavirus propelled UMass into financial crisis in the spring, and, as a result, law faculty summer research stipends evaporated.  With that change in incentives to compound coronavirus travel restrictions, I found myself with more than the usual time to catch up on reading this summer.  I'm going to try to keep my observations here brief; drop me a line if you want to talk more detail.  (All links are to Amazon.)

Books About Soccer


When I signed off from the blog in May, I wrote about starting two books from Australia, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way and The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe.  The former remains for me the definitive story of the fall of FIFA and corruption of global soccer.  Whatever It Takes was written by whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, once an Australian football executive.  I met her at Play the Game and immediately became a big fan.  I filled out the FIFA story with David Conn's Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multi-Million Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer and Ken Besinger's Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal.  Conn's book gave a thorough global picture, but I didn't enjoy its journalistic perspective as much as Mersiades's animated firsthand account.  Red Card was a compelling take on the story from the U.S. law enforcement perspective; it's a good read for students of U.S. criminal justice.  I especially appreciated it in coincidental tandem with the thoroughly enjoyable TV series El Presidente on Amazon.

By John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe is a tribute to the best players of Indigenous Australian ancestry and their experiences and undersung impact on soccer in Australia.  Joshua Nadel's Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America does similar work for that continent, colored with somewhat more attention paid to the interaction of soccer and Latin America's tumultuous independence movements and subsequent political upheavals in the twentieth century.  In African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World Game, Peter Alegi also takes a continental approach, but thoughtfully traces players through the post-colonial interdependencies of African socioeconomic development and big-business European sport.

Simon Critchley in What We Think About When We Think About Soccer and Tamir Bar-On in The World Through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport both endeavor to make the social sciences of sport palatable for average people such as me.  Perhaps neither rises to the gold standard of David Goldblatt or Franklin Foer, but both books are rewarding, congenial reads and make worthy contributions to the literature.  Bar-On's is the more academically rigorous, but Critchley made philosophy fun for my freshman fluency.

My unexpected favorite of these books in the cultural studies vein was The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars.  Sebastian Abbot takes the reader inside the world of the football talent scout and training camps, especially the lives of young African players thrust against the high stakes of the sport business in Europe and the Middle East.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the reality of this under-acknowledged netherworld is unsettling.  The painful truth is that the contemporary colonialist harvest of African talent is hideous, and, yet, it can't so wholly and easily be written off as exploitation.  It's complicated.

Books About Free Speech

I read many books about free speech, and I've loosely divided them into three categories here.  The broadest ranging works in this "general" set are Timothy Garton Ash's Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Lee Bollinger and Geoffrey Stone's The Free Speech Century, and Floyd Abrams's The Soul of the First Amendment.  Ash's book is described by a reviewer as "encyclopedic."  It is; it's otherwise difficult to categorize and difficult for me to grasp the scope of his knowledge and insight.  With a trans-Atlantic perspective, he grapples with the adaptation of free speech norms to our globalized world.  The Bollinger-Stone collection is at times interesting.  One might ought pick and choose from the contents; it would serve best as a course-supplement reader.  The Abrams book is a paean to free speech, not terribly original but eminently quotable.

Samantha Barbas's Newsworthy, Eric Robinson's Reckless Disregard, and Jeff Kosseff's Twenty-Six Words are legal biographies, respectively of Time, Inc. v. Hill (U.S. 1967) (false light privacy tort), St. Amant v. Thompson (U.S. 1968) ("actual malice" as recklessness "plus"), and Communications Decency Act section 230 (1996) (ISP immunity).  Each is a solid legal history with important contemporary implications.  Robert McWhirter offers a well organized and beautifully illustrated history of the First Amendment, appropriate to scholars of all ages, in The First Amendment: An Illustrated History.

The unexpected best of this set was Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher's Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment.  I had not expected to be so captivated by this work that dares to investigate a question typically glossed over: why, and to what extent, should non-speech, such as art and conduct, be protected by the legal freedom of speech.  This interdisciplinary analysis unpacks a problem that runs as deep as the very nature of the human being as a social animal.

Books About Hate Speech and Free Speech on Campus


This second set of free speech books I classify as about campus speech, though the books about hate speech plainly have broader application.  A range of perspectives is to be found here.  I am persuaded to the more absolutist view of Nadine Strossen, who has capably maintained and defended a consistent position over decades, even as academia and neo-liberal thought have left her increasingly out in the cold.  She sticks to her guns in Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.  Anthony Lewis's book in the same vein is disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Lewis's insightful Make No Law (1991), the seminal biography of New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).  Unlike that book, this rather facile treatment, Freedom from the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, could have been written by a research assistant.  

In Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, Keith Whittington builds the best possible case for universities to care about free speech.  I fear, however, that he gives today's university too much credit for not already being overrun and ruled by bean counters.  Sigal Ben-Porath has the most academic offering of these with her Free Speech on Campus.  But I was frustrated by her refusal to take a firm position consistent with the title of the book, free speech, as if she were afraid of tarnishing left-wing bona fides for failure of sufficient sensitivity.  Finally, the entertaining Mick Hume, a hardened alum of the U.K. newsroom, thinks about trigger warnings what Lou Grant would have thought about them, and he isn't afraid to tell you about it in Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  Spoiler alert: yes.

Other Speech Reads


This last set of free speech books I'm calling "free speech-related."  David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memories and Its Ironies is one of the most memorable books of my summer.  I read it because I am endlessly intrigued by the right-to-be-forgotten issue and the problem of cultural memory emphasized by institutions such as the stunning Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile.  Rieff turned upside down and shook an interrogation out of everything I thought I knew about the subject, leaving me with a highly uncomfortable uncertainty about what we should remember as a global human society, and whether we're anyway invariably doomed to forget all the right stuff.  I also picked up (used) Carol Fichtelman's Right to be Forgotten: Legal Research Guide.  It's essentially a bibliography and good for its 2018 publication date, but already in 2020, at about $15, I overpaid.  I'm not sure why WS Hein decided to bind and sell what should be a free online resource.

Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing is a book I picked up at a Law and Society conference a couple of years back.  I'm interested in the implications for commercial speech, and Mark Bartholomew amply demonstrates the how and why of something we're all instinctively aware of: that we as individual consumers are hopelessly outmatched in today's sophisticated commercial marketplace of ideas.  Finally, I read through an unusual item that's been on my to-do list for a while: John Greenewald Jr.'s Beyond UFO Secrecy.  Wait wait, before you come to confiscate my tin foil hat: I read this book because of its acclaim in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) community.  Much of the book's leaves are dedicated to the reproduction of produced government documents blackened with redactions, which is fun and interesting for the FOIA enthusiast.  You will get your ink's worth and your conspiracy suspicions stoked.

Other Reads

Tom Wolfe achieves his usual excellence in The Kingdom of Speech, which compelled me to break my blog hiatus in late summer.  The Curve: A Novel, about life at the "Manhattan Law School," by Jeremy Blackman and Cameron Stracher, was a delightful self-indulgence in fiction, though if you've ever worked in academics, it'll have you recollecting the truths that are stranger than....  In contrast, Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr is hardcore nonfiction, if excellent supplemental reading for the Hamilton devotee: a biography of one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history that somehow usually manages only the scarcest mention in constitutional legal studies.  Equally serious about its social science, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny tells both the nonfiction history of said bears and the story of their masters, the latter amid a psychoanalysis of dark reaches in the collective human mental condition.  More than once a Polish friend has recommended Witold Szabłowski's book when I struggled to understand something about eastern European thinking.  And ... yeah, I see it now.  Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime ... I know will seem an odd pick for those who know me; I don't usually take my partisanship without at least a teaspoon of Splenda.  I admit to interest in how Crystal Wright, self-described "Conservative Black Chick" came to be who she is.  As I suspected, disillusionment is not a partisan affliction in America, and we ignore it at our peril.

Most memorable of this set was Mikey Walsh's haunting Gypsy Boy: My Secret Life in the World of the Romany Gypsies.  It had been on my to-do list for years, and I never quite felt up to the heartrending drama.  It's not unlike Hillbilly Elegy.  Walsh evinces a grudging appreciation of his Romany heritage and teaches the reader a great deal about its proud traditions, alongside its shames.  The journey was at times painful, but overall enriching.

I only got about halfway through my summer reading to-do list, so more books await.  For now, though, I need to get back to figuring out how to teach 1L Torts online.  Happy reading.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

While U.S. Congress ponders Big Tech oligopoly, Uruguay Supreme Court upholds TV football for all

While our powers-that-be in Congress wring their hands over trying to reconcile allegiance to our corporate overlords with antitrust in the tech sector, a court decision in Uruguay is worth noting.  The Supreme Court of Justice in the country of La Celeste held constitutional a law that compels the free live broadcast of some national soccer and basketball games.

Uruguay v. Costa Rica in World Cup 2014
(Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa CC BY 3.0 BR)

The ruling, sentencia no. 244 de 17 de agosto 2020 (search "244/2020" here), doesn't cover many games.  Explaining the case in 2019, a representative of the appellant Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) told El Observador (Uruguay) that the law would cost the franchise only some of nine Uruguay football qualifiers in four years. AUF still insisted that its economic interests were meaningfully and unconstitutionally diminished by the imposition.

Notwthstanding the limited reach of the ruling, the Court's willingness to abrogate private economic rights to further the public interest is significant.  Accepting the rationale for the law, the Court wrote, "Recuerda y resalta la Corte que la selección uruguaya de fútbol, en función de las hazañas deportivas y copas obtenidas en campeonatos mundiales y juegos olímpicos, forma parte de la identidad nacional y es tópico actual y recurrente en la ciudadanía." ("The Court recalls and emphasizes that the Uruguayan football team, as a function of its sporting achievements and championships won in the World Cup and Olympic Games, forms part of the national identity and is a current and continuing subject among the people.")

The ruling, on article 39 of the Ley de Medios, No. 19307, is one in a series from Uruguayan high courts (e.g., Observacom, Aug. 15) in recent months examining constitutional challenges to a far-ranging 2015 package of populist telecommunication reforms.  Civil rights advocates have hailed the courts' rulings for upholding the constitutional framework of the media law overall.  But business challengers have succeeded in blocking some restrictions, such as a limitation on subscriber numbers for cable TV providers, as unduly burdensome of commercial freedom.  For further example of the mixed results, the Court upheld article 40, which licenses Televisión Nacional de Uruguay to broadcast a game if no other broadcaster bought the rights.  But the Court struck down a subparagraph of article 39 that gave the executive authority to convert matches to free TV by resolution recognizing the public interest.

The telecommunication reforms have been championed by "center-right" Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou, who came to power in March 2020 after a hard-fought election and contested run-off.  Upon a campaign theme of "Uruguay seguro, transparente y de oportunidades," President Lacalle Pou promised to push back against left-leaning policies of the previous fifteen years with a raft of reforms aimed at slashing spending, controlling crime, combating corruption, and realigning foreign policy.  Whether or not he could have delivered, he has been, like leaders around the world, hampered by the coronavirus crisis.

Hat tip at Observacom Executive Director Gustavo Gómez (Twitter) for reporting on the case.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Report from a Social Distance Week 8: Speaking of Football, Magic, and Beer ...

Del's is a Rhode Island tradition.  (Photo by Lady Ducayne CC BY-NC 2.0.)
This will be my last weekly report for a while.  I've tried to make it extra savory.  My law school cut summer compensation, so my lemonade from lemons will be much less screen time in the next three months.  These eight "Reports from Quarantine" / "Reports from a Social Distance" have been a lot of fun to write, and I'm grateful for the positive feedback you've sent, dear reader.  Nevertheless, it feels like work anytime a laptop is staring back at you.

Though still experiencing a record-cold spring, the temperature here is at last topping 60°F (15.5°C) as many days as not.  My sprained ankle seems healed, thanks to my Instagram medical team, so I'm looking forward to more time out of the house.  We're reopening in Rhode Island, but there's not yet any timeline for phase 2, much less phase 3.  As I wrote yesterday, people's patience is wearing thin even here in staid New England.  Here's hoping that falling infection numbers bear out our anxious economic plan.

This has been my week 8 since coming home from Africa, and week 8 at home.  Literally, at home.

What I'm Reading

Mary Sidhwani, How to Find the True Self Within: Secrets of Relieving Stress and Anxiety (2019).  I'm not the self-help sort.  But my aunt wrote this book.  I can't imagine a more fitting title to kick off my time away from work.  I'm only as far as the introduction, and I'm keeping an open mind.  Audio chapters are available also.  Dr. Sidhwani is the compassionate soul behind the Women's Therapeutic Health Center, based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe (2019).  This unusual nonfiction selection was a gift—name drop ahead 🤭—from Bonita Mersiades, whom I met last year at Play the Game, and of whom I became an instant admirer.  Mersiades is known in world sport circles as "the Australian whistleblower" for exposing FIFA corruption in soliciting nations' World Cup bids years before the 2015 indictments made whistleblowing fashionable.  She suffered enormously for the perceived betrayal, persecuted both professionally and personally.  Watch her talk about it at Play the Game, or read my account of the session.  A powerful personality already schooled in fighting the establishment as an executive in women's sport, Mersiades was not so easily deterred.  She wrote her own book, aptly titled Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way (2018); started her own boutique publishing house, Fair Play; and became a renowned commentator on the global business of football.

Knowing my interest in comparatism and sport and society, including research on Australian indigenous media, Mersiades gifted me the 2019 Maynard release.  John Maynard hails from a Worimi Aboriginal community on coastal New South Wales. He is a professor of indigenous history at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan.  Maynard's cultural-comparative work has set Aboriginal politics alongside African American and Native American policy problems.  He's also an avid football fan, and this book is a definitive biography of soccer and Aboriginal society.  The 2019 book from Fair Play is actually a revised update of an out-of-print 2012 original.  If you're a football fan, or you want to buy a gift for one, check out Fair Play's many other titles, too.  They include histories of Aston Villa, Liverpool, and Everton, as well as other socio-cultural studies of Asia and Brazil.

The 12 Minor Prophets.  With our church, we continue our year-long reading program, moving on to the intriguing teachings of the 12 minor prophets.  As usual, the BibleProject has fabulous drawing videos, starting with Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah.  Worship services are continuing online for now, and, as always, all are welcome, 0930 EDT on Sundays.

What I'm Watching

The English Game (2020).  This limited series was developed for Netflix by none other than Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey).  Its six episodes are sometimes in a clumsy rush to deliver its upstairs-downstairs social message.  Overall, though, this story about the origins of association football (soccer) in late-1870s England makes for a thoroughly rewarding work of television.  The series uses football, today the world's game, as a lens through which to view evolving society.  The show brings within its scope not only thinning social strata, but emerging women's and labor rights.  Football itself was at a pivotal point of development at this time, transitioning from elite pastime to professional play, and introducing a more sophisticated form of passing play, recognized as the norm today, relative to a simple strategy of dribbling attack.

The story of a working-class mill team making an unprecedented run to steal the FA cup from elite-establishment collegiate players is very loosely based on real events.  Read more at the publication of your choice: Daily Mail, Digital Spy, Esquire, Express, i news, Mirror, Radio Times, The Spectator, or The TelegraphKevin Guthrie is stately as earnest Scottish footballer Fergus Suter; Guthrie was Abernathy in Fantastic Beasts.

The Great (2020).  I watched the first few episodes of HBO's Catherine the Great with the resplendent Helen Mirren, who received a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role.  I've been embarrassed to admit that I found the show too slow and didn't finish it.  Now comes Hulu's The Great to tell me, it's OK, and to make Catherine's remarkable story so much more delightfully digestible.  This dark comedy features Elle Fanning (Maleficent's Princess Aurora and Dakota Fanning's sister) as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men's Beast, the big screen's J.R.R. Tolkien, and the most recent Watership Down's Fiver) as Peter III.

At times laugh-out-loud funny and taking great liberties with history—TV Catherine only arrives in Russia for her wedding to the already-emperor, whereas the real Princess Sophia had been brought to court decades earlier—the story is, as the show's title card disclaims, "occasionally true"—as in portraying Count Orlov, played ably furtively by Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who's latest Master), as an enlightened co-conspirator in Catherine's inevitable coup. The magnificent sets meant to emulate 18th-century Russian imperial opulence include one real Italian palace and several English castles and houses.  Be warned, there are brief and highly fictionalized portrayals of violence against animals.

The Politician s1 (2019).  This creation from Glee trio Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan was much hyped, but ... weird.  I was interested enough to watch it all the way through.  But Glee it is not.  The Politician lives somewhere amid a wicked ménage à trois of Napolean Dynamite, My So-Called Life, and Alex P. KeatonDear Evan Hansen's defining stage star Ben Platt snagged a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role, and he's terrific.  But the story of a socially awkward teen hell-bent on winning his high school presidency as a ticket-punch on his life-road to the White House is more aimless in the execution than the funny trailers suggest. Season two is expected in June; I'll probably skip it.

Good Eats Reloaded s1-s2 (2018-2020).  Devoted fans of the 14-season Food Network phenomenon that was Good Eats (1999-2012), we went twice to see cinematographer-turned-food-guru Alton Brown share his scientific approach to the culinary art on stage, in 2014 and 2016.  At the latter show, Brown caused an eruption of audience elation upon a cryptic clue that Good Eats might be coming back.  It has, and season 15, retitled Good Eats: The Return, is now free to view in 13 episodes at the Food Network online.  In the interim, Brown made two seasons of Good Eats Reloaded, the second coming out weekly now from the Cooking Channel, available there and on other platforms.  At first I did not want to watch Reloaded, because they looked like just rebroadcasts of the old show.  I was wrong; they're much more.

Hosted by Brown, Good Eats Reloaded is an often hilarious, sometimes MST3K-like look back at Good Eats highlights with plenty of new content.  Contemporary Brown mercilessly mocks his younger self, often breaking away to tell us, for example, how he cooks a burger now, with decades' more experience, or that he no longer uses rolling pin rings because, what seemed like a good idea at the time, they broke soon after the show was filmed.  Sometimes there are all new recipes; he cuts out early from s1e01 Steak Your Claim: The Reload to show us how to make my favorite Korean comfort food, bibimbap.  But, I say, leave out the fish sauce 😝 for the authentic urban-Seoul variant.  Speaking of eats ....

What I'm Eating

Lasagna.  My wife made her incomparable vegetable lasagna (pictured before the oven) for Mother's Day.  Get off my case.  I made breakfast.  She likes to cook.  It's her escape.  Heaven knows she deserves to escape.

Antoni's baked turkey mac'n'cheese.  Furthermore for Mother's Day, we had a family Zoom on my wife's side, wherein everyone made mac'n'cheese comfort food, feat. ground turkey, from Antoni's cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen.  (That was just one of three Mother's Day Zoom calls.)  The product was tasty, but heavy.

Crepe cake.  Another self-sacrifice 😉 in the #SaveOurRestaurants campaign, we went back to neighbor-owned Crepelicious for its signature, 14-layer, green-tea crepe cake.  Speaking of heavy...

I'll lose weight after lockdown.  Promise.

What I'm Drinking

Mardi Gras King Cake.  My last order from Community Coffee brought Mardi Gras King Cake to my door.  It tastes almost sweet on its own, flavored as it is with cinnamon and vanilla.  It recalls my wife's king cake from March and reminds us of our beloved New Orleans, an especially welcome nostalgia since the cancellation of this summer's AALL conference there.

Koloa Estate.  We took an interlude from Community to visit the far side of the continent with medium-roast Koloa Estate from Kauai Coffee.  Kauai brands often get a bad rap because they're not 100% Hawaiian grown.  You're forgiven if the package led you to think otherwise.  Still, if you don't overpay, it's a solid coffee, for a blend, with some of that nutty flavor that characterizes beans grown in Pacific Rim soil.

Sharish Blue Magic Gin.  I brought this gin back from Lisbon.  Its name is the Arabic name of its home town, Monsaraz, in the southeastern Alentejo region of Portugal, and the unusual whale-fin bottle shape pays homage to the region's easterly hills.  Sharish is made by António Cuco, who, according to various accounts, was an unemployed teacher when he started experimenting with distillation in his home pressure cooker in 2013, set to head a multimillion-euro operation in a few short years.

Sharish's defining feature is its brilliant blue color, more indigo in brighter light and undiluted density, and its "magic" is that this color turns to pink in the presence of tonic.  I experimented, and it was fun. The blue color comes from the flower of the blue pea blossom, clitoria ternatea, in fact named for its, uh, feminine shape.  Tonic really does change the color, not just dilute it, shifting the acidity balance to alkaline, like when we played with pH paper in grade-school science class.  When the novelty wears off, a gin with a rewarding and summery flavor remains.  Sharish leads with its fruits, raspberry and strawberry, and they're backed up by a palette of Alentejo-grown botanicals: angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and licorice, besides the blue pea and juniper.  Sharish goes down so pleasantly, even straight, that its 40% ABV sneaks up on you.

Clitoria ternatea is not a European native, and this is not the only gin that uses it.  The flower goes by many names around the world, including butterfly pea and Asian pigeonwings.  It's an Asian native and has long been known in Asian cuisine, notably Thai blue rice.  The flowers give Empress 1908 gin an indigo hue and a savour overlapping with Sharish.  Made in British Columbia and shipped worldwide, Empress is easier to find in North America, though I think a rung below Sharish in finish.

French 75.  I wanted to make a special cocktail for my wife for Mother's Day.  The French 75, a champagne-and-gin mix, was the signature favorite of Count Arnaud Cazenave in 20th-century New Orleans, according to the John DeMers book, Arnaud's, that I wrote about two weeks ago.  I used a Bon Appetit recipe, a French champagne, and New Amsterdam gin.  My French 75 made me feel like a high-class continental cultural import.  I was so carried away that I briefly joined the neighbor's bichon frisé in looking down (figuratively) on our lab mix.

Death by King CakeI ventured to the "essential" liquor warehouse to bring my wife two new beers to try for Mother's Day.  We love whites and sours.  Both of these were indulgent treats.  Death by King Cake let us end the day the way we started it.  From Colorado-based Oskar Brewing, King Cake is a 6.5% ABV white porter brewed with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao nibs, orange peel, and pecans.  Oskar promises Death by Coconut coming soon, an Irish-style porter in the same "series."

Key Lime Pie Sour.  Of all the food and bev I've tried around the world, I remember vividly my first frozen-key-lime-pie-slice-dipped-in-chocolate-on-a-stick in Key West, Florida.  That was the moment I realized that humanity had achieved Roman Empire-level gluttony on a global scale, and that our fall is inevitable, probably coming sooner than later, but that it would be a helluva ride down.  This is that in a beer.  From New Hampshire-based Smuttynose Brewing Co., there's an adorable seal visage on the back of the can. 6.3% ABV.

It was a Zoom Mother's Day


Stay thirsty, my friends!

Eating and Drinking images by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0 with no claim to underlying works
Zoom captures by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 with no claim of data protection waiver

Monday, May 4, 2020

UK football letter roils world sport, and real world, too

Letter posted on Twitter by the AP's Rob Harris
The English Premier League football (soccer) organization wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative in February urging that the United States put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the "Priority Watch List" of countries that fail to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.

The letter has been widely reported beyond the football world for its potential implications in foreign affairs.  Where the United States is concerned, IP piracy is regarded as a critical contemporary problem, on par with national security.  Much of that regard is warranted, as countries such as China, at least historically, have been linked to IP theft as a means to unfair economic advantage, to the detriment of American enterprise.  Some of the sentiment derives from the capture of Washington by IP-wealthy corporations, to the detriment of intellectual freedom.  Regardless, the gross result has been a paper war with nations that countenance IP piracy.  To put Saudi Arabia in those U.S. crosshairs adds a layer of complexity to our already impossibly complicated love-hate relationship with the KSA—read more from James Dorsey just last week—with ramifications from Yemen to Israel.

The letter has potential ramifications within the Middle East, too.  The Premier League's indictment calls out specifically a Saudi-based pirate football broadcaster that calls itself "beout Q" and seems to operate in a blind spot of Saudi criminal justice, even distributing set-top boxes and selling subscriptions in Saudi retail outlets.  The name seems to be a thumb in the nose of beIN Sports, a Doha-based, Qatari-owned media outlet with lawful licensing rights to many Premier League and other international sporting matches.  Saudi Arabia has led the blockade of Qatar since the 2017 Middle East diplomatic crisis, a high note of previously existing and still enduring tensions between the premier political, economic, and cultural rivals in the region.

A 2016 Amnesty International report
was not flattering to Qatar or FIFA.
Football and international sport are weapons in this rivalry.  Qatar has long capitalized on sport as a means to the end of soft international power, winning the big prize of the men's football World Cup in 2022, if by hook or by crook.  Saudi Arabia has more lately taken to the idea of "sportwashing" its image, especially since the Jamal Khashoggi assassination and amid the ceaseless civil war in Yemen.

The letter roiled the world of football no less, as Saudi Arabia has been in negotiation to acquire the Newcastle United Football Club.  That purchase requires Premier League approval.  So everyone and her hooligan brother has an opinion about what it means that the league is so worked up about Saudi IP piracy as to write to the United States for help.

This unusual little letter is a reminder of a theme, known to social science and as old as the Ancient Olympics, that, more than mere diversion, sport is a reflection of our world.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

U.S. female footballers suffer slide tackle in equal pay match: Understanding the summary judgment decision

U.S. co-captain Alex Morgan is the first named plaintiff.
(Photo by Jamie Smed CC BY 2.0.)
The women of U.S. Soccer suffered a major setback Friday with an adverse court decision (e.g., N.Y. Times).

The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles awarded partial summary judgment to defendant U.S. Soccer, rejecting the plaintiffs' core claim in the case, pay discrimination against the U.S. women's national team (USWNT) relative to the men's national team (USMNT).   In the complaint filed in March 2019, USWNT players claimed violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended by the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

The USWNT always faced an uphill battle on the numbers.  To generalize, the women could not deny, they were paid more than the men, dollar to dollar.  The devil lies in what "more" is.

The USWNT has been fantastically successful.  The team has won the World Cup of women's soccer four times, most recently in 2019 in France (I saw a match from a Paris Fan Zone, and my daughter went to one) and won the Olympic gold four times.  The squad has been a global force to be reckoned with since its inception in the 1980s.  Moreover, many a football fan, such as myself, will tell you that the women's talent is a marvel to behold on the pitch, the United States having substantially defined the women's game for the world.

We were in France for World Cup 2019. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)
Direct comparison between women's and men's play is inevitably uneven, because the style of play in the women's game is different from in the men's, apples and oranges.  And worldwide, many soccer-power nations have failed to invest in developing female talent, so any given head-to-head is not necessarily taking place on a level playing field.  Nevertheless, by many a worthwhile measure, including technical proficiency, the women indisputably are better than the men—who failed even to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The women's superiority was exactly their problem in the equal-pay litigation.  A plaintiff bears the burden of making out a prime facie case of pay disparity.  Compensation in professional soccer in the United States is mostly based on the principle of pay for performance.  The women played more than the men and achieved more than the men, so they were paid more.  Their burden, then, was to show, in essence, that their pay rate was relatively lower than the men's.

We win, 2019.  (Photo by Howcheng CC BY-SA 4.0.)
U.S. civil rights law is, thankfully, sufficiently sophisticated to account for disparity based on pay rate.  As U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner explained in the instant case, quoting precedent, it can't be that "an employer who pays a woman $10 per hour and a man $20 per hour would not violate the EPA ... as long as the woman negated the obvious disparity by working twice as many hours."  However, the parties disagreed about how to calculate rate so as to compare apples to apples.

Hardening defenses on their polar positions, each side posited a favorable calculation.  Plaintiffs urged the court to look at women's compensation through the lens of the men's contract.  If the women had won the World Cup, etc., under the men's contract, they would have been far more richly rewarded.  Defendant U.S. Soccer urged the court to look at the numbers in gross.  The women simply make more than the men, and even though the women play more matches, they make more than the men on a per match basis, too.

Both positions are counterarguable.  The women's and men's contracts are both the result of collective bargaining, and a lot goes into a bargaining contract besides its raw numbers.  Simply pumping the women's performance statistics through the men's contract formula ignores the broader context of each contract, or collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and the inter-dependency of its compensation formula with other bargained-for terms: like squeezing an apple with an orange juicer.

New York ticker-tape parade for the USWNT, 2015
At the same time, the women's argument in converse challenges the defendant's attempt to aggregate numbers.  Maybe the women are paid more per match because they are better soccer players, which the evidence supports.  That doesn't mean that they are paid so much more per match relative to the disparity in talent and achievement between the women and the men.  To analogize, oranges might cost more than apples because oranges taste twice as good.  But an orange for $1.20 is still a bargain relative to an apple for a dollar.

The court's recitation of the women's collective bargaining process is painstaking, packing in plenty of detail for those who want it.  In sum, considering that the plaintiffs bear the burden to make out a prima facie case of discrimination, the court found the defendant's position more persuasive.  The contractual context was really the clincher.  Judge Klausner wrote (footnotes omitted):
This history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and that the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players. Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT's pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure. This method of comparison not only fails to account for the choices made during collective bargaining, it also ignores the economic value of the "insurance" that WNT players receive under their CBA. 
[¶] One of the defining features of the WNT CBA is its guarantee that players will be compensated regardless of whether they play a match or not. This stands in stark contrast to the MNT CBA, under which players are only compensated if they are called into camp to play and then participate in a match. ... [T]here is indisputably economic value to this type of "fixed pay" contract, as compared to a "performance pay" contract.  Merely comparing what WNT players received under their own CBA with what they would have received under the MNT CBA discounts the value that the team placed on the guaranteed benefits they receive under their agreement, which they opted for at the expense of higher performance-based bonuses.
There are problems with the court's approach, including prominently that there are systemically discriminatory reasons that the women elected for the terms they did.  Many male players are able to make a living as athletes, so playing for the national team is a bonus.  Women's soccer meanwhile has faltered as a nationwide business model, for arguable reasons that must include the ingrained underdevelopment of women's athletics.  That makes it harder for a woman than for a man to play at the national level, even if the two squads have the same number of seats.

USWNT selfie with the President, 2015 (White House photo)
Consider that a man who plays professional soccer is incidentally training for the U.S. national team while he's at work.  And his day job gives him time off, sometimes months, to play for the national team.  A woman with a collateral occupation that is not professional soccer cannot invest the time and energy in the physical training and playing time required to be a globally competitive athlete.  Of course, some women do find work in professional soccer, but far fewer than men who do.  Characteristically, the USWNT's star players bargained for better job security not just for themselves, but to support their teammates.  And that's not all selflessness; their investment in part explains the ongoing developmental success of the USWNT over athletic generations.

That doesn't mean Klausner is wrong on the law.  The facts of the case show something we already know, which is that historically rooted discrimination can persist well beyond demonstrable intention, is exceptionally resistant to eradication, and is more susceptible to redress socially and politically than judicially.  There are good reasons why the standard to establish a civil rights violation of federal law is high.  Failure to surmount that bar in court does not establish that the plaintiff is right or wrong as a social or moral matter.

Federal courthouse in Los Angeles (Photo by Los Angeles CC BY-SA 3.0)
There were other claims in the case, and the plaintiffs' cause is not formally over, even notwithstanding appeal.  The court's treatment of the plaintiffs' claim of discrimination in turf is a worthwhile read.  Female footballers often play on artificial and unstable surfaces, resulting in physical injury and career wear and tear, while the USMNT always plays on grass.  Despite the disparity in fact, the plaintiffs were unable to prove the discriminatory motive, or intent, that civil rights law requires.

The women's case persists upon some ancillary claims related to fringe benefits, such as better hotels and more frequent charter flights for the men's team than for the women's.  There might not be enough there for the women to want to keep the litigation going.  Plaintiffs probably will ask Judge Klausner to allow interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit directly from this partial summary judgment, and I expect he will.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Federation, No. 2:19-cv-01717 (C.D. Cal. May 1, 2020).  Court Listener has the key documents.