Wednesday, August 31, 2022

On homophobia in football

In a televison segment on homophobia in football, former Swiss player Kay Voser spoke with Andi Geu of the FARE Network. They argued that Marius Müller (the FC Lucerne player who recently made homophobic statements) should not be treated as an exception, as football is rife with homophobia. The language Müller used ("schwül", a German term for "gay") is common in locker rooms and on the pitch, where it is hardly ever called out. Further, football fans, like society as a whole, often characterize players using homophobic (as well as racist and sexist) language. Finally, they argued that it would be best if a group of homosexual players came out together. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2022)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The beautiful ending of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"

In James Baldwin's "Go Tell It On The Mountain" (1953), John Grimes spends his birthday money and goes to a movie, "Of Human Bondage" (1934), with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1915 novel. Inspired by Baldwin's love for the film, I finished the novel last night. It ends quite beautifully at the National Gallery in London: “He smiled and took her hand and pressed it. They got up and walked out of the gallery. They stood for a moment at the balustrade and looked at Trafalgar Square. Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and crowds passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining.” (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2022)

Monday, August 29, 2022

Buying and selling a Datsun 240Z in the early seventies

In about 1972 in Palo Alto, my father bought a Datsun 240Z as a second car (after our family station wagon). I'm sure he had fun driving it, but I actually don't have any memories of riding it. He sold it when we moved to England for a year (1973-1974). The buyers picked it up in the evening and paid my father a couple thousand dollars in cash. My parents were nervous (and made me nervous) that someone (even the buyers themselves) might break into the house to steal the cash, but they found a hiding place for it, and in the morning, my father took the money to the bank. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2022)

Sunday, August 28, 2022

"Ancestors of three continents" in N. K. Jemisin's "Red Dirt Witch"

In N. K. Jemisin's story "Red Dirt Witch" (in her 2018 short-story collection "How Long 'Til Black Future Month"), the main character faces a crisis while her children sleep: "[...] Emmaline burned sage, and she prayed to every ancestor of three continents who might listen [...]." Emmaline's ancesttry includes people from Europe, Africa, and North America, so she appeals to each of her cultural traditions for support in her sitution. But she does not turn to each of them as a separate tradition that she sees as somehow being incompatible with the others; rather, she turns to all three of them together as the unified and consistent foundation of her identity. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2022)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Two FC Basel matches in three days, with the men's team and then with the women's team

On Thursday evening, I watched the FC Basel men's team play the second leg of their UEFA European Conference League playoff against CSKA Sofia from Bulgaria; the attendance at St. Jakob Park was 18,649. In an exciting match, Basel won 2-0 to make up for their 0-1 loss in Sofia and qualify for the Conference League group phase. This evening, I went to the St. Jakob Track and Field Stadium to see FC Basel women's team play their home opener for this season against the BSC Young Boys. I haven't found an official attendance figure. It was also an exciting match, a 1-1 draw despite Basel's domination of the second half. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2022)

Friday, August 26, 2022

Wat Tyler in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House"

A figure runs through Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (1853) as Sir Leicester Dedlock's nightmare, "some person in the lower classes" who might "rise up somewhere – like Wat Tyler." Tyler was the leader of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England; he led a few thousand rebels to London and confronted King Richard II with his demands. When Tyler was killed, the revolt fell apart and many of the participants were executed. Sir Leicester associates Tyler not with  peasants, though, but with "people in the iron districts", such as the successful ironmaster son of his housekeeper Mrs. Rouncewell. The danger in Dickens's time came not from the peasantry but from the industrial workers. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 August 2022)

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The draw procedures at Grand Slam tennis tournaments make defeating four top-ten players unlikely

At Roland Garros this year, Rafael Nadal achieved the rare event of defeating four top-ten players on his way to the title. Even at the time, it struck me that the rules of the draws make it rare for players to have the opportunity to play four top-ten players in one Grand Slam tournament. Take the US Open's tweet today about defending champion Daniil Medvedev's draw: if the better-seeded players all win, his last four rounds would be against the 16, 6, 4, and 2 seeds. Mostly, only contenders whose round of 16 match could be against the 9 or 10 seeds even have a chance of playing four top-ten players. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2022)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Peter Falk's "Columbo" and Mr. Bucket in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House"

Although "Columbo" ran throughout my childhood in the 1970s and I watched more than a few episodes, I don't remember anything about them except the personality of Peter Falk's title character – and his trick where he would turn around while he was leaving to ask the suspect "just one more thing." I was surprised to discover the same image in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (1853) at the end of a conversation between Sir Leicester Dedlock and the detective Mr. Bucket: "Mr. Bucket makes his three bows and is withdrawing when a forgotten point occurs to him." The difference is that Sir Leicester Dedlock is not the suspect in Mr. Bucket's case. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2022)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Swiss Football League's token punishment for Marius Müller's homophobic speech

After a 1-4 loss on Saturday, 14 August 2022, FC Lucerne goalkeeper Marius Müller criticized his teammates with a homophobic slur: "Dieses schwule Weggedrehe geht mir tierisch auf den Sack" (loosely, "this gay turning-away gets on my nerves"). Today, the Swiss Football League reprimanded Müller and fined him 2000 CHF, with no match suspension at all. They justified this token punishment because Müller had expressed his frustration, had not insulted specific people, and had apologized. But this "heat-of-the-moment" argument is ridiculous: Müller actually made his statement not once but twice, in two different interviews. So he liked it enough after saying it once that he consciously thought it was worth repeating. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 August 2022)

Monday, August 22, 2022

On not discussing Alexander Grothendieck with my father

In the 16 May 2022 issue of "The New Yorker", Rivka Galchen writes of the mathematician Alexander Grothendieck (1928-2014), who made major contributions to multiple areas of mathematics in the mid-to-late twentieth century. But he also increasingly left the institutions of mathematics behind from 1970 on and spent the last two decades of his life in seclusion. Earlier in my life, I would have called up my mathematician father Paul Shields (1933-2016) and asked him about Grothendieck, and he would have explained what made him interesting, as he did so often over the years when I had questions about his work or the work of Kurt Gödel, Paul Cohen, and others. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August 2022)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Football as figure and sport in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" and "Bleak House"

In Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" (1848), Mr. Morfin, the assistant manager of the titular business, tells John and Harriet Carker that their brother James Carker kept "extending his influence, until the business and its owner were his football." This figurative sense of "football" as "a person who or thing which is treated carelessly or capriciously", which dates back to at least 1532 (OED), also appears in "Bleak House" (1853) when the soldier Mr. George says that the world uses him "like a football." But the game itself is mentioned in "Bleak House", too, when Mr. Skimpole tells Richard Carstone "how fond he used to be, in his school-time, of football." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 August 2022)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Eight or fourteen generations? A correction in the New Yorker

We are as closely (or distantly) related to our seventh cousins as we are to any random person anywhere in the world – or so I once read or heard. In "Ancestor Worship", an article on genealogy in the New Yorker from 9 May 2022, Maya Jasanoff at first seems to offer confirmation: "Owing to the random process of recombination, the chances are vanishingly small that any given person has inherited detectable autosomal DNA from a specific progenitor more than eight generations ago." Yet the online version of the article says "fourteen" instead of "eight", and a correction is included at the end that the article had "misstated the number of generations". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 August 2022)

Friday, August 19, 2022

Amina, her sister Zaria, and the other powerful women in Izu Ojukwu's "Amina"

In Izu Ojukwu's "Amina" (2021), Lucy Aweh plays the sixteenth-century warrior princess Amina of Zazzau, who learns swordfighting as a child with her sister Zaria (Habiba Ummi Mohammed). Surrounded by intrigue, she ultimately assumes the throne of Zassau (as the first woman to do so). The two sisters are not the only strong women in the film: a cave-dwelling priestess (Jennifer Ezekiel Ade) not only predicts Amina's destiny at her birth but also drives her onward at key moments, while Aladi Ameh (Asabe Madaki), whom Amina and Zaria save from slavery when they are children, eventually gives the film's most riveting speech, summarizing the trail of deaths Amina leaves behind her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 August 2022)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The castle that Radbot built

Around 1020 CE, Count Radbot had a castle built on a hill overlooking the Aare River in the southern part of the Duchy of Swabia; it is now in the Swiss canton of Aargau. Although the castle belonged to his family for almost four hundred years, it was the family's main residence only until the mid-thirteenth century, when their power base had shifted east to the Duchy of Austria. Radbot's descendants may have left their original castle behind, but they ruled Austria until almost nine hundred years after Radbot built that castle and named it "Habsburg", after either a hawk ("Habicht" in German) or a ford ("hab" in Middle High German). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 August 2022)

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dashboard design from my childhood to 1999 to now

The contrast between our 1999 VW Golf in Basel and my sister's family's two much newer cars is not just a matter of manual versus automatic transmission. When I came back to Basel, I noticed that the dashboard full of controls in our Golf looks pretty much just like the dashboards of the cars of my childhood. The odometer and the clock are both LED, but otherwise it's all mechanical dials. My sister's Camry from a decade later still has dials, but it has many more digital displays, and my brother-in-law's more recent BMW is full of digital screens. Our car is closer to my childhood than to those two cars. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 August 2022)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Shifting from manual to automatic transmission and back

In Basel, our old VW Golf has a manual transmission, but while in the US last month, I drove my sister's not-quite-so-old Toyota Camry and my brother-in-law's even newer BMW, which both have automatic transmissions. As usual, I didn't find it hard to drive automatic, except in a few moments in the Camry when quick decisions triggered my reflex to down-shift. (It took only a second to recover.) Back in Basel now, the month of driving automatic has left one trace: stopped at traffic lights, I often forget to down-shift, so I find myself starting in a high gear when the light changes. (Again, it only takes a second to recover.) (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 August 2022)

Monday, August 15, 2022

Unfamiliar maps on flights across the Atlantic

When I flew to the United States last month for a four-week vacation (hence the silence of my daily prose), I was struck by an unfamiliar feature on the flight-path maps: the images often displayed our city of departure (Frankfurt on the way to the US; Boston on the way back) at the bottom center of the map, with the city of arrival at the top center. On the trip to the US, this put Central America at the top, with Cuba often appearing vertical rather than horizontal, as standard maps present it, while on the way back, the East coast of Greenland ran horizontally across the globe, rather than vertically. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 August 2022)