Cold Cups I

Fads & Ads Compete for
Another World Cup Score

Once the ball starts rolling in São Paulo tomorrow, not everything will be about football. It hasn’t for over a year now, if you’ve been following the street protests in Brazil, as it hasn’t ever been about the game only as long as, well, Fifa remains in charge.
Thus, as much attention will be paid to players’ skills as to their ability to sell wares with their bodies, attire, and hairstyles. Cynics may even say that what’s at stake is not who’ll win the World Cup, but which sportswear company will sell the most: Nike or Adidas.
Increasingly, what soccer stars wear and endorse has indeed driven revenues of sport and designer goods, along with their personal tastes for tattoos and haircut styles. We can’t really end this sentence without mentioning David Beckham, the retired British player.
But while Becks has the physique of a natural born model, and his commercial appeal is only enhanced for his pop-star turned into stylist wife, many others have distinguished themselves for personal choices so ugly esthetically speaking, that they become iconic just the same.
Case in point: Brazil’s Ronaldo Nazário’s hairstyle at the final of the 2002 World Cup in Japan. He scored all the goals and his team won the trophy, but that ‘triangular island’ of hair on top of his otherwise shaved head captured more than its share of advertising’s prime real estate.
No wonder it leads the New York Times Hairdo Hall of Fame now. But enough of your hair, what about shoes, Imelda Marcos? My, haven’t you heard, dahling? red is the new black. Or orange. Or any color but black. We should’ve heeded a certain pontiff’s personal taste; just saying.
As it turned out, we greatly underestimated ex-Pope Benedict and his exquisite choice of foot attire. He was only foreseeing the future, you see – the one presided over by current soccer-crazy Pope Francisco – when flaunting the most famous pair of red shoes this side of Dorothy.
Now in Brazil, word is that every soccer star worth his fashion endorsements will display a pair of colorful shoes, sometimes one for each foot, matching jersey or hair die optional. And the crowds have gone wild over them. Black shoes? Only if you’re a referee.
Purists may decry this lack of substance that threatens to take away the sport’s very own vitality in the name of fads, which by definition and unlike soccer legacies, are not built to last. But there’s no denying: athletes have been selling wares since way before Beckham sported a Mohawk. Does anyone remember Colombian Carlos Walderana’s do, at the U.S. World Cup in 1994? The Hairdo Hall of Fame surely does.
For footballers themselves (and here we stop a long-running fancy of misnaming an American ballgame and give back the name football, at least during the month-long tournament, to soccer as it’s already known by billions around the world), it’s more than an extra income. Many have turned their Continue reading

Pocket Dissent

Ai Weiwei’s Notes About
a World That Needs to End

‘You know, if they can do this to me, they can do this to anybody.’ That’s part of one of the most revealing aphorisms of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest book, aptly named Weiwei-isms, edited by Larry Warsh and published by the Princeton University Press.
It encapsulates the three main characters inhabiting his quotes: himself, the Chinese government, and everybody else. It also offers a glimpse of the oversized ambitions of this little book: to discuss the state’s exacerbated role on the lives of his fellow citizens.
Its format and fluidity are in fact deceptive, as they mask Ai’s larger proposition as an artist at odds with his country’s idea of society, and with a great many Chinese, who may hardly understand the motivations behind his avowed intention to speak for them.
The quotes, organized in themes such as freedom of expression, art and activism, power and morality, and the digital world, may at times resort to short, staccato-like sentences, just like on Tweeter, a social tool Ai’s mastered and praises in the book.
Others convey his ambivalence about having unwillingly become an international personality. His constant jabs at China’s authoritarian regime often betray bemusement at being singled out by it. His global exposure, thus, is both a bliss and a curse.
A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change, and lacks the spirit of freedom, is hopeless,‘ he denounces. Even though not one to play the martyr card, Ai nevertheless relishes in a self-appointed role of spokesperson for the voiceless.
If there’s one who’s not free, then I’m not free. If there’s one who suffers, then I suffer,’ may sound a tad messianic. But it’s also a gutsy stand, in that it ignites a long overdue discussion about the politics of individual liberties in his country.

When Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, his father Ai Qing, a well known poet, was facing a public campaign of defamation that was to last some Continue reading

Petty Crimes

When the Rude, the Offensive & the
Inconsiderate Must Pay Their Dues

Now for something completely different. For many a poor old devil, there’s been a thousand times plus one, when happiness has stood farther apart than ever, just because some idiot was blocking the way. More often than not, help was not forthcoming, and the troll won.
That’s not what’s these stories are about. Have you been annoyed lately by talkers at the movies? people who curse right in front of your little niece? neighbors worshiping loudly on the front yard? Good news: people in England, Belgium and the U.S. have just had about enough.
Even if these effective techniques involve a certain level of confrontation, or the ever so slow work of the legislator, none is violent or unreasonable. They’re all solidly based on the democratic tenet that my freedom to act like a douche ends when your own stupid stunt starts.
Obviously, we shouldn’t have to be getting to this to placate our torments. On the same token, though, no one needs to place anonymous rants in some comment stream to vent their frustration. Or worse, getting so self-righteous about it, as to justify blood and dismemberment.
In most cases, we shouldn’t be bothered. When Brazilian bestseller author Paulo Coelho said that ‘if you dissect ‘Ulysses,’ it gives you a tweet,’ he was expressing his opinion, even if most who read James Joyce’s masterpiece couldn’t disagree more. Ultimately, though, his own admission of ignorance may’ve set in motion the erosion of any credibility towards his own self-aggrandizing work.
In others, you may be annoyed, it may be inconvenient, but it’s not hurting you, and it’s bound not to last more than a brief moment in your long, fruitful life. That’s the case of a New Yorker, so thrilled by his own singing abilities, to the point of having an entire subway Continue reading

Phony Outrage

Serious Threat to Women’s Rights
Gets a Hilarious Twist on Twitter

There are several ways of framing what happened yesterday at the Michigan State House. During a heated debate over an extremely restrictive piece of legislation on women’s reproductive rights, Rep. Lisa Brown was summarily banned from the floor for uttering a medically-sanctioned word for the female anatomy: vagina.
It was a brutal, authoritarian attempt to silence free expression. It also embodied for a moment the extreme right’s concerted effort to turn back the clock on a major issue concerning women. But the incident ignited something else too: one of the fastest, busiest, and funniest strands of Twitter commentary. Within hours, #VaginaMovieLines had shot up to the top of the social network’s trends index.
Whether it also elevated the debate over reproductive rights to a new national level of stridency and radicalization remains to be seen. The implications of revisiting the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade by the current mostly partisan Supreme Court Justices are obviously scary, as one political party has embraced a flight back to the past, and the other seems unwilling to show spine.
It certainly will enhance Rep. Brown’s stature, though, even if only for her passionate and articulate defense of, ultimately, one of the basic Constitutional tenets this country’s been founded upon: the separation of church and state.
For make no mistake, behind the pro-life and religious freedom rallies of lately, sits the institution with the most to gain from a return to the faith-based medieval times, when it ruled unchallenged: the church. Continue reading

Facing the Music?

As Criticism of Facebook Grows,
Zuckerberg’s Nowhere to Be Seen

It’s ironic that the creator of a social network that ostensibly trades in the private lives of its clients is himself a highly private person. As hostility towards Facebook’s business model is on the rise, Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard dropout boy wonder who founded it and became an overnight billionaire, has been less than visible these days.
For some, it’s all about poetic justice. While Zuckerberg fights accusations of having secretly profited from Facebook’s failed IPO, while thousands lost money with it, a tech site’s offering cash in exchange for unguarded pictures of him. His company’s also fighting European regulators over how it stores personal data, and, in the U.S., scrutiny for luring children under 13 onto its social network.
For the record, Facebook’s definitely not the only one being accused of unauthorized use of its members’ most intimate details. Google, another giant of the Internet age, faces similar charges by the European Union. And pretty much every other site, community board, job exchange and even smartphone apps are, in one way or another, guilty of making a so far illegal buck out of its users.
Facebook, though, for being arguably the most popular, and for depending exclusively of customer-generated content to attract advertisers, seems to be setting the (low) business practice standards for the industry. How successful efforts by regulators, consumer advocates, public officials and even some politicians will be, curbing its privacy-busting ways, remains to be seen.
But anything that may help prevent it from becoming the nightmarish, big-brother-like corporation some say it already is, may also establish a new consumer-driven regulatory framework for all other companies, Continue reading

Saving Face?

To the Millions of You
Who Made This Possible

That’s Facebook’s heartfelt thank you note to its 800-plus million subscribers, included at the end of the documents it filed for its first public offering. To an increased number of people, though, such touching gratitude may not be enough.
That’s because of three main reasons: the amount of money a select group stands to make with the IPO; misgivings about what the site does with the data it collects from its ‘friends’; and growing awareness that such data shouldn’t be for sale.
When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the stock sale last week, it was the culmination of less than 10 years since he envisioned an extended social network that would enroll his Ivy League friends and make them very jealous.
His greatest achievement was to tap into a then incipient demand for self-expression channels, where friends and acquaintances could exchange even the most inane pieces of information, and turn that Continue reading

About Face

We Don’t Need Another Friend, but Don’t
Throw the Book at Social Networking Yet

Facebook’s discreet rollout of its Face-Recognition feature, which so incensed its users, shouldn’t have caught anyone without their shirts on, as it just reaffirms a pattern.
After all, this is the same company that just last fall was accused of sending users’ personal information to dozens of advertising and Internet monitoring companies. Then, as now, Facebook’s attitude was less than up-front about it.
The fact that overnight billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg has a complicate public image doesn’t endear him either. A Continue reading

Runaway Reptiles

Bronx Cobra Is Found;
Star Tortoise Still Gone

You saw that coming. After days of intense news coverage, the very young and highly poisonous cobra who’d vanished from the Bronx Zoo last week was found at… the Bronx Zoo. But at least for a few days, he was not alone on the lam: a rare Indian Star Tortoise is missing from a Colorado Springs zoo.
For frantic animal recovery teams, the brief double escape Continue reading