The tournament is still young, of course, and it’s certainly possible things heat up later in the group stage, when more is on the line. But I don’t know of anyone who isn’t complaining about the uninspiring play so far, and, in apportioning blame for that, my money is on the ball—the famous Jabulani. Before the tournament kicked off, we heard a lot about the lively new design, and particularly how it would pose problems for goalkeepers, who would prefer one that handled a bit more cleanly. But, Robert Greene notwithstanding, it seems the Jabulani has been much trickier for the field players than the men between the posts. As Grant Wahl pointed out yesterday, only twenty-three goals had been scored through the first fourteen games—many fewer than in any of the previous thirty-two team tournaments. (Through fourteen games in 1998, thirty-four goals were scored; in 2002, it was thirty nine; and in 2006, a tournament that also featured a “problematic” new ball, thirty one.) Brazil’s 2-1 victory over North Korea featured the first goal of the tournament scored by a losing team.
Perhaps more dispiriting than the shockingly low number of goals has been their shockingly low quality—aside from the marvelous South African strike to open the tournament, and Maicon’s powerful shot from the endline yesterday for Brazil, the only clean goal scored from the run of play I can think of in the entire tournament is Steven Gerard’s elegant but unspectacular toe-swipe against the United States. And this is supposed to be the sport’s greatest showcase of skill!
It’s not just the goals, either—the passing has been terrible across the board, particularly the ambitious passing, and though the better teams have, on balance, managed to accumulate and retain possession of the ball, even the most skilled sides have failed to engineer much more than what the dull American announcers keep calling “half-chances.” Sometimes fifteen half-chances add up to one or two real ones, but other times, as with Spain today, even after twenty five shots the glass remains stubbornly half-full. I’m getting thirsty!
10:00 A.M. Ojai, California. Visiting my friend Honor Fraser and her family. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is playing when I get up, and seems to continue on a loop most of the weekend. Dennis Hopper has died. More oil spilling. Picture in Times of Obama giving a press conference in Louisiana. There is a dorsal fin swimming about in the bay behind them. Has anyone else noticed?
2:00 P.M. Go up to Beatrice Wood’s studio. Wood died when she was one hundred and five years old and worked as a potter right up until her death. Honor and I watch 1980s interviews with her. I buy her biography, I Shock Myself. I love reading about the unsuspecting feminists, the ones who lived their lives according to their own tune, rather than getting in a bate about women’s rights. I suspect that not all of her life was happy, as it so often is not when you take the road less traveled. I imagine it can be quite lonely between the glamorous and exciting stops. Still, she made a very spirited ninety year old.
7:30 P.M. Read “Little Red Riding Hood” to my godson three times, The Cat in the Hat once and “The Ruby Prince” twice. Roscoe is showing no signs of falling asleep. I can barely keep my eyes open. What is it about children that they like the same story over and over again? Am not into LRRH. I don’t remember this ending at all. The wolf eats the granny AND LRRH in one gulp each and the hunter comes along and rescues them by cutting open the wolf and there they are, good as new? Love The Cat in the Hat. But find it exhausting to read. Are there ANY full stops? Think I will faint if I read it again.
Why Splice isn’t science fiction.
Splice, an indie thriller directed by Vincenzo Natali, has been marketed as an updated tale of Frankenstein’s monster. Indeed, in Frankenstein’s tradition, Splice‘s heroic couple, Clive (played by Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), genetically engineer a dangerous creature, whom they name Dren, while in pursuit of knowledge, fame, and patents valuable to the pharmaceutical industry. But the movie isn’t really science fiction.
The science, for one thing, isn’t all that edgy or alarming. Splicing human DNA with that of other organisms? Millions of Americans inject themselves daily with human insulin, which is manufactured by mixing human DNA into that of E. coli bacteria, letting the bacteria bloom, and then putting it through a blender. As it happens, human DNA has a lot of nucleotides in common with animal DNA already, so a wanton squirting of animal genes into human genes is unlikely to make a super creature. In fact, humans and roundworms have about the same number of genes, which suggests that more is not more, in the number-of-genes department. How scary is the idea of typing up an organism’s entire genetic code on a computer, manufacturing it from scratch, and bringing it to life? J. Craig Venter announced a couple of weeks ago that he and his research team have done just that. Hope you’ve been able to sleep nights since.
As for cloning itself, the sheep Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned, was born in 1996. Bulls, cats, pigs, deer, mice, and goats have followed. By now, dog clones have been around for so long that The New York Times has run a lifestyle article about coping with the disappointment that Fido’s clone only loosely resembles the original. Human cloning is illegal in some states but far from all of them, and the technical challenge is unlikely to remain insurmountable. Three years ago, monkey embryos were cloned well enough to allow the extraction of stem cells, and two years ago, scientists in California persuaded clones of adult human skin cells to progress to early-stage embryos. Once human cloning does become possible, though, there’s little need to worry that it will catch on as a way of making new humans. Cloning, unlike natural reproduction, is neither inexpensive nor recreational. Moreover, it inflicts a fair amount of genetic and epigenetic damage on the progeny who ensue. You might not mind a little damage in a cow that you plan to eat, but few people are likely to want to clone themselves or their loved ones once they understand that the baby will be saddled with birth defects, developmental delays, a compromised immune system, or some combination of the above. The prospect would just be too sad.
Sadness brings us to the true subject of Splice: child rearing. Specifically, what’s a two-career couple to do when an episode of hastiness and curiosity leaves them with a squirmy naked mole rat who shows ambiguous signs of a developing intelligence and even sentiment? Feed it sugar and lock it in a plastic crate for as long as possible, of course. But once it begins breaking things, cornering people, and putting words together with Scrabble tiles, then what? The most science-fiction thing about Splice is that it never occurs to Clive and Elsa to provide their unbabysitted spawn with a television. Probably because the movie is so “irredeemably Canadian,” my husband complained. It’s for the same reason, no doubt, that no government agency ever shows up to sweep everything under the rug.
After the jump, a recap of last night’s softball game against n+1.
When Brazil and North Korea kick off this afternoon, it will be a one-sided matchup of, perhaps, the two most fashionable teams in the tournament. Brazil’s Seleçao is the tournament’s most skilled team and, under head coach Dunga, might be also its most disciplined, but international supporters find themselves drawn to the squad less for its status as favorites than for its country’s exported image of an enviable Carnival culture—exuberant, indulgent, scintillating, sexy.
The Hermit Kingdom is a more improbable fan favorite—an unknown team from an unknowable country, “as secretive about its. . . training as about its weapons buildup,” as one newspaper put it. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the North Korean team is, on average, two inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts—a height difference mirrored in still-diverging national averages—and it’s hard not to read into that fact the horrific history of growth stunted by North Korean famines.
North Korea does boast one star—Jong Tae-Se, known as “the People’s Rooney,” a native Japanese who plays in that country’s J-League and who has never lived in North Korea. Off the field, he seems to have what counts as flair among his teammates—traveling with a PlayStation and an iPhone, declaring his desire to play in the English premiership—but in the lead up to the Cup he has also shown himself a model subject of the Kim dynasty, promising a Stakhanovite output of one-goal-per-game. He has also guaranteed that his team will advance over Brazil, Portugal, or the Ivory Coast—showing an even more deluded sense of national purpose. For this, he and his compatriots have been celebrated by just about every media outlet covering the cup—including, even, the normally gimlet-eyed New Republic, with their “Five Things You Don’t Know About North Korean Soccer.” An earlier version of the DPRK team was called “a squad of Charlie Chaplins,” and for the next ninety minutes, their great dictator won’t be the only one going crazy for these unfortunate tramps. The loyalties of imperious fans run impulsive and contrarian, and sport may be the only form of international relations in which irony can freely reign.