To Dortmund and back, off to see the wizards

To Dortmund and back: Two slow buses and a suburban tent city located right between the airport and the highway, on the outskirts of a very tasteful office park. They spare no expense for we invading Auslanders, who turned out mostly to be Brazilians or people-masquerading-as-Brazilians, and a large number of extremely happy and drunken Japanese.

A joint lesson in power and basic retail economics: Our plan was to buy Ghana gear once we arrived, because, basically we were too lazy to get it here. Quickly found that despite a full mile or two dedicated to selling football fans various hats, scarves, shirts, bags, crepes, and sausages, there was almost nothing for Ghana. One scarf for every 20,000 Brazilian tchotchkes.

Which, granted, meant they knew their audience. (Also granted, it was obvious that Brazil would be here months ago, while Ghana was a bit of a surprise.) The city was full of Brazil fans, many but not most of whom were actually Brazilian. We learned that many rhythm-impaired white folks (this is not a criticism, I’m one) love to use the Yellow and Green as an excuse to Get Crazy and Dance, while Playing Drums.

The game. Ghana played inspiringly well through the midfield, but can’t shoot. Same problem they had in their other games.They played like a team that knows they’re going to lose, and is in any case playing against their heroes. I kept expecting them to ask for autographs after they fouled people. That meant no Mexico-style desperation, driving them to play far above their ordinary ability.

And Brazil, the lazy bastards. Of course flashes of brilliance, but I can’t wait to see somebody press them. I personally can’t stand the French team except for ZZ, but I think they’ll be more interesting against Brazil, if only because they might trip somebody or throw and elbow and piss somebody off for once.

A few cynical aussies chanting behind us, re: Ronaldinho. “What’s big and round, and falls on the ground… Ronaldhino!”

Live is a different experience, no question. All my years of playing, I’ve never had this, and have craved it. Believe it or not, the Seattle Sounders back in the day just didn’t do it. Deafening cheers after the Brazilian anthem. Silence after (and during) Ghana’s. Breathtaking to watch Ronaldinho’s rare moments of actual, graceful action right there in front of you. Crappy Budweiser beer, because at least those lovely fellows at Anheuser-Busch love and respect football, even if no one else in America does. I’m glad we ponied up and did it.

But all told. I think watching Friday’s Germany-Argentina game in the company of a city that has found itself caring so unexpectedly deeply is actually going to be more fun.

Eating in the dark

Last night dinner at Dunkel Restaurant, a Mitte establishment in which you are led by a blind waiter into a large dining room wholly devoid of light, and spend the next few hours guided only by your fingers, ears and taste buds.

I’ve experienced complete darkness just once, and only for a moment, in the North Korean tunnels in Korea’s DMZ as a child. The tour guide  turned off his light for just a moment, and I remember a darkness deeper than any midnight.

Last night, my eyes fought to make sense of their sudden irrelevance, inventing a false canopy of glowing light above us. I held my hand an inch in front of my face, and thought I could tell a difference in the quality of absolute darkness; but this was probably an illusion, triggered by other sensations.

Sound became more important. We could guess at the scale of the room from the conversations around us. We quickly learned how to eat by touch. Messy on the fingers, but of course we had to feel our food. A kiss in the dark was rich and sensous, bereft of distractions.

Taste itself seemed the sense least affected. The meal was good but not great, with asparagus salad, a creamy tomato soup, saltimbanco that was more pork chop than anything else. The truism about senses being heightened in the dark I think may be true — but perhaps only for those senses that compensate for sight’s ability to orient us spatially in the world.

Gavin’s health plan for San Francisco

Give Gavin Newsom credit for thinking big. He’s proposing a new plan that would offer health coverage to currently uninsured people who live in San Francisco. Under the current system, far too many people are uninsured, and costing the city money anyway at emergency rooms, he argues.

True enough. Anyone with half an eye open knows the system is broken, and it’s only a matter of time and the gathering of political will before a widespread overhaul happens. Which may be decades, unfortunately.

Newsom is offering something that’s not quite insurance, but will pay for basic and catastrophic treatment, prescriptions, and more for SF residents who opt in. People who work but don’t live in SF wouldn’t be eligible, and all treatment would have to take place in SF. People who make more than $50,000 would pay about $200 a month, people who make $20,000 to $49,000 would pay $35 a month.

Supervisor Ammiano wants to add a provision charging medium-size businesses and up that don’t offer health care to employees $1.60 per hour, per head, to help pay for the plan.

If this element passes, the restaurant industry will revolt politically. Newsom’s reelection campaign in 2007 will be expensive and bloody. But give the guy a hand for tackling problem after problem that most politicians in the United States are too scared to touch.

He’ll have a future. Even if it’s controversial. Good luck to him in this battle.

There is more than football in the world. Like, say, robot football.

There is more happening here than just the World Cup. Just take one example: This weekend was RoboCup, in which lots of little robots play, um, football.

Maybe that’s not so totally different. But it was a blast to watch. It turns out that cheering for two pairs of wobbly little two-foot-high robots as they totter down the field, look down at the ball, look up, look down, kick the ball, and promptly fall over is more fun than watching at least a third of the human games.

Was interesting to see how much just the rudiments of a human form — two legs, arms, and a head — elicited such a strong sense of identification from the audience. It’s pretty well established how the specific proportions of a baby’s head and eyes trigger a hard-wired “Aww, isn’t that cute” response. I’d love to see the same kind of study done on unsteady  child-like movement. These robots had none of the traditional bio-indicators of cute, but the crowd (myself included) absolutely felt as warmly towards them as we would towards young children.

My story on the event is here, at Wired News. For more football fun, here’s a piece I did for Cnet on why the World Cup doesn’t have any high-tech aids to help refs tell when a goal has been scored.