Is The Ref Blind?

No matter what the sport, some things are universal.

I may have mentioned that one of my regrets about my time here is that I never managed to get to an American football match, or a basketball game. I didn't realise that the football season ended in December, and the basketball games normally sell out within five minutes of tickets going on sale.

On Monday night, I received the day's clump of mass-mailings from the university. One of them informed the university that the UNC basketball team had been invited to perform in the NIT on Tuesday night, and that tickets would go on sale Monday morning. Useful.

But I read the university newspaper on Tuesday morning, which sad that only 6000 tickets had been sold, and that students were almost guaranteed a ticket if they went to the Smith Center Box Office before 5pm. So I managed to get to a basketball game after all.

College sport is a big business in this country, and the UNC Tar Heel basketball team is historically one of the best in America (Michael Jordan made his name here, for instance). Recently, they've been going through a rough patch, although beating Duke two weeks ago made up for a lacklustre season. Or so I think; I know very little about basketball beyond the part where the players throw the ball around and try and get into the basket.

Anyway, after thirty minutes of brass band playing, chants, requests for the audience to respect the officials (ha!), and the inevitable national anthem, they finally start playing. For the first five minutes, DePaul runs rings around UNC, going 0-4 up. And then the ball goes out of play, and everybody stops.

The clock reads 15:21, and they've all stopped? The cheerleaders are back out on the court, and the band is playing. What's going on?

It seems that during a 20-minute half, play often stops for 'time-outs'. I'm not entirely sure whether these are TV-induced (the game was on ESPN), or part of the normal game, but they're rather annoying. You wouldn't expect everybody in a Man Utd v. Arsenal game to politely sit down after five minutes while the people back home are informed about Ford's newest car, would you? There would be riots.

By the ten-minute mark, UNC look halfway decent, taking the lead, and scoring an impressive number of three-point shots. But then they start literally dropping the ball, and by half-time, DePaul has 35 to UNC's 29.

There then follows more cheerleadering, a poor man trapped in a mascot suit, and a brass band playing DJ Otzi's Hey Baby. The horror.

The second half started with UNC drawing level within the first minute, and ended with the Tar Heels winning comfortably with a 83-72 final result.

So I got to see a basketball game. One thing that struck me was the friendlier atmosphere than you'd get at a football game; admittedly I haven't been to a match for a few years, but there was no constant hurling of abuse at the opposition that you normally get at these sort of events (the referees were fair game, but even then criticism was respectfully directed at his eyesight, rather than violent accusations of his parentage).

I'm off to go and pick up my comics. And this week's Angel? Funny. In a Superman III-type way...

currently playing: The Chemical Brothers - Setting Sun

And Your Raincoats 45s

I’m easily bought. Polyvinyl Records included a watermelon chew sweet with the CD they just sent me. Bless their little packing-pixies.

currently playing: PJ Harvey - Big Exit

The Manchester Preposition

Oh dear.

currently playing: Cat Power - Free

My Fellow Americans

“Mr. President, we’ve discovered that the Iraqis have access to model airplane technology.”

"THE BASTARDS. Get me the 101st."

Diplomacy is a ploy. Good to know, thanks.

LOOK —EVERY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE HAS SAID THAT IRAQ DOES NOT HAVE A CONNECTION TO AL-QAEDA. SO STOP SAYING THAT IT DOES, YOU SMIRKING DOLT.

We believe in the UN. Except when it has the audacity to disagree with us, of course.

And hey! We didn't sign up to the ICC, so although British soldiers could be tried as war criminals, US troops can go crazy...

Pax America! Pax America!

War crimes will be prosecuted, apparently. Interesting, in light of the comment I just made.

Protect the fatherland—er, the homeland. Sorry, Mr. President.

The risks of inaction are too great for us to avoid war, apparently. So could China occupy Taiwan tomorrow, because it might be a threat sometime in the future?

Ah, the Chamberlain defence. Incidentally, what's going to happen after the Allies have defeated Iraq? Are they going to go back to the UN to ask for help in rebuilding the country?

Well, it looks as if we're about to get our war on.

Why are they bothering to talk up the Iraqi forces? During the last war, we were told that Iraq had a formidable army, and we should expect massive casualties. We completely annihilated them. Twelve years later, the Iraqi military is a shadow of its former self. And on the border of Kuwait, the greatest army ever assembled in the history of mankind faces them. I don't think they're going to do much fighting, to be honest.

Sometimes, the American media depresses me. The Democrats aren't supporting the President enough, apparently.

A rant from an Iraqi.

Oh no! We're back at Orange! Break out the duct tape!

Hmm. Someone on Fox News has suggested that the US would not want to engage in door-to-door fighting in Baghdad. Instead, they plan to surround the city, use psychological warfare (loudspeakers, leaflets and radio transmissions) in an attempt to turn the populace against Saddam. Is it just me, or is that just a step above the "let's defeat them with our special beams of love" technique?

currently playing: Neko Case - Stinging Velvet

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

The Office of Homeland Security. Making Americans a laughing stock all over the world. Eh, hang on a second —

Sources say the kinds of activity they would consider suspicious include people taking pictures at bridges and subway entrances, and people sitting on train platforms who appear to be monitoring the timing of arrivals and departures.

Um, don’t mind me, I’m just going to find a safe place to hide…

currently playing: The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket

Back From The North

More later. In the meantime, be distracted by a picture or two.

currently playing: Saturday Looks Good To Me - Meet Me By The Water

Live From Washington D.C.

NTL’s email server seems to be as reliable as ever, so apologies if you’ve sent me any mail in the past few days. I’ll probably be able to read it on Sunday.

So far:

  • The! White! House!
  • Time taken on meticulous plans: at least two hours. How long these plans lasted: 5 minutes.
  • Seem to have spent the past two days seeped in death; Korea and Vietnam Memorials, the Smithsonian exhibit about Japanese-American Internment, and today I went to Arlington Cemetery.
  • Tomorrow: Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress! And then I run out of ideas…

I haven’t been paying too much attention to the news recently (the TV in the hotel can only get fuzzy pictures from CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox stations); but I did see the front of the New York Times today. Nice of Mr. Rumsfield to lend a helping hand. Oh yes, I went to the Pentagon today as well. I took a picture, then saw the huge “PHOTOS PROHIBITED” sign. So I got back on the Metro before the scary MPs took me away.

The Metro is nice. Clean, fast, and mostly on-time.

STUPID NTL. BUY A BETTER MAIL SERVER.

currently playing: well, nothing, actually. But let’s just pretend that The Clash’s Janie Jones is playing at full volume, shall we?

Beat Duke!

I think the town is about to explode. See you next week…

currently playing: Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us

Have You Costed This Sleeve?

Three Cheers for Mr. Biffo!

Broken Bow

It’s not often that a concert ends with a high chance of the entire audience being arrested.

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about going to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor (aside: I really hope that the next release sees them change their name to Godspeed! You! Black! Emperor!, just for old-time YS/AP hilarity); their image suggests that they live together in a long-abandoned railway shack on the outskirts of Montreal preparing for the oncoming apocalypse. I was concerned whether seeing them live would break some of the mystery behind their music. Silly, I know.

It took them over half-an-hour to set up. There's nine members (five! guitarists!); everybody has a ridiculous amount of effects pedals (okay, so Norsola only had three — but when was the last time you saw a cellist use an effects pedal? Eh? Eh?) that need to be checked in a certain order, two drum kits need to be miked up, there's a glockenspiel to sort out, and so on. Eventually, they finish this labourious task, and begin the performance.

At this point, I realise that it might not have been such a good idea to be right at the front (and I mean right at the front; an outstretched arm would have have touched one of the guitarist's chairs). GY!BE are loud. Very loud. And I'm standing right next to one of the main speakers. For two hours, I feel every low-frequency note played on the stage. However, any worries I have about not being able to hear for the next week are far outweighed about two minutes after the band start playing.

As I'm standing straight in front of her, I spend most of the concert watching Norsola, the cellist. I was interested in her bow technique. Honest. And her inventive use of the cello as a percussion instrument at the start of 'Moya'. Or when she broke her bow towards the end of the same song; she calmly put it back in her bag, walked over the to the side of the stage, took another one out of the equipment boxes, and went back to playing. Very very fast...

I wish I could give you a set list; I remember that they played most of f#a#∞, all of Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, and at least the first three tracks from Levez Vous Skinny Fists Comme Antennas To Heaven!. I don't think they played anything from Yanqui U.X.O. (strange, as it's their current album UPDATE: I'm an idiot. They definitely played "09-15-00" at least. UPDATE 2: And "Rockets Fall On Rockets Fall". I told you I was bad at set lists). However, it's mostly a blur of beautiful and mesmerising music, the soundtrack from the day after WWIII; filled partly with despair, destruction, and isolation; but mostly brimming with hope. They had a white sheet in the corner of the stage upon which they projected short films: images of deserted cities, burning oil fields, collapsing chimneys; alongside sunrises, country journeys and the hand-scratched title of "Hope". 'BBF3' is accompanied by footage of recent protest marches, and the song gets a laugh from the audience as the Minidisc-provided voice of Blaise Bailey refuses to speculate about the year 2003, as he "doesn't have a mind that inhumane".

After two hours, the concert ends, and the group disappears for the pre-encore break. When they come back, they play 'Moya', and then one of the group actually gets a microphone. He (I think it was Aidan, but I'm not exactly sure) says that the next song will be their last, but that some local people had spoken to them, and they'd be meeting in the car park shortly afterwards for a parade. Everybody was invited to join them.

When the lights finally come up, people file out to the car park. There had obviously been a little planning involved (although not much; I spoke to Matt, a sound engineer at the club whom I know from my course, and he said they came up with the idea about an hour before the band went on stage); people were being given paint-tin drum and rice shakers to make as much noise as possible.

And then we marched to Chapel Hill.

It took five minutes for the first police car to turn up. Thankfully, They decided not to arrest us all for disturbing the peace; instead, they held back traffic while we walked down the main street back to the town, and blocked us off at the end of Franklin Street so the crowd couldn't advance further than the courthouse. I quietly slipped away from the crowd at 1am, because I had to see Sona about getting a lift back from Durham train station next Sunday.

They weren't hooded hermits from a deserted shack in Canada. But they were still fantastic.

Next concert: Idlewild, this Sunday. By which time, I presume my ears will have stopped ringing...

currently playing: Dirty Three - Some Things I Just Don’t Want To Know