The World Cup may take our minds off the scandal of FIFA and Qatar. Momentarily.
Before the first game began Sunday, I put out a call to one of my best soccer advisors to get his thoughts about this World Cup.
That would be my grandson, George Wilson. He’s a college graduate now, with a good job near home in Pennsylvania, but back in the day his dad and I went out on the lawn and tried to teach him the game.
I gave the pre-schooler the hip, and sent him tumbling to the grass, and when he protested, I said that was the point of the game, knocking the guy off his stride, and if you go down, go down like an Italian – I demonstrated with flailing arms and legs, and facial gestures of extreme pain, just like my favorites on the Azzurri. George seemed intrigued by the concept of faking pain.
Welcome to calcio.
As a tyke, George challenged me to play one of those early FIFA electronic games.
As soccer spread through the younger generations (much to the horror of my aging cadre of sportswriter buddies), George knew all the players and all the uniforms and all the stadiums depicted on the screen – but more importantly, his reactions were so much faster than mine, that it was a mismatch.
“Pop, you’re not even trying,” he said. But I was.
Nowadays, I rely on George (and his dad) for split-second on-line reactions to real games on their screens and mine. His dad roots for Christian Pulisic, from nearby Hershey. George roots for Liverpool and their totemic player Mo Salah.
Alas, Mo’s Egyptian team was eliminated by Senegal in the African playoffs.
On Saturday evening I asked George for his current thoughts about this World Cup before the U.S. opens with Wales on Monday.
(By George Wilson)
“I want the US to do well but I really don’t have too much faith in Berhalter. I think he was a nepotism hire and that with the players he has at his disposal he will continue to underperform. I think the core group of young guys can still get results but I fear they will be out-coached by more flexible teams.
“ If I had to name teams I think could be surprise performers or ones that are good to keep an eye on, they would be both Uruguay and Ecuador. Uruguay is pretty easy to explain, a young core of solid players and a few really exciting talents among them.
“Ecuador is in a similar position, they have some really solid players who could easily pull some upsets. The likes of Estupinian, Caicedo and Hincapie are all top talents and will likely be on some of the larger European teams in the coming seasons.
“I also think Brazil or Argentina will win -- barring a major collapse they appear to be in the best shape at this point. If France hadn’t been decimated by injuries, I’d have them in contention, too
“I’d add that my dark horse winner call would be Uruguay. They have a shockingly accomplished team. In goal, defense, midfield and attack they have an amazing team and with a few moments of inspiration, I don’t see why they couldn’t do it.”
(I noted George's choices for outsider teams but also said I had more confidence in Gregg Berhalter, the manager and former World Cup stalwart.)
In a few hours after I typed this, Ecuador would play Qatar in the opening match. I will root for Qatar to hold a safe and exciting set of games.
For the moment, maybe we can put aside the scandal of how Qatar (and Russia) came to host the World Cup (packets of American $100 bills, handed out in lobbies of FIFA meetings.)
But let's never forget Saturday's self-pitying bleat of FIFA overlord Gianni Infantino, who portrayed himself as a beleaguered victim, bleating that he had nothing to do with the scandal.
Sounded familiar. . We have one of those over here.
In the meantime, I’m monitoring the World Cup.
I welcome any comments on any game or any player -- on this site -- from some former players and current fans. Best, GV
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.