Friday, August 31, 2012


Neil Armstrong's death brought up some discussion of the fact that there are almost no photographs of him on the surface of the moon: most of the photography was assigned to Armstrong, so the pictures are of Aldrin, and it's very hard to tell two men in identical spacesuits apart (later missions added red stripes to the Commander's suit to help with identification). Thanks to my misspent youth collecting things to do with astronomy and spaceflight,  I do have a copy of one of the photographs identified as Armstrong, so here it is (the NASA designation is AS11-40-5886): 

NASA AS11-40-5886

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Favela Democracy vs. Europe's Last Stalinist Dictatorship

With the Olympics now over, it's safe for me to talk about my own experience of them - going to the Olympic football at Old Trafford. I got the tickets for me and my parents last year, when they were first released, thinking that there would be lots of football tickets and not many people would want them. Also, with Old Trafford so close, it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

You buy the tickets before it's known which teams will be playing, so when the games were finally announced I found out I'd be seeing Egypt vs. New Zealand and Brazil vs. Belarus. Obviously, I was pretty pleased at getting tickets for Brazil, particularly as Brazil use the Olympic team in building their squad for the next World Cup.

We went out to Old Trafford by tram, with plenty of other people going to the same place - including a Brazilian drummer. For future reference, a drum on a tram is only entertaining for the first five minutes, if that. What was interesting to see the array of football shirts and flags being displayed by people outside the ground - not just the teams that were playing, but people from all parts of the world. In what can only be a 21st century development, there were lots of Mancs in Brazil gear, and lots of Brazilians in Manchester United shirts.

Egypt and New Zealand were up first, and even though they were hardly the main attraction, the ground was pretty full for them. It was an entertaining game, set up nicely by the fact that New Zealand scored first, from one of their few attacks. As those who saw New Zealand at the last World Cup will know, they may not have much going forward, but they're tough to break down. And so it proved, although in point of fact the Egyptians had only themselves to blame, carving out masses of opportunities only to indulge in some comically bad finishing. While Egypt did get an equaliser close to the end of the first half, the pattern repeated in the second half, with a late opportunity to win the game badly squandered, to the particular ire of a group of Egyptian fans to my right.

Egypt On The Attack

Egypt on the attack.

As might be expected, the stadium filled up more for the Brazil game. This included the seats directly behind us, which were occupied by a group of lads who had not turned up for Egypt vs. New Zealand, turned up late to Brazil vs. Belarus, moaned that it was not a premier league match, spent a lot of time talking about how drunk/coked up they were going to get afterwards, went early to/came back late from half time, and left before the end of the match. So they were arseholes, but they were authentic British arseholes, of the type that you can find in any given pub. Room should have been found for them in the opening ceremony.

Hulk Takes A Corner

Hulk takes a corner.

The game itself was great, and was once again made so by the fact that Belarus took an unexpected lead with a great header, which was celebrated by myself with some glee. It was unexpected, but not undeserved: they were playing far better than the Brazil team, with the expensive stars looking like they weren't all that interested. Brazil equalised a few minutes later with a real bullet of a header, but Belarus actually had several other opportunities to score in the first half. My favourite of these was when a Belarusian winger did his level best to replicate the magical 1984 goal John Barnes scored against Brazil, which just failed to come off.

Belarus continued to play well in the second half, but their attacking threat faded somewhat. Just after the hour-mark Brazil took the lead in a manner which pretty much sums up Brazil, to me: Neymar conned the referee into giving a free-kick just outside the area, then dispatched it brilliantly into the far corner. Belarus still played well, but it was pretty obvious that they weren't going to get back into it. The real Brazil highlight came three minutes into injury time, with Neymar releasing Oscar into the area with a backheel, resulting in a great goal. It was harsh on Belarus, who didn't really deserve to lose by two goals.

Free-Kick To Brazil

Free-kick to Brazil.

After this match, the teams took some surprising paths. From what we'd seen, we expected Belarus to easily beat Egypt and progress to the later stages, but they actually lost 3-1 to them, with Egypt going through. Brazil made the final, as expected, but then lost 1-2 to Mexico (the margin could have been much bigger). I was glad about that:  Brazil brought the same arrogant, under-motivated attitude to the final that they had to the game I saw.

This was, I realise now, the only competitive international football I'd ever been to, and  I really enjoyed it. Two games for £20 is very good compared to the Premier League, and probably stacks up quite well compared to the more popular Olympic events.