Friday, August 31, 2007

Soccer Season

Every year when soccer starts up again I can't help but make loads of predictions. Nobody ever listens to them, but last year I got them all right. This has prompted me to start recording my predictions so I can prove it to people who don't believe me 6 months down the line. Today I'm going to start with the Champions League group stage, since the draw was just the other day. I'm going to list the teams from each group in the order I expect them to place, and then explain why. Ok, here it is.

Group A: Liverpool, Porto, Marseille, Besiktas. Liverpool clearly dominates this group. Their European form is impeccable, and their team is even stronger this year than it was last year. I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the final four again. Portuguese teams are always difficult, so I feel Porto will finish second. As for the other two, it's really up in the air, though I think Marseille's greater experience at this level will see them into the UEFA cup over the Turks.

Group B: Chelsea, Valencia, Schalke, Rosenborg. Despite my hatred, I must admit that Chelsea are a great team. Aside from their skill, they have the psychological edge over Valencia after defeating them in last year's competition. Schalke's recent troubles will see them overcome Rosenborg, but Valencia will be too big a team to beat this time around.

Group C: Real Madrid, Lazio, Werder Bremen, Olympiacos. Real Madrid, despite winning more Champions League titles than any other team, are a bit of a wild-card lately. Sometimes they are untouchable, and sometimes they play like me and my friends in the backyard. I think they will progress out of the group phase, but no further. Lazio (my most hated team in soccer) have found a squad and a style that works very well for them...unfortunately. Bremen are decent, but not world beating, and Olympiacos will suffer from both the aftermath of the wildfires in Greece, and the recent scandals that have hit Greek soccer.

Group D: AC Milan, Benfica, Celtic, Shaktar Donetsk. This group is very hard for me to predict, so I want to say that apart from Milan in first, the other three spots are up in the air. As reigning champions, Milan are still that favourites to take the title again. Benfica and Celtic are both strong in different aspects of the game, and so either one could go through. As for Shaktar, with the current quality of Ukrainian soccer, and the addition of Christiano Lucarrelli, I think they may surprise people. Like I said, after Milan, I'm not too sure.

Group E: Barcelona, Stuttgart, Lyon, Rangers. Barca are always favourites, and now is no exception. Stuttgart will be riding high after their Bundesliga victory last season, and should overcome struggling Lyon who never fare well in this competition anyways. Rangers may be getting better, but just cannot compete in a group as ludicrously tough as this one.

Group F: Manchester United, Roma, Sporting Lisbon, Dynamo Kiev. United just may get out of this group undefeated...unless Roma have something to say about it, that is. After last year's violence, and the 7-1 debacle, I think Roma-Manchester will be the rivalry of the entire group phase. Though good, Sporting and Dynamo are up against two of the best teams in the world, and so will battle amongst themselves for third place and the UEFA Cup spot.

Group G: Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce, CSKA Moskow. Inter will take this group, and then crash like they always do. All three of the other teams could take second place, but the Dutch have far more experience at this level than the Turks or the Russians. Fenerbahce are playing well, and so may defeat CSKA...though the Moskow side is my personal favourite in this group, and I want to see them pull off a major upset and advance to the round of 16.

Group H: Arsenal, *Sevilla, Steaua Bucharest, *AEK Athens, Slavia Prague. Ok, this is weird because the Sevilla/Athens game has not yet taken place, so we don't know who will be in the group yet. Arsenal should win comfortably, though Sevilla is the best team in this group. Steaua can surprise some of the bigger teams if given a chance. AEK will likely suffer if they qualify, though Slavia Prague have been out of the Champions League for a while, and will likely come in last.

Ok, there you have it. I really hope some of these results don't turn out the way I predicted them, since most of the teams I like in these groups are the smaller sides. Oh well, in soccer anything can happen. Forza Juventus per sempre! Ciao.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


"In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So says John in the opening line of his Gospel. Since the earliest days of humanity, a mysterious, almost magical, power has been attributed to words. Complex linguistic abilities are more responsible for human civilization than any other factor; without the faculty for precise and instant communication, it would be difficult to build a tent, let alone a spaceship. Later, we even gained the ability to draw sounds, making them permanent and visible. How many other species are there that can claim to see the intricate noises made by their ancestors? Speech and writing, therefore, are undeniably the pillars of humanity, without which we would be no more 'civilized' than the great apes. It is words that make us different; it is words that make us human.

The above biblical passage illustrates mankind's fascination with language. John presents Jesus as the Word Incarnate (logos in the Greek he spoke), speech made flesh. How neatly the implications of this idea intersect: language is God's greatest gift to mankind, Jesus was sent to save us, thus Jesus must be the Word, and language must be our saviour. Whether you care for the Bible or not (please see my previous statements that the Bible stories are not to be taken literally, but symbolically and metaphorically) John's sentiment is both moving and profound. That our greatest ability, and the one that is most overlooked, could be the source of both our past glories and our future achievements is thought-provoking at the very least.

So what am I getting at here? Why am I going on about words and magic? Quite simply, both you and I have a responsibility greater than that of the common people in any time before our own. Knowing the power of our words, and possessing a medium that allows us to broadcast those words all around the globe instantaneously, we must strive to use them for the betterment of both ourselves, and the rest of humanity. Using language the way a politician does is a sacrilege greater than any heresy, for it attacks not a doctrine, but the very essence of our humanity. Conversely, using it well will benefit everyone, a truly worthy effort. So please, keep in mind the effects that speech and writing can have, and their indispensable role in the success of our world. Use them accordingly, and use them well. Ciao.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


School is starting up again in less than a month, and I am none too pleased about it. Though I thoroughly enjoy the learning aspect of it, and despite actually being good at school (we all have to be good at something right?), I am totally not looking forward to it. This year will be my most challenging yet, and possibly my most challenging ever, unless, that is, I end up continuing past my undergraduate stage.

Since I feel mentally out of shape, I decided to practice my homework skills by writing alot more on this bloggery thing that has a total readership of 5...or so. That means that more people read my inane chatter than read the products of my academic research and soul-destroying hard work. What I think I am going to do, then, is start talking about some of the stuff I read and research. Hopefully this will jump-start my brain, and give me a head start for the coming school year. If not, then at least I will have bored my readers with some Mediaeval mumbo-jumbo that will have no relevance to their lives whatsoever. Cool. I guess I'll start later tonight...or tomorrow...or whenever. Anyways, I'll be maybe posting more often now.

Ok, hopefully someone will give me some constructive feedback on this upcoming crap. Thanks again, and ciao.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Credo in Onum Deum

The other day someone asked me very seriously why I am still Catholic, despite my intellect and education. My first response was to take offense. Obviously this person is incapable of believing that an intelligent person can be religious, which is completely ridiculous; most of mankind's most brilliant minds have been religious, so clearly this is a misguided view. It's funny, people always say that the religious are intolerant, when the most ignorant and intolerant people I have ever met have all been atheists.

So my next response was to try and address the problem that this person had with religion. I've mentioned my own views here already (that most of what people have been taught/write/learn about religion is not true, that the good religion has brought to humanity far outweighs the bad, and that anything we create can be misused, no matter how good), but today I'll quickly discuss another view that is quickly supplanting/supplementing my own. In her incredible book A History of God, Karen Armstrong (who is a genius, by the way) explains that the difficulty modern Western people have with religion stems mainly from the time of the Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution in Europe. During this time, people stopped reading the Bible symbolically and metaphorically, and began to read it literally. This literal interpretation of religion -aside from being useless and misguided- led directly to the "death of God" in Western society. A literal reading allows people to use science to disprove the stories. Once one story is shown to be objectively false, doubt is cast over the entire system. According to this line of reasoning, since science cannot prove God's existence, He must not exist. This literal reading also creates fanatics/idiots who end up arguing that dinosaurs never existed and that the earth is a few thousand years old. Thus, the entire manner in which our society views religion is misguided, since it is not the way that any religious figure meant their work to be read, nor does it correspond to the way that every other civilization ever has viewed religion. We just happen to have gotten it all wrong somewhere along the line.

My final response was to come up with a list of reasons why I am Catholic. I did this partly to explain why I am religious despite my education, and partly to explain why I am Catholic as opposed to anything else.

1- Catholicism's complex theology is intellectually satisfying. It is possible to examine and debate this theology infinitely, and I love intellectual debate.

2- The Catholic Church's insistence on the use of music, art, and poetry to express religious values and ideas makes sense to me. Religion is emotional, not cerebral. The Church seems to understand that religion is as transcendent, subjective, personal, and emotional as art and music are. In fact, religion itself can be described as art, though I won't get into that tonight.

3- I am impressed by the Church's unceasing attempt, both now and throughout its history, to create a world of morality, charity, and social justice. Sure, they've got it wrong quite a few times, I won't deny that. However, the good the Church has done for humanity is staggering, and cannot be dismissed.

4- The Church's rituals -called Sacraments- strike a deep emotional chord. They are both exciting and comforting.

5- Catholic piety takes the form of intense devotional practices, and this form of spiritual expression is very emotionally appealing to me.

6- The Church's insistence on tradition over novelty reflects my own worldview. Necessary change is good, change for change's sake is not. Inter Mutanda Constantia.

7- The cultural and intellectual heritage of the Catholic Church is the single most significant force behind Western history. We would not be who we are today without it, and I, as a historian, feel drawn to such an amazing institution.

Ok, so there you have it. Half an hour of typing, a bunch of emotional, religious, mumbo-jumbo, and you have my answers to this idiot atheist I met the other day. Oh, and he's not an idiot because he's an atheist, he just happens to be an idiot and an atheist at the same time. Atheists are not all idiots, and religious people are not all good. Ciao per ora, e buonna notte.