Why impending sainthood of Junipero Serra is so controversial

Junipero Serra

Junipero Serra (via Wikipedia)

Pope Francis announced a few days ago that Junipero Serra–the Catholic priest who in 1769 helped lead the Spanish takeover of California, changing everything–will be declared a saint. The pope’s decision already is controversial, given that Serra’s journey eventually led directly to the poor treatment and eventual extermination of nearly all local Indians. His critics long have called him the Christopher Columbus of California.

Without mentioning the name of Serra, I deal with some of the baggage he left behind in my debut novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery. The book focuses on the fictional murder of an adult referee of youth soccer around Los Angeles in 2006 amid an all-too-real real estate bubble and racial-tension cauldron.

My book is fiction, but includes a fair amount of real history (for which footnotes can be found elsewhere on this site). Some of this concerns the move of Serra, a Franciscan priest, from Mexico into California and what happened after he died in 1784 amid the development of the famous string of Catholic redoubts along the coast called missions. In my view, the system that Serra established set the stage for the terrible race relations that afflict California to this day.

Here’s a brief excerpt from OFFSIDE. Continue reading

My interview by a Latina literary blog in California

Latina literary blogLivin’ la vida Latina, a California-based blog that writes about books with a Latino/Latina theme, kindly asked me to answer questions about OFFSIDE: A Mystery. The novel features several Latino/Latina characters and, among other topics, delves into tensions between the Latino community and police in Southern California.

My back and forth, conducted over email, can be found here.

How to be offside without touching the ball

Soccer’s offside law long has been the bane of players, coaches, fans and especially the many referees around the world who officiate youth matches alone without the help of flag-wielding assistant referees running the touchlines who usually are in the best position to spot the offense. The rule, one of the most misunderstood in all of sport, is chock full of definitions, exceptions, exclusions, conditions precedent and whatever.

Several times, the law of offside plays a key role in my new murder novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery. At one point referee Rick Hermannik correctly agrees with his assistant there is no offside offense even though an attacking youth player is ahead of the next-to-last defender because the attacker never touched the ball, staying over to the side a bit as her teammate blasted the ball past the keeper into the goal.

Contrary to a widely held belief among soccer parents, it is possible for offside to take place even if a player in an offside position doesn’t touch the ball. But that doesn’t always mean the call is correct, as an incident in a recent high-level English soccer match shows. Continue reading

Southern California bad weather: So what else is new?

Southern California bad weatherThe papers today are full of accounts about bad weather in Southern California. “Severe rainstorms … triggering mudflows and flash floods [and] evacuations,” declares The Wall Street Journal in a typical report.

I suppose the news element–at least to editors in far-away places like the New York home of the Journal–is that harsh weather like this is not supposed to happen in the realm of Disneyland and Hollywood, as opposed to, say, Buffalo or hurricane season along the Gulf Coast. But to me, it’s all part of the idyllic myth that has been the Los Angeles-area image for more than a century.

This perception courses through my new novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery. The book is about the fictional murder in 2006 of an adult referee of youth soccer in a fictional ritzy Los Angeles suburb, the allegorically named Valley Mirage. I don’t think I’m giving away too much to say one theme is that things are not always as they appear. Continue reading

Falling soccer goals remain a big problem for youths

falling soccer goalsIt’s right there in soccer’s Law 1, the Field of Play: “Goals must be securely anchored to the ground. Portable goals may only be used if they satisfy this requirement.”

There’s a pretty simple reason for this. A goal, especially older-style metal ones with bars five inches wide, can weigh several hundred pounds. Much of the heft is centered in the crossbar across the top front (under which, in the sparse words of soccer’s great Law 10, the ball must pass under for a score to count). This top-heavy characteristic can make an unanchored goal unstable, and prone to tipping forward if struck by a player or caught by a gust of wind. And maybe seriously injuring a player–or worse. On average, one player a year, usually around the age of 10, gets killed by a falling goal just in North America alone.

But I guess the word hasn’t gotten out completely, even among referees whose job it is to inspect the goals before a match. For 10 days ago, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into a law a bill requiring “safety standards for anchoring, securing and counter-weighting a movable soccer goal.”

Continue reading

Arguments over soccer ball color are worldwide

soccer ball colorOnce, when refereeing youth soccer in Southern California, I encountered a coach who was being eaten alive by–the soccer ball color. Yes!

The ball had been provided by the home team, as is traditional, and met all the requirements of the Laws of the Game as to shape (“spherical”), size, composition, weight and firmness. But the Laws don’t specify color, and here it matched the hue of the home team’s jerseys, a bright red.

This was a bit of gamesmanship on the part of the home team, and it certainly was working, at least so far as the away coach was concerned. He and his team were clad in green. Before the match he bitched mightily about the ball color. Waving him off, I blew my whistle for the kick-off. I could see him stalking the touchline like a caged tiger hoping to strike.

The first time the ball crossed the touchline on his side of the field to be out-of-bounds, there was the usual scramble to get it back into play. The throw-in was taken by a player–with a white ball.

The away coach clearly was behind this. I stopped the match, demanded that the red ball be produced, and warned the coach that his action violated Law 2, which states, “The ball may not be changed during the match without the authority of the referee.” The coach simply shrugged. I ordered a re-do throw-in.

Near the end of the first half, it happened again. I again caught it and again demanded the red ball. Now I was really irked and thought about tossing the coach, using the authority granted me under Law 5 (The Referee), which states the official “takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.” But really, a coach expulsion for a violation of Law 2 (The Ball)? The away coach smirked, knowing I wouldn’t give him the hook for something so trivial.

Now, I just published my debut novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery, about a far-louder coach in Southern California. But what really brought this long-ago incident to mind was an article by William Lai last week in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, which has to be one of the few newspapers in the world with a soccer referee as a columnist. The headline: “Bickering over colour just trivial: In Hong Kong’s lower divisions, teams can become childish and petty when choosing the hue of a ball to use on match day.”

Although the article didn’t explicitly state this, I imagine that Lai, whose column is entitled The Rational Ref, was recounting personal experience when he wrote:

In the lower divisions and other competitions, there is no official match ball and this can lead to bickering and one-upmanship. Balls presented to referees are usually different colours, disparate brands and in varying conditions of decay. So how does a referee choose? By following the rules, which state that so long as the ball is spherical and within the parameters set for the size, weight and pressure, it is playable. There is nothing that states one ball is better than another based on colour, brand or material.

The bickering starts when players turn up their noses at their competitor’s ball and attempt to out-psyche their opponents. “It’s bright pink; it’s too bouncy; there’s not enough air; it doesn’t feel right; call that a ball?” are the tried and tested methods.

Soccer isn’t called the world’s sport for nothing. And that includes coaches seeing red.

‘Why Americans don’t love soccer’–not!

American's don't love soccer

Richard M. Nixon (via Wikipedia)

That’s the title of a provocative post on a cheeky blog called Wait But Why. The entertaining article, by Andrew Finn, begins: “Soccer is the favorite sport for a measly 2% of Americans – despite the fact that soccer is by far the most popular sport globally.” Finn suggests it’s because the better team often loses, leading to spectator discontent. “Soccer is where sports justice goes to die,” he declares.

I beg to differ with Finn’s premise. The popularity of soccer in the U.S. is a lot higher than 2% of the population. Most of that, though, comes not from professional soccer but from amateur soccer–mainly youth soccer. I’d estimate that on any fall weekend upwards of 40 million people are playing or watching organized soccer–behind schools, in parks, at the odd multiple-soccer-field complex.

The failure of soccer on a professional level–it’s only truly popular in a few places like Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Kansas City–is an interesting business story, almost the flip side of the Michael Lewis book/Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball.” There has been some kind of pro soccer in this country since 1884, and a national championship almost every year since 1885 (far longer than the World Series, Lord Stanley’s Cup, the NBA finals and the Super Bowl). But most of the time, the leadership has been lackluster, including European expatriates not in tune with the local culture and baseball club owners without their hearts in it trying to fill their stadiums on off-days.

On the other hand, over the past half-century youth soccer has been on a roll. Why is this? My just-published debut novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery, offers the unlikely answer, as follows: Continue reading

A real-life example of delayed justice in mortgage fraud

OFFSIDE: A MysteryPart of the fictional plot in OFFSIDE: A Mystery concerns the nonfictional real estate bubble around Los Angeles in 2006, and what fueled it. That was hardly limited in real life to Southern California. Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, for example, issued a press release announcing the sentencing of four persons convicted of defrauding mortgage lenders of more than $2 million in a plot that dates back to 2008. Tools included phony documentation and fake buyers.

That it took six years to bring these folks to be brought to justice does not speak well of our system for policing this stuff.

Welcome to the blog of Offside: A Mystery

OFFSIDE: A MysteryNow that OFFSIDE: A Mystery is out, my book blog is up and running.

It is my intention to use this space in several ways. They include (1) engaging folks who have a view about the book and (2) commenting on themes and topics therein.

Concerning the former, visitors to this site can post comments below a blog post or send feedback via the Contact link at the top of the page.

Concerning the latter, even though the plot of OFFSIDE is fiction, there should be no shortage of material for this blog. The novel centers around the murder of an adult referee of youth soccer in a ritzy Los Angeles suburb at the peak of the real estate bubble in 2006. But there is a fair amount of social commentary about all kinds of topics.

Here is a partial list:

  • Soccer parents, coaches, referees and league officials.
  • Soccer laws (including, of course, offside).
  • Blowout rules.
  • History of world soccer.
  • William Shakespeare.
  • History of United States soccer.
  • Abraham Lincoln.
  • Jack Kemp.
  • Richard Nixon.
  • Princeton University.
  • Rutgers University.
  • Harvard University.
  • Pelé.
  • California’s conspicuous consumption.
  • Origins of California’s name.
  • Early Los Angeles smog.
  • California weather.
  • California land development.
  • California terrain.
  • Charles Nordhoff
  • Charles Richter.
  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Southern California culture.
  • Haley Joel Osment.
  • Pornography in the San Fernando Valley.
  • Los Angeles gangs.
  • Law enforcement techniques.
  • Spanish takeover of California in 1769.
  • Mexican takeover of California in 1821.
  • Yankee takeover of California in 1846.
  • San Fernando Mission.
  • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
  • Disappearance of California Indians.
  • Abel Stearns.
  • John C. Frémont.
  • Joseph Pomeroy Widney.
  • Racism.
  • City of Arcadia, Calif.
  • City of Burbank, Calif.
  • City of Lakewood, Calif.
  • City of Norwalk, Calif.
  • City of Pasadena, Calif.
  • Funeral directors.
  • Bankers.
  • Lawyers.
  • Stockbrokers.
  • P.R. spin specialists.
  • Wall Street.
  • Financial regulators.
  • Subprime mortgages.
  • Boom bubble and bust.
  • Angelo Mozilo.
  • Alan Greenspan.

I hope you’ll spend some time with the book. Trust me, it won’t be boring.