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Wednesday, 29 April 2015


The dodo is a flightless bird which lived in the forests on the island of Mauritius.  The bird was about a meter tall and capable of viciously pecking itself with its strong beak. Its diet consisted on seeds and fruits. The dodo was incapable of flight and had no natural predators until the arrival of Dutch settlers. The last living specimen died around 1690.


Painting showing dodo in the lower right

a 1638 depiction of a dodo

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wikipedia article spotlight: Euro 1984

One of the best written articles on wikipedia is presented below about an equally enjoyable Men's football tournament held in 1984, France.

Tournament summary
Group matches

The opening game of tournament featured France and Denmark. The sides played out a very close encounter until Michel Platini’s goal on 78 minutes gave the hosts a 1–0 victory. The opening game also saw a premature end to the tournament for Danish midfielder Allan Simonsen, who suffered a broken leg. Platini then scored hat-tricks against both Belgium and Yugoslavia as the French recorded maximum points in Group A. Denmark took second-place in the group with victories over Belgium and Yugoslavia, while Belgium finished third with two points. Yugoslavia, despite going out with no points, gave the hosts a fright in their last group game when they took a 1–0 lead into half-time and then reduced France's 3–1 lead to one goal six minutes from time. The games in Group A were unusually high-scoring, and featured 23 goals over the six matches.

Group B provided fewer goals, but produced a huge surprise as West Germany failed to qualify for the semi-finals after a 1–0 defeat in their last match to Spain, Antonio Maceda's goal at the death sending the holders out. Portugal also scored a late goal in their final match, against Romania, to take the second qualifying place behind Spain, while the Romanians finished bottom with one point.
Semi-finals and final

The first semi-final between France and Portugal is often considered one of the best matches in the history of the European Championship. Jean-François Domergue opened the scoring for France but Portugal equalised through Rui Jordão on 74 minutes. The game went to extra time and Jordão scored again in the 98th minute to give the Portuguese a shock lead, but the French rallied and Domergue equalised with six minutes left. Then, with the penalty shoot-out looming, Platini scored his eighth goal of the championship to give France a memorable 3–2 victory.

The other semi-final between Spain and Denmark saw two evenly-matched sides draw 1–1 after extra time, as Soren Lerby’s goal after only seven minutes was cancelled out by Maceda’s strike an hour later. The match went to a penalty shoot-out, and Spain converted all five of their penalties to win 5–4 and reach the final for the first time since 1964.

The final was played to a capacity crowd at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Just before the hour mark, Platini scored from a free-kick to put France ahead following a mistake by Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada. France were reduced to ten players when Yvon Le Roux was sent off, but the Spain were unable to equalise, and Bruno Bellone’s goal in injury time made the final score 2–0. France had won their first major championship in world football.

Tournament format

After trying out several formats, UEFA finally developed for the 1984 tournament the format that would serve for all subsequent eight-team European Championships. The eight qualified teams were split into two groups of four that played a round-robin schedule. The top two teams of each group advanced to semi-finals (reintroduced after being absent from the 1980 tournament) and the winners advanced to the final. The third-place game, widely perceived as an unnecessary chore, was dropped. As usual at the time, a win was credited with two points only, teams on equal points were ranked by goal difference instead of head-to-head results, and the sudden-death rule in extra time did not apply.
Venues and fixtures

France's winning bid to host the Euro was based on seven stadia. The 48,000-seat Parc des Princes in Paris was the venue for the opening match and the final. Built in 1972, it was still state-of-the-art in 1984 and needed minor improvements only. Marseille's Stade Vélodrome was expanded to 55,000 seats to host one semi-final and some group matches, becoming France's largest stadium on the occasion. Stade de Gerland in Lyon, the venue for the other semi-final and some group matches as well, was thoroughly renovated and expanded to 40,000. Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Étienne and Stade Félix-Bollaert in Lens were the other existing stadia that hosted group matches and were expanded to 53,000 and 49,000, respectively. Lastly, two all-new stadia were built to host group matches (and subsequently provided worthy home grounds for the traditionally strong local club teams): Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes (53,000) was built on an entirely new site while Stade de la Meinau in Strasbourg was rebuilt from the ground up on the site of the old stadium into a modern 40,000-seat arena.

Fixtures were scheduled according to an innovative rotation schedule in which each team played its three first-round matches in three different stadia. Host France, for instance, played in Paris, Nantes, and Saint-Étienne. This formula had the advantage of exposing residents of a given city to more teams but implied multiple and sometimes costly trips from town to town for fans who wanted to follow their side. In subsequent championships, the organisers reverted to conventional schedules in which teams played in one or two cities only.


    France were the favourites of English bookmakers to win the tournament with odds of 5/8. Expectations at home were sky-high following the side's brilliant display and fourth-place finish at the 1982 World Cup. Les Bleus of 1984 seemed even stronger, having remedied many of the weaknesses that had dogged them at the World Cup. In Joël Bats, France had found at long last a first-class goalkeeper. The shaky dual-sweeper central defence of 1982 had made way for a rock-solid conventional setup around centre-back Yvon Le Roux and sweeper Patrick Battiston. The midfield, where gritty defensive upstart Luis Fernández had joined 1982 veterans Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse, and Michel Platini in the so-called carré magique ("magic square"), was arguably the best in the world. In offense, manager Michel Hidalgo had worked around the lack of a world-class striker by designing a flexible 4–4–2 system that enabled Platini, then at the zenith of his footballing abilities, to switch from playmaker to centre-forward at short notice. The only major unknown was how the team would fare under the pressure of competition, as it had been exempted from the qualifying round as the host nation.

    Belgium was a possible title contender with odds of 7/1. The surprise finalists of Euro 1980 and second-round participants at the 1982 World Cup had matured into a very solid side well used to the pressure and rigors of final-round football and built around a backbone of world-class players such as goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, midfielder Enzo Scifo, or strikers Erwin Vandenbergh and Jan Ceulemans. The team had proven its mettle in past Euro and World Cup qualifying campaigns and was a very tough opponent for anyone on any given day. One crucial caveat was the absence from the squad of defender Eric Gerets, one of Belgium's all-time greats, who was sidelined due to injury.

    Denmark celebrated its first appearance at a major tournament in decades yet were heavily tipped as a dark horse to win the Euro (with odds of 8/1) due to an impressive qualifying campaign in which they had edged out England, winning 1–0 at Wembley in the process. Manager Sepp Piontek's compact, athletic side relied on experienced professionals from some of the best European leagues of the time (Belgium, West Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy), had no obvious weakness, and could rely on the world-class individual talent of Preben Elkjaer Larsen, Frank Arnesen, Michael Laudrup, or Søren Lerby to make the difference.

    Yugoslavia came in as perennial underachievers with odds of 16/1. As usual, the Balkan side boasted a wealth of individual talent (Katanec, Sušić, Baždarević, Zl. Vujović, Hadžibegić, "Piksi" Stojković- who was appearing in his first tournament with the national team-) that could make many a rival drool with envy. The major unknown was whether manager Todor Veselinović could meld his stars into a cohesive team, a problem that had caused the undoing of nearly every Yugoslavia team in past final rounds. Goalkeeping appeared to be a weak spot. There was not a Vladimir Beara, an Enver Maric or a Milutin Soskic in this team.

    West Germany, the defending European champions, were second favourites to win the tournament, with odds of 5/2, after reaching the final of the 1982 World Cup two years before. The squad boasted the usual array of world-class talent such as goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, arguably the world's best at the time, defenders Hans-Peter Briegel and Karl-Heinz Förster, defensive midfielder Lothar Matthäus, or strikers Pierre Littbarski, Rudi Völler, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. However, offensive midfield had emerged as a significant weakness during a hard-fought qualifying campaign in the absence of playmakers such as Hansi Müller, Bernd Schuster (both mired in long-standing feuds with the German football federation), or Felix Magath (in poor form). The team missed their creativity. Still, West Germany's strength remained impressive and the side's legendary ability to rise to the challenge of a major competition was a factor to be reckoned with.

    Spain, at 8/1, were only rated an outsider for the title in spite of a squad awash with talent. Goalkeeper Luis Arconada, defenders José Antonio Camacho and Antonio Maceda, midfielder Rafael Gordillo, or strikers Santillana and Francisco José Carrasco could hold their own against any direct counterpart bar none. Most players were veterans of the 1978 World Cup, Euro 1980, or 1982 World Cup campaigns and were used to final-round pressure. As usual, though, the main challenge of manager Miguel Muñoz was to build a team spirit among players hailing from a footballing culture that often placed regional rivalries (such as Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona) above national unity. This was the first international tournament of important players such as Emilio Butragueño and Andoni Zubizarreta (even when they didn't play during the Euro 84).

    Portugal, at 14/1, were widely seen as a rising force that might be a little too green to go all the way in its first participation in the final round of a major tournament in two decades. Having eliminated 1982 World Cup third-place finisher Poland and a strong USSR side was a label of quality for a talented young "golden generation" around midfielder Fernando Chalana or strikers Diamantino and Rui Jordão. Benfica's goalkeeper Manuel Bento was one of the veteran stars of this team, alongside with Fernando Gomes, the fantastic striker of FC Porto. The side bore the traditional hallmarks of Portuguese football with first-class offensive power, an inspired midfield, and a gritty defense. Inexperience in a final round and occasional lapses in tactical discipline were the main concerns of manager Fernando Cabrita as the tournament opened.

    Romania, at 16/1, were a near-complete unknown whose triumph in qualifying over World Cup holders Italy and Euro 1980 third-place finishers Czechoslovakia inspired awe. Opportunities to observe the side and its star players, who all came from domestic teams, were few at a time when the country was still firmly behind the Iron Curtain. Only midfielder Ladislau Bölöni had made a name for himself with an inspired performance in the qualifier at home against Italy, while a young striker named Gheorghe Hagi was still on the eve of an illustrious career. Romulus Gabor, the best player of the famous Romanian team during the World Youth Championship in 1981 was also present.

Overall impressions
Very few hooligan-related incidents were recorded throughout the tournament. Only one minor instance of fan trouble was recorded, in Strasbourg around the West Germany vs. Portugal match. The small group of German hooligans responsible for the incidents was arrested and deported back to West Germany on the same day using a new law specially passed by the French Parliament ahead of the Euro. Overall, the organisation was flawless, a feat that established France's credentials as a host nation and eventually helped it win the right to stage the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

The entire competition was marked by exceptionally fine weather which, along with the high quality of play throughout the tournament (a welcome change from the 1980 European Championship) and the absence of hooligans, contributed to a very positive and enjoyable experience for teams and fans alike.

Linguistic prescription and normative grammar

Normative Grammar is a linguistic system which establishes rules for the historical and aesthetic models of language use. These rules seek to define a default language whose use should extent to all social layers as opposed to its limited use within the upper classes. In a nutshell, it assumes that there is something of a righteous language use whose proponents frown upon linguistic varieties which deviate from a major standard variety.

Contents and limitations:

In order to manage the upkeep of a language and, to a greater extent, that of foreign languages, some linguists advocate for the codification of rules for language use, thus lobbying for the implementation of a "right way" of using it in daily speech.On the other hand, descriptive grammar thus seeks to limit language use by describing how written and spoken language should be, banning non-standard varieties in the process.

Said normative grammar advocates also admonish institutions dedicated to regulating language use in other countries such as the Académie Française in Paris and real Academia Española in Madrid. The proponents believe that some language variations offer more resources than others, which in turn allow for a better thought process formation. The apparent dichotomy between normative and descriptive systems does not mean however that descriptive grammar should be deprived of rules, since any actual codofication has normative power.

Single mums are not a light unto this world

It has come to light through findings in the study linked below that chidren brought up by a single mother fare worse in school than those reared in a two parent home. Suggestions found in the text hint at a possible solution by culling the number of families with women at the helm. But again, the question remains: is it even possible, given the status quo, to cut down on the number of single parent families to create an environment which fosters the development of healthy nuclear families?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fields of Athenry

Fields of Athenry is an Irish Folk ballad composed during the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór), which was a period of mass starvation and disease back in the nineteenth century mainly caused by a potato maladie commonly called potato blight which affected roughly 1/3 of the local population. The song details the travails of a fictional man named Michael from County galway who has been forced to relocate to Botany bay, in Australia, out of punishment for stealing food to feed his starving family.


By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
"Michael they are taking you away
For you stole Travellyn´s corn
so that the young might see the morn´
Now the prison ship lies waiting in the bay"

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched
the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
we had dreams and songs to sing
It´s so lonely ´round the fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
"Nothing matters, Mary,
when you´re free
Against the famine and the Crown
I rebelled, they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity"

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched
the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
we had dreams and songs to sing
It´s so lonely ´round the fields of Athenry

By a lonely harbour wall
she watched the last star falling
While the prison ship
sailed out against the sky
Sure she wait and hope and pray
for her love in Botany Bay
It´s so lonely round the fields of Athenry

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched
the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
we had dreams and songs to sing
It´s so lonely ´round the fields of Athenry

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched
the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
we had dreams and songs to sing
It´s so lonely ´round the fields of Athenry