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Wake up, soccer fans! Today I will celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Championship which is currently being played in Brazil. Well actually I was going to write about this year’s world cup tournament, but nothing interesting has happened so far except for that Uruguayan player who repeatedly bites people (and apparently he has already been captured, sedated, and returned to his native habitat without further human injuries).

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Since nothing exciting has happened in this tournament, I will write about the previous World Cup Soccer Championship Tournament which took place in South Africa in 2010. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything that happened on the pitch in South Africa. Clearly I was otherwise preoccupied…plus I am an American and we are famously obdurate in our inability to understand soccer (also we already have several dozen better sports to follow). Only two aspects of those matches stick in my memory: 1) the fearsome buzz of the vuvuzela, AKA “the devil stick”, a horrid musical instrument which first arrived on Earth inside a radioactive comet (probably because humankind failed to win a cosmic moral bet); and 2) Paul the octopus, a magical cephalopod who could predict soccer matches with greater accuracy than any of the world’s human pundits, psychics, and bookies.

The vuvuzela being played by a lesser demon...

The vuvuzela being played by a lesser demon…

I believe that in-depth writing about the vuvuzela is now prohibited by international treaty, and I have nothing comprehensible to say about soccer (which seems to be a sort of agonizingly slow hockey with arcane kabuki-like dramatic conventions), but I would like to take a moment to eulogize Paul, who was not just a remarkable octopus but also a first-rate showman. Like soccer, Paul originated in England. In 2008, he hatched from an egg at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, England. Paul soon moved to Oberhausen, Germany, which, Wikipedia informs us, is an anchor point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Paul was a common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), a species known for intelligence, lively personality, tool-use, and acute senses. His oracular abilities soon became apparent during the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament. Before each match, Paul’s keepers would offer him two identical seafood treats in bags or boxes which were identical except for national flags of soccer playing nations. Whichever bag Paul chose to eat from first was reckoned to be his choice for match winner.

Paul chooses between Spain and Germany

Paul chooses between Spain and Germany

Paul was a German Octopus and initially he only voiced his opinion concerning German matches. He distinguished himself by correctly choosing the outcome of 4 out of 6 of Germany’s matches. But 2008 was only a lead-up to his remarkable World Cup predictions. During the 2010 World Cup, Paul correctly predicted every match which he was consulted about. This resulted in unprecedented world popularity (and infamy) for the tiny sea creature. Fans of the losing teams threatened Paul’s life, (which ultimately lead the Spanish Prime Minister to offer him state protection). The president of Iran denounced Paul as a symbol of Western Imperial corruption. The German press speculated that 2008 Paul had died and been replaced with a savvier octopus in 2010. PETA demanded that he be released to the wild (which would certainly have spelled the end of the aging tank-raised celebrity mollusk).

Paul chooses the winners of this World Cup from the great hereafter

Paul chooses the winners of this World Cup from the great hereafter

Sadly, Paul passed away on October 10th, 2010 at the age of two and a half (ripe old age for a cephalopod). He was memorialized with a statue and the very funny Google doodle seen above. Paul’s life illustrates that through PR savvy and complete random chance anyone or anything can become an International celebrity (although skeptical marine biologists note that Common Octopuses betray a preference for bright surfaces and horizontal lines—so those national flags may have played a bigger role than thought). Since I failed to blog about him in 2010, I thought I would take this opportunity to eulogize the most famous octopus in the world of sports (which is saying something, considering the role of Al the Octopus in hockey). His tragic passing marks the last time soccer (which is also known as “football”) was enjoyable…although maybe somebody will find a cuttlefish who can correctly calculate penalty kicks or a whelk that can play the Croatian national anthem…

The Coat of Arms of Modern Georgia

The Coat of Arms of Modern Georgia

Let’s return once more to the Caucasus region and explore the region’s tumultuous political history—this time through the opulent window of crown jewels.  Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by crowns—which are constantly being crafted for the whims of various sovereigns and then stolen/usurped/destroyed as nations fight for political hegemony.  The Caucasus, which lies between East and West–and at the crossroads of multiple religions and empires—has been particularly susceptible to dynastic turnover.  The Kingdom of Georgia was created in the 10th century AD and burgeoned during the 11th–12th centuries but disintegrated completely at the end of the 15th century due to Turco-Mongol incursions.  In the late eighteenth century two of the smaller kingdoms left over from the wreck of old Georgia came together to form the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti.

Crown of George XII of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti

Crown of George XII of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti

The kings of the new kingdom aspired to create a powerful European state of the modern style, but the new realm soon came under attack from the marauding Qajar Dynasty of Persia (lead by the insatiable Shah Agha Muḥammad Khān Qājār.  The ancient crowns of old Georgia vanished in 1795 (apparently looted by the Persians).  King George XII of Georgia ordered a new crown of suitable modern design for his 1798 coronation.  The crown was crafted in Russia and was encrusted in cut jewels (including 145 diamonds, 58 rubies, 24 emeralds and 16 amethysts). The crown was a circlet surmounted by eight arches which supported a globe (with a red cross on top).  Ironically George XII had little time to enjoy his new crown: he petitioned the czar for assistance in squelching internal strife and Persian invasions—Czar Paul I acceded to his request by annexing Georgia as part of the Russian Empire.

As Explained in this Simple Map...

As Explained in this Simple Map…

In 1800, following the death of George XII, the crown was sent to Moscow and deposited in the Kremlin among Russian imperial crowns. In 1923 the Bolsheviks presented the crown to the National Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi, but the communists could not keep their hands off the monarchist relic. In 1930 the crown of George XII was again sent to Moscow where it was broken apart and plundered—much like Georgia itself.

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