Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arsenal Update

So Arsenal has finally made some signing including striker Park Chu-Young, central defender Per Mertesacker and left back Andre Santos. Each was a good deal, but each continues Wenger's trend of signing players from outside England, which worked at first with a number of stars from France like Viera and Henri, but has been failing of late (or backfiring when they leave). For strikers, I think there were better choices than Young, though I think we could very well shine at the Emirates. He is the captain of the South Korean national team and could bring some flair to the front line. Also supposed to be good in the air, which has long been an Arsenal weakness.

Mertesacker, at 6'6" is also good in the air, and clearly a strong player, but has been known to be slow in getting back -- a problem for Arsenal in recent years for anyone who doesn't happen to be named Vermaelen. He is tall and imposing, disciplined and is also a leader in Germany -- so I think it's a good signing. I think most, including many players at Arsenal, would have preferred Cahill, and am troubled that this appears to follow the trend of chosing price over quality. We shall have to wait and see, but I do remain hopeful. 

Santos is a late bloomer and could work out well. He was certainly a value and as a left back had an impressive 1 to 5 game goal ratio in Turkey. Of course Turkey is not the EPL. There were a few others that might have been better to replace Clichy, but I think it might be a nice addition given our need in moving forward at the moment and the Brazilian flair he will hopefully bring to the team. Clearly a good value again and maybe a smart choice giving us more money for the most important signings -- midfield. 

So the rumors continue about Hazard, after the prospect had seemed to die yesterday. If I hear tomorrow that they signed him, it has been a great few days and we can thank the blow out for finally waking up Wenger and/or the board. Other options that would be welcomed are Martin, Arteta or Clint Demsey (who I really love for his grit, determination and proven track record in the EPL). It also looks like we may close on M'Villa as a really nice holding midfielder, possibly allowing Wilshire to move forward and better utilize his skills and hopefully improve his shooting and goal scoring record). Questions still remain about why we waited this long. Is it Wenger's fault, a cheap board or a combination of the two? Clearly the departure of Dein has hurt, as he had the sort of contacts and record to bring in top talent and not make ridiculous blunders like the attempt at Cahill or the failed effort to get Mata.

Hopefully two more signings tomorrow will put this squad back on the road to winning and I think my fellow Gooner fans have been a little ridiculous with their apocalyptic response to us losing two tough matches with seriously depleted squads (obviously much worse against Manupoo). Don't get me wrong, Arsenal should have admitted defeat on Nasri and started getting active more quickly in the transfer period. Arsene needed to do more to help the team recover from the heartbreaking Carling Cup loss and his tactics have been suspect in some important games of late (lest us forget the Barca second leg). It is clear that losing Dein has cost us dearly in the transfer market, but Wenger should have stepped up. Now he finally has, but tomorrow will determine if this was a successful late surge or not. Football is a business, but when the fans turn on the team, it's time to do something to reassure them. I don't believe firing Wenger is the answer, but do believe he has to show us something this year. Unfortunately, it could be that the gentle genius might just pack it in based on the outrage, but a surprise push back toward the top 4 could be a beautiful way to shut the doubters out either way.

On a final note, good riddance to Nasri. He is clearly an incredible talent, but I have always questioned his tendency to disappear and his failure when the pressure is on. I don't have access to the data, but how many late goals has he had in games where we were either a goal down or tied? How has he done in our biggest games? Couldn't he have done more to help the team when other youngsters were clearly down? And do we really want a player who can't just shut the F up when he leaves? What is he accomplishing by piling it on a team that is clearly in disarray? Here are the latest two stories on his continued attacks: Daily Mail and 2. Independent. It's odd, but I wonder if he really wanted to stay and is just upset at all the bad press and having to constantly come up with excuses for taking the money over the prestige of the cross-town rivals. I will say one thing -- it would be a miracle if Man City doesn't win silverware this year and it would be a near miracle if Arsenal wins anything (though I have hopes Wenger will again push for the Carling). Anyway, tomorrow will be huge!

The Party of God Lacks a Soul

With the damage, destruction and cost in lives and money still piling up in the wake of Hurricane Irene it's good to know that the party of God really cares about the people. Or do they? Michelle Bachmann claimed Irene might be a message from God (Seattle Times) then said it was all a joke. Quite funny! Ron Paul came out again claiming we don't even need FEMA, even as this is sizing up as the 10th worst Hurricane in U.S. history. And with poverty and unemployment increasing and the working class being squeezed by huge debt, the highest unemployment rates and foreclosures, the Republicans have a surprising answer: let them eat cake! Just kidding. Actually, they are arguing for INCREASING their taxes! That's right, the party of tax cuts when times are good and tax cuts when times are bad actually think the poor and working class aren't paying their share: NY Times Op Ed.

What? Well, we need someone to pay for all the tax cuts to the rich, the decreased revenue from corporations, the tax breaks to the Fortune 500 (including actually subsidizing them in many cases), the further subsidies to agribusiness that indirectly increase hunger and poverty in Africa, the failure to actually tax hedge fund managers at a reasonable rate (they pay 15% on most of their income) and the death of the "death tax." Not only have increases in regressive taxation hit the poor and working class the hardest (like sales taxes, transit costs and premiums on alcohol and cigarettes), together with a relative flattening of income taxes, but now they actually want them to pay more of the federal taxes the party generally argues we should eliminate altogether. It makes you think that the party really does believe that corporations are people (as Romney recently argued) and likes them a hell of a lot more then those freeloaders with three jobs. Thank God they have God, I just wish they'd get a soul!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gooner Ridiculous

I feel like adding a short second post as a postscript to the worst away defeat for Arsenal in a century. While it is clear that Wenger's project is in serious trouble, the apoplectic reply by Gooners is bordering on the absurd (rather than offer a series of links just go here for all the latest -- News Now). Are we really going to ignore the fact that eight players were out? Did anyway actually watch the first half, where Arsenal very well could have scored three goals themselves? And the major problem was the back line and the complete loss of form of Arshavin. We were missing our two best defenders -- Vermaelen and Sagna. We were missing Wilshire, Frimpong and Song and thus allowed Man U through the midfield and behind our depleted back line over and over again. And we were missing what is maybe our most creative player right now -- Gervinho. Um that's a lot! And Man U barely missed an opportunity in the game. That is not normal. Djourou is truly terrible and Jenkinson is not much better. The first should be sent to the third division and Jenkinson needs a lot more time to get to the first, or second, team. I do wonder why Miquel didn't get a shot after a decent game on Wednesday, but I digress. Many will critique the second half, but it was very close to 3-2 before the house collapsed and I don't blame Wenger for taking a shot that failed. This team clearly has a losing mentality right now and something needs to change. Is it Wenger going? Maybe. But who will replace him in the short term?

On to the issue at hand. Let's consider a magical three days for a moment and what it could mean. 1. We finally buy Cahill or Jagielka or even Samba, thus creating a very good back four if injuries don't plague us (Vermaelen, Saga, * and Gibbs (or one of the rumored replacements) or maybe Kocielzny moves over). 2. We sign Eden Hazard and then have Wilshire, Hazard, Ramsey (maybe), Song, Frimpong and hopefully M'Villa as our best midfield choices. 3. Park Young actually plays well along with Gervinho and, of course, Van Persie. And give Walcott his shot moving up the pitch. He's certainly been playing better, though I still think he needs to work on his finishing at times. I think that is a very different team then the one we saw in games 2 and 3 and could compete quite well, though the top four is certainly looking difficult at the moment. 

The next three days will not only decide our season, but maybe the future of Wenger and the club for the next several years. Let's hope reinforcements are on the way! But should Wenger really quit over this result? I think it's a bit ridiculous to even argue that.

Bachmann the Savior!

Good news for Republicans and the country -- Michelle Bachmann can solve all our problems within one economic quarter of winning the presidency (NYT Blog)! Thank god! I thought there were fundamental problems that needed to be addressed, a debt crisis that hasn't really been solved and a jobless recovery that now appears to be pushing us back into recession. But no, there is a simple solution! And it's quite simple -- just cut taxes, make the death of the death tax permanent and cut corporate taxes. Of course, why didn't anyone think of that? She really is dazzling in her boldness and creativity!

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's another moron from the right come to save us with her complete lack of understanding of even the most basic of economic realities. Of course, trickle down, supply side Reaganomics has been an abject failure for everyone except the super rich, but Republicans clearly don't read history books, economic texts or the constitution. More of the same is exactly what we need, because it's worked so well. Um, or did it? I'm not sure I need to detail the holes in this argument yet again, but it's staggering to me how people of this limited ability and knowledge can be considered legitimate candidates for president. Of course, after two terms of Bush, nothing should surprise me in American politics ever again. We reap what we sow, and we are sowing a hell of a lot of manure these days ...

Arsenal Mean Reds

Well, hopeful insanity is often rewarded with disappointment. The thrashing we took at Manchester United has shown that the Wenger project is in serious crisis, if not moribund. More on him below, but it is clear that the lack of ambition in signings, the loss of key players, the unproven youngsters thrust into the spotlight and some serious questions about tactics have all congealed in a perfect storm. Sure injuries (Vermaelen, Wilshire, Gibbs, Diaby, etc.), illness (Sagna) and suspensions (Frimpong, Song, Gervinho) have decimated the team, but look at the second teams for Chelsea, Man U and City and I’m not sure they couldn’t convincingly take us down.

Report Card

Looking at what could have been, let’s take a glance around Europe at the ex-Arsenal stars. Fabergas scored a lovely late goal in Barcelona’s victory in the Supercopa (and now has two pieces of silverware in three weeks). Nasri had two assists and looked impressive in a Man City blowout of once exciting Tottenham. And our summer target Mata scored a late goal for Chelsea in his debut. Ugh, ugh, ugh!

Man U – Will certainly be challenged by crosstown rivals City for the title, but this team is substantially better than last year. They play exciting, creative football and look set to score a ton of goals this year. They are young as well, but clearly Ferguson has a better eye for talent than Wenger right now, and he always puts veterans alongside the newbies to create stability and leadership. Rooney is in incredible form right now. Who is a leader for Arsenal?

Arshavin – Another mediocre performance. He had some opportunities and consistently underperformed in his finishing as he has since the beginning of the losing streak for Arsenal.  He too often loses the ball, even as his creativity opens up opportunities, and his shots are too often pathetic. We clearly need a better winger to replace him on the first team.

Djourou - He has pretty consistently been beaten by his lack of speed and poor decision making. The first Man U goal was lovely, but Djourou should have blocked off the finish from Wellbeck. He gave a free kick to Rooney in a dangerous spot, which then led to the fourth goal. Then he allowed the ball to go through his legs for the sixth. There is nothing to say except that he has limited talent and can’t really hang with the best in the premiership.  When Vermaelen was scratched, I knew we were in trouble.

Jenkinson – Terrible, terrible, terrible. Sent off in 77th minute after looking outmatched by almost everyone. He is not ready for the Premiership yet (if ever).

Wolcott – He did score and forced a penalty, but sometimes made poor decisions and disappeared for spells.

Van Persie – Nice finish, when it was 6-1 (yes read the sarcasm in to that statement). Missed a penalty (that could have notched us at 1), though it was a good save. Also had two other good opportunities saved, but certainly could have played better when it mattered.

Wenger – All of the criticism now seems warranted. 8-2!!!! We seriously look like a Championship team right now. Why haven’t we bought a fullback yet? That really could have helped in this game and maybe made the result much closer. Also need a left back to replace Clichy and should already be here as well. Sure they have been rebuffed a lot, but if we don’t get Hazard, I have to wonder if stealing Park will not be a terrible decision in the long run. Most people knew Fabergas and Nasri were going, but Arsene seemed to ignore this eventuality and put us in this position, waiting to see who we get (if anyone) in the last few days of the transfer window. Where is the creativity in the midfield? One can also question his tactics in the game, particularly with no halftime changes after Man U was getting through at will, and really whether he has completely lost control of this team. Last year, going into February, we looked like a team that could compete in four competitions. The draw with Newcastle (only 4 goal comeback in top league history), disaster in the Carling Cup, the Barca return leg and a host of average results have led to the complete collapse of the team and its dismantling. Defensive holes have been present for two years now and our offensive production has been dismal since that run. I think I finally have to admit that if things don’t improve, maybe the sack is on for Wenger. One has to adapt and he seems largely unable or unwilling to do so. To be fair, he’s not on the pitch and Arsenal does get some of the worst calls of any top team (though not in this game), but he has put his players at a distinct disadvantage and it shows. 

I live on hope and I do think our first team is much better than people are giving credit for, but we need at least three new players and probably more if we are to really compete in any competition. If no additions come by Wednesday, expect a truly miserable campaign. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nasri a Whore?

A blog by a hated Man U fan today begged the question of whether Samri Nasri is a whore for taking the City money and running, rather than joining the cross-town rivals Man United: Truly Red Post. The Nasri saga has been written and spoken about to death with Arsenal fans now despising the ex-Gunner, City fans doubly bolstered by gaining his talent and snubbing powerhouse on the decline Arsenal and some Man U fans irked by his rejecting their offer after it was all but done. As an Arsenal fan, I have written a little about the deal on this blog. For me, I don't really want a player who doesn't want to be here, don't like all of the negativity he has spewed since leaving and yet understand his consternation at the transfer behavior of Arsenal over the past few years. But onto the question at hand ...

Why is it that greed is a completely acceptable principle of business and life in America (and to a lesser extent England) but greed in athletes, actors or musicians is anathema? I am one who despises greed and believe it is destroying not only America but much of the globe. But if these are the rules we play by, why should athletes be any different. Athletes have to deal with a particular series of challenges. The first is that they have a relatively short career compared with any other I can think of. Actors can work their entire lives (though this is obviously harder for actresses of uncertain age), lawyers, doctors and even stockbrokers can work until death, musicians these days can go on performing and earning money well past their prime and so on. But athletes work on a schedule -- and for footballers injury can derail a career in the blink of an eye. One needs to cash in when the getting is good or find themselves like many ex-NFLers in jail, the poor house or begging friends for money.

Wages these days have certainly changed things, and a few good years provide the kind of money most of us only dream of. But do 20-somethings really have the maturity and future-orientation to save when they can instead live such lavish lives? I think people can say Nasri was selfish and greedy, and I'm certainly disappointed in him, but the truth is Arsenal do appear to be on the decline and the collapse last year would leave anyone cold. Again, even if he is a flop at Man City, he will have made enough extra money to live the rest of his life in relative comfort.

Now onto the second point. The amount of grief that Lebron James got last year for jumping the Cleveland ship for the sunnier pastures of Miami was truly stunning. He wants to win and just because Jordan stayed in Chicago and won (with a better supporting crew in my estimation) doesn't mean that Lebron has to do the same. What is the primary goal of an athlete? As a competitive person myself, it is to win. Why is illegal drug use so high in so many sports -- the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. If we turn to Nasri, I have to say if it was predominantly about winning, he probably should have gone to Man U (though I shudder to type those words). Man City is now the most talented team in the world, but that won't necessarily translate to trophies. But look at the state of Arsenal? I still have hope, particularly if we close the deal on Hazard, Cahill and M'Villa in the next four days (fingers crossed), but I really can't blame a player for going where victory is more attainable. I would be remiss if I didn't close by saying that I partially blame Nasri, and his second half fall off, for the lack of silverware last year -- but there seemed to be a losing mentality there that I would want to get the hell away from myself. Don't get me wrong; I love loyalty to a team and respect players like Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and Derek Jeter that stay with a team their entire careers; I just think it's easy for writers and fans to dismiss important life decisions by what are essentially slightly overaged kids.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Arsenal Update

Sorry to my readers who don't give a damn about Arsenal, but there are only 2 or 3 of you I think and this is my current obsession. I wanted to think a little bit about all the rumours, all the criticism and the underlying discourse that Arsenal are a "selling" team now. While losing Nasri and Fabergas in one summer without a big signing to replace them (so far) is bad news, and together with the flight of Eboue, Clichy and Bentner (to come) certainly looks like a sell off, there is a flip side to the story. These players, including Nasri and Fabergas, are the ones that have not brought a trophy to Arsenal in six long years. Sure they could have used more talent around them, but they have often underperformed on the big occasions -- and the late season collapses cannot really be put at the feet of Wenger, unless we include his rather paltry record in the transfer market for a couple of years. Yet the new stadium has played a part, and this is the first time he is flush with money in a few years. I also want to point out that most of the players we unloaded in the past several years have never performed to the same level upon leaving (including beloved Henri and Viera). It is also true that Arsenal's wage structure, while commendable, makes it hard for them to compete for or keep top quality players. But the victory on Wednesday showed a group of youngsters with more meddle than the first team had whenever it mattered most. All I need do is say FA Cup Final, Champions League Final and Carling Cup Final (and also late season collapses in league hunt) to give a lot of Gooners pause. I love Fabergas, but he didn't finish the job for us and Nasri's late drop in form certainly hurt us coming in with the league title in our clear sites. And Eboue? His error probably ended said title hunt against Liverpool. To get back to Fabergas, his error right before the half at Barcelona to give them the 1-0 lead in the return leg changed the face of the game and a similar error before the half against Tottenham made a comfortable 3-1 lead 3-2 on the road and led to two draws in two games, when they very well could have had six points. A final point on Nasri -- he often disappeared in games, failed to score with good opportunities and has shown himself to be a classless player since leaving (including saying he needs the competition for first team to really play his best -- um, the champions league, carling cup final, FA cup and potential league title aren't enough motivation for this egomaniac? (good riddance).

So while many would argue I'm crazy, I think we might be a better team moving forward with players with real desire, quality and maybe a winning edge that's been missing including Frimpong, Vermaelen and Gervinho leading the way. There is a lot of young talent on this team and many will soon find their way into the first team. We clearly need at least three players by next Wednesday, but is it really as gloomy as everyone seems to imply? In the first game, Arsenal were undone by the inability to finish -- a similar problem to the past two years on occasion -- and a questionable red card. The same happened against Liverpool, though in this case they probably deserved it. They've won their other two games -- against Udinese -- and the second leg was truly impressive from a team that has too often folded when the pressure was on. The defense has looked surprisingly strong so far and the young talent will find their way I believe (though I still think Wolcott overvalues himself, even as he has performed well in the two champions league games and needs to put up or shut up in the league).

Finally, is all the rumours in the transfer market. I believe we should pick up Jagielka or Cahill ASAP and stop messing about. It looks like we only need 3 million pounds more to get the former and a reasonable bid to get the latter. In the midfield, there are tons of rumours about -- my pick would, of course, be Hazard, though Martin. Elia, Valbuena or a few others could fill the role well. Hopefully the bid for M'Villa will come through giving us another choice for our holding midfielder and then we need to pick up a striker. Now let's look at the math. Hazard could probably be bought for 35 million pounds based on the latest storiesfrom France last night, Cahill or Jagielka would take 15 to 17 and M'Villa 22. If we add this up it is 35+15+22=72 million. That still leaves 8 to 10 to get a striker. Can Wenger actually spend this much? One doubts it. But other options to Hazard are available for cheaper, so why not spend the 60 to 80 and be done with it? Time is running out and pinching pennies right now makes no sense. On the other hand, it appears that Wenger is keeping quiet about his plans at present, given Man City and Chelsea's attempt to undermine any of their moves. One could even argue that Man City went so hard for Nasri not so much for his talent (which will certainly help them) but to screw Arsenal. The same could be said of the Clichy swoop, though my sense is he is past his prime and it was a good time to sell, and the Mata move by Chelsea (though they can certainly use him).

All this will be moot if Arsene fails to make a move, because that will probably lead to a mass exodus from the team including new captain Van Persie, who has made it clear he wants increased support, quality and experience around him. My prediction is moves will be made and there is still hope. I even have an odd feeling we might surprise a lot of people and put in a good showing at Man U. Of course I have been called crazy before. Prediction - 2-1 Arsenal!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is rarely crazy, occasionally stupid and, well, all about love. It starts with the revelation of an affair by Cal's (Steve Carrell) wife Emily (Julianne Moore). Cal jumps ship and ends up biding his time in a local bar, where he is ultimately taken under the wing of the establishment's lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is the classic ladies man, well-dressed, wealthy, smooth and largely devoid of real depth. He changes Cal's look, gives him insight into his craft and actually helps the buffoon to a short stint as a Don Juan himself, including a hook-up with one of their children's teacher (Marisa Tomei). From here, things do go a little crazy as Jacob falls in love with Hannah (Emma Stone), who was originally unimpressed with his charms but goes for him to get back at a nondescript boyfriend who doesn't propose when she expects him to, the babysitter Jessica falls in love with Cal while Cal's son Robbie is in love with her, we find out Hannah is Cal's older daughter and Cal and Emily are considering reconciliation. The rom-com ends more or less as one would expect, but there are plenty of funny and touching moments along the way. The interesting thing is how it challenges a recent trend in Hollywood to play with the opposite end of the romance spectrum -- the friends with benefits relationship. Here marriage and commitment are the trope; returning us to Hollywood's love affair with monogamy and the normative family structure. Sure both spouses end up in bed with others, but they come back together in the end and, we assume, live happily ever after. Cal and Hannah also end up in love and the classic "tamed lothario" theme relived yet again and even Robbie is given some hope of future nookie with his love interest Jessica. Could it be that Hollywood is trying to revive that institution that has fallen out of favor with the young disaffected crowd? Or is it just that most of the FWB films have floundered at the box office? In any case, the movie is probably worth a viewing if you like the genre and can look past the predictable arc of the narrative. Of course, if you like the genre, you probably like the predictable arc ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arsenal Reprieve

The football media in England is almost as bad as the celebrity reporters all across the U.S. They make drama of the mundane, cry glory and disgrace in the same breathe, predict doom without compunction (or evidence), spread rumour as gospel and beat a story to the point where it becomes more meaningless than a Thomas Kincaid painting. This press has been piling it on Arsene Wenger and my beloved Arsenal for weeks now -- and not without cause. The sagacious Wenger has wilted in the last six years, coming close to several trophies including an FA Cup, coveted Champions League, a few league titles and the infamous Carling Cup flop last year -- but come up empty in them all. He has been relative inactive in the transfer market the past two years and, obviously, just lost his two best players. A loss to Liverpool at home for the first time in over a decade and a nil-nil draw with Newcastle the week before was a terrible start to the season and injuries and a tight 1-0 victory in the home leg of the Udinese tie left many wondering if Arsenal would fall ignominiously out of the Champions League before the group stage. In recent weeks, old Arsenal stars, coaches and just about anyone with a blog, microphone or Twitter account has been imploring Wenger to spend some Fing money (including several of his own players).

Heading into the second leg of the tie today,  all seemed doom and gloom. And at halftime matters were even worse, with the tie even overall and Udinese looking the much more active team. Yet Arsenal came out strong in the second half and won 2-1 (for an aggregate 3-1 victory). Now the rumor mill is awash with news of a number of targets coming into sight (though unfortunately it looks like we might not get top target Hazard after all -- a big loss). Three big signings -- including a centre back, midfielder and forward (who can score) -- could put Arsenal back on track and even if Man U wins at Old Trafford this weekend, which I sort of expect to happen given our injuries and youth, the schedule opens up afterwards, players will be back from suspensions and injuries and Arsenal could very well get back in the hunt.

One of the tendencies of media saturation is overcoverage of stories and hyperbolic predictions of apocalypse. While we should certainly heed those calls more regarding the American economy and political process today, we should also recognize that what matters isn't necessarily aligned in any profound way with what sells. As Wenger has been saying -- calm down Gooners and enjoy a respite from the panic!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pope on Higher Education

One of the troubling trends in Higher Education today is the call to make it predominantly about providing technical skills to future workers. Lost in this discourse of essentially vocationalizing post-secondary education are more holistic notions of education as a means to expand the mind, do independent research, think critically about contemporary problems and future solutions and, hopefully, develop a love of learning that will follow you as you embark on your adult life. Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech to university professors in Madrid last Friday that captures the essence of my own critique of the movement toward instrumentalizing education in colleges and universities today:

"At times one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labor at any given time. One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability," he said. "This sort of utilitarian approach to education is in fact becoming more widespread, even at the university level, promoted especially by sectors outside the university. All the same, you who, like myself, have had an experience of the university, and now are members of the teaching staff, surely are looking for something more lofty and capable of embracing the full measure of what it is to be human. We know that when mere utility and pure pragmatism become the principal criteria, much is lost and the results can be tragic: from the abuses associated with a science which acknowledges no limits beyond itself, to the political totalitarianism which easily arises when one eliminates any higher reference than the mere calculus of power. The authentic idea of the university, on the other hand, is precisely what saves us from this reductionist and curtailed vision of humanity."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Buffet Rebuffed by Right

Last week billionaire Warren Buffett argued that billionaires should be paying more in taxes -- through an increase in capital gains taxes and a more progressive tax system for those making over $1,000,000 and $10,000,000. Not surprisingly, the right is attacking him on all fronts. Fox News has been particularly incisive in their charges, claiming he is engaging in "class warfare" (which of course indicates talking about class at all; not killing unions, cutting jobs and helping the wealthy to get wealthier) and even that one of the richest men in the world is a "socialist." Jon Stewart, one of the few voices around willing to actually attack the absurdity of the GOP and media these days, had a wonderful bit on Fox's coverage of Buffett's op ed: Washington Post. Have we really reached the point in America where progressive taxation is a form of "socialism"? Have we gotten to the point where any tax increase is beyond the scope of reasonable? And what does this mean for our future? I would argue that unless we ask the wealthiest Americans to start paying their fair share, cut defense spending and have a real stimulus from DC we are on the cusp of a long decline not unlike the one that seems destined for my beloved Arsenal.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Arsenal Blues

Arsenal fans are apoplectic about the just started season, worrying about the lack of quality signings, the loss of our captain and best player (Fabergas) and the imminent departure of one of our other greats Sam Nasri. As one of those fans, I am apoplectic as well. Every day, several times a day, I go onto the various blogs and websites with sparkles in my eyes, hoping to finally see the signing of Mata or Cahill or Hazard, or anyone I've ever heard of. But with only 12 days left in the summer transfer window, the situation is starting to look dire. What is to become of our beloved team? Are we to fade toward mediocrity that will make it harder to attract top players in the future? Are we just in the midst of a short-term decline that will be fixed by all the young talent we have maturing to first team glory? Or will they follow the march out of the Emirates as so many players have in recent years as they hit their prime, looking for the glory of silverware and salaries with top clubs that double the 90,000 pound a week max that Arsenal pays their players. In the end, it appears the issue is one of money.

Money has come to define sports in recent years, and even as the biggest spenders don't always win, it is becoming increasingly clear that money is the great divider today. For six years, since the last time Arsenal won anything, they have spent substantially less than any other club in England (in either the first or second division). Given this reality, it is commendable that they have maintained their position in the top four and competed each year for the league and other trophies. Yet the late season collapses have shown the lack of leadership and winning tradition that have befallen a team based primarily on youth. Should sports come down to money? Is loyalty an erstwhile attribute lost in the modern world of greed and winning at any cost? And does money guarantee success? The answer to the last question is no. While teams that spend do tend to succeed in football (aka soccer), baseball, And basketball and other sports, there are exceptions to the rule on both sides of the equation. The MetSs have been spending like crazy, for example, but are already essentially done for the year. Chelsea has been spending a fortune and though they've had success, walked away with nothing to show for the money last year. And the San Francisco Giants and Dallas Mavericks beat out the competition with lower total payrolls then, for example, the New York Yankess or Miami Heat -- who clearly tried to buy their way to a championship.

Back to Arsenal, the next week could very well determine the contours of our entire season. Tomorrow we face off against a revamped Liverpool team that spent huge (and arguably overpaid for several players) to try to regain their former mainstay in the top four. Next up is a Champions League qualifier second leg against a dangerous team from Udinese that has the advantage of home field in trying to prematurely end Arsenal's CL season for the first time in years. And then dreaded Man U, the team I despise more than any other in sport. One hopes a big signing next week will at least give us a chance against Man U and a surprisingly resilient early defense can hold off the competition in the other two fixtures. I still dream of waking up each day with two or three big signings again restoring hope. A boy can dream ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The State of the GOP Nation

Newly anointed as a leading candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination, Rick Perry has gotten off to an interesting start. Yesterday he claimed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will be engaging in treason if he calls for the expected third round of quantitative easing, meant to lower borrowing costs: Think Progress Article. The actual quote: “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous—or treasonous in my opinion.” The argument is absurdly ignorant of economic policy and seems like further proof that Republicans would rather prolong the economic crisis and win elections then actually help solve the problems plaguing us. When Karl Rove criticizes you, you know something is wrong (Slate), but given the slate of candidates for 2012 and the way Republicans have been winning for 30 years -- one really expects this to just be the start of the lies, half-truths, fear-mongering, hate-mongering and ad hominem after ad hominem that they will use to try to unseat Obama.

Perry has also rewritten history in his first campaign video (TPM) blaming Obama for the S&P downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. Sounds like the sort of revisionist history that also blamed Obama for the financial crisis Bush wrought. While we're at it, let's blame Obama for 911, the Iraq War and, hell, Stalin and Mao (since he's clearly a socialist and we have no idea where he was born). With the future of the country in the balance, this nod to the relative ignorance of the American public is truly disheartening -- and with a media that has become endeared to the he said-she said form of reporting, few will realize the ridiculousness of the claim.

Finally, it has come out that Perry tends to carry a gun around with him (even when he jobs): Slate. Taking the gunslinger persona of Bush to the next level, we could look forward to a President that has an extra form of persuasion with foreign leaders in his holster -- literally.  The current state of the GOP defies logic ...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Buffet Speaks in Tongues

Like E.F. Hutton, when Warren Buffett speaks, people listen. He has offered his sage advice on market reform, larger economic trends and a host of other issues. Now Buffett has come out of the closet arguing that the super-rich should pay more taxes: Slate Article. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” Buffett wrote in a New York Times op-ed Monday. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

So will Congress listen? Will the super-rich add their voice to Buffett's clarion call for tax reform, which could solve our budget woes and allow us to move onto the more important business of allowing the federal government to try to simulate the economy? One hopes so, but the previous record on these matters has been suspect at best. Back in 2001 when was Bush was suspending the estate tax, many famous wealthy Americans came forward to tell us they were willing to pay these taxes upon their death. But Bush and Congress went forth anyway, and together with the other tax cuts, helped facilitate the current debt crisis we face.

Is there a chance to restore sanity to DC debates? Will corporations ever pay their fair share? One thought I had was a corporate tax structure that rewarded companies for reinvestment in infrastructure and particularly hiring new workers. Rather than allowing the Fortune 500 to continue garnering huge profits without increasing their payrolls, penalize them for their greed and short-sidedness. Rather than continuing to support the absurdly retrograde argument that raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans will hurt the economy, let's laugh off the Laffer Curve once and for all. Rather than demanding that the middle class and poor suffer for the insatiable greed of our most fortunate fathers and mothers, let's allow progressive taxation to create more equity in social, economic and political terms. The reality is that the poor and middle class spend a larger proportion of their disposable income, meaning aggregate demand (aka consumption) will increase and the economy will start to grow again. This can only occur if increase employment (and disposable income).

After the Great Depression, as I've written before, there appeared to be a consensus that corporate leaders needed to sacrifice to ensure the long-term stability and prosperity of America. For the past 30 years, that consensus has been chipped away at, replaced by the idea that greed and self-interest should be the raison d'etre of all Americans. Taxes have become the bete noire of not only the right, but the center disabling the power of the government to intervene when greed overwhelms the law and reason and corporate frugality undermines economic growth. Today we need to restore order, restore the notion that there is not only freedom but responsibility in a democratic society. Without responsibility and obligation, we move closer and closer to fascistic anarchy every day ...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Crazies

So Michelle Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll today (CNN Story). And Rick Perry has made it official, he's running as well. We still don't know about Sarah Palin, but it is safe to say that the crazies are ruling the day in Republican politics. As many have recently pointed out (including the lead story in TNR's The Mall this week), Iowa is an overrated event that has little to do with the overall primary -- except that the media makes so much of it and it can thus kill a candidacy prematurely. In any case, I have already written on Bachmann in the past and imagine I will be writing a lot more about her in the coming months. For today, I would like to focus on the newest crazy to join the fray -- Rick Perry. Let's highlight some of the lovely facts about the latest Republican governor to put his name in the Presidential ring ...

- Perry believes that Senators should not be directly elected by the people: Dailykos
- Perry wants to end social security and medicare/medicaid. In fact he called both "Ponzi Schemes":  Hullabaloo
- In May, talking about the financial crisis, he made the following argument: "I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this." Hullabaloo 2
- Perry is a big fan of the 10th amendment, except of course when it comes to abortion and gay marriage. 
- Perry once argued for secession as a viable strategy for Texas. 

It is just this sort of crazy that should have no semblance of a chance in American politics. But just as crisis was barely averted with the debt ceiling, as the U.S. debt rating is dropped by one of the big 3 raters and as our financial crisis continues to persist and in some ways grow, the answer appears to be that we should simply shrink the size of the federal government, rely on states that are in even worse financial shape and rely on the market and/or God to save us from complete collapse. Sounds like the script for a good sci fi film; unfortunately these are supposedly viable candidates to lead the largest economy on earth.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Corrupting the First Amendment From All Sides

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on the troubling conservative turn of the Supreme Court under Robert's tutelage. Today I read of another case that looks at the First Amendment from the other side, instead of being used to support corporations and the unlimited private funding of elections, this case successfully overturned a public financing system in Arizona (see "Strong Opinions" by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic, August 18, 2011). In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the usual suspects (in a 5-4 decision) accepted the challenging of Arizona's public campaign financing law by one of the state's PACs. The absurd claim was that by providing $20,000 in public funding to candidates in state House races, and an additional matching dollar for every dollar raised above that amount, the law was violating the First Amendment. Robert's claim was that "leveling the playing field" accomplished this verboten result and somehow "inhibit[s] robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification" How does supporting candidates who cannot get sufficient private funding somehow undermine wide-open political debate? Should we really think of leveling the playing field as unconstitutional (even if affirmative action is essentially dead)?

It appears as if the Bush v. Gore decision of 2000 has opened the floodgates for partisan decisions that essentially use the constitution and precedent as mere  instruments to endorse the political interests of the majority. Of course the Supreme Court has never been truly neutral, and decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson and the Dred Scott case certainly show the lengths the court will go to support their politics. But something appears new today -- a complete disregard for rationality or reason in the decisions the majority decide. If we go back to the Bush/Gore case, the 16th amendment was invoked, claiming that citizen's would not be treated equally if a recount was done (a spurious claim that led that same majority to caution that this was essentially a one off and should not be used as precedent in future cases). With the more recent pro-corporate decisions, the First Amendment both protects corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates and disallows the state government from spending any. Luckily in the same session, we find, in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, that state government can offer tuition tax credit to organizations that then spend the money on scholarships for students attending religious and secular private schools; which many would argue is a direct violation of the very same First Amendment. So why couldn't Arizona taxpayers challenge the law? The five conservative judges said the taxpayers had no standing to sue -- which led Elena Kagan to argue that the decision "threatens to eliminate all occasions for a taxpayer to contest the government's monetary support of religion."

It is bad enough that the Court appears willing to both bolster corporation's political clout and limit its legal and financial liability in case after case, but if they are to continue stripping citizens of their rights at the same time, we will soon find ourselves in a plutocracy that is not much different than Russia. As I have always argued in this blog, if we allow the wealthy and powerful to act without constraint while limiting the power of the people to voice their consent or challenge entrenched power, we end up with only a facade of democracy. Should we really be giving that much power over our collective future to unelected lifetime judges who have far surpassed their intended constitutional power?

Dude, Who is that Pretentious Director Trying to Make Me Think?

I have been absent from my blog for too long, but decided to start it up again today and try to get to it at least five days a week from now on. I wanted to discuss an interesting article from the New York Times, published back in early June: In Defense of Slow and Boring.

The article discusses a new train of thought emerging among movie critics that there is really no place for the slow, artistic film anymore. Their problem is that these films are too boring and really don't understand the medium itself, which is apparently aimed merely at entertaining us these days. The article emerged in response to a piece by Dan Kois, who admitted that he had grown tired of "eating his cultural vegetables" and would rather just be entertained at the movies. He felt that the tedium and abstractions of the popular artistic films undermined any deeper intellectual or artistic aspirations they might hold.

While I certainly understand his point and believe that many films in the cannon of great are almost unwatchable, it is troubling to consider that many critics would rather watch Hangover II than Tree of Life. Is this the latest parry in our collective nod to the yellow brick road of anti-intellectualism? Is it the result of a world where focusing on anything for more than 10 minutes seems unproductive or dull? Or is it a nod to our collective need to be amused most of the time, undermining time for unnecessarily exhausting activities like actually thinking? I think however we explain the phenomenon, we must acknowledge that while mainstream movies will probably rarely aim at deeper, more profound ideas or aesthetic heights, there should always be a space for the small, ambitious film -- whether it be the beautifully rendered Blue Valentine, the slow, prodding brilliance of Paris, Texas or the long epic grandeur of a Che or Shoah.

As one intellectual or artistic space after another is attacked for its intellectualism (which is essentially an attack on making us think too hard about anything), we lose the outlets that can actually challenge us to think more deeply about the world around us. My fear is that we are entering the world that McLuhan foretold in 1962, where mysticism and surface replace rationalism and depth. I am not arguing that there is nothing to be gained in this new world, just that deep thought and rumination are the very foundation of not only democracy, but social progress itself. One cannot help but draw a connecting line between the anti-intellectualism of popular culture and even universities today and the ascendency of the Tea Party and absurdism as the general tenor of political discourse today.

A few thoughts on three specific quotes from the article:

"Of course, what I think is boring,” Warhol wrote in his memoir “Popism,” “must not be the same as what other people think is, since I could never stand to watch all the most popular action shows on TV, because they’re essentially the same plots and the same shots and the same cuts over and over again. Apparently, most people love watching the same basic thing, as long as the details are different.” - After taking a tour of the Tate Modern in London several years ago, I gained a new respect for Andy Warhol and his work. More than just his famously prescient notion of 15-minutes of fame that now seems to be the raison d'etre of far too many youth today, he captured the changing nature of our reality -- not only the ascendancy of consumer culture as culture itself, but the reproducibility of images and text until they were rendered truly meaningless. His thoughts on boredom makes me consider a deeper idea -- that what we seek in the formulaic is an escape from that which surrounds us: namely the reproduction in slightly varied narrative forms of formulas that give us comfort merely because they are ascribed with meaning and garnished with false emotional commitment that invests them with an impact we otherwise don't feel in our daily lives.

MOVIES may be the only art form whose core audience is widely believed to be actively hostile to ambition, difficulty or anything that seems to demand too much work on their part. In other words, there is, at every level of the culture — among studio executives, entertainment reporters, fans and quite a few critics — a lingering bias against the notion that movies should aspire to the highest levels of artistic accomplishment. - This might be the most troubling quote of the entire article. It is expectations of the audience that are so important to how messages are formulated and delivered. Whether it be the shrinking size of the soundbite, the shorter news and magazine article size, the fact that advertisers assume that men are stupid and make advertising targeted at them meet that expectation or this idea that movies and all popular culture should serve the lowest common denominator, we are left in a world where stupidity is sold back to us on a relatively perpetual basis, affirming and even eliciting stupidity as a normative form of human existence. Me thinks that is not so good a idea!

Movies, Mr. Schickel writes, “are an essentially worldly medium, playful and romantic, particularly in America, where, on the whole our best directors have stated whatever serious intentions they may harbor as ignorable asides. There are other ways of making movies, naturally, and there’s always a small audience available for these noble strivings — and good for them, I guess.” - Is this really true? Have we moved so far away from the ambitions of the 60s and 70s (that reemerged with some directors in the 90s) that our "best directors" no longer think that they have anything terribly important to say beyond the filmic techniques and narrative structure they employ? If that is true, I believe it is a harbinger of a very troubling future. One could say a very similar thing about many popular artists today, who have deferred any deeper political meaning in their works in deference to deconstructing the formalist elements of art, focusing on their production and reception. There are certainly exceptions, with Banksy coming immediately to mind, but together with the more comedic and less politically invested novel and the pushing out of political music from the mainstream, there appears to be a growing consensus that there is no real place for politics in the arts (at least in the mainstream). When we add to this the push to make education "apolitical" and my aforementioned notion that the same is occurring in the mainstream media (who some believe should report the news without offering their opinion or perspective, or even checking the validity of the claims being made), we are left with few spaces where politics can actually be discussed cogently. So if we eliminate politics from the arts, from mainstream media, in K-12 education and even the university, then where can we turn? Washington DC? Hmm ...