Saturday, March 31, 2012

Disappointing Loss

Arsenal's winning streak ended a week earlier than some would have imagined as they fell 2-1 to QPR. It was a largely flat performance that was really inexplicable with Man City and Chelsea coming up on the schedule and a win needed to ensure maintaining our lead over Tottenham and Chelsea (who won 4-2 after Villa had equalized). Unfortunately, two of the most disappointing performances came from our best players, as Van Persie missed a one-on-one with the goalee (though it was a nice save) and Vermaelen was guilty on both QPR goals. It was also hard to understand what Wenger was thinking with the starting front line, as both Gervinho and Chamberlain sat on the bench. While Wenger is trying to be careful with Chamberlain, when we went down 2-1 in the 66th minute, I would have thought Chamberlain would have come on immediately. Walcott did put in another fine performance, though he was lucky to have the rebound of his shot that hit the post come right back to him for the goal. The irony is if Vermaelen didn't make the two mistakes, we might have won this 1-0, but one hopes the squad comes back next week against a reeling Man City.

A few thoughts on the player's performances: Van Persie has seemed to see a slight drop in form since not putting in the fourth goal against AC Milan last month. Luckily others like Walcott have taken on the scoring load, but we need our captain to return to scoring goals as we complete the run in. Ramsey continues to disappoint on the pitch, and I wonder if he is the long term answer for the club. He has good skills and a nice shot, but shoots errant too often, dribbles unnecessarily when he could be pushing forward, give the ball up far too much (particularly today) and seems to have lost the creativity that made him much more dangerous earlier in the year. Vermaelen had an off game, but I assume it was a blip and he will show up against Man City at home next Sunday. Even if we do lose to Man City next Sunday, we have some winnable games thereafter and have to ensure we don't again drop points unnecessarily at the end. 

On the transfer front, it appears we have sealed the deal with Podoloski, which is very good news (though one just can't trust the British press anymore). It also looks like we have a good shot a M'Villa, which I think would be a good move that could shore up the defensive holding position and bring another young quality player to the squad. News on a creative midfielder is less clear at the moment and it is also uncertain whether we will sign Vertohogen, which I think would be a great idea. It appears that Wenger will start unloading the deadweight this summer, according to reports, and that probably explains why Chamakh was even on the pitch at the end. I'd also love to see Almunia, Squillaci, Bendtner, Denilson Arshavin move on to greener pastures. 

Around the league today there were a few other surprises. The biggest was Man City only grabbing a draw with the resurgent Sunderland, who have thrived ever since Martin O'Neill took over. City might have just lost their title bid (assuming Man United beats Blackburn on Monday) and really only have themselves to blame. Yes they were without Aguero, out with a mysterious injury related to a pain killing spray, and Nasri. But this team was built with not only money but depth and should be able to play through a few injuries. Instead they have dropped far too many points this year and look set to win no trophies. I kind of see that as good news, as it might counter the argument that you can merely buy silverware in world football today. Team chemistry is clearly important as well, as is coaching (made clear by the incredible improvement in form of Chelsea since AVB left). Speaking of Chelsea, they dominated a depleted Aston Villa team today, but then disappeared defensively for a few minutes and found themselves level at 2-2, before going on to score two late and win 4-2. The biggest news might be Torres, who has been accruing a ton of assists this year, but finally got off the EPL snide and scored a lovely late goal that reminded of the player he used to be; his first goal since September for those who haven't been following the most reported story this season. In any case, Chelsea's defensive frailty at times could be the difference in qualifying for next years UCL competition, but a newly confident Torres (who also scored two in the FA Cup recently) could prove pivotal -- though I obviously hope not. Back to the Emirates for the big showdown next Sunday ...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mitt Romney the A-Hole Among A-Holes

Mitt Romney continues to put his foot in it almost every time he speaks. The latest occurred at a televised town hall meeting in Michigan, where he told a "funny" story about his dad closing a plant there and moving it to Wisconsin: NYT The Caucus. When Dems called him out for his callousness, here was the campaign reply:

"More than 2,000 Chrysler and GM dealerships have closed and 11 car manufacturing plants have been shuttered under President Obama, yet he still considers himself one of our four greatest presidents. Under President Obama, more Americans have lost their jobs, lost their homes and fallen into poverty than at any time since the Great Depression. It’s clear the Democrats will go to any lengths to avoid talking about Obama’s colossal failures, including ginning up fake outrage about a campaign story from 40 years ago involving Mitt Romney’s father."

Lovely GOP obfuscation that really hits all the high notes they have mastered:

1) Unsubstantiated claims: has Obama ever said he is one of the four greatest presidents?
2) Ahistoristicity: a failure to look at the source of the problems he puts at Obama's feet -- namely, eight years of Bush and an obstructionist Republican Congress.
3) Ignoring the Obvious: Obama probably saved the American auto industry against major GOP protests and should be hailed not blamed for their own ineptitude at competing with their Asian and German competitors until the recent resurgence.
4) Sleigh of Hand: rather than answer the charges, he turns the argument to democrats for pointing out the reality that he seems completely out of touch with the average American, an embodiment of all that is wrong with the country and someone willing to say anything that he thinks will get him elected. 

While the Republican primaries have certainly been entertaining, it seems like they should be running for asshole of the year, not President. Any of them could win that honor without much competition ... 

Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games is not for the light-hearted; as I, for one, left the theatre seriously disturbed. Yet it is a movie that seems well-situated for our moment – a sci-fi thriller with a message of where we could be heading if we continue to allow the accumulation of wealth at the top and the devolution of democracy and opportunity for everyone else. The film follows the exploits of the protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), brutal killer Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), love interest Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and the other children forced into a rather brutally shot fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. The film commences in the poor, destitute District 12 (that resembles the backwoods of Mississippi or West Virginia) where Katniss and Peeta struggle to survive. Katniss lives with her distraught mother, who has lost her coal-mining husband and hope, and her younger sister Primrose (who came up with these names?). Primrose is preparing for her first lottery, with Katniss trying to comfort her as she fears for her own future as well. 

We soon learn the film, based on the very popular and critically-acclaimed trilogy by Suzanne Collins, is set in a future world where North America has collapsed under war, rebellion and global ecological disaster and been replaced with Panem, a country divided into the wealthy Capitol and 12 districts of diminishing quality of life. Each year two children (a male and female) are selected to represent their district in the games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated masses, the games are broadcast throughout the districts with all citizens forced to watch the slaughter. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta are then pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this moment their entire lives.

Director Gary Ross creates this dystopian world with a flair for the flamboyant, reminding me of a lighter, more whimsical Tim Burton mixed with a more muted Baz Luhrman, then contrasts it with the gritty realism of Deer Hunter or Deliverance. As Katniss and Peeta move from the backwaters to the opulent city center they hook up with their mentor, a drunk ex-winner turned loser (played by Woody Harrleson). From here, the film meanders at times and the hand held cam distracts even as it heightens the action scenes, but the film works to me within the contours of a teen fantasy frame that includes slightly more nuance than one might expect. Ther is the almost requisite clumsy love story and rather starkly contrasted Manichean world of good and evil. Yet some scenes really exploit the power of the metaphor, including one where the leader of Panem comments to the director of the games that besides fear, hope is the best way to control the masses (as long as it is “contained” hope). Hmm, does that sound like the American dream to anyone? There are also rather obvious references to the continued exploitation of Africa for its minerals and oil, to media manipulation in general, to the abuses of the masses for the excesses of the rich, to the almost sociopathic world we live in today, to the spectacle society and to female empowerment.

I did feel the beginning, denouement and ending were handled clumsily, undermining what could have been more dramatic overtures. But the middle of the picture bristles with a tension that is truly palpable, including murder scenes that are truly ghastly. One concern I did have as I watched these scenes unfold was whether people were taking any pleasure in the murder of the children. While I assumed the brutality played on the underlying metaphor, which I can’t imagine many people missing, it was still quite disturbing to watch. It was also almost cartoonish the way the privileged kids were left irredeemable in their violent callousness and disregard for the lives of their fellow contestants. But it is another example of Hollywood returning to class consciousness (as they did in In Time and A Winter’s Bone, to name two from last year) and does provide a positive female role model who seems to emasculate the men and boys around her in her selfless pursuit of the common good. The film has been a smash hit and, compared to much of the tripe the studios have been churning out in recent years, it may actually (almost) warrant it. A-

Monday, March 26, 2012

$288 Billion and All I Got Was this Lousy C-note!

Actually I'm exaggerating. The bottom 99 percent of wage earners received a slightly more modest $80 each in increased income last year, of the $288 billion in total additional income, according to a new study from French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez: New York Times. But don't worry, while you're out busking for change, the rich will be eating caviar by the bucket loads on their private jets and it is possible some might come flying out of the sky and down to a Hooverville near you. It's only fair really. The top 1% really did create 93% of the additional income, didn't they?

The statistics are as startling as they are telling of the world we live in today. While the top 1% (those making $1.02 million or more a year) saw an increase of 11.4 percent, it was the top .01 percent (the 15,000 households with average income of $23.8 million) that really benefited: with a rise of 21.5 percent (and 37% of the total increase).  Some might say this is nothing new, but think again. In the halcyon 90s expansion, a "mere" 45 percent went to the top 1 percent and even as that figure rose to 65 percent in the second Bush administration (also known as the first corporate sponsored Presidency to me) that still palled in comparison to 93 percent. This is occurring as people continue to lose their houses, those at or near sustenance levels reaches toward 50 percent and the homeless population skyrockets. Remember the golden age (1948-1972) when the system was inverted and the poorest Americans saw the largest increase in income (but where everyone saw positive change)? Well it is long gone and we are now heading toward the second Gilded Age, which for those mired in the ahistorical hyperreality of American media, predated the Great Depression.

I'm sure conservatives are already sharpening their quills and whetting their sibilant lips with quips like "this is class warfare," "it's just the lazy who don't think this is fair," and "stop whining." But how long will it be before people connect the dots that have been aligning in OWS camps, Wisconsin, Ohio and a series of Hollywood films (Margin Call, In Time and The Hunger Games to name three) and demand change to this absurd system? The GOP candidates have been trying to shout each other out telling us we need more tax cuts for the rich, more corporate welfare and less government intervention. While the tone deaf and greedy might continue to listen, and corporations continue to cheer them on, it is possible the ruling class might just have gone too far. Capitalism has never promised equitable distribution, but can many beside The Dude and the other Jeffrey Lebowski really abide this?

P.S. I meant to post this a while ago, but here is a good article from the Guardian on the situation in Greece (that I was going to entitle: "Let them (the Greeks) Eat ... um ... each other?"): The Guardian

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Resurgence Continues

Another  big day for the Gunners, as we won easily 3-0 over Aston Villa and benefited from the 0-0 Chelsea-Tottenham match. Sure it would have been nice to see Chelsea win against our North London rivals, but the result solidifies our position  in third and makes the chances of  Chelsea making the Champions League that much more daunting. The quality of our play against a very average Villa team was exemplary, with a surging style in  the first half that garnered two goals (and could have been four or five) and a tight, gritty second half where we maintained possession for long stretches (I think I counted over 20 straight completed passes a few times) and kept the clean sheet. Report cards:

Szczezny: another strong performance, where he showed that his positioning has improved and he has the ability to cut off the crosses that used to give him more trouble. He didn't come out ill-advisedly once, was smarter with  his distribution and has certainly played a role in the reversal since the beginning of the year disappointment.

Sagna: another strong game for Sagna. He sent in less crosses than the past few games but was strong in the back and his return has clearly been a huge bonus for the team.

Vermaelen: our best defender had a very good game, making things easier for Djourou, as the last minute replacement for Koscielny. After the terrible start to the season, it was our defense and a few clean sheets that played a big part in our quick movement up the table. Injuries have thus been a huge part of the problem this year -- maybe more important than Fabergas and Nasri's departures. It provides a strong argument for shoring up that defense in the summer window. Vertohogen is a player we should buy, as he can be a backup center half and also play as full back or defensive midfielder (this would allow us to unload the truly horrible Squillaci, one of the worst center halfs I've ever seen). I like the Santos/Gibbs mix on the left and obvioulsy Sagna on the right. We have to see who can back him up, as that was a big problem after his broken leg. Maybe it's Coquelin or Jenkins, but we certainly need someone. I might also consider unloading Mertesacker, who is good at positioning but made a mistake or two a game, never became the promised scoring threat and is way too slow for the premiership.

Djourou: speaking of center halves, obviously Vermaelen and Kocielny are the pair that have really shored up the defense and seem to be our future, but it was nice to see Djourou put in a strong performance, after many to forget (including, lest us forget, assisting in our collapse to Fulham early in the new year). One hopes he can keep that form as an important backup and cup player next year.

Gibbs: his first goal as a Gunner set up the comfortable win and he was menacing going forward throughout, a promising trend going forward to keep competitors from overcommiting on the right, where most of our attacks and goals have come from this year. Santos came in late and started by almost giving up a goal, but was then fine and he will hopefully return to form soon.

Arteta: a great game that culminated with a pristine late free kick into the far corner. He is not Fabergas but has been invaluable to us this season controlling the middle and getting the fall forward.

Song: continues to develop into a more offensive-minded player while still being a stalwart at the back. Rumors have spread of bringing in M-Villa, but I'm circumspect, as I believe Song will continue to improve over the next few years (and already has 9 assists in the EPL this year, I believe).

Ramsey: not terrible, but could have been better and really is one of the most disappointing players this year. When Wilshire comes back, one assumes he will be moving to the bench.

Rosicky: not as spectacular as the last few games, but nice movement to get a decent shot off in the first half and appears to have renewed confidence that should translate to more goals and assists going forward.

Walcott: another breakout performance for Walcott, whose first touch has inexplicably improved dramatically in recent weeks (could it be Chamberlain breathing down his throat?), as has his comfort on the ball. His goal to make it 2-0 showed the sort of talent and coolness in front of goal we have been waiting for for years. One hopes he keeps it up until the end of the season.

Gervinho: had an okay game, but sometimes makes poor decisions in the box that undermine scoring and assist opportunities. One wonders if he will be able to play at this level in the future or whether we pick up another winger and he becomes a marginal player next year.

RVP: not his best performance of the year, but had a lovely touch and turn that would have ended up in the net but for a goal-line defender clearance. He has actually slowed down his productivity the last two and a half games, but will hopefully get back on track versus the relatively inept QPR defense. 

Chamberlain: came on very late and looked lively as usual, with a potential penalty appeal waved off (rightfully in my estimation). A force for the future indeed!

As we continue to win (seven on the bounce in the premiership), my one concern is that we get cocky and don't spend sufficiently in the transfer window. I don't want to repeat again what I have so often said, but I do believe we need a center half, creative midfielder and striker (preferably who can play on the wings as well). If we can pick up some other reserve players who can fill in for the cups next year (and for the inevitable injuries we will sustain), hopefully we can finally win some silverware. We have easily looked the second-best team in  the EPL the last two months and have to be cursing the injuries at the beginning of the season, and new year, that stand between us and a possible title run this year. We should also be ruing the flat performance against Sunderland in the FA Cup, the tight loss to Man City in the Carling and the save that kept out a fourth goal and potentially the comeback of all times in the UCL. But I believe we now have a team that has the spine, the mentality and the talent to start really challenging for silverware again. Note: with Sagna-Koscielny-Vermaelen-Gibbs starting, we have yet to lose this year!

Looking to the last eight games (and 24 points), the two that stand out are obviously the home matches against Chelsea and Man City. I believe that if we continue to play as we have, we should be able to beat Chelsea and essentially guarantee UCL for next year and give Man City a game, as they have been more than beatable on the road (and we almost beat them twice at the Ethiad). The other challenge will be away at Stoke (as Man City just learned), but a solid performance and patience should allow us to take all three there. Let's just hope no let up is in the offing as we struggle to finish a position above where we were last year (lest us forget the post-Carling collapse that saw us go from 2nd to 4th). Go Gunners!  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

GOP Understands Women's Pain ...

A great article a couple of days ago from L Magazine goes through some of the more "empathetic" statements from our white, male representatives (and, of course, Limbaugh) regarding their anti-choice agenda: L Magazine. I think the clips speak for themselves, and are a good advertisement for the continued ascendancy of women and the falling stock of white men ...

Romney Wins; Ryan Budget Dreams Anew

Romney pulled off an important win in Illinois and seems poised to spend his way to the nomination now, with Santorum all but dead and buried -- though sure to continue on with the "good" fight toward flight. One wonders what Gingrich will do; really too unpredictable to bet on either way. And Ryan has just released a new budget proposal that largely mirrors the ridiculous one of last summer (which it appears Obama almost submitted to in a moment of weakness that could be costly). The budget calls for cuts to social security and Medicaid, huge cuts in other programs, more tax cuts for the rich and corporations and little in the way of real deficit reduction. The GOP gambit appears to be that people will continue to abide their 30-year plans to shrink government and serve the powerful even as it came within a Santa's whisker of causing global economic collapse. And given recent discussions about the ignorance of the American populace (at least in the South), one wonders if they can pull off selling their poisonous snake oil yet again. The news about Obama's near capitulation last summer is really disappointing and makes me wonder if there is a democrat in the country left with a sufficient backbone. But I have to believe that their strategy will fail and people will finally awaken to what hope and change meant four years ago -- moving away from neoliberalism and its implicit exodus from hope in lieu of returning to having some faith in government to temper the excesses of the super rich and corporations and restoring our economy to some measure of equity, equality of opportunity and social justice. Since the birth of capitalism it is the only thing that ever has -- though sometimes aided by the other American bete noire ... unions, of course. While I would have loved to run against the seriously deluded and retrograde Santorum, Romney's ideology schizophrenia seems a rather steep mountain to climb, particularly as he changes his route from one day to the next ...

Third Place!

A huge 1-0 road win over Everton today was only the first piece of good news, in an almost perfect day for the Gunners. Chelsea blew a 1-0 lead on the road to Man City, thus putting a temporary wrench in their resurgence after the sacking of AVB (six points behind). Liverpool somehow blew a 2-0 lead to lowly QPR (13 points behind, surely dead and buried). And in the second best news of the day, Tottenham could only muster a late equalizer and one point against Stoke (1 point behind). And thus Arsenal has clawed their way back up to third a few weeks after being down 2-0 to Tottenham and on the brink of the worst season ever under Wenger. And yet now we stand in a wonderful position and with a win on Saturday will gain a further advantage over Tottenham, Chelsea or both (if they draw). 

Arsenal has somehow changed their late season narrative of the past few campaigns, after things were starting to unravel in the new year. They are coming from behind (the last four games before today). They are winning ugly when necessary -- after looking lively early they held on against an Everton side that seemed intent on equalizing. They are actually getting some important calls go their way (the incorrect offsides that disallowed the Drenthe goal in the first half; though to be fair a pretty clear penalty was not called in the second). And they are moving up, rather than down the table as the season nears its end. But for the two game hiccup in the first leg of the UCL and the FA Cup, they look like one of the stronger teams in the league, and with a few additions this summer could be a real threat in the EPL and Champions League next year. And they seem to have the meddle on both sides of the pitch that has so often failed them in the seven-year drought. When the defense needs to stand up, it seems to of late and we have scored more late winners than I can ever remember. 

As to the game itself, we looked lively from the onset and could easily have put the game out of reach within the first ten minutes. Ramsey missed two good opportunities before Vermaelen scored his sixth of the season with a nice header surrounded by four Everton defenders. Van Persie missed a nice chance and Sagna, Walcott and Rosicky all looked strong (Rosicky was denied by a nice save from Howard early in the second). The defense held up nicely as well, with Vermaelen having several important clearances, Koscielny looking strong and Song and Arteta playing further back effectively in the second half. While Sagna did have some problems with Fellani, he held up and I believe the team has improved since his return -- particularly moving forward. Walcott looked good early and even had a couple of important defensive plays. And even with at least two missed opps by Van Persie, we still sealed a tough victory at Goodison. Ramsey looked a little better today, though I really do think he should have scored, and maybe created a little competition for the spot. I would like to see Santos back on the pitch though, as I believe he is more of a threat on the left side than Gibbs and he actually has more successful tackles than anyone on the squad. 

In the other games (which I cruised through via my DVR) ... Chelsea looked set to pull off a shocker today that would have given United a solid lead after Cahill scored on a deflection in the second half. But a hand-ball penalty on Essien was wonderfully taken by Kun Aguero and then a spectacular one-two by Nasri and Carlos Tevez (yes the guy who went AWOL for the past several months was on the pitch and maybe saving City's title run) created the late winner. Watching the game I couldn't help but notice Clichy causing trouble on the left side, Nasri scoring the winner, Cahill opening things up for Chelsea and thinking all of those players could be with Arsenal at the moment. But I'm not sure Cahill is better than either Vermaelen (no way) or Koscielny at the moment, and I do believe Clichy is passed his prime. But Nasri had one of his best games for City in some time and could be the hero if they do pull off the late surge to win the title. Tottenham is lost and while I'm sure third place is not guaranteed, Harry and the squad seem to be doing their annual late season fade. Saturday could be very telling in their attempt to "right the ship," or fade even further behind. The reality is the FA Cup tie might be the most disappointing result of the season for us, as the way we are playing right now we might have been favored to win it; but a third-place finish in this season of minor and major nightmares would surely be satisfying for Wenger, the team and us fans. Go Gunners!

P.S. Congratulations to the NFL for meting out serious punishments to the Saints coaching staff in the wake of the bounty scandal. While the NFL is inherently violent, for the coaches to actually sanction hurting opposing quarterbacks is just the latest example of the moral vacuum that pro sports too often reflects. And on a semi-related note, what are the Jets thinking signing Jesus-freak Tebow. We already have a quarterback with a delicate soul and now we have one of the least innately talented players at the position breathing down his neck? Shame on Rex Ryan and the management for taking a team with a lot of potential and attempting to flush it down the toilet. The curse of Namath may just continue into eternity (we haven't been back to the Super Bowl in 40 plus years, for those who don't pay attention). 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Globalization and Difference

Many believed that globalization would usher in an age of cosmopolitanism that would bring people together and cut through centuries of national and ethnic strife and conflict. While this has been true in some cases, arguably including popular support for the Arab Spring and spread of Hip Hop to marginalized populations across the globe, in other cases hatred has returned with a vengeance. Yesterday in Southern France, for just the latest example, a lone gunman started shooting at a Jewish school, killing four (CNN). Anti-semitism in France is, of course, nothing new and the more than middling popularity of right-wing, reactionary Le Pen is just one example of a European populace that has reacted with racism and violence to the increasing number of immigrants from poor countries seeking refuge and economic opportunity within their borders (particularly those of the Muslim faith). But it appears that reaction then resurfaces in more traditional cultural clashes -- including widespread Antisemitism throughout Europe (including roving Neo-Nazi youth in parts of Germany) often cloaked within critiques of Israel. Anti-Muslim discourses continue to be popular and many reactionary or near reactionary governments have won elections or at least popular support in Italy, Spain, Holland, Denmark and France. 

In this  country, hatred appears to be on the rise as well. Racism has reemerged in less covert ways since the ascendancy of Obama's primary nomination in 2008, anti-gay rhetoric is a leitmotif of religious conservatism (particularly from the Santorum camp), anti-immigrant discourse has become orthodoxy among GOP candidates and the less than subtle attack on the poor in general appears to display the end of any empathy beyond the 1% on the right. Rush Limbaugh's attack on women who might actually want to have protected sex without relying on the guy is yet another example of the Neanderthal stance of the right-wing of the GOP at present. And few could be surprised when Santorum lost Puerto Rico after arguing at a rally that their official language should become English ("El loco es serio?"). In a more general sense, the rise of the religious right has appeared to ushered in the age of cantankerous politics, where conservatives are taught to hate everyone who disagrees with them -- including elite "educated" liberals, gays, blacks, "illegal" immigrants and now maybe even women.

The vehemence of their anger is the most surprising aspect of the new mentality. As I have reported before, research has shown that presenting conservatives with counterfactual evidence only strengthens their resolve. Reason or facts merely spark their anger anew and provide further proof to them of the conspiracy to destroy America by letting anyone except God and the market make decisions. While some of this anger clearly emerges from the fading American dream, the emergence of women, Blacks and Latinos as competition to White men and the deep-seated fear that the "American" identity is in peril of being forever altered appear equally important. Yet many of these angry conservatives are successful, with families and kids. Where does their anger come from? Is it really a religious fervor over a Godless America? Is it a fervent enmity for anyone who disagrees with their dogmatic and largely irrational ideology? Is it the stretch backward for a 50s Utopia that never existed to begin with? Or are conservatives just less happy people in general, turning their internal self-loathing outward in every direction to not face its manifestations within? I suppose it is probably all of these to some degree and that the only way to turn the tide in a country that appears on the precipice of jumping off the cliff of sanity is to explore the rather lofty goal of an American catharsis that can restore some belief in democracy, popular rule, empathy for one's neighbors and the power of the people to actually make the world a better place. Massive economic, social and individual unrest unfortunately only seems to increase hatred as people look in all directions for someone, anyone, to blame but themselves and their beliefs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dream Finish: Arsenal 2, Newcastle 1

A huge victory for the Gunners, who looked the likelier to win throughout but left it until the 94th minute and a cool finish from Vermaelen after a good cross from Walcott and a chest glance from Ramsey. This game was dominated from the  whistle by Arsenal who had several early chances, including a good cross from Walcott that was whiffed by RVP. RVP, in fact, missed a lot of chances between scoring the all important equalizer only seconds after Newcastle had forged ahead on a lovely shot by Ben Arfa (though it was very poor defending from Gibbs, who I thought was average in the game, except moving forward menacingly on several occasions), then missed a lot of good chances the rest of the way. Walcott had a good game though, moving forward on the right side throughout, but blew a couple of decent opportunities. But another late winner must make the squad feel good, First the grades, then the meaning of the match.  

Walcott had a very good game, though he again had opportunities to be the hero that went wanting. A great early cross to RVP could have made this a much easier game and he had the all important cross for the equalizer and that led to the winner. I just wish he could work on his finishing as the ball dropped to him in front of goal right before halftime and he hit it too slowly (leading to a goal line clearance) and overhit a cross that would have otherwise been easy for Rosicky to finish in the second. Nonetheless, he linked up well with Rosicky and RVP and could have had an assist hat trick. A

RVP: scored the all-important equalizer after a great first touch and then lovely finish, but missed at least four other chances (including another nice chip from Song that he failed to bring down). He can be forgiven for not scoring on every opportunity but will be thanking Vermaelen in the locker room after almost letting the points slip away. B+

Chamberlain: a couple of good pushes forward, but a relatively quiet game for the youngster, who was substituted out in the 70th minute. Might have been the case that the attack was more effective from the right most of the game. B-

Rosicky: the renaissance of Rosicky continued tonight, as he controlled the ball going forward, danced around well and sent through a number of great passes that could have led to goals. He also had a good opportunity to score, though Walcott probably should have rolled the ball to him. Really an extraordinary resurgence that will hopefully lead to more goals in the future (having just penned a new contract). A-

Song: strong in the middle as usual, cutting off several counterattacks from Newcastle and keeping the ball moving forward. Could have easily assisted on the winner. B+

Arteta: very strong game for the returning centre midfielder. He controlled the middle, sent good balls out from the back, barely allowed Newcastle possession and orchestrated the late charge together with Walcott and Sagna.

Sagna: had a really strong game and appears to be back in form. Was strong on the defensive end cutting off a few runs forward, got forward a lot and sent in good crosses. A-

Koscielny: a solid game in the middle again, without standing out. He has really become one of the best central defenders in the EPL. B+

Vermaelen: another strong game for our best defensive player, capped by the 94th minute winner. Invaluable to the club and a nice return after a couple of average games (in my estimation). A

Gibbs: I was less impressed with Gibbs, who was guilty on the Newcastle goal, seemed too easy to get around on the right. Was decent moving forward, but gave up the ball too often in the middle of the game lull. C+

Gervinho came in as a sub for Chamberlain in the 70th minute. He continues to fall short in his finishing, with a great opportunity at the far post going wanting from a terrible touch in the 82nd minute. He was menacing at times, but his drop in form since November makes me think that he is rather disappointing this year. C+

Ramsey: a crucial touch at the end that left Vermaelen open to score. He looked good in his return and will have to know that he has serious competition now to keep his position. Also seemed to have a decent strike from the top of the box that was blocked. B+

This is a huge victory that moves us three points above Chelsea yet again and, it is unbelievable to write this, only one point below Tottenham with the same goal differential. The drop in form by Tottenham is hard to explain, with a lackluster 1-0 loss to Everton continuing their woes. It looks like the race is now between Chelsea, Tottenham and us for the third and fourth Champions League spots. I like our chances, given that Chelsea still looks weak to me and Totti better return to form quickly or could drop all the way to fifth. Liverpool is out after a bad loss (and could fall below Everton if they lose tomorrow) and Newcastle is probably gone as well. Third place is knocking and I hope we keep the momentum going. The two big fixtures left on the schedule are the home match against Man City and Chelsea at the Emirates. If we even get draws out of those games, I think we are set. But we have to defend against our tendency to drop points late in the season against average teams. Go Gunners!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Romney Forges Ahead

Romney had a big night on Super Tuesday, shoring up his delegate lead even as he suffered further defeats to chief rival Rick Santorum and barely squeaked out victory in Ohio, where they outspent the former Pennsylvania Senator 4 to 1 (New York Times). While his nomination moves closer to inevitability, he now leads with 415 delegates to 176 for Santorum, 105 for Gingrich and 47 for Ron Paul, serious questions remain about his ability to connect with white, working class Republicans and to close the nomination process and move on to the battle to unseat Obama. More troubling is further evidence that money now speaks volumes in the electoral process, with Romney's lack of popularity among the right wing of the party tempered by his ability to outspend his more conservative opponents. In the states he has won, heavy spending near the end turned the tide -- particularly in Michigan and Ohio. Money has spoken volumes in politics for at least three decades, since the explosion of PACs and lobbyists, but money is now the best predictor of success at the state or national level (with only incumbency a better predictor in most cases). This might swing in Obama's favor in the general election, but the new Citizens decision will certainly have corporations lining up to throw their weight behind anyone who runs against Obama. The real question is whether Romney can galvanize his base to come out in the numbers necessary to win, whether he can convince independent voters that he is in any way authentic and whether he can stop the media barrage of questions about his tendency to stretch the truth and take positions based solely on the audience to whom he is speaking. At the most basic level, a serious question emerges of whether Romney can win on the issues that Republicans seem to care about these days -- militarism (Obama has disappointed progressives by largely continuing the Bush doctrine), abortion/gay rights and the economy. Yes he has the business chops, but as a corporate raider who might remind too many of the Wall Street barons who put us in this mess to begin with. On taxes he will certainly gain some ground, but his plan largely follows the failed trickle down policies of Reagan-Bush. And on the question of likability, it is hard to believe that an East Coast aristocrat can really convince the American public that he is one of them the way Bush did. I feel Santorum would be easier to beat but really wonder if a smug, uber-capitalist is really what the country is looking for right now. We shall have to wait and see ...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Hypocrisy of the Left

I read today a petition at to get Rush Limbaugh kicked off the air. While I agree that he is a parasite who offers unsubstantiated and hateful positions, I'm not sure that attempts to censor him are warranted. If we believe in freedom of speech, we should believe in it at all times. Sure there need to be limitations -- like inciting violence, hate speech or screaming "fire" in a crowded theatre -- but censoring opinions we find abhorrent is exactly what the first amendment is attempting to protect. To be honest, I'm not even sure hate speech should be limited. We should have the voice and opportunity to respond to these opinions, but to shut them off puts all speech in jeopardy. I have a similar opinion about the numerous efforts to boycott or force universities to disinvite speakers, whether they be those on the left or the right. The only way to have a vibrant public sphere is to let silly and offensive opinions like those of Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and, unfortunately Rush Limbaugh, be heard. The real problem is the multitude of voices that are silenced in the mainstream media today and our barometer of what an expert is. The Internet has certainly contributed to allowing a wider array of perspectives to be heard, but the real battle is to hear those opinions in the mainstream -- as the protesters in Wisconsin and the OWS movement more effectively accomplished. So I say we should instead boycott any attempt to boycott voices we don't like.

Arsenal (almost) Miracle ...

Well I needed a day to digest the almost miracle comeback yesterday before I could write about it. For 45 minutes we looked like one of the best teams in the world, pushing forward, defending strongly on the counter, controlling the middle and putting in three goals. Yes we almost gave one back on the stroke of halftime, but it was otherwise probably our finest performances of the season. Rosicky continued his almost inexplicable renaissance, scoring the second goal from a tight angle, after Koscielny had opened up the scoring early with a wonderfully placed free header. Then Oxlade-Chamberlian, who has quickly become one of the most exciting players on the pitch (before the second half injury that may very well have contributed to us falling short), drew the penalty and Van Persie scored. Unfortunately, we might have expelled too much energy in the first half and the second went without the one additional score we needed to go to penalties. At one point, it stood on Van Persie's feet, but he tried to chip over rather than around the 40-year old goalie and a second fine save on the day sent AC Milan through 4-3 on aggregate.

I think we can take a lot of positives out of this game, though I know the players will again recognize that a good opportunity went wanting by a single goal (as it did last year against Barcelona). I also believe that the refereeing was horrible, though I don't think it had a huge impact on the game. He gave away yellow cards for nothing, stopped the action with free kicks for AC Milan that they clearly didn't deserve and almost didn't give one of the most obvious penalties in recent memory. Why the European referees seem so intent on screwing Arsenal is beyond me, but I guess it is just something we have to overcome (like we did in England when the refs didn't like the "foreign" Arsenal squads of Wenger's early years). I also think the game showed us how important Chamberlain has already become to the squad, as his premature departure after sustaining what looked like a hamstring injury seemed to send the momentum back AC Milan's way. I also think the game again showed why our transfer/wage policies don't work, as we had no impact players to come off the bench. It sounds like we are finally going to take care of it this summer, but it is disappointing to still have Chamakh as the backup after the exciting loan of Henry and no one else as a real goal threat coming off the bench. 

Looking at the squad it is clear to me that we need at least one centre-half (preferably Vertonghen from Ajax), a creative midfielder (hopefully Goetze or someone else of similar talent), a central striker, who hopefully can also play on the wing (aka Podoloski), and a winger (of course Eden Hazard is at the top of that list). I have been saying it for a long time, but I wouldn't mind the club selling Walcott this summer and using the money for further reinforcements. He is just too consistent and rarely scores goals when we need them. He was a danger yesterday, but blew some clear opportunities and sometimes fumbled about when he had a shot or good pass. Chamberlain can take that spot next year with Hazard or someone else on the other side and Miyachi and maybe Campbell as backups (among other choices like Rosicky). I also have to again note that the team has played better the past several games without Ramsey on the pitch and it begs the question of whether he is really the solution for the team. At first he looked lively and had one great pass after another, including scoring a key goal in the UCL group stage. But he has been off for a long time and seems to slow down the attack too often or try errant passes, while often losing the ball in dangerous  positions. 

Anyway, I have to admit that Wenger is again showing his genius and that if he is finally willing to change his transfer and wage policies and can keep Van Persie, he deserves at least another year. I don't understand why we had the drop in form at the turn of the year, why we had the two game drop off against AC Milan in the first leg and Sunderland in the FA Cup and why we didn't spend any money in January, but he clearly has this club on the ascendancy again. One hopes they show a little more consistency in the run in now and secure fourth (or even third) place. And the new formation (though fomented by injuries) might be something to experiment with a little more if the attack goes stale or we are having trouble scoring goals. It was certainly exciting to watch! Not to end on a negative note, but I have to admit that I would have never taken a "moral victory" from falling short in the round of 16 in the UCL even five years ago. Alas, that is the reality of being a Gunners fan these days ... 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Umm ... the Obvious Question

Rush Limbaugh, who has never felt compelled to actually live the life he preaches, appears to be on the defensive again after a rather half-hearted apology to Sandra Fluke for calling her a slut and prostitute. And yet the obvious question that emerges is ... why doesn't Rush have any children? He has been married four times and had a few lacunae in between ... so where are the kids? The reality is he is either a) impotent, b) sterile, c) so disgusting even his wives won't sleep with him or d) a complete and utter hypocrite. Of course, he could argue that he only has sex in marriage, but it would be fun for someone to go check and see if any of his wives have had their birth control covered by their health care plans and if he ever had sex out of marriage without a condom. Just food for thought ...

Really this is just the latest example of the hypocrisy that is so common on the right -- anti-gay gays, porn opponents who watch a lot of porn (a study once found that conservatives watch more), moralizers with the morals of a jackal and a general tendency to say anything that will stir up the highly flammable masses. And it relates to their multipronged strategy over the past 30 years: 1) Win on passion and fear over facts, 2) Turn the focus away from the economy whenever possible, 3) When facts are inconvenient, just ignore them or lie and 4) Attack all institutions that can inform people of these strategies (or the facts) including the media, schools and universities; together with the public sphere in general. 

The funny thing to me about the whole affair is that Rush wasn't criticizing Fluke for having premarital sex, he was criticizing her for asking the government to cover her ability to have safe sex. That actually kind of makes sense, except that so many Limbaugh supporters want the government in our bedrooms telling us what is acceptable and what isn't. One assumes there will soon be a reality game show where judges rate the performances of random sexual partners before a live audience. And the second silly thing is the "public apology" itself. From at least Clinton forward, we have this national pastime of demanding public apologies, even when the actions are largely in line with what people like Limbaugh say, or Clinton did, almost every day. So they are marched out to give their apologies and then the media pundits grade the effort, the exact words used and decide whether it shows enough contrition or not. Since the politician, celebrity or pundit knows this, a team comes together to try to sculpt the perfect apologia and hope the pundits play along. This game went on for over a year as the GOP tried to unseat Clinton, but apparently the people were a lot more forgiving than they thought. And, to be honest, one thing you can say about the U.S. is we generally tend to be pretty forgiving, or at least forgetting ...

Monday, March 05, 2012

Empathy's Swan Song ... Part II

The GOP is at it again, from Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," for arguing that Georgetown should cover contraception (Slate), to Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson comparing food stamp recipients to feeding wild animals (Crooks & Liars), the party appears to jumping over the deep end in vilifying the poor, immigrants and woman -- three pretty big constituencies (lest us forget gays as well). And as they have become so adept at, they actually play the victim card in claiming that they are the ones suffering for our attempts to end racial inequality, provide equal rights to all or help those who are suffering the most in the country. It has often been said that you can judge a society by how they treat their most marginalized populations, and if Republicans get their way, we will soon be telling them to eat cake (if they can find it dumpster diving, that is). 

Rick Santorum invoked the "Christian victim" narrative in responding to criticism of his support for the birth control bill that just failed by a few votes last week arguing: "We hear so much about the left wanting to separate church and state. Well, how about the separation of church and state when the state wants to force the church and people who are believers into doing something that they don't want to do." (C&L) He continued by claiming, ""I'm reflecting the views of the Church that I believe in. We used to be tolerant of those beliefs. I guess now when you have beliefs that are consistent with the church, you are somehow out of touch with the mainstream. And that to me is a pretty sad situation when you can't have personally-held beliefs." Well first, yes you are out of touch with the mainstream, the twenty-first century and most of the world's population. But to claim that someone can refuse service because of their beliefs is simply absurd, and does harken back to the founding fathers and their belief that neither the church, a monarch or one branch of government should have too much power. For Christians to be able to refuse to provide birth control would be like a 7-11 telling blacks they can't buy candy there, or a doctor refusing to provide emergency service to a Jew or Muslim or a car salesman refusing to sell cars to a gay man. Aren't we passed this silliness yet? Well, not in the U.S. and, when it comes to immigrant groups across Europe, not there either.

The most troubling aspect of this debate is the underlying lack of compassion or empathy for those whose beliefs are different than yours. The OWS protesters were just bitter losers, those who fight for affirmative action are just trying to use race to gain unfair advantage and the poor, of course, are always to blame for their own problems. From the corporate boardrooms to Wall Street to conservative pundits and politicians we see a move away from concern for anyone except those who hold the same beliefs as you. And it begs the question of whether the Internet and new media have actually facilitated people becoming even more insular, and ignoring anyone who disagrees with them -- reorienting their anger towards those at the bottom of the economic order and anyone that thinks or behaves differently. And this has always been the problem with organized religion and fundamentalisms of any kind -- they don't just live a certain way, they believe everyone should live a certain way. The inability to see the hypocrisy of screaming for corporate and market freedom while they try to legislate what people do in their bedrooms has always fascinated and troubled me, but the level of vitriol and absurdity that the debate has taken on today makes me wonder if the entire country hasn't lost their minds!  

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Winning Ugly

A huge weekend for the Gunners, who pulled off a rather stunning 2-1 victory after being outplayed most of the game. The two heroes were RVP and Szczezny, the first for scoring on the only two chances he had all day and our young Polish goalkeeper for stopping everything Liverpool offered up including a majestic double-save on a ghost penalty (though I don't blame the ref for calling it, as it must have looked like there was contact with the biggest diver in the EPL - Suarez); the only goal came on Koscielny's second own goal in two days. The win essentially ended Liverpool's chances of Champions League football and together with the AVB killing 1-0 Chelsea defeat at West Brom and the Newcastle-Sunderland 1-1 draw, saw us further solidify our place in the top four -- a mere four points against a Tottenham team that was trounced 3-1 by Man U. 

The game once again showed our mettle as we were outplayed but somehow picked up all three points at the Kop. But it also showed that the inconsistency of this squad requires some luck to finish in the top four. If the rumors are to be believed, finishing in Champions League position could see the addition of several top players this summer and the exit of much of the dead weight currently eating away wages (and points when they do come on the pitch) -- including Chamakh, Squillaci, Bendtner and the rest of the gang of outcasts. Good news also lingers as Diaby looked good in his return, though he did limp off the field and another injury should convince us that he just can't make it back, and the relatively imminent returns of Wilshire and Santos. Looking at the remaining schedule, Chelsea certainly has a tougher road, and if we can just win the games we should -- fourth (or even third if Totti continues their almost annual late season collapse) is certainly a strong possibility. In any case, a great though ugly win and now on to the almost impossible task of trying to make up the four goal deficit against the resurgent AC Milan before our return fixture against Newcastle. Go Gunners!