Monday, April 30, 2012

Romney Retort and More Misinformation

Romney has responded to a recent Obama campaign ad that touted the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, claiming Romney wouldn't have authorized the raid: Slate. His response, "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." What a classy guy. Yes, Jimmy Carter had a circumspect, though probably manipulated, record regarding the Iranian hostages that helped Reagan win. And yes, Carter has had the gall to win a Nobel Peace Prize and try to broker peace in Israel. But why beat up the old President who has been a beating post for so long? Romney appears willing to say pretty much anything to win the election -- and many things that could hurt him in the end. One hopes the Obama team pull out the old Huntsman ads and remind voters that Romney changes his mind more often then Charlie Brown.

To boot, after criticizing the President a few months ago for saving the auto industry -- a seemingly terrible idea given how closely contested the Midwest has become -- he now has his version of the external Karl Rove brain, Eric Fehrnstorm claiming that the bailout was all Romney's idea (Crooks & Liars). As usual, the Romney team hopes Americans have historical amnesia, as Romney, in fact, penned a 2008 op ed called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" and then reiterated the point in a 2012 piece (see link above for links to articles). And just yesterday, Romney told graduates to be bold and borrow money from their parents. What a great guy ... gee, I hope he wins (dog lover of the year that is).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Arsenal Draw Again

Trips to the Brittania have often been contentious (none more than the Shawcross-Ramsey leg break two years ago) and rarely lucrative. And that trend continued yesterday, as Arsenal did pull back to 1-1 six minutes after giving up an early goal to Peter Crouch, but were unable to get the winner. It was another relatively stale performance and another game we failed to win without Arteta (something we have failed to do all year). RvP did get off the snide and scored a goal in open play, on a lovely cross from Rosicky. But defensive sloppiness early led to the opener, as Sagna failed to get out on the wing to contest the cross from Etherington and Vermaelen was unable to clear the ball in front of the much taller Crouchy. One has to ask why Chamberlain wasn't given the start with Walcott out for the final three games. And many opportunities went wanting in the first half, though Begovic had several fine saves. 

The dropped points were particularly disappointing as Newcastle had been mauled by the surging Wigan 4-0 and we could have thus all but wrapped up third place for the season. Now we probably have to win our final two games to secure third and ensure that we are playing in the champions league next year (given that Chelsea could win the tournament this year if they beat Bayern Munich in the final) and will take the "fourth" spot if they don't grab it themselves). There is a possibility Chelsea will do just that though, and that would mean we are in if we stay in the top four. Our next match is against Norwich at the Emirates, who have little to play for except pride, and then we finish against mid-table West Brom to close out the campaign. We should win both and ensure that third spot, but nothing is guaranteed with a squad that has now lost to QPR and Wigan and drawn with Chelsea and Stoke, while beating Man City and the bottom dwelling Wolves in between. After a nice run of form, one wonders where the confidence and quality have gone, but there do seem to be a lot of tired legs and a general lack of creativity and solid defense (particularly early in contests). 

A few takeaways from the game: 1. We need to have more defensive discipline and to get our fullbacks to come out and contest crosses. This has been a problem too often this year and cost us big today. I think the recent form reaffirms our need for another centre back and maybe fullback. We could cover both by signing Vertonghen. 2. We need more creativity in the middle. We are clearly looking and hopefully a good choice will emerge. Ramsey has improved a little in the past two games, but he just doesn't control the middle or provide the service that Arteta does. 3. I think we also have to think about the wings. Yes we have Walcott and Chamberlain (who might be better employed in the hole behind the striker), and appear to have signed Podolski, but maybe need someone more prolific than Gervinho and Benayoun (who looks set to move on). 4. It was good to see Diaby in again, though he doesn't have the weight of his passes down yet. Healthy, he could be a nice option to give rest to Arteta and any other signings. 5. There is no question that we are building too slowly and allowing teams to get behind us and make it very difficult to score. Chelsea's epic hold with 10 men against Barca points to a similar problem the Catalan team has had a few times this year. 

And one has to mention the week of football beyond the world of Arsenal. Chelsea looked set to be eliminated after John Terry got sent off for a silly foul and Barca scored twice to make it 2-0. And then right before half time, Messi was dispossessed and Frank Lapard sent a beautiful pass toward the wing that was picked up by Ramires, who cooly chipped over the terrible Valdez. Going into the locker room, Barca must have felt deflated but confident they could get the goal that would restore their tie lead. But it never came, after Messi missed an early second half penalty (reaffirming some people's fear that he lacks big game quality -- which is of course ridiculous, given all the silverware he's won with Barca in the past few years). The draw, which saw Chelsea go through on aggregate, together with the 2-1 home loss in El Classico last weekend, appeared to be the final straw in a decision Guardiola might have made long ago -- to walk away from the plumbest job in the world. The announcement came two days later and leaves some questions about the future -- though some summer signings should restore the form that still included three pieces of silverware since last summer. One thing that seems clear to me is that Valdez needs competition for the starting job; and they probably need to fortify the backline and maybe bring in a striker that can provide a "plan b." Real Madrid met a similar fate when they too blew a 2-0 lead that would have seen them through after a foul in the box by Pepe led to a penalty and aggregate tie. Madrid looked likely to score, but as the two teams moved toward extra time, they both seemed to tire and were intent on not giving up the late goal. The extra 30 minutes lacked real quality and it thus came down to penalties -- with Ronaldo (for the first time in his last 25 penalties), Kaka and Ramires all failing to put it in the net. Mourinho must be disappointed, having smelled his third trophy the second Torres put in the goal that ended any Barca hope in stoppage time. Now we have a Bayern Chelsea final that few non-fans of either team will be terribly excited to see -- given the lost opportunity for one last el classico this season. Barca can still garner one last prize for Guardiola as they play the Copa del Rey final later in May. Chelsea's victory was a real achievement but one wonders if they can keep the Dimateo magic going against an in form Bayern Munich who will be playing on home turf to make up for the finals loss to Inter two short years ago. 

In any case, much is still up in the air as the season closes. Who will win the UCL (I guess I will tepidly root for Chelsea, unless the Arsenal form continues to fail to impress)? Who will win the EPL -- though we will know a lot more tomorrow? I think Man City will pull off the win, maybe 2-1 or 3-2, but that is wishful thinking as much as an informed opinion. Though Wolves are out and Blackburn looks soon to follow, who will be the third team relegated this year? I think QPR might be the third to fall (my odds on favorite), though Aston Villa is still not safe, Bolton currently sits in that spot and Wigan is not completely safe yet.  And who will win the FA Cup, though given recent form one would be hard pressed to pick Liverpool over Chelsea. Go Gunners!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Racism in Sports

As racism continues to rise across the Western world it is little surprise that it has found its way into the world of sports -- a space where greater racial equality is often met by both nuanced and overt racial commentary. Just in the last year, we have had the Lin "chink in the armor" controversy, two incidents in the English Premier League (one involving Liverpool's Luis Suarez telling Man U's Patrice Evra that he doesn't talk to Negros (Mirror)and the other ex-England and Chelsea Captain John Terry shouting racial epithets at QPR defender Anton Ferdinand (AFB)) and the rather paltry covering of rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who broke Peyton Manning's rookie record for yards, but got little coverage after many argued he couldn't make it in the NFL (with the usual commentator bias against black quarterbacks continuing to rear its ugly head). Other soccer venues and games have seen ugly racial incidents, including at Tottenham and Arsenal, in Egypt and in Russia, where the racism appears to be quite strong. The latest example comes from the Stanley Cup playoffs, after Joel Ward, one of the few black players in the NHL, scored an overtime goal to send the Capitals past the defending champion Boston Bruins. In the wake of the dramatic win in Game 7, Ward's Twitter page was awash in racist comments from disgruntled Bruins fans (ESPN).

What should we make of these diverse incidents? One thing that is clear is that they are no longer acceptable and players and fans involved are often condemned, fined or suspended. Commentators that make what are perceived as racist comments are often fired, from Howard Cosell to Jimmy the Greek to one of the two involved in the Lin comments. But much nuanced racism continues to persist. For example, the way black athletes are often described in animalistic terms, or as natural talents, while we hear more about white athletes work ethic, intelligence and the like. With fans, the abuse is often much less nuanced from throwing bananas at black athletes in soccer and the NHL to racist chants during soccer matches. Is this just a continuation of racism that never died? Does the composition of the fan base, which includes a lot of working class people, explain the problem? Have we just become more sensitive to the problem in the 24-hour news cycle and given a larger focus on the underlying meaning of language? 

While all of these may be true, I can't help but believe that it results from two trends and a third underlying pathology: 1) the increased immigration across Europe and America that have diversified societies and called national identities into question, 2) the financial crisis that has worsened the situation for many working and middle class men -- with the blame placed squarely on minority, immigrant groups, affirmative action and anything else that cloaks the workings of capitalism today and 3) since we think of sports as a meritocracy, the success of black, asian or other minority athletes, reaffirms the sense of inferiority or threat posed by these groups to the fading white, male power in the world today. Sports becomes a metaphor for the diminishing prospects of the White male in Western society and a firm reminder that tired old racist theories have been largely disproven over time. Just as black male potency and athletic prowess have long been an unspoken national pathology among white men (exemplified in among other TV, movies and novels the classic To Kill a Mocking Bird). While sports are often held up as an example of successfully overcoming racism, it is clear there is residual racism at their very heart. And as the world economic climate continues to be mired in uncertainty and increased inequality and poverty, it appears the sports metaphor will reflect the fading hegemony of the white world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You're Still Here?

Apparently someone forgot to tell Newt Gingrich that his chances of securing the Republican Presidential nomination are long over: Slate. While he hangs around spending a billionaires money for no apparent reason, Romney ramps up for the fight to come. And not unsurprisingly, he has decided that he is a centrist after all, supporting Obama's pledge to freeze student loan interest rates -- rather than double them as the GOP currently plans on pushing. It seems a smart strategy, as continuing to push an agenda of tax cuts, screwing the poor and middle class and making the situation even worse for the future generation would have little currency in a rational debate. Of course America is far from a rational country and Obama is no shoe in for reelection. 

The move of Romney to the center is the norm for politics but does beg serious questions about our political process. Does it make sense that politicians portray themselves one way in primaries and then switch once they have secured the nomination? Obama can be hailed for not doing this in his 2008 campaign, essentially offering the same message in both his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and less surprising victory over the creaky, retrograde McCain campaign. But what does this immediate shift tell us about Romney? It seems to reaffirm the worst fears of those who might support him (me obviously excluded from this group). He is an opportunist who will say anything to win, changes his mind from one second to the next, is dishonest in his campaign ads, his rhetoric and his statements of "facts," those things we once relied on to help us make educated decisions. And he seems completely out of touch with the America we live in today. Recently, he has taken to rewriting American history and claiming Obama is to blame for our current economic troubles, eliding the last 30 years of Republican rule and the disaster that was eight years of Bush (forgoing also the costs of the Iraq war). One wonders how long the American people will allow the ruling class to rule over us, particularly in elected positions. A president is supposed to represent the interests of the nation as a whole; can we really trust someone who has shown an interest only in the interests of the few?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The American Dream ... Or is it The American Nightmare?

Two articles today highlight the worsening prospects for American youth, even those with a college degree. First, an analysis done for the Associated Press found that over 50% of those under 25 are either unemployed or underemployed: Slate. That translates to roughly 1.5 million youth who are evenly split between working part-time or not at all. Many are now waitresses, bartenders, clerks or in other relatively menial jobs with little prospects to turn their education into a well-paying job that actually uses the skill and knowledge they acquired in accruing large debts. The situation is particularly bleak for those in the arts and humanities. In the other piece, the Chicago Sun Times (Sun) reports that 1 in 5 men between their mid-20s and mid-30s are back living at home, the highest percentage since the 1960s. As we continue to tout the importance of education, even as its costs rise, one wonders if the American Dream really exists except for those few who get Wall Street jobs or find their way to fame, or maybe more likely infamy. It does make you wonder if Romney has a shot in hell. Fox News remains undaunted however, and is now redacting Obama quotes to drum up news: TPM. Understandable really, given that the GOP has nothing to offer the average American except fewer jobs and increased debt. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Arsenal Draw; Barca Lose Again

Today's nil-nil tie with Chelsea could have been worse, but the reality is we should have won the game. The Blues made eight changes from the squad that just beat Barca 1-0 on Wednesday, and though they were still tough in the back we had a few big chances. One has to admit at this point something I pointed out last week -- which is that Robin Van Persie is in a bit of a scoring slump at the moment. It seems to me it has followed the missed opportunity in front of goal against AC Milan that would have tied the tie. Since then he has been scuffing chances and missing that cutting edge he had been showing for over a year. He had three clear cut opportunities today and really should have clipped the first in for sure. That came on a free kick from Walcott in the 8th minute, finding RVP on the far post. Rather than nudge it into the net from a yard out, he someone pushed it passed the goal. In the 43rd minute a great pass from Song went wanting as RVP kicked it right to Cech. He wasted a free kick in the 63rd, after his fourth offsides of the day, and then in the 67th has a chance to score his third spectacular volley of the year, but mishits it well wide of the mark. Then he had opps in the 82nd and 86th minute, with the latter looking quite likely if he took two rather than three touches and sent it across goal with his right. Don't get me wrong, he's having a great campaign, but one has to admit he's cost us some points in the run in -- first against QPR, then Wigan and now Chelsea. 

Other takeaways from the game: Ramsey again gave the ball away on several occasions, with two leading to good chances for Chelsea, who was relatively ineffective in the final third. But he looked lively at times and did show some creativity. Walcott went off around the 60th minute, but probably should have been replaced earlier, and is now apparently going to miss the rest of the season with a hamstring problem. This is good news for the Ox, but we shall see how he does in the final three games. As to the defense, they were decent but did give Chelsea some chances, which thank God they didn't take. One takeaway is that Koscielny has been invaluable this season, really improving from last year. A couple of key tackles probably saved the game including one in the box that might have saved the game late. It was also good to see Diaby on the pitch after all his injury problems, but he was definitely rusty and the weight of many of his passes a touch off. Another important note from the game is that we still have not won without Arteta all year. That last day of the summer signing pick up has been invaluable and one hopes we can manage to break that inauspicious record in the last three.

As to the other games today, one can't help but mention El Classico, and Morinho's brilliant strategy, clogging the middle and cutting  off Barca's passing lanes. Barca still could have won the game if Tello had played better and I do have to wonder why he wasn't replace in the second half after wasting chance after chance. But Real played great defense, were strong on the counter and Ronaldo actually showed up in a big game with a lovely goal. I must also say, as I have to fellow Barca fans in the past, that Valdez is a really average goalkeeper who too often comes out when he should just stay put, getting caught in no man's land. It's hard not to blame him for the first goal, though  it was bad luck that Puyol got caught off balance and had to try to block rather than clear. In the other EPL games, Newcastle moved a lot closer to a Champions League spot with a convincing 3-0 victory and Tottenham continued their nightmare, losing yet again, to QPR. It's hard to explain how far they have fallen from outside League contenders to fifth place, but they need to wake up quickly or the team could be dismantled this summer while looking for a new coach (I assume). The point for Chelsea makes their battle for fourth that much harder, but they obviously have their sights set on winning the competition and getting the automatic bid. I don't see it happening, but if they do get a goal at Barca, the pressure will really be on. That, of course, would make it essential that we win our final three, because Newcastle could pull even on points winning their game in hand. Luckily they have to play Chelsea, who really have shored up their defense. In any case, all is still up in the air -- the title (though Man U could get much closer with a win tomorrow against Everton), the Champions League spots and relegation -- with Wolves the only sure bet to be demoted at this point. Go Gunners!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Condi Rice for VP?

Seriously? Apparently, Condoleeza Rice is currently leading the way in polls for the vice presidential slot with Romney: FreeP (according to a CNN/ORC poll). Luckily for Romney, Rice has she has no intentions of joining the ticket -- as she is largely linked to the Bush presidency and its many failures (including her rather unimpressive, prevaricating testimony before the 911 Commission). Others at the top of polls include New Jersey's rotund and vitriolic governor Chris Christie, the anti-immigrant Latino Senator from Florida Mark Rubio and House Budget Chairman, and radical anti-government rhetorist, Paul Ryan. I think all of these choices would be good for Democrats, as each is polarizing to important constituents -- Christie to anyone with a brain and a sense that unions and teachers aren't evil, Rubio ironically to many Latino who see his anti-illegal-immigrant stance as an attack on his entire race and Ryan to anyone who is sane. One hopes one of this mix rises to the cream of the crop. The problem for Romney is most have claimed they have no interest in the slot, maybe sensing that the candidate who seems unable to say what he means or mean what he says will have a hard time beating Obama. It might also be that their own future ambitions would be hurt by signing on with a candidate who seems to embody much of what America is looking to change -- an entitled, East Coast moderate who has a history that seems too closely tied to Wall Street's role in screwing up the U.S. and global economies. But who knows in this insane campaign milieu?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tough Loss for Gunners

Not a good day at the Emirates for the Gunners who gave up two early goals and lost 2-1 to Wigan; as Fergie predicted. The Emirates has been a relative fortress most of the season, but two goals in the first eight minutes turned out to be too much to overcome, even as they attacked throughout. The game could turn out to be even bigger in the pursuit of third or fourth, as Mikel Arteta sustained an injury before the goals that could see him gone for the season. The club hasn't won without him all season and we must also note the absence of Koscielny playing a huge role, as the two early goals were both the result of rather pathetic defending. 

A few thoughts about the game. The first and second goals, in my mind, can be blamed partially on Vermaelen who is getting involved far too far up field too often. In recent games Kos has covered back with Song to make up for a centre half who pushes forward a little too often for my tastes. And why do so so early in a game that we should dominate? The strategy backfired and cost us the early two goal deficit. While some will argue he got one back later in the first half, the damage was done and we never found the equalizer that seemed likely throughout. Another strategic problem for me was our slow build -- as we lacked the creativity to provide many real chances, even as we dominated possession until the end of the game, when Wigan killed it off. I followed Ramsey throughout, and noticed that almost 90% of his passes were either lateral or backwards. Playing center mid that is sometimes necessary, but he needs to get the ball forward at times and seems unwilling or unable to do so. Sagna had a very unimpressive game on the right, contributing to the second goal, being dominated by Moses most of the game and getting in few good crosses. Walcott also had an off day and Van Persie was barely involved. One also has to wonder why Chamberlain is getting so little time on the pitch and why we took off Benayoun, who seemed the most creative player yesterday.

The loss could be devastating if we don't  take care of a resurgent Chelsea on Saturday, as Newcastle, Tottenham and the Blues are all right back on our tales. As Warren Barton noted last week, the Gunners will never challenge for the title until they can stop losing games they should win. The flat loss at QPR was terrible and this performance even worse in my estimation -- as not playing such a high line might have made the final score 1-0 in our favor. Wigan was hot coming into the game and I just don't understand why we had to push everyone so high up the pitch so early. In any case, the game with Chelsea at the Emirates now looms large and could very well determine our fate. With Van Persie spotted dining with a Man City rep and hanging out in the Barca hotel last night after the loss, one cannot underestimate the importance of a top four finish and good signings early in the summer. Dropping out of the Champions League right now could very well spell doom for the club in the short run as RVP leaves and others are less likely to sign. One hopes the club wakes up and finishes strong before it's too late.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Controversy in EPL/FA Cup

It gets tired cataloging the terrible state of refereeing week after week, year after year, but two terrible decisions today played a huge role in determining who will play in the FA Cup Final and, maybe, the League champion. A day after I complained about all the calls United has gotten this year, Ashely Young dove again and the ref again gave a ridiculous penalty early that just about killed off the game at Old Trafford. Yes Man United probably would have won anyway, but it is tired to see them get calls in game after game, season after season. They have been handed at least three games this year and though they can complain about the Newcastle decision, too many times the not only get loose calls but get away with clear penalties on the either side (Fulham anyone?). Maybe the league wants them to win or maybe the refs are just too scared of Fergie's ire, but something really needs to be done about it. 

In the second FA Cup final, we saw one of the worst decisions I've ever seen -- though I still think the RVP sending off in the second leg of the UCL tops my list (Barca being another team that always gets calls, though as a prior resident of that lovely city I generally don't complain as much except when the Gunners are involved). Not only did both the linesman and referee Martin Atkinson (one of the consistently worst refs in the game) miss a really obvious "triple" foul by John Terry, who took out two defenders and the goalie right in front of goal, but gave a goal that didn't cross the line. It wasn't even close and the benefit of the doubt should go to the defenders. 

And this appears to be the big problem in football today. If you miss a penalty or don't give the red card, teams might rightfully complain afterwards and have a point. But when you give penalties, red cards and goals that shouldn't count you are directly influencing the outcome of the game. Refs really need to start being more cautious with their decisions and stop playing such pivotal roles in the game. We obviously need goal line technology, which looks to be on the way. And I think Wenger is right that video replay should be instituted, at least for goals, penalty appeals and red cards. Refs will always get decisions wrong, but the old adage that it equals out in the end is just not true. Barca got a soft penalty decision this week, Man United another and Chelsea a "ghost" goal. That just doesn't feel like an accident. Certain teams seem to get the calls on a regular basis -- and it's hard not to notice that they are the biggest teams in Europe. Refs need to start thinking before they act and stop becoming the antiheroes of far too many games. It is hard not to argue that they are diminishing the standing of the sport with each passing game -- with results starting to feel like boxing matches (fixed before they start).  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Week in the EPL

It's been an odd week in the world of English Football. Right after it looked like Man United had sown up the title, they lose 1-0 to Wigan and Man City wins two in a row, led by the resurgence of long-absent Carlos Tevez. Today was a really impressive 6-1 road win over Norwich City that puts them a mere two points behind their crosstown rival, though United has a home game against Aston Villa tomorrow. That will probably restore the five point lead and their next fixture against Everton should produce another three points -- though Everton has been playing great football of late. Unfortunately, it was not great enough to get to the finals of the FA Cup, with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Meyerside derby rival Liverpool on a late winner by Andy Carroll. Yes, that's right, for the second game in a row Andy Carroll produced a late winner. Not exactly proof that he was worth the money (far from it), but good to see the young striker start to produce. The same can be said of Torres, though I do wonder if he will ever get back to the dominance he once showed for Liverpool and country (lest us forget he scored the winner in Spain's Euro 2008 final against Germany). Tottenham lost again last week, to  Norwich at home, and looks on the brink of falling out of the top four completely. Their game against Chelsea tomorrow in the other FA Cup Semi could be a real boost to the reeling team, that just doesn't seem to be performing as well since Harry's slotting as the next English National Team Coach -- and our lovely 5-2 come-from-behind victory.

So while Man City has certainly put the pressure on United, the latter will have to drop two points, and lose to City, to give the title away this late. That seems unlikely given the opponents they will face: Aston Villa, Everton, Swansea (you never know) and an away game against Sunderland that may see a home team not nearly as interested as United in winning. But it should be a fun run in with the title still open for the moment, the battle for third and fourth place still wide open and the relegation battle very tight (except for Wolves who look set for demotion). One thing I find troubling about the title race, and not for the first time, is the reality that United should have drawn at Craven Cottage, given the penalty that wasn't called late, should have at least had a game against QPR (how the FA didn't overturn that red card is beyond me) and has had several positive calls this year that saved points. The state of refereeing continues to be pathetic -- Barca also got a rather pathetic penalty call to pull out a 2-1 win that keeps their title hopes alive with the next (and hopefully not last) El Classico of the year next Saturday -- and something really needs to be done. Wenger has called for the use of video replay and one hopes that is in the offing at some point. One also hopes the FA follows through on the hints and at least puts in goal line technology. Whatever the cost, it is worth it -- as England can certainly attest to from the World Cup. On the other hand, Ferguson has again shown that he is probably the greatest coach ever (at least in the EPL) this year and getting Scholes out of retirement was a brilliant stroke as they have won every game he has played. A slip up is not impossible, but unfortunately does seem unlikely.

A win by Arsenal on Monday will go a long way to securing that third spot and though Wigan has been playing really well of late, and Ferguson stoked the fire by claiming they will win, I think a strong effort should garner us the three points. Looking at the remaining games, I think Chelsea might just snatch the fourth spot if Tottenham continues to falter, though the latter has the much easier fixtures. Here are the remaining schedules of the clubs in the hunt:

Arsenal: Wigan (H), Chelsea (H), Stoke (A), Norwich (H) and West Brom (A) -- we could easily win out, but the games agains Chelsea, Stoke and Norwich are no easy task. Luckily we are home for two of them and really should take care of Stoke if we are efficient. Third is certainly not secured yet ...

Chelsea: Arsenal (A), QPR (H), Newcastle (H), Liverpool (A) and Blackburn (H) -- not an easy schedule, and fatigue with the FA Cup and Champions League semi could see them too tired to pull this out. The games against the Gooners and Newcastle obviously loom large and Liverpool does look primed to finish strongly.

Newcastle: Stoke (H), Wigan (A), Chelsea (A), Man City (H) and Everton (A) -- this is the toughest schedule of the bunch and though they have been playing well, I'm not convinced they can squeak out enough points for fourth.

Tottenham: QPR (A), Blackburn (H), Bolton (A), Aston Villa (A) and Fulham (H) -- Tottenham should be able to keep fourth if they can take care of a number of teams fighting off relegation. The problem is their drop in form, tendency to falter late in seasons and a number of key injuries (particularly on the defensive end).

Should be fun to watch! Go Gunners!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Latest Tennesee Decision Sets Clocks Back a Century

In good news for monkeys and gorillas, who are tired of claims that they are in any way related to humans, the Tennessee legislature passed a law yesterday that allows teachers to question the validity of controversial theories like biological evolution, global warming, the chemical origins of life and human cloning: Slate. Even as scientists continue to claim that these are not controversial issues, evangelicals reminded them that the Church has often stood at the forefront of scientific discovery and innovation, from locking up Galileo to excommunicating Spinoza. Questions remain on whether teachers can advocate for eugenics (one hopes so) and allow students to check their Jewish peers for horns.

Sponsors of the bill plan to next take on American history curriculum that teaches that slavery was evil, that America is not chosen by God to rule the world, that the apocalypse is not just around the corner or that we lost the Vietnam War, didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or that George Bush was not the greatest president who ever lived. They also hope to institute bills that would forever outlaw sex education, as a precursor to outlawing sex. While liberals claim the bill challenges the separation of church and state, conservatives respond that they are Godless elitist heathens who should read less and pray more. One representative who voted against the bill argued, "They seem intent on making what is already one of the stupidest countries in the world, also one that is stuck in the middle ages." A co-sponsor of the bill replied, "God, wouldn't that be great?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

GOP War on Sex Continues (Wisconsin Style)

As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker prepares for the recall effort against him, he has decided to ramp up his war on women and gays. Among other things, the Governor who took collective bargaining rights away from public service workers has recently done the following:
  • Placed a ban on abortion coverage by private health insurers taking part in the Affordable Care  act.
  • Signing a bill requiring women seeking abortions to undergo a one-on-one exame with a doctor to determine if anyone is forcing them into the decision
  • Signed a bill requiring sex education classes to focus on abstinence and allows teachers to ignore contraception
  • Pushing to take hospital visitation rights away from same-sex couples
  • And signed a bill repealing Wisconsin's Equal Pay law.
Walker has become a polarizing national figure for his war against workers and unions, but now he has become another beacon for the evangelical right. The question is why? Walker, in fact, believes he is doing God's work -- a God who apparently hates sex, gays, women and, of course, unions and the common man. Many conservatives obviously engage in this ideological war for purely political purposes, but too many believe that sex is evil except when between a husband and wife, in the missionary position, trying to conceive. One wonders if a party can continue to be viable when it seems intent on undermining the basic rights, sexual proclivities and quality of life of so many Americans ...

Monday, April 09, 2012

Socialist NOAA Lies to American Public

In what will surely go down as one of the most politically-motivated reports in American history, NOAA today announced that March 2012 set the record for the warmest in history: CNN. Since records started being kept in 1895, this is the warmest March ever, an incredible six degrees above the average. Conservatives are already lining up experts to explain the report as the latest in the global warming propaganda campaign, attempting to trick the American people into caring about the environment and the ecological future of the country and planet.

GOP spokesperson Richard Protagoras argued, "NOAA is clearly on a campaign to undermine American oil and gas companies and institute a fascist state, where corporations must heed the advice of silly scientists. Researchers funded by Exxon-Mobil have consistently found that global warming is only one theory for increased temperatures. I went skiing several times this year ... and am still wearing a sweater in March,"  he added, sweat pouring from his forehead. "Explain that!" 

A scientist from the Institute for the Excavation of Oil from All Corners of the Globe explained, "We believe there is a deep conspiracy that has used microwave technology to heat up mercury across the country causing false readings of temperatures." He continued, "If global warming was a reality, why do 50 percent of Americans not believe in it?" When pressed that a majority of the public once believed Saddam Hussein planned 911, that the earth was flat, that we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Pluto was a planet and that cigarettes are good for you, he added, "The occasional mistake by the public doesn't mean they're wrong in this instance." Plans are now underway to sue NOAA and institute an oversight committee of all governmental environmental reports, overseen by the major oil companies. Pluto was unavailable for comment, still sulking after learning of its lost galactic status. 

Closing of the American Political Mind?

From at least as far back as Jay Leno's infamous interviews with the clueless folks on the beaches of Los Angeles, America has had a love affair with the stupidity of others (and ignorance of their own stupidity). Over the past few election cycles, there has been an even larger focus on conservative voters and their ignorance of the world around them. Last month on Bill Mayer's Real Time, Alexandra Pelosi famously offered a short documentary showing the less than toothsome political opinions of a number of Mississippians: You Tube. The latest comes from Slate's David Weigel, reporting on his escapades in the small Nevada town of Virginia City: Slate

The Pelosi video caused an outrage among many conservatives, who thought it unfairly portrayed the citizens of the poorest state in American and was simply agitprop for the left. Others have argued that it shows us how bad American politics has gotten. While I am incredibly troubled by the tone of these voters who are racist, sexist, anti-government, pro-gun and terribly misinformed (Obama is a Muslim, non-citizen socialist), I do find something troubling in the relish with which many liberals and progressives take smug pleasure in the ignorance of the electorate. Most troubling of all is what it means for democracy. As the Nevadan Kent argued in the Weigel piece, "If you're a democrat, you're my enemy." This appears to be the position of not only the right but the left as well and essentially closes off the channels for democracy to actually function.

I'm not so naive as to assume there is some halcyon past where everyone got along and debated with the manners of the queen, but there is something truly insidious about the way the two parties and its constituents see each other in contemporary politics. If the other is the enemy, then you slip into orthodoxy and blind allegiance to whatever your party happens to be doing -- whether it is hastening the destruction of the planet, allowing further accumulation of wealth at the top, screwing women or taking money from the very same corporations that are supporting the policies of your purported enemies. The reality is that democracy needs room for debate and compromise. It needs room for respect for the losers (and the winners). And it needs the rehumanization of the other to allow two to stand as equals in the arena of debate. 

Who benefits in a partisan environment where nothing gets done? Well, as a French politician reminded us a few years ago, the status quo and all those who benefit from it. In other words, the corporations and wealthy that have ushered us into the new Gilded Age. Divide and conquer usually progressed along racial lines (even if they were completely arbitrary and constructed by the colonizers as in Rwanda). Now the U.S. has created a new divide, the polarizing line between red and blue states or conservatives and liberals -- a line that many now seem unwilling to cross even if their futures relied on it. Unfortunately, it is increasingly true that they do!!!

P.S. In this environment, we might take The National Review firing a prominent contributor for penning an article on how kids can protect themselves from black people (Slatest) a positive sign.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Huge Win for Arsenal (And Man U)

Arsenal left it until late after missing several opportunities, but Mikel Arteta again showed his value as a late signing by sending a scorcher past an outstretched Joe Hart to win it in the 87th minute 1-0. It was a huge win on a number of levels, vaulting us past Tottenham once again, by two points, restoring the five point lead over a resurgent Chelsea (and a Newcastle team that has won four on the bounce) and essentially putting a final nail in the title hopes of a Man City team that truly looks lost. It might also have been the swan song for Mario Balotelli, whom Manicini said will not play again this year, and for Manicini himself -- who one has to assume will be let go when this disappointing season ends. Thus we have another title for Manchester United to sit through in the near future but, with the way City is playing, it is statistically plausible for Arsenal to get all the way to second (though I'm the first to mention it that I've read).

As to the game, I'm not going to do individual grades today, but will comment on a few performances. Van Persie easily could have had two goals but just missed a header that hit the post in the 62nd minute and was robbed early, when his header was goal bound before Vermaelen got in the way. He also had a penalty appeal ignored. But this is four games without a goal and one wonders if he's hit a little lull, though luckily the rest of the team has stepped up to fill in the void. Walcott had a very average game (though he was robbed halfway through the second half by a fine Hart save, before Vermaelen muddled what was essentially an open net) and again didn't really show up when it counts, though to be fair Clichy played him well on the wing. Arteta was strong and Rosicky had a lot of the ball and was lively, though was missing the final pass into danger. Song was important on the defensive end and in controlling the middle and our back four played well enough to only give City two half chances. Koscielny was strong, though a poor challenge led to his tenth yellow and he will thus miss the next two games. Ramsey and Chamberlain came on late (and Santos earlier) and Ramsey continued to disappoint, missing a great opportunity after settling well moments before the final whistle. Santos looked lively and had an important clearance, though he committed a sloppy foul against Balotelli and got an early yellow. Finally, Benayoun was not that great until a few minutes before he was replaced, when he started distributing well and interweaving a number of one-twos that were menacing. Chamberlain came on very late and didn't really contribute much at all.

As to Man City, it was an uninspired, angry performance by a team that has completely collapsed under the pressure of the title race. Balotteli is probably on his way out, as is Manicini, but no one on the squad besides Kompany and Clichy had a great game. They do not seem to be enjoying their football at all and one assumes news of the Man United win affected their play -- but that doesn't excuse the sudden dearth of goals. As went David Silva, so went Man City and his drop in form is hard to explain (he was out today). It is true that many teams rely too heavily on one player, as Arsenal did earlier in the season, but it is hard to  believe a team that spent as much as City does as well. I do think their loss of the title and lack of silverware this year is good news for the sport -- reminding people that you can't simply buy greatness. The Martin O'Neill led resurgence of Sunderland, in fact, shows that chemistry and good management of players and strategy can be equally (or more) important. Of course, Sir Alex has been showing us what can happen with money and great managing for two decades.  

It is important to note this weekend the rather pathetic performance of the referees once again. In huge games with implications for titles, champions league spots and potential relegation, the refs too often intervened in negative ways. The most obvious example has to be the Man United game where a whisper of a touch and a dive led to an early penalty and red card. The problem was, even if there was a foul, Ashley Young was offsides -- thus mooting the penalty and dismissal. In a game that could decide the title and maybe the fate of QPR, such an early call is really unforgivable. The second was just as important for both teams, as Chelsea's late winner by Mata should have been an equalizer at best -- given one of the most obvious offsides goals I've ever seen -- with Ivanovic far in front of the defensive line of Wigan. And in the game today, the always questionable Martin Atkinson (at least when refereeing one of our games) missed a clear penalty and a red card against Balotelli, who should have been sent off for clearly showing his cleats to Song. 

So with six games left on the schedule, Arsenal looks in a strong position to finish in the top four, though nothing is guaranteed. Next up is a road game against a lost Wolves team that we just have to manage well and should win. Next we return home to face a Wigan team that has been playing much better and who will be fighting for their EPL lives; though we should be able to win that as well. Then we have Chelsea at the Emirates and if we can beat what will probably be a slightly weary team (eight fixtures in the next few weeks), we will have all but guaranteed another year of Champions League football -- which might be enough along with some top signings to keep RVP at Arsenal. The last three games are not walkovers though -- as we will have a tough one at Stoke, come home to face a Norwich team that just toughed out a 2-2 draw with Everton and finally close on the road against West Brom. The key will be keeping our focus, as many years it is games we should win that we drop late to lose titles, Carling Cups and the like. Go Gunners!

P.S. A huge off day for the Gunners today (Monday), as Chelsea could only manage a draw away at Craven Cottage and Tottenham lost to Norwich City at home.  If we win at Wolves on Wednesday, we will hold a five point advantage over Tottenham and Newcastle (who won again 2-0 today) and a seven point lead over Chelsea -- all with only five games left. And unfortunately, today again brought controversy, as Norwich apparently should have had a penalty or two and Chelsea received a penalty in the first half on a very questionable call. One would think after the horrific weekend that refs would be a little careful with penalty calls, but Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham appear to keep getting calls all year (while Arsenal continues to get very few -- though this year it hasn't affected our season as much, so far -- except, most obviously, in the Tottenham game where both of their goals probably should have been disallowed). I just hope we can get through the last six without any of that complacency that sometimes sets in on this squad. 

Friday, April 06, 2012

Some Thoughts on Life ...

I'm generally not that into positive "life" lists, but have read a couple of interesting ones recently on the subject:

Top Five Regrets of the Dying: The Guardian
15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy: The Purpose Fairy

On a somewhat related note, an interesting chart from The Economist
on attitudes in various European countries regarding the pursuit of wealth: Daily Chart.

Finally, an interesting article on why city denizens are often "meaner" than their suburban and rural compatriots. One of the interesting findings was that those from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking cities tended to be more helpful and friendly based, among other things, on the idea of simpatico (or the value of helping others). While city life often involves isolating ourselves from neighbors, protecting ourselves from perils, numbing ourselves to the misery of others and busy, hectic lifestyles, it does seem that renewing the social contract would make everyone happier: Salon. Of course, how to do that without some dramatic tragedy is something no one seems to have the answer to.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

SCOTUS Decision Boon to Peeping Tom PDs

For those who haven't heard, the Supreme Court ruled this week that anyone arrested and held temporarily can be strip searched: Scotus Blog. In what has become the norm, the decision was 5-4 -- with all the more conservative judges supporting the position. This is good news for officers who are interested in a cute male or female they have arrested (or happen to see in the station), forgoing the arduous task of asking them out, paying for a dinner or three, getting back to the apartment or house and convincing the arrestee to unveil themselves. This is also potentially good news for streakers, mardi gras partygoers, nudists and public exhibitionists who could argue they are simply following the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes by saving officers the trouble of getting them to declothe. One assumes Abu Ghraib-inspired photos should follow on a website near you ...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

On a More Positive Note ...

While Romney has had a couple of good weeks, pushing past Santorum's surge, there is good news for those fearful of another CEO President: The New Republic. Yes Romney's lead among Republicans has gone up, he is leading in Wisconsin polls and has recently garnered a number of important GOP endorsements. But he has also seen his overall approval rating fall to the lowest of any leading party candidate since 1984. His paltry 34 percent rating is lower than any Obama has had throughout his presidency and maybe provides further proof that voters in America really have grown weary of the GOP's thirty year attack on the government that once helped create the very middle class now in financial free fall. Maybe they're tired of the continued GOP attempt to win on wedge issues like abortion, gay marriage and immigration. Maybe they are tired of cynical candidates and politicians that rarely mean what they say or even say the same thing from one day to the next. Or maybe they just feel that putting the one percent into what continues to be the most powerful office on the planet might not be such a good idea; like a Baywatch reunion show on a nude beach, for example. Let's hope those approval ratings keep falling ...

Corporations Screwing a Youth Near You

The same problems plaguing the U.S. also appear to be present across much of the West, though to varying degrees (with Sweden, Norway and Finland -- the three most socially democratic nations -- suffering less). This article from the Guardian (Youth Unemployment Contract Scheme) highlights one problem that exists in both the U.S. and U.K. economies today: the fact that increased profits have either been hijacked by top executives (see article below on the 93% of new income that went to the top 1% in the U.S. last year) or put into increasingly bulging cash reserves. A key aspect of any capitalist economy is investment, the need for persistent growth. If growth stymies, the economy suffers and begins to atrophy. This is what has been happening for many years, but particularly since the start of this century; and more acutely since 2007 when credit markets dried up. Without investment in technology, productive innovation and expansion (of business, capital and labor), the economy cannot expand. This is particularly true of labor; generally considered a key component of growth. It is true, of course, that much of the production process has moved overseas, but if we continue to allow corporations to shrink the size and purchasing power of the middle (and working) class, who will buy the products being made in China, India and across the Global South? How long is downsizing and outsourcing going to reap benefits at the costs of the citizens of purportedly democratic countries? Have we really amused the population to death enough to stop them from demanding change? The short-sightedness of the current greed culture on Wall Street and in Corporate boardrooms has certainly accrued huge benefits for the few, but it seems unsustainable in the long run. As I have argued before, it appears the only social institution with the power to counteract this creative destruction is governments reasserting their responsibility to serve the common good. Let's hope they some day take up the charge ...