Friday, March 29, 2013

Quarantine The Quarantiners!

Kansas has just passed a law that, among other things, allows medical and other institutions to quarantine HIV/AIDS patients. (Salon). State Senator Marci Francisco attempted to restore an amendment to the bill that exempted people living with HIV/AIDS from medical isolation, but her colleagues passed the measure without updating the language. Kansas is, of course, a conservative state and one can't help believing this is a backhanded attack on homosexuals, even as the fastest rising group contracting HIV/AIDs is heterosexuals. But if we are to quarantine those who do not directly threaten the public, but only in the bedroom with intimate contact, it occurred to me the list of potential disease carriers might be expanded.

At the top of the list to me would be advertising execs. Like everything that is evil in the universe, it started in the world of advertising. Not only do they spread lies and half truths on a daily basis, but they sell discontent and unhappiness to the public as a rule. Transformation advertising is based on the idea that there is something wrong with you. Otherwise why would you buy the products offering "fixes" to these problems? From being overweight, to not attractive enough to the greatest sin for women in America (aging), billions and billions of dollars are spent each year trying to fight a losing battle (and I don't mean weight). Beyond transformational advertising, is the equally distressing world of aspirational television and advertising, that sell idyllic worlds and bodies with little to no resemblance to anything even remotely attainable. And almost all advertising in the past 30 years has worked with Lacan's notion of lack, selling products that provide proxies for the distance between I and me that defines the fantasy world that desublimates our deeper desire for oneness.

Of course advertisers alone do not exhaust those whose job it is to make our lives worse. Next on the list should be pharmaceutical company execs. They shill their elixirs and panaceas like shucksters of old, even making up diseases along the way. Many of those elixirs do more harm than good and their influence has kept us from enacting a more sensible healthcare policy for decades. And while we're at it, why not add the oil and banking industries polluting our environment and economies under the auspices of a "greed is good" ethos that challenges our collective future. And that brings us to politicians, the middle men that serve the interests of all of these sellers of false dreams. But wait ... who would that leave left? 

Maybe we should start at the top, with the very embodiment of what is wrong with America today. Quarantine Justin Bieber. Now that sounds like a sensible policy to me. "Illegal immigrant?" If there is anyone who has done more harm to the auditory senses of our teenagers than that Canadian interloper, I can't think of him.   

DOMA Dying

The tide has seemed to turn on the question of the Defense of Marriage Act. While one never knows what this surprisingly conservative court will do, the oral arguments seemed to follow popular sentiment about the question of Gay Marriage -- which is essentially to allow it. So what do conservatives have to say about the potential of losing one of their central wedge issues (unquestionably playing a huge role in the 2004 reelection of Bush)? Bill O'Reilly offered an interesting perspective on the matter: 

"The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals," O'Reilly said during a segment with Fox colleague Megyn Kelly on the Supreme Court hearings. "That's where the compelling argument is. We're Americans, we just want to be treated like everyone else. That's a compelling argument. And to deny that, you've got to have a compelling argument on the other side. And the other side hasn't been able to do anything but thump the bible." (See Clip Here)

Unfortunately, the rest of the hateocracy was less rational in their assessment of the potential overthrow of what appeared from the start to be an unconstitutional bill. Rush Limbaugh argued that Bill O’Reilly “marginalized” Fox News viewers by claiming that those who opposed same-sex marriage haven’t been able to do anything but thump a Bible: “So how many of you who watch Fox are Bible thumpers? Do you think there are any Bible thumpers that watch Fox? Because last night you were sort of marginalized on ‘The Factor’ as not having a compelling argument and just being a bunch of Bible thumpers,” the conservative radio host said on his program . . ."  

And Mike Huckabee claimed the conservative right would abandon the GOP if they support gay marriage (Crooks & Liars). Where they will go is the obvious first question, but those Christian fundamentalists are again showing their love of Jesus and hate of just about everyone else. Abortion is still on the table as is gun control, though the Democrats and President seem to have already given up on banning assault weapons, but it looks like gay marriage and immigration reform could soon go the way of Clinton's impeachment. This would be good news for moderate Republicans but maybe good news for progressives as well, as Democrats losing those issues would mean they might have to actually do something about the economy. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bill Gates Pledges $100k to New Condom

You certainly can't please all the people all of the time, nor some of the people most of the time but there appears to be a group that you can't please any of the time -- even if you're trying to increase their pleasure. Bill Gates has offered $100,000 to anyone who can improve on the condom (Slate). Little has been done in that vein for the past 50 years and the old complaints of lost sensation, smell, dryness and the like have not really been addressed in all the intervening years. Now who could possibly be against a worthwhile project like this? A more comfortable and pleasing condom would increase pleasure for one or both partners, push more men to use condoms (thus reducing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs (particularly HIV)) and, well, make a hell of a lot of people a hell of a lot happier -- maybe pushing us on the road to peace and prosperity (okay maybe I'm exaggerating a little here). 

One could assume the religious right might be against the project and maybe the Catholic church for that matter. But what about the average Joe and Jane? Apparently many are outraged by the attempt to improve male pleasure. "Suck it up, buddy," seems to be a popular rejoinder. Others have ribbed that it is a boon for "creeps" and "pervs." Seriously? Has the feminist wave hit us so hard we can't try to increase male pleasure (much less the female variety)? Is it really creepy to actually enjoy sex? And what does this message tell those men responsible enough to actually use a condom, rather than risking it all for a one-night stand? The rather absurd morality of some Americans has always startled and aroused deep amusement in me, but this is a new level of absurd provocation. What's next? Genital mutilation for American men?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Haves

The haves have been feeling pretty victimized of late, what from the Occupy movement to another Obama victory (he's just not that nice to them) to some recent television shows and movies that paint them in a bad light. Do they deserve it? Well, these are just a few overheard recent quotes, but maybe they should think about what they say in front of the hoi polloi ...

"The gift basket was so lame housekeeper wouldn't even take the stuff."

"Seriously, if I want to be alone, I have to go to the beach house."

"Oh, no. My driver has a brain tumor. It's awards season -- where will I find another driver."

"Ugh. We sent our kids to Curtis, and they only made friends with the scholarship kids."

"I am totally gala'd out."

However, recent titles from the conservative punditocracy make them seem like Sister Teresa (of course these are just predicted future titles, courtesy of VF) ...

Paul Ryan, The Audacity of Nope
Dick Morris, I Hate You, Nate Silver: 538 Ways to Win Back the Presidency
Jeb Bush, It Takes a Dynasty: The Bush Restoration Project, 2016
Ann Coulter, White is Right! Why Hebes, Homos, Chinks and Homeboys Should Vote GOP

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

CNN: Exhibit A

An article on today, "GOP, confront your racism policy," (CNN) exemplified a central problem with the Pew findings I mentioned yesterday. Not only is there too much opinion and commentary these days, but the nature of that opinion and commentary leaves a lot to be desired. Whether it is the blustery, right wing talking heads on Fox spouting half truths and outright lies or the overly moralistic, ironical and indignant (and innately superior, in their own minds) liberals on MSNBC, we can almost predict what they are going to say on any given issue before they say it -- and it has little to do with the facts surrounding that issue. One can certainly protest that in a postmodern world there is no line between truth and fiction, but that's just another form of cynicism that assists those that want to keep the public ignorant, ill-informed, fearful and suspicious of everyone around them. The reality is we need a little reality if we are to improve the political climate in America today. Yet just feeding the preconceived and deeply-held convictions of those watching and listening to you do little to actually make them critical thinkers who can make well-reasoned decisions for themselves.

So on to the article. In it, LZ Granderson makes the salient, and I believe correct, argument that the GOP is not just suffering from an "image problem" when it comes to minorities, they are suffering from a racism problem. Ironically, though so oft-repeated I probably shouldn't repeat it (but will anyway), the party of Lincoln has been winning elections by turning their back on that history and instead fostering and fomenting White resentment and backlash at the victories of the Civil Right Era (most notably the Great Society of LBJ). This culminated in Reagan's conservative revolution in the 80s, though hints of the backlash could be found in Barry Goldwater, Nixon's two victories for the "silent majority" and the troubling tallies Wallace attained in the 68 election running on a pro-segregation ticket (68 Vote Count: 14%). Since then, the GOP has been blaming minorities for the declining quality of life of Whites, blaming them for their poverty and doing everything they can to undermine the victories of the 50s and 60s (including a number of court cases over the past almost 30 years that have made the U.S. and U.S. schools as segregated as they were before 1954).

The fundemental problem with Granderson's argument, to me, is he has nothing to say about the actual policies, instead focusing solely on the inherent racism in the party. But it is the policies, more than the rhetoric, that affect the lives of minorities. Sure racism has deep cultural, political and economic impacts, but they can be mitigated by policies that help alleviate the ill effects of poverty and create opportunities (both educationally and economically). That is what the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act and 1968 Civil Rights Act of LBJ accomplished. They actually cut Black poverty in half and created new opportunities in education, jobs and even places to live. The fact that the GOP has been seeking to undermine all of these gains, and been relatively effective in doing so, cannot be washed over by pretending that they are done with their racism, or even eliminating it from the party. It's what they actually do for those suffering that matters. And they not only do little, they often actively seek to do bad. 

Granderson frames his coverage purely within the world of rhetoric and race without ever touching on policies that might positively affect minority communities. He even goes so far to say that as an independent he might be more willing to vote Republican if they could address their racism. This might be an interesting piece to read, but like so much political coverage today it is steeped in political discourse discussion, framing issues and no discussion of policy -- the ultimate determinant of a representative's effectiveness at their job: representing the people who elected them. I used to decry the call for more objectivity in reporting, believing it was moving us too far afield from the sort of reporting that actually moved people and challenged power, but now I look back to those bygone days for any semblance of a relationship between journalism and telling people what's actually happening.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The State of Journalism

A report from Pew today, State of The News Media (Slate), highlights the sorry state of contemporary journalism. Among its troubling findings, they note that for the first time since 1978, fewer than 40,000 people are working staff jobs in newsrooms (a 30 percent drop from 2000). But maybe more disturbing is the dramatic downward trend in news reporting in relation to opinion. Overall, 63 percent of cable news airtime is now devoted to opinion and commentary. At CNN, the best in this regard, airtime to reported packages dropped nearly in half since 2007 -- though it remains the only cable news channel devoting more time to reporting (54 percent) than opinion (46 percent). Both Fox and MSNBC fall below the 50 percent threshold. Regarding local news, 40 percent of airtime is devoted to sports, traffic, or weather (up from 32 percent in 2005). 

For many years, media critics have noted the he said/she said nature of reporting on television and in newspapers, but apparently there is a new problem. The he and she are now the pundits themselves, making the news without any recourse to what's actually happening out there. In fact, a Pew Research Center analysis found that campaign reporters are acting primarily as megaphones rather than investigators these days -- putting forward the candidates and political partisan party lines without much critique or even fact checking. And Forbes and other media outlets now use technology that produces content without any human intervention. This may be good for the bottom line, but it is certainly not good for democracy.

It is hard to fathom a reporter today taking down a President, as Woodward and Bernstein did almost 40 years ago, for anything other than a sex scandal. The reporters have simply become part of the establishment, working for huge media conglomerates that are primarily interested in the bottom line over quality and have found themselves increasingly aligned with the interests of the elites and big business (since they themselves fit both monikers). While anyone can be a pundit today, and some online pundits have gained considerable readership, the mainstream media has essentially abandoned its role as a safeguard of the people against excessive governmental or private power. This leaves people in the position of trying to struggle through the miasmic cloud to find the truth, necessary to make informed decisions. But for many, it's just easier to watch, read and listen to those who already agree with what you think -- damn the facts and statistics. And, according to the same study, many have just damned the news outlets they used to depend on (31 percent to be exact). 

News might not be much fun or heartening to keep up with these days, but if we abandon our charge to be informed and educated on the important policies and decisions that affect our lives, we leave it to those who too often chose self-interest over the common good. Let's hope enough alternative media outlets remain to keep those of us who haven't fallen into the grasp of cynicism to keep seeking the truth and struggling for that elusive dream we call democracy.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Arsenal Secure Vital Win

Arsenal entered the game against Swansea five points behind Chelsea and seven behind Tottenham for the Champions League places. Given that there is no chance of trophies for the eighth year in a row, our only remaining goal is securing one of those two places. And the team pulled out a hard fought 2-0 victory that moved them closer to that goal. After an entertaining but scoreless first half, in which Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the post twice and Swansea blew a few chances, the game seemed headed toward a 0-0 draw. But after a parry in the box, Cazorla laid off for Nacho Monreal who blasted the ball toward the far corner, beating Vorm. It was the first goal for the Spanish left back and couldn't have come at a better time. Arsenal continued to control the game and Ramsey and Gervinho came on in a double switch. The Gunners continued to absorb the pressure and then sealed the game in the 90th minute as the two subs combined for a Gervinho clever finish past Vorm. It was the second 2-0 road victory of the week and might just inspire the team toward a late run. Some thoughts from the game ...

1. Road Warriors: the Gunners have generally been a better team on the road than at home this season. While there home record is 8-3-3 while there away record is 6-5-4, some of our biggest defeats have come at the Emirates, from the inauspicious bow out in the FA Cup to Bolton to the first leg 3-1 mauling by Bayern. It is hard to understand why, except to consider that the new players feel additional pressure playing at the Emirates, where victory is all but presumed. The freedom of the road just might be easier for those settling into life in North London. Now we have a series of winnable games at home, with the toughest test against Everton, and we will need to continue winning if we are to secure that spot in the top four.

2. The defense is better without Vermaelen: while the argument that the captaincy has hurt the Verminators game is certainly worthy of consideration, it is hard to understand the steep decline in his form this season. He was always apt to last second tackles and sometimes dangerous play, but this season his tactical sense, positioning and forward balls have all been lacking. The Gunners have just pulled clean sheets against Bayern and Swansea, two teams that generally score at home, and must be wondering if Vermaelen should be seen again this season. I'm sure he will be, but we should be careful in disrupting what has been much more solid play in the back.

3. Walcott: Theo has not scored since he signed his new contract and some of the old tendencies that had some of us wondering if we should let him go have returned. All players go through dry spells, but one of the most upsetting things watching Walcott play at times is his casual attitude on the field, jogging back on counters, holding up when he loses the ball and generally showing a lack of concern for the team. Every time he lines up a free kick, I wonder why we are allowing him to take it. And while his speed continues to terrorize defenders, his return to some technical troubles and poor passing must give Arsene pause. After Ox's stirring first half, I wonder if he should spend a little time on the bench to motivate him anew. We need more production from the winger. 

4. Jenkinson/Monreal: while it would have been madness to make this argument a year and a half ago after the Man U slaughter, it appears Jenkinson is a more solid right back at present and that Sagna's days are numbered. Jenkinson brings an energy and love for the squad and game that is refreshing and seems to spur on his teammates. His speed has been instrumental whenever he is on the field and his play down the right wing improving with each game. He has to work on his crossing and maybe taking cutting in to take a shot every once in while, like Alves for Barcelona, but there is little doubt he is a more solid choice on the right at the moment. Given that the EPL is our only remaining competition for the year, I think he should start from here on in.

5. Time to Cut Losses on Diaby: I have always been a fan of the Frenchman and the way he started this year, it looked like he was finally going to come good for the team. But since returning from yet another injury, he seems too timid. His forward runs are much rarer, he passes up clear shots too often and he seems less likely to go in for tackles than he was in the past. It seems his injury woes will never fully end and it would be better for the Gunners to add him to the list of those who should be shown the exit this Summer. As I've been saying all year, we need a DM this summer and then we will have Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ox and Wilshere to rotate in front of him.

The loss by Tottenham today means the Gunners are only four points behind them, with a game in hand. The Spurs now go into a series of tough games while the Gunners have a much more manageable run in. It could be another year where we nick the Champions League spot from them, even as we probably don't deserve it. It was good to see Monreal score, for Gervinho to finally find the back of the net again and for the defense to hold up. Let's hope we can keep the momentum going until the end of the season.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Arsenal: Match Report

I had to watch the game intermittently while teaching today and then caught the highlights at home, so I've gone back and watched the game. Arsenal started brightly with the early goal, but then played a pretty sloppy rest of the half, with a number of bad passes. Bayern started the second half on the ascendancy, but were not able to break through. Arsenal had some chances in the last 20 minutes and Koscienly did put us within one with a few minutes left but Arsenal failed to create the chance to win it. So, to player ratings:

Ref (C-): the referee and linesman seemed to be the 12th man for Bayern in the this game with a number of questionable calls, a very close offsides call in the 55th minute that otherwise would have seen Walcott in on goal and one bizarre foul call after another. Bayern bullied Arsenal throughout, but only about half of the fouls were called while Arsenal was penalized every time a Bayern player went down. There were two missed corners as well and how there could only be 3 minutes of added time after a goal and constant time wasting by Bayern is beyond me. While none of the decisions directly affected the outcome, it was a poor, one-sided showing from my perspective. Just to provide a telling stat: Arsenal were called for 25 fouls versus 13 for Bayern, while I thought Bayern were the slightly more physical side (also 6 corners to 1, with at least two questionable ones --> one given to Bayern and one not given to Arsenal). 

Fabianski (8): a nice return to action for our other Pole goalkeeper. Had a number of fine saves, positioning was good and he was charging up the defense by shouting at his teammates throughout. The one complaint was his distribution, which was quite poor at times.

Jenkinson (7.5): Jenkinson was great defensively, often coming across to challenge when Gibbs or Kos got caught off. His long run to challenge Robbin when he was in on goal in the second half probably disrupted him just enough (though the Fabianski save was great.

Mertesacker (7): a decent game for the German international, with a number of key tackles and defensive headers, though he is so slow passing the ball forward, it allowed Bayern to press up. While he rarely gives the ball away, he rarely gets the attack going either. I'd like to see someone brought in to challenge him for the starting role this summer. Positionally sound, most of the time, but just not quick enough for England or some teams in Europe.

Kosielny (9): scored the second goal that increased hope for Arsenal and was brilliant defensively throughout. Hopefully this game will spur him forward to finish the season as he did last year, after a sub par one so far.

Gibbs (7): maybe a little high, but Gibbs had a solid game upon returning to the starting lineup after over a month out. He lined up against the ever-dangerous Robbin and although he was beat on occasion, he kept Mueller and Robbin in check for most of the game. Wasn't as impressive going forward, but our midfielders were giving the ball up way to much and rarely attacked from the left until Gervinho came in.

Arteta (5): I think this is a game to forget for the usually reliable Arteta. While he made some important tackles defensively, a couple of fouls in stoppage time, after a wasted free kick, pretty much sealed the game for Bayern. Arteta was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball and rarely got the Gunners going on the counter.

Ramsey (4): Ramsey gave the ball away with bad passes or simply by being tackled more times than I could count. He allowed Bayern to bully the game in the middle for much of the game and while he contributed defensively, he killed far too many Arsenal attacks. A real step backwards for a player who has seemingly improved in recent games. 

Rosicky (4): besides his contribution to the first goal, this is the worst game I've ever seen Rosicky play. He missed pass after pass, had the ball taken from him regularly and committed a number of silly fouls. His effort level was high, but was particularly guilty of letting Bayern take control back in the first half with his sloppy play. Arsenal seemed to be playing on the counter, but Rosicky failed to get the ball out to the wings or through effectively. To be fair, his pass to Walcott looked onsides, and might have provided the second goal before Kos's header.

Cazorla (7): Cazorla set up the first and provided the corner for the second. He was the most lively presence on the pitch but was unfortunately isolated as the Gunners tried to attack from the right far too often. Also thought Bayern got away with a few tackles on him that should have been called.

Walcott (5): Walcott provided the cross that opened the scoring in the 6th minute, and sent another cross through before the break that Giroud might have latched onto if he were a bit quicker to react, but was otherwise innoculated by a tough Bayern defense. Walcott was not bad, but he is largely useless defensively and has taken several steps backward in form since signing the new contract. Theo has to start scoring some goals again. 

Giroud (6): but for the first goal,  this score would be much lower. Giroud was great at the onset finishing from a brisk Walcott cross, but then just didn't seem to provide the right touch or distribute the ball effectively after the first ten minutes or so. He really needs to learn positioning and when to jump on headers, as he is often on the way back down or sideways when the ball arrives. Also needs to work on his first touch as it let him down on several occasions after the first 10 minutes. He has now scored 15 goals this season and provided a number of assists, but he needs to improve overall if he is to continue leading the line next year. Certainly not world class and has to work on his decision-making.


Ox (NR): Ox did force a corner, but was otherwise largely invisible during his stint on the field. This has truly been a disappointing second season for the emerging star and one hopes the summer off gets him back in the right state of mind.

Gervinho (6): Gervinho was lively upon entering the game and a lovely turn gave him a chance on goal, though watching it again did convince me that I was a little harsh in the last post. Still needs to improve dramatically if he is going to stay with the Gunners.

So I thought it was an incredibly impressive defensive effort by the Gunners, who were really tough in the box and pressed up the field well, but might have really suffered from the absence of Wilshere, who probably could have possibly broken down the Bayern defense better than Arteta, Ramsey or Rosicky. On the offensive side, Arsenal needed to move the ball more quickly than they did, and after the first goal, should have been sending the ball into the box more often. They only had five shots the entire game and only two on goal (both went in). This has been the problem far too often this year, with the team not creating enough chances. Don't get me wrong, Bayern has probably been the most impressive defensive team in Europe this year and this was an impressive victory, but we did fall short and were probably luck Bayern were shooting from distance and barely missing throughout (23 shots but only 5 on goal). Possession was close (54% for Bayern), but they seemed nervous and better passing from Arsenal might have allowed us to squeak by. 

One other point not directly related to the game: rumors have surfaced that Arsenal are fielding offers for Podolski. I think this would be a huge mistake as playing on the left side, and rarely for more than 70 minutes, the German has scored 8 goals and provided 9 assists in the league and 14/11 overall in 35 appearances. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a guy playing as a winger and they might be better if he played through the middle more often. While some announcers have called him a disappointment, I totally disagree. If he were playing today (out injured), I wonder if we would have won). My guess is he will only improve with time and that his defensive work rate will go up as well as he gets used to the pace and physicality of the Premiership. 

The great hope is this performance will push us to a good last 9 games in the EPL, with all but the Manchester United game winnable. We shall see if the momentum carries forward on Saturday.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Arsenal: Close But No Cigar ... Again

There are certainly positives to be taken from the Arsenal 2-0 away victory over Bayern in the second leg of the Champions League tie. Fabianski came in and performed admirably. Giroud scored a goal early, that gave the Gunners hope. Koscielny also scored late, though too late to bring us all the way back. We kept a clean sheet. And we beat one of the most in form teams in European football in their stadium. However, moral victories are becoming a tiresome compensation for fans in the decline of the squad over the past eight years. Some thoughts on the game and the current state of the Gunners ...

1. What Could Have Been: close but no cigar is becoming the only thing Gooners can look at in recent years. In 2006, we let a lead slip away against Bayern and lost a Champions League trophy we probably merited. Two years ago, we looked set for extra time against Birmingham City before the Koscielny/Szczesny blunder cost us a trophy. We took a 2-1 lead to the Nou Camp soon after and played an admirable first half before team captain Fabergas inexplicably gave the ball up and allowed the first Barca goal. After an own goal in the second period, we still had a chance to progress, before Robin Van Persie got a second yellow and we played a man down (even then, Bendtner was in on goal late with a chance to steal the game and advance). Last year we played a horrific first leg against AC Milan and looked dead in the water down 4-0, but came back with 3 goals to almost send the tie into extra time. A reminder that RVP was in on goal and though it was a good save by Abata, the Dutchman should have scored. And now we have a year full of almosts. 

Against Fulham, we ceded a two goal lead only to come back to draw even at 3-3 and Arteta had a penalty at the death to give us all three points (he choked). We came back from 2-0 leads against Man City and Chelsea since the New Year only to fall short. We came back against Liverpool and had chances to win but couldn't find the goal. And there are other examples. 

2. Why?: Well, the youth first policy certainly hasn't helped, though that doesn't explain 2006. Isn't it down to the coach at some level, winning the tight games. Either there is some truth in that statement, or Sir Alex is the luckiest man who ever lived (forgoing the result at Old Trafford last week). Wenger has built a team with no impact subs and thus, when we need late goals, we have no one to turn to. Many teams below us in the league have players that can turn a game around late, even Reading, by coming on when the starters legs are getting tired and concentration can wane. But Wenger has been lacking that option for several years now. And whose fault is that? The board? I think that argument has grown tired. And what of Wenger's bizarre subs over the past few seasons -- most famously taking the Ox out against Man United after we had drawn even? Even today, he takes out Walcott for Gervinho, who then blows yet another clear chance from four yards out (he pulled it wide). Today, we did see Arsenal switch to a 4-1-4-1, but it is rare to see this sort of shift in formation from Wenger. When he does do it, as he did in the second leg against Milan, it often works. But it is too rare an occurrence. Lastly, Arsenal play better when the pressure is lifted, it appears, and this must be down to the coach at some level. Manchester United is famous for playing quality football down the stretch and pulling off late stunners, like the two goals on either side of 90 minutes that beat Bayern in Barcelona in 1999. Wenger's teams rarely accomplish this feat.

3. Fabianski: the best news from the game was the return of Fabianski to the lineup and the quality of his play. Sz has cost us points and games all year long and just doesn't seem to have the positional sensibility or reflexes to be a guaranteed starter at this point in his career. He clearly has talent, but needs competition for his job, particularly given his performance in big games -- whether the aforementioned blunder against Birmingham City or the red card in the first game of Poland's Euro 2012 disappointment. Szczesny has the confidence necessary for top goalies, but he needs to work on his ability and reading of the game, as his mistakes come far too often for a top quality side like Arsenal (or maybe a former top quality side).

4. Cut Losses on Gervinho: Gervinho blew it again and showed that his performance at the African Cup of Nations has not changed his wasteful ways. Up 1-0 and in a perfect position to make it 2-0, he again blew it right in front of goal. The finish here was tougher than the tap in he missed against Bradford (which probably would have got us through to the semis of the Capital One cup) or the many other misses that have surrounded it, but any quality striker should have been able to get the ball past the goalee, either by going high and hard or simply slipping it past him to the far corner (instead he flubbed it wide). It is time to sell this player that has talent but again doesn't show it when it really matters. His confidence is gone and he only hurts the team when he's on the pitch.

5. Wenger: I sound like a broken record, but what other coach in the world would be allowed eight years without silverware? I know the arguments about the board, and there is probably some truth there. But it is Wenger who is ultimately responsible for the performance on the pitch, and he has made too many gambles on average players (Arshavin, Gervinho, Giroud, etc.) that have not paid off. Other alternatives were out there and he has just chosen wrong on too frequent a basis. His tactical abilities have seemed to flag in recent years and all of the other critiques I have made all season. If Arsenal don't make the top four by the end of the year, what excuse does the board have not to sack him? Profits are the only one and I wonder how long the fans will put up with it. I have become so cynical about the team, I rue even watching them (though I still do every game). What will probably happen will be a big spending project this summer (or a humongous one if the team is bought out by the Arab contingency) and one more year for Wenger to prove himself. But does he really deserve it? I love the guy, but I just don't think so. 

A big game on Saturday against Swansea now awaits and anything but a win will probably crush the only "trophy" we're still vying for. Let's hope we show the same resolve and character we showed today. Go Gunners!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nixon on Guns

I have often argued that Richard Nixon would be too liberal for the Democratic party today. He was for universal healthcare, started the EPA, wanted a minimum income and, though he attacked LBJ's Great Society and was clearly a racist and anti-semite, opened the doors for meaningful dialogue with China and more meaningful dialogue with Russia. Yes he kept us mired in Vietnam and cheated to win the Presidency, but he was a brilliant man whose paranoia destroyed him. The key point, however, is not about Nixon but about the rightward shift in the country which has followed the Reagan-led conservative revolution of the 1980s. Bill Clinton and the DLC argued that the only way to regain power was to support what has since been labeled neoliberal economic policy while remaining more liberal on social issues. And he presided that way, overseeing an economic boom largely driven by the dot com explosion. The shift from value created by production and consumption to the promise of future profits was successful, until the ground collapsed from under it and the failure to regulate the economy slowly led us on a path to the 2007 financial meltdown. Since then, Obama has tact left rhetorically, but rarely in policy (except for Obamacare and a stimulus package that probably saved the economy). However, on too many issues, Obama continues to disappoint the left and even many liberals. One of those issues is gun control. And ironically, Nixon again comes out to the left of the New Democrats (Yahoo News).

Nixon was one of the most active Presidential voices ever on the issue of gun control and even considered banning handguns altogether. It is a sensible policy, though one that is clearly unpopular with too many Americans, supported by one of the strongest lobbies in DC. Yet can we really continue to cowtow to the arms industry and those on the right that still dream of armed insurrection against the government? Mass shootings are becoming an almost weekly occurrence and too many innocent victims, young and old, are being sacrificed before the shrine of the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms might be written into the constitution, though there is certainly arguments to be made on the intent of the founding fathers, but this doesn't mean that all guns must be allowed into our citizens hands or that we shouldn't ask serious questions about who is gaining access to them and for what purposes. 

The murder rate in the U.S. is really all the evidence we need to make the argument for sensible gun policy. Beyond this, is the question we should always ask when considering policy changes -- who benefits from reform and who benefits from keeping things the same. In general, debates about guns revolve around money; particularly the incredible amounts of profits made by the main gun manufacturers, and by the smaller salesman who sell their fare at shows without proper regulation or oversight. Who else benefits? Politicians who use the issue as a wedge (like abortion, marriage equity and immigration) to keep support for policies that often do little to benefit their constituents. Who benefits from gun reform? Not the criminals, as is often argued. People are more likely to die when they have a gun in their possession, even as David Mamet makes the felonious argument that this is not the case. Not the teachers, who South Dakota now argues can bring guns into the classroom (NY Times). And not the future victims of gun violence, who will merely go to the mall, a movie, school or work on the wrong day. 

The old adage that violence only begets more violence has stood the test of time. So many lost lives could have been saved if we simply outlawed assault rifles, as nebulous as the term may be (let's just say automatic and semi-automatic guns, which hunters never really need) and improved background checks. Maybe people simply need to abandon their romantic dreams of the Wild West and their complete lack of trust in the ability of authorities to protect them. Sure people will still die needlessly, but many less than do at present; either from intended or accidental gun-related violence. And while we are at it, maybe Hollywood should start to ask more serious questions about their endless celebration of violence (what bell hooks so aptly called Pugilistic Eroticism). Sex and violence sell, but does the sex or violence have to be so explicit and unredemptive? Do we really need to celebrate criminals with such glamour and unapologetic glee? Do we really need to sexual tweens and teens to the extent that we find in popular culture today? Gangsta Rap is always held up as the worst propagator of both, but what of mainstream Hollywood films, what of videogames that push the boundaries of taste and celebrated, often ideologically-driven, violence? It appears that America must finally confront our bloody past and present and begin the process of creating a more safe and healthy world for the many. Ironically, listening to Nixon's  clarion call for change might be just the start we need. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

TV: Scandal & House of Cards

Two recent television shows, Scandal (2012-) and House of Cards (2013) give a great deal of insight into the current political milieu and the House of Representatives (less popular than cockroaches at the moment) and White House. Both shows are cynical at their core, while providing A-list actors and sometimes likable, though morally-flawed characters. They seem to embody the way television and movies have portrayed politics and politicians for years and yet go a step further in their representation of a world of lying, cheating, stealing, greed, rape, corruption and even murder. If this is what politics looks like, what hope is there? And I get the sense shows and movies like this go a long way in giving the American public a skewed sense of politics that undermines their will, or desire, to engage in democracy at all -- which is, by the way, the only way democracy works. 

Scandals centers on the life of power broker Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) who has left her role as White House Communications Director for the Republican President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) to start her own crisis management firm. She is a professional'fixer' who makes problems go away before anyone even knows they exist. We soon learn that she was having an affair with the President and she is constantly drawn back to the White House to fix one problem or another. While Scandal started slowly, with a new case each week, the back story was being developed and gaining steam. Without giving too much away it involves assassination attempts, a rigged Presidential election, a bombing coverup, covert CIA operatives, a stacked Supreme Court, among other intrigue. At the center of most of it are the President's gay and Real Politik Apparatchik Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), his conniving wife Mellie (Bellamy Young), the evil corporate lobbyist Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) and, of course, Olivia. The series is strangely addictive, even as it becomes increasingly far-fetched and teeters on the edge of caricature and soap operaesque drama. But the only character who doesn't appear to compromise their values and ethics for political gain is, ironically, the President himself and a DA, who has had his life ruined for getting too close to a number of scandals in the subtext of the show. 

House of Cards (2012) is a remake of a British mini-series (in three parts) from  the 90s, itself based on a novel that became a best seller. The protagonist, Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is Majority Whip of the House and has been snubbed by the new Administration when the Secretary of State nomination is snapped from under him. But he won't take this affront lying down and instead embarks on a path of revenge and retribution that leaves careers and bodies strewn across the Washington landscape (actually not that many bodies). While Spacey humanizes the character, often my speaking directly to the audience (a trait from the original BBC series), he is a man that seems to lack any real heart or compassion and is essentially pure ambition (except in one odd episode from the first season when he goes back to his high school military alma mater and we learn of a gay love affair he had while there). His wife Claire (played to great effect by Robin Wright) is just as ambitious and duplicitous, though she cloaks it by running a non-profit, which benefits from oil money. As with Scandal, Francis' Aide de Camp (Doug Stamper, Michael Kelly) is a largely amoral political beast that does anything to protect his master, including silencing troublemakers and covering up a murder. The show was released by David Fincher all at once on Netflix (13 episodes) based on his assumption that that is how people watch TV these days -- and while my ribs were healing, that is exactly what I did. 

Both shows are quality television, though they do often fall over into almost comic dramatic devices and hyperbole. Yet they draw you in and make you hunger for more. What interests me about both, besides the rather tired analysis that they could further inculcate cynicism about politics among their audiences, is that both seem to be drawn from conservative thread. Scandal props up the President as an ethical man surrounded, like Caesar, by traitors who seem to have his best interest at heart (though here, they sort of do). As a Republican, we is the voice of reason and values in a world that is otherwise devoid of them. Sure the show has a gay couple, most of the Republicans are corrupt and Olivia seems to struggle with her attachment to conservatism -- as well as the fact that a GOP candidate has stolen the election by winning in Ohio (hmm, that sounds strangely familiar) -- but it appears to reinforce the notion that all politicians are corrupt, that one should do whatever is necessary to win (with Olivia as exhibit A) and that we live in a Social Darwinist, Machiavellian world where the victims have only themselves to blame for their fall from grace. With House of Cards, the GOP agenda seems even more apparent. The original BBC series involved a conservative party member who rises to Prime Minister, killing his lover and a number of other enemies on the way to beating Thatcher's reign by one day, before a rather ignominious end. Here, inexplicably, the bad guy becomes a Democrat and is really beyond even an ounce of empathy, though given Spacey's bonhomie and general likability, one can't help but feel some level of amiable contempt for him. One just can't help but notice the message -- the liberals are even more corrupt than the conservatives, and if they act exactly the same, there is no hope. 

The most powerful ideology the world has ever known is that change is impossible. If people fundamentally believe this, democracy becomes a facade. And the cynicism that passes for politics today only reinforces the notion that the world is beyond repair and we might as well just settle in and hope for the best, or get our piece of the pie. While I enjoy both shows and look forward to the new season (House of Cards) and next episode (Scandal), one wonders how many take these shows a little too literally and are driven further from the fundamental truth Heroclitus shared so long ago -- you never enter the same river twice, even if it is still full of shit. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Hugo Chavez Legacy?

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan President finally succumbed to the cancer that has beset him for several years now. In death, the question that emerges is his legacy. While some on the left believe he is a great leader who continued the struggle for communism and against imperialist America, many others believe he is just another typical South American dictator, who was more interested in power than actually helping improve the quality of life for his people. The facts are hard to ignore. Venezuela has among the highest inflation rates in the world, the highest crime/murder rates, the largest fiscal deficits, the fastest growing debt, is the only OPEC country that suffers from shortages of staples like milk, flour and sugar and has infrastructure that has collapsed, is in serious disrepair or has been taken over by gangs that thrive across Caracas and other cities in this dying country (Slate). On the other hand, Chavez did use oil monies, as promised, to reduce the number of people living in moderate poverty from 54 to 31 percent and those in extreme poverty from 23 to 9 percent between 1997 and 2011 (according to the World Bank). He dramatically reduced illiteracy, set up medical clinics in working class neighborhoods and slums across the country and set up discount grocery stores as well (LA Times). 

Chavez has instituted some interesting democratic reforms, like the city councils that can use government funds however they like (based on town decisions) and has had more elections than most of his dictator predecessors, but had a systematic approach to ensuring reelection over and over again. He censored the media, attacked political enemies, in some cases didn't even let them run and appeared to treat the country like a fiefdom over which he had absolute power. Like so many populist leaders before him, the power appeared to go to his head and undermine the good he was trying to do. And while the statistics might, in some cases, provide arguments for his success, I have read article after article describing a country that lives on the edge of chaos, with criminal gangs taking over buildings, insanely high crime and murder rates, crumbling infrastructure and a general decline in quality of life since Chavez entered office. It is important to recognize the strong national interest in painting a damning image of one of the most combative leaders America has been challenged by since the Cold War ended, but I've never really thought of The New Yorker or Salon as spokesman for the American government.

A third legacy of Chavez' that must be considered is the way his anti-American rhetorical campaign helped to bring the countries of Latin America together, after reassessing the policies of the Bush Administration. Chavez played an instrumental role in the formation of the Union of South American Nations and other organizations that brought further integration to the region. He also provided an alternative voice to the illegal and troubling policies of an administration that was doing a good job post-911 of stomping out much of that critique (at least internally). While Chavez' rhetorical flourishes, and the company he kept with people like Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might have undermined the meat of his critique, it did galvanize those that were troubled by the policy tact that 2001 embarked us upon. 

Really a legacy is often defined by not only what one leaves behind but what comes next. His handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, will likely face  election within 30 days and, if he wins, a bleak economic future, rising crime rates and a deeply polarized nation. Maduro appears to lack the charisma of his predecessor and might thus be pushed to actually seek the support of his people through policies that improve their lives and allowing them to give voice to their grievances, desires and dreams. If the rhetoric of Chavez' push to realize a Bolivar revolution together with socialist accents were achieved within a democratic milieu, we might just need to reassess that legacy. At it current stands, it is hard to argue he has left the country better off than he found it. 

Sequestration Victory for Defense Industry!

Well, for those who weren't paying attention, sequestration did in fact come to pass last Friday. Among it's "minor cuts" include 10,000 teaching jobs (and God knows we have too many teachers), 70,000 spots for preschoolers in Head Start (only one of the most effective poverty abatement programs ever created), $43 million for food programs for Seniors (let them eat bed pans), $35 million for local fire departments (let it rain), and access to nutritional information for 500,000 women and their families (on the bright side, McDonald's stock price should be rising about now). 

While these cuts are predicted to cut GDP growth and possibly lead us toward a recession, it was refreshing to learn that Republicans made sure the cuts to defense spending were restored before they headed home to their constituents (Slate). And on top of this, the always entertaining John Boehner informed us that "I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not ... I don't think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work." Well, maybe he doesn't but most of the rest of the country do and it is a little troubling that our elected officials don't know basic economics. Of course he probably does and is just counting on the least informed members of the public, those who watch Fox News and/or listen to Christian radio according to Pew Research Center studies over the past few years, not paying enough attention.

The Republican Party, in fact, seems to be banking on enough people either not knowing basic economics (I know plenty of Ph.D.s who don't) or not caring about their less fortunate neighbors. Maybe in a broader sense they are simply counting on the underlying sociopathic tendencies of a public that probably has been too influenced by television, movies and commercials that sell a form of individualism without empathy that serves consumer culture, but does little to make us a happier, healthier and more caring and just society. But thank God we kept that money flowing to the military!

On another positive note, there are more radical right-wing groups today then at the height of the militia movement in the 1990s (Salon). Thank God they are keeping us safe from the government and paving the way for more mass shooting in the future. Long live the false reading of the Second Amendment!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 2

Arsenal's players walked onto the pitch yesterday knowing they needed a victory. And for 30 minutes they played like it. Then the almost de rigeur defensive lapses started, leading to two goals in quick succession. The first had a lot to do with Mertesacker stepping up and Vermaelen failing to follow the run of Bale, who got the ball easily past Szczesny. The second again saw Vermaelen to blame, with an assist from Nacho Monreal, who stopped following Aaron Lennon and his ran into the box and dribbled around the Pole goalie with ease. And so a good start, with excellent pressing and passing, suddenly was replaced by a 2-0 scoreline that we were lucky to get to half time with. 

As usual, the Gunners came alive in the second half and Per Mertesacker's second goal of the year, on a clever header from a Walcott corner, put us back in the game at 2-1. But as with the games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Man City, that was as close as the Gunners would get and they ultimately lost 2-1. It was a huge loss that puts our Champions League prospects in serious doubt -- now down five points to Chelsea and seven to Tottenham. While both arguably have tougher roads in, we still have to beat Everton and Swansea and hope for even a point against Man United. It is dark times for the club, who seem set to fall behind their North London rivals for the first time since 1995. And the one prize that Wenger has held onto as a sign of success since the 2005 FA Cup final has been our appearance in the Champions League -- which could be another hit suffered by the team this year.

Wenger himself should take a large part of the brunt for this loss, even as he can't be on the field playing for his players. Three baffling choices seemed to have a huge impact on the outcome -- 1) Starting Ramsey again in such a big game when our most potent offense appears to include Podolski. 2) Playing such a high line against a very fast team with good finishers and 3) Making bizarre substitutions -- when Rosicky comes on, why take out Jenkinson, who I thought was having a good game, and put Ramsey at right back? And why wait so long to put Podolski on the field? In a broader sense, the lack of scoring by Giroud and Walcott in recent games (I think a seven game drought for both) shows how desperately we needed a striker in the winter transfer window. Some will say we just don't have the money, but we all now know that this is a lie -- with 123 million pounds sitting in the bank unspent. Wenger has picked this team, letting his best players go, and picked a defense that is tactically naive and too slow (we could have had Vertonghen and Cahill if we wanted -- or what about Samba?). He is the one who has become tactically stubborn in an age when the best coaches change things up regularly. He is the one who does not have any proven leaders on the squad. He is the one who has no legitimate backup goalkeeper to give the young Pole a challenge. And he is the one who continues making bizarre choices on position and tactics, while continuing to rely on players like Ramsey and the perpetually injured Diaby, who keep letting the team down. To player grades ...

Szczesny (5): while the Pole was not to blame on either goal, he could have come up quicker to at least challenge Bale and fell far too easily in letting Lennon past for the second. While he has had some great saves this year, he often makes poor decisions and needs to be challenged for the starting job.

Jenkinson (7): maybe this is a little high, but Jenkinson shut down attacks down his flank and pushed forward with purpose throughout his shift. His crossing was decent as well, though he has to learn to wait for the strikers to get in the box. The problem, among others, seems to be Giroud being a step behind the wingers and thus letting crosses shoot through with little purpose. 

Mertesacker (6):  the only reason he gets a six is because of his fortuitous header (it went off of Bale's head) that put us back in the game. But the German appears to have suffered from a major drop in form that is translating to Arsenal falling behind early in far too many games.

Vermaelen (4): giving the captain's arm band to the Belgian is yet another error by Wenger that seems to have negatively affected what was once our most solid defender. I'm not sure why, but he seems to have to positionally sense anymore, has lost his confidence, makes poor tackles and often sends his longer passes too long (leading to goal kicks for the opposition). He has been a major disappointment and one just hopes he finds some form before the end of the season.

Monreal (6):  Monreal was, in my mind, partially to blame for the second goal -- one for not following Lennon's run and second for not verbally alerting Vermaelen to the threat. But he was decent going forward and had a nice shot fly a few feet wide. He needs to work on his positioning and pace, but I still think he was a good signing.

Arteta (5): The decline in form of Arteta is, in my opinion, down to two things -- 1. playing him out of position as a defensive mid (without any support, which he got from Song last year as they switched back and forth in the B-2-B roll) and 2. his age and maybe playing too much. He rarely gets a rest and his age could very well be catching up with him. Wenger has made a lot of mistakes this year, but I believe letting Song go and not replacing him will be the costliest.

Wilshire (5.5): this was not the best game from our young English star. While he did make the marauding runs forward he has become famous for, they didn't amount to much and Tottenham clogged the middle, meaning we relied on attacks from the right (and occasionally left) flank. Wilshire will also have to chip in a few goals going forward, as this threat will help free up other players to score.

Ramsey (6): Ramsey has certainly been in better form since the turn of the year and didn't play terribly yesterday. In fact, his level of effort and versatility must be respected. On the other hand, when given a chance to level the game one on one with the goalie, his pace and shot let him down and went wide of the far post. This happens far too often to a player with a world of talent but very little scoring. The incisive passes that he has been offering of late seemed to go wanting in this game, though that was true of the entire team in the final third.
Cazorla (7): the Spaniard had another fine game keeping the ball and distributing it around, creating most of the chances the others failed to grasp and finish. A few shots at the edge of the box might have opened up the Tottenham defense a little, but little else to complain about. 

Giroud (5): The Frenchman is not having the worst first year of a new striker in the EPL. He has 13 goals to show for his performances and 9 or 10 assists. But what is striking is how many of these have come against lesser opponents and how few times he has come through when we really needed him. He has a penchant for missing chances early and late (and often in between) in games and arguably played a big role in costing us points yesterday. A 2-2 draw would have kept our spirits up and us closer to the four above us. I also think the timing on his jumps is off (am I the only one?) and that he tries too often to flick behind his head, where he can't be sure if anyone has a chance to get the ball. It is better to hold the ball up and then push it forward. Also, he had at least two good opportunities to send a player in, but his passes came up short -- which we generally don't see from him.

Walcott (5): the good news? Walcott completed 100% of his passes. The bad news? There were only 12 in the entire game. That's right, 12! Walcott disappeared in a big game for the umpteenth time in his career and has not scored one goal since he signed his new contract. To be fair, he wasn't getting the service when he did go on good runs, but he fails to track back with any purpose, doesn't play an active enough role in the buildup and continues to spend too much time playing as a central striker when we need him more on the right. A big disappointment after the impressive productivity in the first half of the season. 


Rosicky (6): I thought he brought some liveliness to the attack, though he did miss some passes and one really good opportunity to put the ball on goal. Maybe should have been brought in to start the second half -- or start the game.

Podolski (5): Wasn't given enough time on the pitch to make a real difference. Did flub a couple of half chances though. I really believe our best team this season is with him on the right and Cazorla as CAM. Also, why has he only been played through the middle once all year? This means that Giroud is maybe racking up too much time on the pitch and never getting a break; except when Walcott plays there -- and he has been inept from the center this season (with a couple of exceptions). 

So I think the case for letting Wenger go continues to strengthen, but that the board won't do anything about it. Why would they? They are racking in millions of pounds as the team continues to flounder. The only good news for Gooners came with the recent rumors of a Middle Eastern takeover of the club (for 1.5 billion pounds, which would make Kroeneke almost 500 milllion in a couple of years). To be fair, it is mixed news, but welcome for those of us who are tired of both the board and Wenger. We have money to spend, but will the Frenchman spend it wisely this summer if he stays? I worry about the answer. On top of this, it is clear that Wenger's lack of talent in formation, tactics, training defenders positionally and motivating his team to succeed are starting to take their toll as the few great talents we have continue to head for the exits. No matter what the blindly faithful Arsene supporters say, it is Wenger that has put a team of losers and misfits on the field and bench and it is Wenger who keeps making the wrong calls over and over again. It was a sad day to be an Arsenal fan but might just be the kind of loss that leads to real change. At least one hopes ...