Summer break

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Random


Sorry to disappoint all 2 fans of this blog but I am taking a break from it for a few months while I pursue another project and travel.

Feel free to check out my links. Thanks

Rafa’s Return

Posted: April 9, 2012 in Sport
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m a big fan of football and an even bigger Liverpool FC fan. I’ve followed them closely for 15 years now, ever since Euro 96 when the wing wizardry of Steve McManaman and Patrick Berger captured my attention and made me realize that there existed an exciting, entertaining and passionately followed sport beyond the shores of North America.  But throughout this entire period, I have never seen the club plummet on-field to such dismal levels, not just once, but twice in the last 18 months.

The two managerial appointments since the club’s most successful manager of the past 2 decades was forced out in the summer of 2010, have struggled to even approach his worst season. The first – Roy Hodgson, was hired to “steady the ship” of a club that was under sale after it had fallen prey to a pair of American leveraged buyout vultures, who had proceeded to saddle the club with enormous debts and curb player investment. He fared extremely poor, miring the club a few points from relegation in 12th and once the new owners had found their feet at the club, his reign was mercilessly ended after 6 months. He was replaced on an interim basis by club legend, “King” Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish proceeded to completely turn around results, guiding the club to 6th on title challenging form, which earned him a 2 year contract extension and it seemed like all was well again. But this season, despite a Carling Cup win and FA Cup semi-final appearance beckoning, the club has once again plummeted to dismal on-field levels of display. It is difficult to comprehend how such a stark reversal of form can take place, but it’s been pretty evident to myself for a few weeks now that Kenny needs to go.

Liverpool have been in relegation form in 2012 and Dalglish’s myriad of lame excuses recently – from officiating, to tiredness, to bad luck – point to a manager that has lost the plot. Dalglish’s pass and move style worked wonders last year when the players were released from the shackles of Hodgson’s more conservative and rigidly flat 4-4-2 system, where ball playing defenders like Daniel Agger were cast aside for pluggers like Paul Konchesky. But this season the pass and move style has struggled mightily in breaking teams down and it’s been evident all season long that the team desperately needs a quality finisher. This is also the weakest Liverpool side defensively since the 90s. A large part of this is owing to the season-ending injury sustained by Lucas Leiva on 1 December and Agger’s continuous injury problems. Evidenced pointedly by that fact that when both are in the lineup, Liverpool’s win percentage this season is 58.97% and without them it’s an atrocious 16.6%. However, it is Dalglish’s fault for not playing respectable backups in their absence and so often continuing with the clearly past it Jamie Carragher and clearly shite Charlie Adam.

The media never fails to mention that Dalglish has spent over £100m, while true, he has also recouped £75 in sales and reduced the bloated payroll substantially. However, his buy British policy has failed miserably with no signs of improvement. I believe this policy can work if you buy the very best British players like Man United often do and did so last summer with Ashley Young, but to settle for second-rate British players like Stewart Downing and dramatically overpay, makes no sense. Made all the worst by the fact that Young could have been purchased for the price of Downing in the January 2011 transfer window. Andy Carroll, Downing, Jordan Henderson and Adam are all right now mediocre British players that cost an absurd £80m. They all performed well for their lower standing clubs last year – netting an impressive 35 goals combined, but have struggled for Liverpool, reaching a rather pathetic total of 6 this season – which says alot about what the manager is getting out of them.

Even if Liverpool win the prestigious FA Cup this season, it is for these reasons I believe Dalglish should be removed as manager in the summer and offered another role with the club, similar to what he had before he was appointed manager. The most coveted managers are no longer really available to Liverpool anymore, which is why the club should appoint the best manager available that clearly wants the job – Rafa Benitez.

Rafa divides opinion amongst football fans but remains a popular figure in the red half of Merseyside. He’ll always be remembered for the famous Istanbul Champions League triumph and has always stated he wants to return to the club one day to manage. He also still resides in Liverpool with his family and remains an active charitable figure there.

His credentials speak for themselves. 2 Spanish league titles and a UEFA Cup in 3 seasons with an unfancied Valencia side as well as a Champions League and FA Cup with Liverpool. An 86 point performance just 3 years ago, which was Liverpool’s highest points total in over 2 decades. He ranks 6th in a recent study of English league managers of the past 37 years, which involves analyzing a managers performance relative to his players wage level. His biggest strengths lie in his tactical and technical abilities as a manager but I believe that his excellent knowledge of the Spanish game would once again provide the club with the foreign quality it needs to return to the Champions League. La Liga is brimming with talented players with five of their teams reaching European semi-finals this year. Targeting a specific league or language has also worked wonders for Newcastle this season, with their excellently performing French connection all brought in for the price of an Andy Carroll.

The media have always portrayed Rafa as a wasteful spender and while he did spend alot of money, he recouped most of it back in sales. His net spend was on average £13m a season, but he actually turned an overall profit for the club with the sales of Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano after he left, which puts him on the same level as the much-lauded Arsene Wenger. Even after 2 managers and wholesale changes to the squad, the best players at the club – Luis Suarez aside – are still Rafa’s buys – Lucas, Agger, Martin Skrtel, Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson. His overhaul of the youth setup a few seasons ago is also starting to pay dividends, as for the first time since the 90s some decent youth players are breaking through.

Going British has not worked out well for LFC of late and there are far better managers and better value players available to the club abroad. LFC is still the 9th richest club in world football with stable ownership that seems willing to invest and stay in it for the long haul. It is now up to them to right the dreadful mistakes of the past few years by providing the club with a manager that will turn the clubs fortunes around and return the club to competing at the very top of the English and European game in the not too distant future. Myself and many fans believe that the best way towards realizing this goal is through the return of Rafa Benitez.

For further info see an interesting recent interview with Rafa: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/news/20120322/rafa-benitez/

This month’s unanimous Assy goes to everyone’s favourite stuntman politician – Vladimir Putin. Putin won the Russian presidential election for a third time on March 4, amid accusations of widespread voter fraud. He was the Russian President from 2000-2008, but had to step down due to a constitutional rule that limits presidents to two successive terms. He very cheekily got around this by appointing a primarily figurehead successor in Dmitry Medvedev to run in his place, while still remaining in politics through the lesser role of Prime Minister. Once in power, Medvedev passed a new law extending the term of President to 6 years from 2012 onwards and then announced late last year that he would not run for President in 2012, thus paving the way for the Great Putin to return to the Presidency for a potential 12 years.

Putin was very popular in Russia while president, largely due to the massive economic growth Russia achieved under his rule, but the global economic crisis of 2008 hit Russia particularly hard with the fall in price of its main exports – oil and gas. Since Medvedev announced last fall he would step aside for Putin to run in the recent election, Putin’s popularity has plummeted in major urban areas and amongst the young. This unpopularity turned into widespread protest in the December parliamentary elections. A protest not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, which was all directed at a man now viewed foremost as corrupt.

Massive protests occurred in Moscow the day after the elections, but in a truly Stalin-esque manner, the protests were scattered by riot police and hundreds were arrested, including opposition leaders, and charged with possible sentences of up to 2 years in jail. Under Putin, Russia has ranked extremely low on the press freedom index and he has successfully managed to prevent any real form of opposition developing. However, he has now plummeted to a new autocratic low in his crushing of the latest protests.

No politician can quite match Putin for public stunts and photo-ops. From his flying of jets and firefighting planes and driving of motorbikes and race cars, to his crazy bare-chested Siberian adventures hunting wild animals, the ex-KGB man has carefully crafted a tough guy image, which is why it was so surprisingly comical to see him with a tear in his eye while delivering his victory speech. Made all the more lame by the fact he’s never shown an ounce of emotion in public over the deaths of dozens of Russians in both the Beslan and Moscow Theatre hostage crisis’, or the Kursk sinking.

He was also made the fool a couple of weeks ago, when one of his most prominent stunts involving his alleged “saving” of an escaped endangered Siberian Tiger by tranquilizer gun four years ago, has been revealed to have now been an elaborate fabrication. Apparently, Serga the tiger was taken from a zoo, tranquilized and forced to await in the wild for a notoriously late arriving Putin, who was originally reported to have “saved the day” by tranquilizing him in a deadly tiger to asshole encounter. Serga actually died days later from the excessive amount of tranquilizers used on him.

As if this was not all bad enough for Putey, two days ago a batch of documents were leaked over the internet which reveal that the Russian government was warned 20 years ago to not appoint him to “any other positions” until a corruption scandal involving him was resolved. The scandal involved members of St Petersburg city council approving a resolution calling on the mayor Anatoly Sobchak, to sack Putin for corruption. However, Sobchak was a close friend of Putin’s and since this is Russia, he refused and soon after promoted him to deputy. No criminal investigation was ever subsequently carried out.

While it is true Russia has little democratic history, it is assholes like Vladimir Putin above all else, who ensure that it stays that way. See Putin’s Race for Russian President Cartoon

An excellent short history of privatisation in the UK from Thatcher to the present, by Richard Seymour, appeared in the Guardian today:

Full article here

 

 

In conclusion:

In historical context, privatisation seems to answer a number of dilemmas for the Tories. By spreading market incentives, it erodes the public sector basis for Labourist politics. By opening the public sector to profit, it gets a lot of capital into circulation. And by reducing the power of public sector workers, it suppresses wage pressures, thus in theory making investment more appealing. Above all, perhaps, in shifting the democratic to market-based principles of allocation, it favours those who are strongest in their control of the market, and who also happen to represent the social basis of Conservatism.

i.e. the complete opposite of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “We’re all in this together!”

Anyone who has followed American politics will have noticed just how low the bar has been set this election season. Especially with regards to the complete farce that the republican presidential nominee race has degenerated into. Most people are aware of just how unimaginably rubbish the republican candidates have been, but the political discourse in America has also plunged to equivalent levels of utter embarrassment. I point to two separate but linked pieces on this subject.

Comedian and political commentator, Bill Maher’s Please Stop Apologizing New York Times piece, from a couple of days ago, points out the increasingly worrying amount of apologies demanded on those in the public realm, who in their statements or jokes, somehow offended a group of unnecessarily outraged drama queens. He calls for an amnesty – from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.

Who wants to live in a world where no one ever says anything that offends anyone? Otherwise we just end up censoring and sanitizing everything spoken, including comedy and end up with a phony, boring, cookie-cutter world.

He concludes that if we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.

Similarly, political cartoonist Mark Fiore’s recent provocative short cartoon Leaders, displays the trivial subjects that the political candidates are talking about, as opposed to the bigger and important issues that they should be talking about. He alludes to just how poor the political discourse has become in America and like Maher, sees that we will end up with the most bland and safest candidate – once again, Mitt Romney.

In both pieces, it’s not just the politicians fault but also a media that allows them to avoid the big issues by focusing on the dumbed down or the trivial and also by lending so much coverage to unimportant controversies, such as who is demanding an apology. It all serves to create a sanitized and irrelevant political discourse, which harms democracy in America.

Rome and Florence

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Travel
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I recently spent a fantastic 6 days in Rome with my girlfriend, which included a day trip to Florence. The weather was a surprisingly gorgeous 20 degrees and sunny every day, which allowed me to even get some colour unto my pasty London skin. I would highly recommend both cities, with at least a week spent in Rome and a few days in Florence. Both cities are just so picturesque and I doubt any city can match Rome in this category, with much of its ancient history still intact. The food in Italy is the best I’ve ever had and for reasonable prices. While Rome is quite large and can get hectic, both cities are walkable, especially Florence. The only negative I’d have about Italy is that it is so bloody disorganized and the people drive like maniacs. You can hear ambulances pretty much non-stop and we barely made our return flight because there was an earlier major accident on the highway which included debris and a severed arm left on the road. The train stations have no main board listing arrivals and departures and an attendant told us the wrong train to get on, which resulted in a mad dash across the station. Basically most service is pretty crap. But we nevertheless survived and here are the pictures to prove it.

For unrivaled hilarious American sociopolitical commentary, check out Bill Maher’s stand-up comedy special Crazy Stupid Politics, which was shown live on the internet Feb 23.