Monday, June 30, 2014

Goals of the Tournament, Thus Far...

1. Robin Van Persie vs. Spain

My buddy insists this goal wasn't all that impressive, skill-wise. I couldn't disagree more. The play begins at the half line with a long ball cross to the 18 yard box. Casillas cheats out to either cut off the cross or VP's first touch. VP sees it and powers a header into the upper corner, leaving Casillas still on his feet. The play looks "simple" in some sense because VP just headed the ball along. But in addition to being simple, it was also deceptive. Spain did not expect to be attacked that way. And ask yourself how many header goals you've seen scored on a cross from midfield at around the 18? The answer is not many. This alone points to the degree of difficulty.

Additional points are given because this goal punched Spain in the gut, opened up the floodgates to the Dutch victory, and crushed the spirits of the defending champ. This goal set the tone for the tournament.

2. James vs. Uruguay

You've seen the replay. Ridiculous. James' goal against Japan was a pleasure to watch, but the stakes did not matter. The stakes were huge right here. Uruguay was all set to play a conservative, tough game  and James just destroyed their plan with a chest-to-volley. Pure individual brilliance.

3. Cahill vs. Netherlands

The left-footed volley out of the air. Class.

4. Sneijder vs. Mexico

Until that moment, Ochoa was making a case for being the player of the tournament and Concacaf was feeling plucky. And while there was sloppy marking on the play, the sheer brutality of the finish was shocking. It was like watching the Red Wedding. Couldn't you just see Sneijder pulling Ochoa aside after the game and whispering afterwards "Tywin Lannister sends his regards." Because Europe are the Lannisters of international futbol.

5. Messi vs. Iran and Jones vs. Portugal

Very similar goals -- just pure, perfect strikes from distance hooking into the corner of the net. Messi's was backbreaking to a brave Iran performance in the final minutes. The goal itself probably didn't matter - Iran was going home and Argentina was moving on regardless - but it was just a crushing moment at the end of a game. It would have been the greatest performance in the history of Iran soccer and maybe caused the mullahs to get just a little bit nervous as the streets of Tehran danced. Instead, Messi put things back into order.

Jones' goal was the type the US could not score in the past. World class skill is required to finish a shot like that in the World Cup against a European team. And we needed it. We needed the goal because we were playing better, but still needed someone to make a brilliant play to break the seal. The US can score -- on headers -- on crosses -- on shots inside the 18 -- on deflections -- but rarely do we score goals from distance or with individual brilliance. This year, we did.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


TV: Tyrant

I rather enjoyed it. FX is probably my favorite non-HBO channel. And less pretentious. They don't pretend to be more than TV.
A Foreign Policy Thought

When the media talk about the Iraq War as a giant folly, we must consider the failures of non-interventionist policies as well. Take for instance, Libya, where we did the bare minimum to support the insurgents and still, the country is in chaos.

We must remember, the Iraq war was the result of having no good options in the Middle East. When we adopt a hands off attitude, humanitarian disasters occur - see Saddam and the Kurds, see the Syrian or Lebanese Civil Wars, see Libya, see the Iranian Revolution. When we adopt a pro-active, interventionist stance, it also tends to end up problematic, see Iraq.

The Dems want to blame the Bush administration for Iraq and all subsequent Middle East policy failures. They do this full well knowing the majority of them supported the invasion and knowing we didn't have any good options and cynically use it to political advantage. Now, the Republicans are doing the same, suggesting Obama pulling the troops has caused this ISIS group to take over a third of the country. Neither side has argued in good faith about these crucial issues since 2004.
Costa Rica - Greece and other thoughts...

Watching this was a throwback to how soccer was played in the early 1990s. Boring. I can appreciate Costa Rica's stingy defense playing with 10 --  but come on -- if all World Cup games were like this, we'd tune out.

I am anticipating a somewhat stupid response by American sportscasters to Robben's penalty and the flopping. Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade routinely flop worse. In basketball, we call it drawing a foul. In soccer, there is a perception that it is a "cheap" play. This is the observation of an amateur.

Alexi Lalas criticized the water breaks and suggested it should happen in all games. Another dull observation from a dull person. I'm fine with the water breaks in extreme conditions. It does not ruin the game or give undo advantage to one side. When you see the stands empty in sections of the stadium because of the heat, you know the players are dealing with really tough conditions. These are people who travelled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to watch their national teams in the World Cup and it's so damn hot, they go into the grandstands to cool down.

Also, it sends the signal that as big a deal as these games are, they are just games for entertainment. The water breaks do not take away from the entertainment factor. Our culture has become insane when it comes to sports meaning something more than a fun pastime. From NFL fans criticizing players for not playing hurt (Jay Cutler) to the insane scrutiny we put star players - particularly basketball players (LeBron James) - under for "not winning," often it seems we've very much lost perspective on things.

And there are ramifications to the fans/media perspective when we put too much on these things. I find it unseemly that LeBron, Bosh, and Wade are again collaborating to get players to join their team. It is the equivalent of going to a playground game and all the best players deciding to be on one team and then taking on the competition and winning game after game easily. It is unsportsmanlike.

But aren't the players simply behaving rationally to the system of the NBA and fandom? LeBron's manhood was questioned for being unable to win in Cleveland. So what he did - fixing it to play with other good players - was a legitimate, rational reaction to an irrational set of expectations put on him. I suppose it isn't the worst thing in the world and there is still competition in the NBA, but something about the way the league is headed -- to the players basically self-selecting themselves and the teams -- feels new and less connected to the franchises, cities, and fans.
Mexican Agony

What a terrible way to lose. Mexico made a tactical mistake to play defensive too early in the game. The Dos Santos substitution surprised me. With over 30 minutes left in the game, Mexico decided to pack it in and try to hold on. Sometimes this strategy can work - particularly if your strength is stingy defense like a traditional Italian team - but for Mexico it was a mistake in this game. They were equal to the Dutch, but played like they thought they were slightly inferior. I thought both teams offense was stronger than the other teams defense and looked dangerous. Mexico was playing them straight up, scored first, and decided to change their tactics. This allowed the Dutch to possess more, got Mexico tired, and allowed the Dutch many more opportunities. Ochoa made a brilliant (or lucky) save, Mexico's defense was disorganized on the Sneijder goal, but the finish was awesome. Maybe the penalty kick was a weak call, but Robbin was dominating that Mexican defender all game, so something like that was likely to happen. Then again, if they held on for five more minutes, we aren't having this 20/20 hindsight discussion.

The Dutchman's penalty kick celebration was my favorite goal celebration of the tournament.

I'm very sad to see Mexico out of the tournament. They were certainly one of my favorite teams. They are flawed, but I love their crew of attacking players.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup Thoughts

If I were a betting man, I'd put money on Columbia to beat Brazil. I think Brazil looks weak and Columbia looks great. They beat a gritty Uruguay team (granted without their best player). James is the player of the tournament so far.

I suspect the US is in trouble with Belgium. Man-for-man, they look much stronger to me, but we will see. US has performed well so far.

Best first round I can remember. The games were incredible and the biting incident has been loads of fun.

Film: Two Lovers

Watched the other day -- a nice reminder there are still adults making cinema, although it seems fewer and fewer each year.

Film: Snowpiercer

I quite enjoyed the film, but not as much as Mother or Memories of Murder. Walked to a show in Koreatown and the theater was packed. I don't understand why the movie is not being released wider. Tilda Swinton is a lock for best supporting actress.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Big Game

What a game. The final minute goal is what will be remembered, but I think the headline should be the US came back to score 2 goals after being down 1-0 at halftime against a solid European team. In the past, this would have been unthinkable. And the way they came back, wasn't flukey or even lucky. They made chances for themselves by playing solid soccer. Jones' goal was a brilliant shot. That requires skill.

Portugal is not a great team and Ronaldo was clearly not at 100%. Still, any team from Europe in the  World Cup is strong considering the competition they must get through to qualify.

We must credit Klinsman. Sure, the US got outplayed by Ghana and was fortunate to win. Ghana has superior players. But we were tactically sound during the game and our defense was strong. We played in a way to give ourselves a chance to win and it worked. Against Portugal, the luck went their way at the beginning of the game. Our team didn't panic, however, and played solid. Not too risky, not too conservative and over time both teams were getting chances in the 2nd half. We capitalized.

Now on the final play, Bradley made a huge error by giving the ball away in the midfield. I know the US commentators will say Portugal was still very far from the goal -- but this demonstrates soccer ignorance. Giving the ball away in that position is death -- the middle of the field is the most important and valuable position -- especially in transition.  This is the equivalent of missing a tackle on a 4th down play in football when the other team is driving on offense to win the game.  Sure, you don't give up a score, but you have a chance to end the game and you give life to the other team.

Bradley honestly could have one touched the ball into the corner (or banded it up the field for to the goalie or for a goal kick) and the game would virtually be over. He should have have treated the play like a clearance with the time remaining. Sure, he has a midfielder's instinct to control the ball there and normally the skill to do it. But he didn't. He was tired. Of course he was tired. He hasn't been playing at his top form. He made a costly mistake.

I rewatched the goal this morning and our defender on the play also made a mistake. There was only one Portuguese guy in the box. When Ronaldo was lining up the cross, he needed to get a body on the player and not be watching the ball. All defenders get lazy at points during the game and this happens all the time. But the better way to play defense is to obstruct the guy from having a clean header on the ball. He didn't do it. Nevertheless, the ball Ronaldo played was unbelievable. I cannot fault the defender too much because Ronaldo had not got a ball off his foot like that all game. It would sort be like criticizing the Iranian defender for allowing Messi to get off the left footed shot from distance (in 20/20 hindsight, you must force Messi right).

Nevertheless, giving up a goal in that manner is bound to get analyzed. Still, I think the US should be proud of the result. We learn from this as a soccer nation. I know it feels heartbreaking, but I, like Klinsman, know the US will not win the World Cup. So whether we make the 2nd round or not, is not the only thing that matters. What matters is we play hard, play creative, play with skill, and battle.

Nearly 1/4 of public company deals involve insider trading.

With decimation of the newspaper industry, corruption will rule the day in business and politics. David Simon warned of this.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


TV: Louie, Elevator 6

Excruciating. Louie must've lost me a little while back as I've paid little attention to the recent season. I randomly watched this lone episode just now and felt like I was caught up in a narrative masturbation fantasy. It is either indicative of auterism run amok or the limits of stand up comedians translating their POV to visual storytelling. Or maybe he just had an off night.

Anyhow, it was sleep inducing.
60% of Young Adults Receive Help From Their Parents

And one in five live at home.

That sounds about right. What are we to takeaway from this? I'd argue a couple factors:

1. Employment structure. My general impression is that decades ago most folks could get an entry level job in their field pretty easily. I think it is more difficult today. More people, more competition, less confidence by companies to invest in the future.

2. Entitlement. Young people are now encouraged to follow their passions whereas in the past they were encouraged into practical fields where they could make a good living. Maybe in the long run, this'll prove beneficial - more happiness/satisfaction/excellence - but in the medium run - it seems more challenging financially.

3. Willingness. In the older days, I think parents had less and a lesser willingness to assist.

4. Real Estate. Real Estate prices have been juiced by government policy since at least the Clinton administration. This - in effect - puts money in the pockets of home owners (ie parents) and makes it more difficult for young adults to buy homes. I imagine much of the parental assistance comes in the form of helping to buy a first home or as the article directly mentions, in free/discount rent.

5. College loan scandal. I consider it a scandal, even though it is not publicly acknowledged.  College loans, collectively juiced by the colleges, government policy, and conventional wisdom, have put many more young adults in debt, and thus hurt their overall financial prospects.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Travel Awards - England / Ireland - Part 1

Best place to stay: Temple House, outside Sligo, Ireland. In Ireland, you can stay on at a manor house on a 1000 acre plot of land. This is sort of like spending the night in Downton Abbey. You dine with the other vacationers in a big group meal, take pre-dinner drinks in a sitting room, and can do an after dinner stroll out to some castle ruins on the land which were built by the Knights Templar over 800 years ago. I'm serious.

Best meal: The Habor Bistro, a restaurant in Portsrush, Northern Ireland. You know how ribeye steaks are always said to be the steak of steak lovers? I never got it - until eating at the Harbor Bistro. They serve it thin - somewhere in between a ribeye at an American steakhouse and how the Koreans slice Galbi thin for the BBQ. This is the way to prepare a ribeye. It helped that the steak cost only a little more than a burger costs at most pubs and the Guinness on tap is the freshest in town.

Best name of a town: three way tie between Bourton-on-the-water, Upper Slaughter, and Lower Slaughter. These are all names of towns in the Cotswalds and you can walk between them along footpaths being grazed by sheep.

Best deal: Deals are hard to find on vacation, usually you are deciding between being ripped off or ripped off outrageously. But we found a flight on Ryanair between Bristol and Dublin for 20 pounds (roughly 33 dollars). To put in perspective, a train ride from London-Cambridge was 12 pounds and filling up a tank of gas was about 30 pounds.

Best drink: The bitter ales are terrific in England (and you'll feel buzzed after 2), the Irish serve three great beers: Smithwicks, Guinness, and Heverlee, but the best drink in the UK are Gin & Tonics because their tonic has quinine and I have no idea what it is, but it makes you feel like you're sipping one on the steps of an Embassy before the Great War in some faraway land like India, Burma, or Singapore.

Best English Saying: "Is it of interest...?

Best English or Irish Breakfast: Ye Old Kings Head in Santa Monica makes a better "full British" than I had in all of the UK.

Most Ridiculous Site They Wouldn't Have in the US: Cliffs of Moher. 700 foot cliffs that fall straight down into the sea (for a film reference, watch the "Cliffs of Insanity" bit from Princess Bride, it was filmed there). Anyhow, you can basically walk just along the top of the cliffs with literally no barrier whatsoever. People stand less than a foot away from a 700 foot fall. Truly, the Cliffs of Insanity. No wonder I noticed so many Irish people walking around with injuries.

To be continued...featuring Best Drive, Best Car Rental, Best English Candy, Best Irish Saying, and some Worst Of's...
Roid Rage

The Seahawks try and murder each other during a no practice scrimmage. Animals.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Blogging May Be Slow, But Some Parting Thoughts...

1. I enjoy listening to podcasts, but I often find them depressing. I think the nature of the podcast makes one feel like an outsider, non-participant, and over time, disengaged. The irony, of course, is that podcasts are designed to be intimate and feel like "discussions," but there is nothing being discussed, only people being listened to.  Podcasters are not your friends, but they want to feel like them.

2.  Oberyn Martell, RIP.  Well, GOT did it again, and managed to rip the hearts out of its fans.  On a positive note, Martell got what he wanted: a public confession from Clegane.  What's the lesson?  Don't get cocky...?  Who knows...the lesson from GOT is "all men die." So Martell died like he lived, with style.

3.  Skimmed a Michael Connelly novel.  Who read these things?  Skimming worked perfectly fine.

4.  Prediction/Hope: Spurs will win the NBA finals.  Duncan will move up historically relative to Kobe.  It will be a victory for team basketball over individual bball if the Spurs manage to beat the two MVPs - Durant and LeBron - back to back - ie win major series without the best player on the court (and in the case of OKC, not even having the 2nd best player on the court).  If the Heat win, however, where does that put LeBron historically?  The guy will be in his prime with a three-peat under his belt. Not bad.  And it won't be a Kobe 3-peat either where he played second fiddle to Shaq and somehow everyone chooses to forget. It will be a legit LeBron took the team over and lead them to a 3-peat. Hmmm...

5.  World Cup begins soon.  I haven't been paying attention at all because I know the tournament will be incredibly engrossing and time consuming by itself.

6.  Random BBall thought: David West is the heart and soul of the Pacers. Now remember those CP3 Hornets teams with David West and Tyson Chandler...both guys who have now proved themselves pretty damn good on other teams, when healthy.  Does this disrupt the narrative that CP3 brought the Hornets to the playoffs all by himself and basically took a good Lakers team to 6 games?  And also, CP3 still hasn't gotten to a conference finals with some pretty good teammates.  Granted, he always loses to good teams, but still...I think the lesson is not that CP3 isn't great - he is - it is that under 6ft players in a sport like BBALL are rarely MORE VALUABLE to team success.