Archive for the ‘sport’ Category

Extremists. ur doin it rong

I can’t help but think this is a contribution to the ongoing debate about hero-of-the-blog Diego Gambetta’s work on engineers and terrorism. If stuff is upside down before you start the riot, fire, explosion, etc., your extremist cell could probably do with more engineers. Meanwhile, the SELF THOUGHT SPIRITUAL SCIENTIST guy next to him looks like he’s on a demo to demand that ordinary decent schizophrenics can de-compensate without the EDL lowering the tone.

Due to the 30th birthday, I didn’t cover this at the time, but there’s a really nice piece on the Bradford EDL rally and counter-demo here. “It’s the middle of Ramadan, as if we’re bothered about this lot”, indeed. And the EDL were the only people ever to decide that the Rubble Zone was a great place to hang out.

Something else I missed, except for the last 15 minutes: the Challenge Cup final. Lee Briers got the Lance Todd. Kevin Sinfield got his third runner’s up medal. He must be really desperate to escape the fate of another Loiner, Garry Schofield, who played in four finals and never won, a record.

Elsewhere: I’m sticking the boot in over at Stable & Principled again. What is it about the Blair/Gove academies that makes them so suited to influence peddling?

So the England Zombies are looking more like Fast Zombies again. If I’ve bored you by talking up James Milner, I’d like to take this opportunity to claim my bragging rights. Here’s something interesting; back at the weekend, in the depths of self-loathing, the Obscurer published a table showing the teams with various statistics, including shots on goal. It struck me that England were looking rather good on that, and that the top four looked mostly like a plausible semi-final line up. So I’ve put together a spreadsheet ranking the teams by shots on target/matches played.

(oh, for fucksake – it’s fucking google spreadsheets. wordpress.com, get a clue. here.)

Data source here. Having fifa.com in my browser history makes me feel dirty for some reason.

That puts England 5th in the world – quarter finals again – but ahead of all the three possible opponents in the second round, Germany (7 on target/game vs. 7.333 – Google Spreadsheets is lax about sig figs), Ghana, and Serbia, and well ahead of the Netherlands and Italy. Further, out of the top four, Spain aren’t looking a cert to qualify out of their group, and they have an even worse tradition of World Cup choking than we do. This may be daft, sunshine and beer optimism; but it’s daft, sunshine and beer optimism with data.

Update: Well, would you look at that.

Manly-Warringah RLFC’s successful trip to the UK in the last few weeks, which saw them beat Leeds for the World Club Challenge, was assisted by an interesting piece of technology. All the players have been wearing networked GPS data loggers during the games, so Statto gets a live feed of data on precisely where they move, how fast, and what they’re doing. And just how hard they go in; there’s a three axis accelerometer in there too. It’s the work of their conditioner Dean Robinson.

Aussie clubs have been very good with statistics for years; in the 1990s, the Brits were still very impressed with themselves for counting tackles while the Aussies were looking at how you could measure the energy battle and coach to tire the other side out. But this impresses even me.

Weirdly, in a sense their team is blogging all the time it’s playing. Discussion ensues, over here. They used to say that you can smoke while playing a game but not while playing a sport, but then, the legendary French fullback Puig-Aubert used to bum fags off the fans and he was in the French World Cup winning side of 1951. It’s probably true that you can blog while playing a game, etc, but as you can see, technological change is even getting rid of that distinction.

In a surveillance society, you can be a star blogger without even noticing.

25 years ago today I was a three year old boy, living in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, from where you could see the golfball aerials at the NSA’s Menwith Hill base. Later, people I knew well would protest it for ages, and a man who was supposedly an engineer for LockMart there lived next door.

Via Charlie Stross, today is Stanislas Petrov day. As a Soviet air defence forces colonel, he was in charge of monitoring their satellite early warning system when it indicated five incoming missiles. But he was well aware of the system’s possible failings, and the strategy the US was expected to pursue – after all, what on earth would be the point of firing only five missiles, on a polar trajectory that the Molniya satellites would detect?

And so he declined to give the warning, knowing that if he was wrong, the radar line would light up with panic soon enough. The phones certainly did; they complained he hadn’t filled in the station log right, to which he said that he couldn’t because he’d had a phone in each hand all night. Of course, the radars didn’t go off because there were no missiles – when the ideologues and bureaucrats handed the issue to serious scientists, they worked out that it was an inherent flaw in the system’s design, connected with the unusual orbit of the satellites and rare conditions in the upper atmosphere. A false positive could have happened at any time.

That didn’t wash with the Karlo Rovskis; they sacked Petrov, who had anyway had a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?) not long afterwards.

Petrov’s heroic success was based on a few things; the first was his sound understanding of the machines. He didn’t need to ask the experts or believe the big computer. The second was that he understood the political and grand strategic situation. It made no sense to send five rockets. The third was that he feared what the buggers might do anyway; yes, it might be clear that nobody would send five rockets, and anyway the radars would give enough time to press the button, but who knew what the politicians (of every kind) would do under the effect of fear?

The fourth was that he acted, not letting the fools take the wheel. The Soviet Union was in the hands of a middle-ranking air force colonel, as in so many science-fiction horrorshows; but no-one could have been better. I can’t help but think of the lowborn Model Army men of the civil war; Colonel Hewson and Cornet Smith against the Duke of Godknows.

This story; from China is predictably horrible:

Chinese authorities have sentenced two women in their 70s to a year’s “re-education through labour” following their application to hold a protest demonstration during the Beijing games, a relative said yesterday.

Officials said this week they had not approved a single permit for a demonstration, despite designating three parks as protest zones.

The International Olympic Committee’s communications director said she would look at the women’s case, but stressed the games were “not a panacea for all ills”.

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbour Wang Xiuying, 77, sought to protest about their forced eviction from their homes in 2001. They went to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) four times this month to request permission to demonstrate in the zones – created for the Olympics to counter criticism about restrictions on political expression in China…

But that isn’t my point. My point is that it’s all oddly familiar. For a start, they have been placed under an “order” which restricts their movements, subjects them to the scrutiny of a neighbourhood committee, and isn’t subject to a court hearing or to an appellant jurisdiction of any kind. Why not? Because, of course, it’s not actually punishment. Only breaking; the order would be a crime, and would result in your being sent to a labour camp.

Yes; they’ve reinvented the ASBO. Meanwhile, 77 applications to demonstrate have been made and absolutely none granted. 74, apparently, were “resolved through consultations”, another two turned down because the form wasn’t properly filled in, and another rejected on the grounds it involved a child. (Won’t somebody think of the children?) And I was fascinated by this quote from Sir Mucho Pomposo Wang Wei of the Organising Committee:

Wang Wei, vice-president of the Beijing organising committee, told reporters they should be “satisfied” with the protest zones. “The idea of demonstration is that you are hoping to resolve issues, not to demonstrate for the sake of demonstrating. We are pleased that issues have been resolved through dialogue and communication – this is how we do it in Chinese culture,” he told a press conference.

He added: “We want everyone to express their opinion. Everyone has the right to speak; this is not the same as demonstrating.

It’s so familiar; the insistence that anyone who disagrees is doing so out of spite, that only acquiescence is “serious” or “helpful”. I’m surprised he didn’t offer them a Big Conversation, but in fact, with the right mistranslation he might have done. Similarly, the re-education through labour order for disturbing the public is just a translator’s caprice away from an anti-social behaviour order.

Perhaps there’s a wider truth here; this sort of events/urban regeneration politics seems to follow the same grammar all over the world. It’s conceived of as a project; which implies there are only participants, or else obstructions. Despite the money and the bulldozers, it respects class boundaries; veering around the villas of the rich. It needs special security arrangements which always turn out to involve some sort of summary justice based on vague and unchallengeable notions of appropriateness, propriety, or order; similarly, these are always temporary but are never revoked. The state authorities and private interests involved are indistinguishable. (Interestingly, the legislative foundation tends to be very hard to get rid of; the Act on the Great Exhibition of 1851 is still in force and still a major headache for anyone planning to build on or near the original site.)

More deeply, it seems to include a sort of quasi-medical view of society, or more specifically of the city. It, and we, need to be made better. Not only the method of this treatment, but the definition of better, is reversed for the doctors; but we are responsible if it doesn’t work, because we didn’t comply sufficiently. The nudgers’ cognitive biases are not examined; it’s our fault if we don’t press the right coloured shape in response. Equally, no-one suggests subjecting the Home Office to compulsory psychotherapy in order to get rid of its hysterical anxiety, but it seems to want to make everyone happy.

I have been away, cutting down to only very restricted Internet/computing usage, and living in a district that would make Abu Muq piss his baggy pants. (Walthamstow, he says. You’ve never been to Bradford, have you?) Which is amusing, because (as in every poor/immigrant ‘hood in Europe) every second business is a mobile phone/computer shop. You can pick up a wrap, an Algerian hooker, and an 8GB Nokia N95 in the same queue. But I succeeded in not opening my laptop for a whole seven days, which is a record for me at any time since 2004 at least. This gives rise to a challenge; how quickly can I resynchronise myself with my auxiliary brain? So far I’ve spent all of today slurping up a week’s worth of blogs, to say nothing of the e-mail; the comments, the spam, the news services, and a number of high-activity mailing lists.

And isn’t it fucking horrible? I just decided to skip Sadly, No! and a few others; one forgets just how much ideological trench warfare blogging we get through in a week. Anyway, to business. (Speaking of which, there’s the work re-sync coming up tomorrow. Thank God I zeroed my inbox before going on holiday. And, yes, I have been reading them; you want to know whether you’re going to have to run off the plane and form a defensive perimeter around your job…) I am delighted to see that a hitherto unknown revolutionary political-theatre collective, something similar to the Space Hijackers, successfully staged a demonstration that satirised literally every feature of the Blair/Brown years in one chaotic afternoon of low-level violence, massive traffic disruption, heavy-handed policing, and blanket media coverage.

I refer, of course, to the people who staged the mock Olympic torch relay through London. It was a great idea in itself, but the genius was in the details; who would have thought of including nameless foreign security police beating up thought-criminals while pretending to be Olympic Committee bigwigs? And then, they set about Sebastian Coe, a real Olympic bigwig and one of the most annoying men in the kingdom? And then, who would have imagined a sort of Jim’ll Fix It slot in which the ambassador of a vicious dictatorship got to pretend to be a world champion runner with the aid of thousands of cops?

Working Tessa Jowell in there was inspired (“Your Excellency, Auntie Tessa fixed it for you!”), but having the speeches drowned out by a monster sound truck advertising the products of some other country that didn’t toast its industrial base by playing dire pseudo-stripper cheesepop at maximum volume right there in Downing Street? Genius. It just says it all – the authoritarianism, the obsession with “events”, the utterly whorish foreign policy, the corporate arse-licking, the total absence of anything like taste or class, and the fucking people. Seb Coe. Tessa Jowell. Yes!

Hand that man an Arts Council fellowship. Seriously, it’s like a committee of Chris Morris, Mark Thomas, Linda Smith (yes, I know) and Tim Ireland designed the whole thing. They’ll never try the real one now, will they?

So, Challenge Cup semi-final weekend; a good one, too… Bradford got the worst of it, of course. Despite regularly being one of the best clubs in the country since 1996, they always struggle to make it stick. That was precisely their problem today – despite making chances, they never quite had the sort of quick-smart sharpness Saints always do. So, 35-14 and lucky it wasn’t worse.

It was closer than that sounds, close enough that Sean Long (who had a storming game) chose to kick an extraordinary long-range drop goal on the h of half time. I don’t know if anyone measured, but it can’t have been less than 50 yards. The sort of thing Joe Lydon used to do in the 1980s, even then it was a little old-fashioned. The last player to really make a point of this sort of thing was probably Alex Murphy, and oddly, Long looks more and more like a 1970s throwback all the time, pale and shaggy.

Bradford were transitional; they have been for years. Their successes in the Brian Smith/Matthew Elliott period were based on very much the same style they always had. Dave Hadfield said that “even when they were winning, Bradford seemed grim”, speaking of the 1980s side; but the late 90s Bradford weren’t that different. Brute strength and discipline, and Robbie Paul for a change. Brian Noble, and since he left, Steve MacNamara, have tried to open out the rugby, but today, the result was an ugly hybrid.

Of course, it was tough. But St Helens were able to pick off their opportunities, with their ex-Bradford man Leon Pryce kicking well to the wings. At Bradford he was an out-and-out winger, but since then has moved infield as a stand-off; he may yet be the Great Britain No.6 Great Britain have been looking for since Garry Schofield. (He also got the chance to score a spectacular winger’s try today.) Another of those Great Britain No.6s was playing, Iestyn Harris, now back from union with Bradford and having bulked-up dramatically.

Tomorrow, Wigan are playing Catalans, the first French team to get to a semi-final. It could well be difficult; they are next door in the league table, and the French side includes gnarly old schemers like Stacey Jones and Jason Croker. (I recall a photo of him with Canberra in 1994, gripping a goal post, parallel to the ground.) It will be a pity, though, that no-one can really enjoy it.

Because, as usual, league’s poisonous backroom politics are pussing out in the open. And – inevitably – Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay is at the bottom of it. (Before anyone asks, yes, I’m biased.) Last year, when it looked like Wigan might actually be relegated, Lindsay rushed out to panic-spend, buying among others the GB prop Stuart Fielden from Bradford. Unfortunately, he couldn’t actually do this, as Wigan had already used their salary cap for the year.

He came up with a cunning plan; nine senior players would accept a “deferral” of part of their wages until next year. The Rugby League accepted his “verbal assurance” that this would be so. That anyone accepted Maurice’s word for anything is surprising enough. But there is worse. Obviously, as Wigan hasn’t substantially cut wages or players since then, the payment of the deferred wages must arithmetically mean that they’ve broken the cap again this year…now, they got away with a four-point deduction this time, out of a possible eight, so surely this re-offending will mean trouble?

Nuh. This year’s sins will not be judged until 2008, and Maurice has already got the other top clubs to agree that they will end relegation for the 2009 season…if there is one good reason to keep promotion and relegation, it’s that it obviates all this sick politicking. And without it, we probably wouldn’t be having a season as competitive and interesting as we are. No Hull-Hull KR derbies. No Wakefield Trinity in the top three.

No Wigan in trouble, which is of course the point. This is a recipe for decay; down the leagues, with large helpings of futility for the small clubs, and in a top league that chose to be a self-appointed elite.

So, Challenge Cup semi-final weekend; a good one, too… Bradford got the worst of it, of course. Despite regularly being one of the best clubs in the country since 1996, they always struggle to make it stick. That was precisely their problem today – despite making chances, they never quite had the sort of quick-smart sharpness Saints always do. So, 35-14 and lucky it wasn’t worse.

It was closer than that sounds, close enough that Sean Long (who had a storming game) chose to kick an extraordinary long-range drop goal on the h of half time. I don’t know if anyone measured, but it can’t have been less than 50 yards. The sort of thing Joe Lydon used to do in the 1980s, even then it was a little old-fashioned. The last player to really make a point of this sort of thing was probably Alex Murphy, and oddly, Long looks more and more like a 1970s throwback all the time, pale and shaggy.

Bradford were transitional; they have been for years. Their successes in the Brian Smith/Matthew Elliott period were based on very much the same style they always had. Dave Hadfield said that “even when they were winning, Bradford seemed grim”, speaking of the 1980s side; but the late 90s Bradford weren’t that different. Brute strength and discipline, and Robbie Paul for a change. Brian Noble, and since he left, Steve MacNamara, have tried to open out the rugby, but today, the result was an ugly hybrid.

Of course, it was tough. But St Helens were able to pick off their opportunities, with their ex-Bradford man Leon Pryce kicking well to the wings. At Bradford he was an out-and-out winger, but since then has moved infield as a stand-off; he may yet be the Great Britain No.6 Great Britain have been looking for since Garry Schofield. (He also got the chance to score a spectacular winger’s try today.) Another of those Great Britain No.6s was playing, Iestyn Harris, now back from union with Bradford and having bulked-up dramatically.

Tomorrow, Wigan are playing Catalans, the first French team to get to a semi-final. It could well be difficult; they are next door in the league table, and the French side includes gnarly old schemers like Stacey Jones and Jason Croker. (I recall a photo of him with Canberra in 1994, gripping a goal post, parallel to the ground.) It will be a pity, though, that no-one can really enjoy it.

Because, as usual, league’s poisonous backroom politics are pussing out in the open. And – inevitably – Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay is at the bottom of it. (Before anyone asks, yes, I’m biased.) Last year, when it looked like Wigan might actually be relegated, Lindsay rushed out to panic-spend, buying among others the GB prop Stuart Fielden from Bradford. Unfortunately, he couldn’t actually do this, as Wigan had already used their salary cap for the year.

He came up with a cunning plan; nine senior players would accept a “deferral” of part of their wages until next year. The Rugby League accepted his “verbal assurance” that this would be so. That anyone accepted Maurice’s word for anything is surprising enough. But there is worse. Obviously, as Wigan hasn’t substantially cut wages or players since then, the payment of the deferred wages must arithmetically mean that they’ve broken the cap again this year…now, they got away with a four-point deduction this time, out of a possible eight, so surely this re-offending will mean trouble?

Nuh. This year’s sins will not be judged until 2008, and Maurice has already got the other top clubs to agree that they will end relegation for the 2009 season…if there is one good reason to keep promotion and relegation, it’s that it obviates all this sick politicking. And without it, we probably wouldn’t be having a season as competitive and interesting as we are. No Hull-Hull KR derbies. No Wakefield Trinity in the top three.

No Wigan in trouble, which is of course the point. This is a recipe for decay; down the leagues, with large helpings of futility for the small clubs, and in a top league that chose to be a self-appointed elite.

Jamie K remarks that Thaksin Shinawatra’s botched attempt to buy Manchester City FC and install Sven-Goran Eriksson is the worst deal he did, except for the time he tried to swap SARS-condemned chickens for Russian jet fighters.

It’s more impressive that Man City’s management’s due diligence appears to have consisted of running around the office waving the cheque whilst sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “Nurrr-nurr-ny-nurr-nurr!” Just reading the bloody newspapers would have told them that he, well, promised the buyers of his mobile phone network a 3G licence in defiance of the law, then sold the company for a quid to his son, thus establishing a giant tax loss, and then, after the son sold the company to the buyers, got him to give him the money back as a gift. (I paraphrase, but only a bit.)

Not that the original source of his wealth demonstrates epic business acumen. In the second half of the 90s he owned a GSM network in a fast-growing middle-income country – which is functionally equivalent to being caught outside naked when it rains money. All he needed to do, having obtained the licence by some means, was to give Ericsson a lot of borrowed (and inflating) money and watch them build it, then profit.

Jamie K remarks that Thaksin Shinawatra’s botched attempt to buy Manchester City FC and install Sven-Goran Eriksson is the worst deal he did, except for the time he tried to swap SARS-condemned chickens for Russian jet fighters.

It’s more impressive that Man City’s management’s due diligence appears to have consisted of running around the office waving the cheque whilst sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “Nurrr-nurr-ny-nurr-nurr!” Just reading the bloody newspapers would have told them that he, well, promised the buyers of his mobile phone network a 3G licence in defiance of the law, then sold the company for a quid to his son, thus establishing a giant tax loss, and then, after the son sold the company to the buyers, got him to give him the money back as a gift. (I paraphrase, but only a bit.)

Not that the original source of his wealth demonstrates epic business acumen. In the second half of the 90s he owned a GSM network in a fast-growing middle-income country – which is functionally equivalent to being caught outside naked when it rains money. All he needed to do, having obtained the licence by some means, was to give Ericsson a lot of borrowed (and inflating) money and watch them build it, then profit.