Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Sunday: 2012 Predictions Edition

I know, I know. Tl;dr. The extensive format is actually an attempt to make me stick at this blogging lark for longer that the month or so my trio of previous attempts lasted. Rather than trying to pump out two or three posts a week I'll slowly accumulate to one 'review of the week' kind of thing that'll haphazardly espouse my take on a sprawl of different subjects. It might well work. It probably won't. Enjoy it while it's here.


Seal: Bin Laden killer and all round good guy
2011 predictions: There was a lot of comment at the end of last year on the fact that 2011 had a lot of news in it. There was the uprisings in the Middle East, the injunctions scandal, the Royal Wedding, the phone hacking scandal, riots across the country, Seal killed Osama Bin Laden, and much more. Busy year, huh? Well guess what... there's going to be even more news this year! How do I know? Well there's a whole extra day! 2012's gone and snuck an extra 24 hours on top of what 2011 had. A whole extra 24 hours...for 24-hour news channels to bring us... news...for another 24 hours. Man, 2012's gonna be busy. That is of course, unless,  as per the Mayans prediction, the world comes to an end on December 21 2012, an event that would not only knock a whole potential 10 days worth of news off of 2012's attempt to eclipse 2011, but would also, rather paradoxically, provide a massive news event that there'd be no-one left to cover. Go figure. Anyway, here's some predictions for 2011:

1) Boris will defeat Ken in the London Mayoral election- the result will leave it 50-50 as to whether Ed Miliband is Labour leader at the end of conference season in the Autumn
2) Obama will win re-election in November- the Republicans will get crazier
3) There will be a major scandal within an institution of British life. Politicians expenses in 2009, the press and phone hacking last year- this year maybe the police, a major business/industry or maybe a mainstream sport
4) Said scandal will result in a 'full independent public inquiry' or FIPI for short. Any potentially big news story/event these days is greeted with a call for a FIPI by politicians- they love them. At this rate we'll soon be seeing FIPIs into George Osborne's obscene levels of smugness, Alistair Darling's bewildering eyebrow/hair colour discord, and who's punching further above their weight wife-wise- Clegg or Cameron
5) A country will leave the Euro- probably Greece
6) Man City will win the premier league. Oh, and at some stage this year Mario Balotelli will be, if not arrested, interviewed by police in relation to some bizarre antics
7) Team GB will under-perform at the Olympics but there will be some stand-out individual performances with golds for Phillips Idowu, Mark Cavendish and some female swimmer/cyclist/modern pentathlete I've never heard of
8) An Elbow song will play out the closing montage to the Olympics TV coverage- a choice not at all becoming a cliche
9) A Royal pregnancy will be announced
And finally...
10) The world will not end- The Mayan's fatalistic prediction is due to their calendar running out on the 21st December 2012. Now if they'd just pop down to Calendar Club...

Whistlin' the blues
Miliband's 5-year problem: Ed Mililband had another relaunch this week, a relaunch that was met with the usual derisory media coverage Ed Miliband seems to attract (for an example see this interview with an unprofessionally callous John Humphries on the Today program). Miliband's struggling to gain any traction at the moment and whilst a lot of this is to do with his lack of policies, lack of a clear narrative, poor communiction, insubstantial PMQs performances, and all-round shortcomings as a leader of a major political party, I think at least part of it can be put down to the establishment of 5-year parliaments by the coalition.

Since 1979 the only 5-year parliaments the UK has witnessed have been the final parliament of the Tory years (92-97) and the New Labour years (05-10) with an unpopular Prime Minister clinging to power amongst withering support. Once the coalition took power in 2010, however, they decided to effectively set 5-year fixed term parliaments as the norm (see this for a bit more detail). The rationale behind this is fairly sound- to stop governments choosing advantageous dates to enhance their chances of re-election. But why 5-years? Well, the coalition realised that it was going to take a while for economic recovery to take place. The further into the future they could push the next election (within reason of course) the more chance of them going to the country as architects of a strong economy.

So why does this affect Ed? Well, it makes it pretty hard for him to generate any positive coverage. If he was riding high in the polls at the moment its still distant enough from the next election to not really matter. He get's a little credit, but not all that much as an Opposition should be ahead in the polls anyway in a situation like we're in now. What's happened in reality is that Labour have been marginally ahead in the polls for the majority of the past year. Two years from an election and that's a solid base to build a campaign on. Three years from an election and the question is why aren't Miliband and Labour further ahead? 

I'd personally prefer four-year parliaments. Mainly because I'm an elections junky, but also because it offers a good balance between allowing a government to achieve things whilst also giving people regular enough chance to remove their leaders. We don't want things to become like America where the President's barely formed an arse-groove in the White House couch before he has to be out campaigning again, but in a 5-year parliament the Opposition face a pretty much Sisyphean task trying to generate positive coverage. At the moment Miliband's trying to walk up the down escalator and failing.

Econ 101: For anyone at all interested in economics (and now's as good a time as any what with the Eurozone imploding and all) I recommend you read Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times. Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist so he knows his stuff, but what's best is that unlike the majority of economics academics who spend their time creating worthless models on the sandy foundations of assumptions of rationality and complete information, Krugman deals in the reality of actual policy. And he's not afraid to tell it like it is- check out his defence of his style here in a post titled 'The Mendacity of Dopes'. The world needs more commentators calling out the wrong-headed, masochistic response to the Eurozone crisis and the fallacious claims and ideas flying from the inverted reality of the Republican nomination race. Krugman is leading the way.


Infinite Jest: This week I finished reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's probably the first book I've read that I've felt a real sense of achievement having finished,and I mean that in best possible way. It took me two months to get through and it's an effort to read- there's a vast panoply of  characters to keep track of, the need to refer to extensive footnotes throughout (386 in total), and you have to put up with a lot of comments from other people about the fatness of the book you're reading and the smallness of the type. But put the effort in and you're rewarded with a supremely funny, wonderfully inventive, sweeping broadside at American culture, that keeps you entertained throughout. Read it!

The Iron Lady- A review: A poor spin-off of the Iron Man franchise 

(I haven't actually seen it. I haven't even seen the Iron Man's. And that's a pretty lame gag. I apologise)

(I say it's a pretty lame gag but I've just read Stewart Lee also use it in this non-review of the film- great minds and all that...)


Serious foul play is serious foul play: I didn't see Sam Warburton's red card in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. I was in bed at the time (it was at like 9 on a Sunday morning- they play Rugby at funny times in New Zealand). However,I have seen it since and the right decision was made. The aftermath of Vincent Kompany's red card in the Manchester derby at the weekend reminds me a lot of the controversy that followed Warburton's dismissal. Those vilifying the respective referees do so on two main points, both equally spurious.

Firstly, critics of the decisions point to the early stage of the game at which each 'offence' occurred. This argument often comes from those who call for more consistency from referees decision making- an ironic inconsistency in their own thought process seeing as policing the game to different standards depending on time expired is, how should I put this, inconsistent. The clock has nothing to do with how a referee should adjudicate the game. If a player puts in a dangerous tackle early in the game, as both Warburton and Kompany did, there is no basis for a referee to err on the side of lenient punishment for the sake of not 'spoiling the game'. This argument was made a lot surrounding the Warburton incident, with the loss of a man in rugby a far more damaging situation to find yourself in than in football, but it holds no water. Warburton's tackle was a red card whether it occurs seconds after the kickoff, seconds before the final whistle, or anywhere in between.

Which brings us to the second defence made of the tackles: that there was no malicious intent and in the case of Kompany that he was actually successful in winning the ball. Those who make this results-based argument show a clear disregard for the condition of those players that they are so entertained by. If, in the course of a rugby tackle (or in any situation really), you lift someone's legs above their head, the inevitability is that they will come down on their upper-body, quite possible their neck or head. This is clearly very dangerous and should be discouraged with the threat of the strongest punishment possible on the field of play. Sam Warburton may not have meant to raise Vincent Clerc off the ground the way he did, but he left Alain Rolland with no choice but to issue him with a red. In football, going into a tackle with both your feet poses a severe threat to the legs of the player you are challenging and again should be punished with a red card. It doesn't matter that Nani jumped out of the way as if Kompany had javelin for feet, Kompany did not need to go in for the tackle the way he did. Though no harm was done Chris Foy was right to let the remaining players know that if they intended to tackle in such a reckless way then their afternoon would be swiftly curtailed.

Now, I don't feel that Warburton or Kompany are dirty players but their punishments in their respective cases were correct, as were the rejection of their subsequent appeals. Rugby and Football are physical games in which injuries are inevitable. However, they are also sports that thrive on the entertainment provided by their players. Thus any reckless action by a player that is likely to endanger the fitness of another must be punished strongly, regardless of whether they cause injury.

Talking Tactics: I came across Zonal Marking this week, a website dedicated to discussions of football tactics. I've also started reading more of The Guardian's pieces on the thought processes behind the game and find them far more insightful than the banal remarks emanating from so-called pundits on TV.

This weeks Carling Cup semi first leg on BBC between Man City and Liverpool was indicative of the perfunctory nature of the Alan's Shearer and Hansen analysis and the indefatigable will of Mark Lawrenson to come across as some kind of comic quipster that the BBC provides us. Stefan Savic, in for the suspended Vincent Kompany, was identified as a weak link in the City defence. Why's that Hansen? He'll be nervous because he hasn't played much we were told. No discussion of Savic's technical ability, his strengths, his weaknesses. Just idle speculation about his potential state of mind (Savic did end up having a shocker to be fair). On the Liverpool side we were informed Andy Carroll lacks confidence, an observation from Shearer about as astute as his suit was shocking. As for Lawrenson, his 'analysis' was about as funny as your best striker breaking his leg on a 'football hilarity scale' that ranges from your team getting relegated at the low-end through to the comic majesty of the following at the high-end:

Most analysis-and this goes for the great minds of Jamie Redknapp and co on Sky Sports as well- seems entirely focused on the simple notions of form and confidence, barely scratching the surface of the different layers within a Premier League match (to be fair to Gary Neville he makes a decent stab at providing a bit more analysis- it's a pretty bad sign when Gary Neville's a leader in your field and your field isn't either being a right-back or sleazy facial hair). It's received wisdom that the best players don't make the best managers. TV should realise the same applies to pundits and and look harder to find new pundits to raise the level of analysis beyond that of the current bilge provided by "the experts".  

Aussie Open pick:  So the first Tennis grand slam of the year is upon us and I'm calling it now: this is the one Andy Murray wins. Murray gets a tough rap for underacheiving when in reality in each grand slam he enters he's up against three of the best players ever to play the game. It's a bit like turning up with your mates to perform at a Battle of the Bands only to find out the competition is The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. This then happens at every Battle of the Bands you perform at and still, even when you come second, you get criticised. However, going into this years Australian Open Nadal's battling a shoulder injury, Djokovic still doesn't seem 100% after his fitness issues at the end of last year and Federer pulled out of a tournament due to injury for the first time in his career last week. Put this together with it being a tournament at which Murray's reached the final pretty convincingly the past two years- albeit before being beaten equally convincingly in the final- and this is his best chance yet. The final: Murray over Federer in four sets.

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