June 29, 2018

Horse 2432 - And How Could I Ever Refuse? I Feel Like I Win When I Lose

England 0 - Belgium 1
Januzaj 51'

Never before have I been so completely calm with an England loss. Rather, never have I been so happy to see an England loss. In fact, this whole match is a case of perverse incentives producing perverse actions.

Both England and Belgium had qualified for the round of 16 before a ball had even been rolled in this match. From the outset, it was always in the best interests of the managers to play a completely different lineup to their previous games; for fear of both injury and/or red and yellow cards which would take players out of future games. England made 9 changes to the previous lineup and Belgium made 8; so already this dead rubber was being treated as such.
Further to this, the reward for coming second in the group was a comparatively easier draw in the competition, based on the results of other groups. From that perspective, it was actually preferable to come second in the group, and that either meant losing or losing on other stats like fair play. The commentary denounced this match as a race to get yellow cards but that never eventuated and instead we got a very placid game, which may as well have been the local derby in the Southern Counties Combined Division, between Vanilla City and Vanilla United. It was kind of fitting that England were playing in lily white and Belgium wore a red kit which was accented with plaid.

The first half made so little impact on me that the only note that I made was 45' 0-0. Both sides were playing so slowly that they would have lost a race with a plastic bag that was blown around by the breeze.

The second half resumed in a similar fashion and Belgium shocked the world by actually bothering to do something. Six minutes in, Fellaini made a break, dinked  the ball to the left and Januzaj forgot that coming second in the group was actually desirable, and slotted home a fairly boring kind of goal.

From this point, the Three Lions awoke from their slumber and prowled around a bit. They didn't really make much of a go of it and the best of their opportunities came when Loftus-Cheek opened up Belgium's back four as though he had parted the red sea and Marcus Rashford had a strike which happened to take a deflection off the hapless Belgian keeper and didn't go in.
Belgium had a few halfhearted attempts at scoring again but England's back four were equal to the task. They came close to scoring twice more but the first was cleared off the line by John Stones and the second bounced around in the six yard box like a pinball with ADHD before Rose put a boot through it and enough postage on the ball to make sure that it was sent and wouldn't come back.

England 0 - Belgium 1, kind of means that Belgium have given England the better outcome for the rest of the competition. England will face Colombia in the Round of 16 and probably Switzerland in the match after that. Never before have so many been so not disappointed by such banality.

Aside (because this match was so relaxed):
It has really bothered me from a design perspective that this tournament (and indeed every World Cup to date) hasn't applied the letters and numbers of the font for the tournament on the players kits. I know that companies like Nike and Adidas like to have their branding everywhere but right down the sides of the field, the ad boards have consistently had 2018 World Cup Russia branding in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.
Since the invention of television, Football has its own visual historical record. Effort is put into the transitions between camera shots (wipes and sweeps) and as of the information graphics including the score in the corner is branded; so why not the kits?

The kit manufacturers and the respective football associations generally don't appear to be all that worried about the look of the tournament; as evidenced by the fact that so many kits of various nations are all off the shelf kits with pallette swaps. The England kit looked simple but not in any way distinctive and if the three lions shield wasn't there, it would have been impossible to guess which country was playing; likewise, if it wasn't for the plaid device on the front of the Belgium kit, and the completely nondescript Belgium shield (when viewed from far away), you would think that Spain was playing. Since the kit manufacturers don't appear to be worried about the look of these things, and they will adopt central branding at league level, then why not do it for a World Cup?

June 28, 2018

Horse 2431 - California's Jungle Primary Is Better But Still Awful

Why did the Lion get lost?
BECAUSE JUNGLE IS MASSIVE!¹

I got asked on social media recently, what I thought of the California primary. Now I know that this person happens to live in California and so maybe they were trying to extract some kind of validation from me for their great state but I know that I have to let them down gently and say that I think that the system is still hopelessly inadequate; it just happens to be one step less inadequate than it could be.

Like every state in the union, California gets two senators. These senators are elected for six year terms; which is different to the two year terms which the members of the house are voted in for. Also unlike the house, instead of a most votes wins basis in every district, the Senators are elected on a state wide basis, where there is something called a "jungle primary" and then a runoff election in November. By "jungle" they mean that all the animals in the zoo form the pool from which the final candidates will be eventually chosen.

The system is thus.
In California's jungle primary, the two highest vote getters go through to the general election in November; that's it. There are no more qualifiers or restrictions. It doesn't matter if a party wins both slots. It doesn't matter that there might not be a third party on the ticket. It merely allows the top two candidates to compete head to head in the general election in November. Yes, it is designed to lock out the smaller parties; yes it is undemocratic but it's simple.
It's simple and dumb and still inadequate.

Consider the results of the jungle primary which have been just held for the Californian seat in the US Senate race:

44.2% D - Feinstein*
11.5% D - de Leon*
8.7% R - Bradley
35.7% N - All Others.

This means that the two candidates with the star next to their name will appear on the ballot paper in November.
 Okay, that might be fine if you like Feinstein but the next best vote tally went to de Leon. Why do they get to go through? What about the 44.4% of the electorate who voted for someone who wasn't Feinstein or de Leon? What happens to their vote? Effectively it has been thrown down the toilet and flushed into the wide blue yonder with all the other bits of toilet paper for all the good it did. This is a mockery of democracy and makes issues like voter fraud (which is almost entirely a fiction) and influencing the election look like amateur hour.

Don't get the impression that I particularly care one way or the other, either. The political parties are a lot like going to a football match where the supporters yell at each other from opposite ends of the stadium for 90 minutes.

If it was:
44.2% G - Kitties
11.5% B - BURN ALL THE ANIMALS
8.7% G - Bunnies
35.7% N - All Other Fluffy Animals.

Then why does BURN ALL THE ANIMALS get a go; when they barely represent a ninth of the population?
Surely it makes no sense to even put them onto the final ballot paper when collectively Bunnies and All Other Fluffy Animals represent a portion of the population which is even bigger than the one who won the jungle primary, Kitties.

It makes sense to me that what you'd actually want is many rounds, where the smallest one is knocked out every time and then everyone gets to have another go. If there's ten candidates, then hold ten jungle primaries; so that way you would eventually get the approval of 50%+1 of the population. If democracy wants to reflect the will of the majority of the people, albeit eventually, then this would be the best way. Of course, this naturally leads to the problem that holding ten sets of primaries would be expensive and time consuming; so this could never hope to be considered in practice.
Except that not only is it possible, but Australia has been doing precisely that for more than a century.

You can and do achieve exactly the same ends by effectively holding many qualifying rounds for the general election on a single ballot paper, just by using instant runoff voting, with ranked choices.
With instant runoff voting, the one elected eventually gets 50%+1 of the votes.
With instant runoff voting, it's like holding many jungle primaries consecutively because the assumption is that people will always choose the same option until their candidate is knocked out. With instant runoff voting, someone who has voted 1 next to a candidate with a big cohort of votes, remains voting 1 for that candidate many times over.

Consider the election in the seat of McMillan, which is in Gippsland, Victoria; in the Australian Federal election of 1972³.


In round 1, Buchanan was eliminated and the preferences distributed. Every preference distribution is like holding a brand new jungle primary; so unless people mark every box, then failing to make second and third choices is effectively like throwing your vote away.

In round 2, Houlihan was eliminated and the preferences distributed. In round 3, Armitage who got the second biggest group of votes in round 1, actually had less votes than Hewson and was eliminated. Round 4 is the equivalent of the general election in November where there were only two choices. Mountford is eliminated in round 4, which had there been a most votes wins election, then they would have just won it straight up, despite getting the disapproval of more than half the electorate.

This example not only illustrates why an exhaustive set of jungle primaries through the use of an instant runoff vote is not only preferable but why anything less, and the Californian jungle primary is a an example of something which is less, is a complete affront to democracy itself. We honestly have no idea who the electorate might have approved of in a proper instant runoff vote.

Actually it also inadvertently illustrates why compulsory voting is essential. If you want to make the argument that people have the right not to vote, then this is an encouragement for people to throw their vote into the toilet. Legitimate government only comes through the consent of the people, and unless you are specifically arguing for the destruction of the state, then getting that consent albeit begrudgingly only happens if everyone votes.

Single member districts already lead to a tendency towards two party politics. The Californian jungle primary almost always returns a candidate from the two big political machines, to the exclusion of all others, and with the added possibility of placing two candidates from the same party on the ballot paper in the general election in November. That has the possibility of being even worse than just a single most votes wins election because it produces the means for a particularly keen political machine to completely lock out the other party from the general election entirely. That's not even democracy.

The most votes wins system is bad. The Californian jungle primary might be one step better but it's still bad. The thing is that the two political machines have no real interest in promoting genuine democracy and so instead of designing the best system, you're left with something which is inadequate and not the best. If it isn't the best,  then the people are more likely to suffer the effects of a bad system - and they do.

¹Jungle is Massive! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iGo-WMamzw
²California Primary Election Results, New York Times, 11th June 2018 -https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/05/us/elections/results-california-primary-elections.html
³Division of McMillian
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_results_for_the_Division_of_McMillan
³Courtesy of Antony Green, from the ABC https://twitter.com/AntonyGreenABC/status/1011853609569357824

June 27, 2018

Horse 2430 - Australia Knocked Out Before A Ball Was Kicked - But It's Fine

Australia 0 - Peru 2
Carillo 17'
Guerrero 50'

It was obvious before the kickoff in the Australia - Peru match, that Australia would not qualify for the round of 16. If you'd been watching the kickoff in the France - Denmark games which started two and a half minutes earlier, you would have seen from the get go, that France had no intentions of trying terribly hard and that Denmark were absolutely fine with their part in being co-conspirators in the quest to pick up one point each. In fact, the highlight reel of that match, pretty well much began and ended with the kickoff and final whistle and not much else. France and Denmark secured a point each by playing a game which is best described as dour.

As for Australia's hopes independent of that match? Well, let's just say that this was an industrial relations field day, with both Australia and Denmark having less strikes than a well organised and coordinated worksite where everyone is happy with their pay and conditions.

Peru didn't start this game at anywhere near as frenetic a pace as Denmark or France did. This laid back approach would serve them well as they calmly dealt with any attacks that Australia might make. In fact the opening goal of the game happened against the run of play; on a counter attack and surprisingly very calmly indeed.

Peru pressed forward to the edge of the 18 yard box, while Australia looked organised  defensively and held their line. A cross was sent in front of the back four, where Carillo thumped it into the bottom left side of the goal and back across Matt Ryan. It was really Peru's first meaningful touch on the ball in the match and seventeen minutes in, they were already looking like they'd pick up all three points in what was effectively a dead rubber.

Most of this match looked kind of the same from this point. Australia would push forwards, and either get stalled in front of the opposition's defence, or take a shot and jag it badly.

Milligan's pass to Leckie resulted in a miss (20'). Mooy had a meaningful shot that breezed past the post (39'). Behich delivered a corner that bounced around for a bit before Cahill's stot missed (60'). Rogic played a long ball after which Behich found himself in space and the missed (71'). Peru's Flores hit a shot that was more hopeful than good and missed (80'). Jedinak took a free kick after Sainsbury was brought down a missed everything (82'.)

The other goal came at the 50 minute mark when Guerrero (who was only allowed in the tournament because the confederations of France, Denmark and Australia, decided to forgive his cocaine charges which would have rendered him ineligible) made a run into the 18 yard box and had a go. There was nothing inherently remarkable about the goal other than it doubled the scoreline and given that apart from Matt Leckie, nobody in an Australian shirt has scored a goal in calendar year 2018, this effectively put the game beyond Australia.

Probably the newspapers will spend many column inches trying to diagnose what's wrong with Australian football but with a string of results of 2-1, 1-1, and 2-0, against teams ranked no lower than 12th, I don't think that that's necessary. The basic problem with Australian football is that Rugby League, Rugby Union, and Australian Rules Football exist. This is a simple opportunity cost issue and given that Australia either is or is somewhere near the top of the world in those three other codes of football, it should be expected that they do not as well against nations of comparative specialists. I bet that the number of people in Peru who have heard of Australian Rules Football, could all fit into a phone booth. The fact that Australia qualifies and consistently fails to escape the group is merely an expression of where the expectations should be set. On that metric, Australia has performed exactly as should be expected and in the very broad context of the history of the World Cup, only eight nations have ever won it anyway.

Australia has done better than Italy, they've done better than the United States because they've made it to the tournament, and they've done better than Saudi Arabia because against the top dozen teams, they have looked adequate. The even numbered QF flight from Sochi to Sydney may have been booked immediately after the kickoff in the France - Denmark game but there's no reason to arrive at Kingsford-Smith Airport with pitchforks and backhoes unless you are the landscape gardeners.
Australia played with heart and soul and were simply not good enough to beat the top dozen teams in the world, and although that's boring, it's fine.

June 26, 2018

Horse 2429 - Making A Cup Of Tea

As someone who lives in the shadow of the British Empire, I retain all of the traits that you should expect of the British; which includes a compulsive need to apologise  all the time, a need to write down and codify the rules for everything, and an irrational love of tea and the ability to drink lots of it, even when it's 116°F outside. To that last point, when the British found tea, it simply had to become part of Empire, because if you're busy stealing countries and people's stuff, then you could at least be civilised about it. It's fine to be a bunch of kleptomaniac knaves but there's no need to be barbarians at the same time.
If you do a thing a lot, you tend to get really good at it. If you do a thing a lot and you're doing it for yourself, you tend to get really particular about it. For this reason, when you encounter a thing that has been done badly, it generates a really irrational sense of offence; when it comes with a bunch of codified rules, then this start to pull all of the ropes in your mental bell house and you get a cacophonous din.
I saw two things this past few days; both of them having to do with making tea, that put all of my hackles, feckles and schmeckles up, and into five bell alarm overload.

Although there is an international standard for making a cup of tea (Yes, the ISO cares about this sort of thing, see the link below¹) it doesn't produce a good cup of tea. The ISO is about producing a standard cup of tea which can be replicated; which is absolutely imperative if you need to compare something over and over again. Making a good cup of tea is a different process but isn't all that arduous at all.

1. Boil Water
It's really not all that important if you boil it or if you have one of those fancy kettles which boils the water to 94°C. The theory is that if you don't boil the water all the way, then the nucleation points in the water (minute almost negligible impurities) will help the tea to steep properly. I have tested this with a kettle with an overly fussy temperature control and to be honest, I can't tell the difference. For me it's like the differences between Dolby 5.1 and 8.1. You can go to the effort of doing this in your house but most of the time, not even you care (this is akin to the minimum detectable signal; which this is below²)

2. Steep The Tea
This is not negotiable. It doesn't matter if you use a teapot or teabags or even a French press but do not skimp on this. This is such an easy thing to do as the only effort required is impulse control and you can totally fake this just by being lazy. If you are lazy and can't be bothered getting off the couch, or are engrossed in that spy novel, or have some complex problem that you need to work out, then this achieves the same ends as waiting the three to five minutes to steep the tea anyway.
The very first science experiment that we did in Year 7 was to make a cup of tea in a beaker. My science teacher gave us all sorts of reasons for doing this which were related to things like learning laboratory safety, learning how to observe an experiment and whatnot but what really annoyed me was that we'd made a cup of tea and we couldn't drink it. I still do remember though, watching the liquor do its swirly dance of convection as the beaker boiled. Inside your cup of tea, you aren't boiling the cup but that swirly dance still needs to take place. If you don't allow the tea to dance inside the cup then the flavour of the tea will not dance upon your tongue.

3. Add Milk, Or Don't
It is settled fake internet law that people like what they like and need no explanation for doing so. It is also the law of the internet that the smallest of opinions, which have to do with the most petty of minutiae, cause the biggest flame wars which can rage for years. The most obvious example that I can think of is putting pineapple on a pizza - do what you like because you like it but remember, you are hideously wrong and we'll start a flame war that will rage across the skies. Adding milk in tea is fine. Adding milk in tea that normally wouldn't have it, like Russian Caravan, is fine. Adding sugar in tea is fine. Adding too much sugar, to very very strong tea, is the way that builders like to make it and it's still fine. Adding too much milk because you are one of the 5% of people who prefers milky tea is fine.
Do not however, under any circumstances, expect that someone else appreciates your overly milky tea. If possible, offer guests a milk jug so that they can add their own amount of milk. If you have to add milk yourself because of reasons of logistics, then add less milk than you think you need to. Barely lick the cup of tea with milk. I'm so vain that I want to see clouds in my tea (clouds in my tea) but I don't want to see so much milk that I'm not drinking a cup of tea anymore.

The two things that I saw recently were thus:
Recently I saw on on social media that someone had posted a photograph of their proudly overly milky tea. If you like that sort of thing, then its fine. People like what they like; this is settled fake internet law. You can't say that they are wrong because they are perfectly truthful in reporting what they like.
The second thing was that I was round at someone's house, who I suspect doesn't really drink all that much tea. Having tea and coffee on hand so that guests can be served is a basic requirement of civilization; so that ticked the first box. However, I was given a cup of tea that violated point 2 and point 3. I know that it hadn't steeped for long enough and this was compounded by having way too much milk added. When asked if it was okay, then outwardly because manners are codified and because I'm not a barbarian, I said that it was fine. Internally though, it was not fine. Internally, I was having all the ropes in my mental bell house pulled and a full on five bell alarm was going off.

If you're making tea for yourself, then do it however you like but if you're doing it for other people you should always assume that it will be wrong and you should be careful; or better yet, exert barbarian hospitality and make them do it themselves.

¹ISO 3103:1980 - Tea -- Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests https://www.iso.org/standard/8250.html
²more on the Minimum Detectable Signal: http://literature.cdn.keysight.com/litweb/pdf/5952-8255E.pdf

June 25, 2018

Horse 2428 - Panama's House Burns Down Because Harry Kane Is On Fire

England 6 - Panama 1
Stones - 8'
Kane - 21' (pen)
Lingard - 35' 
Stones - 41'
Kane - 46' (pen)
Kane - 60'
Baloy  - 78'

The perennial problem with being an England fan is that the default position is one of pessimism which is based on years of evidence. Be the sport Cricket, Rugby, World Wars, Empire, or Football, the lot of an England fan is to look back to a time when England was for a brief moment the World Champion and then how currently they always fail to deliver.
Every new generation of England players is a golden generation and because England fans have deliberate four year amnesia, they always think that it will be the year: it never is. England will put in performances which are "plucky", have "the heart of a lion" and the "spirit of '66" and will crash out in the quarter finals in an act of either controversy or hopeless inadequacy.
So when a result like this comes along, it is so extraordinary that England fans literally have no idea what to do. Since the default position is one where they expect to lose, there is no playbook for this. This is joy which almost immediately butts up against the question "now what?"

England was expected to win or draw against Panama. Panama was playing at their first World Cup and sides like that generally punch above their weight because they have no fear of their opposition. Panama started against England at full pelt but it soon became hideously apparent that the distance between the two sides was as wide as the Atlantic Ocean which physically separates the two countries.

England spent the first few minutes held back by Panama but very quickly found that they could take the ball away from them. This led to an opening period of England pressing at the 18 yard box and then they won a corner.
Trippier  delivered a fairly routine corner kick which should have been dealt with but it was met with John Stones' head and swiftly delivered to the back of the net.

In response to England's opening goal, Panama appeared to step up a gear and very nearly equalised  when Barcanas took a shot at the quarter hour mark, which Jordan Pickford at full stretch still missed, but sadly for Panama, also sailed past the outside of the post. Panama kind of grew in confidence after this but not in skill and at the other end of the field, on a push forward by Lingard, both Torres and Escobar pushed him forward and into the ground. This went to the VAR for a decision; which I can only imagine was to work out which one was actually at fault.
Harry Kane, the hero of the opening match duly stood up to the penalty spot and fired a rocket of a shot which may as well have had cosmonauts on board.

Not content with a two goal lead, England kept on pressing to close out the match and continual niggling from the Panamanians which might have gone unpunished in a CONCACAF qualifier, was not tolerated by this World Cup referee. Raheem Sterling drove deep into the six yard box but was met with a wall of red shirts and passed it away to Lingard who made good on the hope placed in him.

From here though, Panama fell into disciplinary problems and the referee was forced to start handing out cards as though he was the dealer at the casino. One free kick was conceded about 35 yards away from goal and a small huddle formed as the England players worked out their set piece. Trippier's free kick crossed to the far side of the box, where Jordan Henderson turned in back in towards Sterling and Kane who both missed but John Stones was on hand to clean up the loose ball and drive it home for England's fourth.

The last time that England had scored four goals at the World Cup was all the way back in 1966 in the Final, and already the television commentary had turned into its inevitable amnesia, as the commentators started talking about going all the way. Even my jaded expectations were confused when during yet another corner, Godoy held Kane in a submission hold and Escobar held John Stone as though he were the pillion passenger on the back of a motorbike. The referee saw both and decided to ping Escobar for the offence  and Harry Kane was again called up to the penalty spot, which he again put away; in extra time.

At 5-0 at half time, England had now moved into uncharted territory at a World Cup, and already Harry Kane had made himself a possible candidate for the tournament's golden boot. Panama on the other hand must have had a team talk which was either expletive laden or quite dejected because after the break, they didn't play as fiercely as before; neither did England.

Ten minutes into the second half, Ruben Loftus-Cheek took a hopeful shot which caught the heel of none other than Harry Kane who might have been off-side but the VAR deliberated and awarded him with his hat-trick. At 6-0 up, it was only then that the tempo kind of died down.

At six goals down, Panama were obviously never going to win but they still needed to salvage some kind of consolation from the match. Murillo pushed forward but was met by Pickford standing solid and firm and the deflection was cleared. Ramon Torres had a shot in the 75th minute which defied everyone but still wouldn't trouble the goal.
Their breakthrough came in the 78th minute when Avila won a free kick and was able to avoid complete humiliation when Baloy met the ball with his head, to score Panama's first ever goal at a World Cup proper. Maybe England are fragile against set pieces but when you're already on a record number of goals in a match, nobody seemed too worried.

The remaining twelve minutes sort of trickled away as though this was all a strange and wonderful dream. England had only won its opening two group games at a World Cup in 1982 and 1990; and whatever the result in the third game, against Belgium, is, they are already through to the round of sixteen.
If I was England manager Gareth Southgate, I would replace all eleven players from this match with the eleven players who haven't yet started in this tournament. If nothing else, it gives you an opportunity to see how they'd fare at this World Cup. I think that as a player, I would be really hacked off at traveling to a World Cup and not getting a start. England have bought themselves this luxury and I see no reason not to enjoy it.

If I wasn't already invested in this World Cup, I am now. However, I am not so naïve as to think that it all won't go horribly wrong. This is England: three world wars (two hot; one cold), one World Cup (doo dah), and a team that hasn't won any tournament since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. If we forget our amnesia, then hopeless inadequacy is only a free kick away.

June 23, 2018

Horse 2427 - Garfield Turned Forty But Nobody Noticed

I take a break from this season of the festival of the boot, to write a piece about something that happened this past week that went by with almost minimal fanfare. Garfield, that's the orange cartoon tabby cat and not the beardy President of the United States, turned forty years old this past week. On June 19, 1978, the first Garfield strip was published and from there a merchandising empire was born.
And that there is the inherent thing wrong with modern Garfield strips. I have heard it said that the comic strip could be abandoned entirely and the marketing company PAWS Incorporated could survive entirely, just by keeping the cash registers ticking over through sales of plush toys alone. So what happened? To diagnose that is to look at the very nature of the strip itself.

The basic premise of the Garfield comic strip is that Jon Arbuckle is a freelance cartoonist who is something of a social misfit, who lives with his cat. I don't know if that was supposed to be autobiographical for the artist Jim Davis or not but if if is, then maybe it was supposed to be a sort of dark satire on the comics industry itself. Jon lives alone and has few social interactions except for those which are transactionary, such as with someone at the local diner or the vet, and the one constant in his life is his cat who, like the vast majority of cats in the world, is aloof and distant. Although we the audience are allowed inside the mind of Garfield, Jon is not. So if you remove Garfield's thought bubbles, which is how Jon sees the world, you actually get the ramblings of a sad strange man.
Early on, Jon is accompanied by a housemate called Lyman who it must be said, borders on bizarre and when he disappears from the strip in about 1983, his dog Odie is left behind; with no explanation ever offered except in a piece of retconning that happens in about 2005.

This is fundamentally why the comic strip would eventually fail. As the popularity of the strip grew and the marketing of the thing took off, then the focus changed to one where Garfield himself was given all of the punchlines, and truth be told, there aren't really that many different scenarios that are all that different. Peak Garfield happened in about 1984 at the latest and by about 1990, it had exhausted every single possible gag that could be done. From about 1995 when there started to be ghost writers, they're really just writing derivative gags and so the strip was caught in an endless loop of perpetual unfunniness, as though it were trudging around one of the lower circles of hell in Dante's Inferno.

You don't tend to see this sort of thing as much where the initial world that the characters live in is bigger. It was revealed in Dennis The Menace, that Dennis' dad is an older and slightly balder person who was also called Dennis. We are led to make the inference that there have always been Denii The Menii going back into antiquity and there will be more Denii The Menii going into the eternal future.
Ginger Meggs which appears in Australian newspapers, is refreshed every so often and never ages ever. No explanation is ever offered for his eternal childhood and none ever needs to be. Ginger Meggs is always doing things that a spritely boy will always do.
Garfield has no such luxury. He is condemned to forever making quips and bon mots  that have all been done before. About the only real difference is the exceptionally slow burning arc where Jon eventually wore down Liz the Vet into becoming his girlfriend. Those earliest strips in the late 1970s though, kind of make this relationship look incredibly awkward, even when read in context.

Garfield's problem as a character is that he is only the wisecracker. There is virtually no other character traits that he has. He doesn't have a job and so there is no direct interaction there, his adventures in the very small world that he occupies are limited to visiting other cats and dogs, and his mail foil doesn't really speak at all. Garfield doesn't have a job selling ice creams, nor is he a cartographer, nor he is driven mad by having seven children, nor is he a politician on the local council - no, Garfield is none of these things.

Once peak Garfield was reached in about 1984, there was nowhere else for him to go except downhill. If you want to buy collections of strips, then by about 1990, all the best is in the past. The strip still occasionally manages to raise a titter but when have literally read it all before, that''s rare.

Or better yet, why not read a derivative of a strip which is already derivative like Garfield As Garfield:

June 22, 2018

Horse 2426 - Ball Goes Everywhere But The Goal

Denmark 1 - Australia 1
Eriksen - 6'
Jedinak - 38' (pen)

Australian football is like a man with a barbecue which is covered in chilli sausages but doesn't have any wood, nor any matches. There is a lot of meat and a fair amount of spice but no firepower.

Such is Australian football that Australia had to play a record number of matches just to arrive at the tournament proper because fundamentally the Australian team has a chronic scoring problem. Indeed Australia hasn't yet won a match at this World Cup, nor the one before it; nor the one before that either. You have to go all the way back to 2006 to find an entry in the win column. Indeed this match from the get go looked like it was going to turn out like a broken pencil - pointless - precisely because of this chronic inability to put the ball in the back of the net consistently.

Before the match had started, there was a complaint by the traveling contingent of Australian fans that transport in Russia was inadequate, as the airport in Kazan had been closed due to inclement weather and the train journey to Samara took 15 hours. This was in addition to the fact that there aren't really proper roads in that part of Russia and going by road took at least 20.

Australia's hopes appeared to be dashed just six minutes in when a flick pass from Jorgensen across the back four and a failure of Behich to even touch it, put the ball in the path of Eriksen, who needed only a single touch to dispatch it into the goal. Australian goalkeeper Matt Ryan was justifiably livid and was in danger of receiving a yellow card for mouthing off at his defenders for their laziness.

At that point, I bet that Qantas was already organising  a QF even numbered flight back to Sydney because it looked like Australia was heading for a very quick exit from the tournament. Denmark kind of parked the bus in front of goal and Australia were ineffective at winning the ball for extended passages of play. Almost half an hour had elapsed before Australia struggled into the last third of the pitch and they managed to win a corner.

From Matt Leckie's delivery inwards, the ball bobbled in the air before sailing limply over the crossbar and that would have been it except that the VAR was called to attention by Mark Milligan's frantic calls for handball. Danish defender Yurray had held his arms in the air and on the way out, the ball made contact with his forearm. If there hadn't been VAR, then the referee would not have awarded a penalty because he clearly saw no infringement and had to be alerted to it after three minutes had passed. When play was stoopedy, Jedinak stepped up to the spot.
Danish goalkeeper Casper Schmeichel had kept a clean sheet for an amazing 9 hours and 32 minutes of football before this penalty but this streak was broken as he dived to his right and Jedinak shot the ball to his right.

The end of the first half descended into chaos as the ball traveled from end to end and Australia almost scored a second time when Nabbout back heeled to Leckie who subsequently returned to the consistent pattern of Australians not being able to score. It was 1-1 going into the half and the break kind of came as a relief for the Danish as Australia established dominance in the middle of the pitch.

The second half was a complete shambles from both sides as defending flew out the window but this was coupled with total impotence from both sides.This half had more misses that a meeting of the Country Women's Association.
52' Eriksen - miss
54' Behich - miss
71' Mooy  - miss
71' Rogic - miss
72' Sisto  - Miss
74' Nabbout fell over, dislocated his shoulder and will probably not return for the rest of the World Cup... and then Kruse - miss
80' Arzani - fired the ball across the Danish penalty box and no less than three Australian players failed to put a touch on it - miss miss miss
82' Cornelius - won a free kick 20 yards out... then missed.
83' Erimiss - miss
87' Leckie - miss
87' Arzani - miss
88' Sisto - miss

I haven't seen the quality of both attacking and defending stoop to such a low level in a very long time. The goalkeepers were untroubled as the remaining twenty players ran frantically, passed inaccurately, and shot wildly. The better of these two teams which escapes the group stage, is going to find it extremely difficult to progress beyond the round of 16 if this was the quality of football on display. It was entertaining but only so far as it was evenly matched and equally rubbish.

Speaking of that, a draw keeps Australia's hopes alive but the are just that - hopes. For Australia to go through they absolutely must beat Peru and possibly by at least two goals, which looks unlikely based on the performance against Denmark. In addition to that, France must also beat Denmark. If Denmark as so much as secure one point, then they will go through and the group will end:
7 France
5 Denmark
4 Australia
0 Peru
If Denmark win, then the Australia/Peru match is a dead rubber.

If France beat Denmark and Australia beat Peru and the goal difference is favorable, then the best possible result of the group is:
9 France
4 Australia
4 Denmark
0 Peru
If Australia fail to win, not even a draw will save them from the fate of booking that QF even numbered flight next Tuesday.

June 20, 2018

Horse 2425 - Blue Samurai Stun Los Cafeteros

Colombia 1 - Japan 2
Kagawa - 6'
Quintero - 39'
Osako - 73'


For some hitherto unknown reason that I don't know about, this World Cup is throwing up more upsets and unexpected surprises than most World Cups that I have seen. It also has delivered fewer scoreless draws than any other World Cup that I have seen. My suspicion is that because the minnows of the tournament have nothing to lose, then they go out there to win. This kind of mentality is difficult for a higher ranked team to accept and deal with because in principle, the players from the higher ranked nations usually play in competitions where the stakes are higher and the fear of losing outweighs the glory of winning.

Colombia went into their opening group game against Japan, knowing that Japan was the lowest ranked team in the group and that an Asian nation had never beaten a South American nation at a World Cup. When you also factor in that Japan hadn't even won a match at the World Cup proper since the 2010 edition of the tournament, then Colombia must have thought that they could score early and then cruise for the rest of the match, before taking home three points. Cruising would never be an option for them.

The opening few minutes was played at a furious tempo. If Japan was supposed to be a pushover, then nobody had told them so and they opened with a belief in themselves and an attacking flair that Colombia was never prepared for. If Colombia had done their research, they would have found out that the Japanese manager had only arrived in the job in April, and this might have led them to the conclusion that Japan would be in disarray. Japan was not.
After a series of continued attacks, the Japanese forwards opened up Colombia at the back and some terrible marking meant that there was an early shot on goal. This bounced around a bit and the second shot was handballed in the area by Carlos Sanchez. This was as blatant as the day is long and not only did Sanchez concede a penalty but he was sent off for deliberately and illegally stopping a goal scoring opportunity. There was something of a yellow shirted parliament which quickly surrounded the referee and they wanted the matter overturned by the VAR but there was no way that the referee was going to be overruled.
Shinji Kagawa's penalty was neither powerful nor would have been difficult for the keeper to have kept out except he went the wrong way and the ball traveled reliably into the goal.

Having been reduced to ten men, Colombia would play the remaining 84 minutes with a personnel problem and the Colombian manager made a substitution which took a striker off and replaced him with a defender. This meant that Colombia were pared back to a lone striker in Falcao and most of the Colombian attacks for the rest of the match were directed through him.
He would eventually win a free kick for Colombia which had it been referred to the VAR would surely have been overturned because Falcao practically walked backwards into the defender and then fell over himself. The referee saw the event differently and was sold the deception and thusly awarded the free kick just outside the Japanese 18 yard box.

Quintero stepped up and executed a brilliant piece of thinking by sprinting at the dead ball, which made the Japanese wall jump in anticipation but the shot was a wormburner which drove a streak directly under the wall and it completely took the Japanese goalkeeper Kawashima off guard. He tried to make the claim that he'd somehow trapped the ball in front of the goal line but the linesman saw that he'd fished it out of the goal, 20,000 Colombian fans had seen on the big screen that he'd fished it out of the goal, the worldwide audience had seen that he'd fished it out of the goal, and the goal line technology confirmed that all the ball had crossed the line.

They entered the half time break with the scores still level and it would seem that the match would more or less dribble out to its logical conclusion. Colombia lacked the firepower up front to worry the Japanese goal, and Japan met a highly organised  wall of resistance which meant that they were never going to find a way through in open play. And they didn't.
The veteran Honda was brought on at about the hour mark as a kind of talisman and although Japan didn't really see any improvement in their lack of striking opportunities, they did settle down into a more composed rhythm. Eventually they won a corner and none other than Honda stepped up to deliver a frighteningly accurate ball that only found Osako's head, thence the back of the net. It wasn't met with power but enough deftness to jank the ball back towards the near post.
From here, the match again returned to a lack of Colombian firepower versus Japan's inability to break Colombian defences. Although there was a very late Colombian corner, this was dealt with calmly and the scores remained unchanged.

What this result does is throw the group wide open. If Japan were expected to be the whipping boys and Colombia had expected to convert this match into points, then neither of those things happened. Poland and Senegal must surely be looking over their shoulders because Japan will have found confidence out of this and Colombia will be forced to play both of their remaining matches where they are forced to try and win.
If we assume that Columbia hadn't been reduced to ten men, then the gulf in class was evident that they would have in all likelihood have won. The fact that this match was so evenly poised, was only made possible because Japan were playing with 10% more personnel. One of the fundamental qualities of football is that it is very much a numbers game and a whole host of tactics revolve around creating immediate overlaps. Of course this does immediately bring into question the quality of this Japan side but you can only play the game in front of you and the truth of the matter is that although neither side scored a goal in properly open play, Japan's second goal was the result of them attacking sufficiently well enough that Colombia did put the ball behind their own goal line.

Aside:
I listened to the whole match on NHK Radio with the telly on and the Colombian player Carlos Bacca was frequently referred to as Karosu Baka, or in English, "Colossal Idiot". 

June 19, 2018

Horse 2424 - England As A Metaphor For The Majesty Of Monotony

Tunisia 1 - England 2
Kane 11'
Sassi 35' (pen)
Kane 91'

The perpetual problem with being an England fan is the expectation before any tournament in any sport, that they will do rubbish and fail and that causes a case of extreme anxiety and sadness, when after escaping the early stages of a competition, they show competence and hold out a glimmer of hope; which is always smashed into the ground when the inevitable happens and they do rubbish and fail.
This is a perpetual cycle in the English press, when they help to lay the groundwork for collective amnesia, so that they can recycle the same story again and again. It is as if the heroes of today merely exist to replenish the stories of old. It's the same old song but with a different name since you've been gone.

My expectation before this match against Tunisia was that England would come out of the starting gate like a mad thing; take an early lead, before squandering it all because of some idiotic mistake and then either fighting on valiantly but losing or fighting on valiantly and winning this match, so that they can lay the groundwork for our collective amnesia.
This 2-1 result had all the inevitability of a dropped pie falling onto the railway tracks before being squished by the express service to the city that does not stop at this station. And so it goes.

I arrived at the match two minutes after the kickoff had started and was shocked and terrified that the team in white was being pummeled and having a silver plate being polished for its head to be placed upon. It wasn't until the first closeup that I saw that the team in white was actually Tunisia and the team in red was England. That number 10 player who was running merrily about was actually Raheem Sterling and the number 9 was Harry Kane.

The opening goal of the match happened after just 11 minutes when John Stones should have put away Ashley Young's corner with a header but that was denied by the Tunisian goalkeeper Mouez Hassen. That would have been it expect that he couldn't hold onto it and Harry Kane belted the ball into the back of the net from 3 yards away.

England then proceeded to play according to the script perfectly when Kyle Walker made an idiotic decision to manhandle Ben Youssef right on top of the penalty spot and bring him down. Why this went to the VAR is totally beyond me. There was no way that Walker's bout of idiocy was not a penalty. This was so obvious that even Blind Freddy could have seen it.
Of course Ferjani Sassi was always going to drill it from 12 yards. Of course the goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was always going to show pluck and ticker but ultimately have the ball drift past him. In this display of theatre, these things must always happen for the benefit of television.

The second half played out like the dance of destiny that it was always going to be. Instead of looking timid, this England side under Gareth Southgate has adopted a script of old and has decided to play pressing football but look vulnerable at the back; and this is how it played out. Tunisia played far more defensively than they probably needed to and so a lot of the second half was the English midfield attacking the Tunisian 18 yard box and then progressing no more. All holes were plugged almost immediately. Any England dead ball opportunities were duly wasted and the clock ticked on and on towards 90 minutes where either a disappointing 1-1 draw would be played out or someone would break the deadlock and either hope or anxiety would be laid down. In this particular edition, we got hope.

The second goal happened in the 91st minute after a corner, which bobbled around the 6 yard box before being turned in by the head of Harry Kane at the far post. England have got one step closer to booking their tickets to the Round of 16 and then the Quarter Finals, where they will then throw it all away.
I am at peace with this. We already know how the story plays out, we already know that there will be a glimmer of hope which will be held out and we all know that it will be smashed into the ground when the inevitable happens.

There is something almost majestic in monotony. The thing that people like life coaches and motivational speakers never seem to grasp is that for most people most of the time, life is mostly automatic. Despite their calls to live the best life that you can, even if you measure success by the number of toys, wealth, power, influence, friends, popularity, fame, prestige, whatever, that they choose to use, the vast majority of people in the world live relatively quiet lives. We look to the exceptions rather than the overwhelming drone of the majority and are disappointed and anxious if we're not exceptional.
The England team in practically every sport is a perfect metaphor for dealing with the expectations of life. If you constantly expect to be winning everything all the time, then the world will surely fail to deliver; even if you are someone who is statistically exceptional. If on the other hand, you are grateful for the little glimpses of hope that happen to drift along every so often, then there's a kind of nobility in accepting the inevitable.

So what did I actually see upon the pitch at Volgograd? I mostly saw an England side that was having fun, playing a Tunisia side that was also having fun. I didn't see any signs of bitterness or malice and what was on display was a high level of technical competence and prowess from both sides. If it had remained 1-1 or England had lost, I would be lying if I say that I wouldn't have been disappointed but that's kind of the point. Football and especially England as a metaphor for life, is to remind you of the impending inevitability of disappointment but that you should enjoy the moments of hope that occasionally pass by.
C'mon England, all the way to the Quarter Finals. Failure awaits!

June 18, 2018

Horse 2423 - Mexican Golden Eagle Confuses German Imperial Eagle

Germany 0 - Mexico 1
Lozano 34'

There are several things that you hear amateur coaches yelling from the sidelines in district and parish games (basically in the sausages and beer leagues) that Mexico not only ignored but flaunted. "Don't ball watch." Mexico watched the ball. "Don't chase the game." Mexico chased the game. "Mark them on their bootlaces." Mexico didn't mark them on their bootlaces.
If you are coaching an amateur football team and especially a team of youngsters, then the Germany/Mexico match should absolutely positively unequivocally not be in your training video collection. If there is a training manual, then El Tri, tore it up and used it for kitty litter. Germany lost 1-0 because they were utterly confused.

The only goal of the match happened in the 34th minute when Hernandez passed the ball to the left and Lozano cut back inside the defender, took a strike and not even the best flailing of the German goalkeeper Neuer, could hope to stop it. The goal was nothing particularly special other than to say that the context of the game changes everything. For Mexico to put one past the world champions, der Weltmeisters, when they had never beaten Germany ever before, is special. This is what's so important and indeed the reason why Mexico won. Nobody seems to have told them what the significance of this game is.

From the opening whistle, Mexico were not in awe of the machines in white, that were standing in front of them. Nor were they particularly bothered about Germany sitting in their half for virtually the entire game. Mexico's game plan was to let Germany pass the ball incessantly and only diffuse them when they came forward. They then pressed into a comparatively empty field on the counter attack. Mexico's tactics broadly speaking was to play 5-5-0 in defence and then break into 5-3-2 with Lozano and Hernandez on the counter. Germany should have been wise to this because it was seen consistently across the Bundesliga, and usually against the big teams like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
In other words, Mexico's coaching staff have watched German domestic football because in theory the national side should mostly play in the same way, have seen what has worked against the big clubs and have applied it well. Germany was always technically better at all points on the pitch, but as football is a game which is open to that elusive quality called 'heart', a team of technicians can be beaten from time to time.

We have seen this story repeated throughout this tournament. Spain and Portugal's 3-3 draw started out as a technical bore fest but soon evolved into something glorious as neither side was prepared to let it go. Argentina should have walked over Iceland but not even Lionel Messi could defeat a team of eleven viking warriors who can hold back lava, and are coached by a dentist.

The 2018 World Cup is in my not very well paid opinion, the most entertaining edition of the tournament that I have witnessed and this is the ninth one that I remember. Why? Because this World Cup is actually being played as a football tournament. At least what I've seen so far, the age of anti-fooball seems to have been broken. The big nations can't afford to assume that they have some divine right to win matches any more, the minnows of the tournament have acquired teeth and are eating the big fish from the inside.

June 16, 2018

Horse 2422 - VAR Defeats Everyone

France 2 - Australia 1
Griezmann - 58' (pen)
Jedinak - 62' (pen)
Pogba - 80'

Somewhere on the Volga River, an inflatable kangaroo is steadily drifting downstream in disgust as ten thousand Australians all collectively go in search of 30 grams of vodka to dilute the taste of their own tears.
France's 2-1 defeat of Australia is one of the hardest of all to take; not because Australia were rubbish but because the showed signs of adequacy that wasn't present in the qualifiers and they pushed France right up until the end of the match.

The poet Emily Dickenson wrote that:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
She was right about hope having feathers but she didn't realise that they were the feathers of a Gallic Rooster and that it does indeed stop.

This match started with Australia playing somewhat tentatively and France came out of the blocks with every step being just that little bit longer, every touch being just that little bit sharper, and every kick being just that little bit stronger. As the match turned the half hour mark, that advantage seemed to dissipate, as the Australian players grew 3 inches and returned to their normal height; instead of cowering at the supposed gulf in class.
As half-time arrived though, Australia's adequacy had proved to just be enough and the scores remained deadlocked in a blank stalemate.

After the break and ten minutes in, Australia won a spurious place in football history when Risdon was awarded the first penalty against him via the Video Assistant Referee system (VAR), after his quite frankly idiotic challenge on Griezmann. The match was allowed to go one for three minutes while the VAR confused everyone before awarding Griezmann a penalty which he duly converted.

As if to correct this confused state of the universe, in a case of instant karma coming to get you, Samuel Umtiti handballed a Mooy cross which was also visited by the VAR, which awarded a penalty; and Jedinak put that penalty away just four minutes after the previous one.

At this point I was expectign that this would end in a 1-1 draw which would have been a fair result but ten minutes from home, a Paul Pogba shot clipped a defender and bounced in after coming off the underside of the bar. I thought that this was utterly rubbish because all the ball hadn't crossed the line and that this was a Wembley-tor, but the VAR confirmed that all the ball had indeed crossed the line and that there wasn't any offside either.
I'm going to accuse the VAR of being a cheating cheating knave, because I'm sure that the sensors in the goal have taken a bribe because technology is going to rise up and kill us all. I'm convinced that my microwave oven hates me, and that the dishwasher and refrigerator are going to kill me in the middle of the night in a white goods vendetta. Even my DVD player says te word "hello" when I switch it on, in a menacing fashion.

France held on to their single goal lead for those final ten minutes and for a whole five minutes of extra time, but in all honesty, this was an entirely expected result. 2-0 France was the shortest of odds for all results and the fact that Australia had equalised at one point is noteworthy.
This match will go down in history though as the first and second VAR penalties at a World Cup and the fact that VAR confirmed the third goal, only cemented its usefulness.
France 2 - Australia 1, or rather VAR 3 - Doubters 0. The system works. It works well. Y'all can shut up now.

June 15, 2018

Horse 2421 - Five Asterisk Saudi Arabia Sunk By Russian Competency

Russia 5 - Saudi Arabia 0
Gazinsky 12'
Cheryshev 43'
Dzyuba 71' 
Cheryshev 91'
Golovin 94'

The tradition of the home side of the tournament winning the opening game of the tournament has been continued in most emphatic fashion as Russia tore apart Saudi Arabia in a 5-0 demolition job. Not since the annexation of the Crimea have we seen Russians do a job so competently and with such little resistance. Before the World Cup, Russia hadn't won a game since November last year and although that isn't the best recipe for success, they needn't have worried as Saudi Arabia haven't won a match at the World Cup proper since 25th Jun 1994 when they beat Morocco. That's so long ago that many of the Saudi Arabian players hadn't even been born yet.

Having seen Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup qualifiers, I can say that they play dogged football but if they happen to be losing, then suddenly turn into a bunch of cheating thugs. This tactic works in the Asian Cup and in the qualifiers where the standard of refereeing isn't up to par and where the enticement of millions of petrodollars doesn't seem to work. No, if you want to use petrodollars and bribery to work at the World Cup, you need next level corruption and bribery to host the tournament; which is why the 2018 World Cup is in Russia and why the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar despite it being completely unsuitable to hold a tournament and despite them not actually fulfilling the requirements for either having or building the minimum number of stadia.
You can expect a lot of falling over to extract free kicks, or of they are not in possession of the ball, a lot of tackles which would usually belong on a rugby pitch. However, as we had a referee who frequently waved "play on" and didn't fall for the Saudis' falling over, they soon learnt that this was useless and stopped it pretty early in the match.

As a fun aside, as this was the match between the combined least democratic nations in the history of the World Cup (according to the democracy index published by The Economist¹), then as a result we saw lots of camera shots of very wealthy shieks in the telecast, who will alternated between calm serenity to abject screaming. There was also quite a lot of airtime given to who I can only presume was King Saud of Saudi Arabia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wore a business suit because sitting on a horse while not wearing a shirt is not advisable. The not wearing of shirts would be normally strictly limited to hordes of pasty white drunk Europeans, except that this tournament being held in Russia is likely to have you arrested for homophobic reasons rather than public drunkenness. Walking around in June with a bottle of vodka yelling "Jingle Bells, you suck!" isn't usually considered as Christmas carolling but this being Russia, even Snow White thought that 7up was a soft drink before she discovered Smirnoff².

As for the actual match itself, Saudi Arabia sat very high on the pitch, which usually works in Asia because  they can camp in the opposition's half quite effectively but as Russia is a European team, those tactics went out in about 1986 and were completely worked out by Italia '90. Russia were not only content to have the Saudis sit that high against them but welcomed it because Saudi Arabia is more toothless than Grandpa after he's put his dentures in a glass of water beside the bed. Russia would have played a hold and contain type game except there was nothing to hold or contain and they were frequently able to just walk up and steal the ball away. The number of completed passes was skewed heavily in Saudi Arabia's favour because they donkeyed the ball about so very very much.

The first of Russia's goals came off of the end of a curled cross which was duly headed in by Gazinsky. The second was caused by a complete brain explosion when Cheryshev basically stood still as three Saudi players slid around him as though they were children on an ice rink. The third goal was practically identical to the first when Dzyuba added to the tally. The fifth goal was one of those things that strikers pull late in the game because they know that if they miss, it soaks up the time; the fact that it went in merely served to prove the complete ineptitude of Saudi Arabia at this level - Cheryshev got his brace with an incredibly sharp strike. The fifth came off of a dead ball opportunity caused by inept Saudi falling over which brought down Cheryshev; which was slotted in by Golovin who curled it in around the wall from 22 yards.

5-0 is the sort of scoreline where you expect to see the cliché "Five Star" in the newspaper but on this occasion, the ***** aren't stars but asterisks for the list of everything wrong with Saudi Arabia. I honestly haven't seen a team play this badly since North Korea lost 7-0 against Portugal in 2010.
We learnt nothing new from this match at all. What this result did was give Russia three points and a useful bank of goals which might help in the goal difference statistics.

Aside 1: I am deeply disappointed with the lack of Cyrillic ad boards in this tournament. As this is Russia, we should expect to see something exotic. I think that the only real advertising that I saw in Cyrillic script was a McDonald's advert which I'm assuming said "Lovin' It" in Russian. I honestly think that I saw more adverts in Simplified Chinese, which although it is cool, just doesn't seem very Russians to me.

Aside 2: Saudi Arabia's kit was an all green Nike kit with the only things that identified it as theirs was the national patch on the left hand side. Everything about it was so generic that it could have easily been a high school football kit. Russia's was far far better as it's Adidas kit kind of recalled the ex-Soviet kits of the past.

Aside 3: I am also disappointed that there is no standard set of kit letters and numbers. A tournament like this should be defined by the unity of graphics that are specific to the tournament. The English Premier League, the English Championship and lower leagues, the AFL, NRL and A-League in Australia all have their own league wide set of kits and numbers and for the World Cup not to, is a blind spot on the biggest stage in the biggest sporting event in the world.

¹The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy - https://www.economist.com/media/pdf/DEMOCRACY_INDEX_2007_v3.pdf
²The effect is shattering

June 14, 2018

Horse 2420 - Capturing The Forever In Audio

There is a term in broadcast radio jargon called a "driveway moment" and it is those particular moments in time which keep a listener in their car just so they can hear the end of whatever the moment happens to be; hence a "driveway moment" because they will keep you sitting in the car in the driveway.
They are most likely to occur at the end of close sporting fixtures or perhaps during singularly poignant moments in history; which means to say that they are almost impossible to engineer, since a radio station has no control over where their listeners are at any point in time. However, there is a similar kind of phenomenon which is not only easy to engineer but dare I say it, desirable; and unlike moments of history which just happen and which may or may not be predictable, these things are entirely pieces of deliberate design and engineering.

If you were to ask most people when a new day begins, they would most likely tell you "midnight" because that's sensible and reasonable (and actually true) but if you were to ask BBC Radio 4 listeners when they feel that the old day ends, ignoring the clock, you might get a different answer.
At 12 minutes to 1 in the morning (0048 hours), BBC Radio 4 broadcasts The Shipping Forecast (see Horse 1848) but something almost wonderful and magical happens immediately afterwards. The announcer will wish everyone a calm and peaceful night and declare a "good night" from Radio 4, before the National Anthem is played. As "God Save The Queen" is played, there is a flurry of activity which nobody sees, when Radio 4 is closed down for the morning and it is synchronised with the BBC World Service.
As the National Anthem fades out, there is a fleeting moment of forever where you get the silence of Radio 4 before the World Service crashes in like a wave. It is that little moment of silence, where Radio 4 has ended and indeed where the whole world it seems, has also come to a complete halt that I find utterly delectable. The BBC has gotten better at synchronising the domestic Radio 4 feed and that of the World Service over the years but occasionally Radio 4 will run short and the radio silence is simply deafening.¹




"This is 99% Invisible; I'm Roman Mars." This is how virtually every episode of the podcast "99% Invisible" begins; with the deep, rich, syrupy molasses voice of Roman Mars, flowing into your head. Of course it is obvious that a podcast which is about design, engineering, and architecture, should have an opening which itself has been designed and engineered in a particular way. However, it is the end of the podcast that I am concerned with here.²
Radiotopia podcasts usually end with an end sting that has the announcement "Radiotopia: from PRX" and with a bed which is kind of like a glice of electronic noises, before they fade away into the great infinity and silence.
I experienced this most profoundly one afternoon in the chaotic city of Sydney when I was listening to an episode of 99% Invisible and it ended when I was waiting for a train at Museum Station. Museum Station is painfully quiet during the day and hearing the Radiotopia sign off and close was truly unnerving. World War 4 could have happened above, the city razed to a mess of smouldering embers as the bringer of nuclear fire destroyed all and sundry, and I would have been none the wiser. The Radiotopia ending sting is like the audio equivalent of the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).
I suspect that most people who listen to podcasts will have the next MP3 on their player of choice, immediately cue up the next thing. I almost always play podcasts as standalone items and so there is never a next thing in the list. I have a suspicion that most people who listen to music on their phones on the train, do so because they don't want to have to listen to their internal monologue. If they can drown it out, then they don't have to come to terms with the fact that hiding behind a mask of shallowness might open the possibility that if they removed the mask, they might find that there's nothing actually there. My own internal monologue is so incredibly loud that it is impossible to drown out.

There's something about the nature of television which makes this phenomenon magnitudes more difficult to achieve. Television is almost obligated to manipulate both your audio and visual senses constantly because ironically, the gift of sound and vision is something of a curse when it comes to things like this. One particular piece of television has stayed with me because it captured that moment of forever elegantly. It was also somewhat ironic because as it was on the end of video tapes, it meant that it's intent was specifically to be reproducible.

At the end of a video tape from the BBC, there was a closing ribbon ident. The audio for that ident trails off and the screen fades to black. For this to give you the full effect, it needs to be stupid o'clock in the morning and it helps if you're a little sleep deprived. The sensation that you get is that this is the end of television and there's nothing to replace it. It kind of reminds me a little bit of when television used to shut down for the night and after the continuity announcer wished you a goodnight, there was no more television for that day.
I think that I first saw this ident at about age 11. When the first Gulf War was opening, I remember going to bed well beyond midnight, as not only did the world's media become transfixed by the pictures coming out of the warzone but almost for the first time, it was being televised live. That has a strange effect on a small brain and for some reason, my expectations of the future were shortened (I can only imagine that as a kid who grew up during the tail of the Cold War, I must have developed some innate worry that the world would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust). In stark contrast to the Gulf War's immediacy, the end BBC Video's ribbon ident pulled those fleeting moments in the silence of nighttime into fragments of forever.³

I pick these three moments because unlike a driveway moment where you are compelled to remain in the car until the thing ends, these little glimpses of forever don't compel you to keep listening but to just pause and ponder eternity. It's an equality weird sensation if you're staring into the dark sacred night or the bright blessed morning with advertisements for hair care products on the sides of buses whizzing by. Also, unlike driveway moments which are pure happenstance, these things are deliberate pieces of audio engineering. What is unknown to me is whether or not the audio engineers are specifically designing their wares for the instant after they've ended. If so, then these things are like the audio equivalent of the negative space in the FedEx logo, or the magic 8 that is on the eight of diamonds in a standard pack of playing cards.
I already find the idea of driveway moments fascinating, however I find it amazing that it is possible to deliberately engineer a moment in time which isn't even present in the thing which has been made. That almost dances in the land of impossible, itself.

¹ BBC Radio 4 Shipping Forecast Ending - https://youtu.be/hQeZMGTqmy0
² Radiotopia Ending - https://youtu.be/y4_j_WMo3OU
³ BBC Ribbon Ident - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ia1bC2qIsA

June 13, 2018

Horse 2419 - Nothing Was Achieved In Singapore By Trump And Kim... And That's Fine

Depending on which sections of the media that you listen to (I like to be across editorials from as wildly varying viewpoints as Breitbart and Xinhua), then the meeting of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, is either a tale of shining cooperation and leadership, or a betrayal of everything that democracy stands for. I have read opinions that this shows incredibly strong leadership, incredibly weak leadership, that you shouldn't negotiate with tyrants under any circumstances and that any negotiations at all are virtuous.
Throwing my opinion into the world is very much like throwing a cup of tea into the ocean; nevertheless, allow me to brew a cup before I hurl one of Earl Grey's finest into the waves.

The details of the communique which was released after the meeting took place are nothing new in the slightest. North Korea has restated its desire for the Korean peninsula to be denuclearised, has made vague promises about its part in that process but no specific details, and the United States has agreed in principle to be nominally nonaggressive. This is well short of a peace treaty, because technically the Korean War has never been formally concluded, and while South Korea and Japan look on in horror as US warships are going to stop exercises in the Sea of Japan, they probably should also see the other side of the coin and tentatively accept that North Korea is sort of hinting that it's not going to hurl random missiles at anyone.

Those of a more hawkish persuasion will say that in simply meeting with North Korea, the United States has lost some of its prestige. I counter this with the rather obvious statement that for almost the entire of the Union's existence, it has defined itself as being against something and for the latter half of the twentieth century and opening of the twenty-first, it has spent its time going to war against anyone that it found as an acceptable target. If there is any prestige to be lost, I think that it is that of a belligerent bully and maybe that prestige is not actually worth it. Those same people have probably deliberately ignored the fact that part of the reason why there even are two Koreas is because of the United States' actions in the post World War Two carve up of the world. The 38th parallel was drawn with an American red pen, with help from the Soviet Union who only had red pens.

If I was going to game this out, my plan would be to unequivocally forgive the North Korean regime for the hideous abuses which have been carried out against its own people and then hope that the regime simply collapses. This is kind of what happened after the borders were accidentally opened in a pique of confusion in East Germany on August 4th 1989 and by October 3rd 1990, East Germany ceased to exist. The obvious risk with this is that the regime just continues on its merry cruel way. This world only be held out at the very end of the process, whatever that happens to be.
In the real world though, I can only assume that the North wants to be taken seriously as a player on the world's stage. The inherent problem is that because they haven't been taken seriously for so very long, I have a suspicion that not even they truly know what they want, much less how to go about achieving it.
If the plan is to rehabilitate the North into some sort of semi coherent nation, is the goal to make it more like China? If the goal is full reunification with the South, then what do you do about carrying the financial load of the people of the North who would immediately form a vast statistical underclass of systemic poverty. The gap between the two Koreas is even wider than the gap between the two Germanys was. If the plan is to eventually convert the country to some form of capitalist democracy, then what on earth is the North supposed to sell to the world?  What happens about the moral imperative for justice? To what extent do you hold those in power accountable for crimes against humanity?
I know none of the answers to any of these questions. I don't know how anyone is supposed to answer any of these questions. I do know that those who are tasked with the job of finding anything that approaches answers has a Herculean task as nasty as cleaning out the Augean Stables of the immortal cattle; it's mostly unbelievable piles of poo.

Actually my greatest wish from this particular meeting is that Donald Trump, who is himself an affront to decency and hopefully a democratic anomaly, thinks that he has singlehandedly solved the problem of North Korea. Then, after he thinks that he's solved it, he will move on to the next thing in his extended reality TV series (which, let's be honest, is what his presidency actually is). After Mr Trump has moved on to something else, then the actual real work of diplomacy can continue.

I think that everything which could have been expected to be achieved, was achieved. If anyone thought that this meeting was anything than a TV opportunity for Messers Trump and Kim, then they're delusional. This was a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre an audience of millions looking on; where the only important thing was that it was happening in the first place. This was the first square on the board and nothing more.

June 07, 2018

House 2418 - People Don't Want To Hear Actual Experts - They Want To Hear Daddy

As a vociferous member of the commentariat, I have a large propensity to produce large amounts of weapons grade nonsense. The mere fact that I know nothing about a given subject is no barrier to me spewing forth many hundreds of words. Also, the fact that I am a straight white male who is aged 18-65, means that in general the world values my half baked opinion more than other people's through on precisely zero grounds whatsoever.
To anyone who is an academic of any subject, to anyone who has spent their life learning everything that there is to learn about a given field, and to anyone whose opinion should be relied upon for these very same reasons, the fact that my opinion on anything is valued so highly by the world at large, is ridiculous. The fact that as a straight white male aged 18-65, my opinion is valued more highly by the world at large than the well thought out opinions of proper experts, is downright criminal.

Recently I have noticed a trend, particularly in media organisations like Fox News and their distinctly smaller cousin Sky News here in Australia (other news outlets are available), that they have diversified beyond the opinions of straight white males aged 18-65 and have discovered the opinions of straight white females with blonde hair aged 25-50. Their opinions are just as half baked as mine and the reason that I suspect that they are on Fox News and Sky News is that they are there to look pretty for an audience of straight white males aged 40-85. If that sounds like a mismatch, then you need to remember who wields the majority of power in board rooms and parliaments across the Anglosphere.
This is also ridiculous.

If I point the light of self awareness onto people like myself, which doesn't particularly happen all that much, what we tend to find is that there is a very distinct and obvious problem where complete ignorance on a given subject is mistaken for being unbiased and objective. This is distinctly stupid because as pattern recognition machines who will readily form tribes, we tend to make the basic mistake that anyone who has the same set of opinions as us is unbiased and that people who are on the other side of the divide are all idiots and terribly misguided in their opinions. This is also ridiculous.

The thing that really annoys me is that even though we have access to all the information in the world and in a way that we've never had before, it seems that people would rather hear the half baked opinions of people who are vaguely guessing at things rather than listen to experts who have spent many years doing research and reading into subjects. The problem with ignorance being mistaken for non bias is that the opinions of experts tend to be devalued. This isn't exactly a new phenomenon either; Galileo was imprisoned for daring to suggest that there were things whizzing around Jupiter and not the Earth, and the works of people like Aristotle were taken as truth for centuries despite there being many things wrong with his opinions and those pesky real world facts not lining up with his vague guesses.

I'm not specifically going to call out the incidents of published moronia that I found because the world will have moved on, even before I've had time to process it all but it seems to me that the best people who should be speaking into the realm of public discussion should be those people who actually have the best knowledge and experience.
There was a conference of people from various airlines this week, speaking about doing something about the underrepresentation of women on the boards of airlines. Now it would make sense to me as an outsider, that the best people who should speak on such an issue, are either those women already on boards so that they could relay their lived experience, or perhaps those people who work in recruitment and who have the power to decide the outcomes of those decisions. Instead, we got twenty-three men and one woman, none of whom were either on the boards of the airlines that they represented and none of whom had any lived experience when it came to promoting women to the boards of airlines. Instead we got public relations officers, who were generally unable to answer questions put to them.
I'd like to say that this is a one off thing but this kind of thing happens constantly.

This week I've seen the current education minister has been on Twitter complaining about the opposition not answering questions about their education policy (which they hadn't actually put forward anyway) but when it came to him answering specific questions about his own policies, he had no idea. I've seen a chap being interviewed twice about climate change and claiming to be from the House of Lords, when in actual fact he appeared to know nothing about the specifics of climate change or the mechanisms which might cause it and neither was he actually from the House of Lords. I saw the curious tale of someone who purported to be an expert on the Royal Family, despite not actually living in the United Kingdom nor being British, nor seemingly to know very much about the Royal Family. I saw the opinions of an established research scientist who was a cancer specialist, given less time than a man trying to sell something - she was telling the host that the product was complete nonsense but the host kept on shutting her down on the grounds that the salesman was holding out hope for cancer sufferers.

It seems to me that in an age of information overload, the world has decided that it would rather hear the opinions of straight white men who vaguely carry a resemblance of daddy, than the opinions of people who actually know what they are talking about. People's itching ears want their confirmation biases scratched, throwing aside common sense (which is increasingly becoming more uncommon) and sound reasoning.
As a straight white male aged between 18-65 whose only real expertise is in playing complicated sudokus which are otherwise known as tax returns, at manipulating Excel documents, and compiling thousand plus word servings of weapons grade nonsense, I know that my opinions are virtually worthless and like to back up any opinions that I generate with the research of proper experts. The problem is that too many people like me who either have power or whose opinions are too highly valued, are ridiculously self-unaware.
If you want to know why Brexit, Trump, 700 horsepower cars, fried lasagne at petrol stations, privatisation of public services, SUVs, Rugby League, and many more idiotic things are allowed to be, then look no further than straight white males aged 18-65 and the general public's trust in them despite and in spite of all and any available evidence.

June 01, 2018

Horse 2417 - Blinking Green In A Sea Of Red

I am convinced that if you could graph out the central characteristics and motivations of most human beings, the absolutely essential elements of wanting to love and be loved, to have a roof over one's head, clothes on one's back, food on the table, and wanting these things for our families, friends, communities and the nation (with varying degrees of importance), are pretty well much common to everyone. I don't think that when it comes to the absolute basic elements which make us human and define our humanity, that we differ that much at all.
When it comes to layering things like character traits, abilities and expectations, we start to differ wildly. Once you start layering things on top of all that like personal preferences, tastes, interests, what we find entertaining, challenging, empowering, and fulfilling, then although you might find broad trends and correlations, you're now looking at very fuzzy things with overlap which all might broadly look sort of similar but are actually all individual points of data and more importantly, all individual people who are different.
And then you get one data point in a sea which is just plain weird. It is like watching a television screen and noticing that one green pixel in a sea of red, and no matter what the picture is, it's still weird. Mostly you can ignore it but sometimes you wonder what's going on. It's even weirder when know that you are the pixel or the odd data point in question because even though you can give completely sensible answers to any someone's questions, it's like your very existence has somehow interfered with the forces of nature.
I am that pixel.

Reasonably often we get clients at work who drop off their tax returns and will want to have a chat. That's normal for normal people because that's what normal people do. Don't worry, I am not so much of an abhoration that I think that having a chat is strange. See my opening paragraph - people want to love and be loved; they also have a need for validation, I think that's true for all of us in the many environments and conditions that we find ourselves in, the professional realm of commerce included, on both sides of the interaction.
On Tuesday though, we had some clients talking about how they'd been to Noumea and invariably one of them told me that I would totally love it and wanted to press some questions, most of which I couldn't really answer since they were outside any field of my experience and I was given a series of looks as though I was some kind of Epsilon semi-moron until finally I said "that's all right, I don't really like the beach; I much prefer the cold". I explained that I would really love to be in a place that was cold in the winter, and that sent the conversation off on another tangent which was fine but the nature of how we got there kind of left me in a place where I didn't want to be put on the spot like that.
This pixel was blinking green in a sea of red.

Of course I'm made aware of issues like class and economic means on an almost daily basis due to the fact that that is that is the nature of my job and so I don't hold that against people because I think that there is a massive degree of randomness in the world (or at least what seems like randomness because we can not possibly conceive of all the factors that go together) which determines where we happen to be in life, but what continually amazes me is almost a blind refusal of people to imagine others complexly, and that all of us are a mass of contradiction and confusion when it comes to a great deal many things.
The unspoken truth which I can't explain when having a short chat is that I utterly despise the beach. It exists as a transitory space with death by drowning on one side and either the most expensive shops in the world on the other, or perhaps bushland or carparks on the other. I always have hated the beach. Even as a teenager when we'd go camping with various youth type things, the beach meant a day of slowly being sunburnt and them being assaulted by ten million pin pricks of sand whenever the wind picked up, or trying to avoid people's attempts to get me to go into the big blue wobbly death by drowning device. I have successfully navigated the waters of life to this point, by making sure that I have not drowned in them.
As far as I'm concerned, the only reason that summer exists is for the playing of cricket, and staying up late into the evening; it does not exist for the purpose of going to the beach. The beach serves no purpose as far as I'm concerned, outside the playing of beach cricket; which is clearly inferior as it comes with a qualifier (the same thing can be said for T20 Cricket which comes with an arguably more stupid qualifier). I have no need of a house by the sea or near the beach because I have no need to go there, ever; except for the purchase of fish and chips. Okay, I will admit that the sea is useful, but that still doesn't mean that I want to get in it.
But you can't explain any of this without looking like a total weirdo, or without someone else taking it to mean that you're judging them, when in actual fact they are perfectly entitled to like what they like; without any justification whatsoever. They just notice that this pixel is blinking green in a sea of red and they can't cope.

I've seen these things play out again and again. It can be pop culture items and ephemera which I have no desire to care about but can pass off more easily now as culture fractures into tiny microfragments, it can be matters of class which I can outplay by simply being polite because when you get some really nasty people (which tends to happen if people know from the outset that they're simply richer than you) it really confuses them when you try to serve them nicely, and it really really freaks people out if someone wants to get you to agree with their politics and you have a position so alien to them that they can not understand it at all.
I don't care about the passing parade of music, film, television and soap stars, I lack the ability to burn money on international travel like many of my clients do, I like watching silent films and have a personal cultural zero date which is well before my lifetime and seemingly before the personal cultural zeroes of many of the people that I come in contact with. I have long passed the point where I worry and what people think of me but internally I'm kind of furious that people expect me to be someone else, when they clearly have no care about who or what I am either. There is virtually nothing that so many of these people can do to me and I think that it messes with their heads when I out polite people, when I out culture them and when I tell them that I live in a place in the unknown western suburbs, that they assume is full of crime, drugs, and disorder.
When the pixel blinks green in a sea of red, you can watch the red pixels begin to warp.

I say this by way of metaphor because I'm red-green colourblind. I am perfectly aware that I don't see the world in the same way as everyone else does. I see some things as being exactly the same when other people see them as being wildly different. To take this to the logical conclusion of the metaphor, I am perfectly aware that I don't see the world in the same way as other people do.
I am that pixel that blinks green among the red and I've long since passed the point where I care about trying to blink red. Not that I could do it anyway because I know that I am that one data point which simply doesn't belong anywhere. I don't need to be told. The world can keep on being red; I'll keep on blinking green.