Friday, June 30, 2006

World Cup Quarter Final Picks

I feel compelled to come up with something outrageous after going 7-1 in the second round. We are now in the quarter-finals, and here's how the future is shaping up ...I wouldn't be too surprised if couple of games go the other way.

Argentina over Germany: Talent, talent and talent.

Italy over Ukraine: Ukraine shouldn't be here at all. Karma will catch up.

Portugal over England: England sucks as a whole, marginally better than Ukraine. If you take a closer look, this is how they stand:

Rooney - over-rated;
Lampard - lost somwhere in Baden Baden, needs an urgent kick on the backside;
Beckham - feed the baby setpiece after setpiece to keep him visible on the field;
Gerrard - doesn't play well with Lampard, not that he does otherwise;
Crouch - Ouch !

Brazil over France: Just because.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's wrong with Graham Polls of the world?

It has been almost three weeks of non-stop breathtaking action from Germany, and finally a much needed break for all sweaty souls around the globe. This is by far one of the best World Cups ever, although the officiating charade continues at an alarming regularity.

In case you missed, FIFA has shown red cards to the whistle blowers who stood apart from the rest of the pack. The talented Englishman Mr. Graham Poll and Russian Mr. Valentin Ivanov, whose whistle-blow jobs are now a part of football folklore, were sent off to catch their home bound flights after receiving the FIFA dubious distinction awards. There have been unconfirmed reports of tears rolling down the eyes of the FIFA president Sepp Blatter watching them leave. Heartbreaking.

We will miss the fine protectors of fair play.

In a related note, Germany's Markus Merk who awarded that feather touch penalty for Ghana against the US has been retained and likely to be seen on the field again at some point in the tournament.

I will admit, I was kinda worn out by watching all the catch-me-if-you-can superstars and some nonsensical spineless pieces of officiating that would fit anywhere between comical and blasphemous.

Look, referees are humans and do mistakes. It has always been a part of the game, and will continue to do so. And for every game played there will always be a side, fuming, and another, smiling end to end.

The truth is, every team has been a victim of poor officiating. And the beneficiary of poor officiating. What goes around comes around.

FIFA has laid down the rules of fair play and the officials are asked to follow them. While following the rules with eyes closed is one option, following the same goddamn rules with more sensitivity and contextual merits is the one more appropriate.

As a case to the point, the game between Ukraine and Switzerland saw 45 fouls committed and only one yellow card shown. Compare to the one between Portugal and Holland: only 25 fouls, but 16 yellow and 4 red cards.

I understand it's a difficult situation for the referees to find that elusive balance to maintain the flow of the game, yet also punish the violators of fair play and make decisions within nanoseconds without the benefit of technology to correct erroneous calls.

People have suggested to use video replays for controversial foul calls and goal-line technology to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line or not. An obvious problem is that they would inevitably slow down the game and goal-line technology — tried and tested by FIFA — could never work with 100% efficiency.

Nevertheless, FIFA cannot shy away from it's responsibility to help the referees to make better decisions on the field. So far FIFA has steadfastly refused to embrace technology and Sepp Blatter, insists that it will take away the human factor of the game:
Football must be keep its human face, and its human errors. As soon as we use technology to decide what is wrong and what is right, then football would lose its emotion and passion, and it would not be the game of the people.
I tend to agree with him. It would be foolish to allow the game hijacked by robotic loonies because this is a game of the people for the people and by the people. We are better off keeping that way.

Having said that, FIFA should strive to find ways — sooner the better — for the sake of the game and all fairness to the competing teams, to punish the perpetrators who blatantly and shamelessly make a mockery of FIFA's much trumpeted fair play campaign.

Perhaps use of technology in a limited fashion might be helpful. There's no requirement to interfere with the game while it is on, and no reason to rescind game time decisions by the referee. However, to make sure that no genuine violators have gotten away, FIFA , after reviewing the game replays, can impose further sanctions. This will make sure the human factor stays in the game and also guarantees the culprits missed by the referees were taken to task. This can also be applied during half-time breaks.

I wonder people who got a taste of how it is like to be on the wrong side of referee's decision has to say if the technology is made available even with a limited scope, because blame-it-on-the-referees has always been a perennial favorite of the coaches around the world in every major sport to take the heat off themselves.

I am not defending the officials, who must be penalized for their screw ups. But come to think about it, who's here to be blamed? Really?

Why not take care of the cheating players first before you take the pot shots at officiating?

As a matter of fact, the players should be held more accountable because it is their primary responsibility to stay honest to the game. Equally disturbing is that these millionaire babies, idols of millions of budding footballers around the world, worshipped for their mesmerizing skills also happen to be the habitual cheaters for whom conning the referees are the acts of sublime artistry.

If there was ever any doubt why Argentinia native Manu Ginobili is always a step ahead of the home grown floppers, the World Cup has put unsettled minds to rest.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

World Cup Diary IX: Ukraine-Switzerland, Australia-Italy and Round 2 Final Predictions

Here's hoping that Human Rights Watch groups around the world took due notice of the sufferings of millions who watched the tie between Ukraine and Switzerland.

Was it the worst game played in this World Cup ? Absolutely.

Was the tortuous play demeaning and dehumanizing to the audience? No question about it.

The better game of the day thus belonged to the Azzurri and the Socceroos by default. Our own Natalie Bennett has already provided us with her eloquent and quintessentially British account of it.

The game was memorable in at least one way--never before have I seen a match conclude with a penalty. Sadly for the Aussies, a fatal defending error from Lucas Neill in the final seconds cost them a possible trip to the final eight.

As many of you have already rightly observed, it was another screw up by the Spanish referee adding to what has become a Hall of Shame of outrageous calls made in this world cup. I know referee bashing helps, but there are few other things worth noting:

1. The fault lies as much with Bresciano, who should have never allowed Fabio Grasso to dribble past him -- why not tackle him when he was still lurking around the corner flag? Why allow him to get inside the box? Inexplicable.

2. Neill should have known that a sliding tackle inside the box is usually the last option by a defender. He could have stayed his ground and forced Grasso to maneuver his way around him, thereby killing precious seconds. His suicidal plunge simply allowed Grasso, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands, to execute a well-timed flop. The penalty, no matter how unfortunate, was a culmination of a sequence of defensive lapses and gamesmanship of highest order.

Of course Grasso's flop was still nowhere close to the classic Michael Owen from the 1998 World Cup match between Argentina and England, still the benchmark of all wishful cheaters around the world.

Here is something that you would enjoy. When my buddy Jon learned about my ravishing praise of Owen, he promptly came up with the following reply:

" before you praise Michael Owen too highly, check out some of the competition here."

And you should too.

Tomorrow's picks:

Brazil over Ghana

Does anyone think otherwise?

Spain over France

Shouldn't the French team be vacationing in a nice, quiet old age home on the shores of Mediterranean? By Wednesday, they will be.


Monday, June 26, 2006

World Cup Diary VIII:England, Portugal Advance and More Predictions

Once upon a time, there was God and the hand of God. While God excelled in saving the Queen, hand of God picked her beloved England and threw them out of the 1986 world cup window. Apparently, God who still saves the Queen, and has assumed a recent responsibility of saving the collective ass of the England team.

Admit it, England has put up another ordinary performance today but still managed to scrap out a hard fought win thanks to David Beckham's habitual (not so much these days) accuracy from set pieces. And now they play Portugal in the quarter finals. Portugal will miss several of their key players including Deco, again thanks to their everything-that-could-go-wrong-went-wrong tie against Holland.

Eriksson's boys are riding their luck, which, at some point, very likely in their potential semi-final against Brazil, is going to run out unless they improve by leaps and bounds and start playing the way they are supposed to. That's not asking too much because they make millions supposedly for being good at playing football and not laying goose eggs.

The game of the day, of course, belongs to Portugal and Holland who saw 16 yellow and four red cards being handed out. Four red cards in a game is a World Cup record, never happened before.

It was a mess, a stinking mess created by an inept referee with more than adequate support from the reckless superstars resorting to dirty tricks and ugly fouls whenever they got a chance, causing long lasting damage to the image of the game and the Cup which has otherwise witnessed display of some brilliant football.

Portugal deservedly won by a slim margin of 1-0, but paid a heavy price for it nonetheless. They won't be getting the services of midfielders Deco and Costinha who were sent off in their next game against England.

FIFA will also be reviewing the case of their skipper, Luis Figo, who headbutted Van Bommel, but managed to escape with just a yellow card. It is probable that he's going to face a one-game suspension.

If you are paying attention, I am currently enjoying a 4-0 picking-the-winner streak, and for tomorrow's games here are my not so bold predictions:

Italy over Australia

Ukraine over Switzerland


Sunday, June 25, 2006

England v Ecuador - Post Mortem

When God is not saving the Queen, God must be pulling the strings for England who looked crippled, handily brought down to their knees because they were playing to the potential not including the hype with a cast of vastly over-rated blokes who should consider themselves just plain ol LUCKY to escape with the win.

If this is how it continues, then it's going to be discontinued pretty soon. To be fair, Portugal or Holland whoever wins today's game will comfortably win against England.

And finally, I'm sick of the actors turned crybabies turned actors in the England team , politely put. They are *bleeping* cheaters on the field -- they keep falling left, right, upside down, downside up as soon as anyone starts breathing down their neck - %^&**&^%.

Give lollys and send those freaks packing -- please.


World Cup Diary: Round 2 Predictions-II

Do you know when football wins?

When fans of curling start watching. My sources tell me we have one such person finally watching the World Cup.

I collected my first pool point as Germany demolished Sweden 2-0. The final score is nowhere close to indicate the overwhelming domination the Germans enjoyed in the proceedings. Even a score of 5-0 would have had left the Swedes little to complain about.

By the way, I am not taking any credit for the pick — my mom picked Germany too — so I remain humble, as always.

I almost made an ass of myself in the Argentina-Mexico game. My upset factor for that game was 1/10 showing how much respect Meh-hee-co earned by their uninspiring performances during the group matches. In hindsight, it should have been 7/10 because Mexico almost pulled off an improbable victory.

Argentina should have won the game in regulation, their legit goal in the dying seconds was disallowed for offside. That's the worst piece of officiating in the cup not including the fouls called. I also noticed the same assistant referee screwed up at least on two other calls. Both were onsides that were ruled offsides. FIFA should immediately send him back to his home couch where he can rest in peace.

The highlight of today's game is the goal of the tournament, courtesy of Maxi Rodriguez. I know we still have a lot left in the Cup, but his dipping volley from the corner box into the far corner of the net has to be the runaway winner unless someone comes up with another borderline insane goal. You can quote me for that to an English fan who are still eating their bread dipped in the sauce made from Steven Gerrard.

Enough, now back to my crystal ball.

England over Ecuador

What do you call a match between hype and about-time? England vs Ecuador.

England never impressed anyone except their die-hard fans. More than 150 of them were reportedly arrested today at Stuttgart. In fact, a lot of reasonable English fans (they do exist) will swear what Eriksson is doing to England is what he was doing four years ago to Ulrika Jonsson, or more recently to Fariah Alam.

But he does have a bunch of superstars only if they start playing to their reputation minus the hype.

You can start with David Beckham, the English skipper and face of the team, who's just playing on his past glory and Eriksson doesn't have the balls to drop him from the starting eleven. Eriksson might not have the guts to drop his dead-man-walking captain but he certainly hasn't lost his wit:

'I am not married to him, even if you think I am. I'm not even engaged to him.'

And you can end with Peter Crouch.

But the coach is confident, or at least he makes an effort to sound like one:

"We have reached the stage of life or death for the team now, not just for me, and that is extremely exciting. I think we will thrive on it and firmly believe you will see a better performance from England. We will play good football and we will win."

We hear ya.

Upset factor: 4/10.

By the way, if England loses, here's a suggested headline for the British tabloids: "BOTCH IT LIKE BECKHAM"

Portugal over Holland

This is one hell of a tough call. But I would still favor Portugal, although this could go either way. I never like the Dutch anyway.

History favors Portugal. They always seem to get the better off their more storied rivals who appeared in the finals of the World Cup in 1974 and 1978, losing both. In the last 16 years, the two teams faced each other five times (excluding friendlies), Holland managed to win only once, losing three and one game was drawn. Last time they met, in the Euro 2004 semifinals, Portugal took the honors by a margin 2-1.

Upset factor: 6/10


Friday, June 23, 2006

World Cup Diary V: USA out, England in and Comedy of Errors

I wish I could update the World Cup Diary more frequently. Trust me — it makes life a lot easier because I absolutely hate long reports. In sports they always seem to lose me in the end so I don't want to write something which I'm going to hate the very moment I wrap it up.

If you did notice, WCD is just a typo away from becoming the most feared acronym in recent times (WMD) and now it's too late for a change and keeping up with Blogcritics policy (wink!) am staying the course!

The delay, unfortunately was due to Mark Cuban and Dwyane Wade. I never had plans to cover the NBA Finals, then there was Game 3. Then Game 4. And then Game 5, whereupon I broke loose and eventually ended up posting three (discounting the finals preview). I know, they kind of sucked me into the mess.

Now back to the World Cup excitement. I'm not sure how many of you are still feeling the adrenaline rush because the Yanks are gone for good. They didn't even come close to replicating their success in 2002. Not that they ever had a chance — but hope is always a slippery thing, like the way it works in a relationship in wreck.

They will not play in the next round, which is okay considering a lot of good teams won't either. But there is something more to it. Teams like Costa Rica didn't advance but were still impressive. Teams like USA didn't advance and disappointed everyone who would watch, to say the least. Huge difference.

Frankly, it's hard to be impressive when your best player (read: Landon Donovan) was sleepwalking all along. (Actually I even started taking live notes. I don't know how people do that, but mine turned out to be a disaster. Hey, I tried. I'll put it up in my blog).

The game between Australia and Croatia must have been the most bizarre game I've ever seen. The Croats needed a win to advance, the Aussies on the other hand were not so desperate, a draw would suffice for them, and they got it.

But the man who stole the show in an otherwise enthralling game was the man with the whistle — Graham poll (he's British by the way). His blow jobs were nothing short of a running comedy, full of crap.

In the last couple of minutes the following happened (stay with me here carefully):

1. Simunic (Croatia) is shown the second yellow card (that is an automatic red card), he starts walking away — then he realizes Poll forgot to show his Red Card, so he walks back to the field again!

2. Poll whistles for full time femtoseconds before Australia scores a goal which is disallowed, of course. But hang on - Poll then books Simunic for the THIRD time in the match and NOW shows him the red card and blows up for the FULL time — again.

You had to be there to see and believe it. It was all so confusing and funny, that we were all looking at each other with what the-fuck-is going-on faces, and finally relieved to find out that's the end of Poll's comedy. A gem of a moment. Unforgettable.

A number of teams have already secured their place in the final 16, the knock-out stage of the tournament. But nothing could have been more relieving for the British fans than to secure a draw against the Swedes in their final group-stage match.

Not that it was any different because England haven't been able to win against Sweden in the last 40 years and 12 meetings.

They will take the draw with a smile, for now. The draw ensured England winning their group and avoiding a probable match up against Germany in the next round which would have been their return ticket to home. It's hard to beat Germany anyway, it's even harder to beat them at home and the way England has been playing lately they wouldn't stand a chance.

The draw also ensured that they will not be playing their beloved Argentina anytime soon (now they don't meet before the finals if they both advance).

Without an upset, England will square off with Brazil in the semi-finals. Somehow I think it's going to be played out like the 2002 quarter-final: Brazil ousted England 2-1.


The final two minutes of Australia vs Croatia

Were you there? If not, you probably missed the weirdest two minutes of the World Cup. Graham Poll - the British referee stole the show with some hilarious off the board officiating. This is how Scott Murray of The Guardian puts it in his min-by-min coverage of the game:
89 min This is all Croatia, who are swinging crosses into a nervous Australia box from either side.

90 min: Another red card! But... Graham Poll, who is a stupid bastard, is not getting the final, we can tell you that for nothing. After fouling Kennedy, Simunic is booked for a second time. He walks... then comes back when he realises Poll isn't going to show red. Ho ho hoh dear.

FULL TIME OF A FANTASTIC MATCH: Croatia 2 - 2 Australia Ha ha ha, Graham Poll is a complete clown. After a scramble in the box, Viduka sets about forcing the ball home for Australia... but Poll blows up for full time, Clive Thomas style, with the ball about to cross the line. He disallows the goal - not that it matters - but then he decides to book Simunic for a third time - and sends him off. He then blows up for full time AGAIN... before driving off the pitch in a car with square wheels.

Honk! Honk! The doors have just fallen off Poll's car, and there are jets of steam coming out of the engine. Let's hope nobody agrees to smell his funny flower!

Hilarious!!!!!!!!!!! Nobody had a clue what's gong on. And this is how the game started, again in the words of Scott:
And we're off! Actually, no we're not. It's a false start. Not English Referee Graham Poll™'s fault, I'm sure. Mark Viduka upon being told he'll have to run about for a bit

And we're off! This time we are off;

I'm telling you it was THE funniest moment in this World Cup so far. Hard to beat that eh?


Thursday, June 22, 2006

NY Knicks fire Larry Brown

ESPN reports that NY Knicks fired Larry Brown, and Isiah Thomas, the president and general manager has taken over as the new head coach.

Larry's dream job lasted only one season.

According to the report, no financial settlement has been reached with Brown -- in other words the break up gonna be nasty in the coming weeks.

If you remember Larry's messy divorce with the Detroit Pistons and now with the Knicks, you must be wondering why Larry always ends up in a muddle -- must have something to do with his right way of playing ball.

More on this later.

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Parting Thoughts on the 2006 NBA Finals

I will keep this short because when it's over, it's over. We're left with plenty of empty beer cans and not many words. And yet we start getting incoherent as if Mr. and Mrs. Profound are waiting to show up.

Slowly, the queer feeling of a sense of emptiness continues to engulf our passion, our rooting for the team we thought we care so much about.

Then we are sipping coffee with our friend(s) in one corner of Starbucks, our eyes searching, and just like that the flash is on.

That was one heck of a post-season.

We scream inside. And that's it — done and over with. See you next year.

So, what else to say? Well, just few more bits from here and there.

Before any series when I turn on my crystal ball, I don't stay objective. There is hardly any point to stay neutral and making an objective assessment. It takes away all the energy for a sports fan.

In principle it is possible. Then again Ann Coulter behaving with an acceptable degree of civility is a possibility too.

The teams playing for the holy grail of basketball may or may not be your teams, and most likely they are not. The probability that a randomly picked NBA or basketball fan is a legit one (to qualify as a legit fan he/she must be in some way genuinely connected to a team in the finals) is somewhere around one in 10 million or so (okay, that's an educated guess). It's a lot easier to find a bar date on a Friday night.

The funny part is our loyalty is not entirely to a team, whether or not they are in the finals. It is, for a conceivable portion, to the game we love. As the series progresses, the orphan fans, without a team to cheer for, soon find themselves coming out of the zone of indifference and swearing one way or the other.

That's the truth in the game. It brings out the Mark Cuban in you.

Since not everyday I get a chance to gloat, I might as well remind you that I picked Heat in six. And this was my reason:

Make no mistake, Wade is not going to let this slip away and there's just enough Diesel left in Shaq's tank to win 4 games.
I was wrong, in part. Without Udonis Haslem, Gary Payton, James Posey, and Antoine Walker (the unsung quartet), there wouldn't be any champagne flowing in Miami. No accolades please. Their contributions are beyond that.

The Dallas fans didn't see this coming. They believed they had a better team. Now the suffering. Hard to reconcile. Harder to make it through.

Now pause for a moment. In every season, there is a best team and a championship team. Sometimes the best team wins the championship and sometimes it does not.

The best team is only better than the rest.

The championship team sweats that extra drop to get it done. A talented group who refuse to die till they are dead.

Congratulations to the Miami Heat, the 2006 NBA Champions (sorry I cannot bring myself to say world champions - the memories are still fresh)

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks, for being there. Sorry, Mark. You tried.

And did I say I will keep this short?

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reality Bites the Dallas Mavericks

After another disappointing loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, the Dallas Mavericks have metamorphosed into the Dallas Crybabies; the official announcement is awaiting David Stern's approval.

The perennial whiners of the NBA are boiling with anger and ferocity, knocking off anything and everything that's within their kicking length, doling out curses for anyone willing to listen. Not a useful form of chivalry but in the kingdom of Mark Cuban you don't abide by rationale or common sense.

The Miami Herald reports:

The night ended after midnight with the angry Mavs kicking and knocking things over on the way to the locker room, and raging, rabid Dallas owner Mark Cuban, security keeping him back, screaming an endless string of obscenities at officials. Mavs guard Darrell Armstrong picked up the loud, angry cursing in the locker room after the obligatory cooling-off period, and he didn't even play.

All hail Mark Cuban — he shows the way — the rest of the flock follows. Not quite sheepishly though.

They are angry because Dwyane Wade was 21-25 from the freebies matching the output of the entire Mavericks clan. The blame, if any, must lie with the referees because Wade was taking it to the hole all night long while Dirk and company were hiding under the blanket.

Not Gatoraded enough — Mark?

The theatrics are all too familiar. For the Mavericks, winning is somehow considered to be a birth right protected by the Cuban Constitution — anything else is a sinister conspiracy to degrade the organization.

To this I say, grow up. Get real.

They were grounded from cloud nine once their trip to South Beach was over for this season. The fall was hard and painful. Reality bites.

Scoop Jackson of ESPN heard some angry notes:
"We were already mad after Game 4," Dirk said after Game 5. "They suspended one of our players … "

As if Jerry Stackhouse was suspended for distributing cookies.

Josh Howard, who's sealed his place in history next to Chris Webber for his infamous time out call responded to ESPN's Chris Sheridan's question on the dumb act of the day:
"What am I saying to you right now, dog? Please, don't come off on me right now because I'm going to come off on you, and I'm not in a great mood right now. Get out of my face, man. Get out of my face."

Only if anger wins the game are the Mavericks on the right track. Too bad it doesn't. It never has and never will.

Now they seem to have crossed the line of civility too. That's not surprising, though - when the collective thought process is in infancy, the individuals usually follow suit.

As an owner, Mark Cuban is always the biggest fan of the Dallas Mavericks. He's every bit a die-hard fan, only with a lot more money. He's a straight talker, sometimes with sense, sometimes without, but you have to appreciate his approach — there's no hiding, all out in the open.

Cursing is not an unchartered territory for him. He cursed Bruce Bowen for which he later apologized. He did it again which he candidly describes in his own blog:
then someone asked “Is this your worst loss ever” ... ..So I told the reporter to “Ask me a real fucking question”

Mark, what were you thinking?

Reporters have a job to do. They ask questions that you may or may not like. If you don't, then politely refuse. It is not so complicated.

He has his justifications though:
Apparently some folks have taken exception to me cursing in my response. Well in this case, the reporter was using my time, we were in a locker room and I was trying to provide a response that had no value to me, but could only help him. If he doesnt think enough of either of our time to invest the brainpower and minutes it takes to come up with something different than has been asked a thousand times.
Fuck em.

Attitude aside, the Mavericks have a bigger problem at hand. Burned by the Heat in Miami, they are now a bunch of dwindling confidence and slumping shoulders.

Now they have to gut it out.

Here's my suggestion: Have fire? Bring it on — that's how the game is played. Last time I checked, Kleenex was not a recommended option in the NBA..

Or else keep turning the whining wheel.

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Dwyane Jordan

How good is Dwyane Wade?

Pretty darn good.

He's playing at a level right there with MJ. Don't get me wrong. He's not there yet in terms of a total player. But if His Airness is watching, he should also be feeling nostalgic.

Wade is that close.

He's got that killer instinct going — willing his way out through the defenders and lighting up hopeless situations — like MJ.

He can bring a dead game alive, seal nerve racking games with clutch plays. He makes tightrope walking look easy. For what it is worth, greatness cannot be measured only by numbers or by championship rings but by the moments of living it up when the dead has long left the arena.

MJ had both rings and moments. Rings surrounding the moments, moments surrounding the rings, the two intertwined and inseparable.

Wade is living in the moments. The rings will come.

Sunday night Wade was struggling. But he found his way to get involved, going to the foul line umpteenth times. It was a staggeringly slow rise but when his shot started falling Avery Johnson could only yell at his defenders and Mark Cuban started drafting his protest letter to David Stern.

Now that the sweeping theories have been swept altogether, we are going to Game 6 and a highly probable Game 7, both at Dallas. Fireworks are welcome.

I don't know who's going to win it all. I predicted Heat in six. Now I don't care. Really. I am just glad to watch him play, regardless. If the Heat win, cool, because I always wanted them to. If they don't, no big deal, you cannot take away Games 3 and 5.

You can take the ring, I will take the moments. I won't complain.

When Mavericks literally tore apart the Heat in the first two games, it left me dizzy. I will admit, I was shaken and even started to believe Heat might not be able to get back into the series.

In Game 3, with six minutes left and the Heat down by 13, I felt like switching off the television. It was too painful to watch them disintegrate before my eyes.

And there was Mark Cuban's elated face. Nothing personal but he's one damn smart guy who has got into the heads of the referees.

But I hung in there, glued and quiet. The Heat crawled its way back holding Dwyane's hand to win the game.

Sunday's game, a shamelessly seesawed one, dragged every bit of sweat out of my pores. No, it wasn't about how Heat sneaked out a victory leading the series 3-2. Nor it was about Wade's 43 points and how he came through for the Heat single-handedly carrying them to the victory — again. Because we have seen guys doing that before.

Tonight was about a guy who embodied No. 23 from North Carolina.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

USA vs Italy : Did Referee Screw Team USA?

The answer is NO. The referee simply followed the rules -- he did not act out of ordinary. Scapegoating the referee is easy but hardly serves any purpose. Sadly, majority of the folks jumping in the "referee screwed us" bandwagon are either ignorant or hopelessly out of touch with the game or how it is played at the top level.

Many are not aware of the fact that FIFA issued a circular with new instructions for the referees just before the World Cup. Among others, the new orders include,

Serious foul play
Lunging- Red card.

Elbowing- (intentional) Red card

An excellent discussion of the new rules and their possible impact on the World Cup games can be found in the Guardian.

The USA-Italy match was surely interesting and exciting but also downright ugly, a mesurable departure from the kind of football being played in the World Cup. London Times takes a hard hitting look (some of you might not be pleased!).


World Cup Diary IV: USA vs Italy

Apparently a lot of people are upset about the officiating in the match between Italy and USA. They think the Uruguayan referee has denied a USA victory. I am not convinced. In fact I don't even agree to the slightest.

Uruguay was never in the holy trio of the axis of evil, so you cannot really claim any bias.

The tone of the game was set in the opening minutes with a total of 6/7 fouls committed from both sides, majority of them by the US clearly showing their intention of how they want to go about with their game — anything but soft. In fact I wrote in my earlier post:
"It would be foolish to try to outplay the Italians as they are superior in every department of the game. Instead, they should be more physical, and try frustrating their opposition--more importantly not to give them an inch of free space in the midfield from where every attacking move originates.
In other words, if it comes down to being downright ugly, they better be BAD if they want to keep their hopes alive.
I don't see the US winning, but a gritty draw will go a long way to salvage some of the respect lost. "

So, I am not surprised, in case you are.

And the battle tested Italians, all of them playing in the toughest of European leagues, don't exactly enjoy the reputation of easy goers on the field either.

You could see the red cards coming. It was just a matter of when.

Daniele De Rossi for Italy was the first one to sent off for taking a cheap shot on the face of Brian McBride that required multiple stitches. It was a sick act from the Italian midfielder who later apologized.

The controversial moment of the match followed when Pablo Mastroeni tackled Pirlo and the Uruguayan referee didn't hesitate to bring out his red card one more time. In ABC the commentators referred to it as the "make up call." Sadly that's far from truth.

I expect them to take the US side, but making it sound like some sort of conspiracy against the Yanks was plain dumb.
Look, the tackle was late which is to say it was not necessary at all. And when you tackle, you don't plunge with a two-footer with spikes up — it could potentially ruin a career. There was no way the referee could let it go.

The third marching order was automatic when Eddie Pope received his second yellow card of the match — an unfortunate one because it appeared to be a bit harsh.

As if their series of misfortunes were not enough, DaMarcus Beasley's goal from 15 yards was ruled out because McBride was standing in an offside position. Certainly luck was not in their side today but the effort was a commendable one, something that sorely lacked against the Czech Republic.

US played almost the entire second half down to nine men, and they had little choice other than to defend although they counter-attacked on rare occasions. Eventually they ran out of gas in the late but some valiant saves by their goalkeeper Kasey Keller saw them escape with a gutsy draw and a valuable point.

The day for the US started with the good news of Ghana pulling off an 2-0 upset against the Czech Republic with a magnificent display of attacking football, keeping the US very much alive in the tournament.

Right now the group remains wide open. Italy remains on the top of the pack while Czech Republic and Ghana are tied in total points for the second place. US is at the bottom of the group but things can change quickly.

If they can steal an improbable win against Ghana:

• Ghana won't qualify.

• If Italy wins against Czech Republic, Italy and US qualifies.

• if Italy loses against Czech Republic, Czech qualifies, FIFA rules determine the next qualifier (between USA and Italy)

• if Italy draws against Czech republic, Italy qualifies, and again FIFA rules decide between USA and the Czech Republic.

If two or more teams have equal points after all group stage matches, positions will be determined by FIFA rules:

1. Greatest number of points obtained in all group matches.
2. Goal difference in all group matches.
3. Greatest number of goals scored in all matches.

If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the above three criteria, their rankings will be determined as follows:

4. Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned.
5. Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned.
6. Greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned.
7. Drawing of lots by the organising committee for the FIFA World Cup.

Just to let you know, the last two matches of the group will be played simultaneously to avoid match-fixing.


Ole Ole Oilers

This is insane. The Edmonton Oilers just scored their fourth goal, now leading comfortably 4-0 and the Rexall Palace is going nuts. With only few minutes left to play, we can now look forward to game 7 at Raleigh. Remember folks, Oilers were once down 3-1 in the series, and if they didn't bungle their opportunity in game 1 squandering a 3-0 lead, they could have as well lifted the Stanley Cup tonight.

Come to think of it, the Oilers started their playoffs as the last seed in the Western Conference and now they are a game away from winning the Stanley Cup. Amazing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

World Cup Diary III: Darko and Bruce Arena

Serbia & Montenegro's 6-0 suffering in the hands of the mighty Argentines has scared the hell out of British fans, and for a pretty good reason. If England fails to win their group and comes second to Sweden (which seems unlikely), sans any upset they will meet their nemesis in the quarter-final, otherwise England and Argentina square off only in the finals.

Speculations aside, can anyone explain to me the 6-0 massacre?

I know, I know, Argentina is one of the favorites to win the cup. But if you are paying attention to the bookies and anyone who keeps track of the football world, they are no more of a favorite than Germany and England . Besides, Serbia & Montenegro is a pretty good side and they qualified from the European region, arguably the toughest region to qualify from. So what went wrong?

Short of any plausible explanation, I think it is only appropriate to invoke Darko Milicic who hails from Serbia into the equation--and once you have the Darko variable, there is something concrete to toy with. Was he there to inspire Serbia & Montenegro and did his inspirational speech rub off onto the team like his footwork in the post? Did he ever come in close contact to transmit his skills to his home team? Or was he the one to suggest using Chad Ford's scouting report on Argentina?

You see, when dealing with a 6-0 drubbing, anything is possible.

In Kaiserslautern US plays Italy today in a likely win or go home date. If the Yanks lose, realistically they will be flying home unless they like to stay back, enjoy more of the German hospitality and take notes. Since only a handful things went right for them in their previous encounter against the Czech Republic, like successfully keeping their losing record versus the European teams on European soil intact, they can now only hope that their worst is a thing of the past.

There is no shame in a 3-0 schooling, considering the Czechs are way better, but the shame is in the manner they surrendered. If I were Bruce Arena, the coach of US team, I would be worried--very worried.

Last time these two teams met in a friendly match in 2002, Italy won the battle 1-0 — not a seriously deflating defeat but I assume they were being nice to Americans, if that's at all possible. This time, however, Donovan and his friends will not do anyone, in particular the majority of their fans who are obsessed with other ball games, any favor with another lackluster performance.

The Americans don't have a choice but to pull up their socks and play with more purpose than they did with the Czech Republic. It would be foolish to try to outplay the Italians as they are superior in every department of the game. Instead, they should be more physical, and try frustrating their opposition--more importantly not to give them an inch of free space in the midfield from where every attacking move originates.

In other words, if it comes down to being downright ugly, they better be BAD if they want to keep their hopes alive.

I don't see the US winning, but a gritty draw will go a long way to salvage some of the respect lost.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup Diary - II

I am hopelessly behind in updating my World Cup 2006 notebook, but not as bad as the U.S. football team.

From what I have seen so far, this World Cup opening round must rank amongst the most entertaining ones in memory. The difference is subtle but profound: most of the teams are now playing with a win first attitude instead of simply holding off the opposition and settling for a sleepy draw.

This is a healthy sign for football and a slap in the face of the proponents of catenaccio, the defensive style, perfected most recently by Greece who miraculously won the European Championship in 2004 but failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Among all the headlines, probably the one that grabbed your attention is the schooling of the U.S. team at the hands of Czech Republic. According to the FIFA ranking system, both these teams are in the top five (Czechs at 2 and U.S. at 5) which is why the result is more perplexing. This only goes in showing how rubbish the FIFA rankings actually are, particularly for the teams that are in North America and Asia.

Okay. Let's move on to the selected games over the last three days.

Holland — Serbia & Montenegro
Holland's appearance in the World Cup after eight years (they didn't qualify in 2002) was awaited with keen anticipation in spite of the absence of their seasoned veterans Kluivert, Davids and Seedorf. Holland, a traditional powerhouse, has often fielded glorious outfits only to fall short of winning the title twice (during the hay days of Johan Cruyff and "total football" in the '70s) and disappointing finishes at various other stages including semifinals and quarterfinals.

The newly born Serbia & M is curved out of former Yugoslavia. While you may or may not be familiar with S&M, some of you are well acquainted with their famous exports: Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Darko Milicic.

The game lived up to the somewhat lofty expectations with Holland winning by a solitary goal from the Chelsea striker Robben in the 19th minute. S & M had their chances but couldn't convert. A valued win for Holland.

Portugal — Angola

The match between Portugal and Angola (Angola being a former colony of Portugal added a political dimension) held much promise but delivered little as the African squad, a surprise qualifier from the group that included Nigeria failed to keep up with Luis Figo's eleven. Figo, the superstar skipper of Portugal in the twilight of his illustrious career, played like a charm often harassing the Angolan defense with his clinical passes. Portugal took the lead 1-0 which they never relinquished, in the 12th minute when Pedro Pauleta drove home a Luis Figo cross.

United States — Czech Republic

A poor showing from the United States must be disheartening for their fans who probably expected a surprise or two from Donovan et al.
Truth be told, U.S. is nowhere close to the top echelon of the football world but the way they got exposed was ugly.
They played too tentatively and barely did any justice to their talent .

While I have nothing positive to say about the U.S. team, it could have been worse. The Czech comfortably won 3-0, and Bruce Arena's team, short of finding the magic potion, is going home early.

And by the way, shame on ABC for cutting away to commercials when it was time for the Czech national anthem.

Brazil — Croatia

The Brazilians are legendary for their prodigiously talented teams, an unrivaled history on their side (five World Cup championships) and they are the bookie favorite to win it again.

In yesterday's game of the day, Brazil won against Croatia, the final score 1-0, hardly representing the thrilling encounter. The Croatians matched their more decorated rival almost in every aspect of the game, were more aggressive, created more opportunities in the box, and made every Brazilian fan sweat in the second half with a solid display of football. Brazil's superstar striker Ronaldo, winner of the FIFA Golden Boot in 2002 was a non-factor and if not for the blinder from Kaka just before the half time, the match would be drawn — perhaps more accurately reflecting an evenly fought game.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup Diary: First Two Days

It's been only two days of football (soccer for American fans), and suddenly the world looks smaller than ever, my schedule looks tighter than ever, and the adrenaline box, busier than ever. Not often does my left give a high five with my right, and it's happened over the last 48 hours. I am not kidding.

The schedule is tailor made for me: the day begins with a FIFA World Cup game, at 7:00 a.m. Breakfast break at 9:00. Another game at 10 a.m. Lunch break at noon, and yet another game at 1:00 in the afternoon. Since each game lasts less than two hours, the routine is simply too good, just enough break to recharge myself with a coffee and smoke.

Add a drive to the office on weekdays during the breakfast break and you get the entire picture. Cool, isn't it? And yes, I get to watch the matches in a BIG screen from the office.

The evenings are equally glorious with the Stanley Cup and Larry O'Brien Trophy (NBA Finals) games keeping up with the football engagements in the morning and afternoon.

Okay. Enough rambling. Let's get on with the games.

Day One (Friday, June 9)
Germany-Costa Rica (10 a.m., MST): Germany coasted with a victory 4-2 against one of the minnows but not without a scare or two for the fans. I missed the first 14 minutes (my car was stuck in the traffic) and therefore missed the first two goals. The rest of the game the Germans played alright, nothing overboard although their defense looked questionable at times as the scoreline suggests.

Poland-Ecuador (1 p.m., MST): This was widely touted as a cakewalk for the Polsl. Instead they walked into a 0-2 hammering. An ideal lesson for paper favorites who forgot that the winners are decided on the field and not on reputation. By the way, is scouting a common practice in football? How could the Pols not see this coming? They better regroup or else they are leaving the cup little too early.

Day Two (Saturday, June 10)
England-Paraguay (7 a.m.): My buddy Jon called at 6:45 to wake me up so that I could watch his England team and appreciate the hype. I kept sleeping. Well, I found out later that I didn't miss much. By the way, England won 1-0 and they were terrible (as the reports say).

Sweden-Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad is famous for it's legendary cricketers like Brian Lara, Learie Constantine, and spin wizard Sony Ramadhin. Turns out that they are in the World Cup too, not a small feat for an island nation (actually two major islands and 21 smaller islets) with a total population of about one million. Sweden was supposed to win this one without breaking a sweat, which didn't happen even though the islanders were reduced to only 10 men in the second half. The Swedes were relentless in their attack but couldn't buy a goal. T&T created history holding onto a gritty 0-0 draw.

Argentina-Ivory Coast: This was the best game in the tournament so far. Argentina won 2-1 and should consider themselves lucky to get away with the win. They did play well, their passing game was more assured, and by and large they controlled the midfield. The Ivorians, on the other hand, were a big surprise to everyone as they matched their famous opposition in almost every department of the game with a show of sparkling skills in their attack offering everything the Argentine defense could handle. If only they could convert a fraction of the chances they created in the box, the cheerful face of Diego Maradona, the Argentine football legend in the stands might have turned into a solemn one.

Argentina and Ivory Coast are in Group C which — with Holland and Serbia Montenegro rounding out the group — has already been dubbed as the "group of death." If the Ivorians scared anyone by their game today, that would be the Dutch. Watch out, Ivory Coast is the real deal. And yeah, they speak French.


Friday, June 09, 2006

NBA Finals: Preview

I am under the impression that you are already familiar with our own Blogcritics expert picks for the NBA Finals. If you feel confused, don't take it too hard on yourself, because everyone's feeling that way.

But don't lose hope as yet because I am here to take you out of the misery of confusion as our experts are now pitted against each other.

Matt Sussman pitched whitewash of Dallas Mavericks. In a wishy-washy way I agree with the spirit although I will never know what led him to predict Heat a 4-0 favorite instead of a more conservative 4-2. Though I can think of possibilities, I would rather leave it to the comments section for you to come up with your own. But I like the way he came out aggressive.

If numbers are any indication, our own numerologist David Barbour has the number of Mark Cuban in his pocket. His clinically analyzed conclusion points towards Cuban's point of no return to sanity. Stern bless.

Unless you are from Miami or Dallas, in which case you've already made up your mind, the rest of us need to make a decision before we watch the finals with our companion grasshoppers. The call of the moment is to make up our floating minds, unlike the floaters in Florida, and it better be quick because the finals begin today. You don't want to go to a pub with your relevant body parts rooting for different teams, it hurts.

Suss is Hollywood. He's all glitz and glamor. He thinks the cast of Pat Riley's Twelve has enough star-power to take the Heat to the land of glory. David is cut and dry, more numeric and less turmeric, sheer powered by Gatorade-driven numbers.

Suss is eyeing the showtime with wrinkles, Pat Riley, whose last ring is now an antique commodity. David is all over Avery Johnson, the new generation coach, the coach who fits better in the value added world than the world of tabloids. Think of a quick tabloid heading for Avery if you can, I dare you.

While Johnson enjoys the reputation of turning a bunch of crybabies into ruthless executioners, Riley enjoys the reputation of backstabbing his loyal follower Stan Van Gundy, who took Riley's job in day's notice when Riley stepped down three seasons ago. After SVG went through last year's heartbreak, Riley asked him to spend more time with his family.

Memo to Pat: if Mavericks win, it's good karma.

Talking of Karma, Mark Cuban is finally getting the respect from the referees. If you noticed the insane number of game turning calls that went to the Mavs in the playoffs, you know Cuban has successfully got into the heads of the NBA officials. You'd think Cuban, from his courtside seat when he is not hugging his teammates, averages a solid 8 ppg.

Memo to Mark: if Miami wins, it's good karma.

So, who's going to break open the champagne? Make no mistake, Wade is not going to let this slip away and there's just enough Diesel left in Shaq's tank to win 4 games.

My prediction? Heat in six.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


The NBA Finals are on Thursday. A good three days of wait and I haven't started feeling the heat yet. My editor at Blogcritics, bless his soul, boldly predicted sweep by the Heat, and if you keep in mind that he's the same guy who advised against watching the NBA conference finals, you know I will be there to watch his prediction getting swept.

Speaking of predictions, I'm done for the season. I think am running a negative balance.

Coming back to the current lack of excitement in the world of sports — well, that's not exactly true because the world of cricket is full of toasts and champagne — with India, the favorites recently lost the one day series 4-1 to the West Indies (don't bother if you are wondering what I'm talking about) and England managed to draw the Test series against Sri Lanka at home for which they are sure to get a stick in their backside. Can't wait to see what headlines the British tabloids come up with.

OK, this post is about LeBron. LeBron James.


Two weeks ago, one Monday evening, the Spurs lost and so did the Clippers. You all know about it and probably don't give a damn. Fair enough.

I headed off to the Rockies soon after the double heartbreaks began to trickle down my senses. And by the way, Canadian Rockies are cool, cooler than the cool places you plan to visit this summer. Where else on earth can you take a stroll on Glaciers and shake hands with grizzly bears? You tell me.

The disappointment came later in the day, when I stumbled on Skip Bayless whose cleverly written column on LeBron James didn't make any sense. He essentially blamed James for the loss to the Pistons, throwing his age out of the equation:
I mean, look at pictures of Jordan and Magic and Bird at the age of 21 and you'll laugh at how skinny and baby faced they look.

LeBron? No, this "kid" is a man now, and he must be treated as such.

Here's something worth recalling: Einstein, in a letter to Dr. M. I. Cohen, dated March 19, 1940 wrote:
"Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities."


The Gospel:

Give the kid a break. He's 21. Granted, he looks 31 but I repeat — he's 21. He's freak of nature. Admit it, appreciate what he offers and move on. Skip, if you are wondering why he doesn't have a baby face like most of us do at 21, then I suggest you consult an expert on genetics. And last time I checked, Jose Canseco wasn't seen lurking around the Cavaliers locker room.

Apparently people are ready to cut him a slack only if he looked like a Tayshaun Prince. That's where the last drop of intelligence evaporated.

He should be treated like a man. Sure. But not because at 21, he looks like a man, but because he plays in the league of men. And like every other man he must accept responsibility, particularly of failures. If he doesn't he's doomed but then again, it's his problem.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I haven't heard LeBron referring to himself in third person like he used to. He's showing maturity.

At 21 he speaks all the right things. On the podium he looks composed, poised and responsible. If it sounds contrived, so be it. He's not an embarrassment.

Just because he looks 31 doesn't empower him the wisdom of 31.

On the court he's led the Cavaliers to the East semifinals. The series was widely speculated to be a whitewash and another learning step for LeBron towards greatness. Five games into the series, the Pistons were facing elimination.

It shouldn't have happened, but it almost did. We witnessed.

Yes, the Cavs wilted when it mattered. The inexperience was too much to overcome. They were simply overwhelmed. The Pistons knew it, felt it and turned the screw. Game over.

LeBron was clueless and he found a friend in Mike Brown, the Cavaliers coach. When guidance was needed for a 21 year old mind, Mike Brown came a cropper. So a 21-year-old did what a 21-year-old would do when aggressively double teamed. He put his trust on his teammates. He got them looks, good, bad and ugly. They bricked all the same.

Yes, LeBron is not a pure shooter. The amount of impurity in his shot could only be found in the tap waters in Iraq. But look at his FG percentage. He has steadily improved from 41.7% in his rookie year to 48% in his third. He knows his weaknesses better than anybody and he works on them. That's sign of greatness.

He's doing amazing stuffs since he came to the league. Think about all the coincidences: that you were born and that you are now grown up enough to watch him play and soak in it all. If Nature's pendulum swung few degrees more (or less), you wouldn't be here.

So, thank yourself for being in the right place at the right time.

Like I do.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pentagon Wants to Move Away From Geneva Convention

The gloves are off, folks. According to the Los Angeles Times:

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

It has become quite clear over the last few years that universally accepted sets of rules are not favored by the current administration and they would rather do without than have safeguards in appropriate places.

When the Washington Post reported secret prisons run by the CIA in East European countries, President Bush categorically denied allegations of torture. Ironically, his administration vehemently opposed the McCain amendment, which specifically sought to ban torture and cruel treatment of all detainees under US custody. The measure put forward by McCain eventually became the law, but Mr. Bush issued a "signing statement" quietly declaring his right to bypass the law if he sees fit.

Now, as reported by the Times, the new guidelines violate the McCain measure.

Give it to Mr. Bush, he's consistent.

The fallacy is elsewhere. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, which were recently described by Mr. Bush as the "biggest mistake," are now going to be the norm. Let's clap.

The Los Angeles Times report further points out the potential problems the administration might face:
But the exclusion of the Geneva provisions may make it more difficult for the administration to portray such incidents (Abu Ghraib) as aberrations. And it undercuts contentions that U.S. forces follow the strictest, most broadly accepted standards when fighting wars.

Again, give it to Mr. Bush. He's oblivious to the consequences. And, of course, there's no face to save either.

Thankfully, not everyone is buying into the arguments of the Pentagon, and the final version is delayed due to concerns raised by the State Department:
However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.

And several lawmakers who are not happy either:
But objections from several senators on other Field Manual issues forced a delay. The senators objected to provisions allowing harsher interrogation techniques for those considered unlawful combatants, such as suspected terrorists, as opposed to traditional prisoners of war.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Racism Threatens 2006 World Cup Safety

With only days left for the FIFA World Cup taking place in Germany, security is the biggest concern of the German authorities. BBC reports:

Thousands of police, surveillance aircraft, and soldiers trained in anti-chemical warfare are all on duty in Germany this month, making sure the World Cup is remembered only as a sporting spectacle.

No freebies for guessing the usual suspects: terrorists and soccer hooligans if you are familiar with the long traditions of the European soccer fans but there is one more suspect you might have missed:


According to Uwe-Karsten Heye, a former government spokesman, the situation is a bleak one:
"There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere which I would advise a visitor of another skin colour to avoid,"

And he continued:
It is possible he wouldn't get out alive.


Mr. Heye was later forced to back down from his comments following an uproar from other politicians who obviously found his comments detrimental to the efforts of the German authorities doing their best to make the stay of the foreign guests as comfortable and safe as possible.

As a man of color myself, I have had my own share of experiences. None of them were life threatening or otherwise harmful but those chides and remarks from passing cars, or water balloons thrown at while I waited at bus stops in Los Angeles ruined my days. But then I was young and immature and the reality was Hollywood. Thankfully such incidents were few and far between.

Couple of years ago, I was addressed by the dreaded N-word. I didn't react. I simply ignored. To my surprise, it didn't leave a lingering sour for days to come. I realized, I have grown up.

Racially motivated attacks are not new, not in Europe and not in this part of the world either.
The far right exists, and they bring a different kind of hatred to the table. This only makes matters worse as our hands are already full with the perverted actions of Islamic Jihadists.

The world might as well be black and white but color blindness is a disease and love is in the rainbow.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Where do we go from Haditha?

Iraq has become like quicksand in slow motion, sinking everyone who has a piece of it, slowly, steadily but surely. Once in a while, an eye opener like Haditha pops out for everyone, left, right and centre, that gives us a chance to look inward and do the necessary crosschecks. A chance, once again to straighten out the mess in Iraq by being objective, admitting the reality, and acting upon it.

The relevant people holding an irrelevant road map, however, have had their eyes wide shut for a long time, and the war has forced them to live in a cobweb of lies, from which they don't have the balls, the desire or the smartness to come out. In all likelihood, they are probably going to self disintegrate once their delusional comfort zone is taken away. So they stay where they prefer to stay, in the name of WMDs, in the name of Freedom and Liberty and watch the troops die, who serve honorably but unaware of the ego-driven politicians who put them into harm's way.

To address a problem, the first step is to recognize the problem, which in turn requires standing up for the basic principles working within which a reasonable solution can be found. This benign observation is deeper than you think, because standing up for principles requires understanding the principles, which means:

for George W, appreciation for Texas slangs, workouts at his Texas Ranch, and not meeting a grieving mother,

• for Dick, appreciation for Halliburton,

• for Alberto Gonzales, appreciation for curbing the human rights and of course listening to your phone calls in case you are talking to Bin Laden,

• for Rummy, appreciation of the secret torture and detention centres,

• for Condi Rice, appreciation for the Nobel Peace Prize, only if the Iranian President bites the carrot.

So, where do we go from Haditha?

Let me start by saying, I've never liked the Iraq war although I support, in a sort of way, the invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan. The reasons are two fold: for one, the Taliban, the erstwhile rulers of Afghanistan harbored the terrorists, not the small fishes but the biggest ones, the masterminds, the roots of all evil Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri, actively and openly without any fear of backlash from the world, and secondly, they took the entire Afghan society back to the medieval age of darkness.

The Taliban got their false sense of security from Pakistan, or more precisely, from the ISI, Pakistan's CIA equivalent. What they never realized was that they were created for a purpose and not in the name of religion, as they were made to believe. When things got too hot to handle, they were abandonned and left to the mercy of whoever got to them first, which happened to be the United States.

In its war against terror, the United States made the blunder of all blunders by letting the top Al Qaeda leaders escape along with Mullah Omar, the Taliban Supremo. To this day, what baffles me is the initial Gandhian approach taken in Afghanistan, specifically asking the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden or make him leave the country, knowing fully well that the Talibans are not exactly famous for their vegetarian habits.

And right now, the only way to get to them is to comb the mountains and jungles of Tora Bora. If the US acted earlier, they could have actually caught the terrorists and the war against terror would be over and we wouldn't be having this discussion today.

I bring up Afghanistan, because, I think the failure to capture Bin Laden led the Bush Government to look for a scape goat, an evil person, who's famous or infamous and who will become the symbol of success in the war against terrorism; he doesn't have to be a terrorist because not all evils are terrorists, but a five star "bad guy" resume will suffice.

For me, I never bought into the Iraq for Oil argument or the lies of mushroom cloud and WMD. After the careless slip in Afghanistan which didn't reflect too well in their political bank balance, the administration wanted to act swiftly and with the purpose of getting a prized trophy to showcase their intent. So they went after Saddam--an easy pick by all standards.

Of course, the Bush clan was never fond of Saddam, but Bush senior was smart enough to realize the consequences of waging a full scale war with Iraq. Junior, however wanted to finish the unfinished business of the family. The perfect cowboy when the tooth fairy has gone to bed.

As the Iraq war progressed, the paradigm shift cannot be overlooked, from WMD to freedom, liberty and democracy. Clearly the purpose is served, now that the looters and insurgents enjoy the freedom they never had before, feeling liberated in a true sense, and democracy starts with a puppet government that can only wish to have the power to clean the basement of their own house without asking for US permission.

The bottom line is: the invasion of Iraq has been proved to be a mistake of Vietnamic proportion, and it makes no sense to compound it by keeping the US forces there for an unforeseen time. Deaths will just continue to pile up on both sides.

The Iraq adventure is over. If the Bush administration continues to act like the bullies in the playground, it is time to let them know that in this game lives are lost, and stubbornness serves no purpose.

Get the troops back home and let the Iraqis sort things out themselves. Trust me, the Iraqis will be happy to see you leave and to have the opportunity to get back on their feet.

By the way, if the administration really cares, it can deploy only a fraction of the resources that are being wasted in Iraq, to the mountains of Tora Bora, and hunt for the real terrorists, and not the innocent civilians in Haditha.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Haditha Massacre

The news made me sick in my stomach. By now we have become used to occasional deeply troubling stories from Iraq but this one is different.

Politics is not my forte, but I understand within my limitations, the value of existence and that the core of my living is supported by an environment promoting life with respect.

On May 26, Los Angeles Times reported:

Marines from Camp Pendleton wantonly killed unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, and then tried to cover up the slayings in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha, military investigations have found.

Officials who have seen the findings of the investigations said the filing of criminal charges, including some murder counts, was expected, which would make the Nov. 19 incident the most serious case of alleged U.S. war crimes in Iraq.

The report continued:

In its initial statement to the media, the Marine Corps said the Iraqi civilians were killed either by an insurgent bomb or by crossfire between Marines and insurgents.

But after Time magazine obtained pictures showing dead women and children and quoted Iraqis who said the attack was unprovoked, the Marine Corps backtracked on its explanation and called for an investigation.

Now that isn't new. Similar stories of innocent civilians being killed have been reported before--collateral damage, as the war hawks call it, a small price to pay for Liberty and Freedom.

The following day, I turned pale.

On May 27, Los Angeles Times followed up the story:

Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper bodies of the victims, who included several women and six children. Some were shot in the head and some in the back, congressional and defense officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."

You can read the chilling details and the further follows-ups in the Los Angeles Times.

The algorithm is simple: Liberty and Freedom at the cost of innocent Lives. This side and that side. It doesn't matter which side you are on. You suffer either way.

President Bush seems to have taken notice. AP reports via Yahoo news:

"I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said in his first public comments about the deaths of about two dozen civilians at Haditha last November. "I'm mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."

It appears that the President has expressed his genuine concern. But given the record of his administration, in particular, the reluctance to function within the laws and constitutional premises, and living in a heap of lies which grows every day, I am skeptical.


from QbiT