Monday, July 31, 2006

Tha Qana Massacre

As the pounding of Lebanon at the hands of Israeli forces continues, the latest carnage claiming more than 60 civilian lives including 37 children has sent fresh shock waves around the world.

The civilians, already displaced from previous attacks took refuge in the basement of a three storey building in the town of Qana, 11 kilometers from the Israeli border. The house was flattened by a series of midnight Israeli air raids. Most of the casualties died in their sleep. (Source: CNN)

While the world weeps, Israel expressed regrets but vowed to continue their military excess. Hezbollah promised retaliation. Meanwhile, negotiations between the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Lebanese Prime minister Fuad Saniora have been called off.

According to the last reports, Israel has admitted the strike was a mistake, lodged an investigation, suspended air strikes for the next 48 hours and will be working with U.N officials to allow civilians to vacate southern Lebanon.

The three weeks of war has been devastating, with 540 Lebanese, mostly civilians and 50 Israeli lives lost. The approximate ratio 10:1, however, appears nakedly excessive to me.

The word disproportionate holds no meaning for the Israelis. What is worse, they seem to care less, as if it's within their rights to cause free flowing destruction and demolish an entire nation.

Forget about who provoked the war in the first place because it is not relevant any more. If someone pinches you, a measured response is not chopping him into pieces with a chainsaw. At most you can punch but that would still be considered excessive.

The problem here is awarding carte blanche to a state committed to decimating Lebanon in order to bring Hezbollah to its knees. The only country which can meaningfully engage the Israelis in peace negotiations is busy throwing up meaningless "sustainable peace" utterances when the call of the day should have been an immediate ceasefire.

There is no solution in sight, at least not a long term one. But a nice start would be to acknowledge and differentiate the right from wrong.

The international rules are clear about proportionate responses and immunity of civilians. Both in Iraq and in Lebanon and Gaza, United States and Israel fail to comply in an alarmingly regular basis. In both cases they use the word terrorism loosely and recklessly to justify their high handed violence.

Fundamentally the mistake lies elsewhere. It is in adhering to contorted reasons and beliefs to achieve goals by brute force that are tailor made for sustained diplomatic and pragmatic means.

The quagmire in Iraq was a creation of phony evidence. Israel believes the killing of three soldiers and kidnapping of two more by Hezbollah was a signal of an all out war against its existence. It was indeed a provocation, but hardly called for a seemingly limitless Israeli retaliation. If any, the continued assaults on Lebanese population has stripped the Israelis off any moral justification.

Let's be very clear about this. State sponsored indiscriminate excess against civilians is immoral, unjustified and plain wrong under any pretext. Unless a morally consistent approach is adopted by the U.S and Israel, persisting with the current methods of hypocrisy, unmatched arrogance backed by military actions in the states of Iraq and Lebanon will only escalate the mayhem in the Middle East.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dynamic Duos

Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar


Accolades are not enough for the English pair who clinically assasinated the hapless Pakistanis. They shared all the 19 wickets (one was run out in the first innings) between them and returned with individual match figures of 11/76 (Harmison) and 8/93 (Monty)--a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of Jim Laker's 19 wicket haul against the Aussies here at Old Trafford.

With happy times all over, there's is always someone to feel sorry for -- Ashley Giles.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene


The two batsmen bulldozed the South Africans, breaking Test and First Class records on their way. Importantly, the Test is still alive, and with two days left the Sri Lankans have ample time for a sweetly deserved victory. Sangakkara and Jayawardene amassed 624 runs in the third wicket, highest ever partnership for any wicket in Test or first class matches.

For more details visit Cricinfo.


Flawed Landis: Victim of a French Conspiracy?


Floyd Landis. Or shall we call him Flawed Landis?

Much has been written about the disgraced cyclist who briefly flirted with fame, then made that tortuous journey to the blackhole of cheaters. People familiar with black holes will tell you crossing the event horizon even once seals your fate. There's no coming back. That's how nature works.

Asterixed, forever. Sorry Landis.

For a sport tarnished with doping scandals (last year's elites ranking second to sixth were pulled out of this year's race because they were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation) this is a major blow. I am, however, more concerned about our storybook hero turned villain--Flawed Landis.

His sample A has indicated a higher ratio of testosterone and epitestosterone than the permissible 4:1. For ordinary mortals like us, the ratio is 1:1. He believes, like most other informed people, the second sample will not indicate anything different which means he has to relinquish his Tour de France title. From now on, he is going to be remembered as just another bloke who doped and got caught in the process.

He's in good company: Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones and Tyler Hamilton, the former skipper of his current cycling team, and the list goes on.

Landis vows to clear his name. Good luck with that.

He also claims this is a natural occurrence. As ESPN reports:
"We will explain to the world why this is not a doping case but a natural occurrence," Landis said from the Spanish capital.
The problem is, a natural occurence must show up naturally every time Landis gets medically tested. It is fair to presume that in his entire cycling career he was tested at least dozens of times. Is there any corroborating evidence to support his "natural" proposition? Methinks not.

The final twist to this already bizzare scenario comes from none other than the legendary Lance Armstrong who questioned the authenticity of the Lab that carried out the tests. Needless to say, Lance enjoys little or no love with the testing labs. If you recall, when he wasn't pedaling he was busy suing people to clear himself from the allegations.

Lance was quoted in ESPN as saying,
"Secondly, I can't help but be aware the lab that found this suspicious reading is the same one that was at the center of the 'L'Equipe affair."

The French newspaper, L'Equipe, said samples taken from Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France and then frozen tested positive for the blood-booster EPO. The International Cycling Union commissioned a report that later cleared Armstrong of the doping allegations.

"When an independent investigator contacted the lab, they wouldn't answer the simplest of questions, wouldn't go into their testing ethics, who did the tests, etc., etc.," Armstrong said. "I don't personally have a ton of faith in that lab. I think they should lose their authorization and the report pretty much supports that."

We haven't heard the last as yet.


Thursday, July 27, 2006


I'm back--sort of. Taking two weeks off from my normal habitat hasn't gone too well with my blogging habit and I am feeling a bit blogged down at the moment. Just to kick start my addiction one more time, I thought there's nothing better than sharing a few jokes. Montreal Gazette of July 24 compiled the best ones from this year's comedy festival.

Of course, due to my limited intellectual capacity I could laugh only at some of them.

Montreal is a pretty cool town. Strip club, church, strip club, church. A lap-dancing vicar could get some work in this town.
Andy Parsons, Britcom

I have a theory: The world would be a better place if ignorance was painful. The stupider you are, the worse the pain gets.
Tim Nutt, Bubbling with Laughter

My computer beat me at chess. I beat him at kickboxing.
Demetri Martin, Bubbling with Laughter

I want to go to the beach and bury metal objects that say "get a life" on them.
Demetri Martin, Bubbling with Laughter

I came from a really big family, got a really big family tree. I call it a family cactus because there's a lot of pricks.
Todd Allen, Homegrown Comics

My two favorite things in world are done in bed: sex and sleep. If I could do the two at the same time, I'd be a happy man. I've always envied my girlfriend that gift.
Ed Byrne, Gala.

I am so fat I'm amazed I get laid. Thank God, I'm rich and famous.
Drew Carey, Gala

My girlfriend asked me: "Are you having sex behind my back?" I said: "Who the hell did you think it was?"
Jimmy Carr, Gala

I don't make love to pretty women for two reasons. One, I can't. Two, they won't.
Jay Oakerson, Nasty Show


Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup Finals Prediction and No-blogging Notice

I will be away for two weeks. Postings will resume from 25th July onwards. Enjoy the World Cup Finals and cheer for the Azzurris.

Italy is going to win. I have no reason to believe otherwise. While it is true that I have consistently discounted France and they have proved me wrong for four straight games, it is also true that Italy is srtictly superior in every department of the game.

Italy enjoys a bit too much firepower in every position on the field as opposed to France who are severly short of proper back-ups once their stalwarts start having a bad day.

I would like to see Del Piero in the starting line up and Totti coming off the bench keeping up with the Italian tradition (goalscorer from the previous game always starts the next match).

It is also heartening to see the torch bearers of the loathed catenaccio system is playing breathtaking attacking style without compromising their defense led by the masterclass Cannavaro, who's as solid as ever.

Prediction: Italy wins 3-0.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Today: Portugal vs France

Prediction with accuracy limited to my brain size:

Portugal:2 France:1

Don't get me wrong. I love the crazy Gauls and I love Asterix and Obelix. But we are way past the days of The Gaulish Supermacy. It seems a bit too late to work the magic again with a group of ol' bones (that was my theory proved wrong twice but they say third time lucky).

Anyways, don't forget to check out Paul Kelso's in-depth probe of the loving relationship between the French and Portuguese.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Italy Wins And Grosso Delivers For The Second Time

Awesome awesome awesome game. Absolute cracker. Evenly matched, evenly poised till the last minute. Couldn't have asked for more.

Once again Fabio Grosso was right on money. And this time, it was (cough!) legitimate. Ding Dong.

Now if you are wondering why, perhaps from an unfortunate memory failure, let me remind you that FG's "flop of the tournament" in the dying seconds of the match against Australia in the pre-quarter finals allowed the Azzurris to escape with a last second penalty (Totti scored).


FIFA World Cup Semifinals: Preview

The 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finals has assumed an all Euro attire for the first time since 1982. Missing will be the Latin American fireworks. But that's life. That's World Cup. That's football celebrating the twists and turns of the mousetrap.

Germany, Italy, France and Portugal. The last four standing. Only one, Portugal, has never won the Cup or appeared in the Finals.

In my previous post I picked Germany and Portugal — tight calls that appear borderline ridiculous upon closer inspection of their competitive match records. Germany has never won against Italy in six tries, and Portugal has yet to register a victory against France in their two meetings.

And yet, I am convinced, the exceptions will overrule the norms, this time.

Germany has the most refreshing look. Jurgen Klinsmann has aired a mint of freshness in an environment polluted by the profligate Erikssons of the world. It is exciting to watch him transform a completely mediocre side into world beaters. No, he hasn't done it with any magic potion, nor he has done with drawing board X's and O's. He simply works within a system that makes everyone comfortable and letting them have fun in the middle.

Unlike their flashy models of BMW and Mercedes, team Germany has always been the epitome of efficiency and durability of the Civics and Corollas. And Klinsmann, to his credit, has successfully blended their dogged approach with a flair of attacking football, thus creating a vibrant force that could challenge the very best in the business.

Italy, on the heels of match-fixing controversy is trying to rewrite their own destiny, and restore some of the lost reputation if not too late. Their bread and butter is defense. Suffocating and swarming defense. I will be extremely surprised if they show a measurable departure from their long held tradition.

The probable difference makers: Lucas Podolsky of Germany and Francesco Totti of Italy.

In the other game, France has earned an honorable nomination with wrinkles after knocking out Spain and Brazil. But this is as far as they could have possibly advanced in their wildest dreams. It's time they make way for the Portuguese to their first ever trip to the finals.

Portugal has played with more passion and sense of urgency than anyone else but didn't win many friends with their home cooked tackles, flops and attitude.

Perhaps it's not fair to single them out because every team has been guilty of shameless play-acting with France and Italy, being the biggest beneficiaries in the pre-quarter finals.

It's only fitting that Portugal gets a taste of the finals and finally the championship in what could become a memorable swan song for none other than the great Luis Figo.

The probable difference makers: Thierry Henry of France and Deco of Portugal


Monday, July 03, 2006

2006 World Cup Semifinals: History favors Italy

In all 28 matches played, Italy has won 13 to Germany's 7. And Germany has never beaten Italy in any competitive match including World Cup encounters. For people who are obsessed with numbers, out of six competitive matches between them, Italy has come out on the top twice, and four matches were drawn. The two Italian victories coming in the 1970 (Semi-final) and 1982 (Final) World Cups.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quarter Finals Afterthoughts and Semi Finals Picks

The 2006 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals caused all sorts of troubles to the people with so called high FQ (Football Quotient) and to the bookmakers around the world who had Brazil, the favorite, followed closely by Germany, Argentina, and England tied for the second place with almost identical odds permeated by reasonable fluctuations from time to time.

Baring Germany, the lone survivor, the journey is over for the rest of the top guns as grief, despair, and madness crisscrossed from London to Buenos Aires. The fans didn't get a taste of what could have been an electrifying semi-final encounter between Brazil and England.

No slights intended to the French and the Portuguese.

In all fairness, the French, with a band of familiar faces who's been there and done that, are looking increasingly ominous setting themselves up for a dèja vu. They rode through the successive Spanish and Brazilian storms with steely resolve when everyone had written them off. Had anyone said before that France would be here trashing Spain and Brazil on their way, people would have laughed off on their face, might even asked a polite question or two on the crack they are smoking. Now they are here, make no mistake the crazy Gauls could go all the way.

The Portuguese, not exactly a surprise but were not expected to be here either (I picked them for reasons I refuse to disclose here but feel free to check my blog).

They are more than a gritty talented bunch, well coached by the fire-band Luiz "Big Phil" Scolari who previously helped Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup title. The recent successes of Portugal, a trip to the finals of Euro 2004 and the World Cup semi-finals this time around, provide ample testimony to their class and will likely catapult them to the elite of world football in the future.

Now for the losers, it was hard to swallow, particularly for the insanely talented Argentineans who saw their hopes evaporate, courtesy of the jughead Jose Pekerman, their coach, who left out his aces Lionel Messi and Javier Saviola cold on the bench and inexplicably went defensive by pulling out Crespo and Riquelme with an 1-0 lead and 18 minutes left to play. He is the fool's fool.

Ukraine lost. Good riddance.

England — well, you know, lost, again. The script was all too familiar, neatly rehearsed and played out on the field. Another quarterfinal match-up in a major tournament against a team coached by Scolari — and the losing tradition remains intact.

More than England v. Portugal, it was Sven Goran Eriksson v. Scolari. Ultra cool v. passion. Drawing board v. free-wheeling coaching. An over-paid (24 million pounds in 5 years) v. an eccentric over-the-board genius.

Thrice they met, thrice Eriksson lost (2002, WC quarter finals when Scolari was coaching Brazil; 2004, Euro quarter finals against Scolari's Portugal).

The game had had its share of controversies. No matter how you like to spin it, Rooney was rightly sent off for stamping on the nuts of Carvalho. Down to 10 men, England played superb, had their best game of the tournament, but in the end, lost when it mattered most.

With the talent, at least on paper, England should have been in the Finals without any serious trouble; but as always, it's not about individuals, it's about how the talents mesh with each other bringing out the best in everyone within an effective system, which to Eriksson's failure was never there in the first place.

Semi-finals picks:

Germany over Italy.
Portugal over France.


from QbiT