Coleman Balls

I wouldn’t normally write anything about the Welsh National Team but felt I had to here. I’m not sure why. I don’t give a monkeys about the England team in general so making a note about Wales is distinctly odd. I’ll make it short.

Chris Coleman just took over as the Wales boss after the death of Gary Speed despite two major drawbacks. Firstly the squad wanted the present coaching team to get the job. They’d improved vastly improved under this team and openly expressed their desire for it to continue.

Secondly and most importantly, if you are going to dispense with a winning formula, then don’t bring in Chris Coleman, a manager universally despised and with a losing track record. While he did ok with Fulham, since then his teams have consistently performed poorly. He was fired from Real Sociadad for staying out in clubs till 6am. Coventry were terrible and he left his last club Larissa after 6 months, ostensibly to join Wales but he left them no better off.

There is a real merry-go-round in football management. Ex-players who had one success seem to get jobs when in any other industry, they’d not a job or take a more junior role. Alas not in football. Yet the greatest managers these days are almost universally non-players like Wenger, Mourinho, Ferguson etc. Football has become a science. Reading the Secret Footballer blog on the guardian confirms it. The complexities of modern football requires less empathy and more analysis.

I’d like to be wrong for the players but for deeper reasons, being right would be more satisfying all round if anything would change in the long run.

Films Seen

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Impeccably made, 70s ensemble spy drama featuring Gary Oldman as a spymaster searching for a mole within his organisation. At times, its slow but that’s part of its logic. Its not bombs and fights rather clues and paradoxes that reveal the story. 9/10

Another Earth – minor sci-fi human drama of a doppleganger Earth and lost love on Earth. Small budget and quite touching. 7/10

The Bride Wore Black – Truffaut’s tale of female revenge. Pretty cold for the 1960s but still watchable. 7/10

Pontypool – not the Welsh town but a Canadian psychological thriller with blood and some virus inhabiting the town. Its alright ! 6/10

Point Blank – BAM BAM, BOOM BOOM. French action film that never stops. Its entertaining no doubts. 5/10

Airplane – Shirley not. Yesh. 7/10

The Artist – I’ve always liked silent films. I love a good mugging! This story is cute, emotive and very well-made. 9/10

A Separation – Award-winning Iranian film about divorce giving real insight into Iran beyond the headlines. 8/10

Stalker – a classic from the master Tarkovski of men travelling to the mythic Zone or their own soul. Some long shots and could be conceived of as ‘slow’ but its always visual interesting. 8/10

The Descendents – George playing the same role as Burn After Reading but in a Hawaiian shirt, less guns and more family problems. Its very good though. 7/10

Warhorse – Too much horse. Not enough war. I looked up the author and he seems to specialise in this kind of nonsense. He’s got a book about dog and an elephant too. It really beggared belief at times that this was a story about a horse! 5/10

Carnage –  Four people, all good actors sit around and shout at each other for 75minutes in Polanski’s stage to screen adaptation. Impressive editing and some good acting but it all felt rather pointless, showy and pretentious. 6/10

The Flowers of War – overcooked, sentimental claptrap. Looked nice, great set pieces but boring. 4/10

We Bought a Zoo – Matt Damon buys a zoo and then fixes it up. That’s about it but the music from Jonsi (Sigur Ros) is good. 6/10

Buried – Ryan Reynolds wakes up to find himself buried in a wooden casket in Iraq and uses his dwindling phone life to get help. Its claustrophobic and fairly good. 6/10

Moneyball – a baseball film with very little baseball. Phew. Nicely made and Brad is fairly good. 7/10

Green Zone – Matt Damon runs around Iraq trying to find the man who knows about the WMDs (!!!) while the bad guys, the US Government, try to stop him. 7/10

Night of the Hunter – 1950s Robert Mitchum classic with unusual twists. 8/10

The Guard –  Irish crime comedy set in Connemara and featuring Father Ted characters, racism and some close cultural references. Very good. 8/10

Beau Travail – One of the great films of the 1990s. French Legionnaires training in the desert gets outs of hand. Its slow but oddly watchable. 9/10

Manhattan – Woody in black and white. Less amusing and likeable but maybe closer to the truth. 8/10

Arsenic and Lace –  always loved this classic Cary Grant corkscrew comedy. Clearly a stage play first but as they say, they don’t make’em like that anymore. 8/10

Inland Empire – Mostly rambling and slightly confusing but always watchable and sometimes unmissable. Its weird, feels like an ensemble piece for Lynch’s career but definitely has one of the best end credit sequences you’ll ever see. 7/10

Let the Right One In – brilliant Swedish horror tale of a local vampire girl who quietly lives surviving on the occasional murder  and later meets and befriends a bullied local boy in a small town. 9/10

Attack the Block – Channel4 quality film as monsters (sci-fi dogs) invade a tower block in South London. Its funny, cute, predictable and a good ride. 7/10

Red State – Kevin Smith makes a horror that seems more like a political condemnation of religion (via the Phelps Family of Louis Theroux fame) and the major political authorities who manipulate circumstances to restrict freedom of speech and make cowardly, universalising decisions. The film is alright. Its short. It had no real choice. 5/10

Elite Squad 2 – Brazilian police drama delving into the dark world of drug gangs, politics and corruption. Intense. 7/10

The Skin I Live In – Wooo mofo, this Almodovar is not a classic but it’s brilliant perverse and the twist is fantastic. Looks nice too. 8/10

Certified Copy – two folks meet at a writing convention and start pretending they are a couple to others. Its slow but I like the premise having been in this situation a few times! 6/10

Win Win – Very good story telling of a small town lawyer who runs the rubbish school wrestling team taking in a delinquent who turns out to be pretty good at wrestling.  Cute. 8/10

50-50 – 500 Days of Summer with cancer. Its good. 7/10

Scott Pilgrim vs the World – quirky comedy from Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz). Played out like a video game with the appropriate acting. 8/10

Modern Times – another Chaplin classic. A satire on modern, industrial life that yet again predicts our follies and the depressing nature of capitalism. 8/10

City Lights –  Chaplin in funny, pure tramp mode but with a magical, heart-warming ending. 7/10

EPL Review

Kenny Dalglish claims Stewart Downing is a better player than he thought. I’m not going to pretend. I can’t stand Downing or better said, I have no idea how he is considered a quality player. He can’t beat any fullback, his passing is limited to square balls and he barely crosses it let alone scores. But that’s my opinion. However now Dalglish has come in to defend his player it simply confirms something I’ve been thinking over. That be that Kenny has lost it if he was any good in the first place as a manager.

I give three pieces of evidence. Firstly in his first spell as LFC manager, he managed a team into decline despite spending a lot of money. However all empires fall so I won’t be too harsh there. Secondly this present team again has had a lot of money thrown at it but he’s bought terribly. Henderson, Downing, Carroll and Adam, between them valued (rather than worth) £78m are all not good enough for the level LFC wish to play at. And they never will be good enough. Further the players he’s failed to replace include his centre backs, Agger and Skrtel who are not good enough.

My third point concerns tactics. LFC played Stoke last week, a team with a large physical presence upfront. So Kenny shifted his tactics to 3-5-2 employing three centre halves and wing-backs. Sounds logical and progressive except this isn’t 1994 or 1986. Three at the back constantly fail and this formation has only worked once in 1986 when Argentina had a certain Maradona in the team. But more simply Kenny’s thinking was; ok Stoke have a big man so we will draft in a big man in Coates to mark him neglecting the fact that with 3 across the back and wingbacks in advanced positions, the crosses are going to be coming in all day. Whether Coates is good enough is doubtful but Kenny’s tactics were unique in the league and uniquely wrong. As a result, the crosses rained in all day and he ended up essentially playing 5 at the back.

However moving to the league in general, it’s still a two-horse race between the Manchester Clubs. Chelsea are too inconsistent and lack confidence. Cahill won’t add much. Spurs play the best football in the league but still lack a certain firepower and I’m not sold on them when Gallas and King aren’t fit. Arsenal are improving but lightweight and less gorgeous than they used to be. Newcastle are a good side, slightly short of the top 5 but well-organised and playing with confidence.

At the bottom, O’Neill has saved Sunderland while Norwich, Everton, Fulham, Stoke and Villa will be fine. I still have some concerns over Swansea but QPR should now be fine. Wigan look done. Blackburn will struggle but go down. Wolves have enough team spirit which condemns Bolton. It’s between them and close.

Bird on a Wire

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee

If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

Books Read

I’ve had a lot of time at work to chill out recently and a whole load to read before I go.

Neuromancer by William Gibson is billed as a sci-fi classic and you can see where the ideas for the Matrix came from. Its dense with scientific and ‘internet’ technology words, it becomes difficult to follow unless you’re that way inclined.

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo is another economist book about aid and its failure to really help. As usual, the criticisms are easy and well-documented while the solutions are based on neo-liberal, free trade and a denial of the political realities.

The Lucifer Effect – Psychologist Zimbardo’s analysis of how people turn back due to poor structure within their lives. He uses Abu Ghraib as an example where he served as an expert witness. Structural issues everywhere…

Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang, another book from an economist but this time promoting the idea of the state and protectionist sovereignty to build an economy and bring populations out of poverty. Again his solutions are confronted by political restraints but his solutions are far more in tune with the history of development in Asia and political realities of state and economic sovereignty.

Things Fall Apart – I read Achebe’s African classic again to garner ideas on the psychological damage wrought by colonialism.

Human Rights – a non-legal account of human rights, a book most welcome. After all, human rights is about principles, politics is about reality.

1848 – a historical account of the 1848 revolutions in Europe which finally got rid of the French monarchy, set the process for Italian and German unification and undermined the Austro-Hungarian empire. The revolutions came about from social and economic pressures within society, along the lines implicit right now. I’m interested in the parallels and the possibilities for change.

Ham and Rye is Charles Bukowski’s roman a clef concerning his childhood of family violence, chasing girls, bullying, dealing with spots and getting drunk. Its a fluid and funny read.

It’s all pretty crap to be a North Korean

Following Kim Jong-Il’s death, I was invited on the radio to talk over my experience there and how I thought the situation would play out. I told a few mildly eccentric stories about the culture, about the golf and school mainly regurgitating what I’d written here but ultimately it’s not much of a laughing matter. Little will change after the death at least not yet. And when it does, it will be from internal implosion, a break from within the elite rather than civil unrest. Civil society doesn’t exist as a movement of power.

The option of outside interference is highly unlikely too unless China pulls the plug and then everything will get very dangerous. I doubt North Korea would react well to that and would turn their focus on South Korea as a means of survival. Only China can truly end this peaceful from outside if there is no internal collapse. And yet it won’t. While the realist argument is that China keep North Korea viable to maintain a buffer with the Americans but there’s a far more practical reason.

Many North Koreans live across the border in China having fled over the ice river that forms the barrier. Its a huge risk. Getting caught could mean being sent along with your entire family to the gulags with 200,000 others. With the border between South and North a huge minefield, a state implosion would send millions of North Koreans north into China. It would be a disaster for social stability and an economic headache. The Chinese state relies on economic success to maintain social stability and its legitimacy. A crisis in North Korea is best avoided or at least contained.

It would be far more effective if the military cadre saw the light but they are equally mired in this so don’t hold your breath. The place would fall like a house of cards if circumstances were right. How China and South Korea would react is fundamental. Even South Korean, used to their nice cars, TVs and first world way of life are making less conciliatory noises to their brethren. Considering how West Germany struggled financially and socially to integrate East Germany and with the South Korean government simply not having the same financial reserves, to hear their fellow Koreans are losing faith would be a huge blow. It’s all pretty crap to be a North Korean.

(I wrote this a few weeks ago but haven’t had time to look at it)