Saturday, October 28, 2006

Abu Shreek: Trainspotting

Who needs Heroin when you are an Arab?

Abu Shreek was waiting for the next teacher to walk in when a strange buzz appeared in the classroom. During those times many people carried portable radios around. The minute a substitute teacher confirmed the news, Abu Shreek took off running. He stormed out of the school gate and into the street. Flashes of the typical 12-year-old dreams were the only thing on his mind: The triumph, the Arab unity, the end of the oil sheikhdoms, and the liberation of Palestine. He stormed by the girl school gatekeepers and into the blue corridors. He wiped off the watery eyes, walked into the classroom and announced with a mournful tone: “Saddam has withdrawn from Kuwait”. His mother, who did not appreciate the interruption of her class, calmly scolded him for leaving his school and ordered an instant return to class.

Abu Shreek was later told that his role at this stage is to stick to his role: A student. “Education is very important”. “Education is the weapon that will let us win the bigger battles”. “We were defeated because of ignorance”. And all the other clichés often used to motivate a 7th-grader to memorize a 30-verse poem.

It would be years later until he experienced a similar feeling. While he was still fulfilling his duties and concentrating on his (seemingly-endless) education, the anger, helplessness and despair feelings were triggered again by the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa: The Secretary General of the PFLP. Abu Shreek could not believe that the leader of the pioneer revolutionary movement that used to instill fear in the hearts of the enemies could be taken out so quietly and effortlessly. Ten years later and the answers were exactly the same: “Avenge him with education”. “Take care of your school and you will be in a better situation to help”. “Did you see how accurate that rocket was? It is the product of the educated minds”.

And finally, at a yet another transition period, he looks into re-organizing the priorities. He examines the “practical” near-future options and finds them limited: Hopes of a steady income, a house and a car. A piece of furniture and a vacation. A career and a contribution to the field. Maybe even a disgruntled beautiful wife and three special disobedient kids!!

Once you start obtaining any of these things it is a different ballgame at much higher stakes. It will be implied that it is the time to “cash in” on the investment and to protect the “gains”. You become “attached to things that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
It become a chase of an “adapted” dream (that is not and should not be yours), neglecting how insignificant it is compared to the real challenge. An endless search for the acceptance of other miserably pretentious and equally detached peers. An endless search for a socially-imposed “success” standards. Education ends up being a tool that enables you to better fit in the skewed system, not a tool to trample it!

But what is the substitute for an eternal daily grind that produces minimal results beyond individual recognition and status symbols?

The solution: A collective change to the “accomplishment” standards, understanding that our population issues extend much farther beyond one self’s recognition and fulfillment. Whether it is the fortune accumulators (the lowlifes at the bottom of the social pyramid), the blue/white collar dedicated workers (with their endless complaining) or the distinguished scholars (who usually settle for a less challenging lifestyle abroad), it is obvious that the Westernized version of the materialistic success (not necessarily money-oriented) is not contributing much to the resurgence of the Arab societies. On the contrary, it is becoming an integral part of the status quo. A collective attitude that brags: “I am lucky to be an Arab. At least I know I have a set goal and a meanigful purpose in life” to replace: “I worked too hard for this and I deserve a “normal” life”.

Without engaging in fruitless philosophical interpretations of life, happiness and satisfaction, there must be something more worthy to subscribe to. There must be something more compatible with the childhood dreams. There must be something outside of mindless observation of the train of civilization passing by. Something at a communal level higher than a published book, a graduate degree or even a non-profit organization. (Not to mention the simple minds fascination with trivial consumer products).

Abu Shreek ideally prioritized the bigger cause. But Abu Shreek is also a realist, a pragmatist and an “apathist”. Since it is obvious that the those alternatives are farfetched, and since maintaining a drug habit appears to be unfeasible and carry a few “hazards” (not as hazardous as challenging the system though), he just hopes he does not end up looking forward to: “the job, the family, the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear, luggage, three-piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die.”

“I wish I knew what I signed up for but This is definitely not it”.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Mailbag (IV)

The latest assembly of time-wasting in-FAQs.

What is up with JU instructors and taking attendance? Aren’t they aware that this is college? Are they so insecure to the point that they are afraid nobody will attend their lectures if they stop practicing this brutal display of authority?
-A JU sophomore who already used up his excused and non-excused “absences”. (with two freakin months to go!!).

You definitely have a point. Notice how you rarely find an engineering student who is counting his absences with the precision of the humanities folks. After all, in most engineering courses you are attending every single class and barely passing. The self-dependant home-schooling approach requires a much bigger effort and is almost impossible to pull off for some subjects.

Then, you have some professors who are completely aware that they are not providing the students with anything they won’t be able get on their own, and hence attendance becomes a defense mechanism.
Take for example the first two courses in Physics. You are coming out of a Tawjihi year where you already memorize by heart everything you are supposed to “learn”. You have a professor (without calling him out) who knows for a fact that his students’ knowledge of the subject is actually depleting with every class they attend. (To quote my friend Zain: “How does such a guy achieve a full professor status when he has no clear understanding of Newton’s second law?!)

Actually I am going to mention his name based on the strength of this story he proudly repeats to his class. When he was holding the position of “Assistant Dean for Scientific Research”, a student- who was working on a theory to describe the shape of the Universe- was referred to him to discuss the issue. The student started with: “If we assume that the universe was a cylinder…”. The professor interrupts: “Hold it right there. What do you mean assume?” The student replies: “It is a theory, so we are assuming that…”. The professor interrupts again with a serious confident tone: “What are you talking about?! You are definitely mistaken. If we assume that you were a cow, this would mean that we could milk you”. End of conversation. That is why if you are taking Dr. Naji Sheikh for your freshman Physics classe, you will not get an “A” unless you have a near perfect attendance.

If all you have in your pocket is two dollars until the end of the month (and it’s only the 10th) what would you spend them on: A sandwich or two lottery tickets?

While a sandwich may give you the instantaneous feeling of satisfaction for a period of 4-6 minutes (depending on how fast you devour it), the lottery ticket will provide a false sense of hope at a cheap price, which should keep you afloat until the next scheduled draw. Better yet, if you manage to come up with another dollar (or split the two) you will be able to survive off of two weeks worth of hope.(Unless there are two draws a week, then you are screwed.)

As we officially celebrate the definite conclusion of an era, can you please remind me why the VHS tapes absolutely kicked my ass?
Hanging out in oblivion, along with cassette tapes, floppy disks, and (former crown-) Prince Hassan of

The reasons are well documented all over the place. The minor (and inaccurate) reasons include licensing problems between Sony and other manufacturers, since JVC’s VHS machines were simpler and easier to manufacture. Another doubtful reason was the public misconception that there was more material available for rentals on VHS than those on Beta. (Actually this could be a result of the market domination more than a cause for it). However the main reason that caused the better-quality Beta format to rapidly lose its market share was recording length: “Standard Betamax tapes lasted 60 minutes- not long enough to record a movie. Conversely, the 3-hour VHS tapes were perfect for recording television programmes and movies. Sony did adapt and offer various solutions for longer recording, but it was too late.-[]”. Another often neglected factor is the role the porn industry played in supporting VHS. It was similar to the decisive role the multi-million dollar business has played in the more recent high definition DVD battle.

Speaking of porn…

What do you think the future holds for the Arabic pornography scene? (I mean the overall picture, not one scene in particular). With all the changes impacting our region, and the slight twists applied to the base of our social structure and set of traditional values, isn’t it about time we take it to the next level?
-Larry Bin

First let me make a clear statement on the whole issue of sexually-explicit material of all forms and nationalities: I do not endorse the production, purchase, or trading (internet linking) of any such material. I do not condone any of the behaviors associated with this art form. This seemingly harmless business has more destructive social effects than one could imagine. Some studies report that the addiction to such a habit can reach chronic proportions since it could be triggering the same nervous centers that respond to cocaine, and could cause brain damage. Cultural and anti-porn activist Susan G. Cole reminds of the following facts [Pornography and the Sex Crisis]:

-“It is an act of sexual subordination that turns women into objects. It is a form of validated record of sexual abuse that reinforces the social conditions of male power and female powerlessness.”
-“It is a form of prostitution with a slightly higher pay.”
-“The myths of pornography become more credible than the voices of real women.”
-“It sets a distorted standard of what women are for and what they should look like”.
-“It increases the men’s anxiety regarding the expectations of their performance”
-“It desensitizes viewers to violence against women”.

HOWever, and from the slightly skewed point of view, there could be numerous benefits of establishing a wider and more professional explicit Arabic film industry, even if it were only at the softcore level. The positive effects could include (and not limited to):

-Restoring some dignity to the Arabic music scene. At least the exposure to such clearly “labeled” material will be optional, instead of being forced on the public (in a more subtle form) through the multiple scandalous Music videos channels.

-Providing a venting space and a “release” medium for the frustrated Arab male population, in a desperate attempt to replace sexual harassment, pedophilia, homosexuality and other more twisted trends.(Without mentioning any particular nationality or geographic regions).

-Offering more entrepreneurial opportunities to the Arabic creative minds, (who are coming to realize that profit is the name of the game) outside of the traditional projects. After all the business startup kit is a Camcorder, a “girlfriend” and a smooth persuasive approach.

-Contributing to the feminism movement and opening the gates in front of Arab women into freedom and independence. For example, an “Outgoing” (yet intellectually limited) lady have a chance to earn a hefty check, making a living on her own, while sticking it to her old-fashion dad who made her life miserable as an “open-minded” teenager. This also will help even out the unbalanced and unfair overall salary structure between men and women who are doing the same job: females there are going to be making much more money than their male “co-stars” for the same number of working hours and under much less pressure.

When I was a little kid my mother had to sell my tricycle for 5 bucks so that we can eat. I am not planning on starting a big enterprise, playing the stock markets, trading real estate or becoming a lawyer. Still, sometime in my lifetime I want to make it to the Forbes list of the richest men of the world, what are the odds?

It is kind of hard but not impossible. It requires a lot of hard work, wheeling and dealing, shoving and pulling. You may want to try something in the areas of farming or herding. But it has been done before and no one seems to care.

Do you see a resemblance between the power struggles of (Ali-Muawiyah) from one side and (Stalin-Trotsky) on the other? Both conflicts were lost by the more rational (yet relatively passive) party in favor of the opponent who was more aggressive (and had no problem in crossing some supposed “redlines”). Both losing sides were (theoretically) much more capable of (and even better qualified for) sustaining and improving their respective states. In the meantime the winning side set its priorities to personal agendas and capitalized on instantaneous gains that resulted in disastrous consequences on the long run for both empires and the system they were built on. Could the world have been different today if any of these battles ended differently?
-Memeber of the S.S.P. (under construction).


One could argue that if G.W. Bush’s brother was not the governor of Florida the world would have been different today (highly unlikely though). But it is true that the results of the above two conflicts had a huge impact on the modern history of our region. The similarities (that could extend to reach the eventual “execution” method of the losing leader: A sword to the forehead compared to an ice pick through the skull)) make for a very interesting topic for research and debate, but here is a quick note:

Despite all the negative propaganda that tries to tarnish Stalin’s legacy (by the imperialists and their agents (and even by Trotskyists in a different context)), he remains a legendary statesman and a war hero. There was no doubt that he made some historic mistakes, but he found himself trying to preserve the gains of the revolution and lead a country in a turbulent world during a time when neither of them (the country or the world) had the foundations for the “permanent revolution” in its pure Marxist form. On the other hand Muawiyah's reign was practically a reinvention of the pre-Mohammad Arab society and a coup d’etat against the accomplishments of the Mohammadian state under the prophet and Omar. Muawiyah was the presidency candidate backed up by the merchants and the Quraish bourgeois. Between the lavish lifestyle, the introduction of throne inheritance, and the initiation of the eternal split in a system that prided itself in its unity, he managed to set the standard for the Arab ruling regimes until this day. One could not imagine Ali (who had sworn if poverty was a man he would have killed him) indulging in the corruption of authority, and if he was not that unwilling to spare the blood of fellow-Muslims, he would have been the one more capable of sustaining the state of Islam based on the socialist equality that Mohammad intended for it to achieve.

While Stalin and Trotsky carried different views and programs for implementing a shared ideology, the conflict between Ali and Muawiyah may have been one between two different ends of a spectrum.

After you wrote the ridiculous statement: “The Tigers are no match for the Yankees” and since you ranked the A’s as your number one team in the AL, do you feel like apologizing to the 2006 World Champs the Detroit Tigers right now or are you going to wait until its official?
-One of the only two people who care about your baseball takes.

First, I am really delighted that there are that many people reading my baseball insight.

Second, I sure do owe the Tigers an apology since I seemed to “misunderestimate” the huge pitching advantage they have over the Yankees pitching and the (turned out to be) waaaay overrated Oakland staff. I seemed to focus on the terrible second half they had and the sweep at home by the freakin Royals in their final series of the regular season. But there is no way Peter Gammons himself could have seen any of these things coming, let alone all of them happening at once:

-Kenny Rogers dominant pitching. Rogers himself could not believe it, he was crying after the Yankees game.

-The Yankees alleged “best lineup ever” going dead cold for three straight games, and A-Rod going 1-19 and dropping to 8th the in the order. (Actually forget about the last part, everyone saw the A-Rod thing coming).

-After Frank Thomas carries the A’s all year and gets on fire against the Twins, he looks like he is swinging that warming-up iron rod and not a bat when he is at the plate. He suudenly lost the ability to turn on a 89mph fastball, let alone how ridiculous he looked against Detroit's 98+ flamethrowers.

-The A’s missing Mark Ellis more than the Tigers missed Sean Casey.

-Todd Jones not only gets by without one blown save, he and his 88mph fastball did not allow a run in five appearances.

-Joel Zumaya getting hurt and it still did not matter.

-Clutch hitting from anywhere and everywhere no matter how the Tigers set up the lineup. (See the Alexis Gomes!!).

As for NLCS, way to represent the pathetic status of the national league guys. Can we get a starting pitcher (not named Carpenter) on either team who can throw a 91 mph? And so much for the Mets being the best lineup in the division and making up for the pitching with their bats. Jeff Suppan (who barely got a roster spot with the RedSox in 2003 ) gives up 5 hits in 15 innings of work! A perfect conclusion to the steroidless greenieless season.

A bus driver operating the vehicle like a drunk who is on crystal meth. The bus is weaving, swerving and bumping. The women are crying, old men praying, and little kids puking in their book bags. The passengers ask the driver to try to do a better job driving. The driver yells back : “I am driving just fine, you are the ones who need to do a better job riding”. Why do I feel like I am stuck on that bus?
-Coaster Commuter
Amman-Irbid daily.

The worst part is when the “كنترول control: A slightly harsher version of a ticket collector” and another guy who knows him (who is riding for free by the way) joins the driver in yelling at the traumatized passengers.
Even worse, when the guy sitting in front of you, whom you have been watching his head banging against the window with each turn and bump, turns around and starts preaching to you:

-“You heard them, learn how to ride these things, dipshit.”

-“Yeah, but it is not me. The driver has no idea what he is doing. The whole bus is in danger.”

-“Shut up. The bus comes first.”

-“What exactly does that mean? I am telling you, we are all going to suffer the results.”

-“we are all the bus.”

-“That did not make ANY sense either!!”

-“You do not like it get off at the next stop.”

So you lean back, wondering what is wrong with that guy! You clinch the side of your seat with one hand, you press against your upset stomach with the other and you get back to thinking about the stuff that really matters: baseball and Arabic porn.

If you missed the last Mailbag, you did yourself a favor.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

UEFA: A Big Game!!

Chelsea hosts Barcelona in the Champions league and Abu Shreek is actually watching.

The UEFA Champions League was always special. Back since it was still called the "European Cup of Champion Clubs" (or a variation of that) and precisely when Belgrad’s Red Star shocked the world, it was obvious that this competition features the unrivaled highest level of soccer. Another hard to neglect factor was that these games were the last significant thing that the Jordanian TV had the broadcasting rights to show. So on Wednesday nights we will gather in the attic at (my friend) Ghassan’s house and watch the games over a few rounds. (of Trix of course).

A few weeks back I was flipping through the channels when I found a game between PSV Eindhoven and Liverpool. I always had some respect for the Dutch club since they always manage to find hidden gems and then trade them to bigger clubs. And since it was the Champions league against another legendary team I was watching. UNWATCHABLE CRAP FOR MORE THAN 60 Minutes. Of course the game ended in a splendid 0-0 tie, and what else did one expect given the fact that Liverpool’s starting center forward was that bolding blond Dutch loser who did not touch the ball in four full matches in the world cup.

Nevertheless, given the big names and the history of today’s teams, and in order to refute the constant (Jameedish) accusations of selling out and detachment from all the things that really matter, I will be watching.

(Five minutes until kick off): A quick check of the starting line-ups on the UEFA website in case our local provider continues with the habit of neglecting that “unnecessary” feature. Since the creation of the EU and the Boseman Case these meetings between the big teams are just ALL-STAR matches, except that they are not exhibitions. Of course tonight’s line-ups are loaded. Every starting player is a star on his national team, and don’t get me started on the reserves. I am actually excited about the game. This should be good.

00: Kickoff. And the first thing we notice is the all orange uniforms Barcelona is wearing. I understand that the team has had strong Dutch connections for the past few years (just check their roster during the Luis Van Gal years), but that is just borderline stealing. Maybe they should have played with the cornea-burning florescent yellow away jerseys from last year.

04: I just realized that I have no idea what stage of the cup is this? I think it is group play. Who is in the groups? What is the standings? Which round? Whatever it is still Barcelona vs. Chelsea.

10: Frank Rijkaard gets some face time screaming and waving fron the bench. It really hurts to realize that most of your childhood heroes are working on their second and third coaching gigs.

13: First time Ronaldinho touches the ball tonight. THIRTEEN MINUTES into the game. We are informed that Khalid Boulahrouz (Moroccan origin) is going to be marking him like his shadow, and he will be assisted by another player when Ronaldinho gets the ball. Practically, another way of saying Ronaldinho is working on his 50th straight crappy game where he will not be doing anything significant.

14: First semi chance by anybody. A smart pass by Ronaldinho to the middle and a one touch lob leaves Zambrotta behind his man with a volley, but he completely whiffs on it. “A swing and a miss” shouts our commentator in recurring baseball terminology. On the bright side, it is good to see an Italian at his prime in Spain (the highest profile Italian to ever play for Barcelona, and probably the second that comes to memory after Panucci played for Real Madrid.). We later realize that, thanks to the Juventus garage sale, Fabio Cannavaro is also playing for Madrid.

16: Essien gets past his man on the right side of the midfield and pushes the ball towards Drogba who surprises his marker and accidently passes him after bouncing the ball of his foot (it sure looked like it was by mistake, or maybe he is that good), and he tries to tip the ball in, but the keeper gets out on time. Shevchenko fumbles with the rebound for a second before Marquez tackles him instantly and clears the ball. Shevchenko is making sad faces and whining to the referee while our commentator declares: “You just get the feeling the Shevchenko is past his prime”.

20: Chelsea has a slight control advantage right now, as we hear our announcer declares: “The game is not as open as I though it would be. The game is caged right now”. Of course it is. What did you expect?! The best players in the world to go all out, exchanging shots, and showing off their offensive skills in a game that does not even have that much pressure. Get with the time. This is not 1956. This is the times whenGreece can kill an entire tournament and end up with the cup.

23: A close-range ball exchange by Chelsea players on their left side at midfield concludes with the ball hitting Xavi in the package, which triggers a Barcelona counterstrike. Messi controls the ball inside of the area, but he is trapped at an impossible angle. He fires what could pass as a cross or a shot on goal, cleared by Chelsea third-string keeper to the middle, where Ronaldinho instantly loses it to his shadow Boulahrouz.

30: One of the few plays that reminds you why you watch this game. Five quick one- touch fluid passes (started by Messi and including a heel-pass by Ronaldinho) leaves Xavi inside the area. Xavi fakes out the charging defender (my favourite move in soccer) and chooses to go near side with the left foot. Good idea, closed angle and a save (the shot actually could have been off target to begin with). If only soccer would feature 4-5 such plays per game.

34: Chelsea comes with their own heel-pass play. Lampard sets up Shevchenko who fires way up in the stands.

36: We can vaguely notice that Barcelons’s center forward is a very blonde Iceland dude who has not touched the ball yet. Deco would rather take a long-range weak dribbling shot than pass him the ball. Not a good sign.

39: The scoring updates of the other games indicate that there is a team called Shakhtar currently invlolved and competing for this cup. (A wiki search claims that this team is from Ukraine and plays in the city of Donetsk (is the human tongue capable of pronouncing three consonants in a row?!). I guess we are still at the early stages of this year Champions League.

40: Messi is a very exciting player. He takes a shot, and follows it up with a nice dribble but takes too long and loses it before he could fire.

44: Michael Ballack header of a corner kick is high. Good to hear the name of Germany’s captain and (allegedly) the middle dynamo, even if it is one minute before the end of the half.

45 +: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (who is now going with Gio on the back of his jersey for obvious reasons) gets a seemingly harsh yellow card. He collides with Essien, both players act like they were shot, Essien holding his shoulder, Gio covering his face. Seconds later they are both jogging casually nad setting up for the free kick.

First half report. One nice play. One chance for Chelsea. Two half chances for Barcelona. Best players: Messi and Essien, who were both very active, but nothing extraordinary.

47: Chelsea, off to a quick start, scores the first goal of the game. Drogba, who was in “obvious” pain at the end of the half to the point that his substitute was warming up, scores on a nice play. Practically he makes the best of a fumbled ball that he could not control initially, brilliantly heels it to himself between his legs, away from Marquez and Puyol and rips it in the corner. 1-0 Chelsea.

52: The game pace has significantly picked up, and there is that post-goal sense of urgency in the field. the crowd is cheering, the ball is moving quickly, and you get the impression that there is a chance of a good game happening.

53: A Ronaldinho free kick bounces off the wall towards midfield, where Essien takes it and run the whole length of the field. He is flanked with two charging players: Shevchenko on the right and Carvalho on the left. Three-on-two situation. He fakes a defender, and decides to take the shot himself. It bounces of the other defender into the keepers hands. Shevchenko and Carvalho are just furious.

55: Another big Chelsea chance. Drogba near the sideline, passes the ball between Gio’s legs to Lampard who steps in and instantly sets up Shevechenko behing his defender. A terrible first touch followed by another rip in the stands.

56: Barcelona First sub. Gio out. Iniesta in. One of the nice developments here is the fact that we have one less thing that to hear about from the delusional bragging Barcelona fans. Barcelona has finally added a sponsor to their jerseys. Congratulations. Now you are just like everybody else. On the bright side it is written in golden letters so nobody can read it anyway.

56+: Ooops. The Barcelona jerseys read “Unicef” and they are donating 0.7% of their total revenue to the organization. My bad.

60: The Iceland dude is out. Giuly who was just that close to being on the national French team is in. Barcelona obviously misses Eto’o at the forward position. It is not that important, they just do not have anyone to score goals and divert the defenders' attention away from Ronaldinho. No big deal.

65: Is there a more stupid and irrelevant stat in all of sports than “time of possession” in soccer? Right now we are standing at Barca 56 %: Chelsea 44%. Whatever.

67: An impossible (maybe game changing) save that denies Chelsea the second goal. A high long ball from the deep end of the Chelsea backfield towards Drogba on top of the area, he heads it back to the vacant midfield where Lampard instantly pushed it back to him, where he is now positioned deep in the box. Drogba turns away from Marquez and fires. Brilliant save, and Essien cannot get to the rebound. The mobster-looking Chelsea coach violently kicks air, causing his short un-matching tie look even more ridiculous. (To quote the commentator’s early comments: You would think for someone who is making 10 million euros a year, he can afford to dress a little better”)

71: Barcelona looks outnumbered when they are on the attack. Chelsea is playing with a minimum of seven defenders, and just relting on dangerous counter-attacks. Barcelona look lost right now, and their best player Messi has disappeared this haf.

73: Puyol who had a below average and is partially responsible for the goal is out. Presas is in. A brilliant, game changing substitution that could not have come at a abetter time. Ahhmm, I mean whatever.

76: Shevchenko is out. Robben is in. Are You serious? Robben who was easily one of the five best players of WC’06 is healthy and he is riding the bench?? Are you kidding me? These big clubs are destroying young talent by piling them up and stocking them on the benches at the prime of their careers. There has to be a spending limit or some form of a salary cap in international club soccer.

78: Inside the 15 minutes mark, the game has turned into the ever-exciting, always appreciated format of a slow-moving offense against a just-kick-it-away defense. ZZzzz.

83: Ronaldinho, the master of set kicks, is getting ready to take another close range free kick. (and no he will not be crowded by two defenders when he is kicking). The ball is hit off the wall into the stands. He follows up by taking the resulting corner kick, and it is a high curving kick, that heads straight out of bounds from the other side, without being touched. You have to appreciate such world-class skill levels.

85: Guili is working on the right side close to Chelsea's corner flag and he manages to get a cross to the middle. Messi heads it over the bar. Barcelona’s closest and most dangerous chance in the second half. Honestly pathetic.

88: A surprising shot by Deco between two defenders. Slow roller to the dead middle. Those are the dribblers, with absolutely no chance, that appears on the stat sheets as "shot on targets".

89: Another semi-chance for Chelsea. This time it is a Robben cross after another counter attack. This save may prove the difference for the return match in Barcelona (Oct 31st). Oops, not really. This is not elimination on aggregate scoring, this is another round in 2,000 rounds of group play. On the bright side, it means a lot more games for everybody to enjoy (sleeping through).

91+: Drogba is out. Kalou is in. (Come on kid, it is your chance to show what you can do). Why do they do this? Does it really help waste time? Does Kalou have to take a shower now? Can he add this to his resume as a UEFA Champions league appearance?

92: Final Whistle.

The final result. Two-three nice plays. Four chances for Chelsea. Two half chances for Barcelona. Official stats show that each team has 5 shots on goal, which is definitely generous . Player of the game : Drogba.

After another antagonizing afternoon with the “beautiful game”, here are a few positives that we can take out from the experience:

-The game ended quickly. Anything that takes less than two hours is worth checking out, keeping in mind that staring at a blank wall for two hours could have been as entertaining as this game.

-Lionel Messi is one of the most exciting young stars in the game right now.

-A good check on the status of some of the world stars after the world cup. The conclusion: They all suck. I really do not want to go over the lineups again, but seriously Michael Ballack, John Terry, Ronaldinho, Deco, Zambrotta, where were these guys?

-Give me Reason number 413 to lay off this snooze fest for a while.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NFL: First Look

The early team-by-team evaluation of the 2006 season.

After the Sixth week of action, every team has played a minimum of five games and so it is possible to come up with an assessment and rank the teams according to their chances, at this point, of reaching SuperBowl XLI. The teams can be ranked in three to five groups:

The Double-Digit Losers:

These are the teams that have no business beating anybody outside of their group, and no team that considers itself a contender should even have a close game against them. The group of shame in no particular order: Oakland (A legitimate look at a winless season), Miami (Joey Harrington is their starting QB), Cleveland (The close loss against Baltimore could have changed their season), Tennessee (Travis Henry is a great back that never gets his dues), Houston (The are still building, actually they are rebuilding (whatever)), San Francisco (A franchise with no signs of life whatsoever (unless you like fantasy football)), Arizona (Just wait, next is year is the year (right)), Green Bay (the main attraction for the next two years is Brett Favre breaking some records (great)), Detroit (maintaining the streak of 2000 consecutive losing seasons), Tampa Bay (Bruce Gardkowski actually gives them a better chance (Wow)), Washington (The same dysfunctional franchise), and Buffalo (played a couple of close games, but you give the Lions their first win and you belong with them).

Of course since we are all professionals here, and since the NFL is the game of parity and “Any Given Sunday” (not the movie) some of these teams will show some signs of life every now and then (especially in the first quarter), but so far the overall picture indicates that for any of the above teams a 5-win 2006 season is a successful campaign.

The Contenders:

Teams that will reach double digit in the win column and that has showed so far that they have what it takes to be playing in January. As of the end of Week 6 the most impressive teams, in descending order:

Losses: None.
The lineup of victims is not impressive at all, but the fact that they blew out some teams and fought to win some games when they did not play their best give them the top spot. The blowout against (a Shaun Alexander-less) Seattle was a battle of the NFC undefeated on national TV and that is why it appeared to make a big statement. However the win against Minnesota is the one that gave them the confidence that they can win even when they do not play their best, as proven by the crazy game against Arizona (which of course they were lucky to win).
Rex Grossman grabbed national attention for the way he played and managed to come back with a big play against Minnesota on a day when he almost cost them the game, but the six turnovers against the Cardinals was a reality check for him. The speedsters Brain Berrian and Rashied Davis are giving him nice options down field but sometimes the offensive line has some lapses, especially picking up blitzes. They continue to incorporate TE Desmond Clark in the passing game which is another positive development. The running game is not very impressive and Cedric Benson carries are still minimal. DT Tommie Harris is an early candidate of the year for defensive player of the year, and Brian Urlacher is still the leader of the group, highlighted by his 17 tackles and the way he took over the game against the Cardinals. The secondary is still questionable especially with the severe Mike Brown injury and the pending Ricky Manning Jr. suspension.

Losses: None.
Although undefeated, they are accused of being not as “flashy” or impressive as the recent Colts teams which blew by the field. However they are taking care of business, and some local reporters think they are just board with regular season play and just cruising towards the playoffs. After the first two easy wins they were dominated by the Jaguars running game (Jags held the ball for 40 minutes), came back against the Jets and scored the winning TD in the last minute and survived the 15 laterals on the Jets last play, and came back against the lowly Titans scoring 2 TDs in the second half. Yet those were all Ws.
The offense is not as explosive. Maybe they are missing a third slot receiver (Brandon Stokley is still not healthy), or that the “platooning” running backs approach are not as effective as Edgerrine James.
However, their biggest problem is the run defense. The run stuffing DT is the hottest commodity in the league right now and they do not have one. Cory Simon is ill and they are searching the waiver wire for a washed up veteran (See Sam Adams and Grady Jackson who are already taken), and they even considered the Raiders Warren Sapp (!). The undersized defense is worn out early this year, Dwight Freeney is none-existent, the safeties are always hurt, and this is looking like another early playoffs exit for the Colts.

Wins: KC, NE, BAL, OAK.
Losses: STL.
After a disappointing start and aloss in a FG shootout against the Rams, they put up four straight strong wins. The final scores may not look like they are blowing out people but they practically are. Against the Patriots they shut them out until garbage time. Against Baltimore they won a tough game and their defense outshined the highly touted Ravens defense.
They are not scoring much but Jake Plummer is just doing enough. Tatum Bell is emerging as their featured back, and Jevon Walker was a huge addition.
Their defense has allowed one TD all year (with 9:00 minutes remaining Doug Gabriel caught a Tom Brady pass, and by the way the game was going, it sure felt like a garbage time score). The LB trio along with the emergence of Darrent Williams as a good cover corner next to Champ Bailey (who is having an excellent year) leads one of the best groups in the league

-New England:
The Pats did not impress many when they opened with a close win (on a J.P. Losman safety) against the Bills, allowed the Jets to attempt a comeback on them and then got embarrassed on national TV against the Broncos. There were many questions about their passing game without any above-average receivers, and about Tom Brady being unhappy with the situation. Next came the destruction of the Bengals followed by an easy win against the Dolphins, both were important to prove that they are still a top notch team.
The passing game is still not on track even after the addition of WR Doug Gabriel (and Jabar Gaffney). Brady is heavily depending on his TEs. The running game however is what is carrying them (except against the Broncos when it was completely shut down).
The defense is solid but has more than the usual holes. DT Vince Wolfork does not have a backup, and the backups in the secondary are street free agents, but somehow they still can get the job done as they proved against the Bengals offense.

-San Diego:
Losses: BAL
Again, wins against the losers group does not carry that much weight. But they could have won that game against Baltimore. They played scared and they tried to protect rookie Philip Rivers (who looks very impressive so far). Everybody blamed “Marty Ball” for the loss, but he was justified trying to protect the rookie QB against a strong Ravens pass rush on day that the OL was not playing great and was killing Chargers drives with penalties (Kris Deilman). They came back and held the Steelers to 49 total yards in the second half of their next game earning their first “real” win.
The rookie QB and the no-name receivers group are doing enough to keep the offense moving, behind LaDanian Tomlinson and Michael Turner (1 touch o yards against SF !!).
The defense is living up to its reputation to the high expectations and NT Jamaal Williams is even exceeding them.

-New Orleans:
Losses: CAR
At this point they deserve some credit and an apology as well. The benefited from opening against two could/should-beat teams, then they fed off the festive atmosphere of the Monday night game and beat a one-dimensional Atlanta team. A close loss to Carolina (Deshaun Foster break free on a clock killing run to score, NO came back with an 86-yard TD and a 2-pont conversion but it was not enough) raised some doubts but the two wins to follow earned them a spot up here. All their games wee close, well-fought battles and head- coach Sean Payton deserves all the credit for assembling and handpicking this group when he took over.
Drew Breese proves again that the most important player on the football team is the QB. WR Marques Colston a seventh round rookie (252 pick overall) is becoming a household name and the combination of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush is even better than advertised.
The defensive unit turns out to be a solid group of veterans and youngsters (and they could be the reason the Saints continue playing every opponent close). The front seven is an excellent group as they proved against the Eagles. DT Hollis Thomas had a tremendous game against the Eagles and the ends Charles Grant and Will Smith are playing at a high level. LB Scott Fujita whom Payton brought along from the Cowboys is very active all over the field, and even the veterans in the secondary are doing a good job. For the time being this team belongs with the big boys.

The Middle of the pack:
-Closer to the top:
These are teams that could easily belong to the top group, if not for that one or two losses that will make it impossible for them to make the cut. It is one thing to lose to a top-tier team in a closely fought battle, but some games you cannot lose if you want to be in the top teams conversation.

Wins: TB, NO, CLE, BAL.
Losses: ATL, MIN.
This team easily belongs to the top group, expect that they opened with back to back losses to the Hawks and Vikings. The Hawks surprised them with the running attack (252 yards on the ground), and against the Vikings they threw the game away with the stupid trick play on the punt return and lost in overtime (and they still could not stop the Vikings running game). Now that they have won 4 straight, and Steve Smith’s hamstring is much better, they could be challenging the Saints for the top of the division (one may argue that they are already more deserving since they beat them head to head).
The loss of their LT Travelle Wharton shook their offense early in the year but they seem to have adjusted by moving Jordan Gross there, and plugging a free agent Guard Jeremy Bridges at the right spot. The game against Baltimore was their best offensive display of the year, but their running game still ranks in the middle of the pack. The injury to D’Angelo Williams and the early problems with the line could have contributed to that.
The defense also is starting to play better lately after getting hurt by the loss of MLB Dan Morgan and the regressing play of CB Ken Lucas. Julius Peppers is having a monstrous start.

Wins: DAL, PIT, NYJ.
Losses: IND, WAS.
An excellent team. Their win against Dallas and the Pittsburgh shutout on Monday night were very impressive, but the loss against Washington dropped them here, especially that their defense allowed 36 points to a struggling Redskins offense. If they could have finished the job against the Colts it could be a different story.
A healthy Fred Taylor, complimented by rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, behind a healthy solid line, three tall (6-4 +) wide receivers, and all what is missing is for Bryan Leftwich to take his game to the next level.
The defense could be mightily hurt by the loss of MLB Mike Peterson, since they are very thin at the linebacker position. A factor in their success on defense is the level of play of Rashean Mathis who is living up to his preseason hype.

Losses: CHI
None of their wins was more important than that against the Rams to secure their elite status, at least in their own division, even if it came on three long field goals (A 54 yarder by Josh Brown to end it). The embarrassing loss against the Bears the opener and the struggle against the Lions (9-6) in the opener is what left them here in the rankings. They maybe suffering from a SuperBowl hangover, but there is no reason not to believe that they are still a good team.
This offense is slightly different from last year in the fact that Sahun Alexander is hurt and Matt Hasselback is not playing as the best QB in the NFC. The line struggled a little not because of the departure of G Steve Hutchinson, but because Floyd Womack was hurt and Walter Jones is not 100% healthy. Darrell Jackson is their best receiver this year (maybe until Deion Branch gets familiar with the team), and with the absence of Alexander they are running a 4-wide receiver set that proved effective against the Giants and Rams.
On defense, they retained every starter and added Julian Peterson (28 tackles and 4 sacks), so they have no reason not to play at a high level.

Wins: TB, OAK, CLE, SD
Losses: DEN, CAR
They opened with two vanilla teams. They followed with a close one against Cleveland (a come from behind and a 52-yarder by Matt Stover), and another comeback against the Chargers. After their two back to back losses (the first proved that their offense is impotent and the second proved that their defense is overrated), they are back to earth.
With the (expected) injury to Steve McNair (and even before he got hurt) it was obvious that they have not solved the chronic offensive problems. It is even worse this year, since they cannot run the ball (Jamaal Lewis is washed up, and they refuse to give Mike Anderson and Musa Smith bigger roles), and even their All-Pro TE Todd Heap is not playing at his pre-injuries level.
The defense is still loaded with names, but they struggled to stop the run against Denver when neither team was getting anything in the passing game on a rainy night. Ray Lewis is unhappy that the team let DT Maake Kemoteau who kept blockers off him depart, and the big name secondary got torched by Jake Delhomme and the Panthers. Their next game against New Orleans is a big test, now that Kyle Boller is back under center.

Wins: HOU, SF, GB, DAL
Losses: NYG, NO
Their only impressive win came against the Cowboys,. They belong here because they are a good team with a legitimate QB (very few teams can claim that) and excellent depth. They had no business losing to the Giants in a game that they completely dominated. The ball bounced in the Giants favor a couple of times and the Eagles celebrated the win early and could not finish. The loss to New Orleans came in a very close game against a very good team, but it definitely exposed some of the Eagles problems.
Although their offense is ranked first in the league behind Donovan McNabb who is having an MVP-type year, they are still ignoring the concept of running the ball. Brian Westbrook has been draining fluids from his knee all year and cannot survive a whole game let alone the whole season.
On defense they were rotating 6-7 linemen at the 4 front spots, until they lost Jevon Kearse for the year. Their best lineman is Trent Cole who makes plays all over the field in addition to his pass rush. The defense allowed the Saints to hold the ball for the 8 last minutes without being able t slow them down to get the ball, they are not getting much help from the linebackers, and in the secondary Lito Sheppard is their MVP.

-Middle of the Middle:
Teams that can sneak into the playoffs and maybe peak at the right time to make a run at it. But they are also capable of self-destructing and finishing with 6-7 wins.

Losses: JAX, PHI
They dominated every team they had to beat and lost the statement games. Against Jacksonville they started hot and then gave up 24 straight while Drew Bledsoe disintegrated. Against Eagles, they gave up too many big plays as a result of poor play by the safeties. They still had a chance late in the game, but Bledsoe finished another miserable day with a pick.
Their biggest question on offense remains pass protection. The Eagles sacked Bledsoe seven times, confusing the OL with the various blitzing looks, and the pressure in Bledsoe’s face is just fatal for this team. Julius Jones is among the top five players in the league in rushing yards/game.
The defense continues to mature despite being a disappointment against the Jaguars. FS Pat Watkins struggled a little bit and Roy Williams is playing the pass better. Greg Ellis made the successful transition to LB and the team is ranked first in the NFL against the run. On a separate note their number one pick in last year draft LB Bobby Carpenter was inactive for 3 of the last 5 games!

Losses: CHI, BUF
This is a team that significantly exceeded expectations. All the games they played were very close. The win against Carolina came after they recovered the Panthers lateral return, scored on a fake field goal and then won in overtime. They surprisingly came back against the Lions forcing two turnovers in the fourth after trailing for the whole game. Even the loss to Chicago came on a last minute drive, after they fought hard all game, and played excellent defense.
Brad Johnson is managing the game and limiting his mistakes but his receivers are just terrible. Troy Williamson is “a catch one drop one” guy and they were looking to add somebody from the waivers. Chester Taylor was a worthy addition and they are able to run the ball behind a steady line.
Their front seven is also playing excellent despite losing DE Erasmus James for the year. Kevin and Pat Williams have this team ranked fourth against the run and all their star linebackers are playing hard. The secondary however is not living up to its hype where Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield are constantly getting burnt. (They could have kept CB Brian Williams who is doing a good job with the Jaguars).

Wins: KC, CLE, PIT
Losses: NE, TB
After the win against the Steelers, the Bengals carried themselves like a contender, which cannot be farther from the truth. It was a big achievement for this team to go into the SuperBowl champions home and get a win (which was handed to them by the three back-to-back turnovers and a couple of critical Big Ben picks), but the reality check followed against the Patriots and the lowly Buccaneers (they may have lost to TB on a couple of bad calls, but it should not have been that close in the first place.)
Carson Palmer looks like he overcame the knee injury, the pass rush is getting to him much more this year, and with injury to LT Levi Jones protection may get worse. His multiple options at wide receiver are getting thinner with the suspension of Chris Henry, the injury to Kelly Washington and the (relative) ineffectiveness of Chad Johnson. T.J. Houshmandzadah is his most dependable receiver.
Their run defense is at the bottom of league and the addition of the big bodies of Sam Adams and rookie Demato Peko does not seem to make up for the absence of their lead tackler from last year Odell Thurman. Their pass defense is slightly better with the addition of rookie Jonathan Joseph to a deep group that thrives on getting interceptions.

Wins: MIA, KC
Losses: JAX, CIN, SD
It may be unfair ranking them here since their three losses came against three solid teams. But the overall play and the quality of their two wins is what got them ranked this low. They got shutout by the Jaguars and in the second half against San Diego, and they gave away a must-win game to the Bengals (at one stretch they had an interception, a muffed punt, and a fumble within 5 minutes, and every time they could have sealed the win, they will let the Bengals back). And they have too many problems right now.
Ben Roethlisberger played miserably this year. They were not able to replace Randle El as a receiver and more importantly as a kick returner. The offensive line has the same players but they lost their edge (until they dominated Chiefs).
Even their defense seems affected by the SuperBowl hangover. Joey Porter is just a loud mouth who has a total of 5 tackles for the year. Troy Polamalu was missing too many tackles early, and the secondary looks like they miss Chris Hope (who is doing a good job with the Titans).

-Closer to the Bottom:
These teams are closer to irrelevancy than to a Championship. At the end of the year 8-8 is an accomplishment.

-New York Giants:
Losses: IND, SEA
Just looks like a dysfunctional team. Players calling out the coach after losses, and underachievers all over the field, Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress and LaVar Arrington and his 12 tackles. Despite the fact that they opened with a tough schedule and they are sitting at a 3-2 record, and despite the win against the Eagles (that they lucked into) and a win over the overrated Falcons, the blow out against Seattle may have showed that this team may just not be that good.
Tiki Barber picked up where he left last year and he is their MVP. Eli Manning still has a long way to go. Their rebuilt secondary is average at best and even the highly advertised front four and the pass-rush has not played to it potential.

-St. Louis:
Losses: SF, SEA
How can a team that has a win against a big team (DEN), plays another one that close (SEA) and still ranks here? The loss to the 49ers and the other 3 wins.
They have a good QB in Marc Bulger, hard-running Stephen Jackson and Torry Holt has not slowed down yet. The offensive line is not bad at all and this team can score points.
Even the defensive front four is playing well, but beyond that their defense has few playmakers. The combination of the rookie head-coach and the fact that their schedule gets much tougher (on the bright side they get SF and ARI once more) could mean that their record is a fluke. In addition Leonard Little (who killed Susan Gutweiler when he was driving drunk and was arrested again for DUI a few years later) is playing good football.

Wins: CAR, TB, ARI
Losses: NO, NYG.
They surprised their early opponents (especially Carolina) with the triple running threat of Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn (who is still a great underrated running back; just watch the block had to get Vick to the end zone against the Giants) and rookie Jerious Norwood. Until teams realized that this team still cannot throw the ball.
Michael Vick is still his old self (no, he has not learned the time-passing offense yet) and he still dances around too much (7 sacks and 4 fumbles against the Giants). He is still blaming receivers who are still dropping his passes and the whole thing is just not going anywhere.
Their defense is still average in stopping the run despite the addition of washed up Grady Jackson and of course John Abraham played a good opener and sat out until last week. DeAngelo Hall needs to stop with his Deion Sanders impressions in the end zone and realizes that he plays on an average team at best.

-New York Jets:
Loss: NE, JAX, IND
They opened with 4 hard fought close games. Surviving a last minute drive inside their 8 against the Titans, falling short of a comeback against the Patriots, getting a win against Buffalo despite allowing a 150 rushing to Willis McGahee and two 100+ receivers, and suffering a late choke against the Colts. Then, came the embarrassing 41-0 loss to the Jaguars, recovering with beating the Dolphins in another close one.
Chad Pennington is easily the comeback player of the year so far (despite that miserable Jags game: 71 yards and 3 picks) and his receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are putting up good numbers.
As expected, Jonathan Vilma expressed his discontent with the 3-4 so they are showing more 4-3 fronts now, especially that their linemen are much better than their linebackers. FS Kerry Rhodes is playing very well and making a bunch of tackles to add to his 3 sacks.

-Kansas City:
Wins: SF, ARI
Losses: CIN, DEN, PIT
They get credit for continuing to play hard despite losing Trent Green and having Damon Huard as their starting QB. The second game against Denver is a perfect example why Herman Edwards continues to be a terrible coach. That was a game that they could have won and could have meant a different start for their year and they just let it go to overtime and accepted defeat. The blow out against Pittsburgh makes them appear on the verge of joining the hopeless group.
In the year when the defense finally starts playing a little better, the offense disappear behind the patch work offensive line and the no-name receivers. TE Tony Gonzalez looks washed up and even the strength and versatility of Larry Johnson cannot get this offense going.

Always keep in mind that these are not predictions of how these teams will finish.This is the outlook of the teams based on their early play in the year. There is always the chance of a lousy team winning three straight against other lousy teams and all of a sudden it is the media darling and the “true” contender.
Five weeks from now some dramatic changes are bound to happen on these rankings and that is why they play the game.

NFL: Season Preview ‘06

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Follow Up

Was the American reporter, who warned that the King of Jordan is risking the Shah’s Fate, kicked out of Jordan? Borzou Daragahi clarifies the situation.

A very interesting aspect of the childish strife between Qatar and Jordan (the made-up conflict reflecting an existing tension between the two “countries” over who makes a better American pet), is the role of the media. As Jordanian authorities rallied its columnists, reporters, editors and every (Sagett Tawjihi: Loser) to attack Qatar and its traitorous role through the local outlets (mainly newspapers), Qatar responded with a semi-professional below the belt approach by targeting the King of Jordan with “news” that varied in its level of credibility on its popular outlet AlJazeera. (The latest story was an undated untraceable obscure reference to a Yediot Ahronot reports about Israeli-Saudi meetings hosted by the Jordanian palace!!)

Under the section “The Press Tour” AlJazeera Arabic website referred to and translated large parts of a report entitled “Jordan's King Risks Shah's Fate, Critics Warn” by the L.A. Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi. The substance of the report could be debatable, but the local reaction to it was interesting.

According to the Jordanian daily Al Arab Al Yawm (Arabs Today), and in its (Kawaleess: Behind the Scenes) corner (scroll down): “The American Journalist Bourzou Daragahi who wrote an article offending (literal translation: bad-mouthing) Jordan has left the kingdom three days after he wrote the despicable article. The American from Iranian origin was staying at one of Amman’s fancy hotels and was hoping to make the capital his permanent residence as a reporter for the L.A. Times in Amman”.

The language of the newspaper implied (or could be understood) that the journalist was informed that he is not welcome in Jordan as a result of his offensive article, and hence he left. But given the fact that the world has become a small village, Mr. Daragahi was contacted to clarify the situation:

Can you provide some details about the incident and the method that you were informed that you were “unwelcome” in Jordan (if that is actually what happened). What was the reaction of your employer to the whole issue? What is your personal opinion regarding the situation and if you have any thoughts regarding the Jordanian authorities’ possible reaction to an article within the same lines, if it were written by a Jordanian journalist?

Mr. Dargahali responded:

"1. My article about the challenges facing the Jordanian monarchy was written several weeks ago. The interviews and research were conducted over the course of several months, starting about late spring. The story received the input of many scholars, diplomats and others who were not quoted in the story. It appeared in print on Sunday coincidentally, just before I arrived in Amman on Monday. It’s not something I wrote up quickly, as the column seems to imply.

2. I was in Amman for only 1.5 days – not three days -- while awaiting a previously scheduled flight to Baghdad, where I am bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Such stopovers in Amman are routine for us Baghdad-based journalists.

3. No Jordanian official has ever issued a direct or indirect threat against me or ordered me to stay out of the country. Jordanian officials have been nothing but welcoming, friendly and professional to me, even if upset by the story.

4. My status at the Los Angeles Times is unchanged.

5. I currently have made no plans to move to Amman or make it my “permanent residence,” though it is a possibility I would heartily welcome as I really like Jordan and the Jordanian people. The climate, history and dynamism of its people make Jordan a special place.

6. Jordanian law forbids criticism of the monarchy. I imagine a Jordanian journalist writing a similar story for a Jordanian publication could become embroiled in troubles with legal and security institutions. In any case, I don’t think any Jordanian newspaper would publish such an article. That said, Jordan allows for a freer press than many of the other countries in the Middle East such as Syria and Iran."

It turns out that Al Arab Al Yawm (a slightly more “liberal” (if there is such a thing) and credible publication) had at least 5 wrong “facts” in 3 lines, aside from the between the lines implications that are also false.
Also, a quick memo to the government officials: the ostrich approach in dealing with any kind of criticism would not work in the era where sources of information go a little beyond the official radio, the official TV and the official newspaper. The media is everybody’s playground and the barriers between anyone who writes a line and those who read it, is non existent.

MLB: Post Season '06 (I)

First, a few notes on the 2006 baseball regular season:

-August and September were unwatchable.
It could have been the greenies (amphetamines) ban that caused the players to burn out down the stretch (as Tom Glavine and some other players implied), or the fact that there was not a single pitcher (not named Santana) who was worth the “We have to watch this game, this guy is pitching tonight). However,the true reason was the lack of a true pennant race.
In the AL, the A’s clinched the West on Aug 28th when Barry Zito had a perefect game through 8 against the Rangers. The Angels shy closing attempts never got closer than 4 games. In the East the Yankees clinched on Aug 21st after the 5-game massacre at Fenway. The Central had what appeared like three teams fighting for two spots, but it was practically the Twins and the White Sox, and the White Sox self-destructed without a real battle.
The NL (widely referred to as the minors Quadruple-A) had more of a virtual race. The Mets clinched in July. The Phillies had some futile attempts that no one really took seriously (you would think keeping Corey Lidle could have helped?). The Central generated the only true late-season excitement, but the Cardinals held off and avoided the historic collapse while the Astros lost their season finale to Atlanta with their juiced Rocket on the mound. The NL West is still a bunch of 500 teams, who played musical chairs all year and none of them was consistent enough to earn a post season spot. Yet they end up with two representatives!
The 162 games felt like a pennant crawl more than a race.

-The number of really bad teams was tremendous.
So the pitching staffs are diluted and the players are playing their first full season without their enhancing drugs, does that allow for more than half of the league to play uninspired drag ass baseball? From preseason contenders who were never in the picture (Toronto, Cleveland), to early season pretenders who took quick dives (Rangers, Rockies, Brewers and even RedSox), to the surprisingly bad teams (Cubs, Mariners, Orioles, Braves, Nationals), and of course the usual cellar dwellers (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay). Too many teams to ignore made very few games must sees.

-The short list of the candidates for the performance awards.
There was no 20-game winner for the first time since 1995 (NL win leaders had 16). Of course there was no 60 home runs hitter (not complaianing, just noting, there won't be many 60 HR hitters in the no-steroids era). Very few players raised their performance to a consistent high level. The AL Cy Young is a no competition. Johan Santana (who had an average first half) ended up winning the MLB pitching Triple Crown and carried the Twins down the stretch. There is nobody who deserves the second place (if there were such a thing). There were some good performances in a single game or over a small stretch but not over the whole season. The NL Cy Young should be withheld. It is so bad some analysts are even considering Trevor Hoffman (who had 5 blown saves). Brandon Webb is the only deserving candidate despite the tough August and the minimal impact he had on his team down the stretch. But he has 5 CG, 3 Shutouts and a one hitter.
The NL MVP is Ryan Howard with a slight Albert Pujols competition, while everyone else is way behind. The AL MVP award should be also withheld (or just give it to A-Rod, just like every year that there is no clear cut candidate). Derek Jeter had a career year, Justin Morneau was huge for the Twins late in the year and Frank Thomas is also worth considering. But, it should go to David Ortiz (who went down the drain along with the Sox season) for being robbed last year and for his role during the 2004 title.

-The only closer without a blown one (3 saves minimum):
Mike Gonzalez. Pittsburgh Pirates. 24/24

Enough with the negativity. Here is a snap shot at this year’s World Series contenders, after each team has played two games:

4. Minnesota: Thanks for coming. They were very impressive in clinching the division after they were more than 11 games out of first early in the year. If they still had Francisco Liriano, maybe their situation could have been different. Their only chance against the A’s was to ride Santana in two games, and get away with the non-existent remaining pitching through the set bullpen of the three J’s (Jesse Crain, Juan “Juice” Rincon and Joe Nathan) and the big bats (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Hunter) for the rest of the way. They lost Santana’s opener, followed by the second game at home, and they are getting eliminated as we speak.

3. Detroit: Great effort, but really thanks for coming too. They had a terriblr second half, finished with a 5-game losing streak and lost the division on the last day losing to the Royals and burning their ace starter in the extra innings of that game. The only reason they may have a chance against that mighty Yankees line-up is pitching. They had a very good rotation for the regular season, but it is still to be seen if it will be as good for big playoffs games. Kenny Rogers should not be the ace of a seriously contending team. JustinVerlander is the only pitcher they have who has overpowering stuff, and he regressed as his number of innings pitched increased. (He pitched O.K. in the second game, but kept getting in trouble and was hurt by the 4 walks in 5 innings). The bullpen is a point of strength, especially Joel Zumaya who can go more than an inning. Todd Jones can be scary when he comes to close, but he gets the job done. The lineup has power, but is not particularly scary and tends to be free swinging and Home-run dependant. They return to their park1-1, but they are still no match for the evil empire.

2.New York: The organization went nuts to make up for the 5-year title drought. The team is just loaded. At the trading deadline they went and got the best available bat (Bobby Abreu who was great for them) and the best available pitcher (Lidle, whatever). That does not mean they do not have problems. A-Rod still cannot hit in the clutch and it's getting into his head more and more (0-4 with 3 Ks in game 2), they have Gary Sheffield playing first, and of course pitching. Wang and Mussina are good, Randy Johnson is old and hurt, and when Jaret Wright and Lidle are expected to get a post season start, you know the Yankees pitching has some issues. Middle relief is their most talked about weakness. Scott proctor is not that bad, and Kyle Fansworth and Mariano Rivera are game over after the eighth.

1. Oakland: The favorite. Finally the A’s are going at least get past the first round. The team had a sluggish start especially hitting. Against anything Moneyball-ish, the team did not have anyone batting above 300 for the first two months. Of course, in atypical A’s fashion they made their second half run and were second (to the Yankees) in runs scored. In contrast to all other playoffs teams they are loaded with pitching. All their pitchers can be (almost) aces on other teams' staffs. Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and even Esteban Loaiza can be tremendous on the right day (They show inconsistency at times). The bullpen is also loaded. Kiki calero, Justin Duchscherer, Joe Kennedy. The closer Huston street is scary, but he still gets it done. Frank Thomas led them past the Twins in the first two games, and they should be able to break the 0-9 record in elimination games soon.

4. San Diego: Thanks for coming. You lose the first two at home and your situation is hopeless. The scouting reports ranked their pitching as the best among the NL playoffs teams. In the first game their ace Jake Peavy gave up 5 runs in 5+ and in the second game Fat David Wells gave up 2 in 5 innings, before turning it in to a shutout bullpen. The problem is they have scored 1 run in the first two games combined. Their lineup does not have any feared hitters (Adrian Gonzalez is practically a rookie), and it is the same 500 team that is always bounces out in the first round.

4.(rep) Los Angeles: Thanks for coming. On the bright side they lost their first two on the road. But this assembly of old veterans and young rookies with an assortment of unknown Japanese and rookie pitchers was not going too far anyway. The team has been inconsistent all year. They lose 7 of their first 10 to open the season follow up with 11 wins in 14 games in May. They open the second half with 12 losses in 13 games to finish the year with a seven game winning streak, and then drop two to the Cardinals who backed into the post season! Maybe Greg Maddux can extend their season for one more game, but they have Brad Penny and his ERA than has been exponentially escalating since late august scheduled to pitch the fourth game, and they may have lost their 3 spot hitter Nomar Garciaparra for these two games.

3. St. Louis: So they were on the verge of the biggest collapse in MLB history, (losing a 7 game lead in a week), they have no closer, and their second best pitcher is Jeff Weaver ( strong 5 innings in game 2 though). Still, they are up 2-0 heading back to their new stadium. They still have the experience, the best hitter in baseball, and a manager who likes to play around with his bullpen, and it works. Cris Carpenter is a true ace and Adam Wainwright has the stuff and composure to take the closer role (Jason Isringhausen was a proble all year long anyway). Still starting pitching, middle relief, the age of Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, and the weight of Ronnie Belliard and Yadier Molina is kind of holding them back.

1.New York: The favorite since June. In a really bad NL they are the only team tha has some components to match up against the AL winner. The lineup is as good as any AL lineup with Jose Reyes, at the top, the Carlos-es (Delgado and Beltran) in the middle and even David Wright who mysteriously lost his power swing in the second half (6 Home runs). The loss of Pedro Martinez (problems all year) and the sudden (really more devastating) loss of El Duque left them with practically nothing for starting pitching. Tom Glavine is a post season veteran, but you cannot depend on Steve Trachsel, John Maine and Oliver Perez to win a World Series. However if they can squeeze 5 good innings from any of these guys they have an excellent bullpen with set roles (Mota, Feliciano, Bradford) early, Aaron Heilman leading to the hardest throwing left handed pitcher in the world Billy Wagner.

One Final Note: Reason 62 why no decent self-respecting human being should support or root for the New York Yankees under any circumstances.

The Payrolls of the Playoffs team (April 7th, 2006)

New York Yankees $194,663,079

New York Mets $101,084,963 6

Los Angeles Dodgers $98,447,187

St. Louis Cardinals $88,891,371

Detroit Tigers $82,612,866

San Diego Padres $69,896,141

Minnesota Twins $63,396,006

Oakland Athletics $62,243,079