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Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Friday, August 05, 2005

So Phil Neville has moved to Everton.

Excuse me while I sigh.

Phil's been a loyal servant, like Butty before him. Certainly he was more versatile than Butt was, but that meant that he was capable of slotting in if any one of a large number of positions was opened up thanks to injury or suspension to a natural first pick. The only problem with Phil was that he wasn't himself first pick material, always falling that little bit short. And then the club bought and bought, not that having John O'Shea helped matters much.

I'll remember Phil's contributions, notably that crazy goal he scored in Ibrox, which was all the more crazy because it was him. I'll remember the fact that for a long time, he and Gary were talked about as an item rather than two individuals. That's changed now, and he has to learn to fend for himself without Gary. I'll remember how he offered options at left-back, right-back and even midfield. Of course, at Old Trafford, one of the remaining undying problems is cover at right-back. Honestly, if Gary got injured, how do we cover the gap?

Of the Class of '92, Beckham had somehow gone astray and become a star more than a footballer. His sale was unfortunate, but the character divergence from Sir Alex's ideal proved too decisive. Nicky and Phil were eventually denied first team chances as, ironically, Sir Alex's attempts to find a successor to Keano continued to draw general blanks. The club wants to sell Kleberson, but doesn't want to do this cheaply. Liam Miller is still not showing up well enough, while we've already sold Djemba-Djemba to Villa. In the interim we've been fiddling with options like O'Shea and now Smith. Butt had the terrier-like tackling, but he can't score for nuts. Which is fine, actually. Phil too proved he could hold the line, and even score when the occasion calls for it.

We're seeing the break-up of the core that won us trophies ten full years ago. It bears reminder that Phil is only 28 now, while Giggsy, the captain of the bunch, is 32, but seems to have been at this club forever. Yet people like them were part of a generation that could have lasted another five years together.

Recently I was also paying loose attention to various other movements to old United trainees. The nice thing about buying the club mag was that you'd know of all these other promising people emerging in the lower ranks. Folks like Phil Mulryne, Bojan Djordjic and Jonathan Macken were all part of the transfer market action this summer, having left Norwich, Rangers and Manchester City. Then of course there's old Coley going to City from Fulham, having previously stopped over at Blackburn Rovers. For good heroes like Coley we recall what they've achieved. For those who had the potential to join those heroes, well, I still wish them the very best, knowing they have proven good enough to be part of the Old Trafford setup at one point in their lives.

People come and people go. That's football. But at a club like United, somehow I would rather people go out on a high, like Cantona did. United was his last club, and he gave us the best he had in his footballing life. Schmeichel's best years were spent here too, and the same went for Brucey, Pally, Denis Irwin, Sparky Hughes, Brian McClair... And the same must undeniably apply to Keano, who I hope, if he continues not to want to extend his contract here, will move back to Ireland and help improve the standards of football in his home country.

Seriously, Phil probably knows that his career will not move that much further forward going to Everton, or anywhere else. Nicky Butt did not enjoy that kind of luck at Newcastle, and surely the big reason for it is that, having played for only one club, and your hometown club at that, which just happened to be an incredibly great club, the emotional involvement is just not the same elsewhere. And unless you have that connection in some form or other at your new club, it's just next to impossible to recreate that playing form.

That's why I'm sure Butty will do much better under Steve Bruce than he did under either Sir Bobby or Graeme Souness. Brucey knows this guy. He watched him grow. Phil won't get that with David Moyes, although I'm sure the man will try to be good to him. And if there is any problem, Manchester isn't that far from Liverpool.

What I do know is that if I ever got my hands on this year's Total Club Manager, two of the first things I'll do if I chose to boss United would be to buy back Butty and Phil. They're too integral a part of the club culture for me to contemplate replacing with anyone else. They're higher priorities than Michael Owen in my book. And besides, who needs Owen when we have Solskjaer?

Good luck, Phil. We still love you, and thanks for everything.

gambitch [ 1:32 AM]

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Have you ever been involved in a discussion - usually by your own initiation - where you ended up doing most of the talking, even though you didn't mean to dominate the discussion, and even though what you said was barely a fraction of your own thoughts? And have you, in the same discussion, waited for a response from the other participants, and none was forthcoming?

Well, now I can say I have.

And people wonder why sometimes I uncharacteristically shut up.

gambitch [ 10:28 PM]

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It has been a long time since gambitch last did "footy talk", so that's the topic today. Appropriate, too, after what had been two very contrasting nights in different parts of the British Isles.

Of course we all know by now that Liverpool beat FBK Kaunas 2-0 to seal their passage into the next phase. What I didn't get about the match (apart from not actually watching the TV footage nor hearing the radio commentary - I had to settle for limited text information on Soccernet) is why, after all that fighting talk from Rafa Benitez, he decided to then go on to name that second-string lineup which he did. I was seeing names like Reina, Cisse, Gerrard and Riise starting the game on the bench, and that just seemed altogether surreal. Of course, it worked out well for them eventually, but from the early talk I would have thought the priority was to kill the game with a first-half goal.

As for Glasgow Celtic, hey, sorry Gordon, but luck just wasn't going to be with you. It must be stated upfront that Celtic are not the force they used to be. They've lost Larsson since last season, and now they've lost Jackie McNamara and Paul Lambert too. Neil Lennon's pushing 35, and Alan Thompson can only stick around for so long. So Celtic's priorities have to be replacing that stellar midfield and getting another couple of popular Scotsmen who are of high quality. Remaining in the top two in the Scottish league shouldn't be too much of a problem, but giving Rangers a meaningful challenge - especially after a summer where the blue half of Glasgow has been aggressively recruiting - is a much tougher proposition.

So tonight we turn to the other second round qualifiers in the Champions League - which isn't going to draw much commentary from me if at all, mostly because I don't really know the teams well enough to comment in any real depth. Oh, but there's the Intertoto Cup semi-finals, and that one will be a bit more mouth-watering, thanks to the big names that have turned up this year. Names like Deportivo La Coruna and Marseille and... well, Newcastle and Lazio. No disrespect to either club, but one's seen better days in recent years and have yet to rediscover their championship challenge form, whereas the other is plainly overambitious to the point of luring decent players to their career graves. Guess which is which!

In other football news, Butty's moving to Brum. Shame he's not coming back to Old Trafford permanently, but at least he'll be in good hands under Brucey, who knows him from his last few years as United captain. Ah, such is the nostalgia of those days, when the commercial dimension of the game was only growing but not yet overly corruptive. I even have the United club magazines of those years, and did they look very different back then! Unfortunately that's one of those things we can't change, but I do wish Butty all the best during his Midlands sojourn. It'd be best if Brucey went on to buy him, if for no reason other than he's a good lad from United who he knows well.

Meanwhile, a story has broken that United chief David Gill had previously put in money to prevent the Glazer takeover. Unfortunately, Shareholders United are not happy, because that didn't seem to have stopped him from running the club even after that American made United a Yank franchise (though not exactly a Yankee franchise, hence the distinction).

My take on this issue is that we have to be fair to David. At least he had the conscience to say he didn't like the idea of Glazer taking over. The problem is, realistically, even if David Gill did quit his post following that, what good would it have done for the club other than classic old nose-cutting? There was no point, unless Gill was himself about to put together the money to conduct a reverse buyout. Which, I would imagine, he probably could not do. He denounced the takeover because he believed it was in the club's best interests, and he is remaining today because, post facto, it is also in the club's best interests to preserve some kind of continuity.

United fans can say they're quite happy to see the club stumble into freefall following a directors' walkout and numerous players, as well as Sir Alex, quitting the club together. Anything to retain the club's integrity. But would that happen? Such is the world football market today, and such is the powerful brand name of Manchester United, that if a voluntary mass clearout did occur, the likely Glazer response would be to rebuild from nothing by dumping loads of cash and finding himself a new coach and willing new players. In other words, had push come to shove, I would imagine that the American tycoon would simply decide to reposition himself as the American Abramovich - even if his pockets aren't necessarily deep enough.

Gill is not indispensable, although he probably is a very competent chief executive. The space can be filled by someone else, just that that someone else may not be a proper and passionate United fan the way Gill was. Nor is it impossible to find players to pull on the jerseys that Keano, Giggsy and the Nevilles would leave behind. The club will go through a drastic makeover, but it wouldn't collapse as the diehard true fans would wish. It will just be transformed into a wholly unfamiliar figure that still dons the badge of Manchester United. Which will be disappointing, to be sure, but that's not the same as hounding Glazer back to Tampa Bay, never to return.

So when you look at what's in the best long-term interests of the club, I think David Gill did the right thing. His integrity as a fan, as seen by his own donation to the Shareholders United war chest, is duly noted, and his position is already dangerous enough with the Glazer family fully aware of his own dislike for them. He's already on our side. Let's remember that and give him the support he deserves. If we must hate Glazer - and we probably have good reasons to - then keep the fire focused on him and his children. They're the ones who bought the club, not David. His position is already too unenviable as it is.

gambitch [ 11:44 PM]

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A quick double-dose:

Bonny has re-located. Don't spam the poor young man, so that his blog will live longer.

One of my Sunday morning football mates has also started a blog - not that he knows I have one. He's linked as Cassano, mostly because his attitude on the pitch is a little like the Italian striker, and there was a time he liked to wear the Roma club shirt.

Rounding off the list of new entries is a promising young man in "the profession". I'm not expecting the favour to be returned.

Let's welcome the lads.

gambitch [ 4:35 AM]

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has died.


Not that half-brother Abdullah's ascension to the throne is likely to signal any real change of any sort in Saudi Arabia. Not that this change may be necessary.

gambitch [ 2:27 AM]

Monday, August 01, 2005

August is upon us, and what better way to welcome the new month than yak about old stuff?

While watching kids discuss the merits of the death penalty for drug trafficking (on Bonny's invitation - thanks Bonny!), I realized at one point that the kids fighting for it had somewhat proven only half their claim. Because not everyone spotted it at the time of the incident, and even those who did didn't bother to openly analyze the situation there and then, I thought it right to remedy that a bit by mentioning it here.

(C&B and Whiteout, among others, might want to take note and pass the word on. Though it didn't really change the game this time, it might some other time, and that's my point.)

I should preface that this is a non-lawyer's understanding of crime and punishment. For the lawyer's analysis, speak to a lawyer friend, or if you can't find one, look up mine.

The layman's understanding of crime and punishment in law is that, generically, you have to establish that a given type of act must be considered criminal, and then determine what type of punishment is appropriate for such a type of criminal act. This is the part where you draw up guidelines. After that, we wait for people to commit crimes. When a person actually commits a crime and gets caught for it, and is hauled up to the courts, it is first determined which crime he has committed, by looking for an appropriate match among the different types of crimes, and then looking up the table to see what sort of punishment may be given.

The summary way of looking at the above paragraph is that there are two parts to crime and punishment - drawing up the rulebook and using the rules in practice. And since "deciding whether the death penalty is okay for drug traffickers" is an issue about rule-setting, let's get down to that level.

In the rule-setting phase, there are two large things that need to be done:
Step 1: Deciding whether a type of act should be considered a crime, and;
Step 2: Deciding what type(s) of punishment would be appropriate for such an act if it is indeed a crime.

The "Step 1" part for drug trafficking - deciding whether it is a crime at all - comes down to essentially four things:
(i) Does the act cause harm?
(ii) Is such harm caused egregious?
(iii) Does the person thus acting know the harm caused by such an act?
(iv) Is the person thus acting aware of his own actions?

Does drug trafficking cause harm? A roundabout way of answering this is asking whether the sale of drugs causes harm. Considering the nature of the product being sold, the answer to that latter question would be yes. Drug consumption causes harm to the human body, especially when consumed in sufficiently large quantities - which will eventually happen without external intervention. And because the only correct way to use drugs is to abuse them, unlike in the case of, say, alcohol (one glass of red wine, anyone?), it is impossible to think that drugs, as sold by these peddlers, can be of any good. Thus we establish that drug peddlers cause harm through selling drugs. And because drug traffickers are part of the supply chain to these peddlers, they are actually liable for causing third-party harm.

So is this harm egregious? That's judged by how much drug abuse can damage a person. Disregarding the fact that there is direct monetary loss due to the drug transactions - and substantial loss at that - one must consider the amount of bodily damage this can cause. Is drug abuse likely to cause impairment in bodily function, such as blindness and loss of limb function? How likely is it to cause death? What is the estimated amount of loss in a person's economic productivity, if we have to go down to making quantifications? We're usually looking at some pretty huge numbers here, particularly because drug abuse is a problem that can occur across a good age distribution, although the statistics in recent years are leaning heavily towards the 16-35 age group, who have high economic productivity potential.

Now the third part, that is, knowledge of damage potential. What this says is simply whether people know that drug trafficking is a very bad thing to do. In most cases the answer is yes. Even if you don't receive much formal education, you probably know, somehow or other, that doing drugs harms your body, just like smoking can harm your body. So next to nobody pleads ignorance of the harms of drugs when they get caught for trafficking. This is true even of "accidental traffickers" who didn't mean to engage in such an act at all. Minimally, you'd have to be mentally retarded or a lifelong hermit to even claim not to know what drugs are.

Which leaves us then with the fourth part - proof of intent. Now, depending on which way the laws are written, proving non-intent can be very difficult indeed, because to prove this would usually amount to either claiming "self use", or claiming ignorance of the presence of drugs in your possession. There is, of course, the whole thing about mitigating factors such as duress, but that's usually left to be fought out in the courts.

Now, I heard all these things last week, which is good, if expected. What I didn't hear was the other half of the rule-setting process: Having established that drug trafficking is a criminal act because it causes egregious harm to individuals and society at large, and that the criminal thus acting knows this, what's the right punishment?

You see, the trick is this: If it is somehow possible to introduce another form of punishment that is substantially weaker than the death penalty and still feels appropriate, then it becomes a matter of arguing for or against this weaker - but still good enough - alternative. And that's when the ball game changes.

How to argue the case for the death penalty, if it is already established that drug trafficking is a bad, bad crime? Well, let's start by thinking about the principles by which it is deliberated which punishment is appropriate. Right up there on the list, there is the retributive element. So in criminal law, the one thing to note about punishments is that they are usually of a level commensurate with the damage, whether assessed or estimated, caused by the criminal act itself. Specifically, where it can be proven that the act was deliberate, the punishment is, at the minimum, equal in value to the damage caused by the act itself. Thus, for example, a man found guilty of trafficking contraband cigarettes or liquor pays a fine equivalent to at least three times the market price for the seized goods. A man found guilty of premeditated murder, regardless of the number of lives taken, is given the death sentence, which is appropriate under the "a life for a life" line of thinking.

Now it is true that 'accidental' crimes may see the convicted get away with a punishment less than the damage caused by the act itself. That's why people convicted of manslaughter usually get to come out of jail alive. However, offhand I am not sure if a deliberate act, whatever mitigating factors there may be, has been punished more lightly than the damage caused by the act. That's one for the legal anoraks, a club of which I am not a member.

If we can prove the above pattern, however, we can proceed to estimate what is an appropriate minimum punishment by making an estimate of the damage caused by a drug trafficker who knowingly commits the offence. That's good ol' hard math, but I'm not going to do it here either, mostly because I'm lazy.

The point I'm making is that it's not enough to prove that drug trafficking is an act that causes severe harm, and that people who do it know it. These things prove plenty, sure, but to complete the connection you need to look at the way punishments are conjured up, and this is usually not a process dominated by whim. There's a pattern set by rules of thumb, if not real rules - so you need to state what those rules are.

That said, the kids - you know who you are - did decently overall. Room for improvement, as the above shows, to be sure, but I think overall I enjoyed the party. Thanks again to Bonny for the invitation, although it is questionable whether I'll receive another one again.

Well, that's all the beer left in this keg, folks! Goodnight.

gambitch [ 11:31 PM]

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Nike is currently running this bunch of TV commercials with the slogan "Reincarnate Yourself". So far I've seen two different commercials, one featuring a long distance runner speaking in English, and the other, which just hit my eyes today, was a century sprinter presumably speaking in Japanese. I say presumably, because I didn't really hear much of the commercial, having kept the volume down. (Irritatingly, the local TV station made no effort to equalize the sound volume between commercials and the regular programme, with the consequence that commercials tend to play really loud if it had background music or similar stuff.)

The second wasn't so great. I thought better of the first one, because the polarity between the two characters was much stronger than in the second commercial. Then again, maybe I wasn't paying much attention. So I'll probably watch the commercial more carefully when it airs again - as, I am inclined to believe, it will.

Trips down the music shops give me the unfortunate reminder that my soundtrack arrangement days are, at least for the next few years, very much over. And I'm not such a brilliant Flash animator or digital video shooter that I can make decent music video clips. I'd like to be more technically competent to the point of catching up with my ability to conceptualize artistic stuff. But then, I can live without it - I do have other skills to use.

gambitch [ 10:46 PM]


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