Forty-eight of the sixty-four matches of World Cup 2022, comprising the group stage, have been played - of which I have not watched nearly as many as I would have liked. The general sentiment appears that it's been one of the most unpredictable and entertaining editions in memory (with the common refrain/grouch of, choice of host nation excepted), and there certainly have been many worthy follow-ups to the Saudi's giant-humbling act against Argentina.
Containment At A Price
No doubt the Qataris are ridiculously rich, but even they're seemingly not exactly wealthy enough to resist fleecing football fans for some US$228 a night, to bunk in some repurposed shipping containers. That said, likely unpopular opinion here, I do quite like the look/idea of their Stadium 974 (for the number of containers used), though there will be only one more match played there for this World Cup; Brazil vs. South Korea should be a cracker, though.
Man Of Infinite Chops
The World Cup has long been synonymous with "outsized betting" here in Singapore, leading to the infamous ad campaign in 2014 by the relevant government organ that had one such addict put everything on eventual victors Germany. Well, the Germans are already out, and local forums have seen the return of a legendary punter, whose claim to fame rests on continually pledging to amputate a particular personal organ were he to get his betting advice wrong - which invariably happens. No less than Germany themselves, Argentina, Spain and Portugal have all fallen prey to his invincible claypot power, which however has also resulted in a windfall for canny forum-goers who understood how to "interpret" his calls, and thus had their fish & meat in their cai png sponsored for the week.
In the end, it didn't even matter
[N.B. Contrast Hwang after South Korea's amazing comeback]
Not Quite An Escape
There's not really been a vacation from the likely-impending New Cold War and long-ongoing (Social Justice) Culture War at the world's biggest sporting event (yea, move over Olympics), with there being a call by Iran to have the Americans booted for removing the Islamic Republic emblem from the Iranian flag on their Twitter etc. Nothing came of that, of course, but there would be a slightly awkward moment before the England-U.S. game, that saw the English take a knee - while the Yanks stood. One supposes the stodgy Brits tend to be behind the curve somewhat, on fashionable causes and such. Poor Maguire got dumped on too in the international arena, as he got cited for "scoring own goals", in a Ghana parliamentary session. I mean, come on, he may not have much pace and turns like a battleship, but where did that own goal thing come from?
United Ups And Downs
Manchester United players have actually had quite the cup thus far, being the top club by goals and assists combined for the first two rounds. It could really have been better for some of their ex-players, though. Beginning with Cristano Ronaldo (because he'd go on strike were he not placed first, from ample past experience), he's only recently left the club by mutual agreement, which was sad because there's probably still a useful player there somewhere - just that he's refusing to admit that even arguably the GOAT simply isn't the same at 37 years old. There's a potential half-billion dollar contract in the offering from the Sauds at least, and he will do anything to pad his stats - even assist for the other team - dang it!
Ronaldo may still be in the running for the biggest prize of them all to cap an incredible career, but it's the end of the road for Lukaku, who can't really blame anyone else after literally failing to hit the broad side of a barn from two yards out. On paper, Lukaku was everything United wanted in a striker - a big, powerful fellow to shove the undoubtedly many chances to be created in - but if fans were hoping for their own Drogba, it didn't turn out that way. It was much the same in 2018 and at the 2020 Euros, so while soccer's a team game, I guess there's one name that won't be on the list as far as clutch goes.
Vengeance Delayed All The Sweeter
Back to Ghana, the Black Stars had a fair chance of progressing before the third and final round of the group stage, being on three points and ahead of both South Korea and Uruguay in Group H. Their last fixture against Uruguay had quite the history however, with Suarez reviled in Ghana for his deliberate handball eliminating Ghana in the 2010 quarters. As fate would have it, Ghana would miss another penalty against Uruguay, en route to conceding two goals... but Uruguay would be out too, after South Korea inexplicably upset Portugal in time added on, in the other game. For my money, Ghana were the happiest side to go out on a 0-2 win. The Uruguayans and Cavani definitely didn't take the refereeing well.
With no team managing to win all three of their group games - if partly down to managers taking the opportunity to rest their top stars and carded players after getting two wins - it's looking like there aren't any easy games at the World Cup proper any longer (Qatar excluded). Despite the Sauds eventually falling short after shocking Argentina, Asia have gotten three representatives to the knockout stages for the first time, with Iran and Saudi Arabia frankly not all that far off. Japan even managed to top a group containing both Spain and Germany, and for three implausible minutes, it looked as if both European giants might be sent packing. The Samurais do have technology to thank, for their second against Spain.
Put on hold pending the World Cup
(Sources: footballkitnews.com, footballshirtculture.com)
I guess it was the antibiotics that finally fixed the persistent cough, and it took putting my head through a glass cabinet door in the midst of a particularly bad fit to get them. Well, that's something to scratch off the bucket list, and it's all fine now, save a messed-up sleep schedule and another backlog building up - but one thing at a time.
A lot of significant events have taken place over the last month or so, beginning with the U.S. midterm elections (in which Team Red Jumbos clawed back the House). Next was Biden and Xi having their face-to-face on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia (touted by The Telegraph as the "first of Cold War 2.0"), though of course there weren't 999 red balloons released from the ceiling after the wayang, as explained in March; more on that next time. COP27 has also concluded with "an agreement to agree next year", because if one thinks about it, if these meetings were anywhere near effective, would they need to jet in every single year to renew the P.R. messaging?
And then there's Imran Khan continuing his (expected) comeback in Pakistan after what has been popularly recognized as an external Coup there, which has seen him shot in the leg in a failed assassination attempt (Lone Gunman already played), as the former political outsider refused to back down against an entrenched and corrupt establishment. Speaking of which, Anwar - a leader in much the same vein - has finally achieved his dream of becoming Malaysia's (tenth) Prime Minister, joining that pantheon of legendary persecuted-but-prevailed political giants alongside Mandela, Wałęsa, TRUMP (and possibly Khan next) etc. As for his former mentor-turned-adversary Mahathir, the grand old man of the Malaysian scene is finally out - after losing his first election in over half a century - and will be retiring to write his memoirs. Eh, the chap's 97 years old, he deserves a rest, hopefully he cranks up the Philippian trolling while he has his wits about him.
While we're on bigotry, I have got to apologize. I had thought the accusations of such in the U.S. being exaggerated, but witnessing the absolute rancor being raised against a hardworking African-American immigrant in the corporate media, has had me re-evaluate my estimate of inherent bias in the current American cultural milieu. Not only that, there has been a distressing tendency towards election and voting denial, with a majority of American voters supposedly of the belief that cheating affected the midterm results, and throwing a huge hissy fit over the principles of free speech, universal amnesty and polling sanctity on Twitter, which has expectedly seen GEOTUS returned to the fold after a democratic vote.
And then, there's the World Cup. The hype feels reduced from previous editions, possibly due to the non-traditional end-of-year scheduling, a protest/boycott against the Qataris and a general pandemic hangover, but the first couple of rounds have hardly disappointed. Team Blue's England had their satisfaction with a 6-2 over Team Red's Iran (with both wearing the appropriate colours), with sport possibly being an ideal avenue to settle certain disputes and blow off some steam. On that, the Saudis have pulled off arguably the biggest upset in the tournament ever, a 2-1 over Messi's Argentina, which has won Saudi citizens a public holiday. Japan then came up with another 2-1 against Germany, who apparently were distracted by other causes. Perhaps Asian footy is on the up after all!
Finally, as for the renovations, moving-in will be next month, with any luck. Some final sneak peeks, then:
View from the new roof terrace
Been laid up for several days with (ART-negative) flu last week, which cleared up into a persistent cough that has made sleeping a chore. That and various official duties might explain the lack of meaningful updates, so here's a little something to tide readers over until a better time:
That analysis on the feminist victory in Italy?
Less satire than one might imagine...
Well, this is a bit much then - but no worries, I guess he'll be back.
This was quite a bit easier to take because, well, everyone knew it was coming. There were good times there, from rides on the back of the pick-up truck when much younger, to lifts to and from army camps in the van not all that long ago, plus some help with tinkering here and there. I suppose there's something to the widowhood effect after all, and 128 (days after) is a pretty nice number. 路上有个伴, 也不错啦.
The fallout from the OPEC(+) kick in the nuts is sure taking a long while to subside, with America remaining outraged at not being backed up by their "allies" - some of whom have been quite openly hobnobbing in Moscow, such as UAE president Mohd bin Zayed. The Sauds for one have countered claims of siding with Russia by (not entirely unreasonably) noting that nobody's stopping the U.S. from exploiting their own (ample) oil & gas resources, and that the quota cut was a economically-driven decision, and not a geopolitical middle finger.
The White House is not having any of that, however, and Biden appears to have taken the quid pro joe snub towards rescuing the midterm elections quite badly; thinly-veiled "consequences" have been threatened with the U.S.-Saudi relationship strained, and the Democrats are now proposing punitive measures ranging from the withdrawal of troops, to outright asset forfeiture. It is hard to interpret these immature blusterings as anything other than exceedingly incompetent foreign policy. It should be remembered that Saudi Arabia were never formal U.S. allies, and frankly, the U.S. isn't even a major customer (7% of Saudi oil exports, compared to say China at 26%)
Meanwhile, the inexplicable fragility of European pipelines continues to express itself, with a major one between Russia and Germany suddenly springing a leak in Poland - supposedly accidental for now. Germany for their part have declined to blame Russia after railway cables were cut near Berlin and Herne, and they certainly aren't following Uncle Sam's lead in approving a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia, with an eye towards securing all-important gas supplies (recall, some of it possibly originating from Russia anyway) for themselves.
How much more clearly can we put it?
In fairness, the White House has been busy with the latest National Security Strategy, which has stopped just short of explicitly stating that "the Cold War is back" - but no worries, there is no lack of analysts willing to help fill in the blanks. Friedman has opined in the NYT that the U.S. is taking on China and Russia at the same time, the latest affirmation of Twilight Struggle: New Moon, and perhaps the biggest shots of the U.S. versus China economic war thus far have just been fired, with the U.S. imposing exhaustive sanctions directly targeting China's technological development. In particular, essentially all cutting-edge semiconductor and related computing equipment is now off-limits to Chinese entities, including universities.
This, mind, represents a near-total decoupling of technological engagement with the Team Red leaders, and must represent a huge blow, if perhaps not the end, of China's flagging semicon catch-up mission. It goes without saying that this is an undeniably hostile move, and perhaps unprecedented against a state that the U.S. is not actually at war with. Principles on free trade only go so far when one's hegemony is at stake, one figures, and while the Plebbit peanut gallery seems convinced that China's tech and innovation will never surpass America's because of authoritarianism etc., the whole hooha (and bans) over 5G networking might suggest otherwise...
China had to have expected this to come sooner or later, as they continue with their dismissal of "fake China threat narratives" and "Cold War thinking", and Team Blue could do well to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, China has a fair bit more Influence than they are wont to admit in their corporate media propaganda. Ukraine abstained on the Xinjiang vote despite all the aid from Team Blue, for example, as did Indonesia. In applying these sanctions, the U.S. appears to be forcing Team Red's hand while they are not fully prepared, but if they continue to slip up, it's no exaggeration that the American Order might be over, with multipolarity marking the era to come.
Turn 12, Action Round 3 (Team Blue)
It's ma'am, you bigot
(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, pbs.org)
Team Blue plays Our (Wo)man In Tehran for 2 Ops, consolidating Europe. The scry effect is strong, but they could really use the Influence now. Unfortunately, their attempted colour revolution in Iran has reportedly come to "dozens chanting" and unverified videos according to Reuters, as foreign supposed-agitators are being arrested by Iranian authorities.
A sad state of affairs for women's - and human - rights in the country, undoubtedly, in stark contrast to the proud girls (some of whom might have been guys, but it doesn't matter) and boys (the same*) at Pride events such as Pink Dot in Singapore. Methinks there's plenty of room for mutual acceptance, especially where it relates to what two (or more) consenting adults get up to in private spaces, as Singapore has also moved towards with the repeal of the archaic Section 377A.
Really, a large part of the supposed "woke backlash", is simply due to poor application. Consider the case of The Rings of Power - while some have decried its flopping as due to racism against its (largely non-canonical) diverse cast, one gathers it's likely more down to the execution being, well, not very good (same for the gay Superman series getting canned early, as opposed to the acclaimed Red Son series presenting him as a - gasp - Soviet Commie). Here, I think Western producers could take some inspiration from the Japanese, who have integrated tribal motifs respectfully with minimal agenda-pushing in past anime, presented inclusiveness without too much of a hard-on, and woven disparate strands of European myth and legend together in an actually creative way (i.e. not just swopping skin colours)
1 Ops: +1 Influence in France (4/2). The protests in Europe sure seem larger than those in Iran, with tens of thousands calling for France to leave NATO in Paris alone. While there's little chance of that for the foreseeable future, the French finance minister has joined his German counterpart in complaining that the U.S. is profiteering on the price of their LNG exports to Europe, after the Nordstream seppukus. There has been very little sympathy from the Americans on this, it seems, for all the talk about Team Blue being "true friends" based on shared values, and unlike Team Red's transactional outlook. If it were not enough that they're resorting to (highly-polluting) firewood, one figures it's real bad when Thunberg is going, yeah, maybe Germany should run nuclear after all.
Germany has been fending off the temptation of returning to Russian gas as of now - seems like the pipelines can be repaired in a couple of months - but it's clear they aren't happy at the American fait accompli. Recall when we wrote that the Gauls were never huge fans of the Yanks? Well, Macron has just launched yet another alphabet soup organization** in the European Political Community (EPC), which quite pointedly excludes both Russia and America, or: e'ff o'ff, pardon my French. From how they're aiding Germany with gas supplies, this should be a good sign for Team Blue - if not necessarily the particular U.S. shade of the colour.
1 Ops: +1 Influence in Sweden (4/0). The Democrats have emerged victorious as Sweden follows Italy's example, in actually tackling the important issues. Good luck to them.
[*Unless your nation's going to war, in which case the government knows exactly what designation one is, whether in Ukraine, Russia, Thailand or America (who might have adopted Ukrainian tech, after the definition escaped one of their Supreme Court nominees; now that's what an ally should do!)]
[**There has also been talk of "the end of ASEAN" due to it needing a Realignment, proposing an "ASEAN 5+X" formula rebuilding around Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, i.e. not-so-surreptitiously cutting loose the Team Red proxies of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. There's more than enough alphabet soup to go around, folks!]
Quickly following up the previous post, CIA (and U.S. Spec Ops) presence has been reported in Ukraine, and really it wouldn't be the first time that the U.S. has blown up oil & gas infrastructure (both in Siberia and Nicaragua; no easy task, mind). Anyway, the hostage is dead, so who did it is mostly moot, given that countries will simply finger the other Team. The CIA has other places to be too, but with Iran cannily raising an incel task force against their feminist uprising, it's not clear how long that project will last either. Moving on...
Turn 12, Action Round 3 (Team Red)
Please allow for sincere Hawaiian salute
(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, r/Conservative)
Team Red plays OPEC for 3 Ops, as they seek to shore up their position in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Note that playing the Event now would yield 2 VP for Team Red (for Iran and Venezuela), which is somewhat below-par by the rule of thumb that 1 Ops is worth about 1 VP, with Ops being more valuable earlier in the game* (as is the case here). Given this, placing Influence is probably the theoretically-sound move.
1 Ops: +1 Influence in Saudi Arabia (3/2). As telegraphed a month ago, OPEC+ BTFO-ed the White House's plea to maintain oil production, as they cut their daily quota by 2 million barrels, with Europe due to freeze and gas prices taking off in the U.S. once more. With this, a furious White House has accused the cartel of aligning with Russia against the West (i.e. Team Blue**) but from how their best answer thus far has been limping back to Maduro in Venezuela, the WSJ seems spot on in declaring that "Biden got rolled by Saudi Arabia".
At this, there are some angry mumblings about a Coup from some Team Blue members, but that'll have to wait...
1 Ops: +1 Influence in Gulf States (3/2). Likewise, both erstwhile U.S. "major non-NATO allies" in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (notably Muslim themselves) rejected Team Blue's call to condemn China for abuses in Xinjiang, as a U.N. Human Rights Council vote on bringing the matter to debate was handily defeated 17-19, with eleven abstentions. Not only that, there was rare applause after the voting result was revealed, as a majority appeared to heed China's warning that they could be targeted next by Team Blue hypocrites.
Even the densest The Greatest (Liar) Game participant should have realized by now that all these diplomatic maneuvers are simply a part of a far bigger Cold War-style bloc conflict, which has had the Gayas in the Middle East and South-East Asia huddle together for safety already. Despite nervous claims from Team Blue media on the "limits of the SCO" and OPEC+ supposedly driving the U.S. and China together (I understand that Biden's pardoning pot possession, but this must go beyond normal consumption), China's pitch for global leader status at the U.N. General Assembly while declaring the U.S. as "the largest spreader of disinformation", might indicate that they're convinced of the disintegration of U.S. hegemony.
1 Ops: +1 Influence in Yugoslavia (0/2). The European Parliament has requested the termination of Serbia's accession negotiations with the European Union, understandably in the sense that they look likely to be a second "eye" - in the Go analogy - for Team Red, were they to join. As it is, Hungary remains holding up the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland, with Turkey now back to possibly objecting too. I guess that call to return Crimea didn't result in the desired kickbacks after all.
Here, it might be added that OPEC would have been unplayable for the Event were North Sea Oil in effect, which it certainly wasn't with the solar panel huggers in the ascendancy. The United Kingdom's return to drilling (after BoJo's windfall tax gambit) might yet relieve some of Europe's urgent energy woes, and not a moment too soon.
[*Advanced players would probably want to estimate expected VP (xVP) for their specific game state, whereas the Chinese "sankt" school would prize VP over Ops, and Space Race progress, for a quick knockout. As to whether this correlates to real-life "wolf warrior diplomacy" and open aggression from Team Red (Russia), I leave to the reader to decide.]
[**Then again, OPEC being a Team Red card, and not a neutral card, is hardly a coincidence or oversight by the designers.]
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