I have been using my old Samsung S7 Edge as my leisure browsing device for several years now, after the S20+ became my main phone, and it was with some dismay that I discovered its back pushing off, even within its powerbank casing. Closer examination revealed that the battery had swollen appreciably, and some searching revealed a subreddit dedicated to these spicy pillows, and the danger they can pose. From how even these relatively-small batteries can go off, one understands how apartments can burn down due to faulty PMD-size ones (possibly to be mitigated by local research)
Well, there are used S7 Edges going on Carousell for S$150 and up, but I thought mine deserved a new lease of life after its long service, and went looking about on Shopee for the required components. The biggest outlay would be for a new powerbank casing for S$46 (have gotten used to the weight), with a replacement battery (S$21), glass back (S$7) and hydrogel film screen protector (S$2) coming up to just S$30 combined (and a little more for shipping). Haven't been tinkering around recently, so it should be a good time to get those hands busy (always been a sucker for those crafts videos that pop up on LinkedIn now and then)
I mean, it seems straightforward, right? Get the back of the phone off, take out the battery, put in the new battery, replace the back. Well, from the various YouTube D.I.Y guides, removing the phone back requires heating to begin with. Just as well that the expanding battery had done part of the work here, huh? I made to simply tear the rest of it off, and accidentally shattered the back cover. Eh, it was bent anyway, and that's what the new cover's for.
On to the next step, removing all those tiny screws. I did have some keychain eyeglass screwdrivers gotten on a whim, and managed to get all but four of them out, and that after bringing tricks like applying the force through paper (more commonly rubber bands, for larger screws). Well, these stubborn buggers weren't going to defeat me, and thus I went back to Shopee for a better screwdriver, which dealt with two more thanks to the increased torque. The last two still didn't feel like coming out, but since they were on the side, it was possible to pry the battery out, with them still embedded. Still, one figures that these sort of repairs should have been designed to be much easier to make, but I suppose the additional (unnecessary) pain imposed is good for the manufacturer's pocketbook, whether from servicing fees or encouraging new purchases, thus all the resistance.
A few old credit cards would be sacrificed, but the battery just wouldn't budge despite all the prying, to which I realized that the bottom had been stuck on by adhesive tape. I had had enough of this nonsense, and high-tailed it to the nearest smartphone repair outlet with the parts. I did apply the screen protector personally - and quite well too, if I say so myself - and a bit of buffing first with the included wipes, and then microfibre cloth and a 100% living hamsterfur brush (optional) had the S7 Edge looking as good as new. A job well done!
The first tale begins with a Grab ride home, from my workplace within the SGH Campus. My driver struck up a conversation of his own accord, in which he revealed himself to be a (former?) civil engineer - well, such (temporary?) displacement seems to be only getting more common, especially with the ongoing coronavirus dislocations. This soon drifted into his thoughts on myopia treatment, and whether I was a doctor (a fair question given the pick-up point), to which I gave my usual response of kinda yes, but in computer science, and not the medical kind.
At hearing this, the driver launched into a blanket dismissal of standard myopia treatments (refer example coverage in June by The State's Times) such as Lasik surgery, atropine eye drops and orthokeratology, and to be frank I was fairly impressed by his spitting out all this terminology, given that I had only just come across some of them in the course of my research. Apparently, he has had... unpleasant discussions previously with actual medical (eye) doctors on these put-downs, which I suppose is only to be expected; they haven't spent half their life on earning an M.D. and various specialty fellowships, to get their knowledge poo-poohed by outsiders, after all. I mean, if the driver had suddenly started dissing particular data structures or machine learning models, I would probably have had a thing or two to say about that too.
Anyway, his choice of alternative treatment would be one Leo Angart's vision training (note: distinct from visualization training as for aphantasia) regimen, which he claimed had reduced his myopia from some -3 diopters to -1 diopters in a fortnight, to the extent that he no longer required glasses (with a wave of non-prescription sunglasses for emphasis). Curious, I did some digging once home, and found that Angart's visiotherapy workshops have been around for a long time (1998 at least), with the general view being skepticism that such exercises (e.g. the Bates method) could work.
With the disclaimer that I have not paid for the actual courses or training packages, some of the exercises appear fairly harmless (e.g. adjusting focus once in a while) and not all that far removed from generic "look away from the screen every half an hour"-type advice. I suppose the main issues are whether this is worth paying for, whether it can actually reverse myopia as opposed to slowing progression (for which vision training seems rather less controversial), and whether it could be harmful (e.g. excessive sunning). On that last, it seems that spending time outdoors (and, one supposes, buffetted by sunlight in Singapore at least) may indeed be correlated with myopia prevention, though one might imagine that it might be less due to the sunlight per se, and more due to one's eyes being regularly made to accommodate for various distances when in the open, as they were meant to.
I suppose the elephant in the room is whether appropriate vision training can actually cure myopia, with the main objection apparently being that the physiology doesn't allow for it, i.e. there is no known mechanism that physically shortens the eye. To this, a (naive?) counterargument is that it seems accepted that bad (reading/computer) habits can encourage myopia (i.e. elongation of the eyeball) - if over years or decades - and if so, why might not the sustained adoption of good habits/practices achieve the opposite (maybe due to age)? In my case, however, it'll sadly be academic for now - I can't see myself taking enough time off screens to make a difference.
Back where it began (after Sporting Lisbon)
(Original source: footyheadlines.com)
Haven't blogged about it, since I had to be sure - yes, that's Cristano Ronaldo back at Manchester United, confirmed! I sure didn't see this coming; one moment, all the reports were teasing him hopping over to City after his noncommittal statements, which reportedly had some disgruntled fans burning his jersey; then, when I woke up resigned to the inevitable, it turned out that CR7 had re-signed too. Well, said aghast shirt-burners might put in an order for the new one now, after Cavani very graciously gave up the Seven (apparently assigned to both at one point), following a lot of poring over Premier League bylaws by fans all over the globe. They may have a while to wait, though - Ronaldo's direct Spain-based rivalry with Messi might be over, but knowing him, he'll probably be going all out to beat his longtime nemesis... in shirt sales, to begin with.
A leaked recording suggests however that Ronaldo had actually been seriously weighing a move to City, but his old mates were having none of that - cue Bruno flooding his WhatsApp, Ferdinand ringing him up immediately, and the likes of Rooney, Evra and Ole also urging him to come to his senses. What tipped the balance, however, was probably Sir Alex Ferguson, who probably didn't need more than a single brief call - you don't turn down The Godfather, you just don't.
That said, I don't generally put it against footballers looking out for their own interests. Many United fans appear to retain a beef with Heinze, Tevez, Rooney (not as much) and Di Maria for actively seeking to join rivals (and/or disrespecting the club once gone), for example, and more recently against Pogba (for not renewing his contract, which will leave the club with no transfer fee when it expires) and Jones and other fringe players (for renewing their contracts, and taking up salary space that could have been allocated to better replacements). This is of course hardly unique to United, with PSG's Mbappe (for not renewing) and Barca's Umtiti (for sitting on wages) getting ragged by their respective club's supporters too. It's mostly just a commercial transaction after all, in most cases; at the right price, many of these guys would be gift-wrapped by their club and out of the door, before one can say "loyalty".
United have probably tended to hang on to their favourites longer than absolutely necessary, admittedly, for example in the case of Phil Jones, which seems to have been playing on his mind. To this, I can only advise against him trawling online United forums, from how cruel fans can be - but on the other hand, it's just part and parcel of the game, and if a guy takes gallery banter too seriously, he isn't gonna enjoy his time; Tottenham chairman David Levy once went as far as to insist on chrome fire extinguishers in his stadium, instead of the usual red, to eliminate the colours of archrivals Arsenal, so the pettiness is hardly limited to the lower tiers. Pity Dan James though, after he got shipped out to Leeds for some £30 million. Guy always had a top attitude and might well have become a Park Mark II on workrate, but there frankly aren't enough available places to fit United's bevy of attackers, as it is.
Assuming a 4-2-3-1, the goalie will be either De Gea or Henderson, and the first-choice back four largely picks itself (Shaw, Maguire, Varane, Wan-Bissaka). At least one of Fred/McTominay should be included in the double pivot, often both, with Pogba/Matic getting some cameos. Then you have Bruno (deservedly) making the Number Ten role his own, which leaves three spots for, let's see, Ronaldo, Cavani, Pogba (if not in the double pivot), Martial, Rashford, Sancho, Greenwood and maybe Lingard and the younglings (note Van De Beek still not getting a look-in). It has to be considered a pretty incredible transfer window when one realises that Sancho was the third-biggest attraction, and that Ronaldo cost like twenty-odd million Euros, which the club can probably recoup on his iconic shirt and other merchandise alone.
There's been plenty of grousing (most by opposition fans) on whether Ronaldo has declined appreciably and how United are going to fit him in the team (with a clear temptation for three at the back when attacking at least), but look at it this way: Ronaldo is a clean-living (nutrition-wise) physical machine, who has a fair claim to being the best footballer in history. Yes, yes, Messi, but honestly if I had to clone ten of one player to play outfield against some invading alien squad for the fate of the world, it would probably be Ronaldo (or Keane or Barton for the lulz), especially if prep time is available. Most complete for now he may or may not be, but I gather he has both the mental and physical attributes to warrant a try. I suppose Ole is running out of excuses for not lifting a trophy now.
And oh, r/soccer has figured out who forced Messi out of Barcelona, after in-depth research: it was Troy Deeney at Watford with a last-gasp counterattack, all along!
For the second tale, we have to rewind several years, to back when I was in Baltimore in 2017 for a conference. It hasn't yet been told in my posts pertaining to that trip, so here goes. A guy has to eat, right, and there was this (only slightly-overpriced) concession stand at the convention center. After surveying the options, I figured that I might as well ask the vendor (who happened to be a Black chap, these details seem important nowadays) for his recommendation. He gave me what was on hindsight a slightly odd look, before naming the most expensive hot-dog on the menu.
As I clutched my bulging wrapper, I mused over how I should have responded - was he expecting the "make me one with everything" quip? - before it struck me. Obviously he was going to push the most expensive item, all the more as I wasn't gonna be a regular or anything. They are a profit-maximizing business, after all! It definitely wasn't their job to worry about my budget, but at a few extra bucks, it was a cheap lesson - or not even that, since I was pretty hungry. Well played, vendor!
Disaster In Slow Motion
With endurance like this, who needs conditioning?
(Sources: france24.com [16 April 2021];
theonlinecitizen.com [23 August 2021])
Diplomacy never sleeps, unlike the current POTUS, and his VP (congruent with past assessments) would be in Singapore in late August, to perform some good old-style globalist jawboning. More of the usual stuff really: one orchid named, amusing observations made, our PM's generous offer of one (1) tanker aircraft towards evacuating Americans & collaborators from Afghanistan, and a few more-interesting proclamations on cybersecurity and space. Notably, however, Harris' overseas trip appears to have largely been cast as having "gone missing" during an ongoing emergency in the U.S. domestic media, but at least it doesn't seem to have affected her popular image much if at all, if mostly due to where it was starting from.
However, at the end, the buck has to stop at the top, whoever it is pulling the strings up there, and to be entirely honest my heart goes out - if just a little - to Biden here. Amidst crashing approval ratings, condemnation by both his closest allies and political opponents, and broad-spectrum buyer's remorse and incredulity, he deserves as much rest as he can muster. But let's play possible Alzheimer's advocate here: the entire Afghanistan misadventure was doomed from the start, and I can credit him for having enough wisdom and courage to fulfil his predecessor's grand strategy, in finally making a clean break of this particular misbegotten Forever War.
There has been scattered agitation towards returning to the previous status quo (i.e. a [costly] re-invasion) in the establishment FAKE NEWS, often with tear-jerking appeals to "think of the women and children!" or somesuch... which, of course, was always a convenient excuse to begin with. Mahbubani's recounting of ground realities in Foreign Policy probably comes much closer to describing the true objectives:
Then again, hearing it put this way, it was always sorta incongruous that anybody in the know actually meant for a hundred-fifty million bucks to be put into the service of some unknown backwater village - but I guess the children of select U.N. agency and NGO heads and subcontractors have put the funds to good use, in Geneva and Ibiza and elsewhere. And, let's face it, the occupying Coalition forces can hardly claim the moral high ground either; as attested by many actual Afghans including a Shakira (not Pique's wife) in The New Yorker, the U.S.-led coalition openly allied with literal child rapists and former mujahideen, and between corrupt globalist invaders that deal random death and homegrown theocratic despots that at least don't tend to kill you if you obey them, it's perhaps understandable that some might prefer the second option. Sure, the long-suffering Afghanis will (rationally) claim to support whoever has the guns currently, but once the guns go (or are left behind), their actual level of commitment will be revealed.
Now, I really don't want to get into the habit of defending President Biden, but some of his excuses were actually quite valid. While he has gotten panned for blaming the puppet Afghan leadership and army for all but instantly surrendering, it has to be remembered that the U.S. and friends have been there for a full generation; if the ANA still can't stand on its own feet, it likely never will. Moreover, while there were probably a few brave and willing Afghan National Army soldiers - just not nearly enough - and it seems that many of the local troops on the books might not have existed in the first place. Well, for two trillion and change, America might well have converted to 90+% nuclear power against The Climate Change, with some bullet trains and revitalized inner cities thrown in.
The twenty-year debacle was perhaps most aptly summed up by Biden vowing to avenge the Kabul airport bombing that had killed 13 American troops... only for it to be reported within the week that the reprisal droning had slaughtered ten from the family of a former
In this case, one supposes it fair to hold the generals in charge responsible, but the response to the various lower-ranked commanders demanding accountability has been dismissal, demotion or outright gaslighting, alongside orders to stop disrespecting the "leadership". As observed by some, common soldiers can get court-martialled and thrown in the brig, for losing their rifle (or even just a firing pin). Lose enough materiel to literally outfit an entire national army, however, and nothing happens. Since it's come to this, we can only hope for the Taliban to turn over a new leaf to an extent after their unexpected windfall, and perhaps come around on education for females, more inclusiveness, wider economic development and appreciation for the finer things in life. At the very least, they shouldn't have any issue with the scourge of identity politics, so they have that going for them.
Unlike the previous two tales, this is entirely fictional, but possibly still instructive.
A homeowner discovers that a pipe has sprung a leak in his basement, and dials for the plumbers. The plumbers arrive, observe the water running out for some minutes, and solemnly inform the homeowner that the entire pipe has to be replaced.
"Well, that's a solution." the homeowner admits. "But isn't there anything else you can do? Like, I don't know, tighten the mains tap, or slap some paste over the leak?"
The plumbers hem and haw. "I'm sorry, sir, we're not authorized to try that."
"But what harm can it do? Why not give it a go?"
"We just can't, sir. And in fact, we can't even replace your pipe right now; we need the approved type of pipe that has undergone all the required tests, which will only be out in a few months, if everything goes well. But we will be happy to take your preorder, if you wish."
"Look, just try tightening the mains tap at least. Maybe it works, maybe it won't, but it won't take long."
"Sir, that can be very dangerous."
"Tightening a tap is dangerous?!" the by-now incredulous homeowner, who is beginning to regret bringing the "experts" in, splutters. "What's next, turning the doorknob can strain my wrist? In fact, there are tutorial videos all over YouTube and TikTok, by ordinary folk all over the world, demonstrating how to D.I.Y similar cases!"
"Sir, are those videos peer-reviewed?"
"Let's just try it, okay?"
"Sir, consider this report of a victim who died after slipping and hitting his head on the tap, after trying to tighten it."
"...That's just stupid, and you know it." *strolls over to mains tap* *gives it a hard twist* "Ah, see, the flow of the leak seems to have reduced by maybe a third; let's give it another twist and see..."
*Plumber steps in and twists the tap back to its original position, water gushes out again*
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"Sir, turning the mains tap clearly doesn't work."
"I... you... you saw it yourself! Never mind, we can do it again, let me just twist..." *Plumbers block way to the tap* "What?"
"Sir, due to the danger, we can only allow you to twist your mains tap under the condition of a properly-designed and registered randomized controlled trial. Guidelines of the World Plumbing Association."
"...what does that involve?"
"Well, we will have to recruit a thousand of your neighbours, and bust half of their basement pipes too, to create a fair starting point. Oh, it'll also take two years and ten million dollars to set up. Why not you just wait to buy our pipe?"
"This is an outrage!"
"Sir, you are getting angry; why are you anti-science?"
"Just get off my property, okay?"
"Sir, we can't do that, government safety regulations. What if you choke on the tap?" *answers phone* "But lucky you, your preferred solution has just been approved - you just have to buy the approved tap, and we can attempt it for you!"
"This looks like... basically a tap."
"Ah, but it is *our* approved tap - just $99 a month, in thirty easy instalments!"
"'Your' approved tap?"
"Yeah, the World Plumbing Association says that our tap doesn't work, but don't you listen to those idiots."
"But you just said I shouldn't try turning the existing tap, due to WPA guidelines?"
"Look, they know best, except when they don't, and we decide when they do or do not know best, understand? Mastercard or Visa? Or are you a racial supremacist?"
Once, a teacher sneered at him saying something along the lines of 'you think you can play for the national team?'.
Well, he did end up playing for Singapore's National Team."
- as seen on r/singapore
It's been a long few weeks; I'd say I was busy, and I was quite, but to be frank, I just wasn't feeling it* - for blogging, that is. There was time, note, to beat Civilization VI on Huge at Deity difficulty for the first time (Bull Moose Teddy, Tourism into Cultural Victory, possibly replicated in real life to a large extent), hit Level 43 in Pokémon GO, and complete another winning S-League season in Hattrick. About that last, I have kept up with updating the other site near-daily, and for nearly twenty years now, so I suppose it's mainly down to ritual and attitude to defeat procrastination, as opposed to banking on emotionally-driven factors like "motivation". I mean, there are productivity methods/crutches such as Zettelkasten (slip-box) and to-do checkbox lists (as I am maintaining), but the trouble is that it's down to oneself in the end - there are a few projects I've put off for over a year (and copied across many fresh lists), such that one figures that the Lindy effect applies here too. Should really get around to those that I owe...
The Premier League has also restarted with fans in attendance, with the old everyman classic chants portending a return to normalcy, one hopes. The United-Leeds clash boasted the traditional spirited pre-match historical re-enactment of the Wars of the Roses, and it was just a relief to witness some homage paid to forebears, in these rootless modern times. United won, of course, 5-1 through a Bruno hat-trick on four Pogbassists, and good times might finally be returning after the seven-year post-Fergie league hat-trick drought has been banished for good. Football news has however unavoidably been dominated by Messi's leaving Barcelona (as suggested) for the Qatari-backed infinitely-moneyed Paris Saint-Germain, after they together with Real Madrid (wisely) rejected an investment deal that would have gotten them an upfront chunk of change, for a cut of the next fifty years' income. Really, there's no honestly keeping up with the oil sheikhs next door these days, which may be why Real's continuing to push the Super League. From all the posturing and financial goofs at Barca, however, even that may not keep them aloft.
The Pope of Soccer moving to France to widespread rapture besides, other recent calls also seem to be coming through; on inflation, Fed chair Powell has just deigned to admit several weeks ago that it could turn out to be higher and more persistent than expected - affirmed by the Treasury secretary - after the official July figures went up to 5.4% (last seen in 2008). Note, these numbers are widely suspected to be underestimates from tooling with the underlying components of goods over the years, and would be far higher were metrics from say 1990 applied, with a JHU economist already eyeing 9% by the end of the year. Who could have imagined that increasing the money supply by over 40% in a couple of years, could cause inflation? Sure, it conceivably might not if the extra cash is mostly channeled to the wealthy and socked away in luxury goods like penthouses, Lamborghinis and Lionel Messis (i.e. accompanied by a low velocity of money, in Fed-speak), as previously explained, but one would have to expect it to eventually trickle down and hit the street.
Not like telling them's gonna prevent it;
the FAKE NEWS is usually superficially more attractive, after all
There's been a crapload of trying to pin the inflation figures as temporary from used cars and timber etc., but as even the general Reddit set and Congress seems to be becoming aware of, this is merely the propaganda shifting to the third phase of "yes, so there is inflation and it's not transitory, but it's actually good for you!", which is clearly of scant consolation as wage growth gets devoured by rising prices and shrinking product sizes. As it stands, the Fed is already making noises about the tapering of bond purchases, perhaps as soon as next month, with the timeline for rate hikes coming down from 2024 to 2022 already. Shouldn't take too long to find out.
I'm somewhat divided over whether it is meaningful to claim Temasek investment losses as a valid subject of prediction, given that such underperformance has been baked in for the past decade or two (did get some good memes out of the leadership, granted, and their stock-picking retardation has brought the prestigious offer of an r/wallstreetbets moderator role, so there's that). The catalyst for the latest scheduled disaster was China's banning of for-profit tutoring and private schools out of the blue, in an effort to level the playing field between those forced to rely on less-motivated public school teachers, and those with access to better-remunerated private ones (sometimes the same person; as to whether it'll work out... not very likely methinks, while the gaokao exists). Well, it seems that Temasek had somehow managed to bet big on the Chinese education and technology sectors right before the collapse, losing over half their stake at last eyeball. One could hardly have timed this so perfectly, if one had tried!
This utter gambling failure might seem more palatable if one figures that geopolitical considerations had guided their decisions to an extent, which may be a timely reminder of who's the boss in these international dealings; note that our Prime Minister had broadcast a (actually quite rational) public warning to both America and China earlier in the month, which brought uniformly harsh but ultimately realistic assessments by local netizens on the amount of actual influence possessed here. On a more positive note, Temasek Holdings and their charitable foundation have generally been making the right moves against the coronavirus, such as the vitamin distribution mentioned previously. In view of that, perhaps they might consider pivoting to (non-financial) research and the healthcare sector, from how Google Health has just been dismantled (again). From how the global Covid-19 response has been thus far, commercial entities are probably not the best institutions to depend on for practical and sustainable solutions in public health.
The development on the pandemic front will rightly take another blog post of its own, but I think it a fair summary that vaccine efficacy has been on a consistent downtrend, with Pfizer's efficacy against high viral burdens falling from 92% to 78% after just 90 days, for example, retaining just 16% effectiveness against infection - and no clear effect on transmission - after six months. The official narrative has meanwhile shifted from initially requiring about 60% of the population getting vaccinated to attain herd immunity, up to 80% last December, then 90% with Delta and other variants, and now the admissions that herd immunity is probably impossible, and that fully vaccinated individuals becoming severely ill is inevitable. Pretty obvious parallels might be drawn with inflation expectations, on this slow boiling-of-the-frog.
Kabul: the new and deproved Saigon 2.0
[N.B. Can you identify which is 2021, versus 1975?]
The current U.S. administration has kindly taken a lot of the heat off the medical establishment, by somehow managing to outdo them in sheer, unadulterated incompetency. To be clear, getting out of Afghanistan was the correct, inevitable and long-overdue decision, as courageously initiated by the previous POTUS and also recognized by the late, great Lee Kuan Yew. Let's be frank, if you've pissed away US$2.5 trillion over twenty years with no concrete results and next to no hearts won - as evinced by the puppet Afghan army all but giving up immediately, having long hedged their bets - it must be high time to cut losses, like, yesterday or fifteen years ago. The problem was the execution, or complete lack thereof. It shouldn't take any particularly stable genius to arrange for one's people and gear to be expatriated in an orderly manner, what with any deadline being self-imposed, but somehow you've got desperate kids falling off planes, the Taliban capturing thousands of top-line vehicles, aircraft, weapon systems and embarassing personal effects (that last needs confirming), and the Brits having to help evacuate American citizens. This seems chummy enough, until one reads about the US$2,000 fee charged by the U.S. State Department to their nationals for the flight out, only belatedly dropped after it came to light.
I'm not really one to wax lyrical about American decline as seems fashionable nowadays, but watching their army recruitment ads alongside China's and Russia's does leave one with the impression that their military is getting increasingly confused about their main function, at the very least (unless it's chalking up sales for the military-industrial complex, in which case I take back my words). CNN, expectedly, has headscarf-clad reporters professing that the Taliban are chanting "Death to America" in a pretty friendly way (yes, seriously), but this was a bridge too far for the rest of the liberal mainstream media, who appear to have finally turned on the hapless current POTUS. About that, not that many believe he's actually in charge, whether of his supposed administration or his own faculties, with his already-padded approval ratings going underwater. One supposes this only to be expected with both Obama and Osama long in agreement, and if it's any consolation, Hunter has recovered from substance addiction to sell
Afghanistan's not just - or even mostly - about Afghanistan to many, but about America, and from that perspective, it's difficult to imagine a greater humiliation than this botched pullout. The British Parliament, mind, has been upset enough to officially hold Biden in contempt - never before done for any previous POTUS, note - with the French plea for nonexistent "moral responsibility" ignored, and the Czechs questioning NATO's entire legitimacy - probably more over the stench of weakness, than the defeat itself. In contrast, the Taliban appears to be winning plenty of admiration and recognition for outlasting the infidel invaders and banning vaccines (which, to be fair, they have good reason to be suspicious of), including from a component party of the governing coalition of our northern neighbours. Assurances on Taiwan etc. are looking shakier than ever, but let's hope that never needs to get tested.
And, through all this, Taliban spokespeople get to tweet, while asserting that "men aren't women" brings a lifetime ban
[*Part of the reason, I realized, was probably that the padding on my folding sofa bed had worn out, to the extent that I've effectively been sleeping across a metal bar. A mattress topper quick fix wasn't all that, and this has perhaps understandably discouraged me from going to bed. Should get resolved soon, though.]
Well, United's gone and signed Varane on top of Sancho, next season's gonna be interesting. Anyway, inspired by former United leaguewinner Michael Owen's memetic pickup lines, I figured that I'd do some DuckDuckGo-ing on the EPL players of yore, whom had managed to stick in my memory. Owen - who has by all accounts been doing fine for himself financially through his investments (including crypto), unlike so many retired sportspersons - has apparently gained a reputation for having an unusually boring personality, but that may be a relief compared to, say, Giggs. The Welsh wing wizard has just been charged for another domestic altercation, recalling another club legend in George Best. About that, I never regarded footballers as particularly appropriate moral exemplars, myself.
As for the rest of Fergie's Fledglings, Beckham is... still inordinately famous, part-owner of a new Major League Soccer club, and reportedly whiles away his hours on Lego; Gary Neville's an outspoken pundit who was assistant manager of England for a span, after which he took younger brother (and former Everton captain) Phil on as his own assistant, in a short stay at Valencia. The younger Neville's now managing Beckham's Inter Miami, after being head coach of the English women's team. Nicky Butt did well at Newcastle, before returning to United to coach in various capacities (recently left). Personal all-time fave Scholes has briefly managed Salford City and Oldham Athletic too on top of regular punditry; the former club are by the way part-owned by these Fledglings, together with Singapore businessman Peter Lim (who probably had a hand in bringing the Nevilles to Valencia, though his popularity seems to have taken a dive there)
Solskjær is, of course, current United manager, for which the club have taken some stick for the seeming favouritism, but this squad may finally be good enough to overcome supposed tactical deficiencies; I mean, Ferguson could pull off wins with a single defender, probably thanks to exceptional man-management, football's not that complicated after all. Rooney's managing Derby (who played United a week or two back), and has just wrecked the ankle of one of his youngsters in training. Yeah, sure sounds like his old intensity. Vidic, who was probably up there with Rooney in my esteem amongst United stars of that era, seems to be enjoying his retirement as a homebody. Forwards everywhere heaved a sigh of relief. Ironically, Ferdinand - usually seen as the more cultured of the two - seriously considered a boxing career.
[N.B. Rooney also had an appearance on WWE with Wade Barrett (who's just made a return as a commentator), back in 2015. While still on wrasslin', Shaquille O'Neal made his debut on All Elite Wrestling in March against Cody Rhodes in a tag team match, and took a pretty big bump (about 3:40). Guy's an NBA icon, he didn't need to do that, so props to him.]
Casting the net wider, former fantasy soccer choice pick Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink went from Leeds to Chelsea with Atletico Madrid in between, and is now managing Burton Albion. Of that Leeds side, Alan Smith came to United, was never the same after a broken leg, and briefly managed Notts County. Harry Kewell took over from Scholes at Oldham but didn't last long either, while Mark Viduka's running a cafe in Zagreb. This seems something of an exception, with many past stars staying in the game in some way - Henry's managed Monaco (Wenger connection?) and is now a coach with Belgium, Lampard was at Derby before returning to manage Chelsea (where Ashley and Joe Cole are coaching), Gerrard's at Rangers (and must be eyeing the Liverpool post), Patrick Vieira's managing Crystal Palace, and Sol Campbell was at Macclesfield and Southend.
Back to work...
It's coming Rome, indeed. Now that was a classic European final, i.e. England enters against a continental team and loses, prefably on spot kicks for that extra dash of savoir faire.
And it all started so brightly, too; United skipper Harry Maguire gave away a tactical corner two minutes in, leading to club teammate Shawberto Carlos smashing it in at the near post, just like that. With Top Right Messi having just broken his international curse at the Copas*, the Wembley set must have thought that an end to fifty-five years of pain might well be descending too. Italy were definitely on the ropes for some time, but England kept to the low-risk style that had seen them concede just the one goal - moreover not from open play - in the tourney thus far, and failed to press their advantage. And of course Italy equalize in the 67th minute, which had England... make next to no adjustments, despite the wealth of attacking talent screaming to run at the geriatric Italian centrebacks; yes, yes, Bonucci and Chiellini might not have allowed a single dribble past them in the tournament, but from how Chiellini had to haul Saka down by his collar, it couldn't have hurt to try?
[*Some had suspected FIFA being willing to find excuses to hold more special editions, until Messi got one; perhaps a sign that he can move on from Barcelona too, before he bankrupts them]
Swap shirts now? Or pants later?
[N.B. The videos kept getting taken down for copyright claims]
Here, let us first acknowledge the enormity of what Southgate had accomplished: by defeating Germany, Ukraine and Denmark, his record of five knockout stage wins in major tourneys (World Cup/Euros) in total, is already two more than what any previous England manager had achieved. Sure, this could be interpreted as England simply being world-class underachievers historically, but it's still something. And yes, his strategy probably isn't the most adventurous, but it's not as if the likes of say Spain in 2010 (six of their seven World Cup matches won by a single goal) or Italy in 2006 (who coincidentally also did Germany 2-0, and Ukraine by three) were ripping their opponents up either. In international games, the players generally aren't too familiar with each other unlike in club competition (exceptions such as Germany/Bayern aside), and thus going for a defensively-sound system dominated by hardworking and disciplined players who will stick to their roles (e.g. Saka) - instead of shoehorning incompatible stars together, as with previous English sides - makes a lot of sense.
Still, it might be said that effectively settling for penalties against Donnarumma, with a close to 40% save ratio from the spot, might not have been the best of ideas, and that's before going into how England have historically had one of the worst records in shootouts (compare Germany) - which Southgate has painful personal experience of, in having his (pretty poor) take saved by Köpke in the semifinals of Euro 1996. But hey, new manager, fresh start, surely it's written in the stars for Southgate to finally exorcise those ghosts? As it was, Kane did his usual nerveless strike after Berardi converted, then Pickford saved off Belotti! Up stepped... Harry Maguire? Plenty of fans must have been scratching their heads, only for Captain Slabhead to absolutely thundercunt what was possibly the best penalty of the year thus far, destroying the camera in the top corner of the goal-netting in the process.
Even the most cynical and long-suffering typical England fan (including yours truly) must have had a flicker of real hope kindled at that. Bonucci scored next, but all England had to do now, was to polish off their remaining three kicks, to end a half-century of hurt. Up stood Marcus Rashford MBE, who sent Donnarumma the wrong way with his delayed hit... only to drive it right off the other post. At this point, there might have been a sinking feeling amongst the more-experienced English fans, that they had gotten the genre wrong. This was not some fairytale Bildungsroman in the making; it was a repeat horror-tragedy.
It was back to square one as Bernardeschi put Italy in front again, before Sancho struck a frankly not-very-good one just slightly left of Donnarumma, which got saved. Pickford had to save from Jorginho, which he impressively did, after the latter tried to roll it to the left post. All eyes then turned to the man to keep England's dreams alive, for the fifth and final regular kick: 19 year-old Bukayo Saka, who had by all indications never taken an official penalty at the senior level, in his life. He managed what was basically a fascimile of Sancho's effort, moreover perhaps the most naive "natural" placement, for a left-footer. And with that, Southgate had successfully passed the torch on, for the next generation.
Carrying on the sacred English tradition
(Source: redcafe.net, from the Daily Express)
Saka had barely broken down before armchair coaches crashed servers all over the Web, raging over Southgate's penalty-taker selections, and the senior players' perceived cowardice at leaving an all-but-teenager to shoulder the ultimate burden. Manchester United fans in particular were not entirely unreasonably upset at Rashford and Sancho being subbed on only for the penalties without a chance to warm-up, especially when it seemed that Maguire and Shawberto were locked-on as national heroes (both deservedly made the tournament's best XI, by the way). About this, my opinion is that having Rashford & Sancho on was actually probably correct, given that England had literally no other recognized penalty specialists available, other than Kane; Rashford had reportedly scored 13 of his 15 official takes - a very respectable 87% conversion rate - with Sancho three from three for Dortmund. On another day, Rashford would have pinged it in off the post, Sancho lifted it a yard or so higher, and the week-long revelries in Merrie Olde England would yet be ongoing, assuming the Jorginho save.
[Update 8th Sep 2021: It turns out that Shawberto was left out of the official UEFA team of the tournament; a shame.]
Of course, this leaves the Saka pick, which yeah, still looks inexcusable from where I'm sitting. If Grealish had volunteered - as he is claiming - only to be overridden by Southgate (with Villa fans suggesting some bad blood between the duo), I'd have to lay this one firmly on the manager, who has admittedly taken responsibility for his choices. As many have noted, cup final penalties are far more a confidence and belief thing, than a test of skill. At the professional level, one figures that these players, whether striker, wingback, Slabhead or goalkeeper, should be able to accurately place a stationary ball roughly whereever they want it, over a mere eleven metres. The primary factor, then, is picking the guys who won't let the occasion get to their heads, and wind up shooting not to miss rather than to score - as Sancho and Saka unfortunately did.
Here, we might as well delve into what makes a good penalty kick. To recap, the kick-taker simply has to propel the ball over the goal-line from a distance of twelve yards (approximately eleven metres), between goalposts set 7.32 metres apart, and the crossbar set 2.44 metres above the ground. This is, really, a pretty big target. Opposing him is the goalkeeper, who is not allowed to leave the goal-line before the ball gets kicked. From this, the odds are pretty clearly stacked against the goalkeeper, who is never really expected to make the save, no matter how good he is. This however also translates to a no-lose and lower-stress situation for goalies in shootouts: they won't be blamed for not making saves (well, unless they keep getting humiliated by gag efforts), and might well become a hero for a single stop.
Interestingly, only about 75% of penalties are converted at the professional level despite the taker's advantages, with this ratio remarkably consistent across the top national leagues. Players entirely miss the goal (or hit the post) only about 7% of the time, with the goalkeeper saving the remaining 17%. Now, there have been a plethora of techniques adopted by penalty-takers, ranging from ultra-long run-ups, to sudden pauses and weird stutter-steps (exemplified with the Zaza style), to try and entice the goalkeeper to commit to one side or the other. So the thinking goes, if the goalie takes the bait, scoring becomes all but guaranteed by just putting it to the other side. Goalkeepers nowadays do however have access to counter-research on well-known takers' habits (sometimes condensed into cheat sheets stuffed into socks) - which is perhaps an argument for putting unknown takers on - and can try their own psyche-outs too.
Up, lads, and have at it!
(Original source: dw.com)
However, statistical research seems to point to one simple truth: there's really no need for all that scouting, mindgames and funny prancing. All the taker has to do, is to get it on target and into the top one-third of the goal (i.e. a rectangle over seven metres wide, and some 80cm high), for a nailed-on 100% conversion rate. One might have read about how the top corners are literally unreachable, but it turns out that such precision is entirely unnecessary. In fact, just hitting it honestly into the top half of the goal retains a 97% success rate. The worst one can do, expectedly, is to aim bordering the bottom centre where the goalkeeper's crouching (as Sancho/Saka sadly did). Sure you can't miss and can look smart if the goalie commits prematurely, but on the other hand it gets saved 30% of the time.
Given this, one might wonder whether it is seriously that difficult for a professional player to train to consistently hit a 7.3m x 1.2m target (close in size to the proverbial barn wall) from twelve yards, but the evidence seems to bear out that it's really not that easy in real life, given the mere 75% overall conversion rate by specialists. Some might have managed it, though; while Germany's reputation from the spot is well-deserved, given their 87% record at major tournaments, the Czech Republic has apparently managed a perfect twenty from twenty under the same criteria, and the latest Europa League final (that United sadly lost) had 21 consecutive kicks scored, until De Gea (a goalie, for non-footy followers) had his attempt saved. Notably, United's first two takers Mata and Telles were brought on just for the shootout, so one supposes the lack of a warm-up shouldn't matter overmuch for confident takers.
Some mathematicians and economists have for their part argued that aiming for the middle makes sense under game theory, since both the taker and the goalkeeper should be expected to know the above statistics, and therefore the kickers should sometimes just place it straight at the goalie. To this, all I have to say is that if one of your guys starts spouting about mixed strategies before the shootout at the faculty games, you might do well to relegate him to be the last kicker in the lineup. Indeed, neuroscience suggests that the less one thinks about the kick, the better the outcome can be expected to be.
As to the griping on the order of England's takers, with one particular complaint about Kane and Maguire "frontrunning" to claim the first two kicks - supposedly lower-stress since the shootout can't be lost on misses that early on - I would have to mostly disagree. Of course, you'd ideally want a good taker to anchor the crucial fifth kick if it comes to that, but on the other hand, only the first three takers are guaranteed to have a go. Cristiano Ronaldo for example discovered this to his detriment in the Euro 2012 semifinals, when Portugal lost before it got to his turn. Now, I suppose you could perform some complex modelling to predict the best lineup by estimating each players' conversion rate under various conditions (e.g. when behind, when the last kick was missed, etc.) as parameters, but really it should be simpler to just have all your fellas stay back after training to drill on putting it into the top half of the goal?
Uh, technically not untrue, but next please
Finally, it has been raised on various forums that Southgate might well have been tasked to have players of colour attempt the final few kicks, towards the in-your-face diversity agenda (more on this subject in the future). About this, one believes this mostly a coincidence because, as explained earlier, the first four takers were entirely reasonable picks under the circumstances, i.e. the English squad having very few established penalty specialists; on hindsight, Southgate might perhaps have considered recruiting a few such players (e.g. Jamie Vardy, Danny Ings, James Milner, Dele Alli, etc.) to the squad for just this eventuality, all the more given the unprecedented number of substitutions (five) allowed and his sparse usage of available squad depth in any case, but I guess maintaining traditions takes precedence.
And then there were four
(Original source: twitter.com)
That's my sleep schedule completely messed up again, and this might be the only post in some time due to commitments piling up. That said, this was probably the best set of games to stay up for, in some years - and stay through, given ultra-late comebacks and wins such as Switzerland vs. France, Ukraine vs. Sweden (brütal) and Croatia vs. Spain (ultimately failed). It also reminded on how transient football reigns can be (France [with their usual drama], Germany), and how some supposed national team Golden Generations might never win anything of note - I guess the collective wisdom of the punters was correct after all when they never had Belgium better than about fourth favourites, and Lukaku not getting any contact on a point-blank header reminded me of why I wasn't that upset when he left United for Inter, where he does seem to be better... but Ronaldo-level world class as self-proclaimed? Well...
Say what you want about the latest Ronaldo, but the guy's dedicated (to the horror of Coca-Cola), and he'll at least retire with a Euros under his belt. It might well be England's turn, though, seeing as how they have yet to even concede, and seem to actually have a system in place, fewer clashing egos than at any time in the past few decades, and pseudo-home advantage. Returning to their roots of crosses and big man headers helped plenty too, after the previous tiki-taka fad; what's old eventually becomes new and fresh again.
The past few days have finally seen Ivermectin bust through the mainstream (social) media censorship barrier, so it seems, possibly due to a systematic review on the subject touting "moderate certainty of evidence" for mortality reduction coming out in the American Journal of Therapeutics, which has already been tweeted nearly 20,000 times within the week (if only on three Facebook pages, but more on that later). Sure, there have been critiques largely still centered on quality of evidence and lack of mechanism, but even excluding preprints and two large studies raised as possibly having selection bias, still yields a 35% improvement down from the original 60+ to 80% - and that on one of the hardest endpoints possible, mortality, since it's much harder to fudge death as compared to something like "severe symptoms" (though one might be surprised at how deaths can be accounted for, in other applications)
The systematic review would be backed by new research on possible mechanisms and antiviral effects of Ivermectin (and HCQ, by NUS researchers and others) in journals under the Nature and Lancet umbrellas, which has had an increasing number of netizens wonder at exactly why such investigations hadn't been pursued with more haste, and whether the tide is finally turning on cheap, early, existing interventions, coming after all the raw mainstream media gaslighting. Yes, there are arguments that places supposedly employing IVM, HCQ etc. such as India and Brazil have a relatively high number of cases and deaths, but the point here is that uncertainty over actual breadth of distribution aside, one might imagine that it could well have been worse (i.e. while say 100,000 deaths is a large number, might it not have been 200,000 or more without the early intervention efforts?). As it stands, Indonesia has just become the latest to join the Ivermectin treatment club, with a state-owned firm ramping up production for their 270-plus million people, just over 4% of whom are fully-vaccinated.
Nature and company, to eat humble pie soon?
Just to make it clear, I think claims of "obliterating 97% of cases" are quite likely an exaggeration, but the mainstream media - and its English subset in particular - has probably been doing no favours with its censorship. However, with Ivermectin gradually entering the wider consciousness - as through an emergency podcast by Joe Rogan, now perhaps also in social media jail - outright silence has become less tenable, with the local press for example slightly disappointingly quoting Merck's lack of support without mentioning their own competing new drugs, and a "concerning lack of safety data"; the New York Times likewise lumped Ivermectin together with a bunch of other remedies before tying them to "reports of respiratory and liver failure", and while the Daily Mail referred dismissively to it as "a drug in nit shampoo", the rest of the article seemed a relatively fair assessment in a sea of FAKE NEWS offal, with Fox News seemingly the only ones to stand up for free speech - and even then, only after a sudden change of heart.
Do note that not too long ago in other contexts, Ivermectin had been feted as a "multifaceted wonder drug" with a Nobel Prize awarded and statues made for its saving millions in Africa from preventable river blindness, and now it's a "nit shampoo drug" or "horse paste"... which might lend some pertinent insight into the true motivations of certain corporations and organizations. Sure they might promulgate diversity statements and hang rainbow flags all around their premises, but when these outfits have to actually forego profits in service of these people, one might be shocked at how quickly nothing can be done. Dr. Kory did try playing the minority card in his Senate testimony ("I have seen so many vibrant fathers and mothers of families die in my ICU. And most importantly, the majority are minorities, Black and Latinos, many of them poor and often without access to private doctors for early treatment"), but yeah, virtue signalling don't work with real money involved, ya see.
It might or might not have pained the venerable BBC News to report that Ivermectin would be studied as a possible treatment in Oxford's PRINCIPLE trial - barely a fortnight after calling it a bogus remedy, recall. Actually, the inclusion of Ivermectin had been delayed since January here, but better late than never, no hurry there. Sadly, there remain the same worries that the trial had been designed not to play to an early treatment's strengths, by allowing patients having symptoms up to 14 days, when proponents have always urged immediate use.
[*On more careful reading, the dosage is possibly multiple tablets at 300 micrograms/kg bodyweight, which would seem to result in relatively generous doses over the three days. I apologize unreservedly for this error.]
One could hardly get further away if one had tried...
The Western medical establishment appears to be gearing up to dismiss all prior research on Ivermectin anyhow, with the Minnesota study for instance hailed as "the first trial of its kind". Seeing as how the WHO and BMJ seemingly can't even separate studies involving early from late treatment in their analyses, one senses this is going to be a long, hard drag. Put another way, if one were to run a study involving the vaccination of subjects already showing symptoms, and tried to use the results to declare that vaccination doesn't work, one would rightly be slammed for misuse of treatments and gross dereliction of duty; do the same for proposed prophylactic/early treatments, and the medical establishment will just accept it at face value. And then there are the essentially null-finding RCTs, with no severe cases/deaths encountered in both treatment and control groups. Great for the participants, perhaps, but somehow they are also (gleefully) held as evidence that the treatment doesn't work.
In Oxford's defense, their initiative towards developing a vaccine to be sold at-cost (with AstraZeneca) was one of the (sadly few) great humanitarian gestures of the pandemic, but look at where it got them: savaged for relatively-low (but still respectable) efficacy, and sued by the European Union for under-delivery. As The BMJ has bemoaned, the AstraZeneca vaccine lost the PR war badly, which might be understood in relation to their non-profit motive; a big drawback of not charging extra, one realizes, is that there is then no warchest of funds to buy influence with, including with FAKE NEWS correspondents. There's a saying in Chinese on such: 杀人放火金腰带, 修桥补路无尸骸 - or no good deed goes unpunished, put more colourfully.
And it might have been gotten away with too, with the aid of overt psychological manipulation, had it not been for the escape potential of the many emerging coronavirus variants leading to a (grudging?) recognition of an urgent need for interventions beyond vaccines by the likes of a Lancet taskforce, vaccine rollout setbacks, and a warning from the FDA just yesterday on how the mRNA vaccines might cause heart inflammation in rare cases. This could have contributed to the WHO's official advice being briefly updated to include "Children should not be vaccinated for the moment" in bold type, which very hilariously had Facebook censor the WHO itself - though to be fair, national health ministries have been gainsaid by Twitter before - which might beg the question: who exactly defines what is truth, for these
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