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Saturday, May 03, 2014

5 Quick Posts

1)  The Champion of Madrid will be the Champion of Europe
After impressive road wins in the second match of their semifinals, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have earned the right to play for the Champions Cup in Lisbon later this month.
Real came to Bayern Munich holding a tenuous 1-0 lead from their home win, but two first-half goals from Sergio Ramos put the game away, and the second half was a rout.  Yeah, Cristiano Ronaldo got a goal--it's all about him, you know.
As for Atletico, they put out my team Chelsea, in London, by a 3-1 score (the first game, in Madrid, was scoreless, for which Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho got all the blame.  He wasn't even playing!--J.K.) Chelsea had about 10 minutes in the first half in which they had the 1-0 lead that Mourinho wanted, but a defensive lapse just before halftime left an Atletico player unmarked at the end line near the goal ("touch line", if you're English), and the centering pass was headed in for a 1-1 halftime tie (advantage to Atletico for its away goal).
Here's where the weakness of this year's Chelsea squad became apparent--forced to the attack, Chelsea was erratic and vulnerable to the counter.  Atletico is like Chelsea's squad in some ways--difficult to attack, skillful on the counter.  The second goal came out of a clumsy foul by one of the many strikers Mourinho tried this year, Samuel Eto'o, and when Diego Costa converted the penalty, Chelsea was unable to counter and ended up losing, 3-1.
I have to root for Atletico in the final:  their history is sort of like Chelsea's--always among the top teams, but never at the very top.  This year was a breakthrough:  along with the Champions League final, they are actually leading in La Liga, narrowly over both Real and Barcelona (the perennial 1-2 teams).  This may be a one-and-done movement, though:  their goalie, Courtois (who made a couple of great stops on Chelsea) actually is under contract to Chelsea and loaned out to Atletico--I think they will want him back.  (Longtime first-string Blues' goalie Petr Cech was seriously injured in the first game, and is probably getting a bit long in the tooth, as well.)  And, Costa, their high-scoring center forward, is also talking about transferring--with Chelsea rumored to be the buyer.
Chelsea's season will end, it seems, with a big whine:  a couple of Mourinho's favored young players are complaining about the playing style (he likes team defense, above all else)--their stays may be cut short this summer.  The Premier League title looks like it will escape Chelsea also, despite a great performance in the climactic game at Liverpool a week ago, because they let slip the game before it, to lowly Sunderland. This transitional year started to show such great promise this spring, but Mourinho might have to rebuild once again.

2) Keystone:  Obama Cops (Kops?) Delay
Just when the pressure on President Obama to make a decision whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to transfer the Canadian liquefied tar sands to US refineries was coming to a head, he was granted a temporary reprieve when a judge ruled that a Nebraska protest--that the pipeline could endanger water supplies if it contaminated the aquifer under the pipeline route--needed further study. 
The long-awaited Environmental Impact study ordered by the State Department (which had to rule because of the cross-border pipeline route) had apparently drawn the conclusion that the impact would be slight, because these messy tar sands would be developed one way or the other, though the E.P.A. was still requiring further study.  Now, the decision will surely not come to Obama's desk until after the midterm election.
With no further major elections after that during his Administration, he will be free to Do The Right Thing, but there is reason to doubt what he will decide that would be.  The "jobs" argument for building the pipeline was always weak; the fact that the tar sands will be developed is hard to deny, though the Climate Change asserters would try to do so, by any means at hand. One of the next political fronts will surely be to build more safeguards on the transport by train of the stuff, which is already happening, has already caused some major conflagrations, and is sure to rise to the forefront if Keystone is killed off.   Obama's policy has been, and as far as I know, remains an "all of the above" approach to energy development.  Unfortunately, that puts him on the opposite side most of the time to the movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which has a position more like "none of the above".  OK, solar and wind are all right (though solar panels need the messing mining of rare earths, and wind requires high-tech metallurgy for the turbines), but the real problem is their unreliability.  One thing is for sure:  in the dark and freezing will not be politically acceptable, particularly since localized intense winters are now understood to be part of the climate change package we will experience.

3) Isn't It Good, California Chrome? 
A short while ago, the odds-on favorite California Chrome swept to a fairly easy Kentucky Derby win.  It won using a favored technique, for those horses that can do it:  lie a short way off the lead, make a move in the stretch.  It is clearly a good technique because it minimizes the risks of running through a crowded pack in the middle.  For a couple of decades, the Derby has filled all 20 of its spots, those being determined from those who file and are ranked the highest among 3-year-old horses. So, it beats having to go around ten or so to get to the front, while being the front-runner in the early going rarely pays off, as some speedy horses take that role and that almost inevitably fall back.
C.Chrome's win was so easy that the field for the next race in the Triple Crown, the Preakness, will probably be a whole lot smaller. Lots of owners like to have their horses run in the Derby, just in case, and because it's an honor.  After that, economics takes over, as the filing fees for these big races are high.  There will be a cry for a comparably dominant 3-year-old filly, Untapable, to come out and meet California C. in the second.  Then it's the long, long slog of the Belmont; presumably California Chrome will have to go for it if he wins the Preakness, but we've had a long history of horses unable to win the 1 1/2 miler after winning the first two.
C.C. is the fifth favorite to win since the year 2000.  Before that, there had been a period of 20 years in which the betting favorite did not win.

4) Death Penalty Fail--Put It Down for Good
All right, one could say that the Oklahoma execution the past week was successful--the condemned man did die, though it was from a heart attack after the botched lethal injection caused his vein to explode. It wasn't the way it was supposed to go, though.  This appears to have been a case of unintended consequences in more than one way; the US medical association has decided that assisting this procedure violates the Hippocratic oath, so apparently it falls to the incompetent to try to perform this complicated terminal anesthesia.
The electric chair, of course, is no better; too many have fried rather than being electrocuted, which was supposed to be the result of its use.  Of course, the history of hanging is a series of unfortunate events:  remember when Saddam Hussein's head popped off?  And of course there are all those cases of innocent, or retarded, or underage criminals being killed by deficient state judicial systems.
I think it's time to  acknowledge that our state courts should no longer be allowed to perform judicial murder, mostly because they have shown a lack of competence, from delineating the appropriate crimes, to giving proper defense, all the way to executing the damned thing. It should be a very rare punishment--maybe one or two a year--for certain, very specific crimes that should be made federal ones:  killing a correction guard as a prisoner, the most heinous interstate serial killers (like Ted Bundy), and mass-murdering terrorists (Oklahoma City, and 9/11's K.S. Muhammad, if they ever can convict him, which I doubt).  I think we should come full circle and bring back the firing squad for these (as was the method for the first killed in the current legalized murder spree, Gary Gilmore, though those who kill so they can be executed shouldn't be granted the privilege).  12 trained gunmen, four with blanks--if they can't find 12 willing to do it, then they should cancel it.

5) Bob Hoskins - the (English) People's Actor
Hoskins died this week; he had retired a short while ago because of advancing Parkinson's disease.
He was nicknamed the Cockney Cagney; I think it was because he played in a lot of English heist movies as a gangster.  He had great range, though; he played J.Edgar Hoover (in "Nixon") and Nikita Khrushchev (in "Enemy at the Gates"--how many others ever played that role?)  I do remember the one role for which he was nominated for an Oscar, in "Mona Lisa".  It was a complex role, containing some of the usual Hoskins elements--tough guy, with a heart of gold.   And he was great in comedic roles, too: who can ever forget his role as a detective trying to solve the case in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
I always thought he was the person on whom Martin Amis based his main character in one of his best-selling novels, "Money" (though I don't think that book ever was made into a movie--too bad).  He was, without a doubt, the go-to guy when Hollywood (or Pinewood Studios) needed a working-class Englishman (who wasn't Michael Caine, playing Michael Caine).

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The final of the Champions League was a great game for most of it--Atletico got a goal late in the first half, then defended stoutly against constant pressure from Real through the second. Real got a goal--a clean header from Sergio Ramos--again!--off a corner--3 1/2 minutes into the five minutes stoppage time in the second half (seemed a little too much but no excuse).
The first 15 minutes of the extra time was the usual--both teams looked tired and not much happened. In the second 15 minutes, though, there was a great one-man effort by "Angel de Maria"--a star winger for Argentina--to break through and get a shot on the goalie (Belgian star Courtois--hopefully a future Chelsea Blue--who was able to deflect it up into the air, when superstar Gareth Bale earned his $20MM or whatever with a superb header to break the tie (he had a great year, but a poor game except for that one moment). This really broke Atletico, which seemed to be counting on waiting out the last 10 minutes and pulling it out on penalty kicks. They gave up a tired goal, then another goal on a penalty kick (by Ronaldo, of course; it's all about him). 4-1 final, but much closer than the score would indicate--Atletico just got tired first. (Diego Costa going on for 8 minutes then coming off, which used up a precious substitution, didn't help.)

I was rooting for Atletico, because Real has way too many of these trophies, and this might be A.M.'s one good shot at it. And because they were the ones who beat Chelsea, and the underdogs. Oh well.