I have such little faith in airport sushi that I’m looking for a cheeseburger.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Wow. Well, that wasn’t fun. I had completely forgotten how awful those long flights can be, and I have a six hour plus trip down to Singapore to go. Narita is such a weird airport; for one thing it runs completely counter to the rest of Japan in its insistence on being really, really crappy. Also, and this is key when coming off a twelve hour flight offering little but variations on curried chicken, and bizarrely, ramen (so United, you don’t think you’re going to burn someone and get sued? Really?), Narita refuses to get in line with other East Asian airports and have prominent space for an American fast food place that does no business but allows me and three other white people to get cheap food without having to queue.

The food is obviously going to be a highpoint on this trip, but right now all I want is a cheeseburger. The whole experience is odd. I’d completely forgotten the different approaches in East Asia to personal space. My completely culturally insignificant ‘manners’ are letting me down badly here, as I politely trot behind someone taking up an entire corridor with their stuff, thus frustrating the Japanese and Chinese behind me who would just blast through said luggage. It wouldn’t be rude, either. I’m the one ruining it for everyone. What else is new?

Natasha Richardson’s fate, and the fact I care, is making the whole experience rather surreal. I can’t believe I’m back here after so long. This is going to be difficult. This is going to be fun.

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Made it, just.

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas.

So, woke up late, but just in time.  Woke at four thirty, possibly by the last ring of the third or fourth snooze alarm of ONE of the two alarms I set.  Panic sets in, and several calls to cab companies later I have a ride to the airport.

Now that I’m in DFW, I realize I didn’t have time to put some deodorant on before I left the house.  It’s a bit ridiculous worrying about that as I am about to set out on a trip that will take around 32 hours.  I think things will be much worse when I arrive in Singapore.  Maybe I should invest in some roll-on?

Last minute tasks before I board the plane amount to a single, important job:  frantically transfer anything I might even think of wanting to listen to or watch over to the phone.  Hopefully I’ll have somewhere to charge the DS in Tokyo.  That last leg to Singapore is going to be GREAT.

There’s a woman and her daughter sitting near me that are clearly from Mainland China and are probably going to Beijing.  I fight the urge to go over and start chatting in Chinese: opportunities to show off and subsequently by rather harshly humbled are only days away now!

I’m moving half my stuff.

So, I am probably still going to write on this, but pretty much exclusively about the video games.

For other stuff, check me out at www.theculturalapocalypse.com.

It’s still a work in progress.

Exhausted. A personal, uninteresting post.

Yup, that just about sums it up. I’ve been trying to keep up with comps, and mostly failing, while working at the research job and using my considerably limited skills with CSS and PHP to modify a wordpress theme slightly for my new site.

Meanwhile, work on my other new site, which is more or less going to replace this one, or rather focus on rants, leaving this one free for talking about video games and grad school, has yet to even get going really. I may just start writing stuff on here and then transfer it all over.

Thank you for coming here and reading this, though. Things will improve!!

Premiership Preview, Part Two

My turn to talk football. Because I’m a jerk, my answers are a bit long.

Is the strength of the so-called “Big 4” a good or bad thing for
the league? Can any team from the second tier of the league break into the top 4 this season?

It’s unquestionably a bad thing. Every professional league needs its aristocrats, the teams that will always be up there, or at least won’t be gone for too long. However, the worth of these dynasties is devalued hugely when four clubs are the only competitors with any chance of winning the league. Nobody outside of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea has any chance of winning the league. When you throw in rising ticket prices, and subsequently a steadily older season-ticket holder, and the game is in trouble. English supremacy in the Champions’ League might keep people happy for now, but the long term health of the game is being neglected.

I’ve already answered the second half of this question then. There is no team that can break into the top four. Everton have been sluggish in the transfer market, Harry Redknapp has brought Portsmouth as far as they’re going to go, and Spurs….. ah, Spurs. Tottenham have to hold on to Berbatov to be relevant this year, or else Modric and Bentley will be playing beautiful passes into nobody. Even with Berbatov, and assuming a big improvement under Ramos, Spurs are fifth at best.

Who will be the best, and worst teams, to watch this season?

Arsenal are an obvious answer, always wonderful to watch, especially for the purist. I’m tempted to say Manchester United as well, but in the last two years Ferguson’s team tends to beat up on small teams and grind out wins against their rivals. Not sure how entertaining that really is. West Ham and Spurs are the traditional entertainers but both will have issues of their own this year. As far as being consistently good to watch, game after game, I can’t go beyond Arsenal.

There are a lot of bad teams in the Premier League. Watching Chelsea can be like pulling teeth, but they do play a bit of football here and there. I think Sunderland will be utilitarian, and Middlesbrough are always painful. Hull could be the worst team to watch if they become the Derby of 2008-2009.

Can any of the promoted teams hope to survive?

Well, they can all hope. People will say that WBA have the ‘experience’ of being in the top division most recently, but I think the promoted teams’ chances rest with how badly the incumbent bottom-half regulars do this year. Hull could be in trouble; it’s been a long time since a team rose through the divisions as fast as they have, and it’s a different footballing world now. Wigan will be in trouble and if Paul Ince doesn’t settle very quickly at Blackburn then Rovers could be a surprise struggler. Stoke and WBA to stay up.

Who will be top scorer and who will be player of the year?

I don’t believe you can look beyond the big four again for this one. Torres will get top scorer. I didn’t expect Cristiano Ronaldo to match last year’s performance anyway, and he won’t be able to catch up from the early injury. Not to mention the fact he may still go to Real Madrid at Christmas. Fabregas will be amazing this season and Torres will be a contender for player of the year as well. I think it will go to Rio Ferdinand though. Manchester United will win the league, nobody will be sure how, and Vidic will continue to make Ferdinand look like a top player.

Who will be champions and who else will make up the top 8?

It breaks my heart but I think Manchester United will win it all. Alex Ferguson understands the league and how it works better than Benitez or Scolari, and Wenger is pushing through with his youth policy. Liverpool will look more likely than at any time since 1990, Arsenal will play great stuff, and Chelsea will be lukewarm.

Outside the top four, holding on to Berbatov make Spurs a sure thing for fifth place, in my opinion. Ramos is a good coach and I can’t see last year’s collapse again. Manchester City will take sixth on the back of strong performances from Richard Dunne and Mark Hughes enhancing his reputation still further. Newcastle will reach seventh thanks to a strong attack with Owen and Duff returning to form, and Villa will finish in eighth with no Barry and dreams of year on year improvements in tatters.

1. Manchester United
2. Liverpool
3. Arsenal
4. Chelsea
5. Spurs
6. Manchester City
7. Newcastle
8. Aston Villa

Premiership Preview, Part One

Football is coming back!!! It starts up this weekend and I am extremely happy. So happy, that my blog will become completely football obsessed this week. Just warning you in advance. To start with, I have some comments from my friend Gray.

Every year Gray and I get together and talk about the issues we think are really important going into the season. I’ll post my reactions tomorrow but today is Gray’s turn. Questions in bold.

Is the strength of the so-called “Big 4” a good or bad thing for
the league? Can any team from the second tier of the league break into the top 4 this season?

The answer to the first part is a resounding “No”. Spurs came close to breaking it two years ago, and Everton finished 4th in 2005, but its true that the top 4 clubs have to massively under-achieve to miss out. This comes down to money and like most things in English football, money corrupts and money divides between the haves and have nots. This isn’t just a problem of clubs and owners, but with players as well. There is a distinct lack of patience with players who don’t play immediately in the Champions League, feeling that they are somehow demeaning their career and international chances by playing for clubs who finish between 5th and 8th and have to lower themselves to playing in the UEFA Cup. This attitude, exemplified by the likes of Gareth Barry and Robbie Keane this Summer, magnifies the image of a Big 4 whereby playing outside of it is below certain players and not worth their time.

But, clubs like Tottenham have a modicum of ambition in terms of the players they buy. Players like Woodgate, Modric and Bentley are all “top 4” calibre signings, and it doesn’t hurt when you get to play in London as well. Spurs are the team with the ambition presently to challenge the top 4, but as evidenced by the loss of Keane and possible loss of Berbatov, they seem powerless to keep players who want to “step up” to top 4 clubs. It may be a season too early for Tottenham, so in reality the top 4 will probably remain unchallenged in a real conserted way this season.

Who will be the best, and worst teams, to watch this season?

Arsenal are always a joy to watch with the ball, although some of their off-the-ball antics and whinging are hard to take. With playmakers like Modric, Dos Santos, Bentley and possibly still Berbatov I’d expect good attacking stuff from Spurs also, especially at home. Worst teams is a toss-up between half a dozen. Middlesbrough never inspire me, Sunderland equally. All three promoted teams have the potential to be absolutely awful, and a special mention for Chelsea, who have talked a good game all Summer about attacking football but generally revert to playing defensive winning dirge.

Can any of the promoted teams hope to survive?

Yes, but only due to the average nature of the bottom half of the league and not down to anything one of the 3 clubs has done themselves. Despite winning automatic promotion I think Stoke and Hull City are doomed, in a Derby County kind of doomed. Of the three, I think West Brom have the best chance. They’ve been there before, have experienced the pace and extra quality of the top league, and their experiences in the Cup last year will have prepared them for the big games. They can survive, maybe.

Who will be top scorer and who will be player of the year?

Top scorer will be Fernando Torres, this will be his real break-out year because last year he scored the vast majority of his goals at Anfield. If he manages 8-10 goals on the road this year he’ll win the golden boot by a mile. Player of the year will be Steven Gerrard because I’m predicting a real Liverpool title challenge this season. For that to happen he’ll have to be awesome all season. An awesome Gerrard is the best midfielder in Europe, let alone England so he wins it hands down.

Who will be champions and who else will make up the top 8?

Champions: Liverpool
2nd: Man United
3rd: Arsenal
4th: Chelsea
5th: Tottenham
6th: Man City
7th: Aston Villa
8th: Newcastle

So much for the Final Solution

It feels weird writing the words ‘final’ and ‘solution’ together for a blog title. I’m inspired by an article I read this last weekend in the Guardian.

It’s pretty amazing.

The long and the short of it, for those of you who can’t tear themselves away from my blog, is that journalist Tanya Gold tracked down a descendent of Adolph Hitler who now lives in Israel as an orthodox Jew. To be more precise, this man, who insists on remaining unnamed, is the illegitimate son of the daughter of Adolph Hitler’s half-brother Alois and a divorced German woman who really, really liked the Nazis.

So, this gentleman is not an actual blood relative of Hitler’s. The article is fantastic though. There is a whole community of Germans living in Israel as converted Jews and, according to Gold at least, many of them seem vague on the real reasons for their conversion, while others maintain that contemporary Israeli society has its own issues with racial intolerance, and even fascism.

Regardless of whether or not the conversion of these people is due to a psychological need to join the ranks of the victims to eradicate their sense of guilt, a dislike of German society, or more spiritual reasons, it’s a fascinating phenomenon.

Personally, it gives me hope. There’s a reason fundamentalists have a sketchy view of history: history shows that in the long term, ideological absolutism is rendered irrelevant by innumerable tiny changes in society and decisions made by individual human beings. The legacy of the Final Solution is not irrelevant, of course; all that hatred caused suffering, but utterly failed in what it set out to do.