Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CUBA: Exit Fidel

Cuba is back in the news. Last weekend, after 48 years in office, Fidel Castro relinquished power, passing the reigns to his younger brother Raul (who’s 76). Although this official transfer of power is important, Raul has been de facto running the island since July 2006 when Fidel “temporarily” gave up control of the island because of some mysterious yet grave ailment (nobody really knows what he is suffering from- the CIA once again missed the mark when they predicted he would be dead by December 2006).

Despite the prognostications of some experts, nobody really knows what’s going to happen in Cuba. Raul has been called a pragmatist, but was also a hard line communist. Last weekend he called for unspecified degrees of reform, yet simultaneously put old guard hardliners in key positions. Life could continue the same. Or there could be some vague Chinese style democratic opening. Or there could be a true transition to democracy. It’s anybody’s guess. All the same, I would venture to say that nothing substantive will happen until after Fidel is officially dead.

I spent a month studying in Havana while I was in college. I could never say a month is sufficient time to really know a place, but I found Cubans to be very nice and friendly. I also found the Cuban regime to be very repressive (although I’ve met other Americans who studied on the island and found that “Cubans love it!”).

Case in point: in one of my first few days in Havana some friends and I met a local “fixer” named Mike. Fixers are fairly common in the third world. They are very enterprising street-smart people who, for a price, offer to show tourists and foreigners around. Good ones can get you some really nice deals and take you to some really cool places (alternatively, bad ones can get you kidnapped).

Mike was a rapper who styled himself the Cuban Tupac Shakur (he had “Thug Life” tattooed on his stomach) and was very disenchanted with life on the island. He spoke little English but had managed to learn “Fuck Fidel” and “Fuck Socialism.” He was constantly going on about how life was so much better before the collapse of the USSR (which more or less bank rolled Cuba) and how he wanted to move to the United States. At one point we were walking down the street and he was spouting forth some critique of the regime, people around us began to glance at him worriedly (or maybe fearfully), telling him to take it easy. His response was that he didn’t give a shit anymore.

At one point he asked us how life was in the States. We told him that life wasn’t as easy back home as many people thought, especially if you don’t have an education. “But if you work hard, there’s a chance you could succeed?" he then asked. "Here there’s no chance. Fidel decides.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ronaldo Done?

He was born to a poor family in a Rio de Janeiro favela in 1976 and discovered his true love as a young child: soccer.

In Spain they called him the Extraterrestrial, in Italy they called him the Phenomenon. The world knew him as the new Pelé. Despite his injuries he went on to be one of the best players of all time, winning three World Player of the Year awards. Two before his 21st birthday.

Now Ronaldo's career might be over. He was injured in September and finally made his latest long awaited comeback last weekend. But, only minutes after coming on as a substitute in AC Milan's win against Livorno his knee buckled again.

Here's hoping you do return to the pitch, oh bucktoothed one. But if you don't, well, thanks for all the memories. Your sublime goals have left millions around the world with their mouths agape in wonder.

Here's a highlight reel via YouTube.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Riddle me this

I see said the blind man to his deaf daughter as he picked up his hammer and saw.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What's Love?

Last year I recounted a heartache I had suffered to one of my Chilean friends. So she told me about a hit Chilean song from the 80’s: No se puede vivir del amor. You can’t live off of love.

Here it is courtesy of YouTube

Thursday, February 07, 2008

USA 2 - Mexico 2 Analysis

Last night the US national soccer team played the Mexican national soccer team to a 2-2 tie in Houston, Texas. Like most games between the two teams, it was a very intense affair with back and forth action. There are definitely some kinks to be worked out, but overall I was fairly encouraged with the US team’s performance.

The Good:

Josie Altidore. Altidore is one of the brightest prospects we’ve ever had. He’s only 18 years old but will start his third season with the MLS’s RedBulls this spring. He’s a bonafide goal scorer (something we’ve never had) and has already drawn interest from Real Madrid.

Last night he held his own against Mexico’s best defender, Rafael Márquez, and scored his first international goal on a header that any other of our current strikers would have blown. It’s still a little early to say that he’s “arrived” but he’s one to keep an eye on for the future.

Our Tactics. It now looks like we are moving away from playing with a target striker a la Brian McBride. This strategy worked well for us against teams in our region and with the limited player pool we had.

But let’s face it, we’re never going to be successful playing a European team with a target man. We cannot outmuscle Europe like we can with say, Guatemala; and if we want to really be taken seriously at the World Cup we have to come up with something else. With the player pool we have, it looks like we can now do that.

We have Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley (who’s currently injured), Donovan, and some talented young players. Let’s see how Altidore, Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, and Benny Feilhaber progress in the coming years. We might have a real team here.

The Bad:

Landon Donovan. Yes, I said it. Apart from ten minutes in the first half, he did absolutely nothing last night. Granted, this is the off season for him and midfield distribution was very poor last night, but if he wants people to believe he’s as good as he says he is he needs to step up in games like this.

The midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark. I like both of these players, but they don’t seem to compliment each other. They're both hardnosed destroyers but don’t distribute the ball very well. This became even more evident once Bradley came off for Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber is a more technical player than either of them and the US held onto the ball much better with him on the field. Who knows what type of player Bradley will turn out to be as he continues to progress in the Dutch league, but for now I would pair one of them with Feilhaber.

Ramiro Corrales. He was above average in MLS but is NOT a national team caliber player. He got burned by Mexican attackers all night and shouldn’t be on the field for us again.

Set Pieces. The team gives up way to many goals from free kicks and corner kicks. Definitely something for coach Bradley to work on.

Mexico played with their top players minus Nery Castillo and Andrés Guardado who were both injured. Coach Hugo Sanchez is also grooming a lot of young players like Gio Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela. Some commentators are frustrated that he hasn’t given them more time already.
Lest we forget, Sanchez is one of the greatest strikers of the last thirty years. Great players do not necessarily make great coaches. Nevertheless, to be that good a player you certainly have to know more than a thing or two about the game. I would trust Sanchez in what he’s doing. Mexico could truly have a scary team in a couple years.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's Classified

Nobody knows what happened for sure, all we are really certain of is that on September 6, 2007 Israeli Air Force planes entered Syrian airspace. They might or might not have bombed a building in Eastern Syria. The building might or might not have been a nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor might or might not have been a joint project with North Korea.

Adding to the mystery, the Israelis were mum and Syria did not retaliate at all.

The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh investigates.