EPL 2017-2018

Premier League Predictions 2017/2018

The 2017-2018 EPL kicked off in anger on Friday, August 11 with an enthralling match between Leicester City and Arsenal. Ninety minutes and seven goals later, Arsenal came from behind three times to win, despite some truly comedic passing out of the back by Rob Holding. I enjoyed the match with my brother, Aaron, a Chelsea fan, and was reminded that I have yet to enshrine my predictions for this season. They are:

  1. Man City – Guardiola to come good in his second season in England. And really, how could he not with the likes of De Bruyne, Silva, Agüero, Jesus, Yaya, Gündoğan, Sané, etc? Their Achilles heel appears to be Ederson in the seemingly cursed goalkeeper position.
    Key Player: De Bruyne
  2. Chelsea – Too much quality in the Chelsea ranks to drop their standards, but I doubt the angel Morata will be as effective as the demon Costa.
    Key Player: Hazard
  3. Tottenham Hotspurs – A solid core with Kane, Alli, Eriksen, and Lloris, but failure to keep up with the spending of their rivals will see them stand still.
    Key Player: Eriksen
  4. Manchester United – Mourinho to drive a small improvement, with the help of wads of cash, but can’t fix the underlying issues this fallen giant.
    Key Player: Mkhitaryan
  5. Liverpool – An exciting side, but inconsistent and suicidal at the back.
    Key Player: Mané
  6. Arsenal – I admire Wenger for sticking to his principles in both sporting and financial terms, but that thrift simply can’t keep pace with the free spending of the rest.
    Key Player: Ramsey
  7. Everton – Despite some solid acquisitions, the Toffees aren’t able to keep pace with the first tier.
    Key Player: Siggurdson
  8. Southampton – Another season in the middle for Southampton.
    Key Player: Redmond
  9. Stoke City – The Potters will bounce back slightly after a difficult 2016/2017.
    Key Player: Shaqiri
  10. West Brom – Assembled of cast-offs from other teams, WBA will continue to punch their weight in the middle of the pack.
    Key Player: Rodriguez
  11. West Ham – Though somewhat haphazardly assembled, there is enough quality to keep the Hammers mid-table.
    Key Player: Noble
  12. Crystal Palace – A slight improvement over last season, but not much progress.
    Key Player: Zaha
  13. Bournemouth – Eddie Howe’s overachievers to sink more to their level.
    Key Player: Defoe
  14. Newcastle – With Benitez at the Helm, the Magpies can be confident in staying up.
    Key Player: Diamé
  15. Swansea – Another difficult season for the Swans.
    Key Player: Ki
  16. Leicester City – Champions of two seasons ago will flirt with relegation before just staying up.
    Key Player: Iheanacho
  17. Watford – The Hornets survive by the skin of their teeth.
    Key Player: Deeney
  18. Burnley – Brave Burnley to sink to the Championship.
    Key Player: Arfield
  19. Brighton – Fans to enjoy their season in the top tier, but it will be short-lived.
    Key Player: Bruno
  20. Huddersfield – A difficult season, but the parachute payments should help them bounce back up.
    Key Player: Ince

La Liga: Real Madrid
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Serie A: Juventus
Ligue 1: PSG
Champions League: Real Madrid

Road Trips from the South Asian American Digital Archive

Recently, I helped design the Road Trips Project website for the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).

From the project:

During a time when immigrant lives and experiences are being especially devalued, SAADA’s Road Trips Project aims to reframe a major American tradition by sharing images and stories from South Asian Americans, a community too often excluded from these narratives. The appeal of the open road is deeply rooted in the freedom to travel – safely and without fear, harassment, or intimidation – a freedom, which for many, is currently under question.

I started working with the organization on a variety of design projects several years ago, first providing a new SAADA logo and website. It’s been a rewarding experience, and I always look forward to pro bono work for SAADA and other nonprofits.

The Election of Donald J Trump

I voted on November 8, 2016 to make Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States. In the District of Columbia,  where I live, 93% of my neighbors did likewise. Across the country, most Americans did the same. But where it counted, enough voters chose to elect Donald Trump.

The shock in my community is palpable, and primarily manifests itself in numbly trying to divine what caused our nation to take this step and worrying about what might happen next.

I’ve seen several theories that attempt to explain the vote, many of them laced with anger and almost all saturated in the despair felt by those of us who felt that the country was progressing in the right direction, albeit slowly.  The most common of these are:

  • Racism and misogyny, evidenced by the white male (65%) and white female (53%) vote for Trump
  • The intervention of Russian hackers
  • The intervention of the FBI’s James Comey
  • The proliferation of alt-right news sources available on the internet
  • The mainstream or liberal media’s failure to recognize or accurately report Trump’s support
  • America’s infatuation with celebrity
  • Hillary Clinton being exactly the wrong candidate to challenge Trump

I believe that all of these contributed to the eventual result. The best piece of reportage I’ve read about this is Alec MacGillis’ piece in Pro Publica. It provides a compelling narrative about how huge swathes of former Obama voters embraced Trump. Key themes raised by the subjects of these interviews are Clinton’s perceived dishonesty vs Trump’s straight-talking, Clinton’s failure to deliver anything meaningful (to them) during her political career vs Trump’s campaign promises, and most of all, the dire economic climate in their communities vs Trump’s reputation as a job-creator.

My feeling is that these people will be sorely disappointed in four years, as their personal economic circumstances fail to significantly improve. That is, unless Trump is able to realize his campaign pledge to liberate energy reserves at the expense of the environment.

The social impact of this election is heartbreaking. Bigots will be emboldened. Minorities will be further marginalized. Corporations will benefit at the expense of citizens. America has chosen to elect an almost perfect personification of a business, complete with lack of conscience and accountability.

President Obama was a good, and perhaps even great president. His administration oversaw a number of important improvements to the country and to the world: the legalization of same-sex marriage, the institution of Obamacare, and commitments to controlling climate change. At the same time, he is widely criticized for not doing more, despite being faced with the least cooperative congress in history. Hillary Clinton suffers also from this oversimplification of how government operates, by those who wonder what she has done with all of her years in government.

Trump, with a Republican-controlled congress and at least one Supreme Court appointment (which by all rights, should have been appointed by President Obama), will find it infinitely easier to push through legislation and count of rulings that swing sharply to the right. The only thing more frightening than this paucity of checks and balances is the potential for retaliation if and when Trump antagonizes a person or group willing to commit violence. I certainly fear for my family and my country, which is now a very different place.

Books I Return To

All my life, I’ve loved to re-read. When I was 9, I checked out The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss from the school library and renewed it every month for the entire year. Something about the gadgetry fascinated me, and I spent hours poring over the Yooks’ and Zooks’ extravagant armaments and accompanying uniforms.

A few years later, I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and ended up going back to it again and again. The appeal at that age was clear: solitude, self-sufficiency, and a forest all to one’s self.

I am still a re-reader, regularly going back to favorites just like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Some books convey a time, a place, or a culture so irresistibly that I find myself wishing to revisit: the North Africa of The Stranger by Albert Camus and Collected Short Stories by Paul Bowles; the foggy and gaslit London of The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the artistic melting pot of 1920s Paris in A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

There are others. I pick up Tenth of December by George Saunders for its razor-sharp wit, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell for its characters, and Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Bashō for its depth and perspective.

Each time I return to these books, I discover something new and precious, while at the same time settling into the familiarity and comfort that they provide. Even as I read and enjoy something for the first time, I won’t forget that these books continue to shape me.

English Premier League Predictions 2016-2017

Last season, Leicester City washed away the ennui that had accumulated since 2004, the last time a club other than Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City were champions of England. It speaks volumes about the current state of the game that these rank outsiders, who narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, became every neutral’s second side and plucky underdog against England’s mega-rich clubs. Leicester City are, of course, only moderately rich, having been purchased in 2010 by Thai-led consortium, Asian Football Investments. That sleight of hand was made possible by their affable manager, Claudio Ranieri, and the fact that their team consisted of hidden gems (Mahrez, Kanté, Vardy) and players who failed to make the grade at more glamorous clubs (Drinkwater, Albrighton, Schmeichel, Simpson).

Their tremendous accomplishment should give every team the belief that they, too, can achieve the improbable. More likely, normal service will be resumed, though there are a number of intriguing subplots to this season. Foremost is the renewal of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho at Manchesters City and United. Their rivalry comes against the backdrop of some obscene transfer fees, including United’s world record £89m for Paul Pogba, a player who left them on a free transfer four years ago. Pogba, in my view, lacks the consistency and frankly the quality to justify such a price tag. But this summer has also seen the good-but-not-great Gonzalo Higuaín move for £75.3m, and John Stones, who failed to even feature for a diabolical England side at Euro 2016, being bought for £47.5m.

Here are my predictions for how they will all finish, with key players in parenthesis.

  1. Manchester City (De Bruyne)
  2. Manchester United (De Gea)
  3. Arsenal (Sanchez)
  4. Chelsea (Hazard)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (Eriksen)
  6. Everton (Williams)
  7. Liverpool (Firmino)
  8. West Ham (Noble)
  9. Southampton (Tadic)
  10. Stoke City (Arnautović)
  11. Bournemouth (Ibe)
  12. Watford (Deeney)
  13. Leicester City (Mahrez)
  14. West Brom (Rondón)
  15. Crystal Palace (Cabaye)
  16. Burnley (Arfield)
  17. Swansea City (Sigurðsson)
  18. Middlesbrough (Negredo)
  19. Sunderland (Defoe)
  20. Hull (Huddlestone)

FA Cup: Arsenal
Europa League: Napoli
Champions League: Barcelona
La Liga: Barcelona
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Ligue 1: PSG
Serie A: Juventus

Mid-Euro 2016

Growing up in 80s and 90s America, I was starved for televised soccer. The only reliable source was Dutch football at 6am, featuring exotic sides like Willem II, Go Ahead Eagles, and NEC Breda. That was immediately followed by Gaelic football, an intriguing chimera of soccer and rugby, which I’ve never seen or heard of since. On very special occasions, I stumbled across a European Cup match, most often involving Manchester United against a classic club from the mainland. I cursed as Nicky Butt shot high over the bar into a sea of ominous red flares. I swooned as Lee Sharpe used his heel to drag in a cross behind his standing leg against Barcelona. Given a binary choice between English and Dutch football, I chose to bear the cross of St George.

My first real memory of a major tournament was the England-less World Cup in 1994. I drank in even unappealing fixtures like Saudi Arabia vs Morocco and South Korea vs Bolivia. I watched Oleg Salenko put five goals past Cameroon and Diego Maradona enjoy his last, cocaine-addled swansong in the colors of Argentina. My heart sank as Ray Houghton scored to beat Italy in the group stage, while Arrigo Sachi sacrificed my hero, Roberto Baggio, following a Gianluca Pagliuca handball. I was in Foxboro later in the tournament to see Baggio drag Italy through against Nigeria, equalizing in the 88th minute before scoring the winner in extra time. My heart sank again as Baggio’s missed penalty in the final kept rising over the bar, high into the crowd at the Rose Bowl. None of this prevented me from declaring myself Buddhist and seeking my own “divine ponytail.” I’ve never loved another player in the same way.

Technology and television is scarcely recognizable in 2016 America, where I routinely ignore even moderately glamorous ties like Germany vs Slovakia. Having two kids under age two doesn’t help, but the fact is that I’m spoiled for soccer on TV. Still, I try to watch England whenever possible, because the national team continues to feel like an enigma with which I can entirely relate.

The English media, and by extension, English fans, must admit complicity in their team’s pathological failure. Familiar explanations are wheeled out in the post-mortem of each major tournament:

  1. The players just aren’t good enough, and the European successes of Premier League teams can be explained by a combination of foreign talent and successful marketing.
  2. The players are technically good enough, but haven’t the mental strength to handle the pressure of expectations.

The solutions are equally predictable:

  1. England must invest in grassroots football and coaching.
  2. England must embrace its historical strengths of athleticism, power, and directness.
  3. England must copy the style and structure of Spain/France/Iceland/latest winner.
  4. England must drastically reduce the proportion of foreign players in the Premier League.
  5. England must lower its expectations.

Each of these theories contains some element of the truth, but all are born of the obsession of England’s press and public with the national team. Given the talent at the disposal of so many managers from Erikkson to Capello to Hodgson, I’d conclude that the true barriers to success are psychological.

Monday’s defeat to Iceland gives credence to this theory. Clearly, England have hugely experienced players in Joe Hart (two Premier League titles), Gary Cahill (one Premier League title, 1 Champions League title), and Wayne Rooney (5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League title). They have talent and dynamism in young players like Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, Delle Alli, and Harry Kane. And yet they not only failed to perform against inferior opponents, they were absolutely embarrassed by them. Pity is the greatest form of contempt, and it was indeed pitiful to watch Kane blooter a free kick several yards wide. Rooney consistently sprayed passes into touch. Sterling couldn’t beat 31-year-old Birkir Sævarsson in a footrace. It was an astonishing collective collapse.

Barney Ronay’s excellent piece in the Guardian apportions the blame properly:

In the end the players are us and we are them. Like ill-mannered parents enraged by their ill-mannered kids, we stand there wondering why these normal, receptive human beings – not the best, but not the worst – play with such fear and angst in a knife-edge fine‑detail knockout game ringed by hostile faces.

This angst makes the English national team more complicated and compelling than any other, a subtext that in turn makes their matches more fascinating. At least for me, the day they break free from those shackles and win a tournament or even make a final, will be, at best, bittersweet.

Occupational Therapy Website

I’ve recently been working on a website for an occupational therapist in Maryland, who also has a handwriting app and another accessibility app.

The project was a full website rebuild with new e-commerce functionality, all within a responsive design. It took a great deal of time and effort, but the client was ultimately very happy with the finished product. In the process, I was able to sharpen my front-end development skills and learned a lot about handwriting instruction frameworks. There is still a standard that seems to be ubiquitous mainly because it was marketed effectively by the creator. Appy Therapy is, to my untrained eye, a far superior framework that is fighting an uphill battle against an established brand. I hope and believe that my work on this project will expose more children and instructors to an easier way to learn and teach handwriting.

The Great Pumpkin Beer Tasting of 2015

Each autumn, my friend Carl notes and ranks the pumpkin beer he drinks. He invited me to join him this year and so it was that an otherwise quiet Saturday night was spent ingesting an alarming amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and alcohol.

Eleven different beers comprised the rogues gallery, and each was carefully graded from 0 to 5 on appearance, nose, tastiness, finish, and what we called “Platonic Pumpkin.” To infuse the proceedings a whiff of scientific method, my wife agreed to pour these drinks in another room and prevent names, reputations and label art from biasing our ratings.

pumpkins

Given the high degree of subjectivity and sheer quantity of beer, our marks revealed a surprising amount of consistency with three distinct groups emerging.

The Bad
Clear worst of the bunch was the Sam Adams Pumpkin Batch, an odious concoction with soapy overtones and a cumulative score of 11 from a possible 50. The Blue Point Pumpkin Ale (18), Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat (18), and surprisingly the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (19) rounded out the losers.

The Middling
The divisive Southern Tier Pumpkin (23) was denounced by me but championed by Carl, ending up in limbo.  The only non-ale tasted was the Redhook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter (24), a disappointing effort with trace amounts of pumpkin flavor.  Neither the New Belgium Pumpkick (25), Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale (26), or Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (27) made much of an impression.

The Quaffable
Two beers stood out from the rest: Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale (31) and our winner, Alewerks Pumpkin Ale with 35 out of 50. These finely balanced beers struck the best balance between expression and restraint, offering full pumpkin flavor but remaining drinkable.

I thank Carl for including me in this exercise, but I have vowed never to drink a pumpkin beer again. The cloying aromatics and dreadful puns are simply too much for one sitting, and the time has come to cut the gourd.

 

New REI Logo

Word is that REI updated its logo. Unfortunately, it’s awkward and ugly.

Left: Previous logo. Right: New logo. Courtesy of Brand New.

While the company was attempting to reference a vintage version of their logo, this represents a step backward of another kind. A hodgepodge of angles, rounded edges and line thicknesses means that none of it works.

My approach would have been to clean up the “R” and leave it at that. If the inclusion of “co-op” were a requirement (which I’m sure it was), I might have tried something like this instead:

reiLogoConcept

 

The SAS Dream Team

This morning, I got to bask in the warm glow of my long-past high school soccer career.

Back in the late ’90s, I was a goalkeeper for the Singapore American School, and captained the side during in my junior and senior years, which were also the first two years at the school for Coach Zitur. He recently selected his Dream XI, covering the 18 years he’s managed the team. It’s an honor to be the goalkeeper for this side, and reminds me of the fine players and men who were my teammates: Chris Carroll, Tim Lonergan, Yosuke Yamamoto, Jeremy Chang, Ben Regan, Drew Calvert, Kevin Scott, and Collin White.

Not included, but fondly remembered is Jason Peck, a solid fullback and good friend who recently passed away.

A place for projects