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The year 2008 in photographs

Striking images from The Big Picture: The year 2008 in photographs.

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Misc.

“Goalkeeper Science” in the NYT’s 2008 Year in Ideas

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’ve been a soccer (football) goalkeeper since the age of 7. I can’t get enough of the game, and I absolutely love goalkeeping. (I still play regularly today.) ((A few of my favorite goalkeeper-related Web sites include The Glove Bag — an exceptional online community of goalkeepers — and the news blogs The Goalkeepers’ Union and JB Goalkeeping Blog. And if you’re seriously into the philosophy of goalkeeping, I recommend this manual: “The Art of Goalkeeping or The Seven Principles of the Masters.”)) So I was delighted to see that, according to the New York Times, one of 2008’s big ideas that begin with the letter “g” — along with topics like genopolics, gallons per mile, and the guaranteed retirement account — is goalkeeper science:

What’s the best way to stop a penalty kick? Do nothing: just stand in the center of the goal and don’t move.

That is the surprising conclusion of “Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks,” a paper published by a team of Israeli scientists in Journal of Economic Psychology that attracted attention earlier this year. The academics analyzed 286 penalty kicks and found that 94 percent of the time the goalies dived to the right or the left — even though the chances of stopping the ball were highest when the goalie stayed in the center.

If that’s true, why do goalies almost always dive off to one side? Because, the academics theorized, the goalies are afraid of looking as if they’re doing nothing — and then missing the ball…

(To read the rest of the entry, visit the link above and then choose “g” in the navigation bar. Sadly, there’s no direct link.)

For more on this subject, I recommend this blog post: “The Rationality of Soccer Goalkeepers” ((Insert joke about all goalkeepers being necessarily — and perhaps genetically — irrational here.)) ((And if you want to see a photo of yours truly saving a penalty kick several years ago in Taiwan — and I apologize in advance for the tight goalkeeping pants, but it was cold and the pitch was terrible — click here.))

This study illustrates the tension between internal(subjective) and external (objective) rationality discussed in my last post: statistically speaking, as a rule for winning games, to jump is (externally) suboptimal; but given the social norm and the associated emotional feeling, jumping is (internally) rational.

(Hat tip to B.L. for the NYT link. Image credit: Flickr.)

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More on Thailand’s political future

WSJ: “New Thai Prime Minister Faces Immediate Hurdles

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s grip on Thai politics — and the instability it provoked — eased on Monday with parliament’s election of a new prime minister from a rival party.

The rise of 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Oxford-educated leader of the Democrat Party, could bring some calm after months of sometimes-violent protests that have undermined one of Southeast Asia’s linchpin economies.

But Mr. Abhisit faces significant political and economic hurdles. His new ruling coalition’s slim majority depends on the support of defectors he lured from Mr. Thaksin’s camp, which still controls the single largest party in parliament. Grass-roots support for Mr. Thaksin and his populist policies runs deep in rural Thailand, and Mr. Abhisit’s election was greeted by public protests by Thaksin supporters.

Mr. Abhisit will also have to deal with the effects of the global economic slowdown on Thailand, which some economists predict could slip into recession next year.

And another snip:

Political risk is likely to remain a watchword for Thailand in the coming months. Mr. Abhisit’s narrow margin of victory in Monday’s parliamentary vote — he defeated pro-Thaksin rival Pracha Promnok by 235 votes to 198 — could make it tough for him to act decisively on the economy, or even to defend his legislative majority. Thailand’s next national election must be held by 2011.

There’s also an interactive graphic that charts Thailand’s GDP growth rate and the country’s political unrest.

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Thailand has a new prime minister

AP: “Thai opposition leader becomes prime minister

Lawmakers chose an opposition leader as Thailand’s prime minister Monday in a bid to end months of political chaos, as supporters of the previous government unsuccessfully tried to halt the result by blockading Parliament.

The articulate, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, who heads the Democrat Party, gathered 235 votes against 198 by former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The lower house vote followed six months of instability caused by anti-government and anti-Thaksin demonstrations that culminated last month with a weeklong takeover of Bangkok’s two airports.

The selection of a new prime minister was expected to calm the country’s politics, at least temporarily. However, several hundred Thaksin supporters tried to block the gates of Parliament in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the outcome. Riot police later cleared a path for lawmakers to leave the compound.

And a snip from the end of the story:

Abhisit and his party enjoy strong support from the middle class and many in the business sector. But Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University, said the hopes of many for a respite from political instability was likely to be short-lived.

“The fundamental problem has not been resolved,” Sukhum said. “A Democrat win sets the stage for another round of street protests, this time by pro-Thaksin groups.”

Panithan Wattanayagorn, a political analyst from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, predicted that Abhisit was going to face “among Thailand’s roughest premierships.”

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The new World Hum — and the top 40 travel songs of all time

One of my favorite Web sites ((Back in 2001, the site ran an essay of mine called Soup to Nuts, about a funny experience I had here in Bangkok, long before I moved to Thailand.)), World Hum — tag line: travel dispatches from a shrinking planet — has just launched a re-designed site. World Hum’s Jim Benning, Mike Yessis, and Valerie Conners discuss the re-vamping in this video.

New features include videos, bigger photos, and a column by Tom Swick ((A few years back, Swick wrote a good story about Cuenca, Ecuador — where I lived for a year — for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.)) There’s also a piece by Anthony Bourdain called “Subcontinental Homesick Blues,” about “why music can make a travel moment.”

The site also contains a new feature: “World Hum’s Top 40 Travel Songs of All Time.” The songs were voted on by World Hum contributors, and each song has a corresponding YouTube video. (You can see the entire list on one page here.)

I contributed a list of my top ten songs ((For the record, my top ten songs were:
1. “Born to Run,” by Bruce Springsteen
2. “This Must Be the Place,” by Talking Heads
3. “Range Life,” by Pavement
4. “Long May You Run,” by Neil Young
5. “Just Like Honey,” by Jesus and Mary Chain
6. “American Girl,” by Tom Petty
7. “Love Shack,” by the B-52s
8. “Passenger Side,” by Wilco
9. “Float On,” by Modest Mouse
10. “Good to Be on the Road Back Home,” by Cornershop.)) and then, once the voting was complete, I wrote a few sentences about Neil Young’s 1976 tune, “Long May You Run.” That song is at number 16 on the list. You can find what I wrote here (scroll down a bit).