Daily Express bizarrely puts Israel atop list of ‘worst places to be Christian this Christmas’

The most ridiculous and outrageous distortion of the truth exposed as ever by the amazing http://www.ukmediawatch.org.

UK Media Watch

It sometimes seems as if the UK media truly can’t help themselves. Not only do news sites fail to acknowledge the undeniable truth that Israel is the only state in the Middle East which fiercely protects the rights of their Christian population, but they also insist – every holiday season – on repeating false narrativessuggestingthat Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ’s birth, are hampered by ‘the occupation’.

However, some UK news sites go even further, and suggest that Israel is actually oppressing its Christian population.

One of the more egregious examples of this entirely erroneous claim can be found in the British tabloid Daily Express in a report published on Dec. 26th.

daily express

Remarkably, Israel is atop their list of worst places to be Christian this Christmas, ahead of Syria, Iraq, N. Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Gambia.

To see the absurdity of…

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On the Curse of November

20151216_182522-1-1.jpgThe league season is a long one and most clubs suffer a dip in form at some point during the 10 months of football.

Arsenal fans will be familiar with that feeling when the team go through that patch when the usual flow and understanding between the players seems to evaporate and matches we would normally win with ease suddenly turn into insurmountable obstacles.

And many fans seem certain that November is a cursed month for our club.  As you can see from the graph below, this certainly seems to have some basis in fact for this season.

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Arsenal’s performance in the League – with 2 draws and a defeat – appears dramatically worse than that in the other months, but 16 games is far too small a sample (by contrast, Arsenal gained 9 points from 3 games in November 2005), so I have analysed the Club’s results since we last won the Premier League to find out…

Is the Curse of November real?

For the purposes of this article, I have only taken into account Premier League matches since August 2004.  Cup matches are not evenly distributed across the season, so to remove that inconsistency, I decided to ignore the results of all Cup games for my initial analysis.

In the 47 matches played in November, Arsenal have an average point return of just under 1.5 (1.489), while we gained a full half a point more PER GAME (1.997) in the 387 played in all the other months combined.

Our November win percentage (W 20, D 10, L 17) is only 43%, whereas we have won 59% of our non-November matches (W 227, D 92, L 68).

We scored fewer goals (1.79 goals per game) in November than in the other months (1.94) and conceded 1.32 per game as opposed to 0.96 outside November.

These bare results would seem to suggest that the perception is correct – November IS a worse-than-average month for Arsenal. But…

Is November Arsenal’s WORST month?

Yes!

Month Pts Win % For Against
Sep 2.15 66 2.2 0.93
Oct 2.14 64 2.21 1
Mar 2.08 63 1.8 0.98
Dec 2.08 62 1.58 1.2
May 2.03 61 2.03 0.94
Feb 1.98 58 1.9 1.03
Apr 1.86 51 1.8 0.94
Jan 1.83 52 1.86 0.83
Aug 1.8 51 1.86 1.11
Nov 1.49 43 1.7 1.32

From the above results, it seems we are relatively slow starters, motor through the Autumn and tend to struggle most in the Winter months, but the differences between the other 9 months of the season are fairly small.  November stands out as clearly the worst month for Arsenal.

Examining more than a decade’s results would suggest that, statistically, this is a significant difference.  The obvious question which follows is…

WHY is November so bad?

I don’t have a foolproof or statistically reliable answer to this question, but I can suggest some reasons:

The Champions League:

We generally play 2 CL games each November – always difficult, demanding, and sometimes dispiriting and distant away –  matches which are bound to take their toll on the squad’s energy and confidence.  However, we also usually play 2 CL matches in October, which is one of our best months in the League.

Other cup games:

Only League Cup games affect November and there is usually only one match during the month (and only in those seasons when we reach the 4th round).

These games usually take place instead of League matches in the calendar (as opposed to CL games, which are additional midweek commitments).

In other words, I very much doubt they have a significant impact on our overall performance in November.

The quality of opposition:

This ought to even itself out over time, but oddly, we do face slightly tougher opponents in the League in November than in any other month!  Our November opponents finish, on average, 10th in the table, whereas our October opponents finish on average closer to 12th. As you can see from the graph below, there does appear to be a relationship over this 11-year period between strength of opposition and average points gained.

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For this season, I have adopted the league table as at 18 December 2015 to give each club their final position.

Big opponents:

It has been well documented that Arsenal’s record against fellow top 4 teams is poor. Perhaps we have played them more often in November?

8 of our 38 fixtures each seson are against Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool or Sp*rs – our perennial “big” rivals (others have come and gone over the period of study). You would therefore expect 21% of the matches in a given month to include one of those 4.

14 of our 47 November matches have been in this category – a touch under 30%. To counter this, howevet it should be pointed out that we have never played Man City in November since their financial doping began.

It is therefore difficult to say that it is these “big games” that are causing our November blues.

Home or Away:

Over the period studied, Arsenal have performed much better at home (2.21 points per game) than away (1.67).  Again, the fixture calculator has been unkind to Arsenal in November, during which month only 45% of our games have been at home.

However, I suggest that this has not necessarily affected our performance as there is, perhaps surprisingly, no significant correlation between the proportion of home games in a given month and average points obtained. As if to prove this point, only one month, March, has seen fewer home games (43%) than November and as we have seen, that is one of our most successful months.

Injuries:

Ah – the big one.  I have been unable to find any reliable information as to whether our perennial injury problems peak in November, so I am unable to comment.  Perhaps my friend Ahmed Nada (@GizaGooner – who has written on this topic here) can enlighten us!

In Summary:

Gooners’ paranoia is, in this event, justified. Arsenal genuinely DOES have a significantly worse record in November, although that doesn’t mean it is going to be true every year, so any betting losses you incur are yours and yours alone!

As for why, well the fixture computer is partially to blame, and it certainly feels like injuries come thicker and faster at that time of year, but I have been unable to find any other reason.  I would welcome your thoughts – please comment here, or let me know on FaceBook or Twitter.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On Star Wars

Screenshot_2015-12-18-01-49-47-1.pngI haven’t written a film review before, so forgive me if it’s a pile of tat, but I saw the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens) tonight, and felt inspired to do so.

First – let me assure you I have attempted to include no spoilers in this review.

I don’t go to the cinema as often as I’d like, and I am not generous with my praise.  As far as iconic franchises go, I admit that Star Wars is quite a long way down my top 10.

I feel far more anticipation before a new Bond film than I did tonight, but I do understand how excited fans were to see this, given the long wait and, I would suggest, the disappointment of the 3 prequels.

As such, I went tonight with moderate expectations. I hoped I would enjoy the film, but I didn’t have much emotional capital invested in the way I did, for example, when the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out (and blew me away).

Disney pulled off a masterstroke by handing the directorial reins to J.J. Abrams. There are few who can match his record of producing hits in such a wide range of genres with all the elements that Star Wars demanded.

His back catalogue includes Lost, Fringe (think the X Files, but taking itself much less seriously), and Gone Fishin’, which show that he can do drama with a touch of charm and humour; while Armageddon (OK – it was cheesy), Cloverfield and Mission Impossible III demonstrate that big action spectaculars pose no problem.

Perhaps the deciding factor with Disney, however, was the way in which he handled the re-launch of that other much-loved intergalactic space opera, Star Trek, in 2009.

That had many of the same issues that this film had.  Trekkies are no less obsessive and demanding than their counterparts who adore Star Wars and there would have been massive pressure to produce an update without losing the charm and character of the original.

And now I have seen both films, it is impossible to escape the parallels between Abrams’ Star Trek and The Force Awakens.

Both show huge respect to the original visions.  He did not dare to tinker, for example with the iconic ships in either franchise.  The Enterprise still looked just like the ship piloted by William Shatner and, despite the opportunity for upgrading offered by the 30-year plot gap, the Millennium Falcon is exactly the same ship that helped destroy the second Death Star.

Both films work in some of the characters and actors from the originals too, and do so without over-sugariness.  A particularly nice touch is that even though advances in technology mean it is no longer necessary to have an actor operate droids, Kenny Baker – the actor who sat inside R2D2 in the original trilogy – was employed as “R2D2 Consultant” for this re-boot.

Plot-wise, Abrams was far less restricted here than he was with Star Trek as in that case, he was dealing with a prequel that explained how Kirk, Spock, Scotty etc came together.  With Star Wars VII, he had far more freedom to devise a fresh, original story.

Without giving too much away, however, he didn’t stray too far from the familiar with The Force Awakens.  In fact, the film has been criticised for being rather too derivative.  There are plot twists and surprises, but it can’t be denied that the story follows the same general direction as (at least) one of the 6 which preceeded it (I won’t say which).

What is definitely an improvement for me is that the acting, in particular by the two new heroes Rey and Finn, played with some aplomb by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, is streets ahead of anything offered in episodes I to VI.

Their emotions are believable, and their characters develop smoothly and consistently, whereas I always felt that Annikin, Luke, Leia et al were rather one-dimensional and forced to change to enable the plot, which is surely the wrong way around.

When even actors of the calibre of Ewan McGregor and Alec Guiness can only combine to produce the wooden, priggish killjoy that was Obi Wan Kenobi, the joy and energy shown by Ridley, Boyega and the supporting cast, most especially Lupita Nyong’o (as Maz) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), is nothing but a breath of fresh air.

Harrison Ford looks to have had a whale of a time reacquainting himself with the Star Wars galaxy, despite breaking his foot in the filming, and there were several laugh-out-loud moments – some involving Han Solo and Chewbacca (as you’d expect) but also from major and minor characters alike.

Even C3PO – who to me was the Jar Jar Binks of the original trilogy (i.e. the “comic relief” character who turned out to be simply annoying) – was actually  funny!

The big disappointments for me were, Hux aside, the baddies of the First Order (which seems indistinguishable from the Empire led by Darths Sidious and Vader), most especially the much-trumpeted “first female baddie”, Captain Phasma, who was pretty much a spare wheel.

Too much was revealed too soon about Kylo Ren, the Darth Vader fetishist with the very cool firy light sabre, and not enough about the new (very) Big Baddie, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Sirkis).  However, we are promised two more films, so I am sure Snoke will come into his own before too long.

Despite those shortcomings, and the derivative plot, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and may well take the unprecedented step (well, at least since E.T.) of returning to see it again!

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On Arsene Wenger

I’ve blogged about prejudice, racism, politics and the refugees. Now it’s time to take it down a notch and discuss a topic I am no less passionate about, but is (dare I admit it) less grave!

As anyone with any experience of social media knows, Arsenal fans simply rule. We outnumber pretty much everyone (@Arsenal has 6.6 million followers whereas some other random club’s official account, @spursofficial has a fewer than 1.3m followers).

Last night, we gloriously qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the gazillionth year in a row, and we sit nicely just off the top of he Premier League.

But not all is rosy in the red red garden that is North London. Many Gooners are less than 100% satisfied and have been expressing their feelings across social media.

Now I get that we have the most expensive season tickets. I get that we haven’t won the League for 11 years. I get that we haven’t properly challenged for the Champions League since 2006. And I get that our squad, while exciting and the best we’ve had for some time, is frustratingly injury-prone and probably one or two players shy of being truly world-beating.

These are all valid criticisms. I even get that some people feel it is time for Arsene Wenger to step down. He’s been Arsenal manager for 20 years now, and people (with their short, little spans of attention*) get bored.

But what I don’t get, and what I don’t accept, is the vitriol and personal abuse Wenger gets from some quarters. Accusations that he “hasn’t got a clue”, is “only interested in lining his own pockets”, is “a hopeless wanker”, that he “doesn’t give a shit” and so on.

I stand proudly and firmly against all of that.

First, I lose all respect for people who are certain that they know better than a man who has won two doubles, more FA Cups than anyone else in the history of football, had a massive hand in the building of one of the finest training facilities and stadiums in the world and built and guided a team of Invincibles.

Disagree? Fine. Express an opinion? Absolutely. But when “AFCdick” (apologies if that’s you – it’s meant to be a random name) with his 5 years’ experience of playing FIFA calls Wenger a dick because he hasn’t signed Benzema? No. Just no.

Second, the allegation that he doesn’t care is so plainly wrong it is hardly worth disputing. It is well documented that he has been offered very lucrative deals at “top top” clubs (if I may borrow the phrase, Monsieur W) at various times, but he has turned them all down to see it through in North London.

He has overseen a radical change that has brought Arsenal from a patchy, often mid-table club that even finished below Sp*rs as often as not into a modern, well-financed, exciting club who play in a fantastic new stadium, sign truly world class players, regularly win trophies (yes I know about the gap, but when you average them out) and have qualified for the Champions League EVERY SINGLE (full) SEASON of his 20-year tenure.

Now I know that 4th place isn’t a trophy etc etc, but that is a phenomenal achievement. Just look to Liverpool to see what happens when you miss out for just one season.

And evenly the media’s miracle man Jose Moaning Myrtle Mourinho and the bottomless pit of filthy lucre that is Chelsea are discovering that it’s not easy to be so consistent for so long.

Thierry Henry, a man who knows a thing or two about The Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, has been quoted as saying that “nobody loves Arsenal more than Arsene” and I believe him.

To be honest, Wenger does bring some of this criticism on himself. He is clearly a very stubborn man and he has stuck rigidly to his policy of never discussing transfers or team matters or criticising his players in public, so us mere fans are left to guess.

When people say he only aims for 4th place, I believe they are talking nonsense. Likewise when they say he didn’t try to enhance the squad over the summer (has £10 million ever been better spent than on Petr Cech?).

But I don’t know because he doesn’t say. Or if he does, nobody believes him. I just hope that when he does eventually retire, he sets the record straight with a warts and all autobiography.

I leave you with this thought. The people castigating Wenger for “failing” to sign Ottomandi or Martial this year are the very same eejits who said we simply HAD to sign Chris Samba (remember him? Nope. Me neither) and Brede Hangeland.

Speak soon.

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

 * You can call me (Laben)Al

On Tyson Fury

“A woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back.” Tyson Fury

“Three things need to happen before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia.” Tyson Fury

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” S. G. Tallentyre

So runs the earnest, most-repeated saying thrown out whenever free speech is perceived to be under threat. It stands as one of the great unanswerables, but of course the real world is never that simple.

It has long been the case that free speech is not an absolute right, even in laissez faire Britain. It has been qualified by, among other things, libel laws and a prohibition against in incitement of racial hatred.

At time of writing, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition to have Fury removed from the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and a criminal investigation has been launched into the allegation of a hate crime.

Do I agree with Fury on women, homosexuality or, for that matter, abortion? Absolutely not.

But do I think he is guilty of a “hate crime”? Absolutely not.

Do I think he’s an idiot? Absolutely – but if we criminalise stupidity, we may need to start exporting our criminals overseas again as there’s certainly no room in our already-creaking penal system!

Do I think that his views should disqualify him from being put up for the public vote in a poll? No.

Will I vote for him? Absolutely not. I hope he comes a humiliating and distant last in the voting  (although I say this without knowing the views of the other nominees – they may all be secret Nazis for all I know).

I can completely understand why Fury’s remarks are offensive to some gay people and women, though I am neither, but I strongly believe that the best way of dealing with such morons is to expose them and ridicule them, not to silence them.

Especially (and this is key) as Fury is merely a boxer (not a political figure or “thinker” in any guise at all) and one who has made quite a tit of himself in so many ways already.

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Does anyone seriously think that his bigotry and stupidity are likely to influence anyone to change their views on homosexuality or women?

In my view, the unqualified criticism he has received from all quarters of “mainstream” society is more than sufficient to prove that that society is more than robust enough to cope with his foolishness.

Or, as the amazingly talented wordsmith Oscar Wilde put it:

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”