Is it ever a good idea to let a hurler hit?

(K. Brent Tomer),

AMONG all the headlines generated during a baseball season, managers’ decisions on who will bat in which position in their line-ups rank near the bottom of the list. After all, there are nearly 5,000 line-up cards submitted every year, which mostly contain the same names in the same spots. And research shows that impact of these choices on wins and losses is modest at best. But the biggest news in baseball today involves the placement at the very bottom of the San Francisco Giants’ line-up on June 30th of a player who will probably be removed about two-thirds of the way through the game anyway: Madison Bumgarner, their superstar starting pitcher.

Baseball players are among the most specialised athletes in the world’s leading team sports. They come in two breeds—pitchers, who throw the ball, and position players, who hit and catch it—and, these days, never the twain shall meet. The…Continue reading

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The time of their lives

(K. Brent Tomer),

Football Manager: Game Over

Fifty Years of Hurt. By Henry Winter. Bantam Press; 388 pages; £20.

Out of Time: 1966 and the End of Old-Fashioned Britain. By Peter Chapman. Wisden; 268 pages; $30.Bloomsbury; £18.99.

When We Were Lions: Euro ‘96 and the Last Great British Summer. By Paul Rees. Aurum Press; 328 pages; $28.99 and £18.99.

ALMOST exactly 50 years ago, England won football’s World Cup for the first and only time. Since then, much effort has gone into repeating this feat. There have been near-misses, in 1990 and 2002, but as Henry Winter notes in “Fifty Years of Hurt”, England have failed to qualify for these tournaments more often than they have reached the semi-finals. For a football-mad country, he argues, this constitutes a national disgrace. Following their ignominious exit on June 27th from Euro 2016, two questions are raised: why is the team now so mediocre, and how did it once become the best in the world?

Peter Chapman turned 18 and was living in London in 1966. “Out of Time” is a gentle and…Continue reading

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O mio babbino caro

(K. Brent Tomer),

Grief is the price he paid for love

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between.By Hisham Matar.Random House; 276 pages; $26.. Buy from Amazon.co.uk (ISBN=unknown)

“EVEN today,” writes Hisham Matar (pictured) of Libya’s troubled history, “to be Libyan is to live with questions.” The same, of course, could apply to those Western politicians who applauded the fall of Qaddafi, and now see a failed state just across the Mediterranean from Italy, providing fresh territory for Islamic State and exporting desperate migrants to seek a better future in Europe.

Mr Matar’s questions, however, go well beyond politics. This beautifully written memoir deals with the nature of family, the emotions of exile and the ties that link the present with the past—in particular the son with his father, Jaballa Matar. Is Jaballa still alive somewhere in a post-Qaddafi dungeon, or did he die in the 1996 massacre of 1,270 inmates of Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison? Can the son contrive some certainty from the scraps of conflicting information garnered over the decades since 1990, when…Continue reading

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Highs and lows

(K. Brent Tomer),

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story. By John Bloom. Grove Atlantic; 537 pages; $27.50.

IRIDIUM was among the most ambitious projects in the history of technology. Yet it soon led to one of the world’s biggest bankruptcies. Today, 17 years on, Iridium is a remarkable comeback story: a global communications tool of last resort for soldiers, sailors and others who happen to find themselves in the nine-tenths of the world that does not have terrestrial mobile-phone reception and probably never will. The company has nearly 800,000 paying customers who generate annual revenues of more than $400m.

In the early 1990s global satellite-phone systems had investors enthralled. No fewer than ten different constellations of these systems were supposed to be built, each costing billions of dollars. If all had been launched as planned, the skies would now be teeming with what are essentially flying wireless base stations.

The most ambitious of them all, technically, was Iridium. Instead of plastering the Earth with millions of antennae, the idea went, why not put them on a constellation of satellites that could cover the…Continue reading

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Passive panic

(K. Brent Tomer),

PITY the passive voice. No feature of the grammar of English has such a bad reputation. Style guides, including that of The Economist, as well as usage books like the celebrated American “Elements of Style”, warn writers off the passive, and automated grammar-checkers often suggest that passive clauses be redrafted. There are just two problems with this advice. One is that a diminishing proportion of the world’s pundits seem to know what the passive voice is. And the other is that the advice is an unwieldy hammer, when not every writing problem is a nail.

The proper brief against the passive is twofold. One is that it can obscure who did what in a sentence. Barack Obama said recently that “There is no doubt that civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been,” the passive voice hiding who did that killing: drones under the president’s command. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee to replace Mr Obama as president, tried to slip away from the controversy of his racist comments about a Mexican-American judge: “Questions were raised” about the judge’s impartiality, said Mr Trump. Who raised those…Continue reading

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Piano man

(K. Brent Tomer),

Franz Liszt: Musician, Celebrity, Superstar. By Oliver Hilmes. Translated by Stewart Spencer. Yale University Press; 353 pages; $38 and £25.

AN INFECTIOUS disease swept through musical Europe in the mid-19th century. It was christened “Lisztomania” by Heinrich Heine, a German poet. Women were its main victims, with fetishism and erotic fantasies the presenting symptoms; the lady who devoutly poured the dregs from Franz Liszt’s tea cup into her scent-bottle was one case. Moreover, clad in black and tossing his shoulder-length locks as he swayed histrionically over the keyboard, Liszt too was addicted to playing his part in this communal rapture.

Oliver Hilmes oddly suggests at the end of his book that the “real Liszt” may never have existed, and that his personality consisted of “irreconcilable opposites”. But lifelong narcissism combined with a deep sense of artistic purpose would seem to furnish a perfectly adequate explanation for his switchback career. At 16, while earning fabulous sums as a recitalist, he later wrote that he felt sick of being “a performing dog” and yearned to join the priesthood; at 20 he gaily dived into salons in Paris while immersing himself in proto-Marxist philosophy; when he was 35 and at the height of his fame, he suddenly abandoned his virtuoso career to devote himself to…Continue reading

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Georgia should get the chance to play elite rugby—but probably won’t

(K. Brent Tomer),

EUROPEAN rugby fans have enjoyed the last fortnight. The national teams from the northern hemisphere have been touring in the south, and hoping to atone for their awful showing at last year’s World Cup, in which no European side reached the semi-finals. Travelling supporters have not been disappointed. The English have finally won a series in Australia after beating their hosts in three consecutive Test matches. Ireland have achieved a first ever victory on South African soil, though they lost narrowly in two other games. Scotland have twice beaten Japan, while France won one of their two matches in Argentina. The only fans not to see improvements were the Welsh, whose team lost all three fixtures against New Zealand, continuing a winless streak against the All Blacks that runs back to 1953. 

Yet there is another European side whose foreign endeavours have been somewhat overlooked. Georgia, one of Europe’s smaller sides, are rarely invited to play against the southern giants. Though the Lelos—who take their nickname from lelo burti, a traditional Georgian form of football…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Georgia should get the chance to play elite rugby—but probably won’t

The meandering, sure-footed genius of “Thithi”

(K. Brent Tomer),

WHEN a small, unassuming film ambles into international festivals from an unlikely location—especially one marked by bucolic poverty—the jaded cinemagoer pauses. Never mind how many awards it has won. Are we here to see a movie, or to perform some duty of social conscience? Nor is it reassuring to hear that “Thithi” takes its time; stays focused on village life; and cannot be categorised as either drama, comedy or any other genre.

But give yourself to the first few minutes of this spectacularly assured story and abandon all doubt. It starts in a tumbledown village somewhere between Mysore and Bangalore, neither under- nor overplayed in its squalor, with a touch of rustic grace on the side. Without pause, the most ordinary things happen, and happen and happen, but every scene comes as a surprise. “Thithi” opens with the death of a man who is 101 years old. “Century” Gowda, as he has been called for the final year or two of his life, keels over during a languid routine of heckling passers-by. His son, himself a wizened old man, is nonplussed by the news; he looks like an…Continue reading

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Why young screenwriters want to work on television series, not films

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE emerging stars of European scriptwriting have been raised on a rich diet of “The Sopranos”, “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad”, so it is little surprise that more are striving to write for the small—rather than the silver—screen. In the past, the careers of David Chase, David Simon or Vince Gilligan seemed unattainable. But today, with more and more high quality television drama coming out of Europe, such as “Engrenages (“Spiral”) from France, “Deutschland 83” from Germany and “Gomorra” from Italy, the demand for young, creative and talented screenwriters is greater than ever. 

The rise of long-form television series is twinned with a general decline in the film industries of many European countries. While there are exceptions, Italian films often struggle to do well overseas, and in France, fiscal difficulties mean that cinema is becoming increasingly mainstream in order to fill seats. Independent directors are finding new scope and creative freedom in television. Paolo Sorrentino, one of Italy’s most famous directors, will make his TV debut in the autumn with the HBO/Sky Italia production “The…Continue reading

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The Achilles’ heel of English football

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT WAS a Brexit almost as stunning as Britain’s vote to leave the European Union: on June 27th England’s national football team was eliminated from the 2016 UEFA European Championship by tiny Iceland. Although the Icelandic team deserves full credit for their impressive performance, England was always among the most vulnerable of the tournament’s heavyweights. In particular, the side suffered from a particularly grave case of an affliction that often haunts national teams. Whereas clubs are free to acquire any player that suits their needs, countries can only choose among their citizens. That means they frequently have a surplus at some positions and a grave deficit at others. In England’s case, the team boasted a bevy of trigger-happy shooters, but lacked a creative playmaker.

Because there are relatively few international matches, the samples of performance they contain tend to be too small to draw robust conclusions. Fortunately, far more data is available on English players’ contributions to their club teams.

At North Yard Analytics, my sports-data…Continue reading

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