Sunday, May 27, 2012

On the 2012 Thomas Cup and Uber Cup finals

China won the Badminton Team World Championships (Thomas Cup and Uber Cup) by beating South Korea 3:0 in both the Men's and Women's competitions in May 2012.

For the men, Lin Dan and Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng become the first individuals who ever won either Cup five times, consecutively, as the first single or first double.  Lin Dan has been perfect in the finals of Thomas Cup and Sudirman Cup (Mixed Team), amazing considering he always faces the best of the opposing teams, usually in the first match.  Lin Dan did lose a couple of times in earlier rounds in the Thomas and Sudirman Cups.  Only Yang Yang and Chen Jin might have a perfect record in team competitions ever (?).  Yang Yang played in fewer events though, and Chen Jin has never been the first single.  Chen Jin did contribute by winning the deciding, third single in Thomas Cup in 2008, when Lin Dan lost to Lee Chong Wei in the semi.

For the women, there would have been little to say, just like the men, because on paper Koran players are ranked all lower, except for the fact that China lost to South Korea in 2010.  The key in both 2010 and 2012 was the first single by China's Wang Yihan, underscoring how important the first match is.  Wang lost in 2010 and won in 2012.  But she only escaped barely in 2012, having lost the first set and been down 16:20 to Sung Ji-hyun in the second.  It is interesting to analyze how Wang Yihan plays and came back.  Much has been said about how she persevered.  This is true only in a small part.  From 16:20 to 20:20, all four points were quick affairs, and only one Wang won by being active.  The other three points Sung made simple errors, including serving long once.  One of the three points Sung could have made easily and sealed the victory she netted, a clear unforced error.  So it was mostly Sung's mental block that cost her the match.  In such situations the leader should have played it safe and extended the point, because the pressure is on the other side.  Losing the points quickly only emboldens your opponent and doubly unsettles you.  After 20:20 Sung lost two more points and the third set in no time. 

How much credit did Wang deserve?  Wang Yihan's strength and weakness is obvious.  Her weakness has always been her movement or footwork.  She is like a tennis player who doesn't know how to slide plays in the French Open.  She compensates for this glaring problem by being physically strong and having good hands.  She plays aggressively and excels at the net.  A couple of years back, if she lost the first set and down in the second to capable players, she rarely came back  But a big difference in 2011 and 2012, as she has rallied multiple times.  A prime example is in the All-England against Tine Baun on March 9, 2012.  She lost the first set and was trialing in the second most of time but came back.  That match was very similar to what happened in the Uber Cup final.  So this is not first time for Wang Yihan, and Sung should have been prepared for that.  In many aspects Wang Yihan is like Serana Williams, both strong and aggressive players. Serena also often faces match points.  At such important times Serena rarely makes mistakes and plays patiently and conservatively.  Then her opponent makes the errors and Serana comes back, over and over.

On the other hand, Wang Yihan can improve by not digging herself a hole.  Against Sung, Wang was ahead by a few points by the intermission in both the first and second sets.  Somehow Wang lost her concentration and lead quickly afterwards.  Had Wang been more consistent, there would have been no drama.  Here is another issue of how Wang Yihan plays: despite her superb physical and technical ability, she is not a very smart player.  Often times the trailing opponent might try new things after the intermission.  One has to be focused and adjust.  If you only play with autopilot, you will be lost.

Now comes a general observation of badminton.  For close to 10 years we are fortunate to watch the performance of Lin Dan, the best men's single player ever, and the dynamite Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng, China's best ever and one of the world's best ever men's double.  But perhaps more significantly, we are now witnessing a decisive change in the playing styles of women's badminton.  Many players are more aggressive, like the young Thai players and Wang Xin and Li Xuerui, and the rallying style is no longer the only option.  The old way is to move her around the court, create an opening, then attack.  The new thinking is to attack to win or create a better opportunity, and attack again.  Two reasons for the change.  One is that players are taller and stronger than before.  The other is the old 11-point system is no more.  The new attacking style is not the same as the older, aggressive style of Zhang Ning and Wang Yihan.  The new style attacks earlier, from everywhere in the courts, more often, and with more force even on the first strike.  Rallying ability is still the basic, but chances that are missing in the old books are imperative in the new.  Li Xuerui is the most typical.  She seems smarter than Wang Yihan and is younger than Wang Xin.  She will likely become stronger physically and improve her techniques in the next two years.  The real challenge will come when others study her more.  If she has the street smarts of Lin Dan, she will overcome.

Another big development is that Indonesia failed to advance to the semifinal stage in both the men and women events.  It has been a slow but persistent decline.  Chinese dominance can't be the reason because South Korea has held steady, and Japan and Thailand are rising.  There is a feeling that Indonesian players have not made the necessary adjustments to the rule changes and the strategies everyone else is playing and advancing, especially in the women's side.  This is mostly the coaches' faults.     

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Who will you pick for a fight?

Sports fans are among the most opinionated bunches of people.  We also like dream matchups, often impossible ones.  That is why there are endless greatest-of-all-time discussions.  In essence, who do you want in your team in the history of the sport if there is THE fight today, even though someone has to be transported from time?  In China there is this old saying: 关公战秦琼, or Guan Gong (关公, ~160-220 AD) fighting Qin Qiong (秦琼, ?-638).  In the US people are debating whether the 1998 Yankees are better than the 1927 Yankees.  It is pure fun to speculate on such fights, hence the Hollywood films such as Rocky 6.

For this fight, we have to imagine that both players must be in their prime.  Also, the average levels of play across different eras must be considered, or normalized to be the same.  So what we really measure is how much the two players are better than their peer groups.

Suppose men's tennis.  It depends on the courts.  For red clay, Nadal is the one.  Whoever opposing him, does it matter?  Any other surface, for me, Sampras or Federer is tough choice.  For peak performance, I will choose Sampras.  Consistency, Federer is one level above anybody else.

Women's tennis.  I will choose Graf.  She will have strong competitions though.  

Men's table tennis.  The field is wide open.  Mainly because there are wide varieties of styles that match well with some but poorly with others, also the techniques are evolving.  For just one match I will pick Jiang Jialiang, because in mid-1980s he ate Waldner alive, whom many people may pick.  But I doubt Jiang would ever be able to beat Wang Liqin. 

Women's table tennis.  Deng Yaping is the one.  She doesn't have the best techniques, but she is fast and furious, and handles players with different styles well.  I can't think of any common names capable of a good matchup against her. 

Men's badminton.  Lin Dan is the one.  Nobody else since 1980 comes even half close to his big championship counts and head-to-head records against peer.  Opposing him, maybe Yang Yang, with his tenacity, perhaps can rattle Lin Dan.  Zhao Jianhua is the one whose techniques and attacking games are the best I have ever seen, but he is not a good defender. 

Women's badminton.  Another wide open field.  Great players at different eras are not much better than each other.  I actually think a new comer Li Xuerui, not a world champion yet, may be the one.  I like her refreshing style.  She is also calm.  She still needs to polish her techniques though. 

Basketball.  Wilt Chamberlain is a player that transforms the sport.  He broke all kinds of records and forced all kinds of rule changes when he played while never fouling out of an NBA game.  Nobody else famous can claim likewise.  Nowadays people talk about Jordan, Kobe, Shaq, and Russell, but if just a single player, Wilt is the one.

In terms of the record books, baseball probably has the most records documented.  Babe Ruth is considered the best ever.  Even though his records have since been surpassed by others over times, when he set those records, they were so far ahead of his fellow players, like out-homering every other teams in the MLB and being both an elite hitter and an elite pitcher, that he set a bar so high no one will be able to reach.

Talking about baseball, the biggest story since 2000 is the steroid scandal.  On one hand, steroids definitely had an effect.  Barry Bonds would not have hit so many HRs so late in his career, which is just against human physiology.  On the other hand, there is a lot of hypocrisy regarding players using steroids, like many writers vow not to vote players into HOF simply because of (suspected) steroid use.  For one thing, it is not clear how and how much steroid affects performance.  It definitely varies among sports.  Even in the same sport like baseball, some people may get a better effect, some very little.  The argument that steroid use is illegal has many holes as well, because players in earlier years also used illegal drugs, which was already well known then.  For what is worth, we had no idea what Babe Ruth took when he was hitting those HRs.  Yes, a lot of meat and alcohol, but can anybody be certain that he didn't take steroids or like chemicals?  Steroids have been around for a long time, and natural products contain performance enhancing chemicals as well.

In essence, we don't need to know what if.  Just two great players relative to their peer groups comparing themselves and the record books.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -7

"One can't be right all the time.  Try to be fair instead."

While we want to make the right decision or pass the right judgment all the time, this is simply impossible.   This is not the same as saying "nobody is perfect"; even a perfect person won't be able to do it.  We may not have all the correct information.  We do not have the wisdom to predict the future.  There are events that happen randomly or beyond humans' control.  Critically, it can be hard to tell what course of action is right or wrong because often times there are no solid foundations or scientific parameters which we can objectively evaluate.  There is scientific evidence that the Earth circles the Sun or RNA is required for gene expression, but there is never equally strong evidence in any economic or political arenas. All the guidance we have may be history, which are usually incompletely understood and subject to interpretation or manipulation, or tradition and common sense including societal rules, etc, which evolve over time.  So what was accepted 100 years ago may be wrong now, what is OK in 2012 may be terribly atrocious in 2112. 

The most important step towards making the least wrong move, after gathering as much information as possible, is to apply fairness in decision-making.  Simply, if you do it, everybody can do the same.  This is pure common sense.  So if you and I do exactly the same thing, but I sue to stop you from doing so, I will be laughed out of court.

Anybody violating this principle is called hypocrite, who often deserves much worse than the word. However, if you are the rich and powerful, you can safely practice hypocrisy with a straight face.  Say you reported "news" that led to unjust wars and death, but you could still claim the status of independent media and dismiss the non-free press, even if the latter didn't do anything as remotely bad as you.  You have hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons, but claim Iran is a threat to world peace because it is trying to get the first one, even though you have produced zero evidence.  You have waged the most wars in the most countries in recent memories and killed the most people and continued to threatened more, but think someone else has a bad human right record.  You travel around the world for a few individuals but avidly support and even call for wars and aggressions, like Chris Smith and many others of the US congress.  Or, you are a star activist that relies on the worse human right offenders for funding to fight for your own cause. 

This is the reality of human societies.  Societies have always be ruled by the elites.  In the old times the legitimacy of elite rule was through the kings and queens.  In modern societies it is usurped through the fake sense of democracy, which is not more noble than before.  The difference now is that because of the ease to gather more information the citizenry has a better means to see through the hypocrisy of the elites.  How this will change the society remains to be seen, and if it does, it will likely take a long time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ten commandments in modern societies -6

"Beware of the true meanings of these phrases."

Definition obviously is very important.  One needs to know what he is talking about before he acts.  A US dollar is not the same as a HK dollar, a mile is about 1.6 km, and a pound is about 0.45 kg.  In the US you pay $4 per gallon instead of liter at the pump. 

Not everything is easy to quantify though.  Like how tired I am after work, or how happy a New Yorker is after a Yankees win.  These characterizations are not important to mankind.  There are, however, words or phrases of more significant meanings that are flying nowadays without a reality check.  It is advantageous for the elites to monopolize the uses and meanings of these words but imperious for us to understand what the elites want us to believe.  Five of the most important phrases or categories are listed below.

1.  The international community.
Real meaning: the American and occasionally, the British and French governments.  Most of the times, the rest of the world doesn't count, and one doesn't eve hear about them.  Using their mouthpiece in the media with the widest reach around the globe and their oversized influence at the international bodies like the UN, IMF, World Bank, etc, these governments project an image that their own opinions are also the consensus of the world and use that against any dissents.  When Bill Clinton and George Bush talked about Iraq's WMD, did any African country or any small European country have its own source of information on Iraq?  If this African country dared to challenge the "international community", it would be bribed, blackmailed, or worse, and in any case, its messages would never be heard outside of that country anyway.  France, while opposing the 2003 war, actually had little qualm with America's WMD fables.  This pattern has repeated many times and continuously to feed the audience with a sinister image of any countries with policies not approved by the Americans.  Currently the international community is at it again with Iran.  Yet the foundation of the "consensus" of this international community on Iran's impending nuclear weapons is based only on the religiously insistence by the American and Israelis and their selective, dubious, or fabricated "intelligence".

2.  The independent media.
When one from a country with a lesser voice or under pressure questions the "international community", he is often dismissed as not knowing or understanding what the "international community" already decides simply because you live in a country without "independent media" or "free press".  True meaning: whatever BBC, CNN, NYT, WashPost, AP, Reuters, etc say they are, another fairy tale for the gullible of the modern societies.  Much has been written about this subject and those sycophants, corrupt, and lying institutions.  One must develop an immunity to anything "independent" hailed from the media.  Ask yourself: independent from WHAT?  Free press free of WHAT?  Money, power, fame?  Even if you are not owned by or operate superficially outside of a government, it doesn't mean you are independent of it or free.  All those media are royal to their own governments or political institutions, and whoever their paying audience.  Reporting serious matters invariably involves cuddling with government sources, who have the most inside scoop, so naturally you don't want to be too critical or call them liars.  And the governments are all too eager to spin their agendas through you.  So here is the well known symbiotic relationship between the media and the rich and powerful.  This is the most important for media's survival, not truth.  Once in a while they will print a story inconsistent with the official line, but it is always too little too late and drown in a sea of cheerleaders.  If the original stories turn out to be wrong, the free press would bear no responsibilities, because "our sources told us so".  What if we bomb Iran with devastating consequences but find nothing there?  Well, blame the Iranians for not allowing, you name it, "independent media".

3.  Non-governmental organization (NGO).
As much as the designation of "independent media" confers a sense of impartiality, NGO confers dependability.  Only neither truly.  An NGO is not established by the host government, but it can receive funding from it, or another government, or other entities or individuals inside or outside of the country.  As this world operates, money trace twists and turns, but only a few rich, you-know-which countries and their multi-millionaire residents can fund NGO in other nations.  Consequently, large NGOs likely all have invisible hands from overseas, and individual activists are vying for their funding as well.  When you don't have "independent media" in your country, NGOs and all sorts of "independent media"-certified activists will serve a similar function, e.g., manufacturing news that conveys subjectivity to the Western audience.  They are given more exposure and credibility by the "independent media" than the official lines.  This is true for every modern conflicts, Kosovo, Sudan, Syria, etc, and, even more pervasively, preludes to conflicts as well.  Think Curveball of the Iraqis WMD fame.  So, be suspicious about who is pulling the strings behind the NGOs and activists and treat them as critically as others. 

4.  Freedom, human rights, democracy.
Real meaning: thought opioids that make one high morally.  As you chant these sacred words, you feel you are on their side.  When the independent media decree one group as pro-democracy, a daily practice, the opposing group must be anti-democracy.  It seems that everybody has some opinions on these phrases.  In fact, democracy may be the most analyzed subject in human history, so anything possibly said about democracy has been said, and here will only offer one analogy, to stock prices.  Everybody wishes his candidate wins, e.g., the US President, much like a stock he owns rising in price.  There is always this get-out-the-votes effort before an election, but 1) does one's vote matter, and 2) does one always vote in his best interest, not somebody else's?  Take the stock analogy.  For 1) how much do you think that you, as a regular investor buying or selling a few AAPL shares, affect its price?   Nil, right?  Then why do you think your vote will count in 2012?  It takes really a lot of money or people to determine the stock price or the outcome of the election.  For stocks there are all these big fund managers moving millions of dollars per second.  In politics there are all these interest groups preparing and organizing the votes months ahead: (mega-)churches, industrial groups, etc, each numbering in the hundreds locally at least.  If you are not in any group, you are vastly out-numbered; if you are, your single vote is still nothing.  For 2) do these fund managers or local political activists have your best interest in mind?  Don't bet on it.  Stock managers care only about short-term performances and bonuses.  If he earns enough for one year, who cares about losing YOUR money in the next three, when another equally greedy manager takes over?  Sounds also eerily similar to going from one elected official to another, doesn't it?  Likewise, the activists curry favor from above based on how many votes they deliver but will reap the benefits all by themselves.  This is exactly how "democracy" is implemented in the "international community".  Won't bother with why the fund managers move millions of dollars around or there may be two groups competing for your royalty.  Suffice to say that they will have 99.99% of the benefits but little risk, while you are just a number, misbelieving your vote making a difference. Lastly, to buy a stock, a regular investor doesn't follow the company closely, as he follows the news or "experts" only infrequently.  Same is true for one to (not) understand any economic or political subject of seriousness before the next voting ritual.

5.  Global warming.
Real meaning: environmental concerns by the developed world.  It makes scientific sense that human activities have accelerated since the Industrial Revolution and increase greenhouse gas production and Earth temperature.  What and how to do about it?  The developed countries have produced the most greenhouse gases in the history but have since moved the most polluting industries to developing countries, so hinge their high standard of living on China and India, while their current CO2 burden to reduce is lowering.  The developing world should resist the posturing by the developed world and not be distracted or led by some limousine activists' fixation on global warming.  A more pressing concern, while improving their citizen's lives, is to reduce other pollutants in the water, soil, air, food, etc.  Some of the efforts will reduce CO2 emission as well.  If people's living standard improves, energy use becomes more efficient, everything else is cleaned up, but slightly more CO2 is produced, it is widely worthwhile. 

Because the above concepts are so commonly used and abused in modern societies' vocabulary, they deserve a place in the Ten Commandments.