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Robert Altman, Director With Daring, Dies at 81
Thursday, November 23, 2006

Published: November 22, 2006

Robert Altman, one of the most adventurous and influential American directors of the late 20th century, a filmmaker whose iconoclastic career spanned more than five decades but whose stamp was felt most forcefully in one, the 1970s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His death, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, was caused by complications of cancer, his company in New York, Sandcastle 5 Productions, announced. A spokesman said Mr. Altman had learned that he had cancer 18 months ago but continued to work, shooting his final film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” which was released in June, and most recently completing pre-production on a new film that he intended to begin shooting in February.

Mr. Altman had a heart transplant in the mid-1990s, a fact he publicly revealed for the first time last March while accepting an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony.

A risk taker with a tendency toward mischief, Mr. Altman put together something of a late-career comeback capped in 2001 by “Gosford Park,” a multiple Oscar nominee. But he may be best remembered for a run of masterly films — six in five years — that propelled him to the forefront of American directors and culminated in 1975 with what many regard as his greatest film, “Nashville,” a complex, character-filled drama told against the backdrop of a presidential primary.

They were free-wheeling, genre-bending films that captured the jaded disillusionment of the ’70s. The best known was “MASH,” the 1970 comedy that was set in a field hospital during the Korean war but that was clearly aimed at antiwar sentiments engendered by Vietnam. Its success, both critically and at the box office, opened the way for Mr. Altman to pursue his ambitions.

In 1971 he took on the western, making “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. In 1972, he dramatized a woman’s psychological disintegration in “Images,” starring Susannah York. In 1973, he tackled the private-eye genre with a somewhat loopy adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” with the laid-back Elliott Gould playing Philip Marlowe as a ’70s retro-hipster. And in 1974 he released two films, exploring gambling addiction in “California Split” and riffing on the Dust Bowl gangster saga with “Thieves Like Us.”

Unlike most directors whose flames burned brightest in the early 1970s — and frequently flickered out — Mr. Altman did not come to Hollywood from critical journals and newfangled film schools. He had had a long career in industrial films and television. In an era that celebrated fresh voices steeped in film history — young directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese — Mr. Altman was like their bohemian uncle, matching the young rebels in their skeptical disdain for the staid conventions of mainstream filmmaking and the establishment that supported it.

Most of his actors adored him and praised his improvisational style. In his prime, he was celebrated for his ground-breaking use of multilayer soundtracks. An Altman film might offer a babble of voices competing for attention in crowded, smoky scenes. It was a kind of improvisation that offered a fresh verisimilitude to tired, stagey Hollywood genres.

But Mr. Altman was also famous in Hollywood for his battles with everyone from studio executives to his collaborators, leaving more burned bridges than the Luftwaffe. He also suffered through periods of bad reviews and empty seats but always seemed to regain his stride, as he did in the early ’90s, when he made “The Player” and “Short Cuts.” Even when he fell out of popular favor, however, many younger filmmakers continued to admire him as an uncompromising artist who held to his vision in the face of business pressures and who was unjustly overlooked by a film establishment grown fat on special effects and feel-good movies.

He was often referred to as a cult director, and it rankled him. “What is a cult?” Mr. Altman said. “It just means not enough people to make a minority.”

The Breakthrough

The storyline had to do with a group of boozy, oversexed Army doctors in a front-line hospital, specifically a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Fifteen directors had already turned the job down. But at 45, Mr. Altman signed on, and the movie, “MASH,” became his breakthrough.

Audiences particularly connected with the authority-bashing attitude of the film’s irreverent doctors, Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Mr. Gould).

“The heroes are always on the side of decency and sanity; that’s why they’re contemptuous of the bureaucracy,” the critic Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker. “They are heroes because they are competent and sane and gallant, and in this insane situation their gallantry takes the form of scabrous comedy.”

The villains are not the Communist enemy but marble-hearted military bureaucrats personified by the pious Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and the hypocritical Hot Lips Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including one for best picture and one for Mr. Altman’s direction. It also won the Golden Palm, the top award at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, and the best picture of the year award of the National Society of Film Critics.

But “MASH” was denied the best-picture Oscar; that award went to “Patton.” In later years Mr. Altman received four more Academy Award nominations for best director and two for producing best-picture nominees, “Nashville” and “Gosford Park.” The only Oscar he received, however, was the honorary one in March.

Mr. Altman was angry that the lone Oscar given to “MASH” went to Ring Lardner Jr., who got sole screen credit for the script. Mr. Altman openly disparaged Mr. Lardner’s work, touching off one of his many feuds. Later, when Mr. Altman seemed unable to duplicate the mix of critical and box-office success that “MASH” had achieved, he grew almost disdainful of the film.

“ ‘MASH’ was a pretty good movie,” Mr. Altman said in an interview. “It wasn’t what 20th Century- Fox thought it was going to be. They almost, when they saw it, cut all the blood out. I fought with my life for that. The picture speaks for itself. It became popular because of the timing. Consequently, it’s considered important, but it’s no better or more important than any of the other films I’ve made.”

Mr. Altman’s interest in film genres was candidly subversive. He wanted to explode them to expose what he saw as their phoniness. He decided to make “McCabe & Mr. Miller” for just that reason. “I got interested in the project because I don’t like westerns,” Mr. Altman said. “So I pictured a story with every western cliché in it.”

His intention, he said, was to drain the glamour from the West and show it as it really was — filthy, vermin-infested, whisky-soaked and ruled by thugs with guns. His hero, McCabe (Mr. Beatty), was a dimwitted dreamer who let his cockiness and his love for a drug-addicted prostitute (Ms. Christie) undo him.

“These events took place,” Mr. Altman said, of westerns in general, “but not in the way you’ve been told. I wanted to look at it through a different window, you might say, but I still wanted to keep the poetry in the ballad.” “Nashville” interweaved the stories of 24 characters — country-western stars, housewives, boozers, political operators, oddball drifters — who move in and out of one another’s lives in the closing days of a fictional presidential primary. Mr. Altman returned to this multi-character approach several times (in “A Wedding,” “Health,” “Short Cuts,” “Prêt-à-Porter” and “Kansas City”), but never again to such devastating effect.

“Nashville is a radical, evolutionary leap,” Ms. Kael wrote in The New Yorker. “Altman has already accustomed us to actors who don’t look as if they’re acting; he’s attuned us to the comic subtleties of a multiple-track sound system that makes the sound more live than it ever was before; and he’s evolved an organic style of moviemaking that tells a story without the clanking of plot. Now he dissolves the frame, so that we feel the continuity between what’s on the screen and life off-camera.”

Mr. Altman’s career stalled after “Nashville,” although he continued to attract top actors. Paul Newman starred in “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” in 1976, Sissy Spacek in “3 Women” in 1977 and Mr. Newman again in “Quintet” in 1979. But critical opinion turned against Mr. Altman in the late ’70s, and his films fared worse and worse at the box office.

The crushing blow came in 1980, when Mr. Altman directed Robin Williams in a lavish musical based on the “Popeye” cartoon. Though it eventually achieved modest commercial success, the movie was considered a dud because it made less money than had been expected and drew almost universal scorn from the critics. Mr. Altman retained his critical champions, including Ms. Kael and Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who in 1982 called Mr. Altman one of “our greatest living directors.” But the tide had turned against him.

In “Fore My Eyes,” a 1980 collection of film essays, Stanley Kauffmann spoke for other critics when he derided what he saw as the director’s middle-brow pretensions. “He’s the film equivalent of the advertising-agency art director who haunts the galleries to keep his eye fresh,” he wrote.

If Mr. Altman never fully regained his critical pre-eminence, he came close, recapturing much of his luster in the final years of his life. And he always kept in the game.

He remade his career in the early ’80s with a string of films based on stage dramas: Ed Graczyk’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” in 1982, David Rabe’s “Streamers” in 1983 and Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” in 1985. He also did some fresh work for television, a medium he had reviled when he left it two decades earlier.

In 1988, he directed a strong television adaptation of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a stage play by Herman Wouk based on his novel “The Caine Mutiny.” The Altman version restored the class conflict and anti-Semitism that had been excised from the 1954 Hollywood treatment starring Humphrey Bogart.

The ’90s brought an even more satisfying resurgence for Mr. Altman. It began with a pair of critical film successes: “The Player,” an acerbic satire based on the Michael Tolkin novel about a ruthless Hollywood executive, and “Short Cuts,” an episodic, character-filled drama based on the short stories of Raymond Carver. The films earned him his third and fourth Oscar nominations for best director.

Then, in 2001, came “Gosford Park,” an elaborate murder mystery with an ensemble cast that capped his comeback.

Mr. Altman’s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” based on Garrison Keillor’s long-running radio show, was released in June and starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in another ensemble cast. Writing in The Times, A.O. Scott called the film a minor Altman work “but a treasure all the same.” “I seem to have become like one of those old standards, in musical terms,” Mr. Altman said in a 1993 interview. “Always around. Lauren Bacall said to me, ‘You just don’t quit, do you?’ Guess not.”

Son of a Salesman

Robert Bernard Altman was born on Feb. 20, 1925, in Kansas City, Mo., to Helen and B.C. Altman, a prosperous insurance salesman for the Kansas City Life Insurance Company. Mr. Altman’s grandfather, the developer Frank G. Altman, had built the Altman Building, a five-story retail mecca in downtown Kansas City. (It was razed in 1974.)

Young Robert attended Catholic schools and the Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., before enlisting in the Air Force in 1945. He eventually became a co-pilot on a B-24. It was during this period that he invented what he called “Identi-code,” a method for tattooing numbers on household pets to help identify them if they were lost or stolen; he even talked President Harry S. Truman into having one of his dogs tattooed.

After the Air Force, Mr. Altman went to work with the Calvin Company, a film company in Kansas City, making training films, advertisements and documentaries for industrial clients. In 1947 he married LaVonne Elmer, but they divorced two years later after they had a daughter, Christine. He married Lotus Corelli in 1950, and they divorced in 1955; they had two sons, Michael (who wrote lyrics to “Suicide Is Painless,” the “MASH” theme song, when he was just 14) and Stephen, a film production designer who frequently worked with his father.

Mr. Altman began to set his sights on Hollywood while still working in Kansas City. His first screen credit came for helping write “Bodyguard,” (1948) a B movie about a hard-boiled detective.

It was not until 1955 that he actually headed for Hollywood; he had gotten a call offering him a job directing an episode of the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Over the next decade, he directed dozens of episodes of “Maverick,” “Lawman,” “Peter Gunn,” “Bonanza,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Route 66,” “Combat!” and “Kraft Suspense Theater.”

It was while on the set of the TV series “Whirlybirds” that Mr. Altman met his third wife, Kathryn Reed. They married in 1957 and had two sons, Robert and Matthew. Mr. Altman’s wife and children survive him, as does a stepdaughter, Connie Corriere, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Although Mr. Altman interrupted his early Kansas City work to crank out a teen exploitation movie called “The Delinquents” (1957), it was not until 1968 that he moved up to directing major actors in a Hollywood feature. The film, “Countdown,” starring James Caan and Robert Duvall, was a critically praised drama about the first flight to the moon. He followed that up in 1969 with “That Cold Day in the Park,” a psychological thriller starring Sandy Dennis as a woman driven mad by her sex urges.

In 1970, he made what is perhaps his strangest film, “Brewster McCloud,” about a nerdish youth who wanted to build his own flying machine and whiz around the Houston Astrodome.

Then came “MASH.”

In later years he gathered around him a company of favored performers, among them Mr. Gould, Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall, Bert Remsen and Keith Carradine. Many of his sets were celebrated for their party atmosphere, which often came through on the screen. He thought that creating a casual mood helped him expand the boundaries of filmmaking.

To achieve his vision, Mr. Altman was willing to battle studio executives over the financing of his films and ultimate creative control.

“Robert Altman is an artist and a gambler,” his longtime assistant director, Alan Rudolph, wrote in a 1994 tribute in Film Comment. “Pursuing artistic vision on film in America can sometimes put everything you own at risk.”

When a studio refused to distribute Mr. Rudolph’s first film, “Welcome to L.A.,” Mr. Altman responded by forming his own independent distribution company, Lion’s Gate, for the sole purpose of releasing the film. It was a harbinger of the independent film companies of the ’80s and ’90s.

“There’s a big resistance to me,” Mr. Altman told The Washington Post in 1990. “They say, ‘Oh, he’s going to double-cross us somewhere.’ When I explain what I want to do, they can’t see it, because I’m trying to deliver something that they haven’t seen before. And they don’t realize that that’s the very reason they should buy it.”

Mr. Altman acknowledged that his career had suffered as a consequence of his own behavior — his hard drinking, procrastination and irascibility, his problem with authority. He also had a long history of bitter relations with screenwriters. Many complained that he injected himself into the rewriting process and took credit for work he did not do.

But many actors said they loved working with Mr. Altman because of the leeway he gave them in interpreting the script and in improvising in their scenes. “For somebody like me who likes to hang out with my pals and goof off and take the path of least resistance,” Sally Kellerman said, “he’s wonderful that way.”

Mr. Altman said giving actors freedom could draw things out of them that they did not know were there. “I look for actors where there’s something going on there, behind that mask,” Mr. Altman said. “Tim Robbins fascinated me. This John Cusack guy: I always see something going on in there and I don’t know what it is.”

He never mellowed in his view of the movie business.

“The people who get into this business are fast-buck operators, carnival people, always have been,” Mr. Altman said in a 1993 interview. “They don’t try to make good movies now; they’re trying to make successful movies. The marketing people run it now. You don’t really see too many smart people running the studios, running the video companies. They’re all making big money, but they’re not looking for, they don’t have a vested interest in, the shelf life of a movie. There’s no overview. No one says, ‘Forty years from now, who’s going to want to see this.’ No visionaries.”

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 10:06 AM,

Prince Chooses His Arena: Las Vegas
Saturday, November 18, 2006

Published: November 13, 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nov. 11 — It was not much more than a decade ago that the pop megastar behind classics like “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” seemed intent on shrouding himself in inscrutability, even changing his name to an unpronounceable glyph. Just after midnight on Saturday, though, the artist once again known as Prince declared himself to be curiously, and regularly, available: he began an indefinite run of twice-a-week performances at his own hastily built new nightclub here.

Opening night of Prince’s 3121 club at the Rio Hotel and Casino.

In an energetic two-hour set that ran from the vintage 1987 hit “U Got the Look” through “Black Sweat” from his recent “3121” album, Prince delivered a survey of his catalog (“So many hits, so little time,” he said with a smirk at one point), peppering it with references to Scripture and spirituality. And so it was that a pop deity who since declaring himself a Jehovah’s Witness has surfaced with music that spans both sex and salvation, introduced his new pulpit in Sin City.

Prince of course joins a growing line of established artists to bet on Las Vegas, and for whom it seems uniquely equipped to deliver a jackpot. Probably no other city could bring the constant flow of high-rolling fans required to make this sort of undertaking work. But it is still a wager: Las Vegas has both validated legend status and marked a star’s devolution to cliché. This is the place where the Rat Pack reigned in style; it’s also a place that played host to the fat-period Elvis.

Yet Prince’s move here also came as a particular shock. How could Prince, a pop trailblazer who has in recent years largely abandoned the conventions of the commercial music business, set up shop amid the slot machines and buffets?

It seems only semi-permanent. His nightclub, at the Rio hotel-casino, is called 3121 after the album; the same name adorns the adjacent, loosely Asian-themed restaurant being run by his personal chef.

The talks to return Prince to Las Vegas, where he played the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel’s arena as a stop on his 2004 tour, reportedly turned serious this year after he dropped by the Rio to appear as a featured guest during a gig there by his longtime associate Morris Day.

But now that he has hung out a shingle, the question buzzing through entertainment circles here is how long the famously mercurial Prince will stick with the regimen of twice-weekly performances in the same spot. Event organizers say they have scrambled to provide him with every amenity to ensure his comfort, including a private lounge built under the stage (accessible by a purple staircase).

Prince’s partisans insist he is committed, but at the same time they are quick to distance him from the roster of acts that have set up shop at casinos here in easy-living pseudo-retirement, like Celine Dion and Barry Manilow.

“The show is anything but a retirement show,” said Sam Jennings, director of Prince’s fan club operation. “He sees it as just an opportunity to stretch his legs musically,” by mixing up his song choices, booking performers of his own choosing several nights a week and inviting guests to perform with him on his Friday and Saturday gigs. Tickets on Prince’s nights are $125.

If opening night is an indication, Prince’s purple reign may indeed depart from the productions now commonplace on the Strip.

“Ain’t no lip synching up on this stage,” he assured the audience of 900 as he performed just off the giant circular dance-floor that occupies the center of the nightclub.

In fact there was not only no lip synching; there was hardly any effort to dress up the production at all aside from displaying the 3121 logo in neon on the wall behind him. In keeping with the stripped-down style that has been a hallmark of his recent concert tours, Prince performed with only a bass player, a keyboardist and a drummer, with two back-up dancers (“the Twinz”) strutting and singing on several songs.

All of that signaled a departure from the dizzying labyrinth of over-heated productions here, which run from topless revues to Cirque de Soleil acrobatics spectacles to Ms. Dion’s choreographed showcase. His arrival comes as event promoters are proudly wagering that Las Vegas is shedding its image as a bone yard cluttered with over-the-hill performers and is instead becoming a real outlet for hot — or at least contemporary — performers.

But if even a pious Prince represents sexuality — and he does — then Las Vegas seems ready to embrace that as well. After a short-lived attempt to reinvent itself as a playground of family entertainment, it has reverted to its more risqué side with a vengeance, especially since gaming is increasingly available outside of Nevada.

Even with the array of celebrity performers, the casinos these days are heavily promoting new adult-oriented nightclubs. (The Palms, already a hit with clubs like Rain, has added a Playboy Club with bunny-eared dealers; Steve Wynn’s new hotel — no strollers allowed — is trumpeting a club called Tryst.) The Treasure Island hotel, which once invited families to come see its nightly, theme-park-style pirate show aboard two giant ships on the Strip, has redesigned the performance by populating one ship with gyrating, hair-flipping “sirens.”

“The casinos thought a few years back we need to have something for families just in case they showed up,” said George Maloof, owner of the Palms, which is now opening a new 2,400-seat theater for intimate musical performances à la Prince’s. “I think we figured out that’s not what we’re about.”

Certain hotels are also trying out presentations of Broadway shows. John Meglen, the president of Concerts West, the event promoter behind Prince and Ms. Dion, said that was a mistake. “People want to go to Las Vegas and see things they really can’t see anyplace else,” Mr. Meglen said. While Broadway’s big productions may travel to various cities, “right now, if you want to see Prince, you have one choice,” he added. The concept, Mr. Meglen said, is to replicate the exclusive, but raw and free-wheeling feel of the parties Prince had been giving at his Los Angeles home until this year. (The mansion parties also provided the theme for his latest album.)

So will Prince, who ranked as the best-selling concert attraction in America on his 2004 arena tour, fit into the new Las Vegas? If he does, it will be because he strikes a chord with the tourists who flock to the city’s promise of outsize, garish fantasies. Can Las Vegas deliver for him? Prince’s restaurant was less than half full on opening night. But consider: In his 2004 tour, Prince racked up $87 million playing 69 cities. His closest competitor at the box office? Ms. Dion, who generated more than $80 million playing one.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 11:13 PM,


It's easy to pigeonhole players. It's easy to get into the mindset that they can only perform one particular role. But it's also often wrong. Talent should come hand-in-hand with versatility.

by Paul Tomkins 15 November 2006

I've never been of the opinion that players have one set, defined position, and that that is therefore the end of the matter. While you wouldn't want too many goalies deciding they'd rather be left wingers (especially 15 minutes into a game), good players should be adaptable.

Players will always have a position that suits them best, where they are at their most effective. But if it’s a question of getting only 90% from a player in order to get more from the team (in that the alternative would be to play someone whose very best is only 75% of the other player), then that’s what counts.

Providing they have the physical attributes for the role, they should be able to at the very least do a job elsewhere. If Denis Bergkamp could play left-back for the Ajax youth team (albeit only as part of his education as a footballer), then it's something all players, and fans, should be open-minded to.

There are a select few Liverpool players in recent years who have had two distinct careers at the club: a number of seasons spent being one type of player, only to then be switched to a new role.

I began going to Anfield in 1990, when John Barnes was still the most exciting talent in the game: a sublime left-winger. But of course, it was also around the time when he'd had a very successful spell as a striker, having topped the league scoring charts and finished with 28 goals in all competitions. But it was also shortly before a serious Achilles tendon injury robbed him of his pace.

I grew up fairly obsessed with Liverpool, like any football-mad kid who supports a club. But it was only in 1987, when I was 16, that I really fell head over heels in love – and it was following the arrival of Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton. Kenny Dalglish's side sparked my imagination in a way I'd never previously experienced. They played a kind of football that really was like watching Brazil. And at the heart of it was John Barnes, the man who'd scored arguably the best goal Brazil had ever witnessed three years earlier.

One game shortly after his arrival sticks out in my mind. QPR visited Anfield as the surprise early league leaders in 1987. They weren't so much beaten 4-0 as well and truly dismantled. At one point it looked as if Amnesty International would have to intervene (not to mention the RSPCA, given one Rangers' defender was made to look like a lame cart horse time and time again.)

One moment stands out to this day. ‘Digger’ won the ball on the halfway line and sprinted forward towards the edge of the area, drifting to his left past one defender before almost defying the laws of physics with a turn to his right which took him past England international Paul Parker. It would have been easy to blast a shot at goal, but he had the coolness and presence of mind to slip the ball under a young David Seaman – who premiered his look of bemusement mixed with dejection which he would later reprise for Nayim, Ronaldinho, and of course, most delightfully, Michael Owen at Cardiff.

By the time 2nd-placed Nottingham Forest arrived at Anfield in April 1988, and were beaten 5-0 in what was widely regarded as the finest-ever display on these shores, we pretty much knew that anything was possible. After all, by then Steve Nicol (another supremely versatile player) had scored a hat-trick from left-back away at St James' Park. Teams had been routinely thumped for nine months by that stage. Barnes was the star of a special show.

In 1991 Graeme Souness inherited an ageing squad from Dalglish. Souness then sold some of its better players (Beardsley, Houghton) and replaced them with inferior ones. Alan Hansen had to retire as age, and dodgy knees, caught up with him. But perhaps the biggest factor was Barnes losing his ability to ghost past people and leave them for dead.

Barnes would later be reborn in a midfield role under Roy Evans. His waistline may have expanded to mirror Jan Molby's, but his game started to resemble the great Dane's, too: he hardly got around the pitch, but for three or four years he simply never gave the ball away.

While Barnes is only regarded as a legend on the basis of his salad days, when he took wingplay to new breathtaking heights, he remained a class act even during his later, erm, hamburger days.

Of the current team we know Steven Gerrard has the ability to play anywhere. And of course, his position on the pitch comes with a raging debate, and ludicrous suggestions that Benítez chooses to play him on the right merely to prove a point. And there was me thinking it was so he could have a free role to ghost infield (admittedly something he didn't really do at Arsenal), in the way top-class "central" players of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Zidane and Figo have over recent years.

But it is Jamie Carragher who is enjoying a new career, now remade as a centre-back after the first half of his playing days were spent at full-back.

But in Carra's case it was a question of returning to the role he'd already been earmarked for. In 1999 Gérard Houllier said that one day Carragher would be Liverpool's Marcel Dessaily; he just wasn't ready at that stage. He had grown up as a kid in central midfield and central defence, but couldn't grow up quickly enough in those roles in senior football. It was a struggle.

Having been steady for years on either the left or right full-back slot, he spent the first two seasons of Benítez's reign excelling at the heart of the defence. While he's not been as his best this season, it's a timely (if unpleasant) reminder that he's not superhuman after all.

Perhaps the greatest transformation ever seen at the club was made by Ray Kennedy. When he arrived at Liverpool from Arsenal, as a battering ram of a centre-forward, it was obviously in this role in which Bill Shankly intended him to play. Things didn’t exactly go as planned. Kennedy failed to make a spot in the side his own, and found himself in the reserves.

The transformation under Bob Paisley from a big and burly centre forward to an artful left-sided midfielder in 1975 is still seen by some as the greatest-ever manager’s long-term tactical masterstroke. Of course, the main credit should go to Kennedy, as he was the man who took to the field and adapted so wonderfully.

Kennedy was a tall, upright kind of player. Watching him run, there seemed no way he could be a footballer; he was in the same club as Patrick Vieira and Chris Waddle in that he simply didn’t look the part, didn’t move naturally.

Put a ball at Ray’s feet, however, and suddenly it was the most natural sight in the world. It stayed close to his side like an obedient sheepdog. He was suddenly a master, in control, calling the shots. Some players are busy, but busy themselves in going nowhere; Ray took his time, but always got there, always arrived.

In being upright, it meant he also played with his head up –– the sign of a good player. You need time on the ball to be able to lift your head, and only good players get time on the ball. You also need to know your control is perfect to take your eyes from the ball and survey the field. He had such quality he could look completely natural in the role.

But the debate of where certain players should be deployed will always come back to Steven Gerrard. Momo Sissoko's injury might seem the obvious cue to move Gerrard back into the middle, and that may happen in the coming months.

But it's also true that on the right he has the ability to put in dangerous crosses, as well as the licence to get into advanced central positions in a way that can make him harder to pick up. Another bonus is that leaving gaps down the right is less immediately dangerous than leaving gaps in the centre, and that's why so many great central talents (such as those mentioned earlier) start from wide positions when drifting around the pitch. It's not like Benítez is doing anything other top managers haven't done in recent years with the best attacking midfielders in the world.

Of course, Arsenal was a game where this ploy didn't really work. And yet at Chelsea, starting on the left (an even more outrageous misuse if his talent to some!), Gerrard ghosted into some great goalscoring positions and really should have won the game for the Reds. Had his aim been just a few inches better on a couple of occasions, the decision would have been seen as a tactical masterstroke.

Maybe the time is right to move him back into a central starting position, to try something different in the absence of Sissoko. That's up to the manager to decide. But it was only a little over a year ago that the Reds were struggling in the league, and the problem was remedied to a large degree by switching Gerrard to a regular role on the right wing.

But hey, playing Gerrard out wide never works, does it?

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 1:14 PM,

Singapore students aware of environmental issues
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

By Noor Mohd Aziz, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: Students in Singapore are highly aware of environmental issues like global warming, energy and water conservation.

That is according to a recent survey by the National Environment Agency, which was released at the launch of the Schools' Carnival as part of the Clean & Green Week 2006.

The survey found that nine out of 10 of the 1,900 students who took part in the survey are aware of environmental issues, and 8 in 10 students showed interest in environmental issues.

A similar proportion of students felt that environmental issues will be part of their lives.

However, when it came to putting this into practice, only 6 in 10 students were doing so.

"It is important that we actually inculcate awareness and turn this awareness into practice. We need to promote this practice, turn this awareness into practice for that 40 percent. It is a significant number and we need to do a lot more work on this; I think the focus should be activities that turn knowledge into practice," said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Environment and Water Resources Ministry.

To create awareness and responsibility among students, NEA aims to groom more Environment Champions as role models.

"We have recycle bins in Singapore but if you take a closer look, you'll find that plastic bags are being thrown into aluminium recycle bins and aluminium cans are being thrown into plastic recycle bins," said Qing Yi Wen, Student, Bukit Panjang Govt High School.

The Schools' Carnival was launched at the Singapore Expo as part of the Clean & Green Week 2006, and more than 1,000 students from 135 schools are taking part in the carnival.

One of the winners of the contest to promote environmental awareness is the team from North Spring Primary School.

A board game based on the MRT system won an award for best innovative project in the primary schools category.

"We took about 6 months to finish this game. This game teaches us the environmental values - how to be environmental friendly and taking an MRT is an environmental friendly cost. It doesn't waste our fuel and doesn't pollute the air," said Gerald Lim, Student, North Spring Primary School.

The team members intend to market this game early next year. - CNA /dt

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 10:05 AM, ,

Strong sense of urgency among ASEAN countries to tackle haze

By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : A stronger El Nino effect is expected to hit the region again next year, so there is a strong sense of urgency among countries in the region to prevent the haze from becoming an even bigger problem.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim says progress has been made just in the last five weeks, but more needs to be done.

The burning question in Parliament is what more can be done about the haze, if 10 years of efforts have not been adequate.

The five affected ASEAN countries have now met to discuss concrete plans, including committing to quarterly meetings.

And the main focus is fire prevention as well as building up expertise so that Indonesia can sustain its efforts in the long run.

"Getting farmers to change livelihood and adopt clearing methods will take time because, for example, clearing land by fire to using tractors and machinery, you have to know how to use the equipment first. So it requires a lot of plans that will need to be implemented. I assure you that we will continue to work on this but we will not be able to solve this in one or two weeks," says Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Dr Yaacob says that he hopes details of the implementation plans will be sorted out by the time the Ministerial Committee meets again in February 2007.

He adds that while there is clear and strong political commitment on Indonesia's part to eradicate the problem, the country needs to ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement to show its political resolve.

Agreeing that the problem has persisted despite 10 years of effort, the Foreign Affairs Ministry says the haze problem has not affected relations with Indonesia.

However, the haze problem is a serious transboundary problem which also affects the global climate and that is why Singapore had to raise the issue at the United Nations.

Second Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Lim says: "Neither Indonesia nor ASEAN can solve this problem without international support. This is a major environmental problem and can only be overcome with full international support.

"Moreover there is an urgency to find a speedy solution as meteorologists have warned that the haze could be far worse next year if the El Nino situation deteriorates. We must take this warning seriously. That's why Singapore felt compelled to take up the issue at the UN to help mobilise international expertise and resources."

Singapore has committed to working closely with the Indonesian government, international community and local non-government groups to find a lasting solution. - CNA /ls

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 10:03 AM, ,

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Brothers Pictures

Cate Blanchett and George Clooney in a scene from “The Good German.”


Published: November 12, 2006

IN 1989 an unknown 26-year-old filmmaker from Louisiana delivered what might have been the final blow to the shaky edifice known as the Hollywood studio system. Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” an independently financed tale of love and adultery, won the grand prize of the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or, as well as an acting prize for one of its stars, James Spader.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Brothers Pictures

George Clooney in “The Good German,” which opens in limited release Dec. 15.

Acquired by the fledging distribution company Miramax, the film, made with a reported budget of $1.2 million, went on to gross almost $25 million in the United States, a spectacular figure that put Miramax on the map and established American independent film as a force to be reckoned with. As they watched their ancient hegemony crumble away, the studios rushed to establish their own “independent” divisions.

Now, 17 years later, Mr. Soderbergh is back with a movie that means to make amends. “I often think I would have been so happy to be Michael Curtiz,” Mr. Soderbergh said. Mr. Curtiz, the contract director, made more than 100 films for Warner Brothers, including “Casablanca” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” between his arrival in Hollywood from Hungary in 1926 and his death in 1962. “That would have been right up my alley,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “making a couple of movies a year of all different kinds, working with the best technicians. I would have been in heaven, just going in to work every day.”

“The Good German,” which Mr. Soderbergh directed for Warner Brothers, reimagines what it would be like to make a movie under the studio system of old. Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon — a thriller with a conscience about an American war correspondent (George Clooney) who returns to the rubble of postwar Berlin to find the German woman (Cate Blanchett) who was once his lover — the movie, which opens in limited release on Dec. 15, is both set in 1946 and, in a sense, filmed there as well.

During the production Mr. Soderbergh was committed to remaining as true as possible to the technique of the era. By reproducing the conditions of an actual studio shoot from the late 1940s, he hoped to enter the mind of a filmmaker like Mr. Curtiz, to explore the strengths and limitations of a classical style that has now largely been lost.

“For weeks, for all of us, it was like living in a time warp,” Mr. Soderbergh said by telephone from Los Angeles, where he was finishing filming “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the third in a series and an unabashedly commercial movie that will be one of Warner Brothers’ major summer releases.

There have been many attempts to recapture the look of old Hollywood over the years, most of them disappointingly superficial: films that begin in black and white but quickly bleed into color, while never straying far from a contemporary vocabulary of close-ups and meandering Steadicam shots. Not only does “The Good German” stick to its monochromatic principles throughout, it uses other elements of ’40s style that may not be apparent at first.

The strongly accented camera angles, the dramatic nonrealistic lighting, the way actors move against each other within the frame and the way the camera travels across the set — these are all elements of a vocabulary that has been lost in the post-television era. In “The Good German,” Mr. Soderbergh is trying to bring this vocabulary back.

“We set up our little guidelines,” he said. For one, he banned the sophisticated zoom lenses that make life easier for today’s cinematographers, returning to the fixed focal-length lenses of the past. “I did some research and found some script continuities for a couple of Michael Curtiz films,” he recalled, referring to records of the lens and exposure used in every shot, in case retakes were necessary. “I found that he restricted himself to at most five lenses, usually three or four. I talked to Panavision, and they happened to have some older lenses that they’d made that didn’t have all the new coatings on them and also were a focal length that isn’t really used anymore. One of them was a 32 millimeter, a wide-angle lens that nobody uses anymore but was one that Curtiz used a lot.”

For audiences the shorter lenses mean a wider field of vision, expanding the camera’s range beyond the tight close-ups and two-shots that define today’s television-influenced filmmaking. With the wider range, groups of three, four or more characters can appear together on screen, minimizing the need for cross-cutting, which creates a different kind of interaction among the actors and a more expressive sense of the fictional space they inhabit.

They also used only incandescent lights, Mr. Soderbergh said, and no wireless microphones at all. Where many, if not most, filmmakers use “body mikes” to capture the intimate whispers of dialogue, Mr. Soderbergh recorded his sound the old-fashioned way, through a boom microphone held just over the actors’ heads by a technician standing out of camera range.

“The rule was, if you can’t do it with a boom mike, then you can’t do it,” Mr. Soderbergh said. “Which was helpful to me because, in talking to the actors about this very externalized performance mode I was going to ask them to assume, it helped to be able to say, ‘You have to talk louder, you have to project more, because I’m not getting a good enough track.’ ”

Unlike the Method mumble currently in style in American movies, the dialogue in “The Good German” is spoken in crisp, clearly enunciated stage English, emphasizing presentation over interpretation.

“I don’t feel like I’m a real quiet actor in terms of my projection in the first place,” said Tobey Maguire, who plays a crucial supporting role as an American serviceman with sinister black-market connections. “So I didn’t really think much about that part of it. But what was fascinating to me is how he was cutting the movie in his head. There’s really no fat on the film. He really didn’t do ‘coverage.’ He only shot the parts of the scene he was going to use, and if he wasn’t going to use it, he didn’t shoot it.”

“The pace was unbelievably fast,” he added. “So that was great.”

If there is a single word that sums up the difference between filmmaking at the middle of the 20th century and the filmmaking of today, it is “coverage.” Derived from television, it refers to the increasingly common practice of using multiple cameras for a scene (just as television would cover a football game) and having the actors run through a complete sequence in a few different registers. The lighting tends to be bright and diffused, without shadows, which makes it easier for the different cameras to capture matching images.

The advantage for directors is that they no longer need to make hard and fast decisions about where the camera will go for a particular scene or how the performances will be pitched. The idea is to pump as much coverage as possible into the editing room, where the final decisions about what goes where will be made.

The danger for a director is that with so much material available, the original vision may be drowned or never really defined; and the sheer amount of exposed film makes it possible for executives to step in (after the director has completed his union-mandated first cut) and rearrange the material to follow the latest market-research reports.

During the studio era it was more typical for directors to arrive on the set, block out their shots and light them with the use of stand-ins; the actors were then summoned from their dressing rooms and, after a brief rehearsal, they would film the lines needed in the individual shot. The crew would then break down the camera and move it to the next setup, as determined by the director.

“That kind of staging is a lost art,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “which is too bad. The reason they no longer work that way is because it means making choices, real choices, and sticking to them. It means shooting things in a way that basically only cut together in one order. That’s not what people do now. They want all the options they can get in the editing room.”

While the editing process now routinely takes months, “I had a pretty polished cut of ‘The Good German’ two days after we wrapped,” Mr. Soderbergh said. “It was shot to go together very, very specifically.”

“The geography of the scene — to me, that’s the job,” Mr. Soderbergh added, “carrying all of that around in your mind. Sure, I’ve used multiple cameras on other pictures. On ‘Traffic,’ which was from the get-go designed to be a run-and-gun movie, we were using two cameras a lot, but even in those situations you can make choices in terms of the placement of the camera, and how you think the stuff will cut together.” And because Mr. Soderbergh works both as his own cinematographer (under the name Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard), he can make spontaneous decisions: “There’s no gap between figuring out what we want to do and executing it.”

“The Good German” has turned out, in its way, to be a highly experimental picture, but one that grew out of economic necessity. “They bought the novel in 2001, thinking the role of the reporter might make a good vehicle for George Clooney,” said the screenwriter, Paul Attanasio. “I got the novel in April of 2001, and I think we sat down for the first time in May. From the beginning Steven was talking about it as a film noir, which if you’ve read the novel, is not really what it is. The decision to make it as a film of the period came later, when he got down to deciding to make the movie.”

Mr. Soderbergh added: “For a while I thought about doing it normally. And then I realized that actually the most economical way to do it would be the way we ended up doing it, shooting it in black and white, so we could incorporate all of the stock footage we had found. Because if we’d shot it in color and tried to go to Germany, it would have cost two and a half times what it did. Luckily the studio went along with it. Our budget was for $32 million, and they felt the number was not dangerously high.”

Mr. Soderbergh’s team combed the studios for stock film of postwar Berlin; one trove was Paramount, where he found some of the background scenes used for “A Foreign Affair,” a Billy Wilder film set in Berlin in 1948. But it was left to Mr. Soderbergh’s longtime production designer, Philip Messina, to build the rest of Berlin in Hollywood — or Burbank, to be more precise, where they took over some standing sets on the Universal back lot and dressed them in appropriate rubble.

“There’s very little computer graphics used to extend the image, and mostly what you see on the screen is what we were able to accomplish practically,” Mr. Messina said. “The heaps of rubble were made from steel armatures with carved foam on top of them and rocks stuck on them. We moved them from the back lots to the sets and used them over and over, like a kit of parts we were constantly rearranging.”

Louise Frogley, who has worked as Mr. Soderbergh’s costume designer since “The Limey” in 1999, assembled the wardrobe much as it would have been done in the ’40s, first raiding the costume warehouses at Warner Brothers, and later traveling to the Sturm costume factory in East Berlin, where military uniforms of various periods are copied and reproduced for films.

“It’s in an old sugar factory, and each floor is a different army, a different military setup,” she said. “We found quite a lot of original police uniforms. All sorts of things came up: I didn’t realize that the uniforms the police wore were the same as they used under the Nazis, but they shaved off the swastikas.”

Ms Frogley continued: “The civilians were much easier to dress. George Clooney was great, because he really gets how people wore their trousers high during that period, instead of pushing them down to their hips like they do now.”

Both Mr. Messina and Ms. Frogley are already at work on Mr. Soderbergh’s next project, a two-part biography of Che Guevara that will star Benicio Del Toro and be shot entirely in Spanish (another notion unlikely to thrill the Hollywood establishment, which likes foreign-language films almost as much as it likes black-and-white ones). Such leapfrogging is typical of Mr. Soderbergh’s methods: he likes to keep working constantly and is happy to use the down time on one movie to get a head start on the next. In 2006 alone he has served as an executive producer on two films (Richard Linklater’s “Scanner Darkly” and Scott Z. Burns’ “The Half Life of Timofey Berezin”), completed and released “The Good German” and filmed “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

Studios may no longer be in the business of providing long-term employment for filmmakers, but Mr. Soderbergh seems to be functioning as a studio all by himself.

“You hope that there’s a way of putting a film like this across,” he said of “The Good German.” “And just not for yourself. If a movie like this can get made and actually bring in a little bit of money, it means that someone else can make one too. I’m just hoping that we can find a way to the audience so that the person in line behind me who’s trying to get Warners to do something off track can point to ‘The Good German’ and say, ‘You know, that worked, let’s try this now.’ ”

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 11:46 AM, ,

My Mother the TV Writer

ON a sunny Sunday at the start of the fall television season, a half-dozen new mothers drove up to Kim Newton’s home in Laurel Canyon, pulled their infants and Sigerson Morrison diaper bags out of Lexuses and Priuses, and headed inside to a spacious den that looked out onto a pool. The 42-inch plasma set on which Ms. Newton’s 10-month-old son, Oscar, often watches the HBO series “Classical Baby” was off, but the babies seemed perfectly content crawling around and grabbing each others’ toys.

“Hey, Penny,” Melinda Hsu called out to her 1-year-old daughter. “Give Oscar his blocks back!” She looked at the other mothers apologetically and added, “I think she’s going through an aggressive stage.”

Ms. Newton quipped, “Maybe she’ll become a TV writer.”

This, after all, was a group of women who have written for some of the biggest shows in primetime. Ms. Newton has written for “The X-Files” and “NYPD Blue,” and is an executive producer on the NBC show “Las Vegas.” Ms. Hsu is a writer on the Fox series “Vanished.”

While the new fall television series “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “30 Rock” give viewers a fictional peek at the personal lives of those working in the piranha pool of weekly television, these writers have formed an offscreen group to talk about being new mothers in an industry notorious for its grueling hours and back-stabbing politics. But these women have found that despite its cutthroat image, their profession is a surprisingly good fit for a working mother. The hours are flexible, and sometimes children are even welcome at the studio.

It started with a simple premise: new mothers in this industry could use support. “Any time you try to explain the politics, or what it’s like to be in the writers’ room, nobody else understands,” said Wendy Mericle, who has a 1-year-old son, Sam. Ms. Mericle, who is writing for the CBS show “Ghost Whisperer,” started the group after talking with another mother at a party.

Ms. Mericle was unsure how successful she would be in getting women to come together. One woman decided to skip this gathering when she learned that there would be a reporter present and that she would be “outed” as a mother. “I think it’ll make it hard to get a job,” she said. Ray Richmond, a television critic and entertainment columnist at The Hollywood Reporter who has been covering the business since 1984, understands that apprehension, but says the environment has changed. “It’s no longer a novelty to have mothers — much less women — on staff,” he said. “When Rose Marie was on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ it was fantasy. Now you have women with kids running shows.” But, Mr. Richmond added, that doesn’t mean the culture has improved. “It still feels like an old boy’s club in many writers’ rooms,” he said.

That’s why, to the women at Ms. Newton’s house, being a mother in the industry still feels slightly revolutionary. “I was always told, ‘Don’t go into TV writing if you want to have a baby,’ ” said Ms. Hsu, who had Penny when she was a working at NBC on “Medium.” Another woman said that on her last show, the female supervising producer had to leave early one day to take care of her child, and the male head writer called after her, “Don’t hit your head on the glass ceiling on your way out.”

“It was supposed to be a joke,” she said, “but it was and it wasn’t.” She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that mentioning the incident could damage her career.

But for the most part, the women at Ms. Newton’s house have been surprised by how well things are working out. They almost reluctantly conceded that their dirty little secret is less about postpartum depression (“Half the W.G.A. is on antidepressants,” Ms. Newton said of the Writers Guild of America membership) than the fact that their job is pretty compatible with motherhood.

When Ms. Hsu worked on “Medium,” she had a “bring-your-own-nanny” day care space in the next building that the show’s lead actress, Patricia Arquette, had designed for her own toddler. “It was fully stocked with every kind of educational toy you can imagine,” said Ms. Hsu, who returned to work when Penny was 5 weeks old and found that the setup allowed her to nurse. But because workplace culture varies, some women had to choose jobs carefully. Ms. Newton, 41, a single mother, froze her embryos when she was 36 and waited for the right show to get pregnant. She found it with “Las Vegas,” where she takes Oscar to the Sony lot every Tuesday. “It’s such a male show,” she said, “but the guys are great.” Photos of Oscar adorn a hallway bulletin board and his toys fill a large basket in her office.

Ms. Newton acknowledged, however, that her next show might have a much less mother-friendly vibe and she might have to sacrifice a more prestigious job for one with more manageable hours. “It’s tough because you’re choosing between an Emmy and your child, and obviously you pick your child,” she said. “But you still want to stay in the game.”

According to a report last year from the writers guild, the ratio of male to female writers has changed little over 20 years. Female writers’ share of overall employment from 1982 to 2004 increased two percentage points, and women accounted for 27 percent of all TV writers in 2004.

Where salary was concerned, the women at Ms. Newton’s house had no complaints. Guild salary minimums start at about $5,000 a week, and those in the most senior writing positions earn as much as $30,000 to $50,000 a week for a 22-week season, not including script fees.

Though the demands can be steep — in 1994, when Ms. Newton was a writer on “The X-Files,” the executive producer would drive by on Saturdays to see whose car was in the lot, she said — another unusual perk is getting to play out the ups and downs of motherhood on screen.

Lisa Zwerling, a senior writer on “ER,” wrote last season for a character who was pregnant. “One morning when I was eight months pregnant, I was yelled at by a barrista for ordering a nondecaf latte,” said Ms. Zwerling, whose son, Otis, is now 1½. She told the story in the writers’ room, and a version made it into the script. Similarly, Yahlin Chang, who has a son, Leo, 1, wrote an episode of the shelved CBS series “Waterfront,” where the main female character, a mother, decides not to seek the top job. “My male superiors were worried that the female executives would hate it,” Ms. Chang said. But that wasn’t the case. “They related to it because it’s a reality many moms face.”

By the time Leo started pulling on Penny’s hair, it seemed like nap time for everyone. Ms. Chang offered to have the next meeting at her home in Santa Monica and the group wants to invite new members, in part because some of the members work weekends and can’t attend each gathering but also because they are enjoying the camaraderie.

“Breaking into TV writing is so hard-fought that the atmosphere tends to foster competition and pettiness,” Ms. Chang said. “So anything that can be done to counteract the natural hostility is a good thing.”

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 11:22 AM, ,

Dems complete election sweep of Congress
Thursday, November 09, 2006

By LIZ SIDOTI and BOB LEWIS, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON - Democrats completed an improbable double-barreled election sweep of Congress on Wednesday, taking control of the Senate with a victory in Virginia as they padded their day-old majority in the House.

"The days of the do-nothing Congress are over," declared Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, in line to become majority leader, adding that Americans spoke "clearly and decisively in favor of Democrats leading this country in a new direction."

Jim Webb's victory over Sen. George Allen in Virginia assured Democrats of 51 seats when the Senate convenes in January. That marked a gain of six in midterm elections in which the war in Iraq and President Bush were major issues.

Earlier, State Sen. Jon Tester triumphed over Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in a long, late count in Montana.

With a handful of House races too close to call, Democrats had gained 28 seats, enough to regain the majority after 12 years of Republican rule and place Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in line to become the first female speaker in history.

"It was a thumping," Bush conceded at the White House. "It's clear the Democrat Party had a good night."

Allen's campaign issued a statement noting that state officials are conducting a canvass of the votes cast in Tuesday's balloting.

"At the conclusion of those efforts, Senator George Allen plans to make a statement regarding the outcome," it said.

The Senate had teetered at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans for most of Wednesday, with Virginia hanging in the balance. Webb's victory ended Republican hopes of eking out a 50-50 split, with Vice President Dick Cheney wielding tie-breaking authority.

The Associated Press contacted election officials in all 134 localities in Virginia where voting occurred, obtaining updated numbers Wednesday. About half the localities said they had completed their postelection canvassing and nearly all had counted outstanding absentees. Most were expected to be finished by Friday.

The new AP count showed Webb with 1,172,538 votes and Allen with 1,165,302, a difference of 7,236. Virginia has had two statewide vote recounts in modern history, but both resulted in vote changes of no more than a few hundred votes.

It had been clear for weeks leading up to the election that Democrats were strongly positioned to challenge Republicans for House control.

But Democrats began the year with fewer seats than at any time since Herbert Hoover occupied the White House. Even Reid, the party leader, mused aloud at one point that it might take a miracle to capture Senate control.

"From changing course in Iraq to raising the minimum wage to fixing the health care crisis to making this country energy independent, we're ready to get to work," he said in a statement late Wednesday.

Earlier, Sen. Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., in line to become the next minority leader, said: "In the Senate, the minority is never irrelevant unless it falls down into the very small numbers. I don't think, as a practical matter, it's going to make a whole lot of difference in the Senate, being at 49."

Webb's win capped a banner election year for Democrats, who benefited from the voters' desire to issue a searing rebuke of the status quo.

The president, who spoke of spending his political capital after his successful re-election two years ago, acknowledged, "As the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility."

With power on Capitol Hill tilting, Bush faced the reality of at least half of Congress in the opposition's hands for the final two years of his presidency. He announced that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats have demanded.

The war in Iraq, scandals in Congress and declining support for Bush and Republicans on Capitol Hill defined the battle for House and Senate control, with the public embracing the Democrats' call for change to end a decade of one-party rule in Washington.

"This new Democratic majority has heard the voices of the American people," said Pelosi, the California Democrat all but certain to become the nation's first female House speaker, adding that Americans placed their trust in Democrats. "We will honor that trust. We will not disappoint."

With the GOP booted from power, lame-duck Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announced he will not run for leader of House Republicans when Democrats take control in January.

"Obviously I wish my party had won," Hastert said in a statement that added he intends to return to the "full-time task" of representing his Illinois constituents.

In the Senate, Democrats soundly defeated Republicans in Ohio, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. The battle for Senate power came down to Virginia and Montana — and vote counts for those stretched into Wednesday.

By midday, Tester rode to victory over Burns, a three-term senator whose campaign was shadowed by a series of missteps and his ties to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist at the center of an influence-peddling investigation.

"One hundred thousand miles and 15 hours later, here we did it," said Tester, an organic farmer with a flattop haircut who lost three fingers in a meat grinder.

In Virginia, Webb, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, had declared victory, and began to set a transition team in motion and calling himself senator-elect. Allen, a swaggering cowboy boot-wearing former Virginia governor who favors football metaphors, refused to concede and waited to make a move until after the completion of the county-by-county canvassing.

Overall, Republicans lost ground with swing voters such as Catholics, independents, Hispanics and suburbanites, according to exit polls conducted for the AP and the television networks. The GOP held its conservative base, but Democrats made inroads with moderates.

"We came to Washington to change government and government changed us," lamented Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., his eye on the next election in 2008. "We departed rather tragically from our conservative principles."

In the House, Democrats won 230 seats and led in two races, while Republicans won 196 seats and led in seven races. If current trends hold, Democrats would have a 232-203 majority.

Without losing any seats of their own, Democrats captured 28 GOP-held seats. The party won in every region of the country and hoped to strengthen their majority by besting Republican incumbents in races that were too close to call.

Putting another notch in the Democratic column on Wednesday, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a freshman, lost his re-election bid to Democrat Patrick Murphy, a decorated Iraq war veteran, by about 1,500 votes.

In Ohio, Rep. Deborah Pryce , the No. 4-ranking Republican in the House, struggled to fend off a fierce challenge from Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in Columbus, and GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who famously suggested that a decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam named John Murtha was a coward, faced the possibility of defeat in her southern Ohio district. Both were leading but the final tallies were complicated by provisional and absentee ballots.

Republican incumbents also were slightly ahead in four other states but those margins were too tight to declare a winner. They were GOP Reps. Heather Wilson in New Mexico, Robin Hayes in North Carolina, Dave Reichart in Washington and Barbara Cubin in Wyoming.

In Connecticut, Democrat Joe Courtney sought to hang on to a minuscule 170-vote lead over Rep. Rob Simmons in a race that appeared headed for an automatic recount.

Elsewhere, Texas GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla was headed to a December runoff against Democrat Ciro Rodriguez because the congressman got only 48 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate field. He needed 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

Aside from gains in Congress, Democrats took 20 of 36 governors' races to give them a majority of top state jobs — 28 — for the first time in a dozen years. Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio went into the Democratic column.

Democrats also gained a decisive edge in state legislatures, taking control of several and solidifying their hold on others. With the wins, Democrats will be in a better position to shape state policy agendas and will play a key role in drawing congressional districts.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 11:53 AM, ,

The malaise at Monaco

Paul Marshall

Pride and prestige in Monaco are usually measured in the number of zeros on your bank balance, but at the Stade Louis II, Saturday's goalless stalemate with Nice has the principality's football club hanging its head in shame.

Champions League finalists just two years ago, Monaco are rooted to the bottom of Ligue 1 almost a third of the way into the season and appear to be going down faster than a shaken-not-stirred Martini in the hands of a fictional British spy in its illustrious casino.

Just two wins and eight defeats from twelve games is relegation form in anyone's book, and has already cost Laszlo Boloni, only appointed coach last summer, his barely-soiled monogrammed tracksuit at the club's training ground at La Turbie.

Boloni came to the club having worked miracles at Rennes, where the former Romania national coach's blend of tactical nous and notoriously disciplinarian manner brought the modest Brittany club an unexpected trio of top-ten finishes in successive seasons.

But Boloni's management style - so effective with the journeymen of Rennes - ruffled far too many feathers amongst the higher profiles on the south coast.

And after seeing the side slip to second bottom after a home defeat by Toulouse towards the end of October, Boloni was politely asked to cash in his chips, much to the apparent delight of many of the squad.

Boloni's failure was even more spectacular than that of his predecessor, Francesco Guidolin, who after sparkling success at Palermo arrived in 2005 as a permanent replacement for Didier Deschamps and was earmarked as the man to take the club places it had never been before.

Guidolin invited Italy strikers Christian Vieri and Marco di Vaio to sample Monaco's tax-free incomes and was rewarded with a near-forgotten destination - tenth place in Ligue 1, the club's worst finish in four seasons.

With his wanderlust severely curbed, Guidolin shuffled back to the familiar surroundings of Sicily and Monaco turned to the obscure Laurent Banide, their fourth coach since Deschamps left.

The 38-year-old's father, Gerard, twice experienced the Monaco hot-seat himself, and after serving an apprenticeship of sorts as assistant to Guidolin and Boloni, the club's hierarchy - which includes ex-West Ham, Portsmouth and Blackburn forward Marc Keller - appear to be hoping Laurent can provide a touch
of homespun magic to revive their fortunes.

For the moment however, Banide is proving no do-it-yourself David Copperfield.

Banide's first match in charge saw bottom side Nantes - another struggling giant - leapfrog his men with a 1-0 win and consign the five-time Ligue 1 champions to what the French call the 'red lantern' position of rock bottom.

The point earned at home to fellow strugglers Nice represented an improvement of sorts, but while Banide's attachment to the club is without question, his lack of experience at the sharp end of the French game will surely - sooner or later - prove a stumbling block.

But given Guidolin's success back at Palermo this season, Boloni's record with Rennes and the absence of the usual phenomenon of a change in leadership sparking a change in fortunes, it is the players themselves who provide the most cause for concern.

The squad assembled for the current campaign has - on paper - little to envy that with which Arsene Wenger cut his top-fight managerial teeth by taking Monaco to a Ligue 1 title in 1988 or the Fernando Morientes-inspired team defeated by Jose Mourinho's Porto in the 2004 Champions League final.

Admittedly, commanding central defender Sebastien Squillaci - part of that 2004 side - was lost to Lyon this summer, while raiding full-back Douglas Maicon was poached by Inter, but it appeared the club's spending spree had more than compensated.

Following in a tradition that includes Mark Hateley, giant Czech Jan Koller was brought in to replace Vieri as the 'big man' up front, Kolo Touré's highly-rated brother Yaya was snatched from under the noses of the Continent's big boys, promising French youngster Jeremy Menez was lured from Sochaux while Di Vaio penned a permanent deal.

Add to that fringe Italy squad member Flavio Roma in goal, France defender and club captain Gael Givet, Czech international midfielder Jaroslav Plasil and Argentine grafter Lucas Bernardi, the means at Banide's disposal are potent.

Lady Luck, as she has no doubt done to countless casino-goers, has played her part with malevolence in the team's troubles.

Having barely played last season due to a serious knee injury and having to be stretchered off during the World Cup, Koller's lack of sharpness - which meant a return of just one goal in ten games - was understandable.

And now the former Borussia Dortmund forward will have to content himself with picking and choosing his spot on matchdays in the sparsely-populated Stade Louis II as he nurses a thigh injury until the New Year.

Koller's partner in attack, Di Vaio, can lay only tenuous claim to the title of 'striker' having himself found the net just once in a miserable run of form, epitomised when he incredibly missed chance upon chance in the Toulouse game which signalled the end for Boloni.

And though they have lost eight times, only once - again against Toulouse - have they succumbed by more than a solitary goal.

Even off the pitch things are going pear-shaped, with the club one of several Ligue 1 teams falling foul of French gaming legislation and having to remove their principal sponsor - ironically an on-line betting site - from their shirts.

But it seems in the millionaires' playground where royalty, celebrities, highly-paid sports stars and David Coulthard rub Prada-shrouded shoulders with alarming regularity while doing their shopping, the millionaires chosen to represent them on the football field are squabbling over whose turn it is next on the swings.

Like a haunted castle that has been exorcised, the spirit is simply not there.

The display against Nantes was shamefully lacking in fight, the combative Givet summing it up by branding the display 'catastrophic,' before adding, tellingly: 'If we don't play well, then we have to show pride and determination. That's far from the case at the moment.'

With south-coast bragging rights at stake against Nice, club president Michel 'Vidal Sassoon' Pastor brought the squad together prior to the derby for a Monaco version of the 'hairdryer treatment.'

Even the club's notoriously docile supporters, who include Prince Albert of Monaco, have been provoked by the perilous state of affairs.

A group of hardcore fans, and there are not many given average attendances which would shame most sides in the lowest reaches of English professional football, barracked players as they quit the training ground last week.

They were rewarded with a point against Nice.

But it was a fortuitous point at that, earned not without a telling contribution from Roma, whose award of a six out of ten by France Football magazine - a mark given with the same frequency as a giant panda feels a bit frisky - tells its own story.

Captain Givet has exhorted his colleagues to greater efforts numerous times in the French sporting press, only last week classifying the need for urgency as a 'red alert,' his repeated calls-to-arms all the more significant as the bearded defender is habitually given to public pronouncements as often as he is called upon to endorse Gillette products.

Monaco's visit to fourth-off-bottom Troyes - two points further up the table - on Sunday is already shaping up as the side's third relegation 'six-pointer' in three games.

Victory could signal the start of a Monte Carlo rally, but if Banide's men make it a hat-trick of winless games, then all bets could well be off concerning Monaco's survival in French football's top flight.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 11:07 AM, ,

I Just Consider Myself Lucky

by Phil Holland

In May 1990 Geoff Thomas played in two of the biggest matches of his career. The games proved to be two of the most memorable in the history of Crystal Palace and two of the most significant matches in the career of Alex Ferguson.

Then aged 26 Thomas was captain of Palace and led the team out at Wembley to take on Manchester United in the FA Cup final, the game ended 3-3 and was taken to replay where United eventually ran out 1-0 winners. It was United's first trophy under Alex Ferguson and, along with nine England caps, represented the pinnacle of Thomas' 20-year career.

Sixteen years on and Palace met United again, this time in a testimonial rematch which Thomas helped arrange in order help raise money for Leukaemia Research. The match came three years after Thomas was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia an illness which led doctors to warn him he could have as little as three months left to live.

Thomas was fortunate enough to have been diagnosed early and underwent an arduous and intensive course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed by a procedure in which stem cells harvested from his sister were transplanted to replace the leukaemia cells.

Thomas has been in remission since January 2005 and has dedicated himself to raising awareness and money to help fund the research he believes saved his life.

The seeds for a replay of the famous 1990 FA Cup final were first sewn shortly after Thomas had been diagnosed and was actually conceived as a means to help safeguard his family's future.

It is difficult to even begin to comprehend the fear and distress someone in Thomas' position must have experienced after his diagnosis, however he was heartened by the help and support of friends, particularly from within football.

'[Palace chairman and owner] Simon Jordan was quick to help', recalls Thomas, speaking to ESPNsoccernet. 'He called and said he would do what he could to help me and my family. At the time it was a huge weight off my mind to know that there were people who would be there to take care of my family if... if I was not around'.

After entering remission in January 2005 Thomas began to investigate the possibility of staging a testimonial, not for his family's benefit but to raise money for Leukaemia Research. Not one to shirk a challenge, Thomas fell upon the idea of arranging a replay of the 1990 cup final.

'People warned me that it might be difficult to get United, but the first phone calls I made were to Sir Alex and Steve Coppell who were both more than happy to lend their support and do what they could. In the end we had over 15,000 people at Selhurst Park for the match and raised over £200,000'.

Since his fundraising activities began in March 2005 Thomas has raised over £500,000 through various events, the most notable, successful and inspirational was last year's feat of bicycling endurance; an assault on the Tour de France, another challenge the seeds of which were planted while still in hospital.

'When I was still undergoing treatment a friend sent me Lance Armstrong's book 'It's not about the bike' and it really helped me. His sheer determination to conquer his illness was an inspiration to me. I took from the book a focus for what was required to get healthy. After that the idea of riding 'Le Tour' kind of started as a joke and just snowballed'.

In what was a first by an amateur cycling team, Thomas completed all 21 stages of the 2,400-mile 2005 Tour de France route in the same time as Le Tour's professional cyclists.

Gruelling mental and physical challenges are anathema to most of us, but Thomas relishes them, not perhaps for the pain, but because of the end result - the chance to raise money to help those who are still fighting for their lives and those specialists whose knowledge and assistance is vital.

'When I was in hospital there was a guy next to me who had the exact same illness and was undergoing the exact same treatment. Sadly he is no longer with us, like so many of the people I have met. The only difference between us was that he was diagnosed just a few months later than me.

'I have been very fortunate. I am one of the success stories, but for every success there are seven failures. Which is as heartbreaking for the families as it is for the staff and specialists who help care. It is very wearing for them as well'.

Thomas is an affable, easy-going character and certainly not overtly political, or one to court controversy, but he does have a
view on the debate surrounding stem cell research, not a topic many ex-footballers concern themselves with.

'I think that in 10 or 15 years we'll look back and wonder why certain things were not commonplace today', believes Thomas. 'There are a lot of positive strides that can be taken with ethical research. Ultimately there are a lot of clever people in laboratories ready to perform but it does come down to finance, which is what spurs me on.

'I want to be able to go to a specialist with a sort of shopping list and be able to say 'What do you need?' and then raise the money to get it.'

Thomas' outlook on life has changed as a result of his battle with leukaemia but he is at pains to stress that there are many positives to be taken from such struggles.

'One of the things I try to stress is that leukaemia wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to me, and others who have experienced similar illness say the same thing. It changes your outlook on life, you see things clearer. Survivors say 'It's an eye opener'.'

However, while survivorship may have given Thomas a fresh perspective he has always appreciated how privileged he was to have enjoyed a career as a professional footballer.

Like Ian Wright and Mark Bright, team-mates during Palace's successful spell in the early 1990s, Thomas came to the game late, in fact he was working as an electrician before being offered terms by Rochdale, his first club back in 1982.

'I used to turn up to training on a Tuesday night in my overalls straight from work', he says. 'At that point I couldn't have imagined what would follow. When you're playing football you're just enjoying it, not really looking forward.

'I represented England nine times, and maybe they weren't the most important games but looking back at the names of players who didn't play for their country as often as they should I just count myself lucky.'

So what next for Thomas? Well, the future promises yet more fundraising and evermore exciting and challenging ways to do it. There are plans for a foundation in his name and a variety of charity events, plus Thomas will again be pushing his body and his bike to the limits.

On the agenda for 2007 is the 'Race Across America', which is surely the world's toughest endurance cycling race - 3,052 miles across 14 US states, non-stop day and night from West to East coast, and if that were not challenge enough, there is a time limit of less than 10 days.

It is perhaps a measure of the man that after beating what he refers to as the toughest opponent of his career, Thomas retains the strength and determination to help fight leukaemia again for those who cannot.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 1:43 AM, ,

Mongolia may regulate Genghis Khan name
Friday, October 06, 2006

Mongolia may regulate Genghis Khan name

By GANBAT NAMJIL, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 5, 3:12 PM ET
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia - Mongolia's legislature on Thursday began debating a law on regulating the use of Genghis Khan's name in a bid to prevent the memory of the legendary conqueror from being cheapened.

Since Mongolia emerged from the shadow of the Soviet Union in 1991, the isolated Asian nation has applied the moniker of its favorite son to more than half a dozen brands of vodka and beer and a variety of other commercial products.

The trend reflects the immense pride Mongolians feel about a man who established an empire that stretched across Asia all the way to central Europe in the early 13th century.

While Genghis Khan is reviled in much of the world as a symbol of barbarism, Mongolians see him as a symbol of order and civilization. He is a touchstone of national identity in a nation sandwiched between Russia and China and wary of being swallowed up by either.

Lawmaker E. Bat-Uul said that since the prohibition on the use of Genghis Khan's name and imagery had been lifted following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Mongolians had gone overboard in attaching them to products and brands that brought disrepute on a revered national symbol.

"We are not showing enough respect to Genghis Khan," he said. "We tend to use his name more on vodka bottles. If today somebody produces toilet paper with Genghis Khan's name, we do not know what to do about it as currently there is no law to regulate this issue."

Under the provisions of the new law, use of the name Genghis Khan for commercial purposes would be granted only by the government, which would set fees for its licensing.

The law would also give the Mongolian president the right to select an official Genghis Khan portrait from one of about 10 currently in circulation and define the organizations authorized to use it.

It would forbid the Genghis Khan name or portrait to be employed in a degrading or insulting manner or to serve the interests of political parties or non-governmental bodies.

Lawmaker D. Arvin said a major feature of the new legislation would be to prevent foreigners from cashing in on Genghis Khan's name for their own purposes.

"Foreigners are attempting to use the Genghis Khan name and image for their use," he said. "They are saying Genghis Khan was born in Kazakhstan or the Siberian part of Russia or Chinese Inner Mongolia and thus distorting our history."

The legislature is expected to vote on the bill next week. If it passes, it will almost certainly be signed into law by President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who submitted it.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 8:58 PM, ,


Paul Tomkins for liverpooltv.co.uk

This week sees the culmination of a quite monumental countdown: as definitive a list of Liverpool’s best-ever players as you are likely to get.

The slight flaw with a voting system is that the more modern players receive a slightly unfair advantage; while older fans are well aware of current players – I get emails from pensioners discussing Steven Gerrard – younger fans will not have seen many of the older players, and if they have, it is in limited television highlights from the days before every game was recorded. Meanwhile, players from the first few decades of the club's history stand little chance of appearing; we just can't judge them.

But on the whole I think it's an excellent representation of those players who have mattered most in the 114 years of the club.

Some are recognised more for historic moments than consistent contributions; fellow columnist David Fairclough may not have got to start every game during his time at the club, but he made some telling contributions, and none more so than the decisive goal in the 1977 European Cup quarter-final against St Etienne: a goal that helped change the destiny of the club, as it moved towards becoming European Champions for the first time. Where would Liverpool FC be if, when faced with the French keeper, Fairclough had bottled the chance?

Michael Thomas, whose Liverpool career never really took off, helped win the 1992 FA Cup with a great goal, although he arguably shook the Kop harder than any opposition player, when, in 1989, he squirmed free with the aid of a fortuitous deflection to steal the league for Arsenal in the last minute of the last game of what was already the most emotional season in the club's history.

Mark Walters' greatest moment was in 1991, against Auxerre; beyond that, and a 13-goal return in 1992/93, he wasn't the success people were hoping for. He almost certainly suffered from comparisons with John Barnes (who wouldn't?).

Then there's the fact that sometimes we simply get attached to players who aren't necessarily up there with the greats. Mike Marsh was always a player I really liked, though he wouldn't be in a countdown like this. I just liked his style. Some people clearly felt the same way about Erik Meijer.

There are also the cases of unfulfilled potential. Liverpool rarely sold players before they had served their full use, but equally, few players were allowed to stay to the point of decline; Bob Paisley was a master at knowing just the right time to release someone. But a few of the players in this countdown saw their careers curtailed when they still had much to offer.

Mark Lawrenson was forced to retire at just 29, while Rob Jones had to hang up his boots at 27: both were quick and talented defenders. Both would have been higher placed had they not been cut down in their prime.

Meanwhile an injury in 1991 robbed the Reds of the marauding wing-play of the mercurial John Barnes, but such was his talent on the ball and his quick-thinking that he found himself reinvented as a central midfielder. But it is his days on the left wing that will live longest in the memory, and which make him a bona fide legend.

I'm not sure a player's medals are an accurate way to judge his individual ability and impact. Clearly you need to have something about you to stay around for a long period at a club winning lots of silverware, but it doesn't mean you were a key man. Similarly, some great players never won the league title with Liverpool. Is it their fault that they weren't surrounded by better players, or the team given more direction from the sidelines?

I think the top 50, starting from Albert Stubbins, is where the list really starts to make sense, with token inclusions like cult-hero Erik Meijer filtered out, and where not one player seems out of place in this particular pantheon.

Gary McAllister is one of the few deservedly exalted stars who only spent a short time at Anfield. His experience was crucial in the 2001 Treble. John Aldridge is another who came, succeeded, and left within a couple of seasons.

Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia have plenty of time to consolidate their positions, although they are riding high on recent achievements. Alonso has been the more consistent of the two, and is one of the best passers ever to represent the club (and can only get better, at just 24), but perhaps no Red has scored more crucial goals than Garcia en route to winning the European Cup.

Jamie Carragher, at no.7 in the list, has come such a long way in the last two years. I was always a fan of Carra's, but I used to see him more as a vital 12th man, whose versatility was essential but who seemed a little limited wherever he played; now he's absolutely central to team. He really came of age at centre-back in 2004.

Six years ago I included Steven Gerrard alongside Graeme Souness in the heart of my all-time Liverpool team, which appeared in the club's official magazine. I'd already seen enough of the prodigiously-gifted 20-year-old to make such a bold assertion, and in recent years that faith has looked totally justified.

My thinking was based on how good he would certainly be, as he had yet to prove too much at that stage. There's still more to come, as he enters the 'mature' phase of a player's career; allying his great physical attributes (pace, strength, stamina) to a greater level of experience. One thing's for sure: there's never been a more versatile player at the club.

That versatility may work against him in some ways, but it's a great thing for a manager to have at his disposal. I was fortunate enough to be present to see Gerrard excel in both full-back positions, going back to the early days of Gérard Houllier's reign: against Everton at Anfield, when he put in possibly the best right-back performance I've ever seen, and at Villa Park, when he moved to left-back after 15 minutes and looked like he'd been there all his life. Centre-back and goalkeeper are the only two positions in which I've yet to see him perform.

Robbie Fowler, like his mentor, Ian Rush, is that rarity in the list: the hero with two spells at the club. While Fowler's currently out of the picture (perhaps ahead of an important role in the second half of the season?), in his time on the pitch during this second spell he's scored some important goals at a very good rate.

But it's his first period at the club, and the form he was in a decade ago, that made him a firm fans' favourite. It wasn't just the amount of goals he scored, but the way he did so. There was genius in the variety, imagination and subtlety as he found the back of the net. Not the quickest, and by far from the tallest, he could improvise and pull a rabbit out of the hat in any situation. If the shot was there to be hit by his less-favoured right foot, he'd use it.

Rush, my boyhood idol, scored the most goals (although Roger Hunt netted more in the league), but Fowler was, to my mind, the more gifted finisher. However, Rush scored the goals that led to league titles and European Cups. Both were big-game players, but Rush played in the biggest games possible.

So many great players. So many vivid memories. But who is the very best of the very best? For me, out of the two main candidates I’d vote for, it's still an easy decision.

The late, great Billy Liddell is an absolute legend; the team was dubbed Liddellpool, so that is indicative of the esteem in which he was held. But I only know of his genius from second-hand information, as he was clearly before my time. Sometimes you have to accept the received wisdom, and trust the older knowledgeable fans. That he could still come in as high as 6th so many years after his pomp tells its own story.

But Bob Paisley always said Kenny Dalglish was the greatest player ever to represent the club, and as he knew Liddell well, that's good enough for me.

'King Kenny' wasn't the tallest or the strongest (not that he could be bullied), nor did he have much pace to speak of. But he had the ultimate footballing brain. There's nothing quite so thrilling in football as when a player sees something no other possibly could; sees something that we, as fans in the stands or watching on tv, with our bird's eye vantage points, don't even spot.

It will be interesting to see how the list looks in ten years' time. Hopefully it'll include a few current and future stars who help fill the ever-burgeoning Anfield trophy cabinet.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 2:15 AM, ,

No regrets come May by Paul Tomkins
Thursday, September 21, 2006

One thing I often wonder, as I discuss football with friends and also with fellow Reds on internet forums, is how much of our personal lives and our current state of mind filter through into our appraisals of the action.
Everyone's mood affects how he or she perceives the game; at times it's impossible to get a true handle on the performance of the team we support.

The PSV Eindhoven game was one of the starkest examples of this I've seen. I don't think I've ever read such wildly differing views on one single game of football. The response ranged from extolling the virtues of a highly professional performance in gaining an excellent away point, to damning indictments of how a ‘poor’ Dutch side were let off the hook.

I can't say I watched the midweek match in the best frame of mind. Last week I split up with my girlfriend, someone who was very special to me, whom I had met shortly after returning from Istanbul.

It may sound daft, as it had nothing to do with football, but somehow the split just had to come after the big derby defeat and ahead of a trip to Stamford Bridge. To finish me off it just needed a midweek visit to Old Trafford, and defeat to an outrageously freakish goal (I'm thinking along the lines of: Rafa encroaching onto the pitch to give instructions to a player when the ball cannons off his forehead and sails 50 yards into the top corner. Either that, or a spectacular overhead kick from the referee.)

My life increasingly revolves around the club we love, and its fortunes. I rely on the sales of my books on Liverpool FC to make a living; and after a bad result, even the most hardened of men would rather read Cosmopolitan's Top Ten Tips on Waxing than have to think about the Reds in too much depth. (My next book, Paul Tomkins' Top Ten Tips on Waxing, is out at Christmas). I am also proud to have a commitment to write a piece every Wednesday for this website, and while I remain an optimist who prefers constructive criticism, it can be hard to find the positives when you're feeling pretty miserable.

What's going on in our daily lives distorts our perception. So much anger, frustration, hope, joy and despair is bound up in supporting your team. It's then released at the weekend, or midweek: the point where our feelings converge with the events on the pitch, for 90 minutes of ecstasy or torture. As a passionate person with an artistic temperament, the challenge for me is often to remove the surrounding issues from my head, and focus just on the action.

It's about removing the emotion to see the clearer picture. Too much rubbish is written and said about football in a state of high passion; it may feel like the ultimate truth in that moment, but those thoughts are heavily clouded. It's why managers rarely smile when their team scores; they've learned to stay level-headed. (However, the day I don't go nuts when we score is the day I start watching crown green bowls.)

I sense a lot of depression and angst amongst fans, who look to the Reds to provide a miracle cure to snap them out of their blues (a too painfully apposite word following two the last two league defeats). And that's a big part of football's history: the escapist world we emigrate to, in our heads, for that hour and a half.

I don't think I've ever had such a sense of foreboding about a game as the one I experienced leading up to the Chelsea match. I really wasn't in the mood for it, for the reasons already mentioned, and due to what was at stake, and the fiery nature of these clashes; where you can't help but find yourself wound up like the tautest watch spring. But I knew I couldn't avoid it. It loomed large, something that could not be welcomed nor escaped from. It was there to be endured, one way or another. A victory wasn't going to wave a magic wand for me and change what had gone wrong; but a defeat would feel like a final nail in the coffin of my week.

But defeat came, albeit rather unluckily, and I still somehow managed to keep it in perspective. Defeat could never mean the end to a season with 34 games still remaining, especially with three of the first four Premiership games tough away ties (which clearly skewed the league table), and all of the four fancied teams losing at least once already. But losing to Chelsea certainly wouldn't make it any easier.

It was another defeat where the margin of inches played a part, as the Reds struck the woodwork for the fifth time in eight days. There was yet another failure by a ref to award a clear penalty, which makes it five good shouts for a spot kick already this season that have been waved away.

It was one of those games which you can look back on and think 'if only', but as ex-Chelsea striker Tony Cascarino said, Rafa didn't do anything wrong. The Reds created more good chances in one game at Stamford Bridge than on the previous three visits, getting in behind their defence on a number of occasions. The finishing was just out by a matter of inches. Those players may regret not scoring, but at least they got in there in the first place, rather than holding back; and at least they took on the chance, rather than looking to pass the buck.

At the moment I know I'd like to be able to turn back the clock and do things differently. Regret is such a frustrating emotion; because the one thing you cannot go back and change the course of events.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, be it altering something that should have been said or done, or even a rotated team selection. In the last 90 games Rafa has changed his team every single match, but bar the odd regret he will have on occasional results, those 90 games include winning the Champions League, the FA Cup, as well as the Reds' second-highest percentage of games won in a league season.

American journalist Sydney J. Harris perhaps said it best: "Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

I just hope the players aren't looking back with any serious regrets in May. Being beaten fair and square is one thing, but knowing you could have, and should have, done more is difficult to live with.

Finger Acrobatics Performed by Avloomat @ 10:14 PM, ,