Book Review: The smartest and most entertaining writing on football

“The Mixer: the story of Premier League tactics, from route one to false nines” by Michael Cox

This is to me the smartest, most entertaining piece ever written on the beautiful game of football. It tells the evolution of formations and tactics deployed in the Premier League, by English clubs and few European clubs in the European championships, and their effects on the national teams.

The author, Michael Cox, brilliantly narrates them all into several themes that define their respective eras, from the classic long ball tactics, to the early number 10 role in the formative days of the Premier League, the evolution of the Makalele role, the usage of false 9, the tiki taka passing game, all the way to the current pressing game.

In between the eras, we’ll learn about the anatomy of Blackburn’s winning team, Liverpool’s several near champions, the treble winning Man Utd 1998/1999, the Arsenal invincibles, what the riches of Chelsea and Man City brought to the Premier League, the modern developments in football that fits Pep Guardiola’s character perfectly, among many other analyses, from top to mid to bottom table clubs.

The book also analyses the brilliant tactics used by the managers, and shows exactly why they were masters at their craft. For example, why Alex Ferguson used Johnsen (instead of Scholes) alongside Keane vs Juventus at Champions League semi-final, how Sam Allardice’s Bolton Wanderers implements the classic long ball tactics, how Stoke City brilliantly utilise their long throws, how Brendan Rogers’ Swansea adapted to the passing game, the many roles of Fabregas at different teams, the military-like discipline of Rafael Benitez’s tactics, and the curious tactics built around Ruud Gullit in Chelsea.

Of course, we’ll also read about all the mishaps along the way, like how Diego Forlan never quite fit in at Man Utd but brilliant in La Liga, how that title losing Gerrard slip vs Chelsea was a culmination of several things going on few matches prior, how chaotic was Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United, the curious case of Georgi Kinkladze’s rise and fall at Man City, how underrated Matt Le Tissier was and whether he would be phenomenal in today’s passing game, how Leeds United spectacularly fall from their European heights, and the background stories of why the mighty England midfield quartet of Beckham-Gerrard-Lampard-Scholes never quite clicked.

The book also serves as a fond nostalgia, with the likes of Vieira vs Keane fights, the Michael Owen early Liverpool days, the Paolo Di Canio antics, THAT Aguero goal at Man City v QPR title-winning match, the tactics that allow David Ginola dance around several defenders, everybody’s favourite underdog Leicester City in their incredible 5000/1-odd title winning season, and many, many more.

It remains gripping from the very first word till the end, with the nice delicate touch of the very last word on the postscript chapter explains the brilliant meaning of the book’s title. Absolutely enjoyable to read!

We now indeed live in a Brave New World

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

Neil Postman (1931-2003)

This quotation has been edited for brevity

Book review: How to be a real-life Superman, through flow hacking

“The Rise of Superman: Decoding the science of ultimate human performance” by Steven Kotler

Some call it “the zone”, others call it their secret formula, scientists call it “the flow.” Record-breaking extreme sports athletes have it, so do Nobel Prize winning academics, military top forces, Fortune 500 CEOs, paranormal researchers, maverick scientists, psychedelic underground, world class artists, adventurers, Bohemian outcasts, start up entrepreneurs, surgeons, chess masters, everyone who are successful in their field got this so-called flow.

It is the difference between life and death for mountain climbers and base jumpers, it is the inspirational floodgate for aspiring writers, the right improv for jazz musicians. It is the one thing that breaks human limitations, that fuels the huge rise of record breaking attempts in all fields in the past few decades. And it’s all hackable for everyone, including you and me, to be as close as humanly possible as a superman.

Backed by massive amount of scientific data sets – from neuroscience to sociology – and breath taking stories to illustrate the examples, this book shows the what, the why, the where, the when, and the how of “flow hacking.” And it’s mind-bendingly incredible.

Why do Islam in Indonesia feels so different today compared with in the 1980s and 1990s?

People don’t fear change. People fear sudden change. People fear revolutions. People don’t fear evolutions – Simon Sinek

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims in the world today, which make up about 24.1% of the world population. Out of the 1.8 billions, most Muslims belonged to 2 big denominations: Sunni (around 1.5 billion people, or 80-90% of Muslims) and Shia (around 170-340 million people, or 10-20% of Muslims). Within the Sunni majority there are 4 big schools of interpretations (madhhab): Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Syafi’i.

These 4 scholars appeared in the 9th and 10th century, during the Golden Age of Islam, a period of time where intellectual debates were thriving and differences of opinions were the stimulation for growth, not the cause for conflicts. Over time, the school of Hanafi became predominant in South and Central Asia, Hanbali in North and Central Arabia, Maliki in North and West Africa, while Syafi’i in East Africa and Southeast Asia (including Indonesia). Hence, the different “feel” of Islam in these different parts of the world.

For instance, the school of Syafi’i combines the observance of the Prophet’s (PBUH) sunnah (sayings) with modern logic, hence the moderate tendencies and the high degree of assimilation between Islam and local traditions in the practicing countries. By contrast, the school of Hanbali advocates Islamic teachings and way of life back to its purest roots in the 7th century, hence the conservative tendencies of Islam in the practicing countries. This is key, as we shall see later.

In 1932 the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and Muhammad bin Saud (1710-1765) finally merged the 4 areas in Arabia that they have brutally conquered since 1902, to become the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the descendants of Saud control the government and the descendants of Wahhab control the religion. This union changed the face of Islam dramatically for the first time after 1300+ years of existence, because the regime crucially captured the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1914-1926, and thus Saudi Arabia became the de facto emperor of Islam.

Why the dramatic change? Like most tribes in North and Central Arabia, the Saudis practice the Hanbali school of thought. But unlike their fellow Hanbali counterparts, their brand of interpretation, Salafi, is on the extreme spectrum of Hanbali, which they repackaged according to the teachings of their spiritual founding father Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (hence, the name Wahhabi. Wahhabism to Salafism is like the customised Leninism, Marxism, or Maoism to the general idea of Communism). So in short, the Wahhabi ideology that they practice is an extreme view on an already conservative interpretation of Islam.

This is where thieves get their hand chopped, public beheading is a normal weekly routine, women must wear niqab, music and art are forbidden, and perhaps most damagingly to Islamic heritage the Wahhabis believe that historical places, monuments, tombs, etc are a source of false idol worshiping (Bid’ah). That’s why a whopping 98% of Islamic historical and religious sites have been destroyed by this regime. The house of the Prophet’s beloved 1st wife Khadijah, for example, is now insultingly a public toilet. Even Mecca that had always been an intellectual hub like Baghdad and Cordoba, where science flourished and scholars from different madhhab come together to discuss all religious matters, changed to become the main hub of only 1 ideology: Wahhabism. In other words: in less than 100 years in its around 1400 years of existence, the rich, diverse, and highly intellectual Islam have been reduced to become a barbaric, and dumbed down, religion in its land of birth.

But how do all of this affect Indonesia? The Padri war (1821-1837) in Minangkabau was believed to be the 1st entry point of Wahhabism to Indonesia, when 3 people – Haji Miskin, Haji Sumanik, and Haji Piobang – came back home to Indonesia in 1803 from a pilgrimage in Mecca, during the time when Mecca and Medina had just been [temporarily] captured by the Wahhabis (before the Ottomans drove them out again from the holy cities in 1812). These 3 newly-radicalised people, and Tuanku Nan Renceh that was backed by the Padris, began to force the spreading of Wahhabism with the intention of creating a “khilafah” in South Sumatra, which clashed with the local traditionalists, with a full-blown war eventually broke out after the Padris slaughtered most of the local royal family. The royal family then requested help to the Dutch colonial power, and thus because they were fighting against the Dutch, Imam Bonjol (the eventual leader of the Padris) and his gang of extremists forever written in Indonesian history as national heroes.

But aside from Padri war, and DII/TII movement (1942-1962) that wanted to establish its own Islamic state in Indonesia, the Wahhabi penetration into Indonesia had never gain any meaningful traction. Because from the Dutch colonial ruler to 1st president Soekarno all the way to president Soeharto they all made sure that any form of extremism won’t live long in the country. This also remained true when Saudi Arabia discovered oil in 1938, and began to use their huge petrodollar money to boost the spreading of Wahhabi ideology to the world, including (or especially) to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

It was not until the downfall of Soeharto in 1998 and the decision by president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) to open the country to any form of religion (in the good intention of religious freedom), that the extremists came back home and a floodgate of Wahhabism started to really spread in Indonesia. A generous funding from the “guardian” of Mecca and Medina? It’s not hard to see how the spread of Wahhabi can become increasingly rampant in Indonesia, simply because it’s the “ideology from the holy land.” This is achieved through funding to many madrasahs (Islamic school), universities (like LIPIA), mosques, through the many web of charity organisations (such as Al Haramain), the escalating public doctrines and smear campaigns through airtime slots on TV and radio, the news media, the cyber army on social media, and increasingly today through the web of local ustads, celebrity ustads, celebrity influencers and through the peer pressure of their prayer groups (kajian). Gus Dur himself warned us about this Wahhabi penetration in Indonesia 10 years ago, in his book “Ilusi negara Islam”, complete with all the historical timeline, all the names, and the master plan to creep into Indonesian society.

So why do Islam in Indonesia feels so different today compared with in the 1980s and 1990s? Because the extreme conservative version of Hanbali ideology is spreading like wildfire in the country and trying to replace the moderate syafi’i way of life (the one we used to have back in the simpler days).

Hence, many Islamic customs that we never saw before suddenly appear in the past few years, and increasingly dominating our surroundings. Whenever there’s an ustad justifying two dots on the forehead, that’s Wahhabism. Increasingly believe that conventional banking is “riba”, and you left your secure job to sell perfume? Yes, Wahhabi. Don’t believe in the government anymore and fully support the creation of “khilafah”? That’s the Utopian dream of Wahhabi. Women wearing niqab or long hijab and men sporting cingkrang pants? they might not realised that they have succumbed to the peer pressure to “hijrah” from Syafi’i to Wahhabi. They even go as far as attacking those who practice the syafi’i interpretation as kafir (infidel), hence the constant attacks on, and the clashes against, Nahdlatul Ulama (a traditional Syafi’i organisation) in particular. Gone are the days where ustads were teaching calmly about the religion of peace and tolerance, and the importance of habluminannas, and they are replaced by ustads preaching angrily like Hitler, using hateful rhetoric to make their discriminative points, Wahhabi style.

The Wahhabi stronghold in Indonesia have even penetrated the political scene. PKS, what Gus Dur dubbed as “evolutionary jihadist”, is a Wahhabi political party co-founded by the descendant of one of DI/TII leaders. “Revolutionary jihadist”, on the other hand, is like terror groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, or the local Jemaat Islamiyah and JAD in Indonesia, which opted for a direct aggression to reach the same Utopian dream, all of whom not coincidentally are also Wahhabi (indeed, the key difference between terrorists and extremists is in the evolution/revolution approach). Moreover, the now banned HTI is also an evolutionary jihadist based on Wahhabi ideology. Bachtiar Nasir, the head of increasingly influential GNPF MUI, is publicly Wahhabi, while the PA 212 (which evolved from GNPF MUI) reached as high as the role of a king maker in the last presidential election, mobilising the masses for candidate Prabowo-Sandi (which Sandi himself later on admittedly regretted).

And here’s the reality on the ground: Syafi’i tend to be passive, that if people want to learn more about Islam they can come and ask, while Wahhabi are more aggressive in “converting” people, with the help of petrodollar funding, their vast networks, and the fact that they tend to legitimise any means necessary to reach their Utopian dream. And just in case you’re wondering, Gus Dur considered evolutionary jihad as more effective and more dangerous than revolutionary jihad, because instead of forcing us to comply with their worldview through violence (which would trigger an instant backlash) they are patiently gaining trust, converting one person at a time to come to believe that their ideology is the only true view of Islam, and in what arguably becomes a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome they eventually turn people into missionaries that fight for their cause on their behalf. And this time around, their penetration to Indonesia’s society seems to be working. You’ve been warned.

Post Script: The good news is, in his 2nd term president Jokowi appointed some powerful names in his cabinet positions, in relation with this problem: For the first time the Religious Affairs Minister position is not occupied by a religious political party but by an ex military general (with the literal mandate to fight radicalism). The chief of police (whom is an expert in terrorism) becomes the Home Affairs Minister. Even presidential rival Prabowo himself became Defense Minister (which now in theory should fight against the very people he used at his presidential campaign). And on top of that, in the Saudi itself crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler, is undergoing several reforms to modernise the kingdom, including (and crucially) eradicating hardliners. So there is hope.

Additional readings:

What Islam was like during its Golden Age [National Geographic / Victor Palleja de Bustinza]

Saudi Arabia Bulldozes Over Its Heritage [Time / Carla Power]

How Al-Saud stole Islam’s pilgrimage and capitalized a faith [The Huffington Post / Catherine Shakdam]

We have a Saudi Arabia problem, not Islam problem [Mother Jones / Kevin Drum]

Extremism is Riyadh’s top export [Foreign Policy / Farah Pandith]

You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia: the striking resemblance of the rise of ISIS with the rise of Saudi Arabia [The Huffington Post / Alastair Crooke]

The short history of Islam Nusantara, and its struggles against Wahhabism [New Mandala / Keith Loveard]

Jejak Wahabi, dari sayap kanan hingga perang Paderi [BBC Indonesia / Heyder Affan]

Aliran Wahabi dan wajah Islam moderat di Indonesia [BBC Indonesia / Heyder Affan]

Saudi Arabia’s influence in Southeast Asia – too embedded to be disrupted? [The Jakarta Post / Asmiati Malik and Scott Edwards]

How Saudi fund its spread of Wahhabi to Indonesia [The New York Times / Jane Perlez]

The Saudis are coming, via building a university [The New York Review of Books / Margaret Scott]

Salafi movement gains ground in public sphere in Indonesia, via radio stations [The Jakarta Post / Haeril Halim and Fadli]

One reason the Indonesian government is unlikely to present roadblocks to Saudi cultural expansion is its precarious annual Hajj quota [VOA News / Krithika Varagur]

Geliat penyebaran hijrah ala Salafi di Indonesia [CNN Indonesia]

Ilusi Negara Islam edited by Gus Dur

A clickbait reality?

It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths surround it – John Pilger

It’s one of those clarity moments, in the midst of a chaos. It’s that oh sh*t feeling that makes me questioning my media-shaped worldview, a realisation that I got after reading the many one sided coverage by major media outlets and their journalists on the RUU protests.

For a start, there’s hardly any balanced arguments (like why do we need a watchdog for KPK vs why that would be a bad thing), almost no explanation for the before-and-after comparison on RUU KUHP, and if they provide any larger context and/or arguments on the government intentions with the RUU (and weight them based on their merits) it is done scarcely.

No, instead all we get is the romanticised picture of idealistic students who are trying to save the country from an increasingly authoritarian government that creates idiotic RUU. The anarchist students? They cry foul when they are arrested after attempting to break the law, and reported in the media as the innocent being beaten by the repressive police. The biased and provocative journalists and activists? The media focused on their arrests by the regime, and how that move is violating the free press, and not on the damages these people potentially may have caused. Like in the case of provocative Veronica Koman who unapologetically pro West Papua independence, spreading hoaxes that actually ignited riots and separatist movements – but of course later on apologised for the whoopsie – but doesn’t really provide any clear solution for the complex problem in West Papua other than just provoking for independence now!

And what about those social justice warriors who actually have read and understood the law? Instead of using their platform to educate, they regrettably tend to attack, provoke, and insult those who have opposing views, in a condescending tone that would make Robert Cialdini cringe. Even the respected names in global media only show the videos and pictures of the clash between the police and the students, the beatings, and the arrests, with very minimum background context (only show the effect, not the cause and the provocation).

So naturally this whole episode got me thinking, are the global current affairs problems not that relatively straight forward after all? Because the line in the sand looks pretty clear in cases like Rohingya case, the Kashmir conflict, the Brexit debates, the Hong Kong protest, the Amazon forest fire, the Uighur oppression, but are they just another oversimplification by the media? Why are they seemingly able to give much needed context and understanding on the complicated case of, say, Yemen conflict or Israel-Palestine never ending battle, but seems only able to one-sidedly report on the Indonesian problem?

Don’t get me wrong, I also don’t agree with most of the points in RUU KUHP and the other RUU, they look hugely unbalanced and seems like profiting only, well, the lawmakers and their cronies. It’s not lost on me that Ma’ruf Amin is publicly contradicting Jokowi and why the parliament are rushing to sign the RUU before their term expires next month, which indicate a vested interest by a certain group (just look at who protested the loudest when Jokowi postponed the signing of RUU KUHP). I’m also not suggesting that journalists are not the victim of an increasingly unreasonable law enforcement (the arrest of Dandhy Laksono is baffling, and it’s the last thing the government should do in the middle of this tension).

What I am saying is that the real world is complicated, where there is no black and white, only different shades of greys. Hence it would be best if the media can educate the mass on the complicated reality, rather than oversimplifying it almost to the level of a movie mentality (where there is a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys), and fuelling and/or enhancing the anger along the way.

Because the real truth is messy, and nobody is a saint in this scenario. For example, in the more obvious case of KPK. In practice, as much as we absolutely need a corruption watchdog the KPK is currently indeed abusing their God-like power. Because in an environment where almost every (if not all) politicians are dirty, they say KPK becomes a platform to attack political opponents. Because from around 3000+ cases, and within the supervision of only 5 commissioners, they only blow up selected few cases that have prominent names on it for publication purposes (and even then they tend not to further investigate and arrest the web of crooks), and allegedly settle on big blackmail money for the remaining majority.

Because as idiotic as it sounds, KPK’s corruption watch is indeed slowing down investments, simply because in the system where bribery is the sad reality, almost nobody is willing to take any risk to make a deal when there’s a chance of being busted and extorted for money by, you guess who (an ugly reality not explained or argued by the media, but only reported without context that made Moeldoko looked like someone who is disconnected from reality).

Indeed, instead of addressing these problems, by providing the pros and cons and the potential solutions, the media seemingly just dumb it down to merely “the corrupt government and parliament are trying to weaken the corruption watchdog.” No wonder that the ill-informed masses are angry.

Thus, in the age where clickbaits are the new normal, and sensationalised news pay the bills for these media, I’m starting to question how many of their coverage are actually genuine reporting, how many come from seemingly biased anti-establishment (or pro-establishment) mentality, and how many are hugely edited and adapted to satisfy their financial backers or fit their for-profit motives (more sensations, more news)?

Because being [admirably] idealistic is one thing, but withholding half of the information to accommodate a biased agenda is a grave crime in this information age. And they should remember that the role of the media is not to choose a side but to fully inform the public of what’s really going on, while providing the many sides of the argument.

Thomas Jefferson once said that information is the currency of democracy. And right now, the currency feels rigged.

Timeline sejarah Papua Barat

1945: Indonesia merdeka.

1949: Belanda baru mengakui Kemerdekaan Indonesia.

1960: Dutch geologist nemu gold and copper deposit di Netherlands New Guinea (nama Papua Barat di jaman kolonial Belanda).

1961: Papua Barat deklarasi merdeka dari Belanda (pengibaran bendera bintang kejora). Tapi nggak ada satupun negara yang mengakui.

1962: Soekarno nyerang Netherlands New Guinea, dengan alasan mau ngambil balik bagian Indonesia dari Belanda (karena perwakilan dari Papua Barat ada yang ikut di deklarasi Sumpah Pemuda 1928), dan bukan menyerang negara yang baru independen.

1962: Presiden US John F. Kennedy (JFK) intervensi, dan jadi “penengah” untuk perdamaian antara Indonesia dan Belanda. UN bikin special body utk jadi caretaker Papua Barat, dan mempersiapkan mereka untuk referendum di tahun 1969.

Fakta kejadian-kejadian di tahun 1962 – 1969 (not necessarily related antara satu sama lain):

1963: JFK di assassinate.

1965: Soekarno di kudeta.

1966: Freeport bikin Freeport Indonesia Inc, utk negosiasi kontrak dengan pemerintah Indonesia (bukan pemerintah Belanda, bukan negara independen Papua Barat, tapi pemerintah Indonesia, meskipun technically Papua Barat masih under caretaker nya UN dan baru referendum 3 tahun lagi).

Maret 1967: Soeharto officially jadi presiden RI kedua gantiin Soekarno.

April 1967: 1st order of business nya Suharto: sign a concession deal dengan Freeport untuk memberi mereka ijin penambangan di Papua Barat (yang technically belum punya nya Indonesia).

1968: Robert Kennedy, adiknya JFK yang di specially assigned oleh JFK untuk jadi special council untuk Papua Barat, di assassinate juga.

1969: akhirnya sampai juga waktu referendum nya. Dari sekitar 800 ribu populasi Papua Barat pada saat itu, yang bisa voting untuk referendum nya cuma sekitar 1000 “village elders”, dan mereka almost unanimously vote utk join indonesia (situasi voting nya gimana, dan kenapa mereka milih untuk join Indonesia? Google aja, I’m not here for the speculations).

Jadi siapa yang berhak memiliki tanah Papua Barat: Belanda, Indonesia, US, atau Papua Barat yang independen? Kenapa baru heboh setelah tahun 1960, 15 tahun abis Indonesia merdeka, dan bukan sebelumnya? Kenapa perlu waktu 7 tahun untuk mengadakan referendum nya? Dan siapa yang berhak atas gold and copper nya? As you can see, it’s not that simple.

This post is an excerpt from a previous post on the same topic.

What’s going on in Sudan?

December 2018: Omar al-Bashir’s government hiked the price of loaf of bread from 1 Sudanese pound to 3 Sudanese pounds. It sparked a wave of unrests similar like in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 when the price of wheat skyrocketed.

April 2019: the unrests became a good momentum to topple 30 years dictator Omar al-Bashir, whom was ousted in a coup by the military headed by Lieutenant-General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf. But he took control without becoming head of state, instead he established the 2019 Transitional Military Council, and resigned the following day in favor of Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The military declared 2 years of miltary rule.

Basically the protests and the bloodsheds are to demand for democratic election right now, to elect a civilian government. It gets complicated because al-Bashir is Saudi-backed, and Saudi-UAE have already promised $3bn aid to the transitional military government. The people don’t want this to be like in Egypt where one puppet Mubarak (al-Bashir) was eventually replaced by another puppet al-Sisi (al-Burhan).