Category: thoughts

Memorial Day upside down

Ever since I received that phone call on an autumn Friday night, “Raz is dead! They shot him, he’s dead!”, life hasn’t been the same. Even though he was “just” a friend, a soldier, not even 20 years old in his death, I had no idea how deeply this moment would resonate in my mind. Surprisingly enough, over the 15 years that have passed since, I hardly ever found myself pondering much, as if there was never time to remember or reminisce. It’s a good thing there’s memorial day.

Raz Mintz was a fellow soldier, and he was murdered by terrorists in November of 2001. He was a man of intellect, of compromise, of empathy and kindness. He always treated everybody with dignity and patience. It’s sad that of all people, he was the one to pay the price, being shot from point-blank by hate-driven assassins with Allah in their hearts and guns in their hands.

And thus, memorial day has a history of punching me where it hurts. I can’t watch the interviews on TV, can barely listen to the songs on the radio. Losing a friend was hard. Seeing his coffin with the Israeli flag wrapped around it as he goes down under in his final journey opened up a wound that would probably never really heal.

What is memorial day? many would say that it’s a day in which we stop to remember and cherish the sons and daughters who were presented to the gods of war at the altar, as the ultimate sacrifice. I had no idea how strongly I felt about this statement until I had my first child.

As a soldier, it was obvious to me that you need to protect your homeland, your people, your faith. I never considered fatality as an option, but I knew that it was lurking somewhere, just waiting for me to make a bad move or have Fortuna look away for a few moments, like what happened to Raz.

As a father, it is obvious to me that there is nothing I care about in my life more than my family, and nothing I’m anxious about more than the well-being of my kids. I could never imagine anything in this world,  that can justify sending them to this endless cycle of bloodshed. Not just the army or war, but any reality where ideological death is an integral part of life. I don’t care who’s right, I don’t care who started it, and especially, I don’t care what some shapeless entity commanded, and in which language. Even if it means leaving everything behind and starting over.

I grew up in Israel, and spent my entire life living in this country, never have I lived anywhere else. I love the weather, I love the beach, I love the beautiful scenery and even some of the people. I can’t come to terms with the idea that we were meant to live by our swords.

But don’t get me wrong: peace is an elusive son of a bitch. Even more so, it is an implausible resolution for the middle east due to reasons and processes on which I might elaborate at another time. If I had to use one sentence to describe my thoughts, I would say that there are (almost) unbridgeable cultural and religious differences that continuously evolve and impact not only the middle east, but also the rest of the western world.

Back to me and my relationship with grief and memorial day.

To me, it’s a reminder for something much bigger: it’s a testimonial to the human race’s stupidity, ruthlessness and inferiority. Our alleged superior intellect and developed consciousness have most of all contributed to our gradual evolution into ticking time-bombs.

Memorial day is one of our mechanisms of justification for this deterministic road to doom: on one hand, sedating our consciousness, immersing our guilt in a bubble bath of authentic unity, while on the other hand reminding us that our imminent deaths should surely serve a greater cause.

There has to be another way, and I intend to find it. Meanwhile, I salute you, the people who believe that land, ideology, national identity and faith should be put at the core of our lives on earth. It’s borderline witchcraft, the way that people find comfort in sacrificing their loved ones knowing that it served the purpose of protecting more important values, that it was almost worth it. To me, nothing, absolutely nothing will ever be worth it.

Memorial day is a reminder to us all that we are no better than the animals we sneer at from the top of the evolutionary ladder. Just greedy individualists seeking reassurance, with a never-ending need for justification that will eventually leave nobody to remember.

Rest in peace, my old friend. You may or may not have died in vain, but in the end of the day, you just beat us to it, that’s all. And who will then remember us?

 

Seeking glory? Minimax is your least favorable option. Ask Luis Enrique.

Minimax (loosely defined) is a strategy in game theory, representing the choice of cautious moves that allegedly have greater chances to reach the minimal criteria of victory in a situation where your options are win/lose. It’s actually choosing the minimum, in a maximum (win) situation, i.e. minimal victory.

I want to demonstrate why I think choosing minimax may mitigate some risks, but needs to be carefully chosen, and more importantly, one needs to realize it almost completely denies his chances of glory, for those interested. 

Full disclosure first, I’m a die-hard Barcelona fan since childhood, let’s hope it doesn’t compromise my judgement (too much…).

Intro

Last night, Luis Enrique (Barcelona’s coach for those who haven’t been living on earth since 2014), decided to choose the minimax strategy against Atletico Madrid in a 2nd leg of the champions league quarter final, after having won 2-1 in the previous game at home. Basically all he needed was a draw, any draw. And since the Champions league is a knockout-based cup, there is no draw. Ultimately, one team HAS to prevail. i.e. win/lose.

For those of you who don’t know how the system works, you may close your browser tab now, as I won’t be explaining what away goals mean 🙂

How did “Lucho” (Luis Enrique) play minimax?

Easy. He instructed his players to maintain control of the ball as much as they can (nothing new here to fans), only this time, not for the purpose of scoring a goal, rather than just keeping the ball by passing it from side to side, mainly behind the half-way line therefore denying Atletico the chance of goal scoring opportunity (under the somewhat controversial notion: if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score). 

Also, he instructed his players to narrow the gaps, and the offense to help on defense (when was the last time you saw Messi chasing somebody tenaciously all the way to his own box, only to just barely steal it and not even gaining control over it?). 

Why was the strategy minimax?

Because Lucho reckoned that since he did have the (slightest) advantage thanks to the 2-1 win the week before, and due to Atleti’s defensive reputation (which is a very shallow observation), playing a “mid court” game will kill their enthusiasm, silence the fans, help Barca defend efficiently and therefore not concede the dreaded goal that would disqualify them. And, as a bonus, once Atleti goes all-in, he has the best tools in the world for a lethal counter attack to seal the deal.

So what went wrong?

He made 2 fundamental mistakes:

  1. Assuming an excessive possession game with no goal-bound inclination can do the job: the core of Barca’s DNA is indeed possession game, but never for the sake of possession or time wasting (except for specific tactics in the final stages of important games). The possession game has to serve the goal scoring process. That’s what it’s there for. It’s meant to find that precise moment of defensive vulnerability, where you can strike quickly and most effectively. In fact, this strategy is so well-embedded in Barca players, sometimes they don’t even need the brilliance of Messi or Iniesta to score or make an incisive through pass. It has to be said, of course, once the opponent is well trained, it does require moments of genius. By neutralizing the end-game of the ball possession strategy, Lucho immediately called for misfortune and confusion to happen, especially with a team coached by Diego “El grande jefe” Simeone, that thrives on fear (on the other side).
  2. He didn’t fathom or couldn’t cope with the fact that his 3 aces (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) are out of shape/form for whatever reason, therefore he couldn’t rely on them to shine on the counter as much as he did in the past year. With roughly 1/3 battery power on the attack and a confused midfield, you’re in fact miscalculating your odds.

What should he have done differently?

Yes, I know decisiveness in retrospect is the easiest. However, I’m not claiming my solution would have surely brought it home, it could probably just increase the odds.

Traditionally, Barca is an all-or-none team. It crashes and burns the same way it emerges victorious: gloriously. Barca doesn’t know how to deploy minimax because it’s not in the club’s and players’ DNA, the same way it can’t execute an ultra defensive (i.e bunker) strategy, like Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the  2010 semis. This is empirically proven. It’s the blessing and the curse of that club, and a part of its unique magic. Lucho should have trusted his players to try and play the same way they’re used to: possess and progress. That was their only chance. It was never a done deal at the Calderon with such a fragile advantage, but it’s what brought them to this place, specifically and in general.

I’d be a fool to finish this post without expressing my awe, respect and admiration for Diego Simeone. If there’s any proof that a soccer/European football coach can make a huge difference, it’s him. Took a mediocre+ team to great success, and with admirable continuity. In my book, he’s a hero, and he deserves to finally win the European title. Chapeau, Diego.

F U, Minimax!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t like minimax. Best case scenario you win small, but you’ll never know what it feels like to REALLY win. Acting as if you have nothing to lose (not extremely so, but mainly not being dominated by the fear of failure) could be surprisingly rewarding, and if you haven’t yet tried it, I think you should. You too, Lucho.