A rouger shade of Palin

Those who seek to satirise Sarah, we salute you!

As the Scary Sarah Palin Show rolls into a town near you (if you live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is), with the former Alaskan governor, failed Republican VP candidate and inveterate "hockey mom" signing copies of her autobiography Going Rogue: an American Life, it seems timely to pay tribute to all those satirists and lefties who continue to succeed in undermining her. While cheering crowds of fellow American "patriots" greeted a red-blazered and as-ever gung-ho Palin with a roar as she descended from her battle(axe) bus, the anti-Palin book industry was preparing its national lampoon.

First up, over in New York, editors from our friends the Nation simultaneously published their subversion of the Palin autobiography, ingeniously entitled Going Rouge: Sarah Palin -- an American Nightmare, the title apparently inspired by a genuine spoonerism made by a US newsreader. The font and graphics brilliantly echo the HarperCollins official book -- how many diehard Palinettes will mistakenly pick up a copy of the collection of leftist essays at their nearest Barnes & Noble? We can but hope . . .

As the publishers OR Books say, however, this is not a spoof book, but a collection of serious essays by respected writers to provide a political counterpoint to Palin and "the nightmarish prospect of her continuing to dominate the nation's political scene". In the words of Richard Kim, the editor of the Nation:

The cover is a parody of hers and it certainly takes some shots and mocks Sarah Palin, but it is a very serious book and the book itself is not a parody. It is not at all intended as a joke or a parody.

Rather more lighthearted is another Going Rouge, this one a "colouring and activity" book, its title again inspired by the hapless local newsreader. (Can anyone tell me who? I read the story last week but now can't find it!) Again hitting shelves on 17 November, the same day as Rogue, here you can "dress Sarah for success" or "help Sarah find her way to the White House". From their website:

Yeah, yeah, we heard all about the Sarah Palin's Book Going Rogue: an American Life to be launched on Nov 17th. They expect to move 1.5 million copies, and pre-orders have been brisk. We couldn't let that stand without a fight. There are two sides to every story, but let's get something clear here -- Sarah didn't write this book either.

Then, let's not forget the excellence of Tina Fey's campy and uncanny impersonations of Palin on Saturday Night Live last year, which won her an Emmy and, it may not be an exaggeration to say, were instrumental in ensuring a Republican loss (if not the actual Obama win). Fey is said to be reprising her role as Palin to coincide with the autobiography's release.

Finally -- to those readers of a more sensitive disposition, don't click this link. No, don't, you won't like it. Don't click it. Don't. Click. This. Link. Oops, oh well, I did warn you! -- dare I just mention Hustler's inspired porno flick Who's Nailin' Paylin? Adventures of a Hockey MILF, featuring "actors" spoofing Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice, Todd Palin and, yes, Mrs P herself . . . ?

Rouge faces all round.

 

Palin

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

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So much for "the table never lies" – data unravels football's biggest lie of all

London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model.

It’s a miserable day for practice, the rain spitting down on the manicured training pitches of Brentford Football Club. Inside a tiny office marked Director of Football, Rasmus Ankersen is waiting for his phone to ring. The winter transfer window closes in 11 hours and there are deals to finalise.

Ankersen, a 33-year-old Dane with a trim beard and hair pulled into a small ponytail, seems relaxed. Perhaps he knows that the £12m transfer of the striker Scott Hogan to Aston Villa is as good as done. Or maybe his comfort comes from Brentford’s performance this season. The small west London club sits safely in the top half of the second tier of English football – at least according to management’s own version of the league table, which is based on “deserved” rather than actual results. Officially, on 31 January, when we meet, the team is 15th of 24.

“There’s a concept in football that the table never lies,” says Ankersen, whose own playing career was ended by a knee injury in his teens. “Well, that’s the biggest lie in football. Your league position is not the best metric to evaluate success.”

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics – the “moneyball” technique pioneered in baseball – when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham’s other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for “a small club with a small budget”.

Underpinning Brentford’s approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. “It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact,” Ankersen says. “The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports.”

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club’s owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle’s goal difference – goals scored minus goals conceded – was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle’s goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable – and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. “Success can turn luck into genius,” Ankersen says. “You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure.”

Brentford’s key performance metric is “expected goals” for and against the team, based on the quality and quantity of chances created during a match. This may give a result that differs from the actual score, and is used to build the alternative league table that the management says is a more reliable predictor of results.

Besides data, Brentford are rethinking the usual football club model in other ways. Most league clubs run academies to identify local players aged nine to 16. But Ankersen says that this system favours the richer clubs, which can pick off the best players coached by smaller teams.

Last summer, Brentford shut their academy. Instead, they now operate a “B team” for players aged 17 to 20. They aim to recruit footballers “hungry for a second chance” after being rejected by other clubs, and EU players who see the Championship as a stepping stone to the Premier League.

It’s a fascinating experiment, and whether Brentford will achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League in the near future is uncertain. But on the day we met, Ankersen’s conviction that his team’s fortunes would turn was not misplaced. That evening, Brentford beat Aston Villa 3-0, and moved up to 13th place in the table. Closer to the mean.

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times