Friday, April 18, 2014

We're not the worst!

It's official – newspaper reporter is no longer the worst job in America. All good things, etc.

Career guidance website CareerCast has released its 26th annual rating of the best and worst jobs to have, and my chosen profession has been bumped from 200th place to 199th by lumberjack, the new worst job in America. There are parallels between the two – increasing mechanization, poor hiring prospects and shrinking pay – though the risk of being crushed by falling timber is somewhat less in a newsroom. Lumberjack is expected to see a 9 percent drop in logging positions by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to a 13 percent drop for newspaper reporters.

Some numbers for you – the 10 worst by rank, job and mid-level pay:
  1. Lumberjack, $24,370
  2. Newspaper reporter, $37,090
  3. Enlisted military personnel, $28,840
  4. Taxi driver, $22,820
  5. Broadcaster, $55,380
  6. Head cook, $42,480
  7. Flight attendant, $37,240
  8. Garbage collector, $22,970
  9. Firefighter, $45,250
  10. Corrections officer, $38,970
Can't help but wonder how many of those jobs have lines out the door of people willing to do them practically, if not literally, for free.

As for the best jobs?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fun with numbers, World Cup edition

Decrying "lazy journalism" is normally the domain of anonymous Internet commentators, and usually I am loath to rake fellow media members over the coals, but this foofery cannot be allowed to stand. Lindsay Dunsmuir of Reuters took the results of an online poll of 1,400 American adults and vomited out this little gem -- "Two in three Americans do not plan to follow soccer's World Cup".

Oh, where to begin? Are we supposed to be shocked that most Americans don't want to spend their summer watching soccer? Did I miss some watershed moment where the majority of Americans were supposed to agree to embrace soccer? I would wager that most Americans aren't sports fans of any stripe, so the fact that most of them don't want to watch a soccer tournament with mostly foreign teams can hardly be a surprise.

Now for that supposedly shocking two-thirds figure. At last count, there were about 315 million Americans, so while 210 million of them will pass on the World Cup, that still means 105 million of them will follow the tournament! This year's Super Bowl, the most-watched television show in US history, pulled in a slightly higher 111.5 million viewers. If you took those 105 million Americans and made them their own country, they'd be the 12th-largest in the world, in between Mexico and the Philippines. The article also states "[o]nly 7 percent said they anticipated following it closely" -- in other words, 22 million Americans plan to follow the World Cup closely. Do you know the filthy, unspeakable things advertisers would do to have the attention of 22 million Americans for a solid month?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The domino theory of match-fixing

Looks like Ike might have been right after all. Let a malign force linger unchallenged in Southeast Asia and all of a sudden it starts spreading to areas once considered under control.

As detailed previously on HNWT, Singapore and Malaysia have emerged as a hotbed of illegal betting and match-fixing in the world of soccer, with the likes of Dan Tan and the Kelong Kings among the most well-known perpetrators. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation continue to furrow their brows and make grave pronouncements about the need to stamp out illegal betting, but, unlike their good friends at the English Football Association, they appear to be in no danger of taking action that might deal with the problem.

Now, almost a year after three Lebanese referees were dropped from an AFC Cup match and later convicted of accepting sexual favors in exchange for fixing said match, Southeast Asia and the AFC Cup have been linked to match-fixing again. As many as 13 players from Vietnamese side Ninh Binh are under investigation for attempting to fix matches in the domestic V-League and the AFC Cup. According to a Goal.com report, Ninh Binh players accepted 800 million Vietnamese dong ($40,000) to fix an AFC Cup match against Malaysian side Kelantan, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Club owner Vu Manh Truong has suspended all club activities while match-fixing investigations are underway. Ninh Binh have also voluntarily withdrawn from the ongoing V-League season, with the club languishing third from bottom in the table. The club's unusual pattern of registering the best first-half results in the league, with as many as five out of eight matches where points were dropped after leading at the break, has given rise to more questions over the credibility of the results.

The 2013 Vietnamese Cup champions made their AFC Cup debut this season and have impressed, sealing progress to the knockout stages with a game to spare.

However, Goal understands that Ninh Binh's matches in the AFC Cup are also under scrutiny following suspicious results, with the team believed to have tried to fix half-time results.
Full credit to the club management for taking such swift and decisive action to root out the problem, even if no doubt it will cause the rest of their league and AFC Cup opponents no small inconvenience in the short term. The AFC, in case you were wondering, has "expressed concern" and is monitoring the situation. Bless.

Think incidents such as these only happen in poor countries where players and officials can be bought for a song? Think again. Even Australia, a country with a booming economy, is far from immune.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I did a blog

Hello, beautiful people. As the title suggests, I did a blog, but this time for a respectable media organization. If you would, please give it a read – it's on college basketball and the inequities built into the current system.

By the way, have I told you how lovely and intelligent you look today?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SHEET of Integrity, 2014 edition

Yup, it's that time of year again; that wonderful few weeks when vast swaths of America pretend to be experts on college basketball. I've actually seen a fair bit of college basketball this season despite moving to the UAE, thanks largely to Fox Sports showing the Pac-12 and Big East, plus a smattering of Big 10 Network programming. So, in this latest addition to the "Predictions Sure to Go Wrong" pile, here is a non-graphical representation of my 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket.

(Yes, I know the play-in games -- and that's what they are -- have already happened, but anyone with even a room-temperature IQ knows the real tournament starts now.)

SOUTH
Round 1: (1) Florida def. (16) Albany; (9) Pittsburgh def. (8) Colorado; (5) VCU def. (12) Stephen F. Austin; (4) UCLA def. (13) Tulsa; (11) Dayton def. (6) Ohio State; (3) Syracuse def. (14) Western Michigan; (7) New Mexico def. (10) Stanford; (2) Kansas def. (15) Eastern Kentucky
Round 2: Florida def. Pitt; UCLA def. VCU; Syracuse def. Dayton; Kansas def. New Mexico
Sweet 16: Florida def. UCLA; Syracuse def. Kansas
Elite Eight: Florida def. Syracuse

EAST
Round 1: (1) Virginia def. (16) Coastal Carolina; (9) George Washington def. (8) Memphis; (12) Harvard def. (5) Cincinnati; (4) Michigan State def. (13) Delaware; (11) Providence def. (6) North Carolina; (3) Iowa State def. (14) North Carolina Central; (10) St. Joseph's def. (7) Connecticut; (2) Villanova def. (15) Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Round 2: Virginia def. George Washington; Michigan State def. Harvard; Iowa State def. Providence; Villanova def. St. Joseph's
Sweet 16: Michigan State def. Virginia; Iowa State def. Villanova
Elite Eight: Michigan State def. Iowa State

WEST
Round 1: (1) Arizona def. (16) Weber State; (9) Oklahoma State def. (8) Gonzaga; (12) North Dakota State def. (5) Oklahoma; (4) San Diego State def. (13) New Mexico State; (11) Nebraska (!!!) def. (6) Baylor; (3) Creighton def. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette; (7) Oregon def. (10) BYU; (2) Wisconsin def. (15) American
Round 2: Oklahoma State def. Arizona; San Diego State def. North Dakota State; Creighton def. Nebraska (please, please, please let this happen); Wisconsin def. Oregon
Sweet 16: San Diego State def. Oklahoma State; Wisconsin def. Creighton
Elite Eight: Wisconsin def. San Diego State

MIDWEST
Round 1: (1) Wichita State def. (16) Cal Poly; (8) Kentucky def. (9) Kansas State; (12) North Carolina State def. (5) St. Louis; (4) Louisville def. (13) Manhattan; (11) Tennessee def. (6) Massachusetts; (3) Duke def. (14) Mercer; (10) Arizona State def. (7) Texas; (2) Michigan def. (15) Wofford
Round 2: Wichita State def. Kentucky; Louisville def. North Carolina State; Duke def. Tennessee; Michigan def. Arizona State
Sweet 16: Louisville def. Wichita State; Michigan def. Duke
Elite Eight: Louisville def. Michigan

Final Four: Michigan State def. Florida; Louisville def. Wisconsin
Championship: Louisville def. Michigan State

As long as Nebraska gets its first NCAA (men's) Tournament win in program history, though, everything else is gravy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Oh, Japan

One of the fringe benefits of being an expat is having the ability to observe your home country from the outside, or at least through the prism of a non-native perspective. Being "outside the bubble" can help strip away popular narratives and other cultural assumptions that otherwise would go unquestioned.

Often, this different perspective can be helpful in placing complex issues in a more complete context. At other times, though, it can put one's home country in a more unflattering light. As an American, there are aspects of my country's culture (cherishing freedom of expression, being a driving force of scientific advancement, the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter, etc.) that I quite like being associated with by foreigners, but there are other aspects that create a peculiarly strong gravitational attraction between my forehead and the desk. I can't help but wonder what non-Americans must think of me and my people when stories emerge of, for example, churches giving away free guns, steak dinners and tattoos as an enticement to come hear about Jesus' love.

That brings to mind another question -- what makes expats from other countries cringe when their homeland hits the international news? For many Australians whom I've known and befriended, it can be largely summed up in two words: "Tony" and "Abbott". Malaysian expats must be loving all the attention their country has received in recent days. Even our sensible, well-adjusted friends up in Canada have their own domestic embarrassments for which to answer.

Then there's Japan.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Do the ethical thing

Maybe it's just my pessimistic nature, but it seems as though it's getting harder and harder to be an ethical consumer these days. It's difficult enough avoiding Chick-fil-A and other companies whose values I find abhorrent, not to mention Wal-Mart and other firms that distort the market in order to drive prices as low as possible -- no matter the cost.

Sure, low prices are great when you're on a budget or don't feel like spending money, but just as in thermodynamics, there's no such thing as a free lunch in retail. That $2 six-pack of socks has to come out of someone's hide. Now I read there's an American corporation worse than Wal-Mart, one that might be even harder to avoid -- Amazon. Their low prices and vast selection have helped make brick-and-mortar bookstores a thing of the past, but how do they keep prices so low?

Keeping one's distance

For a short month, February was awfully busy, and not just at work. Turns out my sister got engaged -- on Valentine's Day, no less. That seems corny at first, but if you think about it, that's also a convenient way to remember an important date. Clever boy. My brother got married about 18 months ago, so that just leaves ... me. Good thing I negotiated that deal where the well-adjusted, conveniently located siblings get married and do all the usual stuff while I give the family the chance to live vicariously through me.

Then there's this. Raf Czarnecki, one of my good friends from college, died not too long ago at 34 years old. I still don't know why. Raf and I met at UNO while working at the Gateway, the student newspaper, and he was one of the few people who could match me in knowledge and love of soccer. (Of course, he had an advantage, coming from European stock.) We would go back and forth for hours, both in person and in print.

One of my favorite memories was when we went on a road trip together to Chicago to watch the US men's national team play Poland. It clearly was a treat for Raf, being among the world's largest concentration of Poles outside Poland, and we both had a great time -- even if the game ended 1-1 and Raf was still nursing an almighty hangover as we left the Soldier Field parking lot for the drive back to Omaha. Before the trip we wondered whether to see US-Poland or Manchester United-Bayern Munich, which was a week earlier at the same venue, but after watching two teams of European reserves play out an uninspired 0-0 draw, we knew we'd made the right choice.

Raf was a great friend and partner in crime, and I will miss him dearly. I don't know what, or if, I could have done to help him, but I feel awful for not being around to do it. These are the things you miss when you live on the other side of the world.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Words of wisdom

I've been digging into some of the less-visited recesses of my laptop as I go about freeing up disk space. Among the forgotten gems I've found was a Notepad file of assorted quotes and clips about journalism, how to go about it and why anyone would want to do it in the first place. This was one of my favorites -- a note from someone who is considered a Big Deal by people in the know but who took time to write me while I was struggling through a dark period of my time in Hawaii. This came in response to me discussing how I feel alienated no matter where I live, a feeling that persists to this day:
I've worked in Hawaii just a little, so am aware of the tension between the native islanders and the late arrivals. You see this on other islands too, even in the old New England East. Out on Block Island, for example, anyone who wasn't born there - no matter how many years they've lived there - is referred to as a "washashore." 
I mention this only as a reminder that over the course of a career, a writer finds himself mostly on the outside of everything looking in. It's our natural state of being. And it's important to remember that we can only do what we do by being at a slight remove from the things around us. It's our way of seeing.
I think of it as having one foot in the world of other people, and one foot out in the smaller, more dispassionate realm of the artist or journalist. It's a hard way to live some times, but it's the only way to do the work. I'm this way both by training and by nature, so find it a comfortable enough way to live. But it allows me to see, I think, a clearer kind of truth when I set out to do a story.
I guess I mention all this just to remind you that our work challenges us in many ways. One of those challenges is to tell the truth at moments when others seek only peace or silence or comfort.
You did right by the truth, and that's all we have to go by.
I hope this finds you well and thriving in that beautiful place.
Best,
[Redacted in the interest of privacy]

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sheer brilliance

Science at its... finest? Zach Weinersmith presents his infantapaulting hypothesis.


This idea, the genesis of which came from Weinersmith's excellent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic, is a good example of the absurd lengths to which one can go with an uncritical acceptance of bad ad hoc hypotheses. Plus, it's just wicked funny.

(HT PZ Myers)