Friday, December 31, 2010

So ... 2011

Kind of underwhelming so far, but it's early days.

If you put any credence in the first dream of the new year, 2011 is going to be ... weird. I dozed off not long after midnight, missing the final couple of minutes of Kentucky's win at Louisville and leaving "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" lying unread next to me. For some reason, I was cruising around an inordinately large parking lot while apparently trying to buy a car. The place I ended up choosing had a familiar salesman -- Jake, a former friend and employee at the Bellevue BP station -- and he was determined to sell me what he said was a Chevy Camaro but was chopped down to the size of a Mini Cooper. I distinctly remember the speedometer only going up to 15 miles per hour, though he assured me its actual top speed was 65.

This is where things get a little weird. A young woman took over the sale, and I felt for all the world like I'd known her for years, even though her face is now a blur in my mind. Of course, I'm better with names than faces anyway. I asked her how I would know how fast I was going if the speedometer only went to 15 and only received a sheepish grin in return, but the whole car deal isn't the important bit. I'm still picking through my mental Rolodex in search of a name to go with said young woman. What I remember of her doesn't ring any bells among the people I know from college or my working life. It could be high school, but I remember pretty well the people with whom I regularly associated. One person -- Chelsea, a girl two grades behind me -- comes to mind, but she doesn't quite fit. The name Michelle Williams comes to mind, but I should be so lucky to run in those kind of circles.

Oh well. I guess I'll just chalk this one up with the Aloha dream, the Invasion of the Damned and the one about being trapped in a K-Mart overnight with only a squirt gun to protect me from a bunch of lurking tigers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Barring full-on nudity, I'm not sure it's possible to be more unattractive, more unsexy than I am today. What a troll.

How does that Erma Bombeck title go? When you look like your passport photo, it's time to go home? I'm not going home, but hoo boy. Something needs to change.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One sure sign of economic progress

Road rage.

Roughly 10 million cars, buses, trucks, scooters and motorbikes crowd New Delhi's potholed roads every day, causing long traffic jams, gridlock — and frayed tempers.
The city's roads have not kept up with traffic growth. While the vehicle count has soared 212 percent over the past two decades, the number of miles of road has grown a mere 17 percent, according to the New Delhi Transport Department
"People are on the road longer, and everyone is on a short fuse," Satyendra Garg, the police official in charge of New Delhi traffic. "The result is a situation which begins verbally, then escalates to physical confrontation."
And because vehicles are a powerful symbol of often-newfound wealth, any scratch can feel like an assault on a person's status, he added. "So if someone scrapes their new car, they find it unacceptable and are ready to hit out."
Sociologist Abhilasha Kumari also senses a change in attitude as the country's new economic wealth makes society more materialistic.
"It's as if Delhi's centuries-old culture of graciousness has been wiped off and has been replaced by a frenetic and pushy 'me first' ruthlessness," she said.
Migrants from nearby rural areas, some newly rich from selling their land for real estate development, have also helped change the city's texture from a quiet government town to a thriving commercial hub.
"People are more upfront in their aggressiveness," Kumari added. "They believe if you have the money, you flaunt it, with your big shiny new car, and you assert yourself forcefully on the road."
 I'm sure none of this sounds familiar to my fellow Big Durian residents.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday tunes

Christmas music has passed its use-by date for another year, yes, but I still wanted to share with you a couple songs I found in the past few days.

First, "I Don't Believe in Christmas" by the perennially awesome George Hrab:

Next, "Are You Lonely Tonight, Mrs. Claus?" by Dan Wilson (hat tip: Dave Lifton):

Whomever you are, I hope you're having a great holiday season. May these videos provide some Christmas afterglow to tide you over until New Year's.

Thanks, Alfie

AFF Cup first leg:
Malaysia 3-0 Indonesia (Kuala Lumpur)

I'd just like to thank my good friend Alfred Riedl for alleviating any concern I had about Wednesday's second leg. Now I can go to Singapore in peace, knowing the result is all but secure and I will be far, far away from any shenanigans that take place. Considering the build-up, I imagine there will be a fair few angry fans at Gelora Bung Karno.

The Reader's Digest breakdown from tonight — this was Indonesia back to its worst. The confident, collected attacking unit from earlier in the tournament was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Merah Putih went back to their bad, old ways: getting stroppy when things went bad, running out of ideas, playing kick-and-chase and collapsing under the slightest bit of pressure. Other than Bambang Pamungkas not starting, it was the Benny Dollo era all over again.

Here is Indonesia's record so far under Riedl (hat tip to Jakarta Casual): 1-7 vs. Uruguay (Jakarta), 3-0 vs. Maldives (Bandung), 6-0 vs. East Timor (Palembang), 2-0 vs. Taiwan (Palembang), 5-1 vs. Malaysia (Jakarta, AFF Cup Group A), 6-0 vs. Laos (Jakarta, AFF Cup Group A), 2-1 vs. Thailand (Jakarta, AFF Cup Group A), 1-0 vs. Philippines (Jakarta, AFF Cup semifinals), 1-0 vs. Philippines (Jakarta, AFF Cup semifinals). Notice a pattern? Friendly crowds, compliant opponents (with one notable exception) and a certain puckering sound once the pressure increased.

The good news is that Indonesia can spend the whole of the second leg attacking, which is what it does best. The bad news is that just one away goal by Malaysia and the host suddenly has to score five. The ugly? That will likely come out in the post-mortem, when the anti-Riedl faction in the Indonesian FA (and it does exist) will furrow its collective brow and speak solemnly about expectations and accountability — two subjects that may as well be Swahili to the empty suits at the PSSI. Stopping the rot in Indonesian football is a long-term project, but the PSSI will wallow in the mediocrity it so richly deserves if it sacks Riedl for daring to challenge the cabal that runs the sport in this country.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Workers unite!

Still putting things together here. In the meantime, a couple images from Workers' Stadium in Beijing, where I went to see Beijing Guo'an take on Dalian Shide in a Chinese Super League match.

A statue dedicated to the workers of China, situated just outside the stadium.

The inside of Beijing Workers' Stadium, shot from the upper tier. Not much to recommend it, really. More after the jump.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blog, interrupted

Hello, friends. Many apologies for the lack of posts. I was without Internet access at home in Beijing after China Unicom somehow "lost" five payments and turned off my account, and I wasn't about to try installing VPN software on the computers at work. As I am no longer employed by the China Daily or living in Beijing, though, I plan to start posting here on a more regular basis.

I have some stories to tell, to be sure, but first I have about six months worth of Facebook posts, requests, etc. on which to catch up. The aforementioned VPN, supposedly one of top quality, couldn't get me Facebook, Twitter or YouTube behind the Great Firewall of China. About the only things it was good for were Blogspot and a few other websites that may otherwise have been deemed too sensitive by the GFoC (no, that's not a euphemism for porn -- that's readily available without any extra cloaking).

In the meantime, here are a couple stories I put together for Jason Davis and the good folks over at Match Fit USA:

Friday, October 15, 2010

So long, and thanks for all the fish

It's official -- the Party no longer requires my services. I have 30 days before I'm a free agent again.

What fun.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A whole other kind of stupid

So Charlie Davies was not, in fact, at the wheel while driving 125 mph.
Davies, who nearly died in a car crash last year, told The Associated Press Saturday that Jacques Faty, a teammate at French club Sochaux, asked him to switch places and tell police he was driving because Faty thought his license was still suspended from a previous speeding infraction. Faty said he thought police would only fine Davies, but Faty feared he would be jailed.
"That's not possible for me to go 120 mph on the road after an accident and think everything will be fine," Davies said. "If a kid survives such a serious accident and then almost exactly a year later is driving at a reckless speed, it's like, 'This can't be serious.' ... If someone has a second chance like I do, to take advantage of something like that, it's not something I could do. I learned too much from the whole experience to let something like that happen."
Putting aside the assertion that a 24-year-old is still a kid, which in itself is laughable, I suppose it could be considered progress that Davies says he won't put himself in that kind of situation.

However, his actions continue to belie those words.

Sochaux players were given four days off after beating Lens 3-0 last Saturday, and Davies said he decided to fly back to Boston, where he played in college.
Davies said he doesn't drive in France and, knowing that Faty was going back to Paris, he asked if he could get a ride.
Davies said he was lying down in the passenger seat of the Audi Q7 as they drove.
"Everything seemed fine. I knew he was driving a little fast but didn't know he was driving as fast as he was," Davies said. "Then I saw a blue flash from a police car."
Speed and time are relative, of course (thanks, Albert!), and I can see how one might lose track of one's speed while zooming down the highway in, say, a high-performance BMW or Ferrari. The Audi Q7, though, is a full-size, luxury crossover SUV -- not exactly the stuff of Autobahn and mid-life crisis dreams. Even if the difference in G forces was negligible and Davies was reclined so far back he couldn't see the trees whizzing past, I find it extremely difficult to believe he was completely unaware of his surroundings.

The notion that Davies couldn't do anything to stop Faty -- put forward in the latest American Soccer Show podcast -- is bunk. Are we to believe that Davies asking Faty to ease off the gas a bit would somehow have damaged their relationship, personally or professionally? It's safe to assume Faty is aware of what happened to Davies a year ago and -- unless he's a truly heartless bastard -- would acquiesce if asked. Also, the suggestion that Davies would've been stranded if Faty took the blame doesn't wash. We know Davies has a driver's license as part of his punishment was having it suspended for six months. Even if he prefers not to drive in France, I imagine he retained enough muscle memory from his time in the US to at least navigate back to Montbeliard.

The person who comes off looking the worst, of course, is Faty. Blasting through the forests of eastern France at 125 mph is questionable enough, as is driving with a license he thought was suspended, even if it ultimately wasn't. One can assume he had enough traffic incidents, either in number or severity, in the past to lose his privileges. Near the end of the story, it says the police "ran Faty's record and told him his license was no longer suspended." (Emphasis mine -- ed.) Asking Davies, of all people, to take the fall was just the icing on the cake.

Score another round for the Bad Idea Bears. Fortunately, no one got hurt and Faty has said he will take responsibility -- better late than never, right? I just hope incidents like these are the exception and not the rule with Davies. He's come too far with his recovery to jeopardize his life and career over a bit of highway hijinks, whether through his choices or someone else's. Davies is 24, which is plenty old enough to know looking after one's well-being takes precedence over "being a good bro."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You big dummy

Cheer Grow up, Charlie.

Not so along ago, Charlie Davies was the Next Big Thing in US soccer. After a standout career at Boston College, he passed on MLS and chose to start his time as a professional in Scandinavia with Swedish side Hammarby. His gamble paid off as he received national team call-ups and a move to French club Sochaux, making his star turn as the US finished runner-up at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore were already known quantities, but the speed, finishing and combination play Davies showed left US fans dreaming of an Altidore-Davies strike partnership that would terrorize defenses for years to come.

That all came crashing to a halt on October 13, 2009, in Washington, DC. Davies was a passenger in an SUV that suffered a one-vehicle accident at about 3:15 a.m., a crash that killed one passenger and left him with injuries that threatened both his life and his career.
Davies broke the fibula, tibia and femur of his right leg (stabilizing the limb required insertion of two titanium rods); tore a ligament in his left knee; fractured his left elbow, eye socket and nose; suffered serious head trauma; and lacerated his bladder. Nobody knew if he'd play again. Except Davies.
Two primary emotions arose out of the incident. There was sorrow, of course, for the family of the young woman who died and at seeing one of the country's brightest prospects come so close to having his career and life cut short. Lurking deeper, though, was concern about why Davies was on the road at 3 a.m. the night before the national team's final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. True, the US had already sown up a place in South Africa, but the chances of coach Bob Bradley telling his players to enjoy a night on the town is about equal to those of him calling me up to play in central midfield.

(If you're reading, coach, my passport is at the ready.)

The outpouring of support Davies received was stunning. Teammates, fans and the US soccer community united in support of the striker as he struggled through rehab, pushing himself to regain fitness in time to make the World Cup roster. His attempt was unsuccessful, with Davies initially lashing out at Sochaux before eventually coming to his senses, but his recovery from coming so close to death and return to high-level club soccer still made for an inspiring story. It felt like the kind of narrative in which you could invest yourself -- even if Davies never played for the US again, you could admire his comeback from a tragic, youthful indiscretion as he attempted to carve out a successful life and career.

Then he goes and does something like this:

PARIS -- A French newspaper is reporting that American forward Charlie Davies, who nearly died in a car crash last year, was caught speeding at 125 miles per hour last weekend.
The website of Le Progres newspaper reported Friday that Davies was driving an Audi Q7 last Sunday when he was caught on a motorway in France's Jura region.
My thoughts after the break.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blue skies, smiling at me

Today's forecast: blecch.

I think the Beijing air is starting to get to me -- either that or my annual bout with bronchitis has arrived well ahead of schedule. For the past few week or so, I've had a scratchy throat and trouble breathing.

Chasing down a couple leads today, one of which could be called taking the Doc Holliday route.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back on the wagon

Those who know me are aware I can be something of a Diet Coke fiend. It's not as though I'm a believer in brand loyalty, but it's the drink that suits my needs as coffee and tea really aren't my scene. It's not as syrupy as Pepsi, it doesn't have the calories of fully leaded Coke, and the aftertaste of Coke Zero just doesn't sit well with me. Reading that most of the health claims against aspartame have been shot down didn't dampen my enthusiasm, either.

Still, my relationship with Diet Coke has been on-again, off-again in recent years. My first attempt to quit soda came about three years ago in Hawaii. My habit got as bad as two 2-liter bottles a day from 7-11 or multiple 32-ounce bottles from KTA, but at some point I just got tired of spending an extra $6 to $7 a day to get what I thought was a necessary caffeine fix. As it turns out, it wasn't that necessary. Switching cold turkey to water, Crystal Light and fruit juice (no concentrate!) not only kept money in my pocket but helped avert any withdrawal symptoms. Maybe I wasn't as caffeine-dependent as I thought.

I got back in the habit a year later, though, after moving to Indonesia. It was probably down to a number of factors, including poor water quality, a lack of Crystal Light and the stress of moving overseas for the first time. For some reason, the withdrawal symptoms that were absent in Hawaii hit me hard the second time I tried to quit, even though I tried to ease into it rather than go cold turkey. I ended up going back to soda from that point until a month ago.

Third time lucky (?) after the break.

Love thy neighbor as thyself

Let me make this abundantly clear -- I am not a religious person. I don't put much stock in mythology, I don't feel the need to ascribe all things to some divine creator, and the belief that living by The Rules (but only The One True Set of Rules) earns one access to some posthumous Magical Kingdom out there in the ether strikes me as more than a bit odd.

I have nothing particular against religion, of course, and neither am I one of these New Atheists who feels the eradication of religion is necessary for humanity to reach its full potential. All things being equal, I'd really rather not have an -ist or -ism attached to my name. It's just hard to envisage a future where the religious and the secular can live in harmony when one is bombarded with stories about human beings visiting pain, cruelty and violence on each other, all supposedly in the name of a loving deity but artfully sidestepping that same deity's exhortations to treat each other -- every single one, no exceptions -- with kindness.

Thankfully, there is hope. In an earlier post, I mentioned Dan Savage's campaign to give bullied LGBT kids a reason to carry on in spite of the abuse and not turn to suicide. According to his posts, part of Savage's frustration that led to this movement comes from the continuing efforts of groups such as Focus on the Family to keep anti-bullying education out of the schools. Between that, Don't Ask Don't Tell, fundamentalist believers decrying -- if not outright attacking -- homosexuals, governments criminalizing and demonizing homosexuality, volumes of misinformation and misplaced rage, etc., the world can seem to have a "Straights Only" sign on it.

There are those willing to see beyond the hatred, though, and Savage's campaign is beginning to pick up supporters in the theological world. According to Baptist minister Cody Sanders, anti-gay bullying is a theological issue.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard well-meaning, good-hearted people respond to this appeal, saying, “Things are a lot better for gay people today than they were several years (or decades) ago. In time, our society (or churches) will come around on this issue.” To these friends and others, I must say, “It’s time.” For Lucas, Brown, Clementi, Walsh, and Chase the time is up. For these teens and the myriad other bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay youth lost to suicide, the waiting game hasn’t worked so well.
As simply as I can state the matter: The longer we wait to respond, the more young people die.
If this were a hostage situation, we would have dispatched the SWAT team by now. And in many ways, it is. Our children and teenagers are being held hostage by a religious and political rhetoric that strives to maintain the status quo of anti-gay heterosexist normativity. The messages of Focus on the Family and other organizations actively strive to leave the most vulnerable among us exposed to continuous attack. The good news is that we don't need a SWAT team. We just need quality education on sexuality and gender identity in our schools and more faithful and courageous preaching and teaching in our churches.
Treating homosexuals as real people and not abominations? Careful, that just might catch on.

Also of note is this piece by Anthea Butler:

So the Eddie Long crisis is not just a crisis for himself, the accusers, Long’s family and the church; it’s a clarion call to African-American churches to cease and desist with the homophobia and finally start to deal with the fact that its not the folks in the pews who need to be disciplined, it’s the corrupt, bankrupt leadership of many, though not all, churches. The endless round of pastor’s anniversaries, offerings, and the fawning “my pastor is God and can do no wrong” theology of black churches needs to stop.
The absolute fealty to leadership and the “man” of god, enforced with scriptures like “don’t touch God’s anointed” have left so many victims in their wake that it’s a wonder people bother to even go to church anymore. When you factor in the money people have put into ministries that pimp them out and put them down, that’s an abusive relationship predicated on loving God and paying to be close to “God’s representative.” If the Catholic church can’t get a pass on its sexual and pedophilia scandals, why should mega-church pastors?
More good reads after the break.

Great shot, kid!

Far be it from me to say anything nice about the Daily Mail, but this shot might just be one in a million.

This is the moment Mail photographer Mark Pain found himself in the line of fire at the Ryder Cup - and for a brief moment brought the mighty Tiger Woods to a juddering halt.

Bonus points if you can spot the Cheech & Chong impersonator.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The game is rigged

I try to avoid blogging about work -- honest! -- but there are times where I just have to let loose about the insanity that takes place here.

Wednesday was the send-off party for one of my co-workers, a lovely lady who is as Texan as the day is long. Our motley crew included my fellow sports copy monkey, a couple wise heads from the metro desk, three more from the international desk and a trio of young women from the "Teen" section. Stories and alcohol flowed in equal abundance, but one regular topic was the latest indignity to be visited upon the staff.

The US edition of our paper had a pretty nasty front-page error more than a month ago -- "focus" somehow became "fucus." That apparently caused no end of grief for the muckety-mucks because now the whole staff (even the design desk) has to pass a closed-book style test. Did I fall into a wormhole and suddenly end up back in junior high? I'm sure this is how school kids here get treated, and I know standardized tests are the measure of competency in this part of the world, but we're professional journalists here. Plus, there's no sense in giving a closed-book test when the whole reason you print up style books in the first place is so people can refer to them! Do these people actually expect us to know correct transliterations, currency and metric conversions and the "proper" name for each ethnic minority off the top of our heads?

Apparently so, because this came in the e-mail this week:
We have to tell you that the big boss of [redacted -- ed.] is very angry about the result of the stylebook test for Chinese and foreign employees. But we believe that you will do well next time.
The HR department has decided to provide those who failed in the first exam only a second chance to retake it. If he or she fails again in the second, one will have to face punishment. And the detailed punishment will be issued by the HR dept soon.
Let's do some spot translation. The "big boss" is none other than the Vice-Minister for Propaganda (and you all know what rolls downhill). The "HR department" is the three people who serve as minders for the big, dumb foreigners. And the "punishment?" Anything from bigger fines (they're already fining people for mistakes, even ones that don't get in the paper) to suspensions and terminations. There's even talk of not keeping some people who are still in their probation period -- i.e. me -- though I don't know if it's because of all this nonsense or for budgetary concerns.

All this from a newspaper that doesn't know who subscribes to it. All the registration and distribution is done through China Post, the national postal service which has a government contract to do so. It's been that way since the paper was founded in the early 1980s and hasn't changed. CP doesn't deliver on the weekend, so whomever subscribes doesn't even get the new Sunday edition that started in July and of which the bosses are oh-so proud (they signed up for six days a week, receiving the Saturday and Monday editions at the same time). No one here has a copy of the list of subscribers, and CP won't part with or even share the list! The new Big Idea is to put fliers into copies of the paper and have subscribers -- those who know when they subscribed and for how many editions -- send them back. Direct mail always works, right?

All this from a newspaper that is bloated with local staffers yet can barely manage original content worthy of the name (read: no rewritten press releases). Our sports section in Jakarta kicked ass with all of four people, pumping out three or four local stories every day, yet we have twice as many people in sports here and on a good day we'll have one local story and a local brief. I think that's my main concern -- that this paper has the potential to be something great and fill a needed niche (an English-language version of the Chinese perspective) but instead gets caught up in adhering to the process and not stepping on the Party's toes, leaving Xinhua and the Global Times to fill that niche.

One wise veteran at Wednesday's fete agreed, saying: "The process is more important than the end product. As long as you do what you're supposed to do, everything will be OK. The people in upper management have been doing it this way for years and don't want to rock the boat." The problem with that reasoning is that the people who actually read our paper don't give a damn about how well we followed the process. If we give them a bland, gray product filled with "news" they read on the Internet 36 hours ago, they won't bother going back to us.

In short, know of anyone who's hiring? I may need a gig sooner rather than later.

Wake up! Time for science!

In case you haven't noticed, this blog doesn't have much in the way of a focus. Sure, I could only write about soccer, science, journalism, anime, living abroad or random events in my life, but why hamstring myself when my interests go farther than just one topic? While I appreciate the fact that my yodeling on soccer brings in the most hits (and many thanks to whomever is Tweeting my posts), I'd rather my little corner of cyberspace be a compendium of my thoughts on what is important to me or things I find interesting.

And what could be more interesting than kicking it in a space hotel?
Russian company Orbital Technologies has announced its plants to build a commercial space station (to be named the commercial space station, if you can believe that), which would also serve as a “space-hotel” for visiting tourists. The company claims the venture will launch in 2016.
... The station will be able to host up to seven passengers in its homey capsule, free of extraneous scientific instruments and pesky astronauts and cosmonauts. It will be built by RSC Energia, the same company that builds the Soyuz passenger capsules and the Progress cargo ships used by the Russian space agency. It will follow the same orbit as the International Space Station, and will be able to dock with shuttles from around the world.
... The developers say this orbital nest will host space tourists, scientists from other countries and private industry who want to perform experiments in space, and overflow from the International Space Station during maintenance or emergencies. There’s no word yet on how much a single room at the orbital hotel would cost, but it’s a safe bet that every room would have a stellar view.
Puns aside, this is fantastic news. It's the latest step in private industry taking over the transportation aspect of space flight and allowing NASA and its counterparts to focus on exploration. Make sure to check out the slide show and video at the Discovery News link, too.

Then again, why settle for a better view of Earth when you could spring for a whole new home planet?

WASHINGTON – Astronomers say they have for the first time spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the Goldilocks zone for life: Not too hot, not too cold. Juuuust right.
Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.
It's just right. Just like Earth.
"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Go ahead and call it an M-class planet. You know you want to.

Forget humanoids or animals. Even if there's just bacteria, it's a game-changer -- another blast of air let out of the already deflated balloon of humanity's supposedly privileged place in the universe. Now we just need someone to soup up a shuttle fast enough to get us there.

More after the break.

Fruitful is as fruitful does

So you're saying there's a chance I can retire after all?
If your dreams include retiring early, you're going to have to save money more quickly than someone who retires at a traditional age. There's a lot of advice out there about how to save more money: Forego a daily latte, give up cable TV, stop eating meals out, and get your books from the library. Sure, you will save a few bucks this way, which will add up over the years. But if you really want to supercharge your retirement savings, think big. Don't have kids.
 Done. And. Done.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dark(e) days ahead

So the new voice of American soccer is ... English?
BRISTOL, Conn. -- British announcer Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the World Cup, is joining ESPN as its lead soccer voice in the United States.
"Ian's experience, authenticity [emphasis mine -- ed] and passion for the sport, which were evident throughout the World Cup, will resonate with our viewers, who have come to expect top-quality soccer commentary from ESPN," said Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer for event production.
Darke's assignments will include Premier League matches, U.S. national team games, the 2011 Women's World Cup, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.
"Authenticity," eh? I wonder what it is about the new guy that makes him more authentic than his predecessors.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It gets better

Bullying, it seems, is as much a part of school life as the three Rs and homecoming. As long as there are outsiders or people who do not conform to their society's definition of "normal," there will always be people who feel the need to ostracize and abuse them. If you're not part of the tribe, the thinking goes, you're not a real person.

Sometimes the picked-upon manage to shrug off the abuse and move on, focusing on a better life away from their tormentors. Other times the physical and mental scars linger long after the fact, affecting the victim the rest of their days. Most tragically of all, there are those for whom the abuse is just too much.

Advice columnist and blogger extraordinaire Dan Savage has seen too much of the latter and is doing something about it. In his most recent Savage Love column (third letter down), he mourns the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas:

Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself — hope you're pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other "Christians" out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates — classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
"My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas," a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. "I wish I could have told you that things get better."
I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
To that end, Savage launched the "It Gets Better Project" on YouTube, asking readers to send in videos describing their experiences of surviving bullying and going on to live happy, successful lives. The goal is to provide a beacon of hope and positive role models to kids who are struggling, showing them the torment doesn't last forever and that it does, in fact, get better.

As I am heterosexual -- despite the numerous accusations and insinuations hurled my way over the years -- my posting a video wouldn't be much help. Nevertheless, I am 100 percent behind Savage's effort. Growing up a nondescript white boy in a nondescript, whitebread city in nondescript, whitebread Nebraska, I was still bullied and mocked for the heinous crime of being "different." Why? Who knows, but I'm sure those people felt much better about themselves then and still do to this day. While I'd be lying if I said I emerged unaffected -- I'm nowhere near as friendly or open as I used to be, and my cynicism and misanthropy can't all have come from listening to Bill Hicks -- I pushed on, graduated from high school and left town in search of a place where I could fit in. I wish all the bullied kids had the chance to do the same.

Resources such as Savage's are invaluable. Adolescence is tough enough for the "normal" kids, let along the outcasts. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if such support was widely available 10, 20, 30 years ago or more? To quote Yul Brenner from "Cool Runnings": "We're different. People always afraid of what's different." It's a shame that being different is seen as a negative, and all the more tragic that some people so virulently reject what's different to the point of hounding another human being beyond despair.

Awwwwwwww geek out!

George Hrab is a man of many talents. Not only is he an author, skeptical activist, snappy dresser and drummer for the Philadelphia Funk Authority, he also does his own music on the side (which also has a skeptical aspect to it). This heady mix of talents leaves him in high demand, and that notoriety in turn led him into a situation that would likely make my head explode.

Hrab recounts the tale in Episode 183 of his excellent Geologic Podcast. During the recently completed Dragon*Con in Atlanta, he was asked to give an impromptu introduction to a talk featuring Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) and Jamie Ian Swiss (The Honest Liar). This eventually led to an invitation to hang out with Savage, Swiss and friends later that evening. He sets the scene in a nearly empty, 30th-floor bar atop the hotel.

After Hrab, Savage and Swiss chat for a while, two more men arrive -- Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax. Next to arrive is the editor of, his entourage and a number of actors from the new Battlestar Galactica series (unnamed by Hrab as he doesn't watch the show). Add to the mix the man who played Gypsy on MST3K (also unnamed) and the guy who produces Kevin Smith's podcast.

Sometime in the middle of the discussion, a person attempts to squeeze past Hrab to greet someone on the other side of their table. That person? Marina Sirtis (a.k.a. Counselor Deanna Troi). She apparently is friends with some of the BSG folks and, upon finding out Savage is one of the Mythbusters, exclaims she and Mr. Marina Sirtis get into arguments all the time when he wants to watch Mythbusters and she wants to watch soccer. Why was she there? Apparently she was already hanging out with Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton at the other side of the bar.

This is Nerdvana on a scale my feeble mind fails to grasp. How Hrab kept from melting into a puddle of goo is beyond me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunil or later

Et tu, Klinsi?

Not content with adding more misery to the country's most shambolic World Cup in the modern era, Juergen Klinsmann's latest flirtation with the United States national team has sparked yet another round of garment-rending and teeth-gnashing on the US soccer scene.

In short, the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager revealed during an interview for a Kansas City Wizards pregame show that he had held negotiations with the US Soccer Federation over possibly taking over as head coach of the men's senior team. He said there were "very positive conversations" but ultimately backed out of the talks because the USSF and president Sunil Gulati would not put into writing what had been verbally agreed with Klinsmann. The parties have done this dance before, with Klinsmann walking away from negotiations to take charge after the 2006 World Cup because of disagreements over his level of authority with the team.

In case you missed it

One of the benefits of working in the news industry -- other than the fat paycheck and hordes of groupies, of course -- is having ready access to feeds from the wire services. The current gig has Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the most recent addition, the New York Times. It also has the official government news agency, Xinhua, which has an interesting take on news judgment and often reads like a ham-handed Babelfish translation.

One of my responsibilities is to comb through the wires and find either updates for stories we're using or new articles we might have missed. The start of football season and the pennant races in baseball might dominate the sports headlines back home, but a couple stories I'm watching are the ongoing kerfuffle in New Delhi with the Commonwealth Games (threatening to bring the chaos people expected at this year's World Cup -- Scotland's living quarters were deemed "unfit for human habitation") and the ever-widening spot-fixing scandal during the Pakistan cricket team's tour of England. My take on the new Jurgen Klinsmann revelation will arrive a bit later.

For now, here are a few stories you might find interesting:

Murder suspect claims 'caffeine insanity'

NEWPORT, Ky. — A Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife is poised to claim excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left him so mentally unstable he couldn't have knowingly killed her, his lawyer has notified a court.
Woody Will Smith, 33, is scheduled for trial starting Monday on a murder charge in the May 2009 death of Amanda Hornsby-Smith, 28.
Defense attorney Shannon Sexton filed notice with the Newport court of plans to argue his client ingested so much caffeine in the days leading up to the killing that it rendered him temporarily insane — unable even to form the intent of committing a crime.
I'll have to keep this tactic in mind should it work, especially considering I'm off the soda wagon to the tune of three 600 mL bottles of Diet Coke a day.

Death of 9-year-old puts focus on Thai high school gang wars
Teachers and students say the violence is another outgrowth of the problems that affect the poorer half of Thai society, much of which feels overlooked by the government. The gap between rich and poor was highlighted by the "red shirt" anti-government protests in April and May, which some protesters called class warfare.
Gang violence has plagued Thai schools for years, mostly at the country's 835 vocational schools, which cater largely to the children of the working class: taxi drivers, security guards and factory workers. Police say there were 900 reported incidents in Bangkok in the first half of this year, but teachers say the actual number is higher.
Many of Bangkok's 106 trade schools frisk students on arrival. In recent years, the pencils and rulers that were the weapons of choice have been replaced by machetes, homemade bombs and cheap guns.
Puts a whole new spin on "school rumble," doesn't it, anime fans?

Atheist Hitchens skips prayer day in his honor

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he's suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.
Hitchens has no use for that first group. "'To hell with you' is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell," Hitchens told AP.
He's ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: "'Thanks but no thanks' is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity."
It's that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens' healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?
"I say it's fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself," says Hitchens.
Count me among those hoping -- not praying -- that Hitchens beats his cancer and lives well for many years to come. Think what you will about his stance on religion, but wishing sickness and death on someone is sub-human. My copy of "God is Not Great" is still in Jakarta, and I hope I won't be reading it as a way of honoring Hitchens' memory.

Families disguise girls as boys in Afghanistan

Six-year-old Mehran Rafaat is like many girls her age. She likes to be the center of attention. She is often frustrated when things do not go her way. Like her three older sisters, she is eager to discover the world outside the family’s apartment in their middle-class neighborhood of Kabul.
But when their mother, Azita Rafaat, a member of Parliament, dresses the children for school in the morning, there is one important difference. Mehran’s sisters put on black dresses and head scarves, tied tightly over their ponytails. For Mehran, it’s green pants, a white shirt and a necktie, then a pat from her mother over her spiky, short black hair. After that, her daughter is out the door — as an Afghan boy.
It's unfortunate families have to go to such lengths, if only to live up to the pressures society places upon them. Given what low esteem in which women are held in Afghanistan, though, you can hardly blame them for trying.

Lastly, a happier -- if slightly wistful -- story about one of the many things that makes baseball different (and better) from football.

A Ballpark Farewell, Played Adagio
After providing the home soundtrack for the White Sox for 41 years, Faust is retiring at the end of the season. Her music has been the grace note bridging memorable eras in the team’s history, from the baseball barker Bill Veeck to the showman Ozzie Guillen.
Faust was an innovator, choosing songs that played off names like a musical Chris Berman. She has a knack for matching songs to on-field situations, perhaps the most famous example being her inspired choice of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when an opposing pitcher was pulled in the heat of the 1977 pennant race. For White Sox fans, the song became a part of the everyday rotation, right up there with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
In the encyclopedia “Total White Sox,” it is written of Faust, “At times she was the best thing the ball club had going.”
Her role in recent years has been reduced, and her swan song has the feel of a requiem for baseball purists. The organ is being phased out of ballparks, with teams opting for keyboardists or canned music and video entertainment to pump up the fans’ experience.
What results is the sporting equivalent of FM radio, with the music virtually the same from one city to the next. In the effort to create a more interactive fan experience, is an intimate connection being lost?
I'll answer that -- yes. Among baseball's selling points are its quirks and pastoral charm. There's no need to go too deep into those as George Carlin already summed it up nicely.

Yes, time stops for no one, not even baseball. Being behind the times is a one-way ticket to irrelevance these days (hello, newspapers!), but I would argue that harkening back to the past is part of what makes baseball great. Other than golf, it is the only major sport in America that is not played on the clock. If a game takes 27 innings to determine a winner, so be it. There are no penalty kicks, shootouts or sudden-death overtimes to hasten our attention-challenged society on to its next distraction -- the game finishes in its own time.

There is little point arguing that baseball is still America's most popular sport. It was only a matter of time before a game otherwise known as "war without death" -- complete with its heady cocktail of violence, sex, violence, booze and more violence -- supplanted the old pastime. That isn't necessarily a good thing, though. Football's compressed schedule, trumpeted by supporters as making every game a life-or-death encounter, also piles on the pressure and impatience when results don't come as they should. It's not all that pleasant even when things go well -- just ask Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio.

You can have your watered-down gladiatorial combat. I'll stick to my baseball, soccer and Test cricket and watch the hours roll by slowly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flame on

Ready the cocktails and asbestos, Mabel.

The glow from the bridges I burn will light my path.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Itza me, Mario!

I would be remiss if I did not wish a Happy Birthday to one of the central figures of my formative years -- Super Mario. A day late, sure, but it's the thought that counts.

Two bits of the Guardian's rundown that stand out, especially given all the time I spent in front of an NES as a youth.

15. A Q Score survey in the early nineties revealed that Mario was more recognisable to American children than Mickey Mouse.
16. Footage from Super Mario Bros 3 appears in the climatic scene of appalling 1989 movie, The Wizard, about an emotionally withdrawn gaming champion. As this was the first chance that US Nintendo fanatics would get to see the game, the movie effectively acted as an advert for the release.
"Appalling" is a bit harsh. I remember that film being part of the Grand Theater's summer matinee series, joining such classics as 3 Ninjas, Encino Man and Flight of the Navigator. Fred Savage was the headliner, obviously, but apparently Christian Slater and Beau Bridges were in it as well. The only other bits I remember were the main antagonist drawing gasps as he whipped out his Power Glove in the final scene and the female lead loudly accusing a truant officer of molesting her in the middle of a crowded truck stop.

I've drifted away from video games since leaving my PSOne on the mainland when I moved to Hawaii, not including a brief Wii flirtation during my last visit home. Still, I would not be the man I am today without the help of Mario, Luigi and friends. Keep on jumpin', paisan.

Good science, bad science

Two bits of science news, both jaw-dropping -- one in a good way, the other notsomuch.

First, the awesome:
An early proposal calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets to be launched horizontally on an electrified (magnetic levitation) track or gas-powered sled. The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket’s second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit.
Engineers also contend the system, with its advanced technologies, will benefit the nation’s high-tech industry by perfecting technologies that would make more efficient commuter rail systems, better batteries for cars and trucks, and numerous other spinoffs.
Hat tip to the guys at Weird Things. Not only is it awesome, the plan calls for technology that already exists, just pushed to a greater degree. The idea of space-faring craft bursting forth from a deep tunnel in the Rockies and screaming into the sky is very sci-fi, and yet oh-so plausible.

That was the good. The bad follows after the break.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two steps foward, one step back

Well, crap. Barring having to bail out Brazil in 2014, it looks like the earliest the US will host a World Cup is 2022.

From the consistently excellent Steve Goff:
With the FIFA inspection tour complete, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, head of the American bid to host the 2018 or '22 World Cup, addressed questions about the five-city stop and where things stand in pursuit of the sport's grand event. Some highlights:
On the possibility of dropping out of the running for 2018, amid clear indications that FIFA wants it in Europe: "We would certainly listen and have the appropriate conversations with the FIFA president and the UEFA president at the right time. We haven't been asked to withdraw, but I acknowledge, and we have really from the beginning, that there is a sentiment within a number of members [of the FIFA executive committee] that 2018 should be in Europe. If at some point, between now and Dec. 2 [when the hosts are named], we think it is in our best interests to do that, we would make that decision."
Conventional wisdom -- as much as anything can be conventional or wise when FIFA is concerned -- is that England or Russia lead the pack for the 2018 bid, given the preference for a European host. I could get behind either one, really. England would make sense as it would be a huge money-maker for FIFA (which is likely the most important thing), the infrastructure will already be there following the 2012 Olympics in London and, if any country was due to host a second World Cup, it would be hard to argue with the birthplace of soccer. Russia, on the other hand, would allow FIFA to throw Europe and its power base a bone after two successive World Cups away from the continent while also keeping with FIFA president Sepp Blatter's push to take the sport's showcase event to new parts of the world.

If the US withdraws from bidding for the 2018 World Cup, it joins Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar in the running for 2022 (since confederations that win hosting rights are disqualified from hosting for the next two cycles). Remember that two-cycle bit as it becomes important. With Europe and South America out of the race, 2022 is all but a stone-cold lock for North America or Asia (Africa hosted in 2010 and, unless Vanuatu makes a late charge, Oceania is out of the mix). Japan and South Korea's odds are slim as they hosted back in 2002, leaving Australia (a strong bid, complicated only by a remote location and schedule/stadium clashes with other sports) and Qatar (a Gulf nation with 1.6 million people and only three of eight planned stadiums in existence) competing with the US. Asian Football Confederation president Mohammad bin Hammam is a Qatari and a close confidant of Blatter, but bringing the World Cup to Qatar would require a volte-face that would stun even Frankie Five Angels.

So who, other than the US, would benefit from Asia missing out on the 2022 World Cup? Everybody's new bestest friend, China!
On China's interest in 2026 impacting the 2022 race, which includes contenders Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar: "It is a decision for FIFA to consider all the long-term implications of their decisions. [Of note: If they choose an Asian bid for 2022, China would not be eligible in 2026.] Down the road, China has indicated that it would be interested in hosting a World Cup. How that plays into the decision FIFA may make for 2018 and 2022 remains to be seen, but I don't think anyone would doubt that China would make a great host in the future, especially after what they did with the Olympic Games and the growth and size of the economy."
Now, I'm not saying China would at all relish putting one over on Japan and South Korea (it would). However, you might just find relations between the United States Soccer Federation and the Chinese Football Association a good bit warmer than those between their respective governments in the coming years.

Happier news after the break.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

3-D girls = overrated

This can't help the birth rate.

ATAMI, Japan — Long a favourite of lovers and honeymooners, a Japanese beach town with fading sparkle has found a new tourism niche in the wired age by drawing young men and their virtual girlfriends.
One recent sweltering summer's day, a tour bus from Tokyo pulled up at a sun-kissed beach at Atami, a Pacific coast resort southwest of the metropolis, and disgorged more than a dozen excited, iPhone-clutching young men.
The determined youngsters, paying scant attention to the bikini-clad girls frolicking on the sand, instead headed straight for a bronze statue that depicts Kanichi and Omiya, a couple from an old love story set in Atami.
The focus of the men's attention -- and of their smartphone cameras -- was a tiny black and white square, a two-dimensional barcode that, thanks to "augmented reality" (AR) software, brought to life the object of their desire.
"Look, it's like I'm in a snapshot with her," said Shu Watanabe, 23, as he showed off his iPhone display, featuring himself next to the image of a doe-eyed cartoon character named Rinko, a smiling high school girl.
Japan's anime industry has used otaku as a crutch for quite some time. Given tie-ups like this and the boost the Washinomiya Shrine saw from "Lucky Star", though, could tourism be next?
Game makers have gone a step further and teamed up with the very real city of Atami, an onsen or hot spring town 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Japanese capital.
They have selected 13 romantic locations which can be overlaid with images of Rinko or her teenage friends Manaka and Nene, who have all swapped their usual sailor-style school uniforms for casual summer wear.
Local souvenir shops in the resort town have caught on and capitalised on the love-struck new clientele, selling Love Plus-themed souvenirs, from good-luck charms to steamed buns and fish sausages.
The local Ohnoya hotel even offers traditional rooms to the unusual couples, which feature two sets of futon beds and another barcode panel that allows the men to visualise their girlfriends in a flattering summer kimono.


You bring me in to fix mistakes, I fix the mistakes. Now you tell me you don't like the way I fix mistakes, but your way will let in even more mistakes. No consistency, no direction, no hope.

January 15 can't come soon enough.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Somebody's watching me

Astute readers of this blog will note I try not to mention my job too much -- only slightly more than my love life.*

There are a few reasons for this. First off, I didn't create this little corner of cyberspace to network, increase visibility, advance my brand or any of this corporate buzz-nonsense. It's a creative outlet, nothing more. Also, some people have had issues blogging while working in this neck of the woods. Most of all, though, everyone has issues at work now and again, and the last thing they want is to waste their free time reading other people moaning about their workplace.

That said, I'm about to have myself a good kvetch. If you'd rather not waste valuable seconds of your life reading my virtual spleen-venting, you are hereby absolved of responsibility and free to go about your day. Thank you for coming, and good surfing.

Face the music

Now even the music downloads for which fans are willing to pay are threatening to shake up record companies. An appeals court ruling in California could pave the way for artists to receive millions more in royalties. Here are the interesting bits:

Reversing a lower-court jury decision from last year, the court ruled that Eminem and his production company are entitled to nearly triple the royalties they've been receiving for track sales and ringtones on online services such as iTunes.
...Today's ruling could have fallout in the evolving world of digital music, experts said, pushing other artists to negotiate with their labels for higher online royalty rates. It could even pave the way for some holdouts, including Detroit’s Bob Seger, to finally offer their songs online.
That last sentence could make it easier for collectors or fans of old-timey music to find their favorite songs, some of which may have been out of print for years. NFL Films soundtracks, anyone? Dr. Demento's greatest hits?

The central question: When a label provides a track to an online distributor such as iTunes, is it licensing the song rather than selling retail copies?
In Eminem’s case, the appeals court wrote in its ruling that yes, “the transaction is a license,” a conclusion it said is supported by federal copyright law.
While iTunes and other online services have grabbed a greater share of the music market, some high-profile artists have declined to jump aboard.
Among them is Detroit rocker Bob Seger. His manager, Punch Andrews, said the ruling “absolutely” clears the way for Seger’s songs to be sold online.
Andrews, who called the decision “staggering,” said “every musician should read these 10 pages. It affects everyone.”
The Motown Alumni Association, whose membership includes Martha Reeves and the Four Tops, had filed an amicus brief on FBT’s behalf.
“All the Motown artists who now receive a penny (per download) may be in a position to negotiate a new royalty because of this decision,” said Martin.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Murderer's Row?

What do you think -- nefarious plot to humble the new kids in town, or karmic payback for all the years of Big 10 Smack coming out of Nebraska?

2011 schedule
Sept. 10 -- vs. Fresno State
Sept. 17 -- vs. Washington
Sept. 24 -- at Wyoming
Oct. 01 -- at Wisconsin
Oct. 08 -- vs. Ohio State
Oct. 22 -- at Minnesota
Oct. 29 -- vs. Michigan State
Nov. 05 -- vs. Northwestern
Nov. 12 -- at Penn State
Nov. 19 -- at Michigan
Nov. 26 -- vs. Iowa

Tom Osborne, as usual, was diplomatic.
"The scheduling process was difficult because the Big Ten is attempting to preserve a large number of rivalry games and have as many of those games as possible fall at approximately the same point in the season as they have in the past. The schedule will be challenging, but also interesting for our players, coaches and fans. Nebraska is not a voting member at this time so we were not able to vote on the schedule, but I was allowed to provide input. We look forward to being in the Big Ten, but at this point need to turn our attention fully to the task at hand this season. We hope to finish with a good year in the Big 12 Conference."
More prestige, better academics, more research dollars, no Texas mafia, more egalitarian league. Don't complain, Husker Nation -- this is the business you've chosen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turn and face the strange

How odd it is to be able to throw around "why, back in my day" in a non-ironic fashion.

I am admittedly not as big of a sports fan as I was in past years. Five or 10 years ago, I would have made time to watch the entirety of the United States-Iran game at the FIBA World Championship (you can relax, Glenn -- the good guys won). Instead, I watched most of the first quarter while enjoying some post-work cumin fried rice at NZBM and made a couple cursory check-ins as the US ran away with the game. Odds are the teams won't be as lauded for their sportsmanship as when the US and Iran met at the hypothetical 1998 World Cup (which never actually happened).

Still, I can't help but feel both intrigued and a bit wistful at the latest developments in the two sports I enjoy the most -- soccer and college football. Even the bluest of bluehairs know Nebraska is leaving for the Big 10 after this season, but what wasn't known until just now is how the new-look conference would be aligned. The Big 10 Network blocked off time tonight for a live broadcast that is likely for that announcement, but leave it to ESPN to leak the news.
The Big Ten will announce its much-anticipated, two six-team divisional setup for the 2011-12 season later Wednesday, with traditional football powers Ohio State and Michigan in opposing divisions and new member Nebraska aligned with the Wolverines.
Multiple sources told that the two divisions in the Big Ten will look like:
• Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota.
• And Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.
The Big Ten issued a press release saying it would announce its divisional alignment at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday. According to sources, the divisions were decided upon Monday.
According to multiple sources, the Big Ten wanted to preserve a number of traditional rivalries such as Michigan-Michigan State, Iowa-Minnesota, Purdue-Indiana and Indiana-Illinois.
The Big Ten is also expected to announce a consistent crossover game in football similar to Ohio State-Michigan that will be played each year. Expect to see longtime rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota playing every season.
The potential alignment isn't too surprising, though I thought the Big 10 would rather keep Northwestern and Illinois together. Then again, Champaign is pretty much halfway between Chicago and Bloomington. In addition to Michigan-Ohio State, my guesses as to the crossover games are Nebraska-Penn State, Iowa-Wisconsin, Illinois-Northwestern and two more games few people will actually care enough to notice. Nebraska fans can moan about 1982, Penn State fans will counter with 1994 -- boom! A rivalry is born.

My other beef is with CONCACAF -- the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, for our hipness-challenged readers. What bothers me isn't the weakness of the region (as deep as a kiddie pool), its referees (laughably inept) or its leadership (so corrupt Trinidad & Tobago's team from the 2006 World Cup still hasn't been paid).

No, my issue is with the restructuring of the region's World Cup qualifying tournament and abandoning of the one thing that sets CONCACAF apart from the rest of the planet -- the Hex. (That's short for hexagonal, or six-team tournament, not some voodoo curse.) Rather than have one group in the final round of qualifying, FIFA is expected to rubber-stamp a proposal that will eliminate the early home-and-away rounds and the Hex in favor of three group stages -- eight four-team groups, then four groups, then two. The winners of the final groups qualify for the World Cup, with the runners-up playing off for the other place.

So what's the problem? After all, this will allegedly help the smaller nations by giving them more games against the big boys, and a deeper CONCACAF can only be good for the US and Mexico. For starters, this idea came from CONCACAF, so it's worth taking with an Everest-sized grain of salt. These are the same masterminds who brought us the Giants Cup, a continental tournament for the clubs with the highest attendance, not to mention retain an unabashed crook in charge of the confederation.

More so, though, it's about the loss of the two US-Mexico games, the biggest dates in the CONCACAF calendar. The region's top teams only play games that matter so often -- Hex matches at Crew Stadium and Azteca, plus the occasional Gold Cup final (the 2002 World Cup meeting was sheer dumb luck). They can play all the friendlies they want -- and they will, seeing as Mexico is the US Soccer Federation's one sure-fire box-office attraction -- but it just won't be the same. I was in attendance at the new Mile High Stadium in Denver when the US and Mexico played a friendly in April 2002, a game the US won 1-0 when the Mexican goalkeeper collided with a teammate and Clint Mathis cleaned up the rebound. Even with the majority of the stadium decked out in green (El Tri verde, alas, not Rapids green), there was nothing on the line and not much in the way of intensity. If CONCACAF gets its way and the US and Mexico are kept apart as the two top seeds in qualifying, that's the best we'll be able to do.

Team USA vs. Mexico is supposed to be a nasty, intense and fun clash of cultures -- playing and otherwise. La Guerra Fria, when the US opened 2002 World Cup qualifying by beating Mexico 2-0 in frigid Columbus, Ohio, is cemented in US soccer lore. Not nearly as legendary but no less important was the Golden Point, when a 10-man US earned a 0-0 draw in front of 115,000 hostile fans at Azteca in November 1997. That point is the only one the US has taken off of Mexico on its soil since they started playing in 1934. Winning at Azteca is the last great hurdle for the US in CONCACAF, but with both sides and the confederation well aware they all make more money when games take place in the US, even the opportunity to keep chasing that elusive first win may be hard to find.

It's bound to happen since the CONCACAF leadership has its Caribbean voting bloc in lock step and North America is just along for the ride. FIFA is not about to sign off on the US and Mexico (and maybe Canada?) leaving for South America and any of the aforementioned staging a coup de federation isn't happening in our lifetimes, so soccer fans have to hold their nose and jump in with two feet. Of course, if the US opens up with a group of Belize, Bermuda and the Bahamas, fans may be too busy calling their travel agents to protest too much.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How not to start your day


Oh, bother. It's almost 3 p.m. Guess I'd better end my nap and get to the office.

Flop! Thud! Skid! Ack!

In the immortal words of E.T.: Ouuuuuuuuch.

Perhaps in the future I should make sure both of my legs are awake before attempting to climb out of bed. The knee I landed on is still a little gimpy, but my elbow has ceased nagging at me. It wasn't as scary as the morning I woke up with no feeling below my waist, and it had far more slapstick value. Fun times!

Friday, August 27, 2010

You will be remembered

I'd like to mark the passing of two men who had some measure of influence on my life, even if it is a few days late -- Satoshi Kon and Jack Horkheimer.

Kon, a Japanese director and screenwriter, was a beacon of creativity and invention in an industry that increasingly plays to a narrow audience. His works include the movies "Perfect Blue", "Millennium Actress", "Tokyo Godfathers" and "Paprika", as well as the TV series "Paranoia Agent". I don't watch nearly as much anime as I used to, but Kon's works have stuck with me and will hopefully have the staying power to delight future generations.
Satoshi Kon, a Japanese filmmaker and comic-book artist whose dazzling visual compositions and humane, emotionally resonant stories won him a devoted following in animation circles and beyond, died in Tokyo on Tuesday. He was 46.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to the Tokyo Shimbun news service and statements issued by Mr. Kon’s wife, Kyoko, and by Madhouse Studios, where Mr. Kon directed films.
While Mr. Kon’s film work incorporated many familiar anime elements — pixielike female characters, sensitive robots, futuristic cityscapes and an anxious fascination with the creative and destructive power of technology — it was also informed by literary, artistic and cinematic traditions far beyond contemporary Japanese popular culture.

If you don't mind the length, Kon's last words are well worth a read. I'm not one normally given to being emotional, but I'll admit to misting up while reading that.

Horkheimer, meanwhile, was a man familiar to night owls and PBS watchers, such as myself. His enthusiasm and love of astronomy were unmistakable, always signing off with his trademark, "Keep looking up!"

His sense of humor comes shining through in his self-penned epitaph on his biography page:
"Keep Looking Up was my life's admonition,
I can do little else in my present position."

I rite gud

Astronomy is, as Carl Sagan put it, a humbling experience, especially when one considers the relative insignificance of humans and Earth in comparison with the mind-boggling size and age of the cosmos. On a personal level, the wonder of the universe and its workings -- as well as trying to wrap my head around the sheer number of things that had to go right for me to be alive here and now -- goes a long way toward keeping me from getting too full of myself.

I also have moments like those on a professional level, albeit on a much less cosmic scale. Like most everyone else, I take satisfaction in a job well done, especially if it's writing a story that required time and effort in research and tracking down sources to complete. Every so often, though, I come across a piece that reminds me of how meager my writing and journalism are in comparison to the people who do this job and do it well.

These pieces generally come in two forms. The first tends to be a triumph of insightful or poignant journalism, sometimes long-form writing but not always. (Note: I am intentionally leaving out literary giants such as Hemingway and their works, for comparing myself to the all-time greats would be akin to a certain former governor of Alaska comparing herself to William Shakespeare -- a nonsense at best.) There is no shortage of recent examples, from S.L. Price to Charlie Pierce's "Welcome to Idiot America" to the vast majority of the work of Chris Jones, including "Too Far From Home." Older pieces include the writing of Hunter S. Thompson -- whose work I admire but lifestyle I could never replicate -- Grantland Rice (whose contributions to sports writing live on, if only in cliche) and "Death of a Racehorse" by WC Heinz.

The other kind of writing that leaves me shaking my head, wishing I had an iota of those chops, is the punchy, humorous prose best typified by America's Finest News Source -- The Onion. Examples after the break.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reading Material

As much shpilkes as First Media gave me with its customer service (or lack thereof) in Jakarta, when its cable TV did work it was actually quite nice given the price and location. On top of the local channels, you could get multiple sports channels (ESPN, Star Sports, Eurosport, ASN), plenty of entertainment options (Star World, AXN, etc.), educational (Discovery, National Geographic, Travel, etc.) and oodles of news stations (BBC, CNN, Fox Gnus, Al Jazeera, Australia Network, NHK, RAI, TV 5, KBS, etc.).

That, to put it mildly, is not the case here. Under the rules of living in the company apartments, we are not allowed expanded cable or satellite TV. That means no ESPN or Star Sports, no foreign news outlets (we're only allowed CNN International and the oh-so-pleasant Channel News Asia at work) and the only English-language channel is CCTV News, which is so packed with propaganda it doesn't even bear discussing. I've managed to work out the sports channels, which are CCTV 5 (the Official Sports Network of the People's Republic of China) and Beijing TV 6, and the latter is entirely local sports. Anything international -- soccer, basketball, Formula 1, tennis, volleyball, Olympics, etc. -- is on CCTV 5. It has the rights to the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Champions League, which is all very nice, but one can only plan one's schedule so much around matches that kick off at 2 a.m.

Long story long, I've started reading more (as well as polishing off Season 4 of The Universe, but that's a post for another day). In the past week, I've polished off the two hardcovers I received for my birthday. Book reviews come after the jump.

Today's experiment ..... failed

Perhaps not surprisingly, my attempt to take in Saturday's Beijing Baxy match ended in failure. My record of needing at least two attempts to find any place not screamingly obvious to the layman remains intact.

After hours of digging and Googling, I found two possibilities for Baxy's home stadium. Wikipedia (which is never wrong) said it played at Haidian Stadium, while the gambling websites I checked (for informational purposes only) said it played at the Chaoyang Sports Complex. These two places are not close to each other, so I figured I had a 50/50 shot at being right (insert your own "everything is 50/50" joke here). Given the reliability of one site versus another, I went with Haidian Stadium.

To quote the old knight from the third (and last) Indiana Jones movie, I chose ... poorly. Oh well, there's still four home games left.

At least I'll have plenty of time to make sure of my directions from here on out. Word came down today from the big bosses at work that our section's deadline is now 8 p.m. The paper is bass-ackwards enough with the smallest sports sections on the weekend and the largest in the middle of the week, but this? I know it's important to get the product in the customers' hands in a timely fashion, but what exactly are we giving them? Add this to the fact that departments are being encouraged to read other sections and flag up any mistakes that make the paper and it's clear that some high-paid muckety-muck has his Dolce-Gabbana knickers in a right old twist.

In happier news, I've started running SETI@home on my laptop. It might actually do some good for the world and there's less chance of it getting me sued than a file-sharing client. I tried a couple other programs -- Einstein@home, Cosmology@home, LHC@home -- but none of them seemed to work. At this moment, I have a total credit of 724, which I believe affords me a broadsword, three Phoenix Downs and a free SETI coffee mug.

Today is the first day of fall 2010 classes for CCC -- total cost for nine credit hours and books is just a shade under $1,000 (war digital editions of textbooks). American Government, Comparative Religions and History of Jazz should make for a full five months or so. At some point I will muster up the gumption to take College Algebra ... just not quite yet.

(10 bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in the title)

Not going anywhere for a while?

And here I was thinking the traffic in Jakarta was bad.
A 100km long traffic jam in China has entered its ninth day and drivers are being warned the bottleneck could continue for a month.
Hundreds of trucks heading for Beijing on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway have been at a standstill because of roadworks in the capital.
Small traffic accidents or broken-down cars are aggravating the congestion which started on August 14.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paranoia, paranoia, everybody's comin' to get me

If you're among my Nebraska-based readership -- and I would hope there's at least two of you -- you've no doubt heard a snootful about the latest crisis to befall la Grande Rouge. Bo Pelini, that picture of grace and suavity, has declared that since he cannot control what everyone sees in and says about his practices, the media has been banned for three days to think about what it did. Nevermind the fact that the leak came from one of the chums of his linebackers coach or that a 15-second statement after practice on the injury that started all this would have nipped the entire issue in the bud.

I always figured Pelini had a touch of the Nick Sabans about him. Coaches are control freaks, of course, and football coaches seem to be the worst of the lot. I remember having a high school football coach (the school will remain nameless, but it starts with B and ends with Ennington -- and, no, Bill Wennington is not involved) told me after a game in which his team ran the ball on all but three plays that his quarterback was fine. Nevermind the fact that throwing the ball was a regular part of his offense in every game up to that point. Nevermind the fact that the kid said he heard a pop in his shoulder. Nevermind the fact that his father tracked me down and told me in no uncertain terms that his kid had a separated shoulder. Running fullback powers on third and long was all in the gameplan -- just ask the man in charge.

Variations on the theme exist all over -- coaches who go into hiding when their team loses (Enterprise), coaches who want you to know they don't approve of you writing on certain topics (The Big), coaches whose players are so cowed they sprint to the far side of the field to ask permission to do an interview (Kealakehe), etc. You'd think this might change having slipped the surly bonds of America, having moved to countries where futbol and not football is king. You'd think the paranoia might ease just the littlest bit in countries where the Type A personality isn't as celebrated.

You'd be wrong.

I had security guards watching me throughout the match whenever I covered Indonesian Super League events, although that may have been a look of amazement from seeing a bule actually take an interest in the domestic game. I'd love to tell you what the atmosphere is like at a Chinese Super League match, but I can't. You see, dirty laowai like me are not allowed to receive press credentials to CSL or Jia League matches because we are "a security risk." That's coming from the people running the league, not one particular club. Foreigners can get credentials to cover the local basketball or baseball leagues, not to mention the staggering variety of Olympic sports, but apparently Chinese soccer is too touchy a subject for those dumb outsiders to understand.

Is the league embarrassed by the run of scandals in recent years? The poor quality of play? Low attendance? Whether any or all of those are true, they're no excuse for denying credentials to foreigners. Those are problems for league administrators, not journalists. Covering the national team is apparently kosher, but that doesn't do me much good as the men haven't played in Beijing since losing the 2004 Asian Cup final to Japan.

If all goes well, I will attend my first match in China on Saturday. There's a story idea lurking behind my visit (again with the working on my days off), but actually getting someone to lend me a hand with this article has been quite difficult. One of the two Chinese clubs that employ American players will not consent to any interviews without a pre-existing "agreement," and the other is apparently too broke to have someone answer the phone or update its website. What makes it hard is what makes it good, though, and I'm just spiteful enough to see the story through, if only as an act of defiance.

Gah! So much for not blogging about work. I'll do something interesting -- or at least read something interesting -- at some point. No, really!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The nickel tour

A brief tour of my palatial estate:

A penthouse view

It's not staring out at the Pacific Ocean from the hills of Papaikou, to be sure, but you could do a lot worse for Beijing. Look closely in the top image and you'll see the 24-hour 7-11, a.k.a. my second home.

And here we ... go

Hello, friends.

This blog and the thoughts contained within are solely those of the author and are in no way connected to his employer, his family or his favorite salad dressing. The goal of this blog is merely to give me an outlet to write, stay sane and communicate with family (since Facebook continues  to be elusive). If you're seeking wisdom, the answer is 42. If your intent is to spam, do the world a favor and suck a tailpipe.