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.