Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Sky Sports to Andy Gray: "Do us a favour, love."
Andy Gray, the Sky Sports presenter at the centre of a sexism storm following derogatory comments about a female official, has been sacked by the broadcaster in response to "new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour".
Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis, who yesterday disciplined both Gray and Richard Keys for their comments, said he had "no hesitation" in summarily terminating Gray's contract.
"Andy Gray's contract has been terminated for unacceptable behaviour. After issuing a warning yesterday, we have no hesitation in taking this action after becoming aware of new information today," he said.
Sky said in a statement that the new evidence related to "an off-air incident that took place in December 2010" and "came to light after Andy Gray had already been subjected to disciplinary action for his comments of 22 January 2011".
It is not clear whether the incident in question is a YouTube clip that emerged today that showed Gray making sexist comments to a co-presenter before going on air.
Here is the YouTube clip in question. Maybe a bit innocuous, but you can certainly see a pattern of behavior emerging.

No word on if Keys will face any further punishment. About the only downside to this is that apparently Sian Massey was pulled from her scheduled game tonight, Crewe vs. Bradford.

Monday, January 24, 2011

You're getting sacked in the morning....

You remember Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Sky Sports' answer to the Chuckle Brothers? When last we left our heroes, they were railing against the injustice of women in football. Well, they'll have a lot more time in which to sharpen their diatribes:
Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis said the pair had been removed from their duties covering tonight's Bolton and Chelsea clash.
He said: "I have spoken directly to both Richard Keys and Andy Gray this morning. It has been made clear to each of them that their comments were totally unacceptable.
"Those views are inexcusable, entirely inconsistent with our ethos as a business and employer and will rightly offend many of our customers, our people and the wider public. They are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority. We have dealt with this matter by taking immediate disciplinary action."
As the smoke clears, the Guardian's Anna Kessel makes some solid points. Not only is she spot on about how serious Keys and Gray sounded, undercutting the "just a joke" defense, but she also offers up a bit of Journalism 101:
Many will question the fairness of leaking a so-called "private" conversation to the press. Let's be clear here, this was not a private conversation. As anyone in television or radio knows, the very definition of "private" is stretched to its limits when you are on the job speaking into a microphone shortly before a live broadcast. Even a first-year journalism student could tell you the first rule in broadcasting is to treat a microphone with respect and always, always behave as if you are being broadcast live to the nation.
Let's not forget, too, the number of people who would have been able to hear that feed – women included – as everyone in the Sky gallery would have been able to listen to their comments.
Fellow Guardianista Georgina Turner weighs in as well.

Former referee Graham Poll may lack Kessel or Turner's journalistic chops, but he does provide some valuable insight and a fitting anecdote:
The last time I had the temerity to criticise Keys and Gray for their puerile and unfair attack on referee Uriah Rennie, Keys phoned me and abused me for doing so.
He told me I was punching above my weight and he left me with the impression I wasn’t wanted at Sky. That showed the man’s true colours. 

Between the two of them they prevent free speech and thought as any adverse comments are quashed by them. 

Oh, by the way Richard, don’t bother phoning me after this comment — your opinions are of no interest to me.
It's pretty clear Keys and Gray aren't going to fall on their swords — that would require something resembling humility or shame. The ball is in Sky's court as to what punishment it chooses to level against the dynamic duo. It would be churlish of me to wish for Keys and Gray to be sacked for their idiocy, but Sky must send a message that such pig-headed ignorance has no place in a modern, egalitarian society.

Lastly, leave it to the one and only Kenn Tomasch to put the perfect punctuation on this episode.
Say what you want about American soccer announcers, but at least we understand the f***ing offside rule.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Do me a favour, love'

Working in sports — be it on the production side or in the media — brings with it a certain stigma. Those of us known as "sports guys" tend to get cast as uncultured meatheads with no interests outside our favored sport(s). Worse still, there is a significant section of the sports population that believes women have no place in sports, be it in locker rooms (Lisa Olson, Andrea Canales, etc.), working as officials or otherwise. Where they think women should be is best left for another day.

Another episode of said meatheadedness popped up over the weekend, and yet again my gender's stupidity has me feeling compelled to apologize to all womankind. If you're a fan of English Premier League soccer, odds are you're familiar with Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray. The punditry on Sky is most often bland and rarely rises above mediocre, but every so often you get a moment of real, ugly honesty:

The commentators, who apparently believed their microphones were switched off, were recorded making disparaging remarks about Sian Massey, 25, before Liverpool’s Premiership clash with Wolves yesterday.
They also criticised Apprentice star and West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady who had yesterday written about sexism in a newspaper column.
Commenting on Ms Massey, Mr Keys said: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.’
Mr Gray, a former Scottish international footballer, replied: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’
Mr Keys replied: ‘Course they don’t. I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny (Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish) will go potty. This isn’t the first time, is it? Didn’t we have one before?’
Yes, Dicky, you did. And in case anyone starts reaching for the "I was misquoted" defense, listen for yourself.

If the dynamic duo's chauvinism isn't stomach-churning enough for you, Keys' response is worthy of the Iraqi Information Minister himself:

When The Mail on Sunday put the transcript to Mr Keys, he said: ‘I have no recollection of that. I have no idea what you are talking about.
'My recollection is that I wished the young lady all the best.’
When told a recording existed of the conversation, he said: ‘If you have a tape then you don’t need me to talk to you.’
Sure, Dicky. Were you wishing these young ladies all the best, too?

Keys and Gray's antics are sadly in keeping with the attitudes of many in the footballing establishment, who trot out the same, tired lines about "political correctness" and "tokenism." Perhaps the meatheads will claim they are showing gender neutrality by trying to dissuade young men and women equally from ever becoming referees? Considering how often the even more weathered canard of so-and-so "never played the game" is belched forth by professional athletes, perhaps they will only be truly satisfied when the only people officiating, covering and operating their sport are their fellow professional athletes. For as much as we hear about athletes who "love to play the game" and "would play for free if asked," how many of them love the game enough to give back to it? Where are all these former players lining up to become referees, administrators and youth coaches and take the place of all these know-nothing amateurs who are apparently ruining their sport?

Thankfully, sanity prevails outside of Sky Towers, with some praising Massey for her performance. For me, I hope Massey and her peers have the chance to do their job the way it should be done — in peaceful obscurity. Even had I not watched Dallas Malhiwsky develop into a top-flight soccer referee while doing high school and college games in Nebraska, and even if I hadn't spent a good portion of my journalism career covering women's soccer and seeing a number of fully capable female officials, it doesn't take the brightest of bulbs to know that gender has no effect on one's abilities as a referee. Fitness, positioning, knowing the Laws of the Game and managing players do not hinge on what does or does not dangle between one's legs.

Keys and Gray aren't about to change, of course. Why should they when everyone they associate with reinforces their views? I wouldn't shed a tear if they received the Ron Atkinson treatment, but I fear they'll make a limp-wristed, half-hearted apology through a press release, refuse further comment and normal service will — depressingly — be restored. Come on, Sky. Prove you're as much about substance as style.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Times are tough all over

Even in enlightened, free-thinking France.
FRANCE’S second-largest economic daily, La Tribune, has suspended debt repayments while it seeks new investors. Le Monde, the country’s greatest newspaper, found new investors in June but seems to have lost its way and is looking for a new editorial director. Bakchich, a satirical weekly, said on January 11th that it will close for want of funds.
France’s national newspapers are shrivelling. The eight main national dailies together sell 1.2m copies a day—about the same as Britain’s slumping Daily Mirror. News-stand sales in November were 10% lower than a year earlier. For La Tribune the fall was a disastrous 33%. The overall drop in sales, including postal and delivered subscriptions, was less steep.
Christophe Deloire, director of the Centre for Journalist Training in Paris, traces the problem to France’s first newspaper, La Gazette, founded in 1631 under the auspices of Cardinal Richelieu. Since then “the French press has been dependent on power,” he says; this has blunted its edge. That dependence was underlined in 2008 when President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned an “Estates General” of the press. More money was thrown at the problem, including free subscriptions for young readers and handouts for new printing machines. The downward trend continued.
That whoosh of air you heard was the last breath of my hopes of fulfilling the prophecy from junior year French with Madame Cronin, the one with me ending up at Paris Match or L'Equipe. Zut alors!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Science!

Science is awesome in just about every sense of the word. Sure, it ticks the boxes in the colloquial sense (i.e. "awesome," etc.), but it can also quite literally fill you with awe. For example, consider this point from Phil Plait:


This is the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1345 as seen by Hubble. Lovely, isn’t it? You wouldn’t even think it’s a spiral at first; the arms are so faint compared to the sprawling core and inner regions. But it so happens the galaxy is close to our own, making fainter parts easier to observe
Now there you go. Did you see that? What I said? "The nearby spiral…". "The galaxy is close to our own…". But it isn’t.
Look. Let your eyes move to the top of the galaxy, just to the right of center. See that bright star? You can tell it’s a star because it has those spikes going through it, an artifact of how point sources are seen by some of the Hubble cameras.
Given how bright it is, that star is almost certainly in our own galaxy, and not some luminous giant in NGC 1345; it’s just coincidentally superposed on the more distant galaxy. That means it’s no more than a few thousand light years away, and given its deep red color, that means it’s most likely a very cool and faint red dwarf, and therefore in all likelihood much closer even than that.
But even if it’s only a thousand light years away, that’s 10 quadrillion kilometers! That distance is impossible to imagine: it’s more than 60 million times farther away than the Sun… and the Sun is hardly close. If you could fly an airplane to the Sun, it would take 20 years. Twenty years! And that star is millions of times farther away.
… and that star is the closest thing in that picture. I said NGC 1345 is nearby, and on a cosmic scale it is; it’s part of a small cluster of galaxies a mere 85 million light years away: 850 quintillion kilometers. That’s 850,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers.
"Nearby."
Check out the full-size image and read the whole post. It's definitely worth your time.

More mind-bending goodness after the jump.


Absurdity, thy name is footie

After FIFA sprang for Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts, you'd think the football world would just lie low for a while, but no. Not content to leave the flaming wreckage of the 2007 Asian Cup in the past, Southeast Asia comes up with another cunning plan.
ASEAN foreign ministers have agreed to propose to the grouping’s leadership that the region host the FIFA World Cup in 2030 as a group, diplomatic sources say.
The idea of the region jointly hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2030 was first proposed by Malaysia at the annual foreign ministers’ meeting in Hanoi in July last year. 
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman volunteered to discuss the idea with his country’s sports authorities. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has endorsed the proposal.
During the recent ASEAN finance ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij also raised the idea, which was well received by his colleagues.
Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo proposed that Malaysia work with the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to come up with a concrete proposal to submit to the ASEAN leaders for their final approval.
Bear in mind that after the 2007 Asian Cup — co-hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand — even AFC President Mohammad Bin Hammam (who can spin with the best of them) publicly said that giving the event to four hosts was a mistake and he would not do it again. So why not bring a World Cup here? It seems everyone is getting one these days.

Oh, and I see on Twitter that FIFA has received two bids to host the 2015 Women's World Cup — Canada and ... Zimbabwe. If FIFA is serious about this "legacy" business, let's see it go whole hog.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fat guys in a little ring

I love me some sumo, as anyone who read my sports sections at the Jakarta Globe will attest. Maybe it's just my background as an offensive lineman, but the combination of speed, agility and ferocity from such large men is fascinating to me. I also find sumo interesting because of how it's considered more than just a sport, that it's considered almost a national treasure as something so uniquely Japanese.

If that last sentence has a ring of Japanese exceptionalism to it, you're probably right. There's more than a bit of that going around in sumo, especially now that the Japan Sumo Association has shown its true, nativist colors. That's par for the course in Japan, though, and not just in sports. One thing I've learned in my years as an expat is you can rail against the injustices in your life all you like, and they may well change in time, but in the meantime you either find a way to coexist or go crazy. For now, I choose to coexist.

The January basho started on Sunday in Tokyo, and Mongolian wrestler Hakuho is the prohibitive favorite, as he has been since countryman Asashoryu lost his rag one too many times. However, my cheering interest is with Baruto for two reasons -- 1) He, along with Kotooshu, is one of the few honkies in the top flight; and 2) He's the best thing to come out of Estonia since Mart Poom. Unfortunately, my guy lost via hikiotoshi to Toyonoshima on Day 1. It's still early days with 14 rounds to go, though.

Best of all, I can catch all the action now that the First Media people showed up to install my cable. NHK costs an extra 100,000 rupiah per month -- which is odd as it used to be part of the News & Information package -- but I suppose I'll pay it all the same. The J-League and Japanese Pro Baseball will start up again before too long, making for a good start to almost any Saturday between March and October.

If all goes well here, I plan to take some time off in late March/early April and visit Kyoto. The timing seems to line up -- I'd be able to take in the blooming cherry blossoms, see the old capital's myriad shrines and temples, take in some soccer, sumo and baseball and maybe even see an old friend or two. It will be expensive, of course, but I might as well do what I want while I still have the ability to take vacation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Suspension of disbelief

It isn't nice or neighborly to cast aspersions and make assumptions about the intelligence of people you haven't met ... but, boy, is it easy sometimes.
Police in Bekasi arrested a so-called shaman on Tuesday for allegedly swindling a man out of Rp 400 million ($44,400) by claiming he could double or triple a sum of bank notes within a short period of time.

The suspect, whom police have identified as Mustofa Kamal, allegedly told the victim he could control something he called “miracle money,” which grew exponentially the more money the victim gave him.

Bekasi Police Chief Comr. Ade Ary Syam Indradi said the victim, Wagino Harjo, of East Bekasi, reported Mustofa to police after the miracle funds did not materialize.

“So far we have only confirmed one victim, but this shaman says he duped three people in the past three months. We are looking for the other two,” Ade said.

The arrest comes two days after police announced the arrests of a former Tangerang mayor and his wife. They are accused of bilking people out of billions of rupiah by promising to increase their fortunes through special prayers and magic.
Mr. Mustofah is apparently a fan of Dire Straits. I'm not so sure I'd want my name put into the public by police if I got caught asking a shaman to produce money from nothing.

Of course, succumbing to superstition isn't exclusive to the littles. People of great wealth and power are just as susceptible to letting their brains go on vacation in the face of a bit of wizardry. In Romania, witchcraft is a matter of life and death -- and, more importantly, taxes.

Angry witches are using cat excrement and dead dogs to cast spells on the president and government who are forcing them to pay taxes. Also in the eye of the taxman are fortune tellers, who should have seen it coming. [Boom! -- Ed.]
And President Traian Basescu isn't laughing it off. In a country where superstition is mainstream, the president and his aides wear purple on Thursdays, allegedly to ward off evil spirits.
Witches from Romania's eastern and western regions will descend to the southern plains and the Danube River Thursday to threaten the government with spells and spirits. Mauve has a high vibration, it makes the wearer superior and wards off evil attacks, according to the esoteric group Violet Flame — which practices on Thursdays.
A dozen witches will head to the Danube to put a hex on the government and hurl mandrake into the river "so evil will befall them," said a witch named Alisia. She identified herself with one name, as is customary among witches.
"This law is foolish. What is there to tax, when we hardly earn anything?" she said by telephone on Wednesday. "The lawmakers don't look at themselves, at how much they make, their tricks; they steal and they come to us asking us to put spells on their enemies."
The world throws up dozens of these kind of stories every day -- the sometimes cute, sometimes puzzling tales that at some point have you thinking "well, that's dumb, but it's mostly harmless."

Most times, it is. But not always.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Quote of the Year

We're less than a week into 2011, but this will be hard to top. This from Ben Olsen, via Steve Goff:
"Yesterday, I come to work, first day, a new year, optimism, I walk in, and who greets me in the hallway?" D.C. United's newly appointed head coach said Tuesday at RFK Stadium. "A cockroach, the biggest one I've ever seen. He wasn't moving for me. He looked me dead in the eyes and was like, 'Look, I am not moving.' So I said, 'Good morning, Happy New Year,' and walked by. He tipped his hat to me. He was hung over from New Year's. He had the little horn in his mouth and the party hat."
That sounds like the RFK I know and love. It's not the sexiest, most modern stadium you'll ever find, but it has plenty of character and history within its walls. I can't blame DC United for wanting to move out and find its own digs, though, so hopefully they'll find a good home somewhere close to DC and do right by all the fervent support that's carried the club since its inception.
"I do love it here, I really do," Olsen said, trying not to burst into laughter -- or perhaps tears. "It's always something. It's great. It's our RFK."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Score one for sanity

The ledger is a bit out of whack, true, but even small victories are still victories.
Uganda's High Court has ruled that the media should not publish the names and photos of gay Ugandans following a vitriolic campaign in the east African country which urged citizens to hang those featured.
...
The ruling follows years of persecution of gay Ugandans. Many Ugandans accuse gay men and women of recruiting children to a gay lifestyle, a charge activists reject as preposterous. The government was even considering a bill last year to make homosexuality punishable by death and imprison those who did not report gay friends or family members, a proposal that was quietly shelved after international outrage.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda but recently gay rights groups have begun protesting their treatment.
The activists who brought the case against the magazine to court were only three of 100 Ugandans listed in the magazine in October. They said they were attacked after they were identified as gay underneath a banner headline reading "Hang them."
The magazine also published the home addresses of those it accused of being gay, and several of those featured in its pages said they were subjected to vigilante attacks.

That's right, kids. Never mind all that malarkey about "love thy neighbor," "hate the sin, love the sinner," "do unto others" or "turn the other cheek" -- there's hangin' to be done!

All in the name of the Lord, of course.
Gays in Uganda say they have faced a year of harassment and attacks since the bill's introduction.

The legislation was drawn up following a visit by leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries that promote therapy they say allows gays to become heterosexual.
"Before the introduction of the bill in parliament most people did not mind about our activities. But since then, we are harassed by many people who hate homosexuality," said Patrick Ndede, 27. "The publicity the bill got made many people come to know about us and they started mistreating us."
So when Christians are persecuted, we're all supposed care very deeply and hurry to their aid. When Christians do the persecuting, though, we're told not to impose our values on other cultures and look the other way because it's all for the good of the kids.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I have a problem

The first step is admitting it, right?

If there's one thing I learned from "All Quiet on the Western Front," it's that a man has to have at least one vice. To be honest, I'm largely a failure in that area. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex or gamble ... yes, I'm a disgrace to journalism. Unless changing jobs every other year is suddenly on the list, I think my biggest vice is buying entirely too many books. Harmless? Sure, right up until you have to pack up your life again and schlep it all to yet another country.

My collection of books got trimmed roughly in half when I moved from Nebraska to Oregon, and halved again between Oregon and Hawaii. Moving overseas saw that amount shrink still more, to the point where it all fit in one box (a box that took 14 months to get to Indonesia from Hawaii, but that's a whole other story). After two years in Jakarta, though, the pile is starting to get unwieldy again. Personally, I blame finding the big Kinokuniya store in Plaza Senayan and multiple trips to Singapore (and the Borders on Orchard Road).

I recently polished off "How to Survive a Horror Movie," a fun little how-to guide by Seth Grahame-Smith. It's in the same vein as similar books on how to survive alien invasions and robot uprisings (they all pale in comparison to the Zombie Survival Guide, of course), and it had the depth and style one might expect from an author whose first book was "The Big Book of Porn." Chapters include Slasher Survival School, What to Do When an Evil Vehicle Wants You Did, etc. This one is a keeper, if only for the horror movie viewing list in the appendix. I also picked up Anthony Bourdain's "Medium Raw" in the same trip (which is odd since it's not supposed to be in paperback until May), but I'm saving that until I finish his previous book, "The Nasty Bits."

More economic stimulus -- oh, so much more -- after the break.


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.