Thursday, December 26, 2013

A new low

Remember David Eckert? I certainly do. His harrowing tale was a graphic reminder of police overreach and an example of the excesses -- state-sanctioned kidnapping and rape, for example -- law enforcement will allow itself in its tireless attempts to Keep Us Safe. It's hard to think how that could get any worse, but as always, the universe provides an example of just how it could have been worse -- David Eckert could have been a woman.

Reason Magazine wins one shiny, new Internet for its headline "Drug Warriors Kidnap and Sexually Assault a Woman After Getting Permission From a Dog". A 54-year-old New Mexico woman endured six hours of fruitless body cavity searches at the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez border crossing, all on the supposed say-so of a dog.
Jane Doe was crossing the bridge between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso after visiting a family friend last December when she was chosen at random for "additional screening." This "secondary inspection" involved a pat-down during which an agent "inserted her finger in the crevice of Ms. Doe's buttocks"—a rather startling incursion inasmuch as the agents at this point had no basis to suspect that the woman was carrying contraband. But they were just getting started. ....
First the agents strip-searched the plaintiff, examining her anus and vagina with a flashlight. Finding nothing, they took her to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where they forced her to take a laxative and produce a bowel movement in their presence. Again they found no evidence of contraband. At this point one of their accomplices, a physician named Christopher Cabanillas, ordered an X-ray, which likewise found nothing suspicious. Then the plaintiff "endured a forced gynecological exam" and rectal probing at the hands of another doctor, Michael Parsa. Still nothing. Finally, Cabanillas ordered a CT scan of the plaintiff's abdomen and pelvis, which found no sign of illegal drugs. "After the CT scan," the complaint says, "a CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] agent presented Ms. Doe with a choice: she could either sign a medical consent form, despite the fact that she had not consented, in which case CBP would pay for the cost of the searches; or if she refused to sign the consent form, she would be billed for the cost of the searches." She refused, and later the hospital sent her a bill for $5,000, apparently the going rate for sexual assault and gratuitous radiological bombardment.
That's a whole $1,000 less than the bill Eckert received. What chivalry!

Remember, folks -- these aren't flaws in the system, this is how the system is supposed to work. One justice system for the upper crust, another for the rest of us. It's enough to make you want to burn the system to the ground and start over.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Invoking Zevon again

I've found religion again -- at least when it comes to what I drink. After much consideration and not a little consternation in trying to find somewhere to recycle cans and bottles here, I have decided to quit soda and caffeine.

Yes, again. There seems to be a pattern emerging: move somewhere new, get stressed out over the move and the settling-in process, lapse into bad habits (i.e. waking up 1-2 hours before my shift and/or drinking soda again), get annoyed with myself for said lapses, lather/rinse/repeat. So far I have two days back on the wagon and have yet to experience any of the usual side effects -- no headaches, and I'm no grumpier than usual.

What with the desert being a short drive away and all, drinking more water is obviously on the cards. A door-to-door salesman came by yesterday peddling water delivery service, much like what I had in Jakarta and Beijing, but tap water does fine for me. I've been drinking it for about two months now and have yet to keel over sick and/or dead.

Still, I want something for a change of pace. Coffee doesn't do it for me, and I just can't get into tea. Fruit juice (no concentrate, no added sugar) is good, but the extra calories mean it's only an occasional substitute. My new pursuit: ginger beer.


I first discovered ginger beer while on my whirlwind tour of New Zealand. George Hrab -- a fellow teetotaler -- mentioned how much he enjoyed Bundaberg ginger beer, so I made to sure to seek it out when I landed in Mordor-ville. When I tried it, the experience was, in a word, revelatory. Fizzy, gingery, non-alcoholic goodness.

Unfortunately, despite the wide variety of imported drinks on offer here in the AUH, I have yet to find anywhere that sells Bundaberg. Finicky as it sounds, none of the other varieties I've sampled so far live up to the original. Maybe it's because most of them come in cans instead of a snub-nosed brown bottle, or maybe it's because none of them have big bits of ginger sitting at the bottom. Maybe it's just nostalgia clouding my taste buds. My search for Bundaberg ginger beer here will continue, but in the meantime, I'll just keep looking for the next-best thing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Behold!

After two months of takeout, delivery and hotel breakfast buffets, it begins.


Click photos to en-curry-nate
For someone who's not particularly culinarily inclined, this cooking thing is remarkably addicting. There's more than little mad scientist feel to it. My first attempt at curry rice was a bit underwhelming, most likely because I tried to do too many things at once and used water instead of stock as the base for the curry. I used vegetable broth the second time around and added apples (Fuji, of course) to the potatoes, onions, carrots, peas and garlic for an extra bit of flavor. A bit of Bulldog Sauce helped, too. That's two days and four meals worth of food for a couple hours' effort. I probably came out ahead cost-wise, too.

For my next trick, I'll be making macaroni and cheese -- in my rice cooker. (Dun-dun-DUNNNN!)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Quit 'playing' and start playing

Players faking and/or exaggerating injuries and writing in faux agony on the ground is one of the least defensible parts of soccer, especially if you're an American surrounded by people who still hold firm to the stereotype of soccer being a sport for sissies, foreigners and women. I know I can't stand the rampant cynicism and time-wasting, regardless of whether the team engaging in it is one I support or not. It seems that such behavior will always be with us, though, especially with certain cultures treating players who con the referee into giving undeserved penalties or sending off a fellow professional as clever or skilled in gamesmanship instead of what they really are – cheats.

While it likely won't have any effect on the widespread cynicism or people who feel any action is justified in the pursuit of victory, it's heartening to see the Asian Football Confederation make an effort to cut down on time-wasting. From an AFC press release:
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has launched the ’60 Minutes – Don’t Delay. Play!’ campaign in an effort to reduce time-wasting and encourage more playing time in matches.

The actual average playing time in all AFC competitions is around 52.07 minutes, according to studies undertaken by the confederation.

This figure is 7.25 minutes less – or 12.2 per cent less – than the average for matches in FIFA competitions, which are considered a global benchmark, and 11.50 minutes (18.1 per cent) less than major European leagues.

Targeting eight more minutes of actual play to match the FIFA average, AFC believes an increase in playing time will lead to greater value and excitement for the fans, improvement in technical quality of play and more broadcasting interest.

A concerted effort to promote ‘60 Minutes’ will be undertaken with a series of measures, including education programmes for referees, coaches and teams, and proactive application of the advantage rule and minimisation of fouls.
How well this is implemented and how much of a dent it makes in generations of learned behavior remains to be seen, but kudos to the AFC for trying to improve things instead of blithely accepting the status quo.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Never too hot for scarves

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I have a thing for collecting scarves. It's basically my main concession to Sporting Culture as I don't play fantasy sports, collect (or wear) jerseys or indulge in other pursuits common to sports fans. Even in this, I try to keep my habit within reason and restrict myself to collecting scarves of teams (clubs or countries) I've seen play in person.

Time to add another one to the pile:


I picked this up for 10 dirhams (about $2.75) outside Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium a few days ago before attending the Asian Cup qualifier between the UAE and Vietnam. That was the third match I'd attended -- the others were at Al Nahyan Stadium, a UAE-Philippines friendly and an Arabian Gulf League match between Al Wahda and Al Jazira --  but those 10 dirhams were the first money I'd spent on UAE soccer. Apparently giving away seats for free is a common practice in this part of the world, and there is a certain logic to it, even if it doesn't do much for the perceived value of those seats. After all, it's not as though clubs here need gate receipts to survive.

The security at each game was interesting, too. At Wahda-Jazira, the security officers peeked into my bag and gave my camera a thorough going-over. I wasn't sure if they thought it might be a bomb or if they were just fascinated that someone actually still uses a dedicated camera these days instead of taking pictures with their smartphone or tablet. I received no screening at the Philippines match -- I just followed a bunch of Azkals fans into the end set aside for the visiting fans and, while a few Filipino males got patted down, I was just waved through. More white privilege rearing its ugly head, I guess. For the Vietnam match, the security guy took a cursory look into my bag and asked me, "No cigarettes?" Answering in the negative, I was waved into the stadium.

My two-months anniversary in the UAE is Wednesday and as such it's far too early to make any educated judgements about the soccer here. That said, I feel fairly safe in making this assessment -- the game here is the polar opposite to what I experienced in Indonesia in just about every facet.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Trending upward

It appears I've landed in the UAE at an opportune time. As I've mentioned before, the national team is on something of a roll. How much of a roll? Since Mahdi Ali was promoted from Under-23 team coach to the senior team and lost his first match in charge 1-0 in a September 6, 2012, friendly at Japan, these are the UAE's results:
  • 09/11/12: Def. Kuwait 3-0 in Dubai (Friendly)
  • 10/12/12: Drew 2-2 with Uzbekistan in Dubai (Friendly)
  • 10/16/12: Def. Bahrain 6-2 in Dubai (Friendly)
  • 11/14/12: Def. Estonia 2-1 in Abu Dhabi (Friendly)
  • 12/25/12: Def. Yemen 2-0 in Doha (Friendly)
  • 01/05/13: Def. Qatar 3-1 in Isa Town (2013 Gulf Cup of Nations)
  • 01/08/13: Def. Bahrain 2-1 in Manama (2013 Gulf Cup of Nations)
  • 01/11/13: Def. Oman 2-0 in Isa Town (2013 Gulf Cup of Nations)
  • 01/15/13: Def. Kuwait 1-0 in Riffa (2013 Gulf Cup of Nations)
  • 01/18/13: Def. Iraq 2-1 (AET) in Riffa (2013 Gulf Cup of Nations)
  • 02/06/13: Def. Vietnam 2-1 in Hanoi (2015 Asian Cup qualifying)
  • 03/22/13: Def. Uzbekistan 2-1 in Abu Dhabi (2015 Asian Cup qualifying)
  • 09/05/13: Drew 3-3 (won 7-6 on PKs) with Trinidad & Tobago in Riyadh (2013 OSN Cup)
  • 09/09/13: Def. New Zealand 2-0 in Riyadh (2013 OSN Cup)
  • 10/05/13: Def. Laos 2-0 in Shenzhen, China (Friendly)
  • 10/09/13: Def. Malaysia 3-1 in Shenzhen (Friendly)
  • 10/15/13: Def. Hong Kong 4-0 in Hong Kong (2015 Asian Cup qualifying)
  • 11/11/13: Def. Philippines 4-0 in Abu Dhabi (Friendly)
  • 11/15/13: Def. Hong Kong 4-0 in Abu Dhabi (2015 Asian Cup qualifying)
That's 19 games unbeaten and six/17 (depending on how you count shootouts) consecutive victories. With Vietnam coming to town for their penultimate Asian Cup qualifier, there's a good chance that streak reaches 20 games unbeaten. Granted, the UAE's opponents during that stretch are hardly a murderer's row -- the highest-ranked foe is Uzbekistan, 55th in the world, and the average FIFA ranking is 117th -- but you can only play the teams in front of you, and winning is a good habit to develop at any level.

The UAE was 120th in the world and 15th in Asia at the start of the streak, and now it's 71st in the world and seventh in Asia (and the most recent rankings were released on October 17, so there are more points on the way). That's quite the rise in just over a year. It might have been even higher had the UAE not had such an awful time in the third round of World Cup qualifying -- they finished last in their group, with just one win and five losses. Bowing out at that stage left the Falcons having to fill their schedule with friendlies, which only count for one-third as many points as official matches in the FIFA rankings. That is important as fretting over the FIFA rankings is about more than just bragging rights -- Asia seeds its World Cup qualifying by those rankings, and if the UAE had its current ranking at the time the draw for 2014 qualifying was made, it would've been among the top five seeds instead of in the third pot and facing a much tougher draw. Fans now are hoping the Falcons haven't peaked at the wrong time -- too late for the 2014 World Cup, too soon for the next edition in Russia.

Just for purposes of comparison, how does the UAE's ongoing streak compare to the run of success the United States enjoyed this year?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Keep calm and don't clench

If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. Just ask David Eckert, whose failure to fully stop at a Wal-Mart parking lot stop sign and apparent clenching of his buttocks gave police probable cause for narcotics possession, allowing them to do this:
  1. Eckert’s abdominal area was X-rayed; no narcotics were found.
  2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
  3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
  4. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
  5. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a second time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
  6. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a third time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
  7. Doctors then X-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.
  8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert’s anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.
Eckert was never charged with a crime, though some reports suggest he did receive a bill of more than $6,000 for the hospital's "services". Not surprisingly, he is suing the city of Deming (New Mexico), several police officers and county deputies, the deputy district attorney and the Gila Regional Medical Center.

Those more comfortable with authoritarian tactics may note that Eckert has previous arrests for drug possession (though apparently many of those charges were dismissed). There are two immediate responses to such an observation: 1) That makes all the above OK? Innocent until proven guilty only applies some of the time? and 2) Why is seemingly any action by the state and its agents acceptable as long as it's in the name of ensuring "security"? The police's actions would be considered kidnapping and rape -- which is what they are -- were they done by anyone else, but because they were carried out with the imprimatur of the state, suddenly it's all OK. America's police forces, whether big or small, are becoming more and more militarized and increasingly behaving like paramilitary units. Is all this worth it, just so some fearful people can prolong their illusion of living in a truly safe world?

"But that could never happen to me", you might say. "I'm a law-abiding, God-fearing American citizen who has nothing to fear from the police!" Yes, and these sorts of things never happen to "good" people -- it's always those other, undesirable people who get mixed up in drugs and crime and whatnot. Be sure to remind yourself of your invulnerability the next time you see those flashing lights in your rear-view mirror and your sphincter starts to tighten. Reassure yourself that there's no way the person pulling you over could possibly mistake you for one of those Other People. And if, for some reason, you're asked to step out of your vehicle and keep your hands in plain sight while they perform a routine search, you'll quietly and happily do so because there could never be any misunderstandings or abuses of authority by those in uniform. After all, Dear Citizen, if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Who says there are no happy endings?

Sports will break your heart. That's what it does. For all the inspiring underdogs and feel-good stories it produces, only a vanishingly small number actually complete the journey and win the Big Game/Trophy/Tournament. That's not to say there is no value in sports other than winning, of course -- there's camaraderie, physical fitness, handling adversity, learning teamwork, winning and losing with equal grace, just plain having fun, etc. That said, no one watches "Hoosiers" to see Hickory High give a good accounting of themselves before making way for bigger schools with more realistic chances of a state championship. We want to see the underdog finish the job and revel in Eternal Glory.

Sunday brought one such story. The Rakuten Eagles beat the big, bad Yomiuri Giants (Japan's answer to the New York Yankees) to win the Japan Series in seven games and claim their first league title. This is great news for a few reasons: 1) The Eagles play at Kleenex Stadium. Seriously. 2) Ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, likely the next big Japanese prospect to make the move to Major League Baseball, won an unearthly 30 straight starts this season with a 1.08 ERA before losing in Game 6 of the Japan Series. In a nice touch, Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino brought Tanaka back to close out Game 7, giving the pitcher a chance to end his time with the club with a good performance as well as a championship.

The main reason to celebrate Rakuten's title, though, is that it's a welcome bit of good news for a region that is still recovering from the tsunami/earthquake/nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2011. Clean-up efforts by the company largely responsible for the mess are hardly worthy of the name and Corporate Japan seems determined to maintain the status quo regardless of the reality outside their gleaming offices, so every little lift helps.
The Eagles are the only professional baseball team located in the Tohoku region that was devastated by the March 11, 2011, disaster. The team's home stadium was severely damaged by the earthquake.
More than two years after the disaster that killed nearly 19,000 people, the region is still struggling and progress in recovery efforts is slow. More than 280,000 people remain living in temporary housing. Leaks of radioactive contaminated water at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have been keeping people on edge. Sendai is only 36 miles from Fukushima.
''This is a great present for the people of the Tohoku region,'' Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino said. ''I hope this victory will be an inspiration to the evacuees. There will be many tough days ahead but tonight I hope we can all enjoy this win.''
Yes, it's just sports. No, the Eagles winning won't fix the mess left by Tepco and the Japanese government or get the people of Tohoku back in their homes. But dammit, these people have been all but forgotten by a government more concerned with protecting their friends in the nuclear power industry than the people who helped vote them into power in the first place. If a nearby Sporting Club wins a championship and provides them a bit of respite in the process, who are we to complain?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Some ideas just won't die

There's not much more to be said about the end to Concacaf World Cup qualifying, thanks largely to this guy. The United States, Costa Rica and Honduras have booked their tickets for Brazil, and Concacaf could earn a rare fourth World Cup bid if misfiring Mexico can get past New Zealand, which went unbeaten/winless at the 2010 World Cup (delete as necessary). Neither side seems particularly confident, with Mexico's problems loudly and publicly on display while New Zealand has only scored two or more goals against non-Oceania opposition twice -- a 3-2 loss to Jamaica and a 2-2 draw with El Salvador -- since beating out Bahrain for a place at the 2010 World Cup. Translation: Take the under.

There's also not a great deal more to say about the news that Major League Soccer is "considering" switching to a more European calendar. It's a misguided idea that would have MLS playing during the months with the least fan-friendly weather and with the bulk of its schedule in a time of year when all the oxygen in the US sports world is devoted to other events. Thankfully this idea has been knocked back elsewhere, both by MLS and by right-thinking people in the media. There may come a day when MLS can put itself up against the NFL, college football, NBA, college basketball and MLB playoffs and still succeed, but that day is neither now nor in the near future. You'll know soccer truly has made it in the United States when American fans stop feeling the need to measure everything they and their league do by the European model.

Instead, let's take a look at a couple claims that have floated around these here Internets recently -- that Concacaf qualifying is a luxury cruise compared to other regions and the region has too many World Cup bids. These claims are, shall we say, spurious, a fact that is borne out once you look beyond qualitative arguments and get into the hard numbers.

Warning: Stat attack ahead!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You oughta be in pictures

Normally I am loathe to have images of me floating around the Internet. Every so often, though, I will make an exception. I recently sat in on a round-table discussion with Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey -- the masterminds behind the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast -- and a few other folks on Lovecraftian cinema. The invitation to the discussion was one of the Kickstarter rewards for helping fund the duo's trip to NecronomiCon, a convention dedicated to Lovecraft, his work and his enduring influence.

Here's a link to the talk.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mighty Whites on a roll

In keeping with the flurry of activity that occurs when the temperatures here go from broiling to bearable, the FIFA Under-17 World Cup kicks off today in Abu Dhabi. Here in the capital, Brazil faces Slovakia tonight before the host nation gets its campaign underway against Honduras. While the nation shifts its focus to the youth level, the senior team is making news in its own way.

Under Mahdi Ali, who recently started his second year in charge of the national team, the UAE is on an unprecedented roll. It has won 15 consecutive matches including friendlies, 2015 Asian Cup qualifying and the 2013 Gulf Cup. The team is unbeaten in 17 matches -- winning 16 and drawing one (2-2 vs. Uzbekistan in Dubai) -- since Mahdi Ali's first game in charge, a 1-0 friendly loss in Niigata against Japan. During the streak, the UAE reclaimed the Gulf Cup for the first time since 2007 (and just the second time ever) and jumped to the top of its Asian Cup qualifying group. Among the teams to fall to the UAE during the run are Kuwait, Bahrain, Estonia, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand, Laos, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

With Hong Kong and Vietnam visiting Abu Dhabi next month as Asian Cup qualifying draws to a close, the UAE's place at the tournament proper in Australia looks all but assured. About the only cloud to this silver lining is the prospect of what could have been -- prior to this unbeaten run, and perhaps what led to Mahdi Ali's appointment, the UAE finished last in its third-round World Cup qualifying group. The fact that Jordan, a team just nine places higher than the UAE in the FIFA rankings, is 180 minutes away from a place in the World Cup might not sit especially well.

Still, the future is bright enough to keep such speculation at the back of supporters' minds. With young attacking talent such as Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout spearheading the charge toward Australia, the UAE could soon establish itself as the team to beat in the Gulf and a threat to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Every man should

"Should" is a dangerous word. "Should" implies an obligation or duty, though to what or whom is often unstated. As such, I'm often bemused when I see these supposed articles online that claim to tell me the "XX Things Every Man Should Have". This 40-strong paean to masculine consumption from Buzzfeed is just the latest example.

If you don't want to give them the clicks -- and why would you? -- this is the list: tailored black suit, black dress shoes, brown dress shoes, stocks, tool kit, nice wallet, cologne, watch, proper bed with proper bedding, flashlight, duct tape, weekend bag, proper glassware, grooming kit, double-hinged wine key, multiple towels, chef's knife, passport, flask, sewing kit, umbrella, ironing board and iron, jumper cables, undershirts, playing cards, lint roller, leatherman, sunglasses, record player, sporting equipment, French press, good socks, good underwear, cast-iron skillet, multiple sheet sets, bar set, matching dishes, decent car, solid book collection, decent bottle of booze.

According to the airtight, in-no-way-subjective estimation of author Justin Abarca, I am only 9/40ths of a man and lacking self-respect -- and even then only if what's on my Kindle counts as a "solid book collection" and my 14-year-old prescription shades tick the "sunglasses" box. Most of this cavalcade of foofery is pointless to me as I don't drink alcohol or coffee, and lugging that much stuff as I move to another part of the world every other year (on average) would just be a pain. Do articles such as these serve any purpose other than to encourage impressionable men with expendable income to buy things? How do they benefit? Some such articles have links to where you can buy the items mentioned and thus may receive a cut of any sales generated, but the Buzzfeed one doesn't, at least as far as I can tell.

Then there are all the different permutations and interpretations of what every man should own. These are just examples from the first two pages of a [search engine of choice] query. Take note of who's hosting these articles.

Esquire: 31 Thing Every Man Should Own (beware: slideshow)

Men's Health: 12 things every man should own

Art of Manliness: Five Things Every Man SHOULD Own

Gentlemen's List: Seven Things Every Man Should Own

The Gentleman's Corner: Things Every Man Should Own

Man Made DIY: Ten Things Every Man Should Own -- winter edition, spring edition, summer edition and fall edition

Vogue: 15 things Tom Ford thinks every man should have

Examiner: 50 things every man should have

PolicyMic: Ten Things Every Man Needs Before He's 30

The Frisky: 30 Things Every Man Should Have By 30

Business Insider: 15 Items Every Man Needs in His Kitchen

Business Insider: Nine Accessories Every Guy Should Have in His Bachelor Pad

All that took about 30 seconds of searching. A man could go broke and lose his home trying to keep up with all the assorted knick-knacks he's supposed to cram into it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

America the ungovernable

Unless you've been firmly wedged under a rock for the past few weeks, you know the US government is shut down and (yet again) hurtling toward (self-inflicted) financial catastrophe. This is, to say the least, a bit embarrassing to explain as an American living abroad, and few others seem to be able to explain this completely avoidable kerfuffle, arriving as it does when the United States is showing the green shoots of recovery.
"The United States was the one bright spot in the world recovery," says OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria. "It was leading the recovery! Leading the creation of jobs! This unfortunate situation with the budget and debt happens at the moment it was looking good."

... "The U.S. is growing at 2-3 percent while Europe is only starting to rise from negative growth, and Japan is struggling to get prices up to 2 percent inflation. The U.S. is growing with very low inflation, and you are creating jobs. Perhaps you’d like it to be at a brisker speed, but you’ve created more than 7 million jobs in the last few years. These are just facts. You look even better compared to Europe, but even by themselves these numbers are objectively positive."
How is it the government in the country with the world's biggest economy decides to smash itself in the face with a frying pan just when those same cheeks were regaining some of their rosy hue? Just look at the players involved -- one half of the ruling duopoly can't seem to keep from tripping over its own shoelaces while the other is unified in its opposition to the president but otherwise at war with itself. About the only thing they agree on is that they desperately need campaign donations or else Bad Things might happen.

Who to turn to for a dose of common sense in this time of legislative masochism? None other than the free marketeer's answer to Playboy -- The Economist!
What can be done? In the short term, House Republicans need to get their priorities straight. They should pass a clean budget resolution without trying to refight old battles over Obamacare. They should also vote to raise the debt ceiling (or better yet, abolish it). If Obamacare really does turn out to be a flop and Republicans win the presidency and the Senate in 2016, they can repeal it through the normal legislative process.
In the longer term, America needs to tackle polarisation. The problem is especially acute in the House, because many states let politicians draw their own electoral maps. Unsurprisingly, they tend to draw ultra-safe districts for themselves. This means that a typical congressman has no fear of losing a general election but is terrified of a primary challenge. Many therefore pander to extremists on their own side rather than forging sensible centrist deals with the other. This is no way to run a country. Electoral reforms, such as letting independent commissions draw district boundaries, would not suddenly make America governable, but they would help. It is time for less cliff-hanging, and more common sense.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Son of the desert

Yup, here I am. After the requisite last-minute rush and frenzied departure, I've arrived in Abu Dhabi. How long I'll be here is anyone's guess -- the employment offer is open-ended and the residence visa is renewable every three years -- but the city seems nice enough from initial impressions. The highlights of my 36 hours or so in the Emirates thus far are sleeping off jet lag, wandering the neighborhood and sampling the wares of the nearby convenience store and supermarket. Actual work is scheduled to start today.

Keeping close tabs on money will be a primary concern until the first paycheck arrives. Fortunately, it appears as though I'll be able to eat and get around without too much expense in this first month. Taxis are fairly inexpensive and, other than a bit of sticker shock at the Grand Central Cafe ($12.25 for a cheeseburger and small fries?), food prices appear to be manageable as long as Western name brands aren't imperative. Behold the spoils of my first trip to LuLu Xpress, the nearby supermarket:


Water, some caffeine, tortillas and tortilla filling, some fruit, a quick dinner and a copy of the day's paper -- all for 84.45 dirhams, or about $23. Between this and the free breakfast buffet, I should be set for food for much of this week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

MIA lawyer leaves NFL DOA

I care not one whit about the NFL. I didn't watch a second of the most recent Super Bowl, instead spending the day at the movies. Until this afternoon I had no idea who MIA was or that the NFL was pursuing legal action against he/she/they for making an obscene gesture during the Super Bowl halftime show and "tarnishing the league's goodwill and reputation." However, when your lawyer drops bombs like these:
"Of course, the NFL's claimed reputation for wholesomeness is hilarious," [Howard] King tells THR, "in light of the weekly felonies committed by its stars, the bounties placed by coaches on opposing players, the homophobic and racist comments uttered by its players, the complete disregard for the health of players and the premature deaths that have resulted from same, and the raping of public entities ready to sacrifice public funds to attract teams."
You most definitely have my attention. Apparently the NFL wants $1.5 million and a public apology from the performer for her rude gesture. If this is just the opening salvo from MIA's legal team, Roger Goodell and friends better buckle up their chinstraps.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Good Bleepin' Life

Fun times here in Nebraska. Unless you've been living under a rock or in a Bluejay bubble, odds are you've heard of the mess in which Big State University's football coach has found himself. For those unfamiliar with the goings-on down Lincoln way, here's Keith Olbermann with the extended breakdown. If you don't want a dissertation on swearing in sports, this is the recording in question:


This has caused quite a stir among the Big Red faithful, with some of the more reactionary elements calling for Bo Pelini to be fired. That may seem awfully rash, especially given Pelini's record -- his teams have gone 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4 and 10-4 during his time in charge. That's a fairly respectable record, so why do some people want Pelini gone?

It seems like it's not so much the losses that bother Nebraska fans (though no doubt they still do to some degree) as it is how the losses keep happening. One could argue that Nebraska has taken on a bit too much of Pelini's personality over the years and become increasingly inconsistent, volatile and undisciplined. Plus, when the momentum turns away from the Huskers, things tend to snowball quickly. Pelini was hired in 2008 to stop Nebraska from falling behind not only the likes of Texas and Oklahoma but Missouri, Kansas State and Kansas. When the Huskers come up against teams that Nebraska fans and administrators think are their school's peers, though, the Huskers tend to fail and fail spectacularly.

2012: Ohio State 63-38 Nebraska; Nebraska 31-70 Wisconsin; Georgia 45-31 Nebraska
2011: Wisconsin 48-17 Nebraska; Michigan 45-17 Nebraska; South Carolina 30-13 Nebraska
2010: Washington 19-7 Nebraska
2009: Nebraska 10-31 Texas Tech
2008: Nebraska 17-52 Missouri; Oklahoma 62-28 Nebraska

Then there's the annual inexplicable loss that's come to be known as the "Bofart" game, such as the 2011 home loss to Northwestern, falling at home to a 5-7 Texas team in 2010 or committing seven turnovers in a 2009 home loss to Iowa State. Turnovers, dumb penalties and inconsistency have been a hallmark of Pelini's teams since his arrival, whether he had Callahan's players or his own.

Pelini continually tells people to "trust in the process" and that any problems are "fixable", yet the same problems keep popping up over and over again. His circle of trust is exceedingly small -- and will no doubt shrink further after Effgate -- and he's packed his coaching staff with friends and guys who are beholden to him for being where they are. There are no dissenting voices or outside influences within the locker room, and even the mildest of criticism -- and seeing as it's the Nebraska media, it will undoubtedly be mild -- sets Pelini off in a profane fury he justifies by saying it's all in the name of "protecting the kids." His behavior smacks of insecurity one usually doesn't associate with big-time college football coaches.

Even the most blinkered of Nebraska fans acknowledge that the college football landscape has changed since the mid-90s. Going 60-3 and winning three national titles in a four-year span isn't happening again anytime soon. What bothers people is that Nebraska consistently gets outplayed and outmaneuvered on the biggest stages, a fact that was as true in 2008 as it is today. The question now is whether the Nebraska program and fanbase will accept more four-loss seasons and having the Rose Bowl as its highest aspiration or jettison Pelini and risk drifting further into irrelevance.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Don't meet your heroes

The more I learn about some of the Big Names in Big Skepticism, the less I like them. Much like this post last month, where I detailed the darker side of some Big Name Skeptics becoming increasingly visible, now Richard Dawkins is taking a serious tumble in my estimation -- not for anything as bad as sexual harassment or assault, mind you, but rather for showing himself to be a privileged, prickish diva.

Sarah Moglia detailed on Skepchick her time as one of the people planning Dawkins' tour for his children's book "The Magic of Reality". According to Moglia, Dawkins threw something of a hissy fit when he learned that another Skepchick, Rebecca Watson, was on the list of speakers for the Reason Rally and threatened to withdraw from the event. American Atheists president Dave Silverman assured Dawkins that Watson would be removed from the roster, placating the celebrity evolutionary biologist. Why would someone with Dawkins' credentials and track record have it out for a podcaster/blogger/activist whose primary visibility is within the skeptical movement? Apparently Dawkins still holds a grudge after Watson called him out for deriding her attempt to call attention to the misogyny and double standards women face in the skeptical movement (not to mention society at large), insinuating that Western women have no right to complain since women elsewhere in the world have it worse.

Moglia rightly sniffs out the scent of celebrity culture in the whole affair:
I think it says a lot about the atheist movement, that a famous speaker can use his position in order to keep someone else off the lineup, and the movement willingly obliges. I’m truly not trying to blame Dave Silverman (I’ve spent a lot of time with him and I generally think he’s a good guy). I think the head of every single organization would have done the same thing, had they been in Dave’s position– and that right there is the problem. Yes, Richard Dawkins is a big draw. Yes, the Reason Rally was (for the most part) successful. But at what cost? Are we okay sacrificing the voices of some people in order to get others involved? Do we have too much of a culture of celebrity, so that we are willing to do things we otherwise wouldn’t do in order to get those celebrities involved? Is this indicative of a mindset that some people’s opinions are more important than others?
This sparked yet another round of self-examination among skeptics, or at least those willing to look beyond the Dawkins brand. Greta Christina summed it up artfully (as she always does) on her blog in a post with the leave-no-doubt headline "On Being Disillusioned By Heroes… or, No, I Am Not Bloody Well Happy to Hear Horrible Things About the People I Admired". The headline alone makes the post worth a read.

Again I find myself asking, "now what?" Honestly, I am disappointed to find out Dawkins behaves in such a manner, but is that enough for me to bail on skepticism? Far from it. I don't have to like the leading lights in Big Skepticism to find value in applying rationalism and critical thinking in my own life. Much as with Christopher Hitchens, I can respect Dawkins' intellect and passion while still finding his other beliefs or behavior odious. In other words, my attitude toward Dawkins from his point forward will be much like Watson's:
That’s where you come in. You, dear reader, have been incredible. You posted in response to Dawkins on the Pharyngula thread, bravely battling both him and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it. You emailed me to tell me to keep talking. You introduced yourself at SkepchickCon and told me how much you loved Skepchick and SGU. You wrote blog posts and made videos and were kick ass, and you made me realize that Dawkins is not the present. He is the past.
So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.
Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.
As for the whole "heroes" thing, to be honest I've never really been that big on having them in the first place. To be sure, I have people whom I like, respect and would love to emulate, but calling someone a "hero" suggests the kind of idolatry and putting people on a pedestal that can only end badly. I leave it to PZ Myers to give this idea the send-off it deserves:
We don’t need them. Ever.
I don’t need “heroes” to get my work done. I need colleagues and friends and peers and collaborators and partners. I need people to lead on some projects, and I need to lead on others. I need specialists and I need workers and I need assistants. I mostly need teamwork and a community of equals.
Think about every last job you’ve accomplished. The last damn thing you needed was a shiny nickel-plated figurehead striking a noble pose and freakin’ inspiring you. And I can’t think of anything more useless than getting placed up on a pedestal.

Friday, September 6, 2013

I thought it seemed crowded

In case you needed any further proof urbanization is actually a thing, here's Business Insider with some sobering news for fans of Arnold the Pig: Of the roughly 314 million people in the United States, half of them live in 146 out of more than 3,000 counties. Nebraska made the list!


(HT Joe. My. God.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The best thing going

As you can tell from the sidebar on this blog, I'm a big fan of podcasts. Selecting a favorite among them would be tough -- after all, how do you compare, for example, a comedy podcast to those that focus on soccer, baseball, science, history or movies? -- but if you forced me to pick, I'd go with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Why Hardcore History? Here's an example from waaaaaaay back in 2007:


Prescient. That's one of the things I enjoy most about Hardcore History -- Dan goes well beyond reciting dry facts and figures or established narratives and shows listeners how the events of the past tie into our modern world. He also approaches history with what he terms his "Martian" perspective, a great example of which is the episode Logical Insanity, in which he argues that the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan might have been the most humane way of ending World War II. (Remember that the Allies were already firebombing Japanese cities and the other endgame options included a ground invasion that would've made the fight for Okinawa seem tame and starving Japan into surrender via a blockade.)

Give Hardcore History a listen; I think you'll like what you hear. If you prefer your events more current, Dan also does Common Sense, a podcast that focuses more on politics and modern government. Whether your focus is on back then or the here and now, smart, engaging shows such as these demonstrate what the New Media is capable of providing. Look at what passes for programming on the History Channel, Discovery, TLC or National Geographic (excuse me, "NatGeo") and tell me whether something like Hardcore History would ever see the light of day on basic cable. Dan and others like him who produce avant, independent content online need and deserve the support of those of us who expect more from our entertainment than just contrived "reality" television.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thin-skinned, ham-fisted and tone-deaf is no way to go through life

I hesitate to be too judgmental, seeing as I'm not a Public Relations Professional, but it seems calling a team's most ardent supporters big meanieheads and claiming their behavior in unspecified incidents is hurting the club would rank fairly low in the job description for a Direction of Communications. That's exactly what the Chicago Fire's Dan Lobring did this week, though, penning an "editorial" for the club's official website that decried those who criticized him, owner Andrew Hauptman and the front office even though those people are trying REALLY REALLY HARD, YOU GUYS! While it would be easy to dismiss Lobring's post as 1,400 words of sunshine pumping from a man whose job it is to be as positive as humanly possible about a mediocre Major League Soccer team, let's delve a bit into the substance of his complaints.

Lobring spends the first few paragraphs bemoaning the online reaction to his arrival six months ago before reaching the crux of his complaint. He seems genuinely upset by the "personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc." directed at the owner during Chicago's 2-0 home loss to last-place DC United in the US Open Cup semifinals. After helpfully providing a link to the club's charter and quoting the sections on supporters' behavior, he lists examples of the club's work in the community and expresses surprise why anyone would criticize an organization that's working SO HARD to live up to the owner's high standards. He closes by reiterating how proud he is to work for such an "incredible club" and asserting that the silent majority of fans -- the Real Fans, those who want both the club and Lobring to succeed -- will have his back.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Prejudice saves time

A quick tour through the news, with one story doing much to confirm stereotypes and another perhaps undermining some preconceived notions.

First, the former. Three Oklahoma teenagers have been accused of shooting and killing a college baseball player from Australia. Why? "We were bored and didn't have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody."
Christopher Lane, who was visiting the town of Duncan, where his girlfriend and her family live, had passed a home where the boys were staying and that apparently led to him being killed, police chief Danny Ford said on Monday. A 17-year-old in the group has given a detailed confession to police, but investigators haven't found the weapon used in last week's shooting, Ford said. That teen and the others – aged 15 and 16 – remain in custody; Ford said the district attorney is expected to file first-degree murder charges on Tuesday. It wasn't known if the three would be charged as adults or juveniles. They are to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.
"They saw Christopher go by, and one of them said: 'There's our target,'" Ford said. "The boy who has talked to us said, 'We were bored and didn't have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.'"
He said they followed the 22-year-old Lane, a student from Melbourne who was attending college on a baseball scholarship, in a car and shot him in the back before driving off. Ford told the television station KOCO in Oklahoma City that one of the teens said they shot Lane for "the fun of it."
Let's see -- dumb teenagers? Check. Oklahoma? Check. US gun culture? Checkity-check-check.

The media reaction in Australia has been as nuanced and understated as you would expect. Tim Fischer, a former deputy prime minister from the John Howard regime, is doing his part by encouraging Australians to stop visiting the United States in order to force Congress to enact further gun control legislation.
"Tourists thinking of going to the USA should think twice,'' Mr Fischer said. "This is the bitter harvest and legacy of the policies of the NRA that even blocked background checks for people buying guns at gunshows.
"People should take this into account before going to the United States. I am deeply angry about this because of the callous attitude of the three teenagers (but) it's a sign of the proliferation of guns on the ground in the USA. There is a gun for almost every American.''
Fischer has something of a history when it comes to criticizing US gun culture. To be fair to him, though, it's hard to fault Australia's record. When a conservative government enacts sweeping gun control legislation and the country goes from 13 mass shootings in the 18 years prior to 1996 to zero mass shootings since 1996, there just might be something to that approach.

And now for something only slightly less depressing. Canadians are supposed to be all nice and understanding, right? Nothing like their noisy neighbors to the south. As it turns out, though, the Great White North has its own infestation of fuckwits. For example, there's this enlightened individual:
Ontario police are aware of a disgusting letter that apparently sent to a woman caring for an autistic child by a woman neighbour who wanted the "wild animal kid" out of her neighbourhood, even if it meant killing the child.
The hateful letter was reportedly sent last week to a resident of Newcastle, Ont., just west of Toronto, who hosts her 13-year-old grandson, Max, during summer days.
The full letter is below the jump.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

From the 'Blind Squirrel' files

Even an archbishop of Canterbury is right twice a day.
Christians in Britain and the US who claim that they are persecuted should "grow up" and not exaggerate what amounts to feeling "mildly uncomfortable", according to Rowan Williams, who last year stepped down as archbishop of Canterbury after an often turbulent decade.
"When you've had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely," he said. "Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. 'For goodness sake, grow up,' I want to say."
True persecution was "systematic brutality and often murderous hostility that means that every morning you wonder if you and your children are going to live through the day". He cited the experience of a woman he met in India "who had seen her husband butchered by a mob".
Not to worry, though -- the former archbishop reverts to form in the rest of the article.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Everybody in the pool

These are heady days for US men's national team fans. The United States is riding high in El Hex with four games to go and a World Cup berth tantalizingly close, MLS appears to be moving from strength to strength, Anglophiles have a new hero to cheer on/fret over (delete as necessary) in the Premiership, and Mexico can't keep from tripping over its own shoelaces. After facing serious questions about his performance earlier this year, Jurgen Klinsmann is basking in his own personal Era of Good Feelings, not to mention an 11-game winning streak and the reflection of his first trophy as a manager.

One of the most-repeated hosannas in the wake of the United States retaking the Gold Cup is that the national team player pool is the deepest it's ever been. That's an interesting turn of events if true, especially considering there's a vocal section of American soccer fans that considers MLS and US Soccer's player development broken and in dire need of repair. There is obviously still work to be done in World Cup qualifying -- the United States is 0-2-5 all-time at Costa Rica, with the two draws coming in 1985 and 1992, and Mexico will be desperate to end a slide that has seen it win just one of its six qualifiers -- but fans have the luxury of turning an eye toward next year's big show in Brazil. Who stands the best chance of getting on that plane? What follows is an attempt at drawing up a four-deep depth chart at each position, plus a handful of contenders, also-rans and ones for the future.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

So disappointed

It wasn't so long ago that I was excited about being part of the skeptical movement. After years of wandering and not knowing what to think about how to think, it was refreshing to find a group of people whose basic message was "examine the evidence and think for yourself." No dogma, no holy book, no gods or masters -- just you, the evidence and all the critical thinking skills you bring to the table.

Then came The Amazing Meeting, the massive annual convention in Las Vegas held by the James Randi Educational Foundation. After years of tangentially experiencing the skeptical movement through blogs and podcasts, I had the chance to experience the scene first-hand. Even with the jet lag of flying from Jakarta to Las Vegas (via Incheon), I had a great time as the list of speakers was replete with some of my favorite people in science and skepticism -- Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, Richard Wiseman, Bill Nye, the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe crew, and more. For the first time in quite a few years, I felt at home somewhere other than a newsroom. I met some great people, ate surprisingly well and learned the value of like-minded people gathering in meatspace instead of solely on the Internet.

So it comes as a great disappointment -- though certainly not a surprise -- that skeptics are just as capable of being shitbags as more credulous folk. Revelations emerged during the past week that cast some of the most prominent names in the skeptical movement as rather despicable human beings. The trickle began when linguist and author Karen Stollznow spoke out about suffering years of sexual harassment while working at the Center for Inquiry, an organization that supports science and critical thinking but has found itself in hot water recently. When Stollznow took her harassment complaint to her employer, the CFI's response was less than stellar.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Are those grubs in your grub?

Food has been on my mind a lot lately. I know -- just for a change, right? It's due partly to the Personal Health course I just took, and specifically one assignment about 10 days ago where I had to measure my body mass index. That required weighing myself, something I hadn't done in quite a while, and the results were... well, less than inspiring. At the time, my 5-foot-9 carcass weighed 260 pounds, giving me a BMI of 38.4. If you're wondering, 30 is the point where you go from being overweight to being obese. Yikes.

While I wouldn't necessarily call that a "come to Jesus" moment, it was certainly eye-opening. Since then, I've made a point of cutting out soda and sugar-sweetened drinks from my diet, drinking more water, reducing my intake of heavy foods and getting more regular exercise. I know those are the steps to take if I'm going to undo some of the damage to my body after not thinking about my health during my 20s -- what I didn't expect was how quickly I'd see improvement. I weighed myself today (after a meal, which apparently is a no-no) and found I'd dropped 5 pounds in just less than two weeks, knocking my BMI down to 37.7. Still obese, of course, but surprising progress in so short a time. I read that a healthy rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, so thus far it sounds like I'm on the right track.

With that in mind, I give you this gem from Scientific American -- your food is covered in insects. Predictably, the author does not mince words:
You’re deluding yourself if you think farming is as clean as making a microchip. We are always on insect territory. Try as we might with insecticides and other engineered poisons, bugs crawl all over our food to feed (and procreate) on it. When we harvest and package our crops, a lot of bugs come along for the ride. Be aware, all the hitchhikers aren’t removed. At least there are limits on how many bugs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lets you unknowingly eat.
The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook lays it all out. Staples like broccoli, canned tomatoes, and hops readily contain “insect fragments”—heads, thoraxes, and legs—and even whole insects. (I won’t tell you about the rat hair limits…) Fig paste can harbor up to 13 insect heads in 100 grams; canned fruit juices can contain a maggot for every 250 milliliters; 10 grams of hops can be the home for 2,500 aphids.
Feeling hungry yet? I know I am. That article provided a nice counterbalance to another one I found thanks to Alton Brown, a blog post from the USDA advising people not to throw out food just because it's sat forgotten for long periods. That's understandable advice and a good way to cut down on food waste. That said, I know of certain family members whose shelves house items that don't even have barcodes, which came into use in the 1970s. This is the same family member in whose fridge I once found a bottle of barbeque sauce not too many years older than me (and this was within the past decade). Some things get better with age... others most definitely do not.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Come for the food, stay for the... food

If I have one weakness, it's curry. Whether it's Japanese curry, Thai curry, Indian curry, Tim Curry, etc., I'm all in favor. I can think of few comfort foods that better dispel a cold, bland evening than a steaming plate of curry rice. You can imagine my delight, then, when while driving to apply for a job I spied a sign reading "Kurry Xpress."

I tend to seek out curry joints or places that serve curry wherever I go. While La Grande wasn't quite an epicurean wonderland, I did happen across an Indian buffet place while in Eugene to cover the state track meet. From then on, I've had decent success -- Akmal's (RIP) in Hilo served a great gosht korma before it closed down, and I was spoiled for choices in Jakarta with places such as Samy's Curry, Go! Curry, Mr. Curry, Hazara and Koh e Noor. The latter was a Friday-night staple at our office that proved reliable, affordable and damn tasty. I make sure to hit Coco's Curry when I'm in Tokyo, but I've learned from experience that Tokyo has its share of mediocre curry joints, too.

With all that in mind, I went into Kurry Xpress a bit wary of what quality of Indian food I would find in Omaha. First impressions were not promising. The restaurant is tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on Q Street and has little to draw attention to it. Its interior is fairly Spartan, to put it kindly, with just four booths and four tables on which customers dine with disposable spoons, forks and containers. The carpet has had sticky patches each time I've gone, the tables are usually (but not always) mostly clean, and the primary source of atmosphere is a TV in the corner playing Indian movies and music videos. Even at slow times, expect to wait at least 10 to 15 minutes for your food. If your goal is to be whisked away and feel as though you're dining in Mumbai rather than Omaha, don't bother.

If your goal is eating good Indian food, on the other hand, you should most definitely bother. The menu has a solid variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, and only the two top-end biryani dishes cost $10 or more. I've had all vegetarian fare two of the three times I've eaten at Kurry Xpress, and it's saying something for a restaurant when an omnivore like me happily chooses to eat vegetarian even when good meat-based options are available. It had a delicious mutter paneer -- a curry with peas and fresh cottage cheese, quite possibly my favorite Indian dish -- and the biryani options are notable both for their portion size and their spice. I also made sure to try the classic chicken vindaloo, which did not disappoint. Service, while not exactly quick, was helpful and patient. The mango lassi is a soothing way to quell any lingering fires from the preceding meal.

All told, I definitely recommend Kurry Xpress for a no-frills, high-flavor dining experience. True, you won't be blown away by the atmosphere, but the food is good and, really, why else would you go out to eat? I feel fairly confident in my recommendation as the majority of my fellow diners during my visits were of South Asian persuasion, and I imagine they would be fairly stern judges of a restaurant claiming to serve "authentic Indian cuisine" here in the Land of Hamburger Pizza. Even if the spelling is a little funky and the service not exactly express, I will definitely be eating here again.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Never relent

Feel like the world is spinning a little too fast these days? Tough. Here's noted Western philosopher Henry Rollins on the promise of progress -- and backlash -- from the recent, momentous decisions in politics and law.
Bad News for the Haters Dept.: You realize that all those obnoxious 16-year-olds you see everywhere, texting their friends who are standing next to them, will be able to vote in the 2016 elections. Do you think you will be able to sell them on your anti-gay/anti-woman/anti-brown/black platform? Do you think they want to end up like you? I bet they don't. Gov. Bobby Jindal said that you all have to stop being the stupid party. I don't think you can do it. How did equality become political? Because you can't handle science, change or the truth. America is on the move, you are not.
Roe v. Wade is still under attack. Check out what Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has been up to. The Supreme Court's recent decision on the Voting Rights Act could make the 2014 and 2016 elections pretty tricky. The demise of DOMA, while great, is also a smack to the hornet's nest and there will be a whirlwind to reap, so please, prepare for many challenges up the road. The pushback will be considerable. America is changing and, historically, we don't handle it well.
Read the whole thing. DOMA, the Voting Rights Act, the Snowden affair -- this is only the beginning, folks.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Map attack

Geography has always fascinated me. As far back as fourth grade, I can remember poking through encyclopedias and being fascinated by entries on countries I never knew existed. Sometimes all it took was a cool-looking flag (Kenya was a particular favorite) to get me hooked. It was right around that time that my school started holding a geography bee -- like a spelling bee, only with less spelling and more geography. After being in the running in fifth and sixth grade, I came in second in my school (to brainiac and all-around good egg Paul Steinbeck) in seventh grade and finally claimed victory the following year.

That love of geography has stayed with me, so I can't help but have my head turned when I see an interesting map. Gizmodo flagged up just such a map this week, a map of the United States identifying each state by the brand for which it is best-known. The map is the work of Steve Lovelace. (HT Joe. My. God.)


For Nebraska, Cabela's might not leap immediately to mind if you're not into hunting or fishing, but with 2012 revenue topping $3 billion, it's hard to question its inclusion. Check the links if some of the states are too small to read. You might not immediately recognize the Hawaiian Airlines logo with so little of it showing. Also, Microsoft might be a better option for Washington than Starbucks, but the creator didn't go into his methodology and, given how far he likely had to dig to find some of these companies, I'm not inclined to quibble.

There's another fun map below the fold.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The wild, wild East

People ask me why I prefer living and working overseas. "Why not stay here," they ask,"find a nice part of the country and cover football?" My reasons are plentiful -- I've lived in the United States for more than 25 years, there are vast swathes of the Earth I haven't seen, newspaper jobs are increasingly scarce here, American football doesn't interest me that much, etc. One of the reasons I didn't know until I left the country was that there are some types of stories you just don't get in the developed world.

For example, Malaysian soccer authorities are offering fans a bounty to catch their fellow supporters misbehaving at the upcoming FA Cup final.
The FAM said supporters would be given 1,000 Malaysian Ringgit ($320) for their 'policework' during the showpiece final between Kelantan and Johor Darul Takzim at the National Stadium on June 29. 
"We have decided to take a different, and positive, approach to preventing crowd trouble during the Cup final," FAM competitions committee chairman Hamidin Mohd Amin was quoted as saying by Malaysian media on Friday. 
Johor's semi-final second leg against Pahang was abandoned due to crowd trouble, while Kelantan were fined 40,000 Ringgit last year after their fans caused a long delay to a Cup match when they threw bottles on to the field.
Rat out your friends and neighbors for fun and profit! Another outstanding idea by the FAM, which always does what's in the best interest of Malaysian soccer and in no way has a problem with accepting criticism. Nope, none whatsoever.

There is some overlap in these stories, of course. Among the most notable is the increasing prevalence of European clubs flocking to Asia and North America in search of new revenue streams their adoring fans.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

There's a handball joke in there somewhere

An update on a post from a few months ago. The next sexy times these referees will have will come ... in the big house!
A Singapore court jailed a Lebanese referee for six months on Tuesday for accepting sexual favours to fix a soccer game, a day after two fellow countrymen were jailed for the same offence amid an international investigation into soccer corruption.
Ali Sabbagh, a Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)-accredited referee, had admitted having sex with a woman hired by accused Singapore match-fixer Ding Si Yang, who has denied wrongdoing. 
Ali Sabbagh and two Lebanese assistant referees were convicted of accepting sexual bribes to fix a future match, but no specific game was identified by the prosecution.
He was withdrawn as referee only hours before an Asian Football Federation match between Singapore's Tampines Rovers and India's East Bengal on April 3. 
Singapore has been the focus of a probe into soccer match-fixing, with European anti-crime agency Europol saying in February that hundreds of matches had been fixed by a global betting syndicate based in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the official media in Singapore is keeping this story at arm's length. Today runs with an AP article, while the Straits Times apparently can't even be bothered to acknowledge the story. Goal.com's Singapore site (helmed by the always excellent Cesare) at least gives the story a bit of run.

It's disappointing how little play incidents like these get, especially when you consider how they fit into the larger picture of corruption in soccer. Some great investigative work by Declan Hill, the Invisible Dog team and others has illuminated the shadowy underbelly of illegal betting and match-fixing that continues to plague the world's game. Careers and lives are being ruined and the very integrity of soccer is at stake, but because certain high-ranking officials desperately want to preserve the appearance of Singapore being an oasis of clean governance, the likes of Dan Tan and the Kelong Kings are free to operate with impunity. Match-fixing has tarnished World Cup qualifiers, UEFA Champions League matches and leagues of increasingly prominent stature -- even the United States isn't free from this scourge. FIFA, meanwhile, continues its cosmetic campaign of raging against the symptoms but allowing the disease to roll merrily on. Odd how FIFA is reticent to pull the trigger in one of the rare instances when its leaning on a government might actually do some good.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Job done?

It's becoming abundantly clear that Jurgen Klinsmann is bound and determined to outdo his predecessors as US national team coach in drama, if not in results. Things are just never easy with this bunch. What started out as an assured, professional performance away from home frayed at the edges with bad, old habits rising to the surface before the newest New Hotness saved the day. Brad Evans' stoppage-time goal gave the United States a 2-1 win at Jamaica on Friday, its first World Cup qualifying win in Kingston.

Going by the numbers, the United States is in great shape to make the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. As I've said before, 16 points is the magic number in the final round of Concacaf qualifying. That's been enough to at least secure the Jack Warner Memorial Fourth-Place Playoff Spot (TM) since it came into existence two World Cup cycles ago. The United States is almost halfway there with seven points from four games of the 10-game Hex, and it has four of its final six games at home. In truth, it could stand to draw one of those home matches and probably still qualify with room to spare.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What dreams have come

Something a little different on the blog today. Normally my posts are rife with links and quotes, letting people far smarter and informed than me tell you what's what. This time, though, it's just me wibbling on about remembering dreams -- a post I've been meaning to write for some time. If that sounds interesting, read on past the jump. If not, check back later as it's an international week so this place will be heavy on soccer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

My eyes!

Oh, West Virginia. How could you?


This does nothing to dispel pre-existing notions about West Virginia or college baseball. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers are in the process of crushing TCU in the Big 12 tournament, so America will be subjected to these monstrosities for at least one more day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New York state of mind

Jurgen Klinsmann must be one of the luckiest SOBs to walk the Earth. Just when his latest fit of message-sending resulted in Landon Donovan being frozen out of the US national team -- a team that includes the non-playing Michael Parkhurst, Brek Shea and Stuart Holden, among others -- and threatened to overshadow the run-up to three crucial World Cup qualifiers, a shoe that's been levitating since Major League Soccer's inception in 1996 finally dropped.

MLS commissioner Don Garber achieved one of his longest-held goals on Tuesday as English club Manchester City and the New York Yankees announced they had agreed to create an MLS franchise that will play in New York City starting in 2015. America's top-flight soccer league already has a team in the area in the form of the New York Red Bulls, but NYRB plays well outside the city in Harrison, New Jersey, and has struggled to attract fans despite a glittering new stadium and several high-profile signings. Having long coveted a team located in the Five Boroughs that can draw on the city's ample ranks of soccer fans, Garber and MLS have their wish.

There are still issues to resolve, of course, with one of the most pressing being where New York City FC (NYCFC to its friends) will play. A proposed stadium in Queens faces continued resistance from both local groups -- who oppose handing over more public parkland on which the stadium will be built -- and the New York Mets -- who want more than $40 million in compensation in exchange for allowing people attending NYCFC games to use the parking lots at Citi Field. Manchester City (whose ownership group is led by Sheik Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family) and the Yankees already face a $100 million expansion fee to join MLS, and replacing the parkland and soccer fields taken up by NYCFC's new home will heap an estimated $90 million on top of any costs incurred in building the stadium. Then there's the not-inconsiderable task of navigating the murky world of New York politics, a process that vexed even well-known entities like the Yankees and Mets as they tried to secure new stadiums.
To build a home for the team, the city, the league, Manchester City and now the Yankees must win over half a dozen community boards, the city planning commission, the City Council, and potentially state and federal agencies — a process that will take months, if not years. Some of the constituents oppose ceding parkland to a foreign billionaire.
“We’re not even talking about an American businessman who made shrewd investments,” said Peter Vallone Jr., a city councilman from Astoria. “We’re talking about a sheik born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and we don’t need to hand him parkland on a silver platter.”
Getting big projects built in New York can take years, especially sports sites that often become fodder for critics of the use of public resources for wealthy team owners. The Mets and the Yankees each spent nearly a decade lobbying for tax breaks and public subsidies before they poured a combined $2.3 billion into their new stadiums, which opened in 2009.
It's perfectly understandable for people in Queens and the surrounding area to be wary of the NYCFC stadium landing in their back yard. The funding for these kind of projects almost invariably comes partially (if not wholly) from public money, an extravagance that's hard to justify amid a faltering economic recovery and persistent unemployment. There's the problem of the city appearing to hand a sweetheart deal to a baseball franchise valued at $2.3 billion and a soccer club whose owner's pockets are so deep they make the Mariana Trench look like a wagon rut. Then there are those in New York who are outraged that the city and MLS are doing business with a group that has such close ties to Abu Dhabi, citing concerns about the emirate's human rights record and continuing ban on homosexuality. Workers' rights are a bone of contention in that part of the world, especially with Qatar receiving the 2022 World Cup and Abu Dhabi and Dubai enjoying rising influence on the club level.

More interesting, though, is the reaction from MLS supporters. There is the expected pushback from Red Bulls fans, but there also appears to be a line of thinking that NYCFC's arrival is somehow bad for MLS. That may sound silly, and it could certainly be so, but there is also a kernel of truth that's worth exploring.