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.)