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.