Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas, with a twist

I've been known to enjoy a Christmas song or two. Even though I'm not particularly given to sentimentality, in the past the right song has, on occasion, stirred up some dust in the room.

Still, if you really want to beat a path to my heart, you have to make it weird. That's why I was so delighted when the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society came out with "An Ancient and Abhorrent Solstice", their collection of seasonal carols with a Lovecraftian bent. Now, I may have a new holiday favorite in Norm Sherman's stirring rendition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", done in his inimitable, darkly comedic style. You can find it on the latest edition of the Drabblecast, which includes a Christmasy story featuring the world's most successful cryptozoologist, or you can just listen below.

Board of Accountability, Week 12

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here, in a nutshell

Living in a country largely unknown to Westerners has its good points and bad points. One of the good points is that the location lends itself to conversation fodder. There's always some tidbit of knowledge or travel story that can fill the gaps between updates on various family members' conditions.

One of the bad points is having to repeat the same basic information about the country every time you speak to someone new. No, this is not a theocracy; yes, they let Western infidels like me have a bank account and everything; no, I'm not dodging suicide bombers on my way to work; yes, living here is actually fairly pleasant, if a little on the dull side.

As a service for those curious about the UAE, here are links to some of the biggest stories around the country in the past few months. Some of this is big-picture stuff, some more spot-newsy. For starters:

In the UAE, the United States has a quiet, potent ally nicknamed 'Little Sparta' – Washington Post
“The UAE has gone all-in,” said Anthony Zinni, a former commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East. As U.S. ties with long-standing allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have frayed, and Egypt and Jordan contend with domestic challenges, the UAE now occupies a unique position in the region. “It’s the strongest relationship that the United States has in the Arab world today,” Zinni said.
It is also the least well known. Although there are about 3,500 U.S. military personnel stationed at Dhafra, and it is the only overseas base with F-22s, the facility has never been identified by the U.S. Air Force in publicly available materials because the UAE government had been concerned that touting the extent of its cooperation with the United States could antagonize some of its citizens.
But UAE officials relaxed those rules during a recent visit by a Washington Post reporter because of growing concern at senior levels of the Emirati government that keeping mum has led to an underappreciation of the country’s contributions beyond what is known in a handful of offices in the Pentagon and at the State Department, particularly as this nation seeks to convince the Obama administration to sell it more advanced fighter jets and adopt a tougher line on Iran.
“We’re different from our neighbors,” said Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador in Washington, who noted that his country has participated in every major U.S.-led coalition since the 1991 Persian Gulf War — save for the 2003 invasion of Iraq — joining Americans in Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan in addition to the ongoing air campaign against the Islamic State. “We’re your best friends in this part of the world,” he said.
More below the fold.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sticking to sports

I was going to rant about these people who believe athletes should stick to playing sports, that they're too dumb to hold court on matters outside of their job or have no business exercising their Constitutional right to free speech. I was going to point out how protesting and sports have always mixed, and that the history of such mixing in the United States goes back to at least the 1960s, if not earlier. I was going to mention how such protests are hardly limited to US sports, and that authorities have been surprisingly reasonable in allowing athletes to publicly express their support for the families of those caught up in the recent tragedies.

But then, in a scant five minutes, Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns gave a rebuttal to those meatheads and chauvinists that was so eloquent, so poignant and so heartfelt that it scarcely requires further comment.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You did WHAT in my name?

For so long, we've been told that Team USA is the good guys, that we're fighting for freedom and democracy, that we respect the rule of law and hold firm to the values that make us great as a nation.

Yeah, well, talk is cheap. Team USA's actions speak much louder and paint a very different picture.
The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied and misled the White House, Congress and the public about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.
The methods of torture carried out by the CIA were even more extreme than what it portrayed to the George W Bush administration and went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near their heads.
At least 39 detainees experienced techniques like “cold water dousing”, which the Justice Department never approved, the committee found. It also found cases of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” – the “lunch tray” for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, “was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused”, the report says – which in some instances led to anal fissures and rectal prolapse. Investigators also documented death threats made to detainees. And CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” or “cut a [detainee’s] mother’s throat”.
In case anyone had forgotten, 1) Yes, torture is still illegal under US law; 2) Yes, the United States ratified the UN Convention Against Torture back in 1994; 3) No, torture is not an effective method of acquiring reliable intelligence; 4) That tale spun by "Zero Dark Thirty", that torture produced the information that led to Osama bin Laden's capture, was, like most things coming out of Hollywood, utter fiction; and 5) Yes, false information extracted under torture was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq.

This is how the "good guys" behave? It's difficult to read the list of abuses performed by the CIA and pretend the United States still has anything resembling the moral high ground. The United States isn't cutting off people's heads, yes, but that doesn't make what the CIA did or the mental, moral and legal gymnastics of the US government to justify that behavior not evil. How far has the country fallen when not matching Islamic fundamentalists atrocity for atrocity is considered the baseline for "good"? Successive governments knew human rights abuses that could pass muster as war crimes were taking place at secret prisons overseas at the behest of the United States, yet they did nothing to stop it and seem determined to continue doing nothing. That's not evil? And this doesn't even include the CIA exploiting detainees for their own purposes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Board of Accountability, on hiatus

As you may have noticed, the Board of Accountability has been on hiatus while I spent most of last week and this week in Hong Kong. Photos of the trip are available here.

I didn't avail myself of the fitness center at the hotel, though checking the scale after I got back to the apartment, I noticed I was two pounds lighter than when I left. Must've been all the walking I did while in Hong Kong. It's much like what I encountered in Tokyo -- the trains will get you most anywhere you want to go, but you'll still be doing plenty of walking.

The board will return next week. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with a photo of my prize capture from the trip -- the Solti recording of Wagner's Ring cycle. It's been on my wish list for years and, after stumbling across it at a CD store (!), now I have it. I rule!

Friday, November 28, 2014

I get comments

Difficult as it may be to believe, people outside of my family sometimes read this blog. It's true! Unless, of course, I have a bunch of family members in Ukraine who nobody told me existed. Stay strong, imaginary Yookie relatives.

Sometimes people even leave comments. It only happens about once or twice a year, but it's usually nice when they do. I say "usually" because spam bots have been known to visit, and recently a new breed of slimeball stopped by -- the unapologetic misogynist. While I normally respond to comments where they're posted, this one deserves its own thread for several reasons. I'm posting the comment below the fold because it's needlessly bone-headed and nasty.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Galileo: Still right

Sometimes science is at its best when it displays its elegant simplicity. For example, consider this entry from Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog:
If you ask someone what would fall faster, a bowling ball or a marble, I bet a lot of folks would say the heavier bowling ball falls faster. But in fact, if dropped from a meter or so off the ground, they’d fall at the same rate. Gravity accelerates them at the same rate, so they fall at the same rate.
Part of the reason our intuition is off here is due to air. As objects fall, the air pushes back on them. This depends pretty strongly on their surface area, how big they are, so a lightweight large object will in fact fall more slowly than a heavier, smaller one.
Dropping a bowling ball and a feather will yield results that will satisfy our intuition. But what if you removed all the air from the room and dropped them? What happens then?
This is what happens.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kicking my own ass

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been posting whiteboard updates in an attempt to keep myself motivated and accountable for the tasks I want to get done each week. The evidence will show my batting average there is fairly mediocre, but one area where I can claim some success is the top row -- exercise.

At one point in the not-too-distant past, I ballooned up to 280 pounds (127 kilograms, 20 stone) amid stress, inactivity, etc. Ever since I got settled in Abu Dhabi, though, I set myself a target of at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least four times a week, and I've managed largely to stick to that. The fitness center in my apartment block is modest but has all the basics -- an elliptical machine, two treadmills (one of which even works), a rowing machine, stationary bike, free weights and one more complicated weight machine. In the interest of simplicity, I stick to the elliptical and treadmill.

Now, a little more than 13 months into my stay here, I'm down to between 235 and 240 pounds (107-109kg, 16-17 stone), depending on the day. This is down to a few different factors: 1) eating less; 2), eating healthier (cooking for myself is a big help here); 3) nagging myself into getting up earlier so I have time to work out; and 4) working in a couple sessions of interval training each week, getting a maximum amount of exercise in 30 minutes of actual workout. The idea is to alternate between periods at a 5 on the Perceived Exertion Index -- 0 being sitting down to blog, 10 being fleeing from rabid zombie tigers -- and periods at a 9.
So, how do intervals actually help? Hard-working muscles produce lactic acid. If you're running at a comfortable pace, your body has plenty of time to flush it away. But as you start to work harder and harder, there comes a point when your body can't do that quickly enough. The lactic acid starts to build up, leaving you with burning muscles and a desire to stop.
This point is called your lactate threshold, and interval training is all about encouraging your body to do all it can to offset this point, and to cope mentally when it does come – so you can run faster for longer. Your body responds to interval training by growing extra capillaries to transport more oxygen to your muscles, strengthening your heart to pump it round, and developing the capability to buffer more lactic acid.
Between the intervals, sessions on the elliptical and the occasional 5k on the treadmill, the work is showing dividends. It wasn't that long ago I was happy just to complete a 5k at all, then get it done in less than 45 minutes, all the while gasping for breath at workout's end. Now, I've whittled my 5k personal best down to 31:41, or about 10:15 per mile. I haven't run a sub-10:00 mile since high school, so this is kind of exciting. The next immediate goal is to finish a 5k in 30:00 or less. Even though the weight loss isn't as dramatic as before, I can still see benefits to the exercise -- more energy, better mood, certain articles of clothing are baggier than before, etc.

The point of this entry isn't to pat myself on the back, though. Rather, I want to talk about something that has become clear to me in the process of pushing the limits of my fitness.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Um, yikes?

Halloween may have come and gone, but that doesn't mean the scares have to stop. Consider this uplifting news out of Brazil.
South America’s biggest and wealthiest city may run out of water by mid-November if it doesn’t rain soon.
São Paulo, a Brazilian megacity of 20 million people, is suffering its worst drought in at least 80 years, with key reservoirs that supply the city dried up after an unusually dry year.
One of the causes of the crisis may be more than 2,000 kilometers away, in the growing deforested areas in the Amazon region.
“Humidity that comes from the Amazon in the form of vapor clouds - what we call ‘flying rivers’ - has dropped dramatically, contributing to this devastating situation we are living today,” said Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at INPE, Brazil’s National Space Research Institute.
The changes, he said, are “all because of deforestation”.
How bad is it? Real bad.
The severity of the situation in recent weeks has led government leaders to finally admit Brazil’s financial powerhouse is on the brink of a catastrophe.
São Paulo residents should brace for a “collapse like we’ve never seen before” if the drought continues, warned Vicente Andreu, president of Brazil’s Water Regulatory Agency.
Dilma Pena, chief executive officer of Sabesp, the state-owned water utility that serves the city, warned last week that São Paulo only has about two weeks of drinking water supplies left.
More frightful -- though perhaps less life-threatening -- news below the fold.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Off the wagon -- for SCIENCE!

Up until tonight, I had been soda- and caffeine-free for more than three weeks. This return to the wagon, like the others, is equal parts cost-cutting and health kick. Long-time readers of this blog have heard this before, of course, but this time it's part of an attempt to bring a bit more consistency and efficacy to my efforts (see: Board of Accountability posts).

Still, I couldn't help but be curious when I saw this green-colored Coke can at the Lulu Express across the street. It was the latest variety, called Coca-Cola Life, available here in the UAE as an import after being released in the UK in August. While I wasn't in the market for a new soft drink or interested in breaking my new streak, I was inspired to spend 3.95 dirhams (about $1.10) and give it a try after hearing the good folks at Skeptics With a K mention it on a recent episode. (Discussion starts at the 5:00 mark.)


How does it measure up? Head below the fold to find out.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Board of Accountability, Week 2


Maybe I should use that last column for word count. In the last 48 hours, I've written about 800 words on Major League Baseball, 1,300 words on Asian soccer players in Europe, 1,200 words on why I can't watch college football anymore, and 800 words on US foreign policy under Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. My fingers are spent, and it's only Tuesday.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Quitting Old State U

College football used to be my No. 1 sport. That's hardly a surprise as I grew up in Nebraska, a state that is something of a Lagrangian point for professional sports. Denver, the Twin Cities, Chicago and Kansas City are all fairly close, but none so close that they can seriously claim Nebraska as "their" territory. That leaves the University of Nebraska -- and specifically Cornhusker football -- to dominate the state's sporting attention.

I used to follow the Huskers with a passion. Going to games was a rare treat growing up -- I went to four or five games as a fan, mostly thanks to a family member who was a season-ticket holder -- but I made sure to catch every game on TV or the radio. (For younger readers, these were the days before every game was on TV and in HD. I know, I'm so old.) Wins were exhilarating and losses were crushing, especially the near-annual, seemingly inevitable defeat to a faster, more talented team from Florida in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska's run from 1993 to 1997, in which they went 60-3 and won three national championships, was spectacular and likely spoiled at least one generation of fans into believing Nebraska should always hold such pride of place in college football.

As I said, though, college football used to be my favorite sport. Now, I barely pay attention to it. What happened? In short -- time, distance, and seeing how the sausage is made.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

This is what happens when you don't vote

Election Day is a month away -- November 4, for all you Americans out there. As this is a year without a presidential election, voter turnout is expected to be more woeful than usual. This is a pity, especially considering all the potential consequences of people having better things to do than the bare minimum expected of citizens in a democracy.

Around this time of year, people start passing around lists -- some reliable, some less so -- of elections decided by small margins, even as small as one vote. The obvious intent is to encourage all eligible voters to go to the polls, lest some undesirable outcome occur. But, hey, seeing as political gridlock is all but inevitable, what's the worst that could happen by not voting?

Examples below the fold....

Monday, September 29, 2014

I've been visited!

It came to me after I got running a 5k on the treadmill (in pretty decent time, too). This is truly a sign, an omen of good tidings to come.

Pictures below the fold.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Some "movement" this is

Some days I wonder if I was too hasty in detaching myself from "movement" skepticism. I still think skepticism is important, after all, and it's introduced me to so many wonderful people. Maybe if I go back slightly less wide-eyed but just as eager to help promote science and critical thinking, things will work out this time.

Then along comes Mark Oppenheimer to write an article that reminds me of all the reasons I walked away in the first place. That reminds me of how blinkered and oafish otherwise intelligent people can be. That reminds me that some privileged white men so enjoy the feeling of intellectual superiority that they would rather revel in mocking those who believe in Bigfoot and reiki than use their critical thinking skills to affect some meaningful change in the world.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thought for the day

One of the more underrated feelings in life is the mix of surprise and dread when someone sums up your situation in a worryingly short span of time. It does tend to definitely puncture any inflated sense of importance you have about yourself or your problems.

The most recent episode of Welcome to Night Vale, one of my favorite podcasts, did that for me. In it, Cecil Baldwin -- the voice of Night Vale community radio -- was summing up the plight of retired Night Vale mayor Pamela Winchell when he struck squarely on the head the feelings I have over my impending departure from newspapers. (It will happen one of these days. Honest! This charade can't go on forever.)

I know I've wrapped up too much of my self-identity in being a Newspaper Guy -- the ennui and alienation I felt during my year of Funemployment brought that home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It's something I need to address before I get out of the industry for good. How? I'm working on that.

Cecil's summation starts at 28:25 in the audio from the first link. A transcript is below the fold.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gaysdidit

For a group that makes up such a small percentage of the population, homosexuals wield a shocking amount of power. In addition to all the uncomfortable, tingly feelings Good, God-Fearing People get when they see two people of the same gender in a loving embrace, apparently t3h gayz are also responsible for bringing a vast array of divine punishments down on society's head.

Consider this story out of Liberia, where church leaders have agreed amongst themselves that the outbreak of Ebola is the fault of -- you guessed it -- the gays.
Religious leaders in Liberia are claiming God has unleashed the deadly Ebola virus as a plague upon the country to punish “immoral acts” taking place there, such as homosexuality. 
Various church leaders from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) reportedly attended a meeting to discuss "an spiritual response" to the outbreak of Ebola, which has claimed 932 lives across West Africa.
It comes as the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced a 90-day state of emergency in the country as she warned "ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices”, are continuing to exacerbate the spread of the disease.
But that's just the tip of the big, gay iceberg, friends. Head below the fold -- if you dare -- to see what other horrors the gays have inflicted on the world.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Told ya so

The World Cup is over -- let the real dog days of summer commence. Before the tournament fades into the mists of time, though, I thought it might be fun to update a previous post.

I said in that post that teams from Concacaf -- the region that encompasses North America, Central America and the Caribbean -- did more with their places in the World Cup than their African or Asian counterparts and thus did not deserve to have World Cup bids taken from them and given to other regions. The events of this year's World Cup did little to shake my confidence in that assertion. Four Concacaf teams qualified for Brazil, with three advancing out of their group and one reaching the quarterfinals. Just two of Africa's five teams reached the last 16, and Asia's four qualifiers combined for a paltry three points between them.

Below are my updated numbers for each region, both for this year's tournament and overall since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998. As a reminder, in an attempt to quantify how much return each region provides for each place it gets at world soccer's biggest event, I added up the points earned by each team from each region during the group stage and divided that total by the number of berths that region received. The idea is that trends in performance should emerge over the span of several World Cups. You can find the breakdown for 1998 through 2010 at the first link.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Well, damn

So, the World Cup. It's 24 hours later and I still can't even. My real-time thoughts say enough.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Entering the hypothetical realm

I hesitate to speak too much about having children, in part because I am mostly ambivalent on the topic and in part because it's an endeavor that requires (at least) two willing parties. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little curious on how that would go -- poorly, more than likely.

That is probably why I spent more time than I normally would mulling over this interactive article from PBS. It's based on the results from the 2010-2014 World Values Survey, in which 82,000 adults across 54 countries were surveyed to gain a better understanding of what they consider most important when raising a child, whether or not they were parents themselves. The respondents were asked to select which of 11 qualities they considered to be especially important for children to learn.

In the PBS article, readers were asked to rank each of the 11 qualities -- determination/perseverance, responsibility, imagination, self-expression, independence, tolerance, unselfishness, thrift, religious faith, obedience and hard work. Their answers were then matched to which country's values most closely corresponded with the reader's.

My list is below.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another one from the 'Privilege Files'

If embassies and consulates did all the things people believe they do, it might be hard to keep people in their home country. Singapore's foreign minister, K. Shanmugam, recently made a Facebook post in which he detailed some of the stranger requests Singaporeans abroad had made of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While those listed are undoubtedly outliers, it may also betray a certain level of entitlement felt by travelers.
In one instance, Shanmugam said a Singaporean sought Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) intervention "for a refund after he had gotten illegal sexual services in a foreign country".
"He wasn't satisfied with what he had gotten. We had to tell him that MFA could not help!"
Shanmugam said the ministry also declined to intervene when a man demanded an investigation over alleged racial discrimination while overseas.
The man had claimed "he received a smaller piece of KFC chicken compared to what the locals had".
"He wanted MFA to investigate this instance and seek justice in that foreign country for the unfair treatment he claimed to have received," Shanmugam said.
Say what you will about eating at KFC while abroad, but sometimes there's just no other option.

As the bottom of the article suggests, Singapore followed the lead of the UK, which released a similar list a few years ago. It's easy to have a chuckle at the expense of these travelers, of course, but given the sheer number of Americans out there and the vast array of embassies, consulates and missions the country has, there must be just as many – if not more – such requests by Americans abroad.

Odds are we'll never hear those stories, though. After all, that's classified information that could be integral to national security.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

More fun with maps

Following on from an earlier post, I've found a couple more maps that make for interesting reading. Of immediate interest to me are these maps by eCollegeFinder that highlight the most selective and most desirable college by state -- and there isn't as much overlap as you might think.

The map of most desirable schools is fairly straightforward. Big state schools dominate the list, ranked by which four-year colleges receive the most undergraduate applications, with a handful of notable exceptions for private schools. UCLA is by some distance the overall winner (72,676 applications in Fall 2013), followed by New York University, Penn State, Northeastern and Michigan. Of the 50 schools on the map, Alaska-Anchorage received the fewest applications (3,062), with Wyoming, South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Hawaii-Manoa next on the list.


Some of the exceptions to the big state school rule include Tulane (30,122 applications received, 8,357 total undergrads), Washington University in St. Louis (30,117 applicants, 7,259 undergrads), Vanderbilt (31,099 applicants, 6,796 undergrads) and Marquette (23,432 applicants, 8,293 undergrads). The presence of Ivy League schools and BYU on the list is hardly a surprise.

If the law of supply and demand always held true, one might think that desirable schools and selective schools would be a 1:1 ratio. Looking at which school in each state has the lowest acceptance rate, though, some different names pop up on the list.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Klinsmann, Party of 30

Few things set tongues wagging across the soccersphere like a roster announcement, especially when it's right before a World Cup. There weren't too many surprises when Jurgen Klinsmann released his 30-man preliminary roster for the US national team, but the ones that were there were enough to raise more than a few eyebrows. Let's look at the World Cup hopefuls, position by position.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Duh. Injuries aside, this group could've been chiseled in stone months ago. No worries here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Epistemophobia

If your ideology requires keeping people ignorant, fearful and submissive, the odds are good it's not an ideology worth having.
The families of more than 230 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamist insurgents more than 10 days ago say they are fast losing hope of seeing their daughters again despite government assurances they will be found.
The mass abduction of the girls watched over by government soldiers is the most devastating in a series of recent attacks on state schools – and comes as the government debates extending a year-long state of emergency across three north-eastern states from which the militants have operated for five years. On the same day as the kidnappings, a massive bombing by Boko Haram insurgents killed more than 75 commuters hundreds of miles south on the outskirts of the capital.
The girls, who were mostly between 16 and 18 years old, were rounded up at gunpoint after militants overpowered a military guard assigned to a boarding school in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno state. They had just finished their final school exams. The school was the only one still open in the area following threats and attacks by Boko Haram, whose ideology opposes both so-called western education, and particularly women's education.
This kidnapping of 234 girls taking a physics exam was brought to you by Boko Haram, whose name translates to "Western education is sinful". Can't have those ladyfolk learning -- next thing you know, they'll start getting ideas above their station and want to be more than obedient baby factories. It seems the men running Boko Haram would prefer living in a simpler time when their way of life and behavior would go unchallenged, rather than this modern, increasingly secular world. Would this be an awkward time to remind them that the good ol' days weren't actually all that good?

Unfortunately, unlike certain tragic events in South Korea or Malaysia, coverage of the kidnappings largely has been relegated to the back burner. The people of Nigeria are uniting against Boko Haram, even as the country's military makes a fool of itself and the government does little but wring its hands and call more meetings. What can those outside Nigeria do? It's not much, but watch this video and sign this petition. Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taking in the sights

Had a day off of work and was tired of just lounging, so I thought I'd visit one of the most iconic sights in Abu Dhabi -- the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Without spoiling too much, let's just say it lives up to its billing.


Clearly Sheikh Zayed loved him some Allah. More pictures -- including some of the nicest chandeliers I've ever seen -- can be found here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We're not the worst!

It's official – newspaper reporter is no longer the worst job in America. All good things, etc.

Career guidance website CareerCast has released its 26th annual rating of the best and worst jobs to have, and my chosen profession has been bumped from 200th place to 199th by lumberjack, the new worst job in America. There are parallels between the two – increasing mechanization, poor hiring prospects and shrinking pay – though the risk of being crushed by falling timber is somewhat less in a newsroom. Lumberjack is expected to see a 9 percent drop in logging positions by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to a 13 percent drop for newspaper reporters.

Some numbers for you – the 10 worst by rank, job and mid-level pay:
  1. Lumberjack, $24,370
  2. Newspaper reporter, $37,090
  3. Enlisted military personnel, $28,840
  4. Taxi driver, $22,820
  5. Broadcaster, $55,380
  6. Head cook, $42,480
  7. Flight attendant, $37,240
  8. Garbage collector, $22,970
  9. Firefighter, $45,250
  10. Corrections officer, $38,970
Can't help but wonder how many of those jobs have lines out the door of people willing to do them practically, if not literally, for free.

As for the best jobs?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fun with numbers, World Cup edition

Decrying "lazy journalism" is normally the domain of anonymous Internet commentators, and usually I am loath to rake fellow media members over the coals, but this foofery cannot be allowed to stand. Lindsay Dunsmuir of Reuters took the results of an online poll of 1,400 American adults and vomited out this little gem -- "Two in three Americans do not plan to follow soccer's World Cup".

Oh, where to begin? Are we supposed to be shocked that most Americans don't want to spend their summer watching soccer? Did I miss some watershed moment where the majority of Americans were supposed to agree to embrace soccer? I would wager that most Americans aren't sports fans of any stripe, so the fact that most of them don't want to watch a soccer tournament with mostly foreign teams can hardly be a surprise.

Now for that supposedly shocking two-thirds figure. At last count, there were about 315 million Americans, so while 210 million of them will pass on the World Cup, that still means 105 million of them will follow the tournament! This year's Super Bowl, the most-watched television show in US history, pulled in a slightly higher 111.5 million viewers. If you took those 105 million Americans and made them their own country, they'd be the 12th-largest in the world, in between Mexico and the Philippines. The article also states "[o]nly 7 percent said they anticipated following it closely" -- in other words, 22 million Americans plan to follow the World Cup closely. Do you know the filthy, unspeakable things advertisers would do to have the attention of 22 million Americans for a solid month?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The domino theory of match-fixing

Looks like Ike might have been right after all. Let a malign force linger unchallenged in Southeast Asia and all of a sudden it starts spreading to areas once considered under control.

As detailed previously on HNWT, Singapore and Malaysia have emerged as a hotbed of illegal betting and match-fixing in the world of soccer, with the likes of Dan Tan and the Kelong Kings among the most well-known perpetrators. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation continue to furrow their brows and make grave pronouncements about the need to stamp out illegal betting, but, unlike their good friends at the English Football Association, they appear to be in no danger of taking action that might deal with the problem.

Now, almost a year after three Lebanese referees were dropped from an AFC Cup match and later convicted of accepting sexual favors in exchange for fixing said match, Southeast Asia and the AFC Cup have been linked to match-fixing again. As many as 13 players from Vietnamese side Ninh Binh are under investigation for attempting to fix matches in the domestic V-League and the AFC Cup. According to a Goal.com report, Ninh Binh players accepted 800 million Vietnamese dong ($40,000) to fix an AFC Cup match against Malaysian side Kelantan, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Club owner Vu Manh Truong has suspended all club activities while match-fixing investigations are underway. Ninh Binh have also voluntarily withdrawn from the ongoing V-League season, with the club languishing third from bottom in the table. The club's unusual pattern of registering the best first-half results in the league, with as many as five out of eight matches where points were dropped after leading at the break, has given rise to more questions over the credibility of the results.

The 2013 Vietnamese Cup champions made their AFC Cup debut this season and have impressed, sealing progress to the knockout stages with a game to spare.

However, Goal understands that Ninh Binh's matches in the AFC Cup are also under scrutiny following suspicious results, with the team believed to have tried to fix half-time results.
Full credit to the club management for taking such swift and decisive action to root out the problem, even if no doubt it will cause the rest of their league and AFC Cup opponents no small inconvenience in the short term. The AFC, in case you were wondering, has "expressed concern" and is monitoring the situation. Bless.

Think incidents such as these only happen in poor countries where players and officials can be bought for a song? Think again. Even Australia, a country with a booming economy, is far from immune.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I did a blog

Hello, beautiful people. As the title suggests, I did a blog, but this time for a respectable media organization. If you would, please give it a read – it's on college basketball and the inequities built into the current system.

By the way, have I told you how lovely and intelligent you look today?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SHEET of Integrity, 2014 edition

Yup, it's that time of year again; that wonderful few weeks when vast swaths of America pretend to be experts on college basketball. I've actually seen a fair bit of college basketball this season despite moving to the UAE, thanks largely to Fox Sports showing the Pac-12 and Big East, plus a smattering of Big 10 Network programming. So, in this latest addition to the "Predictions Sure to Go Wrong" pile, here is a non-graphical representation of my 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket.

(Yes, I know the play-in games -- and that's what they are -- have already happened, but anyone with even a room-temperature IQ knows the real tournament starts now.)

SOUTH
Round 1: (1) Florida def. (16) Albany; (9) Pittsburgh def. (8) Colorado; (5) VCU def. (12) Stephen F. Austin; (4) UCLA def. (13) Tulsa; (11) Dayton def. (6) Ohio State; (3) Syracuse def. (14) Western Michigan; (7) New Mexico def. (10) Stanford; (2) Kansas def. (15) Eastern Kentucky
Round 2: Florida def. Pitt; UCLA def. VCU; Syracuse def. Dayton; Kansas def. New Mexico
Sweet 16: Florida def. UCLA; Syracuse def. Kansas
Elite Eight: Florida def. Syracuse

EAST
Round 1: (1) Virginia def. (16) Coastal Carolina; (9) George Washington def. (8) Memphis; (12) Harvard def. (5) Cincinnati; (4) Michigan State def. (13) Delaware; (11) Providence def. (6) North Carolina; (3) Iowa State def. (14) North Carolina Central; (10) St. Joseph's def. (7) Connecticut; (2) Villanova def. (15) Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Round 2: Virginia def. George Washington; Michigan State def. Harvard; Iowa State def. Providence; Villanova def. St. Joseph's
Sweet 16: Michigan State def. Virginia; Iowa State def. Villanova
Elite Eight: Michigan State def. Iowa State

WEST
Round 1: (1) Arizona def. (16) Weber State; (9) Oklahoma State def. (8) Gonzaga; (12) North Dakota State def. (5) Oklahoma; (4) San Diego State def. (13) New Mexico State; (11) Nebraska (!!!) def. (6) Baylor; (3) Creighton def. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette; (7) Oregon def. (10) BYU; (2) Wisconsin def. (15) American
Round 2: Oklahoma State def. Arizona; San Diego State def. North Dakota State; Creighton def. Nebraska (please, please, please let this happen); Wisconsin def. Oregon
Sweet 16: San Diego State def. Oklahoma State; Wisconsin def. Creighton
Elite Eight: Wisconsin def. San Diego State

MIDWEST
Round 1: (1) Wichita State def. (16) Cal Poly; (8) Kentucky def. (9) Kansas State; (12) North Carolina State def. (5) St. Louis; (4) Louisville def. (13) Manhattan; (11) Tennessee def. (6) Massachusetts; (3) Duke def. (14) Mercer; (10) Arizona State def. (7) Texas; (2) Michigan def. (15) Wofford
Round 2: Wichita State def. Kentucky; Louisville def. North Carolina State; Duke def. Tennessee; Michigan def. Arizona State
Sweet 16: Louisville def. Wichita State; Michigan def. Duke
Elite Eight: Louisville def. Michigan

Final Four: Michigan State def. Florida; Louisville def. Wisconsin
Championship: Louisville def. Michigan State

As long as Nebraska gets its first NCAA (men's) Tournament win in program history, though, everything else is gravy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Oh, Japan

One of the fringe benefits of being an expat is having the ability to observe your home country from the outside, or at least through the prism of a non-native perspective. Being "outside the bubble" can help strip away popular narratives and other cultural assumptions that otherwise would go unquestioned.

Often, this different perspective can be helpful in placing complex issues in a more complete context. At other times, though, it can put one's home country in a more unflattering light. As an American, there are aspects of my country's culture (cherishing freedom of expression, being a driving force of scientific advancement, the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter, etc.) that I quite like being associated with by foreigners, but there are other aspects that create a peculiarly strong gravitational attraction between my forehead and the desk. I can't help but wonder what non-Americans must think of me and my people when stories emerge of, for example, churches giving away free guns, steak dinners and tattoos as an enticement to come hear about Jesus' love.

That brings to mind another question -- what makes expats from other countries cringe when their homeland hits the international news? For many Australians whom I've known and befriended, it can be largely summed up in two words: "Tony" and "Abbott". Malaysian expats must be loving all the attention their country has received in recent days. Even our sensible, well-adjusted friends up in Canada have their own domestic embarrassments for which to answer.

Then there's Japan.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Do the ethical thing

Maybe it's just my pessimistic nature, but it seems as though it's getting harder and harder to be an ethical consumer these days. It's difficult enough avoiding Chick-fil-A and other companies whose values I find abhorrent, not to mention Wal-Mart and other firms that distort the market in order to drive prices as low as possible -- no matter the cost.

Sure, low prices are great when you're on a budget or don't feel like spending money, but just as in thermodynamics, there's no such thing as a free lunch in retail. That $2 six-pack of socks has to come out of someone's hide. Now I read there's an American corporation worse than Wal-Mart, one that might be even harder to avoid -- Amazon. Their low prices and vast selection have helped make brick-and-mortar bookstores a thing of the past, but how do they keep prices so low?

Keeping one's distance

For a short month, February was awfully busy, and not just at work. Turns out my sister got engaged -- on Valentine's Day, no less. That seems corny at first, but if you think about it, that's also a convenient way to remember an important date. Clever boy. My brother got married about 18 months ago, so that just leaves ... me. Good thing I negotiated that deal where the well-adjusted, conveniently located siblings get married and do all the usual stuff while I give the family the chance to live vicariously through me.

Then there's this. Raf Czarnecki, one of my good friends from college, died not too long ago at 34 years old. I still don't know why. Raf and I met at UNO while working at the Gateway, the student newspaper, and he was one of the few people who could match me in knowledge and love of soccer. (Of course, he had an advantage, coming from European stock.) We would go back and forth for hours, both in person and in print.

One of my favorite memories was when we went on a road trip together to Chicago to watch the US men's national team play Poland. It clearly was a treat for Raf, being among the world's largest concentration of Poles outside Poland, and we both had a great time -- even if the game ended 1-1 and Raf was still nursing an almighty hangover as we left the Soldier Field parking lot for the drive back to Omaha. Before the trip we wondered whether to see US-Poland or Manchester United-Bayern Munich, which was a week earlier at the same venue, but after watching two teams of European reserves play out an uninspired 0-0 draw, we knew we'd made the right choice.

Raf was a great friend and partner in crime, and I will miss him dearly. I don't know what, or if, I could have done to help him, but I feel awful for not being around to do it. These are the things you miss when you live on the other side of the world.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Words of wisdom

I've been digging into some of the less-visited recesses of my laptop as I go about freeing up disk space. Among the forgotten gems I've found was a Notepad file of assorted quotes and clips about journalism, how to go about it and why anyone would want to do it in the first place. This was one of my favorites -- a note from someone who is considered a Big Deal by people in the know but who took time to write me while I was struggling through a dark period of my time in Hawaii. This came in response to me discussing how I feel alienated no matter where I live, a feeling that persists to this day:
I've worked in Hawaii just a little, so am aware of the tension between the native islanders and the late arrivals. You see this on other islands too, even in the old New England East. Out on Block Island, for example, anyone who wasn't born there - no matter how many years they've lived there - is referred to as a "washashore." 
I mention this only as a reminder that over the course of a career, a writer finds himself mostly on the outside of everything looking in. It's our natural state of being. And it's important to remember that we can only do what we do by being at a slight remove from the things around us. It's our way of seeing.
I think of it as having one foot in the world of other people, and one foot out in the smaller, more dispassionate realm of the artist or journalist. It's a hard way to live some times, but it's the only way to do the work. I'm this way both by training and by nature, so find it a comfortable enough way to live. But it allows me to see, I think, a clearer kind of truth when I set out to do a story.
I guess I mention all this just to remind you that our work challenges us in many ways. One of those challenges is to tell the truth at moments when others seek only peace or silence or comfort.
You did right by the truth, and that's all we have to go by.
I hope this finds you well and thriving in that beautiful place.
Best,
[Redacted in the interest of privacy]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sheer brilliance

Science at its... finest? Zach Weinersmith presents his infantapaulting hypothesis.


This idea, the genesis of which came from Weinersmith's excellent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic, is a good example of the absurd lengths to which one can go with an uncritical acceptance of bad ad hoc hypotheses. Plus, it's just wicked funny.

(HT PZ Myers)

Monday, January 6, 2014

A timely reminder

Things aren't so bad here. The weather is really nice this time of year, just about any material goods one could want are available, and aside from drivers' liberal interpretations of traffic laws it's pretty safe. A person really could get to like it here.

Every so often, though, there's a reminder of where things really stand.
An Israeli international with Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem has been refused permission to attend a training camp in the United Arab Emirates, the club said on Monday.
The first team squad arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday but defender Dan Mori stayed behind to train with the reserves. 
Dutch politicians said the club's decision to go ahead with the visit was "cowardly", according to media reports. 
"We are playing against clubs who are banking on us coming and we want to prepare ourselves properly for the second half of the season," Vitesse spokesman Esther Bal told Dutch Radio One on Monday. 
"Organisers had (previously) assured us Mori would be allowed to enter the country," Bal added before saying that cancelling the trip was not an option. 
The Dutch FA (KNVB) said it would not be getting involved in the row. "It's a political question," a spokesman told reporters. 
Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer was also refused permission to compete in a tournament in the UAE in 2009.
No matter where you go, religion and politics are always lurking in the shadows, ready to ruin everyone's fun.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome to 2014

Everyone have a good holiday season? I hope so. Things were very quiet around here, save for a nice Christmas dinner at my nearby Korean restaurant. Santa would totally nosh on bulgogi if given the chance.

Just wanted to share two last bits of holiday goodness. During a run to the grocery store across the street, I found these:


My knee-jerk response would be "as opposed to fake fresh eggs?", but these days it might not be such a good idea to ask what goes into your food. The verdict? Save for a slightly eggy aftertaste, they almost matched Vanilla Wafers for blandness.

It could've been worse, though. I leave it to Tom and Cecil of Cognitive Dissonance to give the most accurate summation of egg nog I have found thus far. (Note: the audio is ever-so-slightly NSFW.)