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.)

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

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

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

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.