Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A holiday playlist for the rest of us

It's Christmas again, that time of year when the shmaltz is turned up to 11 and songs dripping with seasonal sentiment are as difficult to escape as marketing for the new Star Wars movie. If, like me, sentimentality isn't your strong suit, here's a playlist to help get you through the last day of the Christmas season and keep you safe until Halloween 2016, when the drumbeat from the North Pole begins anew.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Scarf update

One of the minor perks of coming back home is having a rare chance to consolidate the stuff I've collected and see how much I actually have. Usually this is a sobering experience, reminding me I'm not nearly as good at avoiding accumulating stuff as I think I am, but it has its high points, too.

For example, I recently got all my scarves in one place for the first time. I do my best to get a scarf when I see a team play live as it serves both as a nice keepsake and, depending on the scarf, a useful garment in the cold. It also provides something of an informal travelogue amid all my globe-trotting.

The fruits of said globe-trotting are below the jump.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy hunting

Ghosts? Goblins? Vampires? Bah. If you want to fear something this Halloween season, fear the animal revolution. Animals exist, unlike those first three, and they're tired of all this human nonsense.

In which I disown some former homes

Not having been in the country for a while, I'm out of practice when it comes to celebrating Halloween -- or at least marking the occasion with more than watching a horror movie or two. Nevertheless, I was still interested when I saw the results of a recent poll of each state's favorite Halloween candy.

All the usual caveats about online surveys apply, obviously -- questions about a self-selecting user base, representative samples, what questions were asked and in which order, etc. Even so, it makes for a quick, fun read. Some of the main takeaways are:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Buy my stuff

I'm moving again. Yeah, again. That means I have stuff to sell, pics of which are below the fold.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I sound like An Old

I am a fairly private person. Yes, I make the occasional appearance on social media or podcasts, but for the most part I don't enjoy putting myself out there. I don't particularly like talking about myself, and pictures of me on the internet are hard to find.

This is by design. I enjoy my solitude, and this whole internet culture of documenting everything with one's smartphone and immediately uploading it to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook just leaves me cold. Human memory is fallible, I know, but is the ability to watch a video you'll probably forget about days after the fact worth seeing some of the most enjoyable moments of your life through a viewfinder rather than your own eyes?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Feathering one's nest

Hang around the UAE long enough and you start noticing some trends. First and foremost, the whole "at least it's a dry heat" thing doesn't fly here -- being so close to the ocean means you get all the heat and humidity you can stand. The local soccer league has kicked off games with temperatures in the mid- to high 90s and 70 percent humidity. Not surprisingly, attendances are even lower than usual.

Another thing is how often words such as "exclusive", "ambition" and "prestige" are thrown around, especially in the retail and financial sectors. There's one level of basic service for the hoi polloi but, if you're willing and able to pay a bit extra, you suddenly get upgraded from Number To Be Served to a Valued Priority Customer. I got a snootful of this on Day 1 here -- there was a long line for the medical exams you have to undergo before receiving a residence visa, but because I and another white Westerner each stumped up 200 dirhams (about $50), we were ushered to the front of the line. As one who considers himself Not That Special as a matter of policy, being plopped in front of a queue of South Asian-looking men who were already there waiting patiently was absolutely mortifying. (To their credit, if this sudden display of #WPR put them off, they didn't show it outwardly.)

This two-tier system appears to be the way of the future. There's the high-end market, who want and can afford the best, and then there's everyone else. With the American middle class increasingly being hollowed out by job losses and economic shifts, it seems as though there isn't much of a middle ground on which to stand anymore. It's Dollar Store or Dolce & Gabbana, Shopko or Chanel. Just look at the airline industry for an example. Economy-class passengers are packed in like sardines, treated almost like nuisances by the airlines and told to be grateful for what service they do receive. Step up to business or first class, though, and suddenly the airlines can't do enough for you. A drink before take-off, served by your Personal Food and Beverage Consultant? But of course. Chauffeur service to and from the airport? Happy to assist. A luxury lounge with free food, drinks and wi-fi? Right this way, valued customer. Membership clearly has its privileges, as I can personally attest, but it's hard not to feel uneasy about being waited on hand and foot while others are treated like those who rode steerage on the Titanic.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

This is how you do a political ad BETTER

No celebrity endorsements, no Steve Martin or Joss Whedon pushing their preferred candidates.

Just one Canadian man, a dream -- and a green screen.


Canada gets this guy, and Americans have to settle for Donald Trump? There's no justice, I tells ya.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sports and politics, joined at the hip

Make no mistake – for all the rhetoric about how they should never interfere with one another, sports and politics are inextricably linked. Even former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch admits as much. Whether for good or ill, there will always be political entities who prioritize promoting their worldview or policies over competition, fair play, and other Corinthian values. People mewling about how sporting events and political protests don't mix clearly have no sense of history, whether out of ignorance or willful blindness.

Shaking off the rust

Hi there. Yeah, it's been a while. Here's the thing – I've been almost monk-like during the past six weeks or so, frantically reading and writing as part of laying the ground for the Next Big Thing™. That didn't leave a lot of time for posting here. I'm waiting for one or two more things to fall in place before I feel comfortable speaking about the Next Big Thing™ publicly, but suffice to say that so far, so good. More updates as things develop.

In the meantime, here are a few links to other things I've created during my absence. I host a podcast called The Kickabout, which focuses on soccer in the UAE. If you don't mind hearing me and others wibble on about esoteric subject matter, you can find the podcast by clicking here. Also, a friend in Japan asked me to write an introductory article on UAE soccer, which in turn led to me doing an interview with Beyond the Pitch about the article and what's going on in the country. The article, which you can find here, is a surface-level look at the state of play in the UAE, while the interview goes into a bit more depth on a few issues. You can find that here – my segment begins at the 35:50 mark.

My plan is to post here more now that my coursework is finished. If all goes well, there will be a steady flow of updates before too long.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Speaking in other tongues

Sometimes you just can't beat a good infographic. Hats off to Joe. My. God. for cluing me into this one -- "What Are the Hardest Languages to Learn?". Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US government has a breakdown of how long it thinks Foreign Service personnel should take to learn certain languages. From the Wikibooks entry:
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages based on the length of time it takes to achieve Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3). The list is limited to languages taught at the Foreign Service Institute, minus languages which don't have their own Wikibook. Note that this only states the views of The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State, and many language learners and experts would disagree with the ranking. It must also be kept in mind that students at FSI are almost 40 years old, are native speakers of English and have a good aptitude for formal language study, plus knowledge of several other foreign languages. They study in small classes of no more than six. Their schedule calls for 25 hours of class per week with three or four hours per day of directed self-study.
The aforementioned infographic is below the fold.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Don't believe everything you read


When you see reports of a possible transfer falling apart over a player's "outrageous" demands, be a little skeptical. For example, today news emerged of Gervinho's reported move to Abu Dhabi club Al Jazira collapsing because of the player's demands for a helicopter, a private beach, regular airplane tickets back to the Ivory Coast, and other perks.

To be sure, such shenanigans are not unheard of. Players and their agents would ask for the keys to the club chairman's car and vacation villa if they thought they could get away with it. That said, it is also not unheard of for clubs to fudge a little (or a lot) when leaking a player's demands if negotiations don't go the way they want or if they hope to save some face after a high-profile deal crumbles – a little strategic bum-covering, if you will. Anyone who has read The Miracle of Castel di Sangro will be familiar with such tactics.

Big paydays are one of the primary drawing cards in bringing talented foreign players to the Arabian Gulf League, but the silly money rumored to be thrown around here isn't as silly as you might think. Clubs still want value for money whenever possible, and if someone with a proven track record like Mirko Vucinic or Asamoah Gyan isn't receiving those kind of inducements, someone like Gervinho has no chance. Odds are today's revelation is nothing but sound and fury from Jazira officials who invested a little too much political capital in bringing Gervinho to Abu Dhabi.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Doing my part for cultural awareness

It's Ramadan here in the UAE, which means observant Muslims refrain from doing anything enjoyable during daylight hours and the rest of us pretend like that's something resembling a good idea. But still, I feel like I need to do my part. That's why I have taken it upon myself to help make this country just a little more pious by alleviating it of those nasty, sinful pork products and stashing them where no one would think to look -- in my belly.

(Actually, given the size of my belly, that might be one of the first places they look.)

After the rousing success of my curry rice recipe, I thought I'd share with everyone my take on Filipino spaghetti. It's taken a few iterations to settle, but I think I've hit upon a good formula. You should be able to find most of the ingredients fairly easily, and those that are more specialized can be substituted without losing much in the way of flavor.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Right place, right time

Works in sports journalism long enough and things do start to look and sound samey. The same old events come around every year or few years, athletes say the same old things, and even the controversies become old hat – most likely because they stem from the same underlying conditions or the same old main players.

Even the photos – one of the sports section's great advantages over other sections (hi, business friends!) – start to look the same after a while. So many variations on "Player X vies for the ball with Player Y", "Victorious Player celebrates triumph", "Losing Player wallows in dejection" and "High School Senior bursts into tears at the end of their athletic career". They're still good shots, of course, and are a boon to the section. It just takes a little something extra to make you go "ooh".

So when that something extra comes along, it's good to celebrate it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

They're coming to Tokyo -- Todai!

Combing the wires tonight, I saw that the NCAA baseball tournament is about to get underway. Even in years with no local interest -- like this one -- the tournament gets good coverage back in Nebraska as the College World Series has become a fixture on Omaha's calendar.

I hope people enjoy the CWS. I haven't for some years and probably won't again, due in large part to Mike Fahey earning life-long enmity for reasons detailed here and others elsewhere. Instead, I'd like to highlight another college baseball story -- one that should give a little inspiration to underdogs everywhere.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A man must have a code

So there you are, sitting in front of your laptop and watching from another continent as the events unfold in Baltimore. The incident is new, the story all too familiar – another black man dead at the hands of the police. After more than a week, the Baltimore PD either do not know or do not care to say how Freddie Gray's spine got 80 percent severed at the neck and his larynx nearly crushed while in police custody.

You're seeing a trend, right? Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford – and those are just the cases we know of. As someone who values social justice and equality, you feel like you have to speak up, what with silence implying consent and all. At the same time, though, you've never been to Baltimore and everything you know about the city comes from "The Wire", so it's not as though you have anything compelling or insightful to add. The last thing you want to do is be yet another privileged white person lecturing the oppressed on appropriate ways to express their displeasure with the status quo. What to do?

One idea would be to listen to those who know what's going on, both in terms of the city and its racial politics. For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a former Baltimore resident and one of America's leading voices on race. Coates is rightly dubious about people in positions of power and privilege calling for non-violence after the bell has rung.
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
Meanwhile, there are plenty more examples of what not to do.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A very curious cheeseburger indeed

Whenever I talk to people back home about the UAE, one factoid that almost unfailingly gets a look of surprise is that foreigners vastly outnumber the locals there. It's true -- Emiratis only make up a little more than 10 percent of the population of their own country. Maybe it's the thought of being a minority in your home country that raises people's eyebrows more than anything about the UAE, but I could be wrong.

So who makes up the other 90 percent? It's not easy to say as the UAE doesn't publish that data, but the folks over at bqdoha have taken a pretty good stab at it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ever so close

As mentioned earlier on this very blog, Asia's long road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia is only a few weeks away from kicking off. The draw for the second round of World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying was Tuesday, and matches start in mid-June.

How close did I come to nailing one of the groups? Let's just say that if this was a Powerball drawing, I would've easily made back my investment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Drawing out the suspense

Tuesday is something of a big day. For starters, I am going to cross another country off my "places I really want to go" list. Second, it's the day of the Podcast Awards, where several of my favorite people on the Internets are up for awards they richly deserve.

And if that wasn't enough, it's also the day of the draw for the second round of Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament. As the Asian Football Confederation is merging World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying this time around, these matches take on double the importance. In a remarkable bit of timing, my plane should be taking off just as balls start leaving their pots in Kuala Lumpur.

Qualifying started with the 12 lowest-ranked teams in Asia facing off in a playoff round. The biggest story coming out of that round was Bhutan, which had only three wins in its history going into qualifying and was ranked 209th out of 209 in the world, beat Sri Lanka twice to advance. This, as you can imagine, created quite a stir, and not just because Bhutan has fewer people in it than Omaha.

Now, though, things really get interesting.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Because Stone Cold said so

So "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had some things to say about marriage equality recently. They were, as you might expect, not for the delicate of ear. Those less easily offended can proceed below the fold for his words.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Board of Accountability, Week 21

Yeah, it's been a rough week or so, and I really can't put my finger on why. I'm not hurt, I'm not really sad, and work isn't all that much hairier than usual. For some reason, though, my interest in doing just about anything has cratered. Seems like I just pour myself into bed most nights. I hope this isn't burnout kicking in again -- I have some important milestones coming up and can't really afford to get stuck in a rut again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Board of Accountability, Week 19

Sharing is caring

If there is one consistent theme throughout this blog, it's that I am far too lazy for my own good. If there are two consistent themes throughout this blog, it's that I am far too lazy for my own good and I have a serious curry habit.

No matter where I go, one of my first goals is to find the place that serves the best curry. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail miserably. The AUH has no shortage of curry possibilities thanks to the massive number of South Asian people living and working here. Still, as the saying goes, if you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. It's taken months of experimenting and a few notable failures, but I think I've hit upon a good, basic curry rice recipe that is both tasty on its own and leaves the cook options to improvise or enhance where desired.

The recipe is below the fold. As far as I can tell, it's vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. If I'm wrong, vegan friends, please let me know in the comments and I will adjust as necessary.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Board of Accountability, Week 18

If you're wondering about the entries in the exercise column, I messed up my knee on Monday. Just walking to work and back was difficult, so exercising was out. Taking this week off as part staycation, part healing seems to have done the trick. I'm still going to ease my way back onto the treadmill, though.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Silk purse from a sow's ear

For your consideration, a couple gems pointed my way by the good people over at Night Attack.

First off, someone created a program that will take your tweets and craft them into poetry -- cleverly titled Poetweet. As those paying attention will attest, my social media usage during the past month has been dominated by the Asian Cup down in Australia, and to a lesser extent the African Cup of Nations. It can hardly be a surprise, then, that this site took my twitterings and spat out this little gem, a rondel titled "Before halftime":
OK up until watching that hot mess.
For now, time for celebrations.
Beset by injuries & illness.
People's world to its foundations.
Suave, continental bearing.
Some sort of horrible pejorative.
America = terrorism. Or something.
Diversity. Not mutually exclusive.
I'd take that in a heartbeat.
Equally to the rest of the state.
Iraq in the final would be great.
1. That's a curious exchange rate.
Iraq foul, lather, rinse, repeat.
Try it for yourself -- it's fun! If you don't have a Twitter account, use one of someone you find entertaining, such as Elon Musk or The Iron Sheik.

Below the jump, a disturbingly accurate summation of much of my childhood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

This is what you get...

....for being a woman with opinions on important topics such as video games -- rape threats, death threats, and some of the Internet's most despicable characters doing their best to ruin you, up to and including terrorism. Even pointing out the fact you receive abuse is apparently reason enough for these Brave Heroes to continue the abuse.

Is any of this worth it? Is there a kernel of truth among the steady stream of hatred vomited toward Anita Sarkeesian? Don't take their -- or my -- word for it. Watch the videos and form your own opinion.

Of course, if you come to the conclusion any of this behavior toward Ms. Sarkeesian is justified, do us both a favor and don't come around here no more. You won't be missed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spot the difference


So this happened. In a dance as old as time, sportsball fans got liquored up, set fires and broke shit because their sportsball team out-sportsballed the other sportsball team in The Big Game. It's not the outcome of the game that makes me sigh, though -- as I've stated before, I have fallen out of love with college football (if not football in general) and the damage to the relationship appears irreparable.

No, this is altogether more sociological. Look at the headline in that first link:

Fans get a little rowdy over Ohio State national championship win

"Get a little rowdy"? Setting 89 fires, vandalizing property and causing police to use tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds is "rowdy"? It seems more than a bit curious that when white people riot -- for whatever the reason, great or small -- they're described as "rowdy", "overexuberant" or "disruptive" and that things just got out of hand. Yet when African Americans protest in the name of social justice, they're derided as "savages", dismissed as "hoodlums" and written off as lawless "thugs" who are destroying their own community.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Respect is earned, not given

Once again, people purporting to defend The Religion of Peace (TM) have decided the best way to express their disagreement over editorial cartoons is to kill those who draw them.
Two gunmen in balaclavas and bullet-proof vests, armed with a pump-action shotgun and an automatic rifle, stormed into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo at about 11.30am as about 15 journalists had gathered for the weekly editorial conference. They called for the editor by name and then murdered him before spraying the room with gunfire, killing nine more and wounding others. Laurent L├ęger, a Charlie Hebdo writer, managed to sound the alarm, calling a friend and telling him: “Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead.”
As they made their getaway, the gunmen shot dead two policemen, including one who they shot in the head at close range as he lay injured on the pavement. ...
The attack was the bloody culmination of a long-simmering struggle between France’s libertarian traditions of free speech and an increasingly extreme strand of Islamism. Witnesses described hearing the attackers shout “Allahu Akbar” as well as “We have avenged the Prophet.” Two eyewitnesses said they claimed to be from al-Qaida. One of them specified al-Qaida in Yemen, a group also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Charlie Hebdo, a feisty and irreverent publication with a 44-year history, had been at the very frontline of that battle since 2006, when it first reprinted cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad originally published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published another cartoon of the Muslim prophet.
Let's make a couple things clear up front. Anyone asking "where are the moderate Muslims denouncing this savagery?" clearly can't be bothered to search for themselves, so here. Also, I ask of anyone claiming these murderers aren't "true" Muslims -- just what is a "true" Muslim? I don't know, and I highly doubt you do, either.

Board of Accountability, Week 14

That latter blog post was part of the paper's Asian Cup preview. Give it a look if you care about that sort of thing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Breaking with family

I love my dad. He's been a great influence on my life, we get along well, and I make sure to consult him before making big life decisions -- relocating, taking a new job, etc. If, whenever I get around to growing up, I end up like him, I'll have done pretty well for myself.

On some issues, though, I find myself growing farther and farther apart from him. Now I find myself dealing with an issue that could drive a wedge between me and both my parents, and it's one I never would have anticipated.