Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Told Ya So!

Yeah, I know it's tacky, but that's the kind of guy I am.

Even reliably liberal media like Politico now recognize Obama's complete inability to manage (not surprising since he had never done it before taking on the biggest management job in the world). Some of us were pointing to his extremely thin resume years ago.
To listen to Obama discuss the rollout through the fall, he was still figuring out some of the finer points, too. If he had known healthcare.gov wasn’t going to work by its launch date, he said in mid-November, “I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.” 
“In management circles, that’s an indictment,” said the longtime consultant. “How could you not know? And if no one told you, you’re still culpable for that too.”
America, that's what you get for electing a guy (and then re-electing him) because he's cool, without giving a damn whether he's competent. And it's not like you weren't warned – a hell of a lot of people (including me) were warning you that he had absolutely no experience in management of anything. What has happened with Obamacare was totally predictable.

If any further proof of his managerial incompetence were needed, the fact that Kathleen Sibelius still has a job should suffice. Even George Bush could recognize incompetence well enough to fire the head of FEMA within two weeks of Katrina's landfall.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Vaccination/Autism Fraud

I can't figure how anybody could be so irresponsible as to not vaccinate their children. The study that started the autism link has been exposed as a fraud:
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday. 
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible. 
"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."
And yet the BS continues.

Here's a great explanation of why, even if there was a link to autism (which there isn't) -- it would still be irresponsible to not vaccinate your children. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Middle-Aged Barbie

I visited a site called in20years.com, but instead of uploading my own picture (I don't want to know what I'll look like in twenty years, thank you) I used Barbie. Here's the before and after:

Would You Go to a Giants-Redskins Game? How 'Bout in the Rain?

Apparently practically everybody in New York agrees with you. Here are the stands at halftime.

Maybe everybody was taking a bladder-break.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My Duck Dynasty Post

I have never watched Duck Dynasty, and I don't agree with a lot of what this Phil Robertson guy apparently said. But I have gotten great amusement out of watching the rednecks, hillbillies, hicks, and rubes give the Coastal Elite a thorough butt-kicking.

I think A&E is going to show up in biz school case studies of how not to do things.

All they needed to do when he said what he did was, "That's his opinion – we view things differently." But instead they showed the standard cultural insensitivity of people who live in an echo chamber.

Here's a good article, mocking A&E's ineptitude from the viewpoint of their media peers. This is the part that summed up the basic stupidity that started everything – having the guy interviewed by (of all things) GQ:
“Who the hell let them talk to GQ in the first place?” one veteran wondered. “This is their biggest show. Are they going to get a bigger audience by talking to some snarky reporter from GQ? Where is the upside? There is none. Zero.” 
Chimed in another: “GQ is not a Duck Dynasty-friendly place, and [A&E] knew they had talent that talks and goes off the reservation. What the fuck you gonna get from GQ? It’s not going to get you a new audience. Then they left him alone with the reporter.” (A&E had a rep on site, but the reporter nonetheless managed to squeeze in some alone time with Phil, during which he cut loose, according to media reports). 
Robertson, on the other hand, is guilty only of consistent behavior. “He has not flinched. He’s very consistent in his opinion. He has gone off [A&E’s] script, but he’s perfectly on-script for him,” said one TV exec. “There was some sincerity to the show – unless it was all bullshit. Turns out, it wasn’t.”
What a bunch of ignorant schmucks. And the hilarious thing is that they think they're super-smart and the Duck Dynasty folks are a bunch of dumbbells. The next hilarious thing is that they still think so, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Are Americans Racist? Well, Duh!

I often hear/read words to the effect of “the US is a racist country.” My response (sometimes aloud, more often not) is usually, “Yeah, it is, so what?”

It's not, I hasten to assure you, that I don't care about racism, but simply that I don't see any way in which racism in the US is any worse than racism or other prejudices just about everywhere else. And thus I see no reason why the US should be singled out for opprobrium.

(“Everybody else is just as bad” is not, of course, much of an excuse. I'm simply noting that when I hear comments about American racism, they are generally made in a context in which it is implied that there is something unusual about US racism).

I was reminded of this when I read this article about Buddhists in Burma killing their Muslim compatriots. As Protestants and Catholics were killing each other not so long ago in Ireland, or as Hutus killed Tutsis in Rwanda, and as Muslims kill Christians in a number of countries, as Serbs and Croats killed each other in Yugoslavia and both killed Bosnians, and so on. In the US, at least the amount of killing is rather limited these days.

As Tom Lehrer put it:
The Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants
The Hindus hate the Muslims
And everybody hates the Jews.

Prejudice against 'them' (whether defined by race, religion, ethnicity, class or anything else) seems to be a fact of human nature. I can recall in grade school and high school thinking that the kids in my school were somehow different from (and of course better than) kids in other schools.

I suppose it's possible (but not likely) that someday humans may evolve beyond such things. The best we can do about it in the meantime, I fear, is to be aware of it, so we can be on guard when it creeps into our thinking.

About Feet

This is one of the more peculiar websites I've ever come across – it's called Wikifeet and it is dedicated to
Feet of Amy Adams
(whoever she is)
pictures of celebrities' feet.

Though I pretty much take a 'whatever turns you on' approach to sexual practices, I must admit that I have never understood why some men (is this shared by women as well?) are interested in feet. I suppose when women were totally covered, that flash of a 'well-turned ankle' could have been exhilarating, but today … ?

As Cole Porter wrote sixty years ago:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking 
Was looked on as something shocking, 
But now, God knows, 
Anything goes.  


I recently came across a not-new word, used in a new (to me) way. The word is incumbency, used to mean a personal obligation. In a 1966 Nero Wolfe story, Death of a Doxy*, Wolfe explains his interest in trying to clear an accused man by saying:
Mr. Cather has worked for me, on occasion, for years, and I am under an incumbency. 
It took me a few moments to figure this out, though I'm familiar with the more common form, “It is incumbent upon me ...”

* Doxy is a term I've never heard used, so it must already have been out of date, at least among younger people, by 1966.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chistmas Ain't Very Merry for Retailers

Retail sales were poor for Thanksgiving weekend, and have gotten worse since.
Brick-and-mortar retailers saw no signs of relief last week, as store traffic in the final week before Christmas posted the third straight week of double-digit declines, according to the most recent report from ShopperTrak. 
According to the analytics firm, traffic for the week ended Dec. 22—which included the crucial final weekend before Christmas—was down 21.2 percent year over year. The first two weeks of December saw double-digit decreases, which trailed a 4 percent decline over Black Friday weekend, it said.
Online sales are up, of course, but there's no way online could make up for those declines.

Could it be that consumer confidence is another casualty of the Obamacare fiasco?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Latest Change in Obamacare Rules

The deadline for enrolling for Jan 1 coverage has been extended to tomorrow. Why do you suppose this is?
a) They need an extra day because the website is continuing to crash in spite of the fixes (note: this is the announced reason) 
b) They think lots of people who have already had twelve weeks to enroll will suddenly decide to do so on Christmas Eve  
c) They want to delay announcing the bad news of how few people have enrolled until Christmas Day when hopefully nobody will be paying attention
I think c) is the major factor, but a) probably plays into it as well (and really is no less embarrassing at this point).

Under ordinary circumstances, I would say that b) was an impossibility; but given who we're talking about, Obama and his healthcare advisors, they've demonstrated that they may be delusional enough to believe it.

Jingle Bells Isn't a Christmas Song

Or at least it wasn't intended to be. It was written to be part of a kids' Thanksgiving presentation:
Though, for most of us, "Jingle Bells" has come to be practically synonymous with Christmas, James Pierpont wrote it in 1857 for a Thanksgiving program at the large Boston church where he taught Sunday school. He titled his song "The One-Horse Open Sleigh" and made the rhythm so jaunty and the words so catchy that his 40 little Sunday schoolers learned it almost instantaneously. (A friend of Pierpont's, admiring the song, called it a "merry little jingle," and helped give the tune the name by which we know it today.) The children's first performance was such a success that they were asked to repeat it at Christmastime, whereupon the sleigh apparently took on the identity of Santa's sled, and "Jingle Bells" became a Christmas song forever.

Speaking of Leftist Hate ...

... as we were in the previous post, it manifests itself in interesting ways -- sometimes even a sports event can bring it out. This guy, a Democrat in the Washington legislature, is angry because Seattle lost a football game to the Arizona Cardinals. So he decides to express his hatred of a whole state full of people in a tweet:

I've been upset over losing and said things I shouldn't, but I'm smart enough not to shout it out to the whole world. But this bozo is a bit less bright. He is smart enough to delete the message, so a small bit of credit for that (limited credit because it wasn't in time, of course -- see above), but he's not classy enough to apologize:

Another reminder that every bad loser is ... a loser.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Left-Wing Anti-Semitism

The BBC has an interesting item on the increase in anti-Semitism in Europe.
Many Jews in Europe say anti-Semitism is increasing, particularly on the internet, according to a survey by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). 
The survey of 5,847 Jewish people said 66% of those who responded considered anti-Semitism to be a problem. 
Three out of four respondents, 76%, believed anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years. 
The survey was carried out in 2012 in eight countries which are home to about 90% of the EU's Jewish population.
The full report can be found here.

What I find most interesting, from a historical perspective, about this latest manifestation of European anti-Semitism is that it is most prevalent among those with leftist political views, while such views were once found much more on the political right.

The respondents were asked to describe the political/religious views of those who they had observed involved in anti-Semitic remarks or actions in the past twelve months. The results:

The overall gap between left-wing and right-wing incidents is fourteen points, but it is much greater than that in western Europe – the overall numbers are distorted greatly by Hungary, where there is a strong neo-fascist movement (I believe that fascism is not right-wing, but that is a subject for another day).

When we consider only the six countries from the west, the unweighted averages are Left 58% and Right 36%.
While examining these results at country level, notable differences between EU Member States emerge. More respondents in Hungary, for example, tend to describe the person(s) involved in making negative comments about Jews as someone with a right-wing political view (79 %), while respondents in France (67 %) and Italy (62 %) were more likely than respondents from other countries to mention someone with a left-wing political view.
Historically, as mentioned, European anti-Semitism was found most strongly in the far right, probably the far right’s roots in monarchism created a connection to clericalism, which also tended to be pro-monarchist.

I think this new form of anti-Semitism has several causes.

One is that leftist sympathy for Palestinians has led to a broader embrace of Islam, with all its sense of victimization. As an aside, it has been amusing to see so many leftists studiously ignore, or even make excuses for, the most extreme homophobia in the world, as practiced in Arab countries, while simultaneously advocating for gay rights in the west.

Leftist hostility toward religion, and most especially those religions that represent the traditional Judeo-Christian culture of the west, also plays a major role, I think.

Meanwhile, even the most extreme right no longer has ties to monarchism and clericalism. Though religion certainly plays a major role in many rightist movements in the west, and especially in the US, it’s a different sort of religion than it once was, and one that is sympathetic rather than hostile, for the most part, to Judaism. Among some on the Christian right, I understand that they look at the existence of Israel as an important step in hastening the Second Coming (I'm not sure how big a role this plays).

Beyond religion, hostility toward western culture in general (a curious case of self-hatred) seems to motivate many on the left, and adds to their hatred of Israel, which they see as an outpost of the west. Although they try to differentiate this aspect of their hate as anti-Zionism, in practice it is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism.

That it is more prevalent on the left is in no way meant to minimize anti-Semitism on the right, of course. Nor does the fact that the survey was conducted in Europe mean that anti-Semitism is not far too prevalent in the US (where, I suspect but can't prove, the left/right divide on this point is even greater).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Information Superhighway

What ever happened to this phrase? It was used a lot a few years ago, but it seems to have dropped totally out of usage.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Not to Buy for Christmas

They're selling this at the Democratic National Committee's website. How many do you think they've sold lately?

I suppose somebody really hard-core might have worn it on October 1st or prior, but it's hard to imagine anybody brave (or clueless) enough to wear it today.

Do you suppose your local Democrat congressperson will be showing up at his/her campaign rallies thus attired?

Just in case you're wondering -- no, it's not on my Christmas list.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Unintended (But Thoroughly Predictable) Consequences

Thirty-some years ago, when my wife was newly in the US, we were walking past the construction site of a new high-rise in downtown San Francisco; pausing to watch, Gloria commented on how few workers there were. The site didn't look unusual to me, until I recalled similar sites in Manila, covered with hundreds of workers – and relatively little of the heavy equipment the San Francisco workers were operating.

“In the Philippines,” I commented, “people are cheap and machines are expensive. Here, it's the opposite.”

In the Philippines, a typical wage is under ten dollars per day, with a day often being ten hours or so. In the US, skilled construction workers make at least twenty times that amount, which makes it worthwhile for their employers to invest in machinery to do much of the work.

I was reminded of that when I read this article:
"Would you like fries with that order?"
[White Castle] is taking a step toward the future with its rebuilt restaurant at 1550 Hilliard-Rome Road by taking a step out of the traditional ordering process. 
This new White Castle drops old-fashioned, go-to-the-counter ordering in favor of kiosks that allow customers to punch in their order and take a seat without the inconveniences and pressures of waiting in line.
Advocates of a 'living wage' for fast-food employees should bear this in mind. I imagine White Castle is testing this idea with the possibility of increases in the minimum wage in mind (though of course they aren't saying so publicly; it's being pitched as an effort to improve the customer experience). A store that is open sixteen hours a day would save $7,500 per month for each $15/hour counter employee displaced. I don't know what such machines cost, but it shouldn't take long to amortize them at that rate.

Replacing the kitchen staff won't be far behind -- how tough can it be to robot-ize flipping a burger?

And so youth unemployment will increase. Crappy as such jobs are, they are often the only thing unskilled workers can qualify for, and they can teach valuable life skills that such employees may never have learned in their broken homes or broken schools – e.g., the importance of dressing properly, treating customers and co-workers respectfully, punctuality, etc.

Not having the opportunity to learn these skills at White Castle, McDonald's, or Taco Bell, they will be unable to move on to marginally better jobs, as they now can.

Oh well, I know writing this sort of thing is pointless, because some sort of increase in minimum wage is almost certain to pass – it's a feel-good proposal and people don't like to think about the negative consequences of feel-good legislation. In fact, if I were a politician, I'm just cynical enough to vote for it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good Move by USSF

The US Soccer Federation just gave Jurgen Klinsmann a four-year extension as coach of the men's national team.

It seems oddly timed to some, because usually the decision to hire/fire/keep a coach comes after the World Cup (assuming the team is in, as the USA is). I think this move may be because of the extremely difficult draw we got for the Cup -- we're up against Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Being eliminated in the group stage is likely, and going 0-3 is not out of the question.

If that were to happen, there would be calls for Klinsmann's scalp, despite the great job he has done. My guess is that USSF wanted to avoid that scenario and give Klinsmann an early vote of confidence.

I approve.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Is There Such a Thing as Too Corrupt in the Olympics?

Geez, how corrupt do you have to be to be to be too corrupt to hang around with the IOC?
India faces the ultimate sanction of expulsion from the Olympics unless it keeps corruption-tainted officials out of its ranks, IOC President Thomas Bach said in an interview with The Associated Press. 
Bach said the IOC is prepared to withdraw recognition of the Indian Olympic Association if it fails to comply with ''rules of good governance'' by Tuesday, a punishment that would leave the world's second-most populous nation out of all Olympic competitions.
My guess is that India fell behind in their payoffs to the IOC bosses.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sex Sells -- But ... Will It Sell Fertilizer?

This ad from Thailand is a classic in the 'sex sells' category. It may well be the sexiest fertilizer ad in history (though I doubt there's a lot of competition).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Other Shoe Will Drop Soon

People have been quoting President Obama's often-repeated pledge that "if you like your insurance, you can keep it" as an example of his lying. Which is fair enough, I think – it's a pretty clear-cut lie.

What is not as often quoted is the second half of that pledge – "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." When that part is exposed as another lie, things might get interesting:
Meet Chico, Calif., attorney Kenneth Turner. His wife found out that she has breast cancer two days before they received their cancellation notice. She's scheduled for surgery Dec. 20 and will hear the prognosis Dec. 30. Two days later, she loses the doctor who will have operated on her, as well as other doctors she has seen for decades.
I wonder how low Obama's approval numbers will drop when people start being told by their doctors: "Sorry, I can no longer accept your insurance."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Unpopular Opinions

I read an item (by Jim Geraghty of National Review) quoting a bunch of people who had been invited to tweet an unpopular opinion that they hold. Herewith:
Bob Dylan stinks. 
The singularity is not near. 
New Jersey is the greatest state in the history of states. 
Fat Elvis was the best. 
Chris Brown is hot and so is his music and his dance moves. 
Obama looks cute when he's golfing. 
Will Ferrell is vastly, vastly overrated. 
I have an aversion to the Amish. 
Roger Moore was the greatest James Bond. 
Tofu is delicious. 
I don't do "aaaawwww" over animal pics. 
The Electoral College is a good thing that needs to be preserved. 
Hobbit movies are like Ambien. 
A limited nuclear exchange wouldn't be all that bad. 
Higher education is grossly fetishized, overrated, frequently ruins people, and is often wholly useless. 
Five Guys is ridiculously overrated.
I don't know that all of these qualify. I think a lot of people are beginning to question the value of college (or at least its cost-benefit ratio). I disagree about Five Guys -- great burgers. And a few I'm unqualified to judge -- I don't know who Will Ferrell is, and I've never seen a Hobbit movie (and probably never will). But nonetheless, I'll join in with a bit of Baby Boomer apostasy:
The Beatles were an OK band, but really nothing special.
While I'm at it, I might as well add a bit more along the same lines. While I very much enjoy Christmas carols (O Holy Night is, I think, my favorite) there are some that are so obnoxious the composers ought to be drawn and quartered. The Little Drummer Boy is without a doubt the most worthless POS to ever pass through human vocal cords. The Twelve Days of Christmas is not quite as bad, but gets a dishonorable mention for sheer quantity. Whenever it starts, I shudder with the knowledge that, once started it will go on and on and on and ...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I've taken a few days off, but I'll break my silence to wish you all a great day.

And, while I'm at it: Happy Hanukkah!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

College Sports Brings out the Cynic in Me

I admit it, I'm a cynic.

I'm particularly a cynic about college sports at the highest level, but I think I am perfectly justified in that case. My assumption is that colleges will do anything to win and they are often aided in that endeavor by local authorities-- Penn State of course being the classic case -- but there are many, many other examples.

Which brings us to this example:
As the state attorney's office weighs whether it believes it has sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the family of the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her in December 2012 issued a second statement Friday night, saying the woman was raped by the Heisman Trophy candidate. 
Responding to earlier claims by Winston's attorney that he had consensual sex with the woman, Patricia Carroll, the family's attorney, said in the statement: "To be clear, the victim did not consent. This was a rape."  
On Wednesday night, ESPN.com reported that a DNA analysis completed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that DNA provided by Winston matched the sample taken from the underwear of the woman. According to the DNA analysis report, a copy of which was viewed by ESPN.com on Wednesday, the Florida state crime lab determined the chance of the DNA in the woman's underwear being a match for someone other than Winston was one in 2.2 trillion.
To be clear, it is very possible that the accused is totally innocent. False rape charges are not at all rare.

However, Florida State's rules say that a player charged with a felony must be suspended from the team. What causes the inflammation of my cynicism gland is that the investigation has taken so long. If he had been charged relatively soon after the alleged rape, he would have missed spring practice at least and might have missed a good part of the season, given how slowly courts often move. So my cynical assumption is that Florida State (with the assistance of the local police) have stalled the investigation in hopes of making it through the season before losing their Heisman Trophy candidate.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Best Magazine Cover of the Year

Another Person Who Needs to Be Fired

According to Jonah Goldberg's newsletter today, there was an article in Time magazine in June that said that the president's chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, was spending two hours a day working on the implementation of Obamacare.

That's a substantial amount of time. And yet somehow he managed not to see that it was a major f$#k-up. That's kind of like spending July in Phoenix and not noticing that it's hot.

Q: Why does this guy still have a job? 
A: Because his boss is as incompetent as he is.

Nominee for Worst Book Title

I have commented on several occasions on this blog and elsewhere that I am not deeply offended or upset by the somewhat racist language and attitudes sometimes found in the books of earlier times.

I simply accept that any book is going to include evidences of the prevailing attitudes of the times in which it was published. The author, as a product of his/her culture, would have been likely to share at least many of those attitudes, and would be likely to impute them to his/her characters. Therefore, casual conversation among the characters in a book published in the 1920s or 1930s might well include negative comments about Jews, or there might be black servants speaking in dialect. Such things can be mildly annoying in some cases, mildly amusing in others, but I don't too worked up over them.

And I'm not getting worked up over this book, either, but I've got to say it this is possibly the worst book title I have ever seen (or at least it's in the running with Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers -- later retitled Ten Little Indians, now known as And Then There Were None).

In checking on Amazon, I note that this was re-issued later as 12 Chinamen and a Woman, which is an improvement.

I'm going to guess, based on the title and the cover blurb, that this is about 'white slavery', which was a popular delusion of the first half of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big News in Arizona

I was just watching the noon news and the lead story was that there may be rain this weekend. Not just a bit of rain, mind you, but a veritable downpour, with an accumulation from Friday through Sunday of at least a quarter inch and maybe as much as an inch.

This was so important that in the course of the one-hour show, they returned to the topic twice to provide more details. Not only that, but the daily highs are likely to drop into the sixties.

To further torture my friends in Chicago, I spent most of the morning sitting on my sister's back patio, drinking tea, reading, and soaking up the sunshine.

Update, Friday: It rained today, and my sister couldn't remember how to turn on the windshield wipers in her car.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago Today

I don't watch much TV, but it seems there has been one documentary after another all this month about the assassination of JFK, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the event, to the point that I am thoroughly sick of it. Kennedy was an OK president (he looks great considering his horrid successors), but in the great scheme of things, his death, while a personal tragedy for his family, was not one of the most important events in American history.

Some of those who died for the new birth of freedom.
Gettysburg after the battle.
This week (today, in fact) also marks a milestone anniversary, the 150th, of a truly momentous event -- probably the greatest speech in American history, the Gettysburg Address, in which Abraham Lincoln restated the principles upon which the nation had been founded four score and seven years prior to the battle.
"... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
This event has been totally ignored.

I fear that this is another case of the self-absorption of my generation. Too many Baby Boomers grew up with the belief (and some continue to believe) that they are the center of the universe, that nothing that occurred outside their span of awareness has any significance, and that anything that touches their lives is of surpassing importance.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Skydiving in Eloy and Singing Some CCR

For the third time in my life (first time in about twenty years) I jumped out of a plane last Thursday. Kathleen and I drove down to Eloy (halfway between Phoenix and Tucson) where Skydive Arizona works out of the town's small airport.

It was, of course, a lot of fun. It was a different experience from my previous skydives because those gave me greater control --  I held the straps of the canopy and thus controlled the rate of descent, got to choose to do loops, etc. In this case, the instructor did everything, which was less fun in that I was just a passenger along for the ride. At the same time, it was more fun in that I didn’t have to remember much of anything beyond crossing my arms as I went out the door.

We jumped at 13,000 feet, did a free-fall to 5,000, and then floated down from there.

The price was $189, which is a good bit higher than I remember, but I guess twenty years can account adequately for the increase (besides which, they throw in a certificate and a t-shirt).

The airfield was on a road that ran past some cotton fields. As we were leaving, Kathleen said she had never seen cotton up close, which to someone who grew up in Arizona seems strange. We stopped and she inspected the plants as I sang:
When them cotton bolls get rotten
You can’t pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home.
We’ll leave aside Kathleen’s comments about my singing, but after she was done with that, she added that she had never heard of the song before. Therefore, I’ll close with this.

Hiking Shaw Butte

My daughter Kathleen and I went to North Mountain Park and hiked the Shaw Butte trail. I’ve read different things as to how long the trail is and how high it goes – consensus seems to be that the trail is about five miles long and it is a climb of about 1000 feet to get to the top.

Whatever the exact measures are, it was enough to have my thighs aching on the upward portion. This is one of those occasions when it’s good to have a workout partner because, had I been alone, I probably would have quit halfway up. Kathleen’s presence shamed me into finishing, though she was in maybe worse shape than I was by the time we reached the top – her knees were hurting her badly.

There was a guy climbing just ahead of us, wearing a weight vest. We were agreed that he was insane.

It’s a challenging climb for someone not used to mountain trails, but I guess it would be no big deal for more experienced hikers (the rating is ‘moderate to difficult’). There were some very nice views over the Valley from the top.

Anyway, we made it all the way up and (just about as tough) down, in a little over two hours. I was really, really glad when the North Mountain Visitor Center was in view.

Since I'm planning to take lessons in mountain-climbing when I get to Ecuador, this was a real eye-opener as to how far I am from being ready to take on any serious mountain.

Book Review: The Girl at Central (1914) by Geraldine Bonner

Short version: Good story, well-written, laughable solution to the mystery.

Wikipedia’s entry for Geraldine Bonner doesn’t tell us much about her, so little in fact that I will quote the whole thing (other than a listing of her books):
Geraldine Bonner (1870–1930) was an American author, born on Staten Island, New York. As a child, she moved to Colorado where she lived in mining camps. After moving to San Francisco, California, she worked at a newspaper, the Argonaut, in 1887, and subsequently. She wrote the novel Hard Pan (1900) and used the term "Hard Pan" as a pseudonym. 
Bonner wrote short stories which were published in Collier's Weekly, Harper's Weekly, Harper's Monthly, and Lippincott's.
The highly-admirable Golden Age of Detection Wiki has no entry for her, though in fairness she is only very marginally a writer of that era, her last book being published in 1919.

She wrote several mysteries, of which The Girl at Central is the only one I have read thus far (although I’ve downloaded a couple others at Gutenberg).

The title character and narrator is Molly Morgenthau, a telephone operator of Jewish-Irish ancestry (thus the name) in Longwood, New Jersey, a small town on the rail line between New York City and Philadelphia. Because of her job, she overhears a good deal of information about the locals, which she shares with the reader. She is a likable character and her narrative style is interesting and fun. The author gives her a voice that seems quite authentic for her time and socio-economic background.

The mystery involves the murder of Sylvia Hesketh, the wealthy belle of Longwood, who is murdered on a deserted road, apparently by a blow from a blunt instrument. The mystery is not only who killed her, but what the heck was she doing at that location.

We know already that Sylvia’s money was supporting her household (her mother and stepfather) and that she was on bad terms with the stepfather, who disapproved of her flirtatious behavior. Evidence is found of her plans to elope on the evening of her death with one of her several suitors, giving the stepfather (who would be financially ruined if she left) with a powerful motive. But it appears she stood up the suitor, which would certainly give him a motive as well. And she also (via a phone call Molly had conveniently listened in on) had made plans to see another, disfavored, suitor before the elopement, to give him the bad news. Thus another person had a motive.

Like the last mystery of that timeframe that I reviewed, an airplane (or rather, aeroplane) figures in this story, and the way it is used in this story is every bit as improbable as in the previous one. I think maybe some writers of the time felt like they had to put a plane in the story because it was the Big New Thing, but they didn’t know enough about flying (how could they?) to get the details right.

Luckily, the improbable aviating doesn’t have much to do with the solution, other than clearing up side issues. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the actual solution to whodunnit is even more unlikely.

Oh, of course Molly meets a nice young man and ends up married to him. I knew that would happen on page one.

Despite the very disappointing solution, I thought the overall story, especially the lively narration, made this a worthwhile reading experience. I would not recommend it to most modern readers, but those who enjoy books of the era, and are willing to overlook a few plot holes (and the word ‘dago’) will like this one.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why Obamacare May Be the Best Thing to Ever Happen to America

Well, maybe not ever. The ratification of the Constitution and V-J Day and a few other things were no doubt better.

But, if it finally gets Americans to realize that they can’t trust the government to do things competently or trust politicians to tell the truth; if it teaches us to stop looking to the government for handouts; and if it causes us to recognize that government is usually the problem, not the solution -- then it will have at least been worth all the pain.

Friday, November 8, 2013

James Buchanan: The Last of … The Only …

Mentioning Buchanan in the previous post led me to do a little reading about him.

Buchanan is distinguished (if that is the word) by being the last president or the only president who had several characteristics. It is rather surprising, for example that Pennsylvania, which has been one of the most populous states throughout our history, is the birthplace of only one president. Has the Keystone State been cursed forever by his incompetence?

Buchanan was, in addition, (apparently) the only gay president. His very close friend for many years was William Rufus King, who has the distinction of being (apparently) the only gay vice-president (King was VP for Franklin Pierce, Buchanan’s predecessor). Andrew Jackson, who never felt a need to be PC, referred to the couple as Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.

Buchanan is the last Democrat to succeed (on his own) another Democrat as president, according to Wikipedia (Truman and LBJ both succeeded on the death of their predecessors). Let’s hope he retains that title for a while. I was more surprised by the statement that he was one of only two such cases, Van Buren being the other. That is true, I guess, if we insist on the specific label ‘Democrat’ – during the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe years, the party used the name Republican or Democratic-Republican. Republicans (as now defined) have had more successors – Grant was succeeded by Hayes (though only after a bunch of chicanery* on both sides) and Hayes by Garfield; TR was succeeded by Taft, Coolidge by Hoover, and Reagan by Bush.
* (Had Hayes not won the disputed election, Buchanan might not have been the last gay president. Hayes’s opponent, Samuel Tilden, is often said to have been gay, though there seems to less evidence than in Buchanan’s case).
Another ‘last of’ title that I hope Buchanan retains at least through 2017 is that he is the last former Secretary of State to become president. It is interesting that this office, which was definitely the stepping-stone to the White House in the country’s early days (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Van Buren, in addition to Buchanan, all had served as SoS) fell so completely out of fashion after Buchanan.

A (Halfhearted) Defense of Barack Obama

I know some Republicans who say that Barack Obama is the worst president ever. Though I make no secret of my disdain for the guy, I must protest at this egregious example of ahistoricity. Until someone bungles us into another civil war, James Buchanan* shall reign supreme in that category.

Another frequent meme is that ‘the country can’t survive three more years of this!’ Though I certainly don’t look forward to the remaining thirty-eight months of Obama's term (and intend to absent myself from the country for as much of it as possible), I must point out the seventeen-plus years the country suffered under Johnson-Nixon-Ford-Carter. In that period we had two people who, if they deserved to be housed at the taxpayers’ expense, it should have been in a penitentiary rather than the White House; and then those two were followed by two inept clowns who blundered us though five years of economic disaster (to say nothing of Carter’s diplomatic failures).

As an aside, I think there is some sort of cosmic balance that has dictated that not only are these Four Horsemen evenly split two from each party, but also the two subcategories of awfulness to which I have assigned them (Criminals and Clowns) each consist of one Republican and one Democrat.

Anyway, I figure if we can get through that gauntlet of crapitude, a mere eight years of Barack Obama should be a cakewalk.

* More about Buchanan

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: 32 Caliber

This is a short book (a novelette or novella or whatever the preferred term is) of about 120 or so pages (I read it in ebook format, so I'm not sure about pages). It was copyrighted in 1920, and it definitely shows its age – not always charmingly so.

I am a fan of books of this era and am used to racial, class, and gender attitudes that are not in line with current thinking. I generally just shrug it off as an artifact of the times. I did the same with this book, but let me warn you that it took a hell of a lot of shrugging.

Given that the story is rather short, an added problem is that the author seems uncertain whether he is writing a mystery or a romance. I enjoy a mystery that includes some sort of love interest for the protagonist, but in this case, of the 120 pages, the author has split them about sixty pages each between mystery and romance. The result, as you might expect, is that neither element is developed very satisfactorily.

The basic story here is that of the eternal triangle. A young lawyer is having domestic problems and the story begins with his wife telling him she wants a divorce. A nasty scene (overheard by the servants) follows, in which the husband, wife, and boyfriend threaten each other, joined in by the husband’s law partner, who is also the wife’s brother (though he seems to like his partner much better than his sister).

The husband digs up some dirt on the boyfriend’s business dealings and lets him know about it, also telling his wife, who is temporarily still with him. The boyfriend calls and asks for a meeting with the husband, telling him to come – alone – to the country club they all belong to at a specific time. The husband comes, but brings his wife and the car goes off the road on the way, killing him and badly injuring her.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that it was not an accident. He had been shot in the head. Suspicion falls, naturally enough, on the wife, who had a gun of the correct caliber (.32, of course). The law partner investigates, quite ineptly, in order to clear his sister.

The other principal suspect, the boyfriend, has a strong alibi, having been seen at the country club eating his dinner at about the time of the shooting.

There were also a bunch of Bolsheviks thrown in as suspects, one of whom had been convicted of sedition during the war, largely through the victim’s efforts, and had upon his recent release threatened those who had put him away. They just happened to be driving on that road at precisely the time of the killing.

A major no-no for reviews of mysteries is spoilers. So I will give you adequate warning that I am about to tell you how this crime was committed. I am doing so in full confidence that you won’t believe me anyway. What I’ll do, though, is put the spoiler in reverse type – if you want to see the solution, highlight the text that follows:

The villain (the boyfriend, of course) flew a plane, taking off and landing from the fairway of the country club, and machine-gunned the victim from the air. He was not gone long from the dining room because it was near the fairway.

See, I told you you wouldn’t believe it.

Oh, and the reader is also supposed to believe that the police were so slipshod that they never noticed that the car in which the victim was driving had bullet holes in it. A bunch of them. I know cops were supposed to be dumb in a lot of the books of that era, but this seems to be rather stretching things.

To end on a positive note, I enjoyed the book despite the many, many flaws, primarily because it was such an interesting picture of upper-class attitudes of the time (the protagonist is very concerned with maintaining his family’s image), and especially because of the insight into political thinking. Bolsheviks, though they actually played little role in the story (it felt like they were thrown in just to provide another suspect(s), but even the author never seemed to really believe that they could have done it) were very much on people’s minds at the time – the Palmer Red Raids took place in late 1919 and early 1920, while the Sacco-Vanzetti trial was in 1921.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unlikely Words

Every once in a while, I read alleged 'quotes' that sound considerably more like something written -- they generally make me laugh and/or cringe. Here's an example -- it appeared in a newsletter that I get about life in Ecuador, which presented it as genuine.

The item consisted of a supposed slice of life incident about a new expat trying the buses in Cuenca for the first time, guided by a friend. Upon boarding and not finding a seat, a couple schoolgirls get up and offer their seats. A nice gesture, right? The expat gushed a bit much, in my opinion, over how nice it was (c'mon, it's a couple kids offering a seat on a bus) to which the friend supposedly replied:
"Kindness crosses cultures. Like the bus, it unites us on a common journey, if only for a few minutes at a time."
Sure she did. Do you know of anyone who talks like that?

Monday, November 4, 2013

The NFL Seems to Have a Lot of Really Awful People

No doubt there are good guys in the league (the Manning brothers seem nice enough), but boy, there are some real stinkers.

Of course this Incognito guy (his name is appropriate, since I had never heard of him until now) has never killed anybody, which makes him better than some in the league.

What’s interesting is this part of the story:
During last night’s edition of Football Night in America on NBC, former Patriots V.P. of player personnel and Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli (who should be getting some credit for the talent he left for the new 9-0 regime in Kansas City) told Dan Patrick, ”I didn’t want [Incognito] coming out [of college], and I don’t want him now.” 
Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy echoed that sentiment earlier in the hour on The Dan Patrick Show.  Dungy explained that, when Incognito entered the draft in 2005, the Colts had him on the “DNDC” list, which means “do not draft because of character.”
Pioli was GM at New England in 2005, when he didn’t want Incognito. Which says something, since New England is the team that decided Aaron Hernandez was worth the risk.

San Francisco Street Scene, 1906

You may have seen this before, I first came across it a couple years ago. Anyway, I thought of it yesterday and decided to post it for anyone who missed it before.

A camera was mounted on a streetcar in San Francisco in 1906 (a few days before the famous earthquake/fire).

The street scene (to me at least) is totally fascinating. The most interesting points, I think, are:

The lack of traffic rules. For the most part, traffic keeps to the right, though even that is not a universal practice. Other than that, it’s pretty much a free-for-all. And yet it seems to work (though that may be only because of the relatively light vehicle traffic). Pedestrians seem as little interested in rules as drivers.

Almost all (maybe all, I’m not sure) of the automobiles used right-hand drive. When did that change, I wonder?

People are so well-dressed. Perhaps Market Street may have been more ‘up-market’ (so to speak) than other areas of the city, but it is still interesting that that nobody was in anything approaching business casual. This practice of dressing up to go out in public lasted for quite a while past 1906, of course (I remember my mom getting quite dressed up for shopping trips to downtown Phoenix in the fifties), and even such casual (in our time) occasions as going to a sports event called for a surprising degree of formality. Here’s a picture of Sandy Amoros’s great catch that saved the 1955 World Series for the Dodgers (I remember the game very well). Look at the crowd – every man (there are, as far as I can tell, no women) is wearing a suit coat, and with one or two exceptions, a tie.

An interesting though sobering thought is to look at the people in the San Francisco video and wonder how their lives changed (in some cases, perhaps, how their lives ended) just a few days later.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Distrust of Government Is Growing

To the degree that I am a Republican (which is not a very great degree) I am troubled by polls such as those cited in this article, showing the Republican Party in great disrepute.

To the extent that I am an opponent of Big Government (which is a very large degree), I am pleased by the same polls. What it appears is happening is that people are seeing that government is the problem, while the Big Government advocates continually try to sell it as the solution; Republicans, when in power, are as guilty of advocating for bigger government as Democrats are, and differ only in terms of which problems they try to solve via government and which solutions they prefer. As the article notes:
74 percent of Americans believe Congress is contributing to problems in Washington rather than solving them.
Related: a poll by a Democratic-aligned polling firm, Democracy Corps, and released with the title "Revolt against DC and the Republican Congress" also shows trouble for Republicans. But as even far-left Mother Jones magazine noticed, it also reveals equal or worse voter unhappiness with Democrats. The fact is, I think, that people are fed up with the Washington elite – regardless of party label.
In Democratic districts, net incumbent approval has plummeted by 11 points, from +8 approval to +3 disapproval. In Republican districts, incumbent approval has gone down only 4 points. You see the same results when they ask a question about warmth of feeling toward incumbents: It's down 7 points in Republican districts and 9 points in Democratic districts. 
This isn't good news for Democrats. It's true that attitudes toward the Republican Party have taken a bigger hit than attitudes toward the Democratic Party, but attitudes toward actual incumbents are exactly the opposite. And in elections, that's what matters.
As an aside, I think the spectacular failure of the Obamacare website and related revelations are probably feeding this anti-government mood. Perhaps a quick fix of the problems will reverse or at least ameliorate voter attitudes, though I think the real causes are deeper.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Illustrative Papal Gesture

When Pope Francis was about to give a speech, a little kid wandered out of the crowd and onto the stage. (Some security guys have some questions to answer today, I suspect). Instead of shooing the kid away, as the others onstage tried to do, the Pope not only let him stay, but put him in his own chair.

I'm not yet decided on whether I like the Pope's theological/political positions (nor am I opposed -- I just don't know enough yet). But stylistically, he is doing wonders for the Catholic Church, and as the most prominent Christian to the world's billions of non-Christians or semi-Christians, he is doing wonders for Christianity.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -- Matthew 19:14

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HHS Is on Schedule

YouTube video posted by Kathleen Sibelius.


Feinstein and Obama Do Their Sgt. Schultz Imitation

Remember Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes?: “I know nothing. Nothing!” Well, that’s what President Obama is claiming about NSA spying on Angela Merkel and the presidents of France, Brazil, Mexico, several million assorted Spaniards, and … well, just about everybody else.

Considering how disconnected Obama seems from everything going on around him, it’s just barely possible to believe him.

And now Diane Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee (yeah, I know, it’s a name that just invites all sorts of jokes) … anyway, Senator Feinstein, who has been a big backer of NSA, is now claiming she knew as little as Obama, and that she will hold hearings and try to get legislation passed to rein in what is pretty clearly a government agency that has been running wild.

According to a newsletter I get from Foreign Policy magazine:
"We're really screwed now," an NSA official told Foreign Policy. "You know things are bad when the few friends you've got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address." A former congressional aide questioned whether Feinstein knew about the surveillance already, noting the "bottom line question is where was the Senate Intelligence Committee when it came to their oversight of these programs? And what were they being told by the NSA, because if they didn't know about this surveillance, that would imply they were being lied to."
NSA may have been lying, but still, Obama’s and Feinstein’s excuses are pretty lame. “I know nothing” was funny coming from Sergeant Schultz, but less amusing when we hear it from the folks whose job it is to know this stuff.

Feinstein and Obama are either lying themselves, or admitting that they are incompetent. Take your pick.

Monday, October 28, 2013

History Trivia Quiz

During World War I, there was only one land battle in which German and US troops fought each other on the North American continent. It is not much remembered today, mostly because it was not a large or lengthy battle, but US soldiers did die on US soil and Germany also suffered casualties; in all, there may have been as many as 500 casualties, including about 150 deaths. What is this battle?

(The answer is in the post below, or click here).

The Battle of Ambos Nogales

In 1918, the US was at war with Germany and its allies in Europe, while also having a rather testy relationship with its southern neighbor, Mexico. In fact, the proximate cause of US entry into the war had been Germany’s effort, via the Zimmerman Telegram, to exploit the poor relations between the two countries by offering to return to Mexico most of the territories it had lost seventy years prior, if Mexico would distract the US with an attack.

It’s a measure of how poor relations were at the time that Zimmerman’s proposal was not rejected out of hand. The Mexican president, Carranza, decided not to act only after having his generals study the offer. The generals reported back that the offer of military assistance from Germany was an empty one, since Germany had no means to transport either men or arms across the Atlantic (the Royal Navy had the Germans thoroughly bottled up at the time), and without such assistance the Mexicans would get their butts kicked. Carranza never turned down the offer, as I understand it; he simply never replied.

Relations, then, were testy and were exacerbated by the fact that the Mexican army was supplemented by a number of German advisors, whom the US suspected of espionage activities and of trying to incite the Mexicans to cause trouble along the border. These suspicions may well have been overblown, but they seem to have had some foundation in fact; in any case, the fact that US commanders along the border believed the Germans were fomenting trouble played a role in the lead-up to the fighting.

There were also local issues causing problems in the twin cities of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona (aka Ambos Nogales), with the Mexicans saying that US customs agents were officious and intimidating. I don’t have a hard time believing such changes about bureaucrats, and can imagine that in the atmosphere of distrust, the border agents might well have been rather more so than usual.

The time was mid/late August of 1918. Though the war in Europe was nearing its end, the question there was still very much unsettled (the western allies’ final offensive had just begun, and the collapse of the German army was imminent, but not yet apparent). According to a US Army report:
About August 15, 1918, the Intelligence Division reported the presence of strange Mexicans, plentifully supplied with arms, ammunition, food and clothing, gathering in increasing numbers in and about Nogales, Sonora; also the presence of several strange white men, apparently Germans, at times engaged in addressing gatherings of Mexicans explaining military terms, movements and methods. At about this time an anonymous letter was received, written by a person who claimed to have been a major in Villa's forces who was sickened and disgusted at the atrocities committed by Villa and his men, and at the lack of pay or reward, and who claimed a feeling of friendly respect for American troops, warning them of the German influences at work near and in Nogales, advising of the financial activities of the German agents, and of a contemplated attack on Nogales about August 25, 1918. This letter rang so true that it became a subject of investigation by Lt. Col. Frederick J. Herman, 10th Cavalry, then acting subdistrict commander at Nogales, and Lieutenant Robert Scott Israel, Infantry Intelligence Officer at Nogales, and so many points of the letter were verified that it was given more than ordinary weight.
In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that a small incident resulted in over-reaction by both sides.

The border at Nogales looked something like this (this pic
is from 1899, but there still was no fence in 1918).
According to all accounts, an individual suspected of smuggling tried to cross the border into Mexico without stopping at US Customs (it should be noted that the border at Nogales was not as we know it today, with a fence; there was simply a street called International Avenue – one side of which was the US, the other side Mexico). An American customs official shouted for him to stop, pulled a gun when he didn't, and chased him. Two US soldiers, armed, followed. A Mexican customs official fired at them, killing one of the US soldiers. The other soldier fired back, killing the Mexican.

(Aside: Who gets the blame for ‘starting it’? It seems uncontested that the Mexican customs official fired the first shot. On the other hand, when three armed Americans are running at the border – it isn’t clear whether any of them had crossed it – shooting at them seems not unreasonable. Ninety-five years after the event, I’m not going to spend a lot of effort on figuring out who’s at fault).

Things escalated rapidly. An American officer wrote later:
I happened to be downtown near the depot when I heard some rifle shots, and then more. I saw them carrying a wounded soldier at the international street. 
Motor transportation was scarce in those days, but I had a good horse, I sped over the hills a couple of miles to camp. On the way I passed Lieutenant Colonel Herman in a car. He had already gotten some news and told me to go on, get my troop out and notify Troop C and Troop F. 
Colonel Herman soon arrived and led the troops for the town at the gallop. I was sent down Morely Avenue. The place was a double street along the railroad tracks. At the little park the troop was dismounted, and one trooper detailed to hold each group of eight horses. Those left behind pleaded with me to go along. 
Dismounted, I told the men to follow me. Not far along before we got a lot of fire. There was so much it was hard to tell where it was coming from. Also it seemed as though everybody in Nogales was shooting from the windows toward the border.
Civilians were involved on both sides, and it appears that a large portion of the casualties were civilians. As with many things in this event, the estimates of casualties vary greatly, from a few dozen (per the Mexicans) to several hundred (the American version). Among those dead on the Mexican side was the city’s mayor.

The American troops moved across the border and pushed through the town. As usual, there was a light side even to so grim an undertaking. From the same officer:
Reaching the line in spite of the fire, we dashed into a big building on the Mexican side without resistance, but bullets from up on a hillside were hitting the place. We ran forward into another connecting building. It was the Concordia Club. In there were some frightened senoritas wearing kimonas. I got a laugh when one of them spoke to a trooper, saying, 'Sergeant Jackson! Are we all glad to see you!" But we did not have time to tarry for the soldier to alibi his acquaintanceship.
The Americans having pushed through the city to the surrounding hills, the Mexicans asked for a truce:
I hope we only hit those who were shooting. But there were a lot of bodies lying around. All of a sudden some one saw a long pole with a sheet tied on being waved from the top of the Mexican customs house down below. 
I ordered the men to cease fire. It was then 7:45 P.M., and getting dark. Where the time passed I do not know. We had five men wounded, and the others wanted to clean out the town. However First Sergeant LaMar and I quickly controlled our skirmish line of troopers.
In the aftermath, the Americans claim to have discovered the bodies of two German officers, though there is some doubt about it. I’m conflicted on what to believe – it seems likely there were German advisers present, and certainly they might well have been killed; on the other hand, I would think the Mexicans would be motivated to keep the Germans out of harm’s way, since their presence would be an embarrassment. Another unanswered question.

Scattered sniping continued for the next day or so, though officials on both sides tried to suppress it.

The quotes above come from US sources. For the other side, here is info from Wikipedia which, as is often the case with that source, has a decidedly anti-US tone.

Among the results of the battle were that one US customs agent was fired for abusing Mexicans, and a fence was built down the middle of International Avenue. Not much of an outcome for all the shooting, but such seems often to be the case.

In Internet Heaven

Just out of curiosity, I ran a speed test on the internet where I am currently staying (with my daughter and son-in-law). The speed was just over 26 megabytes per second.

That will not sound remarkable to anyone in the US, but it would be like heaven to any internet user in the Philippines. I did a post back in March about the atrocious infrastucture of the Philippines -- roads, electricity, and sidewalks as well as internet -- and another in May about my SmartBro wireless modem. I will summarize that I seldom got as much as 1 mbps in the Philippines from my wired connection at my apartment; the SmartBro, which was alleged to deliver 'up to' 5 mbps, actually delivered less than 0.5).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ecuadorian Asylum Report

Ecuador has attracted considerable attention on the world stage by granting asylum in their London embassy to Wikileaker Julian Assange, who is charged with sexual assault in Sweden, and offering asylum to Edward Snowden of NSA fame. Ecuador is now threatening to sue the UK to force them to allow Assange free transit to Ecuador.
In hopes of breaking the deadlock, Ecuador has proposed creating a bilateral commission to resolve the issue. 
"We are hoping for a response, including one in writing, from (the British) and if they do not do so in a few days we will have to prepare an international suit so that the United Kingdom respects international law," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said in an interview with Ecuadoran public radio. 
If London rejects the proposal, Mr Patino said, "we will have no alternative but to go to international judicial venues to compel respect for Ecuador's right to grant asylum, and their obligation to provide safe conduct."
One wonders how they think they will enforce such a ruling, assuming they get it. But in any case, I was amused to find, on the same day, this reminder that the asylum card can be played both ways. Panama has granted asylum to a member of the Ecuadorian opposition who was convicted, in absentia, of murder.
Panama granted asylum Saturday to an Ecuadoran opposition politician sentenced to prison last month for his role in a multiple homicide case, finding that he was subjected to political persecution. 
Tito Galo Lara Yepez fled to Panama and requested asylum on grounds that his opposition to Ecuador's leftist government had placed his life in danger.  [ ... ]
"Granting asylum (to Lara) could be a measure that supports the need to respect human rights and social and political stability in the region," the decree said.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Running in the Cold

I ran a little over three miles today, the first time I've run since being back in the States. The temperature was about 52F -- not terribly cold, but a big change from the 80-90 I've been used to.

It's really different -- less sweat of course, and less thirst. In Cebu, my t-shirt at the end of running a few miles was often so soaked I had to wring it out before hanging it to dry before throwing it in the dirty clothes pile. Everything I wore was wet after ruinning -- my shorts, my socks, even my shoes. Losing so much water, I was thirsty as hell -- often I would drink a liter of water after a run, as well as a half-liter of Gatorade.

Today, there was only enough sweat to make the walk home after running a bit unpleasant. I'll need to remember to bring a jacket to wear home as things get colder.

Another big difference is that I was running on concrete in Cebu (there are no large public spaces with grass there). Today I ran at Oak Park-River Forest High School on a nice artificial turf track. Much easier on the knees and ankles.

Friday, October 25, 2013

This Is Not an Instance of Obama-Bashing

I need to put in that qualifier before going on, because I make no secret of my contempt for the current occupant of the White House, and his amazing ability to combine ineptitude and pomposity.

But this time, it’s a fairly serious question: With the recent revelations about NSA tapping the phones of (among many others) Angela Merkel, Francoise Hollande, and the previous and current presidents of Mexico – has any US president ever treated our allies worse than Obama has done?

This is particularly hypocritical, given the manner in which Candidate Obama criticized his predecessor (with some justification) for a go-it-alone approach to foreign policy. I doubt anything President Bush did was as offensive to both the leadership and the people of friendly nations as President Obama’s actions.

It's not just NSA of course: You could throw in his reckless use of drones, promoting the overthrow of Mubarek by the Muslim Brotherhood, undercutting Israel at every opportunity, and alienating the Saudis, among other examples.

Insurance for Everybody

Obamacare, as sold to the electorate, was to be a comprehensive reform of the American healthcare system. As it passed congress, it was focused on only one of the system's problem -- people who are uninsured -- with no attention at all paid to reducing the system's high costs. This is (one of) the reasons I opposed the 'reform'.

Much of what is happening these days is amusing to a cynical, hard-care anti-statist like me. Nothing could be funnier (and more satisfying) than watching the mind-boggling ineptitude of the government as they screw up the rollout of the monstrosity they created.

Nothing except that, thus far, they've actually managed to end up with fewer people covered by insurance than before, even though that's the only thing they tried to accomplish:
Hundreds of thousands of Americans who purchase their own health insurance have received cancellation notices since August because the plans do not meet Obamacare’s requirements. 
The number of cancellation notices greatly exceed the number of Obamacare enrollees. 
Insurance carrier Florida Blue sent out 300,000 cancellation notices, or 80 percent of the entire state’s individual coverage policies, Kaiser Health News reports. California’s Kaiser Permanente canceled 160,000 plans — half of its insurance plans in the state — while Blue Shield of California sent 119,000 notices in mid-September alone.
This will change, no doubt, with the passage of time, but still, it's funny as hell (except for those hundreds of thousands being forced off their chosen policies).

I wonder what will happen to these folks when (as now seems likely) Obama admits failure and delays the mandate?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cool & Lam

In the past month or so I’ve read three books from Erle Stanley Gardner’s second-string mystery series, Cool & Lam.

The books feature a detective agency consisting of a founder, Bertha Cool, and her junior partner, Donald Lam. In literary terms, it’s a very unequal partnership – the stories are at least 90% Lam.

Based on the three I’ve read, the formula is that a beautiful woman hires the agency, she and Lam engage in a lot of semi-sexy banter (though nothing more – these books were written more than a half-century ago), a murder takes place, Lam plays fast and loose with the evidence, he gets arrested for the murder by a hard-ass cop, he talks his way out of the arrest, solves the murder as well as whatever ancillary crime initially got them involved, and collects a large fee, making Bertha happy.

Bertha Cool is fat and greedy – beyond these characteristics, she barely exists in the stories I’ve read. Donald Lam is a disbarred attorney. Although the books have some noirish qualities in the style of the story-telling, Lam is the antithesis of the bare-knuckles noir hero -- he seldom fights, and when he does, he loses. When he's in a tight corner, he believes in trying to talk his way out.

The three books I’ve read are:

Bedrooms Have Windows (1948) – Lam is shadowing a conman in a hotel lobby when he meets up with a beautiful woman with whom he is soon, for reasons too complicated to explain, in a motel (actually an ‘auto court’) registered as husband and wife. Soon she disappears, just as a man and his mistress die in an apparent murder suicide in an adjoining unit of the auto court.

Lam tracks down the woman, walking into her bedroom as she is dressing. She begins to tell him the truth of her story then he goes to another room so she can finish dressing. When he returns, she has been murdered. Lam of course is arrested for the various murders.

Top of the Heap (1952) – The agency is hired to track down a couple women with whom the client spent a recent evening (in another auto court). Lam suspects that the whole thing is an effort to create a phony alibi for the client. Soon there is a murder in the mix (the reason for the phony alibi), and Lam is again arrested.

The most interesting aspect of this book is a really clever (I thought) money-laundering scam engineered by the murder victim.

Bertha is almost totally absent from this story, with the exception of a cringe-worthy appearance at the end in which her greed is caricatured in a heavy-handed manner.

Kept Women Can’t Quit (1960) – An armored car robbery turns into a murder case when one of the participants is murdered. Except he wasn’t a participant. Lam, who is working for the victim’s gorgeous girlfriend (the ‘kept woman’ of the title) is arrested for the murder, of course.

Very clunky solution, in which a character who only briefly appeared in a supporting role very early in the story suddenly reappears and turns out to be the killer (even though there has been nary a clue pointing to him anywhere in the book).

All of these books have huge flaws, but they are still fun stories to read.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Snake Oil: A Bit of Arizona History

As a proud Arizonan, I am always happy when I discover another area in which my native state has distinguished itself. I am pleased to report, then, that snake oil, as we understand the term today, was invented in Arizona. Sorta.

According to this item, snake oil was introduced to the United States by Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad, who used oils from Chinese water snakes to relieve muscle pain. Recent research indicates that such oils are high in Omega-3 and may actually work.

However, the snake oil that gained widespread fame being peddled by travelling salesmen in the late 19th/early 20th centuries was generally made from rattlesnake oil, which doesn’t have the same value. And some such products contained no snake oil at all.

Walpi at roughly the time Clark Stanley
would have been there (late 1870s).
Which brings us to Clark Stanley, the most famous snake oil salesman of the period. Stanley was a Texas cowboy who migrated to Arizona in the 1870s, where he met up with a Hopi medicine man (is that a politically-correct term?) in Walpi (on the First Mesa up in the northwest part of the state) and learned how to make snake oil from rattlesnakes. Stanley sold this snake oil from town to town, finally hitting it big at the Columbian Exposition here in Chicago in 1893, where he killed rattlesnakes as part of the demonstration of his product, and became known as The Rattlesnake King.

Stanley did quite well, it seems, until the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, subsequent to which an analysis in 1915 indicated that his product consisted of mineral oil, a small amount of fatty oil (presumed to be beef fat), red pepper, turpentine, and camphor. He was fined twenty dollars.

I’m always pleased to see a local boy make good.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Outsourcing Government

I applied for Social Security and Medicare last year, just before leaving the country. My Medicare card was sent to my old address and was not forwarded to my sister’s home in Arizona (perhaps it’s not supposed to be).

No big deal – I couldn’t use Medicare where I was anyway.

So I'm back to the States now and I called SS yesterday to ask about the card. No problem, they say, they will send a replacement card.

I should have it, they tell me, in about thirty days. Thirty freaking days to mail me a card!?! Are they nuts?

I spent a major part of my working life in BPO companies that handled paperwork processing (among other functions) for major manufacturers’ marketing/advertising programs.

We would get invoices from retailers who had advertised or promoted our clients’ products. We would check the invoices and documentation to ensure that the promotion was run in compliance with plan, that the amount charged was reasonable, that the retailer had bought enough of the product to justify the payment, and other factors. If all was in order, we would cut a check and mail it. If all was not in order, we would send out an explanation of why the invoice was not being paid or paid in a lesser amount.

Our promise to our clients was that all this would be done within five working days of the receipt of the invoice. We mostly kept this promise – at peak seasons we would might slip to seven or eight days.

And it takes the government about twenty ‘working’ days to mail out a simple card? What the hell are they doing with their time? (I suspect I don’t want to know the answer to that question). If the government were to outsource this function, it could be done in about one-fourth the time for probably less than half the cost.

But of course that will never happen.

Ho Hum -- Manila Airport Is the World's Worst. So What's New?

I recall reading a commentary that described the Clinton Administration’s technique for dealing with bad news as:
It’s not true
It’s not true
It’s not true
It’s old news
Others have done the same of course, so I’m not trying to pick on the Clintons. I was merely reminded of it by this news story from the Manila Bulletin, which reports that a travel website had rated Manila’s airport as the worst in the world. Again.
But a MalacaƱang official shrugged off the news as old hat while saying that government is moving to improve the facilities. 
“This is not the first time na may ganoong comment. This is not something new,” said Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. 
Efforts are already being made since the NAIA terminal 1 was tagged as the worst airport in the world in 2011, Lacierda said. 
“Things are being done to improve the facilities of NAIA 1,” Lacierda said, noting that multi-awarded furniture designer Kenneth Cobonque was among those experts tapped to innovate NAIA 1.
‘NAIA’ refers to the airport’s full name: Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Of course, attacking the news as old does nothing to address why two years of supposed changes have done nothing to improve the airport’s ratings from customers.
“When selecting an airport to declare as the “worst”, travelers were asked to consider the four C’s: comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service,” the website said. 
NAIA was rated the worst for comfort, amenities, and ‘overall experience’.

Here are what the survey said are the world’s ten worst airports:

  • Manila NAIA (Terminal 1)
  • Bergamo (Milan)
  • Calcutta
  • Islamabad
  • Paris Beauvais
  • Chennai
  • Frankfurt Hahn
  • Mumbai
  • Rome Fiumicino
  • Los Angeles

Other than Manila, I’ve also been in Chennai (this is the Indian city once known as Madras, in case you’re having a hard time identifying it; I did, the first time I traveled there: “You want me to go to Chennai? Never heard of it”) and of course LAX. Both are terrible, but I would agree that NAIA is worse than either.