Tuesday, April 30, 2013

RIP: Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin died a few days ago.

It’s strange that someone who was so famous has been mostly forgotten, but being forgotten is what she wanted. She was still a huge star when she walked out of Hollywood in the late forties and settled in France. She had many offers to come back, but turned them all down, and gave practically no interviews.

Comparing her life to her contemporary (and friend and, in the public eye, rival), Judy Garland, would seem to indicate that Durbin made the better choice.

It can’t have been easy, being a star at 13 and being the ‘ideal child’:
“I was a typical 13-year-old American girl. The character I was forced into had little or nothing in common with myself — or with other youth of my generation, for that matter. I could never believe that my contemporaries were my fans. They may have been impressed with my ‘success.’ but my fans were the parents, many of whom could not cope with their own youngsters. They sort of adopted me as their ‘perfect’ daughter.”
She had great comedic skills, but her success was mostly based on her incredible voice; it was difficult to believe that a girl who was barely a teen could sing like she did in the opening scene of Three Smart Girls (unfortunately, YouTube tells me that I can’t access that movie from the Philippines, so I can’t post it here). I’ll settle for the closing scene of the sequel, Three Smart Girls Grow Up:

She was America’s Little Sweetheart. The problem was that we never want our little girls to grow up, but little girls do so anyway. She wanted more mature roles, but Universal (which Three Smart Girls had saved from bankruptcy and which was living mostly on the profits from her movies) knew that the public wanted ongoing sweetness.

Her one foray into darkness, Christmas Holiday, was a horrible flop and the public was outraged (the role she played was as a hooker, although they never quite say so in the movie). See it if you can – good movie and it will be your only chance to see Gene Kelly as a psychotic murderer (her husband, escaped from jail, coming back to kill her). I can understand that it may have been too much – a subtler transition into grittier roles might have worked.

In any case, she went back to sweet stuff, which the public loved, but she didn't, and finally she decided she’d had enough and she quit. Probably the most abrupt voluntary departure from Hollywood stardom ever.

I’m saddened by her death, of course, but she had disappeared from public view long ago. She lived more than sixty years of the life she wanted, after leaving Hollywood. It's ironic that, while she hated the 'happily ever after' roles she played, she was able, apparently, to live that life (or as close as humans get to 'happily ever after'). While I'm happy for her, I selfishly regret that she made so few movies, and so few good recordings of that beautiful voice survive.


Vending machines like this are common sights on Filipino streets. This one is almost directly across the street from the front gate of my apartment compound and serves the small squatter community there.

It’s a water dispenser. Inside is a five-gallon water jug and for a peso the machine pours out a small amount of water into a bottle (or, sometimes, a plastic baggie) that you hold under the nozzle. Here’s someone using a dispenser on a street in the Colon district.

Many Filipinos (especially squatters) have no running water in their homes – I often see mothers washing small children in the street using a bucket of water and a pot to pour water over the kids’ heads to rinse them (sometimes men wash in the street too, though they will do so wearing their shorts). Just yesterday I saw a woman washing her hair by the side of the road, but that’s less common.

Even if they do have running water, people still try not to drink anything from the tap, since it is full of bacteria.

Better-off people use bottled water or have filters installed at home. My in-laws in Manila have a filtering device attached to their kitchen sink. I buy five-gallon jugs for thirty pesos, delivered to our compound; which means, of course, that I’m paying far less for my water than someone who buys from the dispenser or buys smaller quantities from the convenience stores or sari-saris.

I use bottled water only for drinking, but some expats use it for brushing their teeth (a few even wash their dishes in it).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let’s Trade: Mindanao for Greenland

Here’s an interesting tidbit for those who, like me, enjoy doing what-ifs about history. I just learned that Denmark apparently made an offer to the US in 1913 to trade Greenland to us for Mindanao.

Here’s the story as reported in The New York Times on 29 November 1913:

Plan to Give Greenland to This Country in Return for the Island of Mindanao.


Empire, It Is Thought, Might Accept One of Philippine Group in Exchange for Schleswig Province.

BERLIN, Nov. 28.—From quarters sufficiently authoritative to withstand the inevitable "official denial," news has just reached THE NEW YORK TIMES correspondent of an interesting political project which, if carried out, would simultaneously alter the maps of Europe, America, and Asia. It concerns a three-cornered exchange of territory between Germany, Denmark, and the United States.

The most important phase of the proposed "deal" concerns Germany's cession of part of Schleswig-Holstein to its former Danish owners. The transfer, as planned by the distinguished and influential Danes who evolved and formally submitted the scheme to the United States Government, would take place in the following ingenious way.

The United States, in return for Greenland, would give Denmark the Island of Mindanao, one of the most important of the Philippine group. Greenland, it is represented by the Danes, is capable of becoming "a second Alaska."

The arrangement would simultaneously confer Denmark's right to transfer Mindanao to Germany in return for Schleswig, which includes the Danish provinces conquered by Prussia and Austria in 1864.

My information is not clear on this particular point, but evidently the Danish promoters of the transaction have canvassed the situation sufficiently to think that Germany might regard an extensive foothold in the Philippine Islands as a quid pro quo for the surrender of the Danish sections of Schleswig-Holstein.

Germany might welcome a larger place in the Far Eastern sun than her present base at Kiau-chow, but it is a grave question if she would regard Mindanao as adequate compensation for a territory bought, like Alsace-Lorraine, with German lives.
As an aside, Kiau-chow, mentioned in the last paragraph, is today known as Jiaozhou, and is the location of the Tsingtao brewery – the source of China’s best (or at least best-known) beer. The Germans, as you might guess, founded the brewery.

So what might have been the outcome if this deal had gone through?

I can imagine the Danes, looking back later, being really angry, because they were given most or all of the land they wanted in Schleswig at the end of World War One. They might reasonably have said then, “Damn, if we had just waited five years, we’d have Schleswig and still have Greenland, too!”

Germany was forced to give up all its colonies as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, so Mindanao probably would have been given back to the US. Which would mean the US made out like bandits, getting Greenland pretty much for free.

What would have happened to Greenland under US rule? It would probably have a naval base or two today. There is an air base at Thule, and there were others in the past. During World War Two, the US took over Greenland (with the assent of the Danish government-in-exile), and if my memory is correct (I can’t find anything on-line to confirm it) used it as a base for protecting convoys in the North Atlantic.

There was a second shot at this, by the way, since the US offered to buy Greenland for $100 million in 1946, but Denmark turned us down.

Probably Greenland would have been developed a bit more by the US, but thus far (as far as I know) there’s no evidence of great natural resources, so probably things would still be rather basic there. Mostly the people fish.

The most likely outcomes for Greenland politically (in descending order of likelihood) would seem to be:
  • A US possession/territory – with some degree of self-government, similar to Guam or the Virgin Islands
  • A US commonwealth – similar to Puerto Rico
  • Independence – presumably the US would give Greenland full independence if the people wanted it, as it has been offered to Puerto Rico.. The question would be, with a population of only 56,000 people, if it is capable of sustaining itself independently (today about half the budget comes from Danish government handouts)
  • Statehood for such a small population would be pretty much out of the question, I think

But what about Mindanao? That could be a lot more complicated, depending on who grabbed it during and/or after WW1. My guess above was the US, as the possessor of the rest of the Philippines, and as the former owner up to just a few years previous.

But what if, at the start of the war, the British, based in the nearby Malay States, had taken possession of the island? The US, as a neutral at that point, would have found it legally difficult to act against a German colony, but Britain could do so, and likely would. At the end of the war, they would probably have been unwilling to give it up, and might have argued (quite logically) that Mindanao, being almost wholly Muslim at the time, fit much better with what is today Malaysia than with the Christian islands of Luzon and Visayas.

In the Treaty of Versailles, Japan was granted all of Germany’s Pacific and Asian possessions north of the equator (such as Kiau-Chow as mentioned above, Saipan, and a few other islands). On that basis, Mindanao would have been given to Japan, which could have had interesting consequences in WW2. Had Japan started the war with such a large base of operations so near Australia and so near the oil of the Dutch East Indies, the Pacific War might have been considerably complicated for the Allies.

If Japan had possessed Mindanao since the end of WW1, what would have happened to it after WW2? That's a tough one. Could it have been reunited with Luzon and the Visayas and granted independence as part of the Philippines in 1946? Perhaps, but at that point it would have been separated from the rest of the country for more than thirty years, and would be culturally even more different than it had been earlier. Would it be an independent country today? Would it perhaps have chosen to join Malaysia in the early sixties?

Bonus facts: Greenland is really three islands under the ice pack. I guess we’ll have to wait for Global Warming to melt it all in order to find out for sure. Also, the weight of the ice pack is so great that it has caused the land in the center of Greenland to sink down to 300 meters below sea level.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Withholding Eucharist

Apparently the Catholic Church is saying that Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion and gay marriage may be refused communion. According a theologian quoted in this article:
"… about 30 or so bishops have said that pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholics should not present themselves for Communion."
An Episcopalian retired bishop, Gene Robinson, has criticized the Catholic bishops for injecting politics into a sacrament. “I believe that using Communion as such a manipulative tool surely profanes the sacrament.”

I will try to avoid the temptation to make snarky comments about Episcopalians and politics – however laughable it is that a minister of a mainstream Protestant denomination in the US should criticize anyone for politicizing religion. Isn’t politics (under the term ‘social justice’) pretty much all the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists are about these days? Which may have something to do with their declining membership.

I didn’t do a very good job of avoiding that temptation, did I?

With that aside, however, my feelings are mixed on this. I do not agree with the Catholic Church on a number of points (which is why I am no longer a Catholic). I have ambivalent and regularly changing views on abortion and I am opposed to the church’s position on gay marriage.

However, what is not mixed is my belief that a church, any church, has the right to make any rule it wants on any subject, however stupid you or I may think that rule.  Those who don’t like the rules can either keep quiet about it or leave (which was, eventually, my choice). If enough people leave a church because it has silly rules, then the church will fade into insignificance and the issue will be resolved that way. Sort of a free-market approach to religion, I guess.

When I was reading these articles, though, a memory of an old case from my youth hopped into my mind. A bit of googling and wikipeding proved my memories to be fairly accurate.

In 1962, at the height of the battle over school desegregation in the south, the Archbishop of New Orleans, Joseph Rummel, announced that Catholic schools in the archdiocese would be (belatedly) integrated at the beginning of the coming school year.

Of course, many Catholics were among those who opposed his decision, some quite loudly. My recollection was of a woman coming to the communion rail and being refused because of the Archbishop’s orders. That may well have happened, but apparently Rummel went further – he excommunicated some of the opposition leaders.
Archbishop Rummel formally announced the end of segregation in the New Orleans parochial school system on March 27, 1962. The 1962-1963 school year would be the first integrated school year in the history of the Archdiocese.
White segregationists were outraged. Politicians organized "citizen's councils", held public protests, and initiated letter writing campaigns. Parents threatened to transfer their children to public schools or even boycott the entire school year. Rummel issued numerous letters to individual Catholics, pleading for their cooperation and explaining his decision. He even went so far as to threaten opponents of desegregation with excommunication, the most severe censure of the Church. The threats were enough to convince most segregationist Catholics into standing down. Nevertheless, some parishioners continued to organize protests.
On April 16, 1962, the Monday before Easter, he excommunicated three local Catholics for defying the authority the Church and organizing protests against the Archdiocese.
 I wonder if Bishop Robinson would have criticized Rummel for politicizing the Church through his actions.


People who do not know the difference between 'rein' and 'reign' should never be trusted to take the reins of an important project. Nor should they be allowed to reign over anything of importance.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Grade Inflation

I don’t know if I buy into the overall point of this article (that there is a correlation* between rising grades and rising tuition at US colleges), but the graph is fascinating. I regret that I attended college in the wrong era – it appears that today one is pretty much guaranteed an A (or at worst, a B) just for showing up.

Of course, I’m not sure it would have helped me that much, since showing up was my problem – I much preferred to sleep.
Conclusion: Across a wide range of schools, As represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. Ds and Fs total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.”
I never used grades as much of a hiring tool anyway, but I recall being horrified by the poorly-written resumes and letters from college graduates that I would be forced to read when hiring entry-level employees.

I imagine that what young college graduates will find is that employers will pay less and less attention to degrees as an indicator of job-readiness. Which will mean that that piece of paper for which they paid so much money will decrease in value.

* Clarification: There is another graph showing that there is a correlation, but my comment was intended to mean that I'm not convinced that the correlation is more than coincidental.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What If It Had Been the Phoenix (or Dallas or Mobile) Marathon?

Let’s say the tragedy we have just witnessed had not taken place in Boston – that it happened instead in a place of which the elite disapprove. What do you think would be the media narrative?

I suspect that what we would be reading in New York Times and Washington Post columns and op-eds would be something like this:
Tragic as the recent bombings at the Phoenix Marathon were, they were also wholly predictable. It was inevitable that young Muslim men, facing the constant hostility toward all foreigners and people of color that is rife in Arizona, would finally snap and strike back at their tormentors.

The only surprise is that it was Muslims who finally shouted, “Enough!” rather than Mexicans, Native Americans, or any of the other groups that suffer the dreary conformity of the desert metropolis – one of the least diverse cities in the country, and one, not coincidentally, actively hostile toward diversity.

This is not to justify the bombings, of course, but merely to point out that Phoenix has long been a disaster waiting to happen. Isn’t it past time that the city’s leaders take action against the haters in their midst and try to make Phoenix a more welcoming place for those whose only sin is being different?

Elite America's Contempt for the 99%

Do you remember those horrible days following 9/11, when howling mobs of rednecks ran wild in the streets, hunting down Arabs and beating them to death with clubs and sticks?

And then again, after the unfortunate events at Fort Hood, when a wave of lynchings swept the heartland, and only the intervention of the National Guard prevented the Muslim death toll from reaching triple digits?

Yeah, me neither.

And yet, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, we are once again being warned by our betters that we must control our impulses and must not go out, as we had no doubt planned on doing, to burn down the nearest mosque, machine-gunning everyone, especially the women and children, as they try to escape the flames.

The leftist Salon, in an article titled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American” (published shortly after the bombings), said:
As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals [Muslims/foreigners] break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as … proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted …
An American Muslim writing in UK's The Guardian tells us that:
It seems that until proven otherwise, terrorists are Muslims, and for some, all Muslims are terrorists.

Mondoweiss, a website of ‘Jewish progressives’ says:
It’s happening again: another collective freakout steeped in Islamophobia. The Boston Marathon bombings have unleashed the anti-Muslim sentiment that bubbles under the surface and always shines bright in times of national hysteria.
And the National Geographic adds that there are stories circulating of a backlash against Muslims (though it fails to cite any examples):
Americans, particularly the media, also need to recognize the damage that Islamophobia can cause in alienating these young Muslims away from the mainstream religious and civic community. Already there are stories circulating of a backlash against Muslims in the wake of the events in Boston.

What is it with the American elite classes that they think all Americans except them are a bunch of bloodthirsty savages? This is a particularly ugly form of bigotry and one that (if they were as intent on understanding Others as they say they are) they would examine. But of course they won’t – critical self-examination is for plebeians.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Federal Bunglers, Inc.

Not only did the FBI screw up their investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the Russians apparently tipped them off at least once that the guy was dangerous, but the FBI said, “Hey, he’s OK with us”), but now it looks like the guy they arrested for sending ricin to Obama and a couple others had nothing to do with it.

Good work, guys. I hope everybody’s feeling real secure.


For those who have never seen a gecko other than in a Geico ad, here’s one on the wall outside my apartment.

They have feet that adhere to surfaces and can thus climb even smooth surfaces, such as walls. Wikipedia says that they can even walk upside down (e.g., on ceilings), but I haven’t seen that.
Many species are well known for their specialized toe pads that enable them to climb smooth and vertical surfaces, and even cross indoor ceilings …
I have had a few in my apartment (scared the crap out of me the first time it happened), but they mostly stay outside.

Positive: They eat bugs. Negative: For small creatures, they make a hell of a noise.

Sarah Palin Didn't Say It

A few people have mixed up the Czech Republic (half of what was Czechoslovakia in my sixth-grade Geography book) and Chechnya, the part of Russia from which Chechens -- including the Tsarnaev family -- come.  Stalin chased most of the Chechens out of Chechnya (it starts getting really complicated, so I'll avoid the details), so the brothers were actually born in Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan (if I've got the story straight)

Anyway, a satirical website put up an item saying that Sarah Palin wants to invade the Czech Republic:
Sarah Palin called for the invasion of the Czech Republic today in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Boston.
In an interview with Fox News, the former governor of Alaska said that although federal investigators have yet to complete their work, the time for action is now.
"We don't know everything about these suspects yet," Palin told Fox and Friends this morning, referring to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who allegedly carried out the Boston Marathon attacks. "But we know they were Muslims from the Czech Republic.

It's funny. But it got tweeted and passed around, and lots of people (most of them, I suspect, liberal Democrats) believe it.

What I find funniest about the whole story is that the people who believe it probably think they're a lot smarter than Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Battery Breakthrough at Urbana-Champaign

This is pretty exciting, if it works out.
A new type of battery has been developed that, its creators say, could revolutionise the way we power consumer electronics and vehicles.
The University of Illinois team says its use of 3D-electrodes allows it to build "microbatteries" that are many times smaller than commercially available options, or the same size and many times more powerful.
It adds they can be recharged 1,000 times faster than competing tech.
 As an example of the potential power of these batteries:
"You could replace your car battery with one of our batteries and it would be 10 times smaller, or 10 times more powerful. With that in mind you could jumpstart a car with the battery in your cell phone."
I like the idea of recharging much faster – an objection I have to electric vehicles is the long recharge time. It sounds like recharging these batteries would take less time than refilling your gas tank. The weight and size of batteries for electric vehicles is another problem that these would overcome.

The difficulties that remain are overcoming safety problems (currently there are combustibility concerns) and proving that they can be manufactured in quantities. Definitely worth watching how it develops.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I've Got a Secret

This is a video of a TV show from the 1950s called I’ve Got a Secret – the idea behind the show was that someone came on the show and a group of B-List celebrities had to guess what was special about him or her. Kind of dumb, but it was popular at the time, and I remember often watching it (though I don’t remember this particular episode).

What was special about this guy was that he was the last living eye-witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – he had attended Our American Cousin as a child about ninety years before the TV show.

Compulsory Miscegenation

In this post, I commented about the anti-miscegenation laws that many US states once had, forbidding marriages between people of different races.

I just came across an interesting variation on this. Shortly after Paraguay achieved independence from Spain, the dictator, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, decided to break the power of the nation’s Spanish elite. The way to do this, he apparently decided, was by making them no longer Spanish.
In March 1814, Francia banned Spaniards from marrying each other; they had to wed Indians, blacks, or mulattoes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Taking Rudeness to a Whole New Level

Any time we talk about a trait that we ascribe to a whole group, there have to be many caveats observed. Obviously such a trait isn't found in every member of that group, nor is it exclusive to that group. We are merely saying that it is our perception that it is found more often in that group than in others.

With that bow to political correctness out of the way, a negative trait that is common among Filipinos is cutting into line and pushing to the front of groups. Expats here talk about this among themselves a lot. (Though most will say Filipinos aren't as bad as Chinese).

In any case, this isn't by itself that big a deal, it's mostly a minor annoyance.

But tonight I saw something extraordinary.

I attended Mass at the Basilica de Santo Nino, where I watched several people shove their way into the front of the Communion line.

Did they think God was going to run out of grace before they got their share?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Time to Look for a New Job?

From the Washington Post (and numerous other sources):
The FBI confirmed that agents in Boston had interviewed the elder Tsarnaev in 2011, on behalf of an unspecified foreign government that suspected he had ties to a terrorist organization. But the FBI found nothing warranting further investigation. 
I'd hate to be the FBI agent who has to explain that one to the boss.

Satellite Pics of Berlin and Korea

I have no particular reason for posting this. But I guess I really don't need one, do I?

I came across this satellite picture of Berlin at night. The two halves of Berlin apparently used different types of light bulbs, and the pic seems to show that the differences still show up (or anyway, that's the explanation that is offered):

This reminded me of the famous satellite pic of the Korean peninsula:


Bad Timing

Via Instapundit, the tweet of the week: “This week is so bad that an Elvis-impersonating conspiracy theorist sent poison to Obama and that’s like the tenth biggest story.”
A Corinth man charged with mailing letters containing ricin to national leaders believed that he had uncovered a conspiracy to sell body parts on the black market, and he maintains that he is innocent, his lawyer said Thursday. The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator ...
Poor guy, why go to all the trouble of sending poison to a president and a senator, if pretty much nobody even notices? And now he has to go to jail.

Of course, when you’re an Elvis impersonator, you’re probably already half-way to convincing a judge you’re nuts.

Update 4/24: My apologies to this guy. It looks like the FBI screwed up again, and he had nothing to do with it. And I screwed up by believing the FBI knew what the hell they're doing.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I'm Shocked ... Shocked ...

... and I'm sure you are, too ... to learn that the people who bombed the Boston Marathon were Muslims.

Our nation's political and media elite have repeatedly assured us that Islam is the Religion of Peace.

Could it be that we have been lied to?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why All the Distractions?

A few weeks ago, I posted this item about the practice of political leaders to gin up concern about some extraneous issue to distract the attention of the public from … well, from whatever it is that the leaders don’t want the great unwashed to think about.

I used the example of the president of Argentina making ugly noises about the Falklands at a time when Argentina is near to defaulting on its foreign debts.

But the practice is widespread, and ancient. A variation was ‘bread and circuses’ provided to keep the Roman plebeians contented. Magicians use distracting hand and body movements to keep their audience from noticing what they are really up to.

I was thinking about this again tonight, as I posted a comment on Facebook: “Are guns, immigration, and gay marriage the most important issues facing America?”

They are the only issues our political leaders (of both parties) seem to want to address. They are the only issues the media seems interested in.

And yet, don't you think there might be more important matters that we ought to be focusing on?

Pan de Malunggay

This has become just about my favorite food – next to Mexican or pizza, neither of which can be obtained here in a form recognizable to an American. But that’s another post.

Pan de Malunggay is pan de sal with malunggay added, as sold by a little hole-in-the-wall vendor near my home, called (appropriately enough) Pan de Malunggay:

PdM is nothing fancy, just small pieces of bread, but very tasty. Since the store is just about across the street from my gym, I drop in after a workout and buy ten pans and a couple malunggay-flavored cookies (Cookies de Malunggay?). The pan is best hot from the oven, so I usually eat four and the cookies when I get home. The other six I put in the fridge and warm in the microwave for breakfast. Here’s breakfast:

Since the pans cost two pesos each and the cookies are five, the snack and breakfast costs me thirty pesos ($0.75). Tough to beat pricewise.

For those of my age, you will remember the many TV ads of the 1950s that promised, usually for some cereal: “Tastes good, and it’s good for you, too.” What was good for us was that those lying ads turned us into skeptical consumers at an early age. But in the case of Pan de Malunggay, it’s true. Here’s the sign in the store (you might have to enlarge it to read the health claims):

So, okay, I’m fairly certain it’s not all true. I particularly enjoy the line that says it will help you to both gain and lose weight – how does it do that?

The Philippines does not have much in the way of truth-in-advertising laws (another subject for another post), and bigger companies than this store tell even bigger whoppers. But the part of the sign giving the nutrition claims (17x the calcium of milk, etc) is somewhat true – or at least so Wikipedia says. Read this article on moringa (malunggay is the local name); apparently moringa is highly nutritious. 
The leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant, being a significant source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, provitamin A as beta-carotene, magnesium and protein, among other nutrients ...
It tastes good and it's good for you, too. I think I may start a Pan de Malunggay franchise operation in the States when I return.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reforming Sports (Part 3 of Many)

As mentioned in the previous two parts of this series (Part 1: Baseball and Part 2: Soccer and Hockey), I have been appointed Commissar of Sports, and today I’m going to discuss my plans for golf and tennis (although I’m not at all certain golf is actually a sport – if it is, why not darts? – but The Party, in its wisdom, has put me in charge of it, so I will humbly do my duty).

The main thing we’re going to do about golf and tennis is repeal the silly rules they have about being quiet. These are sporting events, not church services. If golfers and tennis players can’t deal with the distractions of noise, they aren’t athletes.

Let me put it this way: a baseball player can deal with a 95mph fastball while 50,000 people scream at him, but a golfer is too delicate to hit a stationary ball if somebody in the gallery sneezes?

The People like to cheer and boo at sporting events, and when I’m running things, They shall. If a heckler wants to loudly tell nasty jokes about Tiger Woods (for example, Q: What's the difference between a golf ball and a Cadillac Escalade? A: Tiger can drive the golf ball 400 yards) while Woods is trying to putt, that’s fine with the Commissar. Though we may draw the line at Q: Why didn't Elin Nordegren ever shop at the fish market? A: Because Tiger was always bringing home crabs.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Caroline Kennedy as Ambassador to Japan

Let me first say that I know of no reason to dislike Caroline Kennedy. I don’t know her, but I will assume that she is a very pleasant person. She is, I will further assume, of moderate or better intelligence and good at her work – which has been law and writing.

These qualities, admirable though they are, do not qualify her to be ambassador to a very important country – which is a fair description, I think, of one of the world’s largest economies, located in a volatile region, next door to a raving lunatic who is armed with nuclear weapons

Also, though I don’t approve of the practice, I completely understand the tradition of paying off a political supporter with a cushy job like Ambassador to Jamaica, for which Ms. Kennedy would be very nicely suited; but Japan (or Germany, Russia, China, etc) is another matter entirely.

Let’s examine what can happen when an unqualified person is appointed as an ambassador. Here’s what happened in Luxembourg when the job was taken over by one of President Obama’s bundlers, Cynthia Stroum. Details are here, but this pretty well summarizes things:
How bad were things at the embassy under her management? Well, some embassy staffers accepted transfers to Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq, which certainly is one way to make a statement.
And here’s another case, from Foreign Policy magazine, this one in the Bahamas;
Candidate Barack Obama promised to end the time-honored American practice of appointing ambassadors who have no experience in foreign policy, but President Obama has completely ignored that promise, appointing fundraisers to dozens of ambassadorships all over the world.
Today, the State Department revealed that another fundraiser turned ambassador ran her embassy into the ground ... only to return to fundraising and leave the State Department to pick up the pieces.

According to a new State Department inspector general's report on the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas, Ambassador Nicole Avant presided over "an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy" since she was appointed by the president in 2009. Prior to being America's envoy in the Caribbean, Avant was Southern California finance co-chairwoman of Obama's presidential campaign and vice president of Interior Music Publishing.
As the article quoted above notes, Obama promised to end the practice of selling ambassadorships and other government jobs, but even his most ardent supporters in the media are forced to admit that he has failed miserably in that task. Here’s the Washington Post on the subject:
Obama campaigned on what he called “the most sweeping ethics reform in history” and has frequently criticized the role of money in politics. That hasn’t stopped him from offering government jobs to some of his biggest bundlers, volunteer fundraisers who gather political contributions from other rich donors.
More than half of Obama’s 47 biggest fundraisers, those who collected at least $500,000 for his campaign, have been given administration jobs. Nine more have been appointed to presidential boards and committees.

At least 24 Obama bundlers were given posts as foreign ambassadors, including in Finland, Australia, Portugal and Luxembourg.
So appointing qualified ambassadors was just another empty campaign promise by Obama. Breaking campaign promises is, again, nothing new, though it’s particularly disappointing considering the wave of hope and optimism that accompanied Obama's election, and his soaring rhetoric about a new kind of politics. He’s just another politician giving fundraisers government jobs, with predictable results.

To be blunt, though, who really gives a damn about Luxembourg or the Bahamas? If one must appoint ‘diplomats’ with no experience, those are the appropriate places for them.

But, to return to my point, Japan is another matter.

And to see the potential consequences of giving an important diplomatic post, in troubled times, to an unqualified person, we need go no further afield than Caroline Kennedy’s own grandfather, the redoubtable Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who contributed generously to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and received in return the post of Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (aka, the UK) in 1938. We’ll let Wikipedia describe the consequences:
Throughout 1938, while the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany and Austria intensified, Kennedy attempted to arrange a meeting with Adolf Hitler. Shortly before the Nazi aerial bombing of British cities began in September 1940, Kennedy once again sought a personal meeting with Hitler, again without the approval of the Department of State, "to bring about a better understanding between the United States and Germany". […]
Kennedy also argued strongly against giving military and economic aid to the United Kingdom. "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here," he stated in the Boston Sunday Globe of November 10, 1940.
That was enough to get him canned.

It may be too much to hope for that the practice of paying off big donors with ambassadorships and government offices might end someday – it clearly isn’t going to happen in this administration, and I see no reason to think that the next one, whichever party wins, will be much different. But can’t we at least minimize the damage that such appointees can do?

So, Caroline, what do you think of Jamaica? I hear the diving is great.

Scuba in Moalboal

I haven’t posted for a few days because I was down in Moalboal finishing up my scuba certification.

I went originally about two months ago and did part of it, but bad weather prevented me from taking enough dives to complete the course. And you would be quite correct in assuming that I need as much training as I can get. The guy training me, a German named Klemens, was easy-going and very patient, and he needed all his patience to deal with my ineptitude.

But anyway, I finished off my remaining two dives without making a further fool of myself (it is great fun, and I plan on doing a lot more diving while I’m here, and in whatever place I land in next), and passed the final exam. You may not believe it, but there is some serious math involved in the final, e.g.:
If you dive for thirty minutes to a depth of 18 meters, and then want to take a second dive of thirty minutes to a depth of 15 meters, how long must you stay out of the water between dives?
A chart, and a 36-page instruction book on how to read it (no, I’m not kidding) is provided. The reason for this is to avoid a build-up of nitrogen in the bloodstream.

I had some pictures, but managed to lose them off my camera (speaking of ineptitude), so you’ll just have to believe me on this one. Though I can prove that I was in Moalboal – here’s a pic of the bustling downtown area:

And here’s the Moalboal bus depot, which is, as you can see, a parking lot in front of some small stores (but it does have a couple trees, which are always welcome here):

I also finally learned how to pronounce Moalboal. My mistake has been treating it as four syllables, but it is really two, with a slight emphasis on the first: MWAL-bwal. So now you know, just in case it pops up in conversation sometime soon.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Swimming with the Sharks

Back in February, I went down to Oslob (southern part of Cebu) with Kathleen and Jeff to do some whale shark watching. Lots of fun. If you ever get a chance to do this, here or in some of the other places where it’s available, I recommend it (with a few cautions).

The event involved a driver picking us up in Cebu at 7am and taking us down to Tan-Awan in Oslob. There we were served a decent breakfast (a mango and sticky rice). Then we were given life jackets, swim fins, and snorkel equipment and taken to a boat.

Not the most flattering outfit Kathleen has ever worn:

The boat took us about100 meters off-shore where there were numerous other boats. Jeff getting into the boat:

Off to see the sharks:

We couldn’t get any pictures once we were in the boats, because the cameras would have gotten soaked, so I’m going to intersperse a few stock pics along with our own.

A few locals were feeding the whale sharks, who of course were tagging alongside their food source. The boats with tourists aboard were getting close to these sharks. Here’s the feeding process:

We got in the water, and our guides/rowers advised us to stay within the outriggers rather than swim free, because there was a strong current. We did as told.

We had been told that touching the sharks was forbidden (as is reasonable) , but we were quite close (easily within reach) on several occasions and they touched me at least twice -- once with a fin, once with a tail.

They are huge creatures -- I read they are five to seven meters, but a couple seemed even bigger than that. Here’s one:

And here’s a view of the business end of a shark:

These are, however, of the Not-People-Eating variety of shark, for which I am grateful.

We were out there about 30-45 minutes, and then we taken to Tumalog waterfall, which is just a few km away, plus a walk of about 400 meters or so, down a fairly steep incline. The falls are incredibly beautiful (reminiscent of Pagsanjan). We showered away the brine under the falls and took a lot of pictures. I wish I were a better photographer, so I could do them justice. Kathleen took some pics, so maybe she’ll send them to me and I’ll post them.

Here’s Kathleen taking a shower (I'll bet that's a sentence you never expected to see on my blog):

And me returning from mine:

Then we were taken back to the beach where we were served lunch -- pretty good rice, chicken adobo, pork, a fish, and a good soup. Then we bought some tourist crap (yes, I bought a t-shirt that says "I swam with the sharks"), watched the waves for a bit, and then returned to Cebu City.

Total cost was 3200 pesos each, plus 200 pesos each for the snorkeling equipment. Three people = 10,200 pesos (about $250). I thought it was money well-spent.

Negative: Oslob is about 100-120km south of Cebu City, which in a country with decent roads would mean a trip of about 1.5 hrs or so, but here it takes about three hours each way. We were at the beach, on the boat, at the waterfall, and eating for about 3.5 hours. We were in the car for six hours.

It might make more sense to go to Oslob for diving or other activities, with the whale shark watching as an add-on, than to make it a special trip as we did. I don't know what that would cost, but the transport must have been a significant portion of our fee.

Another Negative: Our driver was insane, even by Philippine standards, and despite our complaints he wouldn’t slow down or stop passing on blind curves. We were terrified the whole way (it’s scary to see a bus coming at you on a very narrow road). We tipped the boatmen and the cook, but the driver got nada.

Something they could do better: As mentioned earlier, we quickly realized that it would be crazy to take a camera on the boat. They could have an additional source of revenue by renting underwater cameras, as many dive shops do.

An environmental note: I’m not much of an environmentalist or animal rights advocate (to put it mildly), but I had some concerns about this whole thing. We were told not to touch the sharks, and didn’t, but I’m sure many people do, and as I mentioned, the sharks touched me several times. We were really close – which means the sharks had to be banging up against the boats, the outriggers, and the paddles. Can’t be good for them.

I also wonder about the effects of this on their behavior; they are being trained to seek their food in this manner – can they ever return to their normal behavior?

I’ve heard of efforts by some environmentalists in Manila to outlaw this. Which raises the question of what the people of Oslob are supposed to do to support themselves if it’s banned.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Business Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Business Ethics!

Notre Dame has cancelled a football game that they are scheduled to play with Arizona State.

Not a big deal except for a few factors:
  • They signed a contract.
  • They didn’t call ASU and say, “Hey, we’d like to cancel the game, can we work out an arrangement?” Instead they just unilaterally cancelled in a press release.
  • They signed a contract
  • They didn’t do this several years in advance, in line with the way college games are scheduled. This is a game for the 2014 season – ASU is unlikely to be able to find any sort of decent replacement on what is very short notice for scheduling.
  • They signed a contract.
Now there’s certainly no need to remind me that college football is a business, and that Notre Dame has good reasons (their new deal with the ACC) to want out of the game. But …

… they signed a contract.

Ethical business people do not break contracts. If new circumstances arise that put them in a bind regarding the contract, they call their counterparts and try to work something out. Does Notre Dame not feel obliged to meet the most minimal standards of the world of commerce?

I will put aside any naïve comments about Notre Dame perhaps feeling that their role as the best-known Catholic institution in the US imposes any constraints upon them to act in a more ethical manner than the Wall Streeters their professors no doubt condemn quite regularly.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Freedom in Cuba

The editor of a publishing company in Cuba has apparently been fired after writing an op-ed for The New York Times that discusses racism in Cuba.

The editor of a publishing house in Cuba who wrote a critical article in The New York Times opinion section about persistent racial inequality on the island, something revolutionaries proudly say has lessened, has been removed from his post, associates said on Friday. 

The author, Roberto Zurbano, in an article published March 23, described a long history of racial discrimination against blacks on the island and said “racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it.” 

Sean Penn was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Answer: There's nothing wrong with it (other than my absurd hair), because it was taken on September 27, 1980 in the courtyard of Brophy Chapel in Phoenix, Arizona.

However, had it been taken at the same spot twenty years previous, it would have been a picture of a felony in progress, since the bride and groom were of different races. Arizona (like a great many states) had an anti-miscegenation law, which was repealed in 1962.

An interesting sidelight is that, according to a note on this Wikipedia page, "As interpreted by the Supreme Court of Arizona in State v. Pass, 59 Ariz. 16, 121 P.2d 882 (1942), the law prohibited persons of mixed racial heritage from marrying anyone." Now that's a hard-nosed law.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reforming Sports (Part 2 of Many)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I have been chosen to be the new Commissar of Sports. I am therefore fulfilling my duty to The People by informing them how I will reform the world of sports in the post-revolutionary period.

I will this time focus on two sports that are currently fighting it out for the dubious honor of being #4 in a three-sport society: soccer and hockey.


The first point is the name – it’s soccer. Your beloved Commissar is a big soccer fan, but he finds few things more annoying than the twits who insist on calling it ‘football’, usually adding self-righteously (and incorrectly) that, “It’s called football everywhere else in the world.” Such people will be accommodated by being stripped of their citizenship and deported to one of those countries – maybe Iraq.

With that out of the way, we’ll move on to reforming the sport itself. The first thing is to add at least a couple more refs. The idea of having only one ref is utterly absurd – basketball has three on a court that’s maybe one-third the size of a soccer field (I’m too busy serving the needs of The People to look up the actual dimensions). Baseball has four and football has so many everybody long ago lost count – and in both those sports most of the players spend most of the game standing around, so how tough is it to watch them?

Once we have three or four refs, we’ll be better able to deal with soccer’s most annoying trait – flopping. Actually, most sports have some version of this – an attempt to get a phony foul called, but soccer is the worst (with basketball not far behind). With multiple refs, at least one will have been in position to see if there really was a foul.

Flopping will draw a yellow card, with egregious examples drawing a straight red. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have a portable stake on the sidelines, which will be rolled out to the mid-field line, a bonfire built, and the flopper burned at the stake, It shouldn’t take more than a few such examples for the practice to cease.

Additional refs will be able to watch off-the-ball action, where a lot of fouls go uncalled. They will also help solve the problem of determining whether the ball has completely crossed the goal line. If that is not sufficient, we will add RFID chips to the ball. We’ll try to avoid instant replay.

It seems obvious that the National Hockey League thinks nobody will come to their games if they actually do something about fighting (otherwise, presumably, they would have done something). They’re probably wrong, since people watch hockey in the Olympics, where no fighting is allowed.

In any case, we will ban fighting. If nobody shows up for the games, then we’ll eliminate the sport.

Future posts will deal with football, basketball, college sports, and other issues.

Please provide your feedback, which will be carefully considered. You must recognize, however, that The Party knows what is best for you in all matters, and that in my role as Commissar, I am acting on behalf of The Party. Therefore I am right.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Down the Memory Hole

If you’ve read 1984, you’ll recognize the header of this item. In Orwell’s vision of dystopia, the rulers would wipe out any records of past events that clashed with their current version of the truth -- this was the ‘memory hole’.

Orwell didn’t envision the internet, however, which keeps inconvenient records that are (for now at least) beyond the reach of the rulers.

Here’s a classic case: The mayor of a small suburb about 25 miles from downtown Philadelphia was recently arrested for soliciting oral sex from a young man at gunpoint.

The mayor of Marcus Hook was charged Thursday with holding an acquaintance hostage during a drunken encounter at his home last month that allegedly ended with the mayor's firing a gun into the floor.

During the encounter, Mayor James D. Schiliro repeatedly offered to perform a sex act with the 20-year-old male, according to police.

"This young man was put in danger," Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said, adding that the unidentified young man was near the gun when it was fired.

Schiliro, 38, was arraigned Thursday before District Judge David R. Griffin, who set unsecured bail at $50,000. Schiliro was charged with recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and official oppression.

A sorry mess, certainly, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

Except that Mayor Schiliro is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns – Mike Bloomberg’s pressure group. Or is he?

Here is the group’s website before Schiliro’s arrest. Marcus Hook is one of the cities listed as members.
Here it is now. Marcus Hook is gone.

How's that memory hole working, Mike?


A few days ago, I posted this item about governments who bring up ancient territorial grievances when they need to distract the attention of the populace from other matters – such as the governments’ incompetence.

These claims, and the problems they cause, are common enough that historians have a word for the phenomenon – revanchism. This is derived from the French word for ‘revenge’ and was apparently coined as a result of the French desire to regain the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, which they lost after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. They got Alsace-Lorraine back in World War I. Of course, Germany lost a lot of territory then, which they wanted back, and …

Well, that’s another whole subject.

I just used a few examples, but it’s worth noting that just about every piece of land on the face of the earth (hyperbole alert!) belonged to somebody other than the present owner at some point in time. And many places have had multiple owners.

Example, the Black Hills of South Dakota: This piece of land was the proximate cause of Custer’s Last Stand, after the US government evicted the Lakota (Sioux) when gold was discovered there.

Not a nice thing to do, obviously. Should it be given back to the Sioux? If so, then the Sioux should immediately give it to the Kiowas, from whom they took it in 1776.  As Wikipedia describes the history:

Native Americans have inhabited the area since at least 7000 BC. The Arikara arrived by 1500 AD, followed by the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa and Pawnee. The Lakota (also known as Sioux) arrived from Minnesota in the 18th century and drove out the other tribes, who moved west.

So, based on historical claims, who should own the Black Hills? Got me – even the Arikara presumably stole it from somebody else.

One of the things I should have mentioned in the earlier post is that each of those examples I cited (Philippines’ claim to Malaysian Sabah, Bolivia’s claim to Chilean Antofagasta, Argentina’s claim to UK's Falklands) likewise could be reasonably justified, on a historical basis. Bringing these subjects up is not just a matter of wagging the dog, though that is how they are generally used.

I won’t go into detail on them because they can be very complicated (and boring). But a quick look at the Sabah situation will suffice. In 1878, the Sultan of Sulu, who then had control over North Borneo (which is now Sabah) sold it to the North Borneo Company (a British trading firm). Or maybe he only leased it – the versions of the treaty in English and Sulu differ on that point.

But, in any case, you can argue that Sabah should belong to the Philippines (which through the Spanish, and then Americans, eventually inherited the Sultan’s claims). But what can’t be disputed is that it does belong to Malaysia, and has done so (counting predecessor governments) for 135 years.

It also can’t be disputed that the people of Sabah voted to join Malaysia in 1963, when the Brits moved out. And to me, the will of the local people should always be the main point in regard to any of these territorial arguments.

Some Things Never Change

A few weeks ago, I took a tour of Corregidor. It was really interesting and one of these days I'll get around to posting some pictures.

But I just remembered one of the things I learned on the tour that I want to pass on:

In the early 1900s, when the US was fortifying Corregidor, one of the things they built, as is common on US military bases everywhere, was a group of houses to serve as homes for the families of officers. Because these houses were built using standardized Army plans, they all included fireplaces. Which one assumes were never used.

Your government at work.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thirty Grand for Flipping Burgers?

According to this story, workers at various fast food places in New York went on strike yesterday, demanding wages of $15/hour.
On Thursday, fast-food workers staged walkouts at McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and other restaurants in New York City to call attention to their plight. Organizers scheduled the job actions to commemorate the day Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago in Memphis, where he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers.

"It's not enough," Elba Godoy, a crew member at a McDonald's just a few blocks from Times Square, said of her $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, which helps support her extended family of seven. "They don't like [that we're out here], but we have to do it. We cannot survive on $7.25."
The rest of this post is going to sound like I have no sympathy for these folks. So I’ll start by saying that I do sympathize – I would hate to be working at those places (or anyplace) for those wages. But making unrealistic demands for wages that are totally unjustified for the skills required is not going to solve the problems these people have. That would take acquiring the skills and experience that would qualify them for better positions.

But let’s say the strikers got what they wanted, and all the folks making $7.25/hour got raises to $15 (and those making more got proportionate increases). That’s a 107% increase in labor costs for the franchisee.

Now, I don’t know what the costs are at these fast food places, but almost certainly labor is the biggest line item. Let’s say for arguments’ sake that the costs are 50% labor and 50% other (raw materials, rent, etc). That 107% increase in labor costs would mean a 53.5% increase in overall costs – and would therefore require the same increase in prices.

This site says that the average cost of a Big Mac meal in the US is $6.64. That would rise to $10.19 after the strikers got their way.

If Big Macs cost $10 (or anything close), I wouldn’t eat many and neither would most other people, I'm pretty sure. For ten bucks I can get much better burgers than McDonalds offers. And the same principle applies at Taco Bell, KFC, and similar places.

But in a world where most people don’t know about supply and demand or comparative advantage, it’s far too much to hope these folks will understand the principle of price elasticity.

They would only learn about the realities of economics when they are all unemployed because their employers shut down for lack of business. At which point it would all be the fault of heartless Wall Street – not the union bosses who filled their heads with this nonsense.

But, in any case, this isn’t going to happen. Workers have leverage against an employer when it is difficult for the employer to replace them – e.g., there are few others available with the requisite skills who are willing to take the position, and/or it would take a long time to train replacements.

These conditions don’t exist: The requisite skills consist of the ability to say ‘Do you want fries with that?’ and to screw up orders; the training period is about fifteen minutes; and I’m willing to bet that most McDonalds, Taco Bells, etc, have long lists of other applicants no less qualified than the folks they currently have on staff.

I hope the workers aren’t being conned into paying dues to these union organizers.

How to Tell When a Country Is in Trouble

A good indicator that the government of a country is floundering is when they gin up nationalist hysteria. This idea was satirized a few years back in a movie (which I never saw) called Wag the Dog. As I understand it, the plot of the movie revolves around a US president who is facing domestic difficulties and starts a war to distract attention.

(Shortly after the movie came out, the Lewinsky scandal erupted, and a few days after Clinton admitted he had been lying about it, he bombed the Sudan. But that was no doubt a coincidence).

The Falkland Islands serve as a great barometer of conditions in Argentina. In the early eighties, when the military junta was in trouble, they invaded the Falklands, and all of a sudden, the people of Argentina were backing the government. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is only a short-term fix, and when Britain kicked Argentina’s butt, the junta was overthrown.

Now Argentina is in financial trouble (again), with soaring inflation (again), and facing the possibility of defaulting on their debts (again), and guess what’s happening? The president is trying to distract the public by talking about the Falklands (again)
Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner fired off a stream of angry tweets Wednesday night after a United Nations meeting where she championed the cause of wresting the Falkland Islands from British rule.

The Twitter rant follows a referendum in which Falkland Islanders voted overwhelmingly to continue under the empire of the Union Jack.
I’m guessing that Bolivia must be having problems these days, because their president is complaining about a piece of land that Chile took from them in a war 130 years ago.
Bolivia's president said Saturday he would file a suit against Chile at the International Court of Justice "in the coming days" in a bid to reclaim access to the sea lost in a 19th century war. […]

Bolivia lost its access to the sea in the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific and today is the poorest country in South America. Previous attempts to negotiate the redrawing of the border have failed.

Morales said earlier this month that bilateral negotiations with Chile over the border dispute would be a "waste of time."
There was an interesting contrast here in the Philippines recently. The Philippines has a similar dispute with Malaysia over the province of Sabah: Filipinos say ‘It’s ours’, Malaysians say, ‘Tough, we’ve got it’.

Recently, in a story the background of which is too long and complicated to explain, a group of Filipinos invaded Sabah and apparently tried to take it over (or something). The whole thing would have been funny, except that a bunch of people died.

The most interesting thing about the whole mess to me, though, was the reaction of the Philippine government. At present the economy here is going reasonably well (by Philippine standards), and the official response by the Philippine government was mostly embarrassment. Other than urging that the Malaysian government exercise restraint in dealing with the invaders, the government pretty much took a hands-off approach.

Besides the fact that things are going relatively smoothly, the Philippine government had another good reason for wanting to keep things calm with Malaysia. China claims that virtually every island in the South China Sea (known here as the West Philippine Sea) and its other coastal waters belongs to it. In regard to the Philippines, China is claiming a group of uninhabited (but possibly oil-bearing) islands called the Spratleys. China is also claiming islands belonging to other neighbors, including Malaysia. If China tries to enforce its claims, the Philippines will need every friend it can get.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

All the News That's Fit to Botch

The New York Times, which likes to think of itself as the US's leading newspaper (and, sadly, probably is, which says a lot about the state of journalism) doesn't seem to know what Easter is.

They ran a story about the new pope's first Easter address. Which indicates that they have tumbled to the fact that this Easter thing is something important. But they have it confused with Ascension Thursday (of which I am willing to bet they have never heard).

Read the correction at the bottom of this page:

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.

Well, actually 'resurrection into heaven' still isn't right, but at least they're getting close.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Importing Stupidity

The Philippine Basketball Association allows each team to have a limited number (I think it’s two, but I’m not sure) of ‘imports’ – players from other countries (usually the US, of course). Given that Filipinos are generally height-challenged, I imagine that this creates some strange match-ups on occasion.

The players from the US are of course not top stars – they are NBA rejects, and I would imagine they are European rejects as well, since I suppose the European leagues would pay more and therefore get first pick of the NBA’s leftovers.

No doubt some are simply not talented enough to make it at higher levels, but one wonders how many of them were passed over because they are discipline problems or drama queens. I say that because of three cases that have been made public in the past few weeks.

This guy was a first-round pick in the NBA draft a few years ago (though a lot of people, even at the time, thought the Knicks had lost their minds). He was pretty much a bust – in his rookie year he played fifteen minutes a game, and it was all downhill from there. But he did manage to stick around for six seasons, which ain't bad.

But then he came to the Philippines, where he had an epic meltdown in a tournament championship game on March 8. He thought he was fouled, argued with the ref, shoved the ref, then ended up fighting with his teammates who were trying to calm him down, and ended up strangling one of the teammates.

Balkman has been banned from the league.

Sharpe played one season for Detroit after a semi-distinguished college career, most notable for being declared academically ineligible by two colleges. He then bounced around several Developmental League teams, before heading to China for a season, and then here.

Of the three, this is the most boring – all Sharpe did was fall asleep in the parking lot of a Manila bar/restaurant, a few days after Balkman's tantrum and somebody took a picture and tweeted it everywhere. One's first impulse, considering where it happened, is to say he was likely drunk, but narcolepsy may be involved. The team says they don’t want him back.

This guy I maybe feel sorry for -- possibly he just had a very public relapse of a medical condition, unfortunately timed right after an embarrassingly bad on-court performance, and right after Balkman had raised the profile of 'bad boy' imports.

I’m going in chronological order, but that allows me to save the best for last. Cornley played for Penn State (I’ll bet they’re happy his behavior here won’t get much notice in the US, since they certainly don’t need this kind of publicity for their athletic programs these days). He was drafted in the third round by the NBA Developmental League in 2009, but I can’t find out if he ever played professionally in the US. He had played in France, Israel, and Argentina before coming here, and apparently he played pretty well here.
But then, things went south on him. On Saturday, after a pleasant evening out, he met three ladies on the street and invited them back to his hotel room to become better acquainted. When the ladies left, Cornley discovered that his money was gone, too.

Suspecting that perhaps the departure of the ladies and the simultaneous disappearance of his money was not a mere coincidence, Cornley demanded that the hotel find the ladies and his money. To which the desk clerks replied, ‘Tough luck, sucker’ (okay, they were probably more polite than that), but anyway, he went on a rampage in the lobby, breaking a number of items. The cops were called, he punched one of them out, and now he’s in jail.

But wait – it gets better, in case you were thinking that maybe this guy is just run-of-the-mill dumb, but not really, really stupid.

Apparently this is not his first instance of such behavior. According to this article, his fiancée recently broke up with him over this sort of stuff (or something similar). Here’s the fiancée, whose name is Julianna Palermo:

If you are ever looking for a definition of the term ‘world-class stupid’, it is a guy who will give up that for street hookers.

Update: I treated the Cornley case with a fairly light attitude, which I felt it deserved. But this article says that the cop he punched is in critical condition. That makes it a whole lot less funny.