Friday, May 31, 2013

The Price of Freedom

On the same page of The Economist as the subject of the preceding post, there was also this brief item:
Cuba’s government said it would allow ordinary Cubans to access the internet for the first time, but for a pricey $4.50 an hour. The average monthly wage is $20.
No word yet from Hollywood's community of Castro-worshippers.

Japan Continues to Deny and Excuse Its War Crimes

I came across this item in The Economist:
The German government agreed to pay €772m ($1 billion) for the home care of Holocaust survivors throughout the world in an agreement with the Claims Conference, a Jewish fund for Nazi victims. The money will provide some 56,000 Holocaust survivors with nursing care, medication and social services.
It reminded me of two other things I've read recently, which pointed out how differently Germany and Japan have dealt with their crimes of the 1930s-40s.

Here's the mayor of a major city, Nagoya, denying (as so many Japanese continue to do) the Nanjing Massacre:
Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura stated this week that he continues to deny the Nanjing Massacre took place. He made the comment while speaking at a mayoral election debate, referring to the historic event in 1937 when at least tens of thousands of Chinese were killed by the Japanese Imperial Army during their occupation. 
Mayor Kawamura’s latest statement over the massacre can be seen as a direct follow-up to the February 2012 blunder, when he told a Chinese delegation from Nanjing that he believed the incident had been made up, and that those who died were most likely killed in combat. 
And here's another big-city mayor, this one from Osaka, saying that Japan enslaving women for sex was perfectly okay:
Mr Hashimoto, the co-founder of the nationalist Japanese Restoration Party, which has a small presence in parliament, said enforced prostitution had been necessary to keep troops in line. 
"If you want them [troops fighting a war] to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that."
It's hard to decide which is more disgusting -- the willful ignorance required to deny an event which has been so thoroughly documented; or the moral obtuseness involved in defending the clearly indefensible.

I think I'll go with moral obtuseness, though it's a close call.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Can You Score a Goal Seven Seconds into a Game?

It ain't easy, unless the other team helps out by being really, really stupid.

Here we see Ecuador, despite currently being ranked #10 in the world, meet the demand for large doses of stupid.

There's a big debate (complete with calling each other vile names) on one site over whether the goal was scored in 6, 7, 8, or 9 seconds. This really matters, I guess. The English-language announcers say six, but it looks to me like the ball crosses the goal when the video timer reads seven.

If you decide the title of this post is misleading, please feel free to sue me.

Reforming Sports (Part 4 of Many)

In the course of writing about the WNBA, I remembered that I have not recently updated my plans for fixing all the problems in the world of sport when (soon) the revolution takes place, and I rule on behalf of The People as your Commissar of Sport.

I’ve dealt thus far with baseball, with soccer and hockey, and made a brief digression into golf and tennis.

And now I’ll get busy with fixing basketball. One of basketball’s problems is that it is probably the worst, next to soccer, about flopping. We will fix the flopping problem pretty much as we did with soccer:
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.
Basketball doesn’t have yellow and red cards, so we’ll just call a combo personal foul and technical foul for flopping, with expulsion from the game (i.e., a red card) for the worst cases. As with soccer, we’ll try to avoid having to execute floppers at center court, but if it becomes necessary, we will do so.

But flopping isn’t basketball’s biggest problem. The big problem is that, in any sport, the ending of the game ought to be the most exciting part, but in basketball the endings consist of nothing but one timeout after another. The only ‘action’ interrupting the timeouts is the team that’s behind fouling the other team, and then we get to watch both teams walk down the court to take some free throws. When free throws are the most exciting thing going on, you have a sport with serious problems.

But don’t worry, my beloved People, your commissar has the solutions.

Regarding timeouts, we’ll simply forbid the calling of a timeout unless at least one minute has run off the clock since the last timeout. Requiring players to actually play for one minute does not seem unreasonable, does it? The stalwart Worker, on whose behalf we rule, doesn’t have a workday consisting of one coffee break after another, does he? No! And when he pays his money to watch a basketball game, he has the right to see the players play the game instead of standing around.

We’ll fix the foul/free-throw problem by bringing back the ‘three to make two’ rule*. This was abolished in the eighties, but will be reinstated in the last three minutes of the game in order to lessen the incentive to foul. We may also award possession to the team that is fouled.

We considered requiring uniforms that are less baggy, but we’ll let that go for now.

* The player gets three tries to sink two shots (i.e., if you miss one, you get a do-over).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Prolonged Death of Newsweek

It’s interesting that the list of brands that are most likely to die, discussed in the WNBA post, did not include Newsweek. Maybe it’s because the list was intended to deal with major brands recognizable to the public, and Newsweek no longer meets that criteria.

Anyway, Newsweek is up for sale again (this is the third time in the past few years). When the Washington Post unloaded it a few years ago, the price was $1. When it was merged into Daily Beast, no price was mentioned, but I understand the negotiations consisted of “Take it. Please!”

IAC, the current owner, probably didn’t do their bargaining position any good with this:
IAC’s Barry Diller last month signaled his unhappiness with the purchase, telling Bloomberg TV that “it was a mistake” to buy the publication and a “fool’s errand if that magazine is a news weekly.” While praising the journalists who work there, he said that he did “not have great expectations” for the digital product.
I’ll be sort of sad when Newsweek does finally disappear completely. I’ve had a lot of good times over the years making fun of them. Here’s an item I posted on my old blog (it dealt with advertising/marketing issues) back in 2008, when Newsweek had deluded itself into thinking it could compete with The Economist:
In the past couple decades, the newsweeklies have mostly appeared to respond to the changing market by dumbing themselves down to the point that they're pretty much indistinguishable from People. (I admit I'm basing this on limited observation -- it's been decades since I read any of those mags anywhere other than doctor's offices). This left a niche that has been filled by The Economist. And now it seems that Newsweek wants to crowd into the same niche:
According to these reports, Newsweek plans to shed news coverage in favor of analysis and opinion journalism as practiced by The Economist and other so-called thought-leader titles, relying on big-name journalists rather than the teams of reporters and editors who now put out the magazine each week. Shedding a good share of that staff would mean huge cost savings. Already this year, Newsweek has shed more than 100 positions.
Good luck to them, of course, but Newsweek trying to reposition itself as intelligent reading seems to me kind of like Lindsay Lohan trying to rebrand herself as Grace Kelly -- it's a worthy effort, but unlikely to succeed.
Like the WNBA, I doubt that many will notice when Newsweek finally disappears completely. In its heyday – which was several decades ago – it reached the lofty heights of being spoken of as “almost as good as Time.” When that’s the high point of your life, it’s unlikely that your death with be mourned.

Kidnap Warning in Zamboanga

Back in March, I attended my niece’s wedding in Zamboanga City, in the southern part of the Philippines. Of course, everyone has heard of Abu Sayyef and similar groups in Mindanao, but I wasn’t planning to go backpacking in the hinterlands, so I wasn’t too worried.

I’ve been in some fairly disreputable places through the years, like Chicago, for instance, and I generally figure that if I'm reasonably careful and aware of what's going on around me, that I'll be OK. I don't drink and do/say (exceptionally) stupid stuff, I don't get loud and rowdy and attract a lot of attention, I'm usually non-confrontational, and I don't wear jewelry or flash money around. So no problem, right?

But it’s a different matter when I hear the warnings from the locals.

When my niece and her fiance picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was forbidden to leave the hotel alone. Her fiance, a very mature and level-headed young man who was born and raised in Zambo, added, "We're afraid you might be kidnapped, Tito Bob."

So I had escorts and drivers everywhere I went while there. I had a good time, but it certainly put constraints on me -- I like to get to know a new place by just wandering.

When I told a fellow expat about this, he remarked that his wife has Muslim family there and they had told her to not bring her foreigner husband if she visited, because “too many things can go wrong.”

I bring this up now, because the US Embassy in Manila has just issued the following notice:

Emergency Message to U.S. Citizens U.S. Embassy, Manila, PhilippinesMay 29, 2103 
Kidnapping Threat in Zamboanga, Mindanao
The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens that a credible threat of a terrorist kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) plot against foreigners has been identified in the Zamboanga area on the island of Mindanao.  As a result, the Embassy advises all American citizens residing in or planning to travel to the Zamboanga area to re-evaluate their personal safety situation and consider postponing travel to this area at this time.
Any U.S. government personnel already in Zamboanga have been directed to relocate to a secure area. U.S. government employees planning to travel to Zamboanga have been directed to defer their travel at this time.

As I noted in this post, the going rate on old white guys is 4 million pesos.


Each year, 24/7 Wall Street makes predictions on which well-known brand names are likely to disappear in the coming year. Such predictions are risky, of course, and the past predictions have met with mixed success:
Last year, 24/7 Wall Street correctly predicted Suzuki, MetroPCS and Current TV would be out. American Airlines, another predicted failure, is part of a new company through its combination with U.S. Airways, though the American Airlines name lives on. Talbots, which also made that list, was acquired by a private equity firm, and also as expected, Research In Motion is no longer a brand. Predictions regarding Avon, the Oakland Raiders and Salon, however, were incorrect.
This year’s list of brands likely to go away in 2014 has some obvious choices: everybody in retail is wondering whether Penney’s can survive, Mitsubishi has been rumored to be pulling out of the US for a while, and the Nook is clearly in trouble.

The one surprise on the list, to me, was the WNBA. While the league is pretty much ignored by about 99% of the US population, I thought it would go on more or less forever, simply because the NBA wants to look sensitive.  But there appears to be a good argument for the WNBA’s demise – David Stern is retiring, and he has been pretty much single-handedly keeping it alive.
The champion and protector of the Women’s National Basketball Association, David Stern, will retire in February 2014. He has been the all-powerful commissioner of the NBA for three decades. It is hard to imagine how the WNBA could have survived without his support, and that will soon be gone. The league was founded in 1996, and currently has 12 teams. Six teams have disappeared since the league’s beginning, and three have been relocated. Attendance has been awful. [ … ] Owners have little financial reason to support the league. The Chicago Sun Times reported in 2011 that “The majority of WNBA teams are believed to have lost money each year, with the NBA subsidizing some of the losses.” TV viewership is so low it only makes matters worse.
As for the attendance, this graph pretty much tells the story:

No need for a trend-line on that one, is there? Any new league is going to have difficulties starting out (MLS was hurting big-time in its first few seasons), but the WNBA has now been around for sixteen years, and its best years were back at the beginning, while last year’s attendance was the lowest ever.

TV is a similar story – though there has been some modest improvement. Here are the viewership numbers from ESPN2 over the past several years (both the attendance and TV data are from Wikipedia).

I wasn’t able to get viewership numbers for 2012, but this site says ratings were flat.
WNBA Coverage on Par With Previous Years: WNBA games averaged a 0.20 U.S. rating on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC during the 2012 regular season, which according to the network is on par with the last two seasons.
ESPN would apparently prefer not to broadcast the games, but are forced into it in order to get the rights to the NBA. According to a book by an ESPN exec, the negotiations back in 2002 went like this:
“I told (David Stern) the WNBA stinks, it doesn’t rate, and I didn’t want it. Men don’t watch it. Women don’t watch it!” 
Though the WNBA was a major negotiating stumbling block, executives above Shapiro eventually shepherded the deal through at Stern’s (angry) insistence.
So will the new commissioner kill the league? It seems likely eventually, but I doubt it will happen in 2014. That seems a bit quick to bring an end to something that Stern probably sees as a big part of his legacy. But I can imagine that the NBA owners might be growing weary of the losses, and skeptical, after this long, that things will ever turn around.

The bigger question is whether anyone will notice or care. If fewer than one out of a thousand Americans watches the games on TV and only minuscule, and growing minusculer, numbers attend, then it seems the answer is pretty much no.

But why has a league born with such advantages failed? Tough to answer, particularly for me, since I don’t like basketball in any form; NBA games are very boring to me, and the endings of the games – which should be the most exciting part, but instead degenerate into an endless series of timeouts interrupted only by a free-throw shooting contest – are worse than watching the America’s Cup.

But against that, I have to admit that there are moments when I will see a particular play and be amazed by someone’s athleticism. The NBA has some great players. The WNBA, on the other hand, has the drawbacks of being the same boring game, with little of the athletic brilliance to offset it.

But that explains only why a non-fan doesn't watch it. Why don't basketball fans watch? The season runs during the NBA's off-season -- shouldn't basketball addicts say, "What the hell, I'll watch this until the real thing comes back"? But they don't. Sexism? As the ESPN guy said, "Men don’t watch it. Women don’t watch it!”

So I have no explanation, but after sixteen years, I think it's safe to say that time is just about up.

Pre-emptive disclaimer: I’m sure I’ll be accused of misogyny (in the unlikely event that anyone who doesn’t know me reads this), so I’ll state now that I love watching softball and am a big fan of the US women’s soccer team. I’m not a fan of the WNBA (obviously), but that has more to do with it being basketball than with the gender of the players.

But my sports interests are irrelevant to the question of why the league can’t get anybody to watch it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Future of Books

The long-awaited trial of Apple on price-fixing charges will begin next week. Apple and the major book publishers were sued by the Department of Justice and by various states for colluding to set the price of e-books. All of the publishers have settled now, agreeing to repay consumers substantial amounts of money.

We’ll know the results, presumably, in a few weeks, but things aren’t looking good for Apple. The judge said that her tentative opinion, based on what she has read of the documents, is that Apple is guilty:
In an unusual move before a trial, a federal judge expressed a tentative view that the U.S. Justice Department will be able to show evidence that Apple Inc engaged in a conspiracy with publishers to increase e-book prices. 
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who is set to oversee a trial on June 3, gave her view during a pretrial hearing on Thursday. 
While she stressed that the view was not final and that she had read only some of the evidence so far, her comments could add to pressure on Apple to settle the lawsuit, in which the Justice Department accuses the company and five publishers of conspiring to fix e-book prices. 
"I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that," Cote said.
One of the documents that might have influenced Judge Cote’s views is an email from Steve Jobs to one of the publishers, saying that the publishers should “throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99.”

Sounds like collusion to me.

But then, I’m not a lawyer, and certainly not the judge. While the legal aspects of the case are interesting to me, I’m really more interested in what the outcome of the case might mean to me as a frequent reader of e-books.

Assuming a defeat for Apple, the most obvious outcome would be a price decrease for e-books. This is a nice benefit for me and all consumers, of course, although at present I’m very heavily into public domain works (in the US, that means mostly things written before the early 1920s), which are free from a number of online sources. Since the price of free books is unlikely to drop, I won’t benefit that much.

There are newer books I would like to read as e-books, though, and it would be nice if the prices came down. I have a difficult time understanding how publishers can justify* pricing an e-book, in which all the printing, freight, and warehousing costs have been eliminated, at roughly the same level as a quality paperback.
*OK -- I know they don't need to justify it. They charge it because they can get it, and they can get it because they and Apple are (allegedly, of course) fixing the prices.
On the negative side, I am concerned that if profit margins for publishers and writers alike are greatly diminished, then there will be, simply, fewer books, because the writers will have less incentive to write and the publishers will have less incentive to publish.

But it’s not as simple as that. The advent of e-books means that the publishing industry is now open to everybody, which should mean many more books. A great many people are already publishing their own books. Vanity publishing has always been around, of course, but it was once expensive and unlikely to meet with much success, since distribution was limited; now anybody with some simple publishing software can make his or her works widely available (with Amazon offering support).

This might mean that publishers will not just see their profit margins slashed, they are likely to lose one of their principal roles – that of gatekeepers. For close to six hundred years, from the time of Gutenberg until now, he who owned the printing press decided what the public would be able to read.

Here again, there is both a positive and a negative. Certainly it is positive that consumers will have the opportunity to hear voices that were silenced before – I have little doubt that many editors at publishing houses were often influenced in their decisions on whether or not to publish a book by their political, social, or religious views. Probably many worthy books have never been printed because they expressed unpopular views.

However, I also have little doubt that most (a very big most) of the books that don’t get published are garbage. Losing the publisher-as-gatekeeper will mean that the reader will now have to pick through huge piles of this garbage in order to select the few gems hidden therein – a job formerly performed by those editors.

In any case, we will know a bit more in a few weeks, but it will probably be many years before the full results of this case are known. In the meantime, I’ll go back to reading my free copy of A Gentleman of Leisure (1909) on my tablet.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Marathon = Cheeseburger?

This item from The Wall Street Journal uses a cheeseburger metaphor to drive home the idea contained in some recent studies that endurance running may not be all that good for you.

Before my couch potato friends start saying, "Ha! I knew it -- pass me some more chips, please," the point is not that exercise is bad for you -- it's that too much exercise may not be as good for you as a moderate amount.
[There is] mounting evidence that extraordinary doses of exercise may diminish the benefits of modest amounts ... That extra six years of longevity running has been shown to confer? That benefit may disappear beyond 30 miles of running a week, suggest recent research. 
The improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and robust cardiac health that exercise has been proven to bestow? Among extreme exercisers, those blessings may be offset partially by an increased vulnerability to atrial fibrillation and coronary-artery plaque, suggest other recent studies. 
In the face of this research, long-standing skepticism about the possibility of "exercise overdose" is softening among many sports physicians. "The lesson I've learned from 40 years of cardiology is that when there's this much smoke, there's often some fire," said Paul Thompson, a sports-medicine specialist and veteran marathoner who is chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut.
The breaking point suggested in the article is thirty miles a week -- which I've never achieved, much less maintained. I checked my records (yeah, I keep a log of my exercise -- yet another symptom of my OCD) and the most I've ever done in a week is 28.8 miles. When I get on a roll, I may do five-six miles four or five times a week (usually it's five miles three or four times).

So if a potato is worried that if he gets up off the couch he might accidentally start running more than thirty miles a week, I can reassure him that there's little danger of it happening any time soon.

There may be no danger anyway. The other side of the story:
Yet sports-medicine specialists are sharply divided over whether any warning is warranted. For every American who exercises to extremes, after all, there are thousands who don't exercise at all—and who might embrace any exercise-related warnings as cause for staying sedentary. Moreover, the evidence for extreme-exercise hazards is far from conclusive—and is contradicted by other studies suggesting the health benefits of exercise may accrue to infinity. 
"It's true that the majority of cardiovascular protection comes from exercise at more moderate levels, but there is compelling evidence that there's no upper limit," said Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
And, besides, I love cheeseburgers.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Consumer Protection: There Ain't None

The Philippines may have laws on their books about consumer rights, and laws forbidding fraudulent business practices; if so, they are enforced with the same rigor as traffic laws. Meaning, not at all.

Every expat here can tell a horror stories about such things as being cheated or lied to or trying to get a refund for a defective product. I have several, but here's my favorite.

Shortly after I got here, I bought a SmartBro. It’s a USB modem that provides a wifi connection to the internet. When I bought it (it cost about 3600 pesos -- $90), I was told it would provide connections of up to five megabytes per second, for which I would be paying 50 pesos per day.

Being a newbie and naive, I assumed "up to five megabytes per second" meant that I would occasionally get something close to five megs, and probably get two or three megs the rest of the time. While not great, that would be sufficient for most purposes.

Silly me. I've never gotten even one meg from it, and it's usually about 0.3-0.5 -- when it connects at all.

When I complained to Smart, the sales guy pointed to the 'up to' on the sign; when I said that that was very misleading, considering that I generally got about 1/10th that speed, he just shrugged. It was an eloquent shrug, saying more clearly than words ever could, "So what? We didn't lie."

In the US, what would happen to a company that did something like this? In most Western countries there are laws forbidding 'false or misleading advertising' and making claims of 'up to' a given speed could only be legally done if that speed is actually attained with some regularity by a substantial portion of users, and if speeds reasonably close to the claimed speed could be attained by the rest. Otherwise, while the claim is not false, the company would be misleading customers as to what the customers could reasonably expect.

After receiving a bunch of complaints, the Attorney General of some state would file a consumer fraud suit against the company, a bunch of other states would join in, and pretty quickly the company would be forced to pay a huge settlement to the customers it had defrauded. AGs love to file this kind of suit, since it’s great publicity, and most of them are planning to run for governor.

I have no idea what the laws say here, but it appears that, as enforced, advertisers can mislead all they want. I’m not sure about outright lies.

SmartBro is a product of Smart Communications, the cellular arm of PLDT, the biggest phone company in the country. The chairman of PLDT is Manny Pangilinan, whose nephew is a senator closely tied to the Aquino administration, so any government action for anything they do is unlikely at best.

Friday, May 24, 2013

British Police Doing a Great Job

I was a bit concerned about the performance of the British cops when I read that it took them twenty minutes to respond when a guy's head was being chopped off. But they made up for it by being right on top of things in shutting down free speech:
A 22-year-old man has been charged on suspicion of making malicious comments on Facebook following the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby. 
Benjamin Flatters, from Lincoln, was arrested last night after complaints were made to Lincolnshire Police about comments made on Facebook, which were allegedly of a racist or anti-religious nature. 
He was charged with an offence of malicious communications this afternoon in relation to the comments, a Lincolnshire Police spokesman said.
Good to see that they're concentrating resources on things that matter.

Only in the Philippines: Child Rape Suspect Re-Elected Mayor

Here's an article from an Australian newspaper on the success of the dynasties in the recent Philippine elections, which I've commented on here and here.

There are a couple things mentioned by The Age that I haven't heard before, but which (unfortunately) don't shock me:
Records show that 160 families have continuously served in both houses of the Philippine parliament since 1907.
The Singsons, the oldest political clan whose members have held power since 1823, won nine elective posts. One of the winners was Ronald Singson, who three years ago was sentenced to 14 months in jail in Hong Kong for cocaine possession. He regained the lower house seat he had vacated after the conviction.
The impunity of leading Filipino politicians is the subject of another point that I have to admit did shock me. Cynical as I am about Philippine politics, apparently I'm not cynical enough:
Jose Rodriguez was unopposed as mayor of San Marcelino, north-west of Manila, although he is on trial for the alleged rape of a 12 year-old girl in 2010. He denies the charge.
Holy crap! I understand about 'innocent until proven guilty' -- but that's a legal rule, not political. I would have thought that, anywhere in the world, being charged with raping a child would be considered a disqualifier for any office. But apparently it's considered no impediment here.

Update: How could I forget the Ampatuan Dynasty? Despite apparent involvement in the mass murder of fifty-eight political opponents and reporters. they won nineteen seats, including three mayoral posts.

Philippine Fail Blog

I came across this blog today, and think you might enjoy it. It's written by an American-born Filipino who has come here to live and work (apparently, he runs a business). He is quite frustrated, to say the least, and says he blogs to let off steam:
After the culture shock adjustment, I’ve decided to remain here and continue with business despite the frustrations. I’m not unhappy here at all. And this blog helps me vent the frustrations I deal with daily in this country. 
The purpose of this blog is partially for my own personal therapy and venting my frustrations. Many of the comments by readers completely agree and identify with my posts. This blog is just one of many which express the same frustrations and opinions. 
I really don’t believe this blog will help native Filipinos. I have come to the conclusion they are helpless because on the most part, they are completely shut down and closed off to real progress or change. On the same note, I am certain it won’t hurt them any more or less than they hurt themselves every day with their crab mentality, hypocrisy, and senseless thirst for revenge against each other for even petty little bullshit things. 
They do not listen or care about criticism of any kind. So this blog is not necessarily here for the native Filipino.This blog is primarily here for ME and those from outside of Philippines who must live here or stay here long term and are as frustrated and as mind-boggled as I am about the level of idiocy, stupidity, and absence of logic and reason in Philippines. 
It is therapeutic to release the anger and frustrations of having to live here. This blog also serves as informative to foreigners looking to come here. They need to know what they’re getting themselves into, and what to expect in order to make an informed decision. Foreigners be warned. What you will experience here will shock and confuse you! 
Language warning: Don't go there if a bit of raw language will offend you. The guy is letting off steam.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Naming the Enemy

The horror in London is yet another example of how insane is the enemy we face in Islamic extremism.

It's particularly frightening to be facing an enemy that is insane. During the Cold War, there was some comfort in knowing that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rational human beings. But today's enemy, as we have seen so many times, on 9/11, at Fort Hood, in Boston, and today in London, is simply batshit crazy.

The greatest danger we face, though, I think may come from our leaders – the political and media elite – who refuse to admit who and what the enemy is. I quite understand the danger of condemning all Muslims, but the elite have gone overboard in the other direction – e.g., referring to the Fort Hood atrocity as ‘workplace violence’.

We’ll probably hear this termed ‘just another street mugging that went too far.’

I intend to write more about this point, but I think that what Islam needs is a Reformation. Until then, this guy is probably right -- we will never be safe.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Abuse of Powerlessness?

A couple weeks ago, I commented in this post that people who believe in big government invariably argue that the failures of big government are caused by it being not big enough (e.g., the stimulus failed because we should have spent more, public schools suck because we’re such skinflints, etc).

The outrageous abuses of power by the Internal Revenue Service? Right on cue, the ‘progressive’ Daily Beast tells us:
The IRS isn’t too powerful .... It’s too weak. And Obama must not let Republicans weaken it even more.
How silly of me to call it an ‘abuse of power’.

The Malditas Got a Whole Lot Better Very Suddenly

The Philippine women’s soccer team, the Malditas, are playing in the opening round of qualifying for the Asian Cup. Their first opponent, in a game played in Bangladesh yesterday, was Iran, a team ranked thirty spots above the Philippines (Iran was ranked 52, Philippines 82). To defeat a team ranked that far ahead would be considered a fair-sized surprise, but not earth-shattering. The earth was if not shattered at least dented a bit though by the nature of the Philippine victory – the Malditas scored three times in the first four minutes and won 6-0.

Obviously, something remarkable has happened to the Philippine team, and what it seems to be is an infusion of Americans. All five of the Philippine goals (there was also an own goal by Iran) were scored by players recruited from US college teams.

The Philippine team made a trip to a tournament in Los Angeles last fall/winter, and while there held a tryout camp to which they invited a number of Fil-Ams (including Kathleen Houk, who decided not to attend). I don’t know how many of the team members came from that camp, but the team used to have only a few Americans.

But now: I went through the lineup listed in the linked article and ten of the eleven starters and two of the three subs are from US college teams.

On the downside, it’s unfortunate that the Philippines isn’t producing more home-grown talent, but maybe a few wins will build enough interest here to get more schools playing soccer and more girls playing sports of all kinds.

By the way, here’s a pic from the game. Can you imagine wearing a uniform like the poor Iranian women are forced to wear, while playing ninety minutes in tropical heat and humidity? Even if they got trounced, I salute them for surviving the game.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Record Is Set in Nenana!

I posted yesterday about the Nenana Ice Classic. I figure the two or three human beings and numerous spambots who visit this blog have been waiting in breathless anticipation for the outcome, so here it is, from the Alaska Dispatch:
After hanging on to set a record, the Tanana River ice in Nenana finally gave way Monday afternoon at 3:41 p.m. local time, netting a Kenai couple $318,500. Warren and Yvonne Snow were declared the winners when the river began flowing, tripping a clock mounted to the familiar black-and-white tripod.
The ice broke three hours later than the previous record, set in 1964. Al Gore was unavailable for comment.

In other Global Warming news, a Democrat Senator took the opportunity presented by the tragic tornadoes in Oklahoma to make political points, blaming the tornadoes on Republicans (emphasis added):
“So, you may have a question for me,” Whitehouse said. “Why do you care? Why do you, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, care if we Republicans run off the climate cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings and disgrace ourselves? I’ll tell you why. We’re stuck in this together. We are stuck in this together. When cyclones tear up Oklahoma and hurricanes swamp Alabama and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover. And the damage that your polluters and deniers are doing doesn’t just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas. It hits Rhode Island with floods and storms. It hits Oregon with acidified seas, it hits Montana with dying forests. So, like it or not, we’re in this together.”
Of course, as we noted here only a week or so ago, the number of tornadoes in the US is at a near-record low this year.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why Isn’t ‘Pitiful’ the Opposite of ‘Pitiless’?

I have just finished reading Piccadilly Jim, by P. G. Wodehouse, my favorite author. I’ve read almost everything Wodehouse ever wrote (and that’s a lot – he was extremely prolific), and I thought I had read this book.

I was wrong – though, in my defense, it's easy to mix up Wodehouse stories. Almost all his stories have similar plotlines: boy and girl are in love (though sometimes one or both don’t know it for a while), some major obstacle is in their path (feuding families, girl’s father disapproves of boy, the girl is on the stage, etc), all is overcome, everyone lives happily ever after.

Along the way, this very simple plotline becomes incredibly complicated, with all sorts of subplots and usually many imposters; in Picadilly Jim, the title character impersonates someone (because the girl hates Jim), and then ends up impersonating himself as the person he’s impersonating (if you follow me), because he's helping the girl kidnap a child (but their intentions are good) while someone impersonating an English nobleman tries to steal a secret formula (Jim knows the guy's an imposter but can't say so because Jim's an imposter too -- except not really).

If these plots sound like every old-time musical you ever saw, that’s probably because Wodehouse had his greatest early success as a writer for Broadway musicals; his collaborations with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern are considered classics. He later said that his novels and stories were musical comedies without the music.

But the thing that makes these stories great is the language. I honestly believe that, Shakespeare aside, no one has ever mastered the English language to the degree Wodehouse did (and Shakespeare was nowhere near as funny – though maybe I just don’t get his jokes).

Wodehouse clearly loved words, and often used obscure words, or new formulations of words (referring to an unhappy person as “clearly not gruntled”). Wodehouse characters, especially the heroes, are very prone to making high-flying speeches, often using obscure or archaic words. I mentioned one in this post, in which Jim used the word “yestreen”.

Later, Jim is thinking of something he had done several years before (the thing for which the girl hates him), and Wodehouse writes:
He found himself recoiling in disgust from the man he had been, the man who could have done a wanton thing like that without compunction or ruth.
It is the first time I have ever seen “ruth” used. We are all familiar with “ruthless” of course, but I had never seen it minus the “-less”. Though the context makes the meaning fairly clear, the dictionary tells us that it is a noun meaning “compassion or pity”.

(And, yes, there is an entry for “ruthful” too – though it's listed as archaic).

Which – having taken the long way around, gets us to the title. If “pitiless” means harsh and unfeeling, then shouldn’t “pitiful” mean compassionate and caring – instead of meaning an object worthy of pity? Let’s get this fixed, okay?

If you’re interested, by the way, you can read Piccadilly Jim online as it appeared in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916, or download it for your ereader at Project Gutenberg. I recommend the Post version, because it includes the original illustrations from the magazine

The Nenana Ice Classic

Nenana is a river town in central Alaska, where it gets really, really cold: the record is -69F. To amuse themselves, I suppose, workers building a railroad there almost a hundred years ago started a betting pool on when the river ice would break up. The pool has continued ever since. Records, back to 1917, of the time of breaking are here -- the earliest date is April 20 (in 1940 and 1998), the latest is May 20 (1964).

As of the time I am writing this (just before 2pm May 20 Philippine time, so late night -- I could look it up, but I'm too lazy -- on May 19 in Alaska) the ice has not broken. Thus, this is already the second-latest breakup of the past ninety-seven years, and in twelve hours or so might be the latest.

This picture was just posted at the official site (they update every thirty seconds) -- looks like it's getting close.

According to a geophysicist at the University of Alaska: "The Nenana Ice Classic is a pretty good proxy for climate change in the 20th century,"

Update: It's past midnight now, and it's still standing, so this is only the second time the ice has made it to May 20. Still questionable whether it will last to 11:41am to set the record. The excitement is building!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Dynasties Roll On (Part 2)

The twelve candidates I identified in this post as having likely been elected on Monday are now officially the winners. As you will recall, no doubt, ten of the twelve are closely related to other top politicians. To complete our survey of the Philippine senate, let's look at the twelve holdover members (elected in 2010).

Ramon (Bong) Revilla – Father was a senator, wife is in congress, brother is a mayor, and sister is married to a governor.
Jose Ejercito, Jr. (aka Jinggoy Estrada) – Father was president and is the newly-elected mayor of Manila, his half-brother was just elected to the senate, and his father’s mistress is currently mayor of San Juan City Jinggoy, his father, and his half-brother have also all held the mayoralty of San Juan).
Pia Cayetano – Daughter of a former senator, her brother is also a senator, and his wife is a mayor.
Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. – Father was president/dictator, his mother is in congress, and his sister is a governor.
Ralph Recto – His grandfather was a senator, his father in congress, his wife (a popular actress) is a governor.
Vicente (Tito) Sotto – His grandfather and granduncle were both senators.
Sergio OsmeƱa III – His grandfather was president, his father was a senator as was a cousin; other relatives hold or have held many offices.
Teofisto Guingona III – His father was a senator and vice-president, his mother is a mayor, his grandfather was a governor and senator as well as holding other offices.

Four of the 2010 electees do not seem to have major family connections. Juan Ponce Enrile, the current Senate President and long a major figure in Philippine politics (he was Minister of Defense for Marcos and played a key role in the dictator's overthrow), was an illegitimate (though acknowledged) child -- his father is referred to as a ‘powerful regional politician and renowned lawyer.’ But that doesn't seem enough to make the cut for this list.

The others are: Miriam Defensor Santiago, Franklin Drilon, and Lito Lapid.

There are political dynasties in the US, of course -- the Bushes and Kennedys come to mind, but there are others. I'm sure the same thing is also true in most other countries -- it's hard to believe that there is anyplace where connections aren't helpful.

But the difference in the Philippines is that it is so pervasive. In toto, eighteen of the twenty-four members of the senate are scions of political families. Three-quarters -- a similar analysis of the US Senate would not come up with anything approximating seventy-five family-connected senators. In fact, I doubt that you would find anything similar anyplace other than the House of Lords or somewhere else where a hereditary principle is involved.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Is It Vote-Buying if the Bills Are Worthless?

There is a lot of vote-buying in Philippine elections – a very large portion of the electorate is very poor.  Exactly how much is something that defies quantification, but I will take the word of those who seem to know.

But this is apparently a new twist on an old game:
Fake peso bills were used by candidates from this province in a massive vote buying spree in last Monday's [mid-term] elections, a police report said. 
Senior Superintendent Isaias Tonog, police provincial director, told reporters that fake peso bills are now circulating in several towns of Northern Samar after [the] counterfeit money [was] distributed to voters by candidates. Voters were given P3,000 to P7,000.  
Tonog disclosed that P200, P500, and P1,000 fake peso bills have been retrieved by his men in the towns of Lavezares, Rosario, Lao-ang, and Pambujan as of yesterday and more fake peso bills have been reported in several other towns in the province. "I've been receiving reports that fake peso bills are now circulating in several municipalities and this could be in all towns of this province." [ … ] 
He said the proliferation of fake peso bills is hurting the economy because the business establishments are reluctant or do not anymore accept P200, P500, and P1,000 peso bills for fear they are bogus. 
P3000-P7000, by the way, is about $75-$175. This is more than I had thought -- I had been told that votes were being bought for twenty-five to fifty bucks. But I guess if you're handing out bogus bills, it doesn't matter if you get a bit lavish.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


According to this article, Body Mass Index (BMI), used by most doctors, may not be all that accurate as a gauge of health. A study found that a much simpler measure, the ratio of your waist to your height (WHR?), bears a much stronger correlation to lifespan.
Measuring the ratio of someone's waist to their height is a better way of predicting their life expectancy than body mass index (BMI), the method widely used by doctors when judging overall health and risk of disease, researchers said. 
BMI is calculated as a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in metres, but a study found that the simpler measurement of waistline against height produced a more accurate prediction of lifespan. 
People with the highest waist-to-height ratio, whose waistlines measured 80 per cent of their height, lived 17 years fewer than average. 
Keeping your waist circumference to less than half of your height can help prevent the onset of conditions like stroke, heart disease and diabetes and add years to life, researchers said. 
For a 6ft man, this would mean having a waistline smaller than 36in, while a 5ft 4in woman should have a waist size no larger than 32in. [ … ] 
Researchers from Oxford Brookes University examined data on patients whose BMI and waist to height ratio were measured in the 1980s. 
Twenty years later, death rates among the group were much more closely linked to participants' earlier waist-to-height ratio than their BMI, suggesting it is a more useful tool for identifying health risks at an early stage.
A common complaint I’ve heard about BMI is that a muscular person (not me, obviously) will have a higher BMI than the charts say s/he should because muscles weigh more than flab. So working out at the gym can actually raise your BMI, despite the workouts' health benefits.

The article raises another reason why waist size might be a better indicator, though:
Measuring someone's waist is important because it accounts for levels of central fat which accumulates around the organs and is particularly closely linked to [conditions] like stroke and heart disease. 
She said: "If you are measuring waist-to-height ratio you are getting a much earlier [prediction] that something is going wrong, and then you can do something about it.
The standard ranges for BMI, which is measured by dividing weight (in kilograms) by the square of height (in meters), are as follows:

Since anything involving the metric system seems to throw Americans into a tizzy, another advantage of the WHR is that it doesn’t matter which form of measurements you use.

Here’s a chart from Wikipedia with characterizations of various ratios:

To simplify matters, here are a BMI calculator and a WHR calculator.

My BMI, by the way, is 20.4 and my WHR is 0.46 (I think -- I don’t have a tape measure handy).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Goal of the Day. Or Maybe the Week. The Month?

Alex Colon scores from the mid-field line in a 5-1 win for Deportivo Quito over Cuenca.

The Dynasties Roll On

Philippine Senators are elected to six-year terms, with half the Senate (12 of the 24) elected every third year. Of the twelve candidates who currently appear to have won (counting isn’t complete), ten are closely related to other high-ranking politicians. They are:

Grace Poe -- Adopted daughter of two major movie stars, one of whom (Fernando Poe) very nearly won the presidency in 2004.
Alan Peter Cayetano – Son of a former senator. His sister is also a senator, and his wife is a mayor, who also took over his congressional seat when he moved up to the senate.
Francis (Chiz) Escudero – Son of a former congressman and cabinet member, grandson of a mayor, great-grandson of a governor.
Loren Legarda – Married at the time she entered politics (later annulled) to the governor of Batangas, Antonio Leviste. Other Levistes held the governorship previously and at least one congressional seat (although I can’t figure out the exact relationships).
Nancy Binay – Her father is vice-president and a former mayor of Makati (a big piece of metro Manila); her mother is also a former mayor of Makati; her brother is the current mayor; her sister is in the congress.
Juan Edgardo (Sonny) Angara -- Father current senator (term-limited), aunt former representative and governor, uncle new governor.
Benigno (Bam) Aquino – Almost too many to mention. His cousin is the current president and his aunt was president. We’ll leave it at that for the moment.
Aquilino (Koko) Pimentel III – Son of a senator.
Cynthia Villar – Wife of a senator, sister of a mayor, mother of a congressman.
JV Ejercito-Estrada – His father was president and former mayor of San Juan (another big piece of metro Manila) and was just elected mayor of Manila; his mother (who was the father’s mistress) is the current mayor of San Juan; his half-brother is also a senator; various other relatives hold office, including a cousin who is a governor.

The other two, the only ones without family connections, both of whom are current senators being re-elected, are former military officers who achieved fame by leading coups -- Antonio Trillanes, who led a coup attempt against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (he was elected in 2007 while in jail); and Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, who led one against Corazon Aquino. In both cases, they were freed by the next president.

(Note: The twelve existing senators are covered in this post). 

With the continuing election and re-election of the same families, there is little likelihood of any substantive reform in the Philippines. The same policies of protectionism and crony capitalism as have long been practiced here by the intermarried business and political elite will continue.

Until something changes, nothing will change.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Made in the USA (Kinda)

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, about how new perfumes (excuse me, ‘fragrances’) are developed. Apparently it has little to do with the fragrance; they start with designing the really important things – the bottle and the box – and choosing the name.

And only then, pretty much as an afterthought, do they actually concoct the fragrance.

The article details the steps taken in the development of a new fragrance, Living Colorfully, for Kate Spade. As I say, it was interesting. But the really, really interesting part (to me) was this: The fragrance is blended in France, the bottles are made in China, and the boxes in Taiwan. All these items are then shipped to LA, where the fragrance is put in the bottles and the bottles are put in boxes.

And then we get the final step: They put a label on the box reading, “Made in the USA”.

Bad Customer Service and Short-Term Contracts

Customer service in Filipino stores is atrocious. It’s not easy to have really bad customer service when you are as over-staffed as these stores are, but somehow they manage it. Restaurant and fast-food service is terribly slow (20-30 minutes is normal wait time for a meal in a ‘real’ restaurant, and fast food places generally have long lines that seem to never move). Supermarket check-out lines are also long and slow-moving. Employees are frequently unable to answer the simplest questions.

I’ve been most bothered by it, recently, in grocery shopping. At the store where I shop most often, the checkout lines are, as mentioned, absurdly long, with usually only about half of the lanes open (at peak hours). The store is, like most Philippine retail outlets, heavily overstaffed by Western standards, and there will be dozens of people stocking the shelves (or pretending to stock the shelves while chatting with each other) while customers stand in line. Often some of the lanes will have no baggers, slowing things further, as the cashier bags items (again, despite the many people stocking shelves).

(In case you are going to ask why I continue to shop there, the answer is that all the alternatives are exactly the same).

I’ve heard a number of reasons given for the Philippines’ customer service deficiencies, all of which I agree with at least somewhat. Here are a couple that are often suggested among expats discussing this issue:

  • Filipino customers don’t know any better. Customers in these stores have never experienced good customer service, so their expectations are low and they won’t complain. 
  • There’s no competition. Most business categories in the Philippines (including retail) seem to be organized on a cartel basis, so that ‘competitors’ have no incentive to improve their processes in such a way that they differentiate themselves. Foreign competitors who would introduce better practices and shake up the cartel, are excluded by the government's protectionist policies.

No doubt these are a big part of it, but I think it has mostly to do with the wide-spread Philippine practice of hiring employees on short-term contracts, in order to avoid paying benefits. The law apparently says that temporary employment cannot exceed six months, so contracts are shorter.

The ways that such a practice impact customer service are pretty obvious:

  • Poor training. What’s the point of putting a lot of time and effort into training people who will be gone soon?
  • No cross-training. If initial training is a waste of time, that goes double for cross-training. In a US supermarket, stockers are cross-trained to work the check-out lanes during peak times.  
  • Lack of knowledge. Inexperienced and untrained employees are of course less able to answer customer questions or deal with problems.
  • No incentives. An employee who has no hope of getting a promotion, and in fact knows s/he will be laid off in a few months, has no reason to care much about the company or the customer.

As employers in the US seek ways to avoid Obamacare, this practice might spread; but it seems the preferred way of avoiding benefits in the US is through part-time employment. Most temporaries there are just for seasonal work or specialists called in for projects (e.g., consultants).

Monday, May 13, 2013


I came across a word today that is totally new to me.

Generally, when I come across obscure/archaic words, I discover upon looking them up that they are obscure and archaic for good reason. But this is a perfectly good word and deserves to be resurrected.

The word, as you may have guessed from the title, is 'yestreen'. It is of Scottish origin and means 'last night' (yester e'en). Great word, huh?

I found it in a 1916 novel by P. G. Wodehouse, Piccadilly Jim, in a passage in which the title character is trying to remember what he had done while drunk the night before. He remarks to the butler:
“Well, it’s a funny thing, but I can’t get rid of the impression that at some point in my researches into the night life of London yestreen I fell upon some person to whom I had never been introduced and committed mayhem upon his person.”
When I type 'yestreen' in Microsoft Word, spellcheck suggests that perhaps I might mean 'eyestrain'.

Immigration and Databases

I have rather mixed feelings on the subject of immigration. I am strongly in favor of legal immigration, and think it should be easier for qualified immigrants to enter the US; at the same time, I am strongly opposed to illegal immigration. My opposition to illegal immigration is, as I see it, a part of my support for expanded legal immigration; if the US has too many immigrants now (an arguable point that depends on the question "How many should we have?" – something we as a country have not even debated, much less defined) then that diminishes the number we can allow in legally. And, frankly, I’d rather have immigrants who start off respecting the laws of their new home, therefore I'd rather have more legals and fewer illegals.

(Note: If you read this blog, you know by now that I don't worry about PC terminology: 'illegal' is a perfectly good description, as far as I'm concerned, for a person who is in the country illegally).

With all that said, I can’t see any feasible way that all the illegals currently present can be deported in anything approximating a humane manner, even assuming that that was the best thing to do. So I’m perfectly willing to accept some form of amnesty (short of full citizenship) for those already in the country – as long as it is preceded by a thorough securing of the border.

A major part of securing the border is, in my opinion, making it impossible (or as nearly impossible as can be) to get a job if you are in the country illegally, backed by extremely strong penalties for employers who hire illegals. It’s a workable supply-side solution: if there are no jobs, then there’s no reason to sneak across the border.

Therefore, I don’t have any objection to the intent of this:
The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system. 
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID. 
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo. 
This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants.
Such a database would give the government immense power over each of us, because they would know everything about us. 'Knowledge is power' and all that.

It would begin, of course, as described above, with only our social security number and age tied to the biometric data. But how long would it be before your full job history, already tied to the SS#, is added to the database? And your police records would be added the next time there is a terrorism outrage or a mass shooting. And soon your taxes, your school records, your voting history, your donations to political causes, what books you checked out of the library, your marriages and divorces … and everything else.

I don’t think of myself as a paranoid, but in light of the IRS scandal, I’m not in much of a mood to trust the government to not use every tool it has to quash opposition. And this would be quite a tool.

If you are a Democrat, and are thinking right now: “Barack Obama would never use such a database against his political enemies” (even after the IRS revelations), then consider that sometime in the relatively near future, perhaps as soon as 2017, there will be a Republican president. Do you want that power to be in the hands of Ted Cruz, or Bobby Jindal, or Mike Huckabee?

Perhaps I'm overreacting. But I think this is just a realistic assessment of the way government power has steadily advanced for almost a century now.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Small Earthquake

Was awakened rudely this morning when my bed moved. It was about 9:40am, so I had to reluctantly admit that I should be up anyway.

It was a 4.2 quake on the Tanon Strait between Cebu and Negros.

The Philippines sits on several fault lines, which is why we have so many volcanoes (the islands are mostly of volcanic origin), but I must admit that I haven't felt much in the almost-year that I've been here -- I think one or two other little shakes. This one felt a bit stronger, but I think that's because it was fairly close, not because it was such a big quake.

The lines on the map are the major fault systems, so I guess this wasn't on a major fault. Looking at the map, though, it would appear that probably Cebu and Negros were once a single island and are moving apart, so there must be some sort of a fault there. But that's totally speculative. For that matter, it looks like Negros might have been part of Iloilo (the island just to the west of it).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tornadoes: What a Difference a Couple Years Makes

As long as I just posted my first item on this blog about Global Warming, I might as well follow it with the second. A few days ago, I saw this item about a blessedly quiet tornado season in the US:
The USA in the past 12 months has seen the fewest number of tornadoes since at least 1954, and the death tolls from the dangerous storms have dropped dramatically since 2011. 
Just two years after a ferocious series of tornado outbreaks killed hundreds of Americans, the USA so far this year is enjoying one of the calmest years on record for twisters. Through Thursday, tornadoes have killed only three Americans in 2013; by the end of May 2011, 543 Americans had died. 
The seven people killed from May 2012 to April 2013 is the fewest in a 12-month period since five people died in September 1899-August 1900, according to Harold Brooks, research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.
Great news. As the article mentions, just a couple years ago, 2011, there was a terrible series of tornadoes (an especially bad one in Joplin, Missouri) that killed hundreds.

What isn’t mentioned in the article is that the Warmists used those tornadoes and those deaths to advance their cause.  Here's an egregious example from "a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont." It's too stupid to quote, but you can read it for yourself. And the leftist website Think Progress had this:
In an email interview with ThinkProgress, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists, who has been exploring for years how greenhouse pollution influences extreme weather, said he believes that it is “irresponsible not to mention climate change” in the context of these extreme tornadoes.
Two years later, the silence of the Warmists is deafening. But I guess they’re too busy burning books.

(NOTE: I don't think one year of exceptionally low tornado activity is proof of anything. But the scientists who promote Global Warming should have likewise known better than to claim in 2011 that one year of exceptionally high activity was proof of their viewpoint. It's too bad they are so willing to cast their scientific training aside when it is convenient to do so to advance their political agenda.)

The Global Warmists Demonstrate Their Openness to Debate

One of the frustrations of the global warming debate is that there is none. Anyone who has any questions is derided as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal, a science-denier, or worse. The academic establishment passes notes among themselves freezing out skeptics from publication in journals. “The science is settled,” intones the noted scientist Al Gore.

This extends to universities, which once were noted for being (or at least trying to be) places where ideas are openly discussed and examined. That is less true than it once was, in all areas, I’m afraid – especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences. But even in one of the hard sciences, Meteorology, the sign is out: “Questioning Authority Forbidden.”

Nothing could demonstrate the current state of meteorological thinking than this picture of two professors at San Jose State University.

The caption on the picture read:  This week we received a deluge of free books from the Heartland Institute. The book is entitled "The Mad, Mad, Made World of Climatism". Shown above, Drs. Bridger and Clements test the flammability of the book.

The picture appeared on the website of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science. It has now, of course, been sent down the Memory Hole, but you can see it here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

How to Make Big Money While Retired Overseas

If you are an expat, or have thought about living overseas, you have probably at some point come across a magazine/website called International Living. They are frequently quoted in articles you'll find on other websites as well. I first came across them, if I recall correctly, after following a link for a Yahoo News article on 'The Ten Best Places to Retire Overseas' (no, Cebu City wasn't one of them).

IL sells seminars and books on how to live in various countries. I think I'll probably post more about them, but I'll tell you now that, while they have some worthwhile info, most of it is freely available from lots of other sources, so I'd recommend just taking their free stuff. Why pay for what you can get free elsewhere?

Here's an example of what they offer. I got an email from them a couple days ago about how to make money while living overseas. It starts like this:
"Income overseas expert Lori Allen had an interesting conversation with a gentleman on a flight recently. 
He was all set to retire, but money problems were getting in the way. 
Lori offered a suggestion that could mean an income of $10,000...$50,000...or even $200,000 and more a year. 
Keep reading...she’s going to share the strategy with you, too..."
And guess what this hot, hot idea was?

-- Dramatic Pause --

Sell stuff on Amazon!!!!!!!

What a great new idea -- you'd never think of something like that on your own, would you? No, that's the sort of stuff it takes an 'Income overseas expert' to come up with.

And they give away great ideas like this for only $850 at their seminars. If you ask nicely and pay me a hundred bucks I'll give you a link to their website so you can sign up.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Truth Doesn't Hurt if You Pretend It Isn't True

An American posted an op-ed in one of the Cebu papers the other day, detailing why he hates the place (apparently his wife is from here, which I presume is why he stays). A few excerpts:
I am a guest in your country and as such have no agenda, not seeking money, fame nor advantage, therefore I will take a moment to tell you the truth of what I have seen here. 
I’ve been walking around the Mactan airport and taking notes.  The international terminal is falling apart; the security belt where  you place your luggage is being held together by black masking tape.  The ceiling tiles are black from soot and age, ready to fall apart.  There is no free WiFi high speed Internet connection and almost all of the power plugs available in the dilapidated waiting areas to run laptops like mine have been yanked out. 
The taxi drive on the way to the airport itself was something akin to a thrill ride at Hong Kong Disneyland. 
There is no modern transportation system in your city of Cebu. None. You have no bus system and no Metro. It is a frightening experience to get from one end of this city to another.
It really is amazing that a city of this size can have no public transit system of any kind. None. Nada. Zip.
Cebu at night is a medieval nightmare. 
Every building in the downtown area is manned with white-shirted, armed security police who  shoulder shotguns or automatic machine guns. They are not there for decoration. 
Your city is filled with noise and confusion. Your city has no bicycle lanes. Almost no city streets have white lines down the middle and yellow freshly painted on either side. Cebu is a city in chaos. 
Traffic police – if they do exist – must all be sleeping on the job. If there are any traffic laws being enforced, they are done so by officers wearing uniforms coated with invisible ink.
I have been here for almost a year and I have never seen any form of traffic law enforcement. The total lack of enforcement means, of course, that each driver does exactly as he pleases, with predictable results.
Your city of more than one million people has no central park, hence no quiet place for residents to leave the noise behind and take a few moments to commune with nature.
It rather surprises me that this has turned out to be the thing I miss most about the States. I want to be able to go to a park and look at trees and walk on grass. There’s nothing like that here. I think the biggest public space in Cebu City is probably Fuente Osmena, which is just a largeish traffic circle, covering maybe a half acre or so.

Even in Manila, I think there is only the Luneta downtown. The rest of that city has no parks, as far as I know.

The guy goes overboard and engages in a lot of hyperbole. And why he thinks the lack of bike paths and white lines in the middle of roads are the biggest problems here is beyond me.

But with that aside, everything he says is true: No parks, garbage everywhere, no public transportation, noise, chaos, no traffic laws, crime, corruption -- yep, all true.

And then read the comments, and you’ll know why these things will never get fixed. Almost every comment is denial and excuses, including the old standby – racism. Filipinos honestly don’t realize that their country is dysfunctional.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Comelec Loses Touch with Reality

I mentioned the Philippines’ Commission on Elections yesterday in regard to their new rule banning the sale of liquor not just on election day, but for four days preceding the election. Now they have come out with a new rule, intending to limit vote-buying (a common practice here) by forbidding large withdrawals from banks.
For the first time, a "money ban" will be imposed for the May 13 midterm polls in a bid to counter the expected deluge of vote-buying operations with only a few days left before Election Day. Based on Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution 9688, the poll body has decided to prohibit withdrawal of cash or encash checks worth more than P100,000 as well as transport or possess cash exceeding P500,000 beginning May 8 to 13. "The Commission finds it necessary to adopt a multi-tiered approach to prevent and apprehend vote-buyers, particularly the regulation and control of the flow of cash, which is the primary medium used in vote-buying," Comelec said. Under the resolution, the Comelec is prohibiting the withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instrument into cash from May 8 to 13 exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency, per day.
So, they are basically shutting down the economy from now until the election. P100,000 = $2,500, by the way, not a huge amount of money.

Fortunately, the central bank is pretty much telling Comelec to shove it, since the ruling violates several laws.
But the Bangko Sentral has refused to comply, asserting that it would "disrupt normal business and commercial transactions in the Philippines." [ … ] 
"The BSP is also constrained from enforcing the Comelec resolution because this would necessarily entail looking into bank deposit accounts. This is essentially unsound and in violation of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 1405, as amended (Secrecy on Peso deposits), and R.A. No. 6426 (Secrecy on foreign currency deposits)," it added.
The cash withdrawal restrictions, BSP is saying, are illegal in addition to being really, really stupid.

The part of that second linked article, quoting another of Comelec's fantasy-world rules, that really makes me laugh is this:
Resolution 9688, issued May 7, also empowers ordinary citizens to arrest vote buyers and vote sellers. 
“Persons who committed, [are] actually committing or [are] attempting to commit vote-buying and vote-selling, an election offense, can be arrested by any law enforcement officer or private person without warrant,” the resolution read.
Hilarious. Let's examine how that might work: Juan de la Cruz (the local equivalent of America’s Joe Sixpack) sees his barangay captain (the wardheeler) handing out money at a rally. He walks up and says, "You're under arrest."

Do you think the captain's thugs will kill Juan or just beat the snot out of him?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No Booze on Election Day. or the Day Before, or the Day Before That, or ...

Some people in the US complain because the bars are closed on Election Day. Jimmy Breslin, a well-known journalist and writer who ran for office in New York City in the sixties, began his concession speech by saying, "I am mortified to have taken part in a process that required bars to be closed."

I bring this up because the Philippines is having an election next week, and they're banning liquor sales for five days.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), in its resolution dated February 26, decided to extend to five days the usual 48-hour or two-day liquor ban prior to the elections. 
Comelec assistant regional director Reddy Balarbar said the resolution is timely, adding that election-related violence is on its peak during the homestretch of the campaign leading to the Election Day due to numerous campaign rallies and early celebrations of some candidates. 
Liquor ban shall take effect from May 9 to May 13, the Election Day. 
Comelec resolution 9582 prohibits any person, including owners and managers of hotels and establishments, to sell, furnish, offer, buy, serve, or take intoxicating liquor anywhere in the Philippines.
Violation of the liquor or alcohol ban is considered an election offense and is punishable with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation.
I know some expats who are really upset by this, and are rushing out to stock up.

As an aside, when I lived in the Chicago area, we lived just off the golf course of a country club, a couple hundred yards from the clubhouse. It always amused me that the club's bar was our precinct polling place.

Made perfect sense, actually -- a big room (they pushed tables out of the way to make room for the voting booths), plenty of parking, and it wasn't being used that day anyway.

Philippine Political Dynasties (Part 2 of Many)

I have been meaning to return to this subject, but I figured I would wait until next week – the elections are then and I could tell you which families won. Parties mean relatively little here – most politics is organized around the competing clans vying for power (and often cooperating in splitting up the spoils). In Part 1, for example, I used Cebu (where I live) as an example, discussing the Osmenas and Garcias: the leading candidate for governor (a Garcia) is the brother of the current governor, who is the daughter of the preceding governor.

But the post I just did about the Maguindanao Massacre reminded me to post about the particularly ugly clan politics of that area.

The two principal clans in that area of Mindanao are the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus. The massacre took place when one of the Mangudadatus was running against one of the Ampatuans  for governor. The Ampatuan was the son of the Ampatuan who was the incumbent governor at the time. His uncle was governor of a neighboring province.

In the current election, there are eighty candidates running in Maguindanao who bear the name Ampatuan (there may be other clan members running who have other names).

This includes the wives of two of the top Ampatuans who inconveniently can’t run themselves because they are in jail awaiting trial for ordering the massacre.

The  Mangudadatus are small-timers by comparison, with only eighteen candidates bearing that name.

 It’s hard to see how the Philippines can ever advance with such a feudal political system.

Philippine Justice is a Bit on the Slow Side

A common complaint of many Americans (including me) is the slowness of the justice system. When Americans come to the Philippines, however, they realize that the system at home is absolutely zippy by comparison.

You may or may not have read about a case a few years ago in which 58 people were massacred in Mindanao – they were members of one of the local political clans and journalists who were killed (apparently) by one of the other clans.
The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre after the town where the mass graves were found, occurred on the morning of November 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. While the victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and brutally killed. Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., in the forthcoming Maguindanao governatorial election, part of the national elections in 2010. The 58 people killed included Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters, journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.
Well, the government is pledging that it may be resolved (at least partially) sometime in the next few years.
The government is aiming to speed up convictions in the country's worst political massacre to ensure justice amid fears the trial could drag on for years, the country's top justice official said. 
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government wants judgments against the Ampatuan clan, accused of being behind the murder of 58 people in 2009. 
"The marching orders of the president is that during his term up to 2016, there's got to be convictions," de Lima told AFP in an interview. 
She concedes it may be impossible to convict all the suspects but hopes they can at least get the "principal accused". 
So they are really pushing to convict at least some of the killers in just seven years? I guess they could have set the bar a little lower if they really tried: “We hope to have it resolved in this millennium, but if not then surely the next.”