Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Since When is 1.7% Good?

I have seen a number of positive articles about the quarterly GDP report, which said the economy grew at 1.7% in the second quarter. While that is better than the (downwardly revised) 1.1% in the first quarter, and is apparently better than what most economists expected, still I can't understand jumping for joy about what amounts to really crappy growth.

This sucks, and that needs to be said.


About Babies and True Love

A couple guys I know (younger than me, obviously) have recently become fathers. My friend Dan, with whom I used to work in Chicago, and his wife had a little girl a few months ago. And Anthony, a young guy I’ve known for a few years, and his wife had a girl last week. In both cases, it has been great fun reading their posts on Facebook about how happy they are, and looking at their numerous pictures of the babies (both of whom, need I say it?, are cuties).

Earlier today, I had a brief online conversation with Anthony, in which he said again how excited he is about fatherhood. On a few occasions in the past week, I’ve smiled about his wild exuberance. But not in mockery – I have been remembering the two occasions when I felt exactly the same way.

His joy is the same as my reaction, over thirty years ago, to the birth of my daughter Kathleen, which was reprised five years later when her brother Robin arrived.

On December 3, 1982, a nurse placed in my arms a tiny person, and at that moment it was as though a curtain opened and I saw a whole world that had previously been hidden. I know it sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but I’m not (overly) embarrassed to say that at that moment I first understood what pure, unconditional love really is.
The two people I love the most.

I was hesitant for a couple weeks to express these feelings to my wife, since I was (to get right down to it) saying, “I love Kathleen more than I love you.” The love I felt for Gloria was strong, but nonetheless had an element (however small) of conditionality to it; what I felt for our daughter didn’t. When I finally broached the subject, however, Gloria smiled and quickly said, “I know exactly what you mean.”

It was also about this time that I realized that the love I held for Kathleen was the way my parents loved me. And again I felt something I had never felt before – gratitude and wonder at realizing how much I was loved.

I sat down that day and wrote a letter to my parents thanking them for their love. Of course I had in the past (at least some of the time) thanked them for the many things they had done for me, but I had never thanked them for just loving me, because I had never before known the extent of that love.

And, to top it all, five years later I had the same wonderful experience again – less intense only in the sense that this time I knew it was coming.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Young Women Aren't as Stupid as US News Says

When I saw this headline, I was getting all ready to write a snarky post about what idiots young women are.
Poll: 78 Percent of Young Women Approve of Weiner
Except for one problem -- it isn't anywhere near true. Oh it's true enough that 78% of the young (18-26) women who responded to the poll said they approve of Anthony Weiner, but the poll suffered from what is sometimes called 'sample bias' -- this is something that happens when pollsters take a poll of a group that aren't representative of the population as a whole.

See if you can spot it here:
Anthony Weiner loves the ladies, and apparently they love him back. 
Sugar daddy dating website SeekingArrangement.com found that 78 percent of female clients aged 18-26 approve of Weiner. 
The website, which connects wealthy patrons with attractive clients, surveyed over 18,000 of its female members and discovered that 63 percent of all women surveyed approved of the New York City mayoral hopeful, with the highest approval ratings coming from the 18-26 demographic.
So when we get past the headline, we find out that 78% of young women who joined a 'sugar daddy' website approve of Weiner, not 78% of all young women. A bit of a dishonest headline, no?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Headline Writer Hits the Trifecta

When I saw this headline, I thought of a recent discussion on a Philippine expat forum about how much some words get overused. The discussion included comments about how everything involving paid sex gets called 'trafficking' now.

And of course, we know that the hookers are always 'rescued', though I think this is just a local phrase. Does 'rescuing' happen everywhere now? I don't recall that word being used in the US -- there the hookers are 'arrested'.

Anyway, I thought this writer was doing great by working both those words in; and then I noticed that he had also managed to include the magic word for stories of this type: 'foreigners'.

8 women rescued from suspected trafficker catering to foreigners

Give that guy a raise!

UFO in Ecuador

Here's a video of a supposed UFO sighting somewhere in Ecuador. I found it on a site that takes UFOs a bit more seriously than I do.


It looks to me like a balloon, as videoed by the world's worst cameraman.

Manny Pacquiao for President?

He'd probably win.
Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao is harboring thoughts of running for president in his beloved homeland when he finally hangs up his gloves, he revealed to AFP in an exclusive interview. 
Giving his strongest hint yet that he will push to the top of the political tree when he finally retires from the ring, the “Pacman” — a hero and congressman in his home country — admitted he had considered the presidency of the 95 million-strong nation.When pressed on whether he had thought about shooting for the top job, the softly-spoken 34-year-old replied “Yes”.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Heteronormativity and the Royal Baby

A few days ago, I posted the suggestion that maybe the Royal Parents should have named the Royal Baby Mohammed, since that is the most popular name for baby boys in England these days.

I was joking, but it’s difficult to joke these days, since reality is often much, much sillier. What could anyone say about American politics that would be funnier than Anthony Weiner?

Or, as another example, there are these people, who also dislike the kid’s name. Their objection, about which I will presume they are 100% serious, is that the parents should not make the assumption that their baby is a boy, and tag him with a boy’s name, just because he was born with a penis. A few choice selections:

  • Money$ha K @ManKan510: Ummm so about that royal baby, they shouldn't declare its gender so quickly! I kinda want them to raise it in such a way that it can choose.
  • Ian Duhig @ianduhig: What if the royal baby got to choose its own name and how to express it's gender when it's older?

What, I wonder, is the alternative to giving a penis-included full-term embryo a male name? Should all children be named something like Ashton or Taylor until they reach gender decisions?

  • Sophy QX @SophyQX: STOP CALLING THE #ROYALBABY A BOY. ZIR BIOLOGICAL SEX IS NOT RELEVANT. This is how the patriarchy indoctrinated its future leader.
  • Little Dove. @TommyTopHat: The royal baby is not a boy, because ze is not yet old enough to choose zir own gender.

Using ‘ze’ and ‘zir’ seems to be the latest attempt at gender-neutral pronouns.

I actually have a bit of sympathy for the idea, since it is often difficult to write without making gender assumptions. I usually can recast a sentence using plurals, but sometimes I can’t, and I end up demonstrating that I have been indoctrinated by the patriarchy by using he/him/his.

I guess the first two examples haven’t caught on to ze and zir, since they chose ‘it’ instead.

Myles uses my plural solution, simply by applying ‘they’ to the singular:

  • Myles C♨♨per @MylesUSA: It may be a boy - depends on how they choose to express their gender if at all

In a world full of BS words and phrases, I think ‘heteronormative’ has to rank among my favorites:

  • Dave Arnold @DaveArnold91: media being so heteronormative around the royal birth that it actually sickens me #LGBT#RoyalBaby

Anyway, apparently I am as guilty as the baby’s parents of heteronormative thinking, since my suggestion of Mohammed is also a boy’s name. Mea culpa.

I wonder if these people are aware of what parodies they are. Probably not – I’ve noticed that such people, of whatever obsession, are distinguished by their lack of two characteristics – a sense of humor and self-awareness.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Ereader, 1935 Version


It’s not surprising this didn’t catch on. I doubt many 1935 housewives would have allowed such a monstrosity in their living rooms (or was ‘parlor’ still the correct term in 1935?)

Anyway, it is basically just a microfilm reader (such as we used to find in libraries) mounted on a pole.

The text carries the information that microfilm was patented in 1859, which is much earlier than I would have guessed and that
… New York banker George Lewis McCarthy … developed the first practical use for microfilm in 1925, allowing him to make miniaturized copies of bank documents.
Which reminded me that when I was in college in the late sixties, I worked nights at Valley National Bank (at the time the largest bank in Arizona), and a big part of my job was feeding checks into a microfilm machine. Not very exciting work, and the pay sucked too.

Aquino and the Pork Barrel

As Texans say,
"Big hat, no cattle."
In his two-hour State of the Nation speech, President Aquino did not devote even one second to the congressional pork barrel scandal. Nor did he cut the pork barrel budget by even a centavo.

The amount budgeted is P27 billion. The amount allocated for theft was not divulged.

Aquino talks a lot about cleaning up corruption, but when it comes time to act, nothing much happens.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Obama Campaign Donor Appointed Ambassador to Japan

President Obama is continuing his policy of selling major embassies in return for campaign donations. This time the buyer is Caroline Kennedy, who has purchased the embassy in Tokyo.

From The New York Times:
He recently put forward big-dollar fund-raisers to be envoys in London, Berlin, Copenhagen and Madrid. 
This item, which I posted several months ago when these rumors began, details the problems caused by some of his other such appointments, as well as background on his campaign promises not to sell government offices.

While I wish Obama had kept those promises, believing such things would be naive. However, my opinion is that paying off campaign debts with ambassadorships is why countries like Barbados exist. Japan matters (they were scrambling jets to scare off Chinese incursions over disputed islands just a couple days ago, and the guy in North Korea is still nuts) -- it's no place for amateurs, however impressive the amateur's pedigree.

At a Resto

When I order a drink here (or anywhere), I almost always say 'Coke or Pepsi, please' since I don't know which they offer and I don't care which I get.

A couple evenings ago I was wandering in the Colon district and stopped at a bar/resto ('resto' is the local term); they have a few chairs on the sidewalk and I could sit there and watch the passers-by. Since many of the passers-by are female and attractive, this can be an enjoyable way to pass the time.

The following conversation ensued:

Me: Coke or Pepsi, please.
Waitress: Pepsi?
Me: Yes, Pepsi, thanks.
Waitress: We don't have Pepsi, Coke only.
Me: Okay, Coke.

She brought me a Pepsi.

I Have a Cold (Again)

I don't get a lot of colds -- usually one, occasionally two a year, and they typically last a few days. This is I think my fourth or fifth in just over a year of being here, and the last one lasted a month.

Which leads me to suspect that it's some type of allergy (which I also have never before had much trouble with) rather than colds. Most likely it has to do with the pollution, though it's possible, I suppose, that I'm allergic to corruption and inefficiency.

In any case, I have the usual stuffy/runny nose, coughing/sneezing, etc. And I am reminded of my first cold here.

I went to a pharmacy to get some cold medicine. I looked at the shelves, though I knew I wouldn't find anything there, then went to the counter and asked the young lady (I wonder if they have an age limit on these jobs? They're all young) for help. She asked me what kind I wanted, and I said I had no idea. She handed me a set of twenty tablets in punch-out packaging, of the type you would find inside a box of Benadryl or Contac in the US. She asked me how many I wanted.

I was at a loss -- I had assumed I'd buy a box of them and take however many the directions on/in the box advised. There being no box, there were no directions.

So I asked her how many I should take. She said, "I think probably two a day." She looked over at the other young lady, who said, "Three." So she said, "Every three hours." Then the other girl said, "No, three times a day."

That's what I did, since it seemed fairly reasonable, but I didn't have great confidence in their advice. I survived, though, so it must have been about right.

She said they were 4.5 pesos each, and I told her I wanted ten (I figured three days, plus a spare). So she took out scissors and cut the strip of twenty in half.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Totally Meaningless News

It has been announced that the Royal Baby, about whom so many are agog, will be named George.

That’s nice, I guess, though in truth I don’t much care. I do note, though, that the parents did not select their country’s most popular name for boys – Mohammed. I can’t figure why not – apparently they are not interested in displaying the common touch.

Having met my daily quota of snark, I will relent long enough to offer my congratulations. I don’t have much good to say about monarchies, but the parents seem like reasonably pleasant people, and babies are getting rare enough in western societies that new ones are always welcome – even if this one was born only in order to keep the family business going. (Oops, there’s that snark creeping back in).

An Ecuadorian Comes to Chicago

My hometown team, the Chicago Fire, has signed a new player from Ecuador, Juan Luis Anangonó. He has recently finished a season playing in the Argentinian league, and had previously played with two of Ecuador’s top teams, Barcelona and El Nacional. He also recently made his first appearance on Ecuador’s national team in a World Cup qualifying match against Argentina.

Ecuador is doing well, currently running third in Conmebol (the South American confederation), and seems likely to qualify. Anangonó says that he checked the move to MLS with the national team coaches, because he's hoping to enhance his chances with the team -- with the World Cup obviously top of mind.

The Fire have not had a lot of success lately with their designated foreign players, ever since Cuauhtémoc Blanco left. I hope this guy will work out better than the rest.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Philippines Is Blowing Another Opportunity

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade area that is being negotiated among many of the leading more-or-less free economies of the Pacific Rim. It started in 2005 as an agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. Since 2010, a number of other countries have been negotiating an expanded group, to include Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the US, and Vietnam.

Just this week, Japan announced that they intend to join as well (actually, they have wanted to join for a while, but they just had an election and the Prime Minister won big, so now he feels emboldened to make big moves).
Japan will finally sit down at the table with 11 other nations in Malaysia on Tuesday to negotiate the trade rules for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after years of contentious political wrangling. 
The current TPP participants … have already gone through 17 rounds and aim to reach an agreement by year’s end. Late-comer Japan has only three days left to state its case before round 18, which started July 15, ends on Thursday. 
But Japan, whose GDP accounts for more than a fifth of all 12 TPP nations combined, still has a solid chance to be on the leading edge of drafting new trade and investment rules for the Asia-Pacific region.
As the Japan Times notes, a basic requirement for membership is that economies be open to competition. Japan, for example, wants greater access to other countries for its automobiles, but has long had high tariffs against agricultural imports – they would have to give up their tariffs on rice and beef.

The Philippines badly needs to be in on this, for a couple reasons. Most obviously, they need to be able to trade with these countries, and any time a trading group is set up, those outside the group suffer, as importers in each member country will tend to prefer to buy from exporters in other member countries.

The other reason is that membership would force the Philippines to open itself up to competition, which its horribly inefficient businesses (and their horribly abused customers) desperately need.

And that, of course, will not happen, because the families who own the country will not allow it.  A few months ago, the Trade Secretary admitted that the country “isn’t ready.”
The Philippines is not yet ready to join the international free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the head of the Trade Department said Wednesday. 
"We can pursue it, but is it wise to lobby for it? Let’s just wait until we’re ready. We’re not going to actively pursue negotiations for us to join. It can be distracting and we have no resources for it," Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo told reporters. 
“We’re not yet ready for the TPP. We have to do some more homework first on our environment, labor and investment on the equity side because we have many restrictions,” he added. 
Doesn't sound like he wants in very badly, does it? Those restrictions he mentions will almost certainly never be removed, because doing so would require the approval of the very people who could be hurt by any changes in the economy. The country’s unwillingness to accept foreign competition was demonstrated again this week, when the courts ruled that FedEx is not allowed to operate here.
… the appellate court said international freight forwarding was a public utility. It upheld its earlier ruling declaring FedEx (Federal Express Pacific Inc.), a foreign corporation, disqualified by the Constitution from involvement in public utilities in the Philippines.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maybe Things Aren't as Hopeless as They Seem

Instapundit has a post featuring a tweet by Sen. Ted Cruz:
TED CRUZ EXPLAINS THE DIFFERENCE: “Reaganomics: You start a business in your parents’ garage. Obamanomics: You move into your parents’ garage.”
Clever. And I understand (I think) what Cruz is trying to say -- he's contrasting a period that welcomed and encouraged and celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit with ... uh, today.

But I don't think he is factually correct, if he is trying (as I think he is) to point to the era of garage start-ups that launched the technology boom. Apple and Microsoft were both founded during the Ford administration. The software that made personal computers useful tools rather than toys (spreadsheets: Visicalc; word processors: WordStar and WordPerfect) were created during the Carter years.

These products flowered during the Reagan administration, but they started during a time when the White House was occupied by two of its biggest clowns ever (we all remember 'malaise', but we shouldn't forget WIN buttons either).

And I find that very encouraging. If entrepreneurs can keep producing great new ideas through an era of such economic ignorami, then perhaps there are some great tinkerers out there today, coming up with things that will come to fruition when the country frees itself from Obamanomics.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bert Trautmann, R.I.P.

A guy who was probably the toughest athlete I’ve ever heard of died a couple days ago. In addition to his athletic achievements, he also played an important role in postwar reconciliation (there are possibly some parallels between him and his transatlantic contemporary, Jackie Robinson).

I’m talking about Bert Trautmann, who died Friday at the age of 89.

Trautmann was a German, a POW imprisoned in England at the end of World War II. After being released in 1948, Trautmann stayed on in England, married a local girl, worked as a farmhand and on bomb-disposal crews, and played soccer for a semipro team. His play attracted the attention of a big-time team, Manchester City, which signed him as goalkeeper in 1949.

Germans were not thought highly of in England at that time, to put it mildly.
The club's decision to sign a former Axis paratrooper sparked protests, with 20,000 people attending a demonstration.
Robinson and Trautmann both proved, though, that sports fans will ignore most things if you’re really good.
During one of his first games in London, still bearing the signs of heavy damage from Germany's air raids, Trautmann overcame a hostile reception to play so well that at the end of the match, the players formed a line on either side of the tunnel and applauded him, while the Fulham crowd gave him a standing ovation.
In 1955, Manchester City made it to the FA Cup Final, the biggest event in English soccer at the time, and Trautmann became the first German to play in the final, which he said later was the highlight of his career, though Man City lost that game.

The next year they were back, however, and that game became the one for which Trautmann would be forever after remembered.
Trautmann, still recovering, receiving his
trophy as Player of the Year in 1956.
City had taken a 3-1 lead against Birmingham, and with 17 minutes to go Trautmann dived at the feet of onrushing forward Peter Murphy. The Birmingham player's knee collided with the City goalkeeper's neck, and Trautmann was knocked out. 
At the time, no substitutions were allowed, and Trautmann, although unsteady, returned to his place between the posts, according to an account on City's website. 
Trautmann made two more outstanding saves and then collided with his own defender, Dave Ewing, and had to be revived again before he could play on. While receiving his medal, Trautmann complained of a ''stiff neck.'' 
It was only three days later that an X-ray revealed a broken neck.
Trautmann played until 1964, then did some coaching. In 2004, he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in honor of his role in improving German-UK relations after the war. Here's some video showing the play in which Trautmann was injured, and also showing him rubbing his neck as he leaves the field.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rolling Stone

OK, everybody else is commenting on the Rolling Stone cover, so I might as well join in. Actually, I'll just join in to repeat the best comment I've read, and maybe expand a bit on it. Jim Geraghty, at National Review, wrote "Rolling Stone is like your crazy ex-girlfriend, trying to get you to pay attention to her again."

That's not an exact quote, but I don't think he can sue me about it.

Whatever he said, it's true. Rolling Stone was really, really cool, and edgy, and etc ... in the sixties and seventies. It hasn't been relevant in about twenty-five or thirty years, and it faces a particularly nasty problem now -- it is a print publication edited for people who pretty much don't read at all and certainly don't read print.

Thus, this cover, which is pretty much screaming, "Look at me! Look at me, dammit!!"

It will be gone in a few years, and when it ceases publication, hardly anyone will notice.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Was Attacked by a Pack of Ten Year Old Girls

One evening about a year ago, shortly after I arrived in Cebu, I was walking on Mango Avenue past the ‘bikini bars’ of Mango Square. There were, as usual, a number of hookers (some female, some not) in the parking lots and sidewalks in front of the bars. One of the ladyboys said something along the lines of “Don’t go there” as I passed. I thought it was a proposition, so I continued on.

About fifty meters or so further, I was approached by a group of four or five girls about ten or so years old. I paid them no mind until they were next to me, at which point they all began grabbing at me.

I was, as you might expect, taken by surprise and not at all certain what in the hell was going on. I probably should have decked a couple of them, but we are inculturated that adult males don’t punch out little girls (and I’m not sure what the legal consequences might have been). What was happening, as you may have guessed, is that a couple of them were trying to get into my pockets as the others kept me occupied. I managed to twist away and get out into the street – luckily there was a break in the usual heavy traffic on Mango. The girls laughed and ran off.

I was reminded of this incident by this news report of a Korean who was robbed in the same area by five boys, said to be twelve years old.
Police Officer 2 Cliffton Manogura said several children engage in snatching, relying on the fact that authorities will not arrest them for being minors.
This is in line with what I was told when, after The Attack of the Ten Year Old Girls, I wandered back toward the clubs, where the ladyboy, who had apparently been watching, said, “I tried to warn you.” I acknowledged that fact and thanked her, and she volunteered the information that young kids frequently attack pedestrians in that area (especially foreigners, who are presumed to have lots of cash on them), because they know they won’t be arrested.

Under Philippine law, it turns out, minors who commit crimes are supposed to be (as in most countries) dealt with by juvenile courts if they are over fifteen. I’m not sure how that works out.

But, if they are under fifteen then they are generally just returned to their parents, if the parents can be found. But quite often, if there are parents, then the parents are the ones who sent the kids out to steal. So the reality of the situation is that any kids who are caught are quickly released (and few are caught because the police make little effort to do so, recognizing the futility).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Congregation Switches Teams

This is different. The story says that it’s the first instance in Arizona of an Anglican congregation switching to the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently it has happened in at least a few other cases.
Payson’s Church of the Holy Nativity will have a place in history this weekend as it becomes the first Anglican church in Arizona and the third in the Southwest to return to the Catholic Church through the changes authorized by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009. 
The congregation will be received and confirmed into the Catholic church and Holy Nativity’s pastor, Father Lowell Andrews will be ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood ... Andrews is also the first Anglican Catholic pastor in Arizona to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
This happened last December, by the way; I'm not exactly on top of things here.

I was struck by their use of the term ‘Anglican’ rather than Episcopalian, but that’s explained by this paragraph.
Founded in 1974, Payson’s Church of the Holy Nativity split off from the Episcopal Church and dedicated its sanctuary … in 1983 …
Which makes it sound like the congregation traveled to Catholicism in stages. Nonetheless, while I knew the Episcopalians (and other mainstream churches) were bleeding membership, I didn’t know they had entire congregations ditching them.

The Day Bear Bryant Thanked the Opposing Coach for Beating Alabama

A few days ago, when I was writing this item, I did a little research to see if I could find out when various colleges first integrated their football teams. I didn’t find much, but this story came up.

Sam 'Bam' Cunningham
It’s an interesting story overall, and the experiences of the first black player in the ACC were very sad. But the part I found most interesting comes near the end. The University of Alabama (where football, you may be aware, is taken fairly seriously) was a holdout, although their revered head coach, Bear Bryant, wanted to recruit black players.

In 1970, the opening game of the season was against Southern Cal, which had an all-black backfield. One member of that backfield, playing his first college game that day, was Sam Cunningham, who went on to a stellar career in the NFL and a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.

USC beat the crap out of Alabama, winning 42-21, with Cunningham having a great first game, gaining 135 yards on only 12 carries, and scoring two touchdowns – in the first quarter.
After the game was over, Bryant said to USC head coach John McKay, “I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me today.” 
The next season, Alabama had its first black player.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

PAL No Longer Banned from Europe

Philippine Airlines, the country’s largest carrier, has been approved to once again fly to Europe. PAL was banned three years ago, because of its failure to meet international safety standards; it is still forbidden to fly to the US, although this article says they are hopeful of getting FAA approval soon.

All other airlines in the country remain banned from Europe, and Cebu Pacific, the only other airline that might plausibly try to fly that distance, didn’t apply for reinstatement.
“Cebu Pacific decided not to go to Brussels [for the air safety committee meeting] to concentrate their efforts to analyze what happened in Davao to ensure...that this kind of incident does not happen again,” he added.
Good thinking guys. Right after the utter incompetence you displayed in that case (details in this post) is not a good time to go around bragging about your devotion to safety.
[Last] month, a Cebu Pacific flight skidded off the runway in Davao City, causing the airport to shut down for two days. The passengers and crew were able to disembark safely.
Hmmm … the last sentence omitted a word. It should read: “ … were able to disembark safely … eventually.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Update on Philippine Pork Barrel Spending

Last Friday, I posted about the pork barrel allocations that each Philippine Senator and Representative has, which I called ‘an invitation to corruption’. I also speculated about how congress members could funnel much of the money to their own pockets – use the money for construction projects performed by a family company.

Well, I’m right about the corruption, but wrong about how they do it. The Philippine Inquirer has a four-part series about a scam involving five senators and twenty-three representatives (that’s more than a fifth of the Senate and about a twelfth of the House).

Links to the four parts are here. The full details are interesting, but I’ll summarize how they (allegedly) did it, because it’s very, very simple.

They worked through an outside facilitator, Janet Lim Napoles, who set up a bunch of phony NGOs, each of them headed by her employees (most of whom seem to be relatives). The NGOs collected from the politicians’ pork barrels and then the profits (after various other officials were paid off to say the work was done) were split between the politicians and the facilitator.

Cool, huh? The total amount involved is (allegedly) ten billion pesos (about $250mil).

Prediction: The whole thing will the swept under the rug, maybe a couple scapegoats will take the fall, and then everything will go on as before.

Today's Gloom and Doom Report

This is from a newsletter I get from Foreign Policy magazine:
Top news: Chinese economic growth slowed to 7.5 percent in the second quarter of the year amid efforts by the country's new leaders to rein in credit and pivot toward reforms. 
Monday's economic figures are the second straight quarter of weaker economic growth in what is the world's [second-largest] economy and came on lower investment and declining trade figures. Growth in industrial output compared to a year ago fell to 8.9 percent from 9.3 percent in May, and for the first time in a year, exports declined in June. 
But there is no sign from the Chinese central government that they plan to intervene in the economy and inject more stimulus. The government has set a growth target for 7.5 percent for 2013, and Monday's economic news raises the spectre that the country could miss it, which would be the first time since the Asian financial crisis that China has not met its stated goal for economic growth. 
"I think the second half will be even weaker. The government's tolerance for slower growth is definitely higher," Zhu Haibin, a JP Morgan economist, told the Financial Times. "Seven per cent is probably the growth floor."
Why this could be a sign that things are really, really bad: A great many economists are of the opinion that China lies a lot about their economic figures (you’re shocked, I know). If they are willing to admit to these numbers, then the reality probably is much, much worse.

Why this may not be all that bad: The government of China doesn’t seem to be worried at all. If we assume that the government knows what it’s doing (always a risky assumption, where governments are concerned), then perhaps that tells us things are basically okay, and they are confident they can manage a soft landing for the economy.

Why we better hope that they are right: A collapse (or even a significant contraction) of the Chinese economy could be disastrous globally. Japan hasn’t been growing much for the past twenty years, the US is now in the fifth year without decent growth, and Europe is, well, Europe. If the four biggest economies in the world were all struggling simultaneously, things could get very ugly.

Why we better really hope they are right: A serious downturn in the Chinese economy could mean major unrest or violence there, since the government gets what legitimacy it has from the success of the economy. That of course would lead to further declines in the economy and a downward spiral.

Why we better really, really hope they are right: A government that is facing serious domestic problems often tries to distract the populace with a foreign crisis that whips up nationalistic fervor and support for the government (e.g., Argentina and the Falklands). Not a big deal when it’s a nothing country like Argentina. Potentially a very big deal when it’s China. And an extremely big deal for the Philippines, which is currently engaged in a heated dispute with China over who owns what in the South China Sea.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman v. NBC

The US media in general disgraced themselves in the Zimmerman case, but NBC was by far the worst of the lot. Here's the version of Zimmerman's call to the police that NBC broadcast on the Today show:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? It clearly supports the idea that Zimmerman was a racist, and that he thought Martin was 'up to no good' because he was black.

Here's the full text of that portion of the call:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about. 
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic? 
Zimmerman: He looks black.
Reads a bit differently, doesn't it? Now, Zimmerman's concerns are based on Martin's behavior, not his skin color. He brings up race only in response to the dispatcher's question.

Last year, after the doctoring of the tape was made public, and Zimmerman's lawyers complained, NBC didn’t even bother to try to defend their indefensible lack of journalistic ethics, they simply said, effectively, “So what? You’ll never collect damages.”
NBC Universal Media responded to the Zimmerman complaint by noting that other media outlets played up the racial angle of Zimmerman’s deadly encounter with Trayvon Martin. 
The company also noted the pivotal nature of the second-degree murder case: “[I]f Zimmerman is convicted, that fact alone will constitute substantial evidence that the destruction of his reputation is the result of his own criminal conduct, and not of the broadcasts at issue which, like countless other news reports disseminated by media entities throughout the country, reported on the underlying events.”
This is based on the fact that, in the US, a person can collect for defamation of character only if he has a reputation that could be defamed. A convicted murderer would have a hard time convincing a jury that he had suffered any damage by being called a racist.

But now that point is moot, and my guess is that Zimmerman could now convince a jury that NBC, in its falsification of the recording, had deliberately caused him a great deal of damage (the fact that the action was intentional rather than accidental will likely make things much worse for NBC).

I’ll bet NBC’s lawyers are trying to figure out a good starting point for the settlement negotiations.

Houston Overtakes New York as #1 Port

I came across an interesting item the other day in the Financial Times. It notes that in 2012, Houston surpassed New York to become the #1 US port in terms of the value of goods shipped.
The greater Houston area has replaced New York City as the largest goods exporting region of the US, official data have shown, thanks to the energy boom that is reshaping the country’s industrial landscape.
The article notes that Hurricane Sandy had an effect on New York’s numbers, but it is nonetheless a major landmark in the decline of the northeast as the engine of American business, and the rise of the Sunbelt.
Since the start of the recession at the end of 2007, the New York area has added a net 75,000 jobs, a 0.9 per cent increase, while Houston has added 195,000, a rise of 7.5 per cent.
The business-friendly atmosphere of Texas, which is the opposite of New York and most of the northeast quadrant of the country, has much to do with those job numbers as well as the port's export growth.

I don’t know when New York emerged as the biggest port, but I’d be willing to bet that it was pre-Revolution, which would mean that this is the first time in the history of the United States that New York is not the biggest port.

The Mickey Mouse Club

One of the most popular kids’ shows on TV in the 1950s was The Mickey Mouse Club.


I hated it. Looking back, most of my distaste for the show had to do with the smarmy, condescending, talk-down-to-kids manner of the adults on the show (the worst was Jimmie Dodd, the host, whom I detested), and the preachy do-gooder tone of damn near everything on the show.

The only redeeming quality, in my view, was Annette Funicello. Like most of boys of that time, I had a major crush on her. However, she alone was not sufficient reason to watch the show.

Luckily, Phoenix at that time had two excellent local kids’ shows. Easy Does It was a fairly conventional show for the time, undistinguished other than having Three Stooges shorts. Wallace & Ladmo was a really outstanding program, with tons of clever satire to appeal to all ages – when I was in high school, most of us were still watching it regularly, and my father was a fan when he had the opportunity to watch it (like most such programs it was on in the afternoon). It was a tough choice for me – Wallace & Ladmo had mostly Popeye cartoons, which I didn’t much care for, but Easy Does It, other than the Stooges, was pretty lame.

Mickey Mouse Club? Not even in the running.

In the sixties 'Mickey Mouse' became a term of disparagement among teens, referring to something petty and stupid (e.g., in talking about a school rule we didn't like, we would say it was "a Mickey Mouse rule.") I wonder how much the fifties program had to do with the sixties phrase.

A Bit of Sun Devil Pride

There is little to make one proud in the world of professional sports, nor in putatively amateur college sports. There are many times when I question whether being a sports fan gives me a shared responsibility for the disgusting sleaze and corruption that permeate that world, in that the fans are the enablers of the whole mess. I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

I can’t say that my alma mater and favorite sports factory, Arizona State, is any better than any of the others. I did come across one moment in its history, however, that is worth celebrating (though we have to go all the way back to the year of my birth to find it).

In 1947, the Arizona State College Sun Devils* had two black players on their football team (the first black player had played for ASC in 1937**). These players were not allowed to play in games against West Texas A&M (now West Texas State) nor Texas Mines (now UTEP) because officials at those schools “do not feel they can be responsible for actions of spectators.”

After that season, ASC dropped the two schools from future schedules and refused to play them (or any other such schools) for several years. In the early fifties the two schools changed their racist policies. ASC was also the first team with a black player to play at the University of Arkansas (in 1951).

One of the players that the Texas schools refused to allow on their fields, Morrison Warren, went on to become Phoenix’s first black city councilman and eventually vice-mayor, as well as president of the Fiesta Bowl. I remember him as a leading citizen during my youth.

*As an aside: 1947 is the first full year the school’s teams were called ‘Sun Devils’ – the name was changed from ‘Bulldogs’ midway through the 1946-47 school year.
** UofA did not have any black players until 1949.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Experts Agree with Me

Of course they do – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be experts, would they? They would be "the so-called experts."

I’m certain that I have been less exposed to the Zimmerman/Martin case than most Americans. I guess there it was pretty much nonstop coverage; here I’ve just read those news articles that seemed interesting.

My reading of the trial testimony indicated that the prosecution case was very, very weak and came nowhere near proving Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This trial wrap-up from the Miami Herald agrees strongly:
After five weeks of trial and 56 witnesses, few legal observers believed prosecutors came close to proving Sanford neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman committed second-degree murder when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012. 
So for many legal analysts, it was no surprise that jurors rejected even a lesser “compromise” verdict of manslaughter, acquitting Zimmerman outright of all criminal charges and deciding he acted in a reasonable way to protect his own life. 
The acquittal was a stinging blow for prosecutors and their decision to file the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman, who was not initially arrested by Sanford police after claiming self-defense. And it was a resounding embrace of the defense’s strategy during closing arguments not just to establish that prosecutors hadn’t proven Zimmerman guilty, but also to show he was “absolutely” innocent.
Given that experienced attorneys, the police who investigated, and most important of all, me, are in agreement that there was pretty much no case against Zimmerman, one has to wonder why the case even went to trial. But I think we all know the answer to that – it was in Barack Obama’s political interests to stoke up racial animosity during his re-election campaign.

As something of an aside: The prosecutor who overrode the police and filed the flimsy murder charge, has now fired a whistleblower in her department who revealed that she was withholding evidence.
An employee of the Florida State Attorney's Office who testified that prosecutors withheld evidence from George Zimmerman's defense team has been fired.
The guy had found that a large amount of data from Martin’s cellphone had been deleted from files provided to the defense, and testified about it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

About Corporate Control of American Politics

Next time someone starts complaining about corporate influence in politics, you might show them this chart. These are the top fifteen organizations in terms of political contributions for the years 1989-2012. Of the fifteen, two are corporations and one a trade association; ten are unions.

The data is from the Center for Responsive Politics, which based it on FEC filings. The full list is here.

Of the fifteen, only two gave more money to Republicans than Democrats (by relatively narrow margins), with one other also splitting its money fairly evenly. The other twelve are overwhelmingly Democrat.

And the evilest of evils – the National Rifle Association? They’re #52.

Worst Ad of 1918

This ad appeared in the April 1918 issue of National Geographic (or so I'm told -- I'll take their word for it). No doubt it didn't seem so awful at the time -- the connotations of words and phrases having changed a good bit in ninety-five years.


From today's vantage point, I'm not sure which is worse, the product name or the ad slogan. Certainly the combination is unfortunate.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Apple Found Guilty of Price-Fixing

Given that the prosecution had the words of the defendant’s guru, in which he pretty much said, “Hey, let’s do some price-fixing today!” this case clearly fits in the open-and-shut category. As far as I can see, nobody who doesn’t work in Cupertino even bothered to pretend to be surprised.
Apple Inc. broke antitrust laws and conspired with publishers to raise electronic book prices, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, citing “compelling evidence” from the words of the late Steve Jobs. [ … ] 
In her ruling, Cote said “compelling evidence of Apple’s participation in the conspiracy came from the words uttered by Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder, CEO and visionary." 
She quoted Jobs, who died in 2011, as saying he understood publishers’ concerns that Amazon’s $9.99 price for new releases was eroding the perceived value of their products and that Apple was willing to try pricing e-books at $12.99 and $14.99. She noted that Jobs bought an e-book for $14.99 at the launch of Apple’s e-book store and told a reporter that day that Amazon’s $9.99 price for the same book would be irrelevant because soon all prices will “be the same.” 
“Apple has struggled mightily to reinterpret Jobs’ statements in a way that will eliminate their bite,” Cote wrote in the 160-page opinion. “Its efforts have proven fruitless.” [ … ] 
“Through their conspiracy they forced Amazon (and other resellers) to relinquish retail pricing authority and then they raised retail e-book prices,” Cote wrote. “Those higher prices were not the result of regular market forces but of a scheme in which Apple was a full participant.”
I notice that in the penalty phase, the government may ask that the court require education on antitrust for Apple execs. Sounds like a good idea.

Several weeks ago, at the start of the trial, I offered some thoughts on the possible effects of the case (anticipating Apple’s defeat) here.

Pork Barrel Spending in the US and the Philippines

In the US, ‘pork barrel’ (or just ‘pork’) is a derogatory term applied to wasteful government spending – generally applied to spending that is intended to benefit only a particular representative’s district or senator’s state and thereby buy votes for that person.

The typical way it is done is to attach such projects to major bills, where they will presumably attract little attention (or they are attached by the leadership in order to buy the beneficiary’s vote). The stimulus bill was laden with billions in pork projects and the immigration bill passed by the senate includes a provision declaring Nevada a border state (which will surprise most geographers) and spending a bunch of money on promoting travel to Las Vegas.

Here in the Philippines, the corruption is much more open. Here, each member of the congress is given an amount of money to spend in any way s/he pleases. This is openly referred to as his/her pork barrel (e.g., a paper will write “the project was paid for from Rep. Gomez’s pork barrel”). The proper name is the Priority Development Assistance Fund, but nobody calls it that.

The amounts involved are not trivial, considering the poverty of the country. Each senator gets two hundred million pesos annually (about $5mil), while each representative gets seventy million. Given that there are twenty-four senators and almost three hundred reps, this totals out to over twenty-five billion pesos, about 1.5% of the country’s budget.

You can buy a heck of a lot of votes here for P200mil, the going rate being I think P200/vote (and in a congressional district, P70mil goes even farther). Most is not used for outright vote-buying, however. I understand that the usual thing is to build something in the district, thus securing votes, and have it built by the politician's family construction company, thus pocketing the money. Sort of a two-fer.

If need be, of course, the profits from the project can be used to buy more votes at the next election, which allows you to hit the trifecta.

I don’t know if they have to report how the money is spent. There probably is some sort of pretense at reporting, but given how things are done here, I would expect any reporting to be very vague and limited, hidden from the public, not reported on by the press, and not audited in any way.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Question about Border Enforcement

If the president can choose to enforce some provisions of new laws, while not enforcing others – as he has done with the Obamacare bill – why should we believe that he will enforce the border control provisions of the immigration bill?

Wouldn’t it be much more likely that he will enforce the ‘path to citizenship’ portion vigorously, while totally ignoring anything resembling border control?

After all, the point of granting citizenship (sorry for being so cynical) is that Hispanics mostly vote for Democrats.* Having achieved the goal of adding ten million or so new Democrats to the voter rolls, why then would he wish to do anything that keeps out future Democrats?

Regarding the first paragraph, here's a law professor arguing that the president can't, in fact, refuse to enforce laws when it's inconvenient to do so. I would think that was self-evident, but he's getting away with it, isn't he?

The core of the argument is that the Constitution (Article II, Section 3) says that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Note that it says 'shall' not 'may'.

*The Republicans who support the bill have been quite open that the reason they do so is because they hope Hispanics will then start voting Republican more often. Neither party cares much about the right/wrong or good/bad of the proposal.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Philippine Nurses

The Philippines just got sixteen thousand more nurses. That’s how many passed the recent licensing exams, out of almost 38,000 who took the test.

A few observations, based on this article:

That’s a horrible success rate. It would be nice to think that the reason fewer than half pass is because the tests are so tough and the standards so high. Unfortunately, it is more likely due to the wretched quality of Philippine higher education – most colleges here are diploma mills, with the largest ones owned by the country’s richest families and thus (just like Cebu Pacific Airlines) not subject to any meaningful regulation or oversight.

As the article notes, the job prospects for these graduates are grim, and the pay is not all that great if they get a job. On an expat forum I frequent (where I came across this article), one of the other expats said that his step-daughter’s nursing degree cost him P600,000 (about $15,000). While that’s cheap by American standards, it’s a hell of a lot here. And the step-daughter’s salary five years after graduation? P14,000/month (about $350). He considers that a pretty poor ROI (and I agree).

Look at those nurse:patient ratios:
Citing official data, Dakis said the ratio stands at 1:25 for the Philippine General Hospital. Hospitals in other areas have more dismal figures, such as 1:45 in Davao del Sur.
Holy cow! The ratio should be around 1:4. No wonder most Philippine families do their own nursing when a family member is in the hospital.

But don't worry -- they’re going to pass a law.
Dakis however said the ratio is among the key issues that will be addressed by amendments to the Nursing Law, which he believes will be filed anew in the 16th Congress.
That’ll fix it.

The First Casualty in Ecuador’s War on the Free Press

Rafael Correa has claimed his first scalp in his effort to silence all criticism of his government. The country’s only newsmagazine, Vanguardia, which frequently opposed Correa, has ceased publication
The owner said the country’s contentious new news media law had killed the magazine by creating restrictions that threatened to strangle a free press. The magazine’s last issue, due out on July 1, never appeared in print. 
President Rafael Correa, whose government was often the subject of critical coverage in the magazine, gloated over the corpse, saying it had starved to death: no one read it, he said, and the money ran out.
The former workers blame both the government, for censorship, and the magazine’s owner, for giving in.
“It’s illogical to think that you have to quit instead of fight,” said Mr. Calderón, 50, Vanguardia’s editor. “This reflects fear, and it reflects impotence.” 
Santiago Preckler, 72, a copy editor who worked at the magazine for almost all of the eight years of its existence, was more blunt. Yes, he said, the new law would make it much harder to publish hard-hitting journalism, but the owner’s decision to silence the magazine was the wrong response. 
“He’s a coward,” Mr. Preckler said.
A brief look at the law’s provisions show what the magazine would have had to face (and what surviving publications will be facing in coming years):.
Beyond penalties for publishing or broadcasting material that harms a person’s reputation or honor, the law prohibits something called media lynching, which it defines as the publication of material intended to reduce someone’s prestige or credibility. 
It also sets restrictions on the coverage of court cases, creates government bodies with wide powers to regulate and penalize journalists, and bans the publication of personal communications, including e-mails and conversations.

Wyoming: Dynastic Politics and Hyperventilating Polititicians

Liz Cheney is thinking about running for the US Senate from Wyoming, which would involve challenging the sitting Republican senator, Mike Enzi.

This has a number of people very upset, though frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I know very little about Liz Cheney or Mike Enzi, but I will trust the good folks of Wyoming to sort out which of them is better. My objection to Liz Cheney is that I hate dynastic politics and I know of nothing that she has ever done that qualifies her to hold such an office. Being born to a famous father is not a qualification in my mind.

That said, I found this comment from a former Wyoming senator, Alan Simpson, to be laughably overwrought:
It would bring about “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming if she decides to run and he runs, too,” Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from the state, said in an interview last week. “It’s a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years.”
If the Republican Party in Wyoming is in such dreadful condition that allowing the Republicans of the state a choice in a primary will destroy the party, then perhaps the party deserves to be destroyed.

As for Alan Simpson, all we need to know about him is that he was co-author of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. If the name is not familiar, it was the immigration ‘reform’ bill in 1986 that promised that, as soon as all the illegals were granted amnesty, the government would toughen up the borders and no more illegals would be allowed in. Sound familiar?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cebu Pacific Gets a Whitewash

In this post yesterday about the Asiana crash in San Francisco, and in this one a month ago about a Cebu Pacific crash in Davao, I predicted that nothing would be done to penalize Cebu Pacific for their failure to train their flight crew – a failure that led to disgraceful behavior by that crew that endangered the lives of a planeful of passengers – because the airline is owned by one of the Philippines’ richest men. I also mentioned that there had been no action in the month since the crash.

Well, I was half-right. A more diligent search found this item detailing the actions of the Civil Aviation Authority – so I was wrong about no action being taken. I was right about the action taken, however: It was a total whitewash of the airline.
Although Cebu Pacific will not be receiving any fines or penalties from the Civil Aviation Authority, it will be asked to comply with an action plan that emphasizes safety over cost-cutting measures.
Boy – that’ll show them!

And it gets worse. Fearful, I guess that even that extremely timid slap on the wrist might annoy the Gokongwei family, the CAA immediately backed off:
The Civil Aviation Authority wants to reassure the flying public that Cebu Pacific is a safe airline. 
Unfortunately, this is how things are done here.

Public Urination

Filipinos (the men) pretty much pee anywhere they want. Walking down the street, one will quite often see a guy with his back turned to the road, peeing against the wall.

The text on the right says
"Don't dump garbage." The left
I'm not sure of, but the
illustration seems clear enough.
In terms of social class, it appears that the practice is pretty nearly universal (though I don’t imagine the Ayalas or President Aquino do it). The gym I go to is in a compound that includes tennis courts. I assume that anybody playing tennis in the Philippines is middle-class or above (and their cars support that assumption) and those guys will periodically wander off to the nearby bushes to empty their bladders (despite there being restrooms fairly nearby). The difference I’ve noted is that the higher one’s social status, the more discreet one is – the cab drivers just pee by the side of the road, the tennis players use the bushes.

I’ve only once seen a woman peeing on the street – she was squatting over a sewer grate. Whether other women use bushes as a screen, I don't know.

This one is on the fence outside a private school. Since
peeing there would involve exposing oneself to the kids,
I hope the sign is obeyed.
Occasionally one sees ‘no urinating’ signs. These two are near my apartment. I don’t know how effective they are.

The second sign is partly in English, which made me wonder whether the neighborhood Kanos have begun adopting local practices.

Some expats are prone to preach to anyone who makes a negative comment that "We must respect the local culture and adapt to it." Next time one of those self-righteous jerks starts that, I'll ask him if he's started peeing in the street yet.

For the record, I haven't, but I guess that shows how disrespectful I am of Filipino culture.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Kudos to the Asiana Flight Crew

The plane crash in San Francisco today, tragic as it was, could have been much, much worse. Shortly after the crash the plane burned. Had the crew not evacuated the plane very quickly, many more people would almost certainly have died.
Video from passengers after the crash landing show slides deployed and people exiting well before fire really took hold of the aircraft.  
Asiana have confirmed there were 291 passengers plus 16 cabin crew onboard flight OZ214. Looking at video of the burned out wreckage and of smoke and fire soon after the crash, some may be surprised the casualty figures are so low considering there were more than 300 onboard. 
This is very reminiscent of an incident in Toronto in August, 2005 when an Air France plane crashed. Although there was a large fire in that crash, all 309 passengers and crew on the Airbus A340 managed to get off. [ … ] 
Most of the planes we fly today are designed so passengers can get out within 90 seconds in an emergency. That is what we have seen in the case with this incident in San Francisco.
Contrast the behavior of well-trained flight crews with what happened recently in the Philippines. Just last month in Davao, a Cebu Pacific plane crashed, and the flight crew burst into tears instead of into action.
Passenger Andrew Bautista said he and his wife, who occupied Seats 1E and F, knew something was wrong when the flight crew failed to issue the usual announcements—seatbelts fastened, seats upright and window shades raised. They were just told to prepare for landing. 
“And then we were going so fast, that we hit the ground within ten seconds, there was a bump and then the lights went out and there was smoke all over,” Bautista remembers. And the next thing they knew, a flight attendant was crying. 
Except for that, the crew was silent, and people began to panic. “The fact was that very little was said on the plane, perhaps out of fear or uncertainty,” said Nelson Lindsay, a New Zealander who was on his 40th trip to Davao. 
Five foreigners were on board and begged the flight crew to speak in English for their sake but between the terrified screams, frantic ramblings, and the passengers’ rush to get their carry on baggage from the overhead bins, very few bothered to translate to any of the foreign passengers that day. 
Passenger Marlon Bo took it upon himself to calm the passengers and ask them to remain seated as the plane might tilt and bring even more danger to everyone. In the darkness, people prayed and held on to their children and their family, others frantically texted friends and relatives fearing that no one would know what had happened should the plane burst in flames.
Thankfully, there was no fire, or presumably every passenger would have died, since absolutely nothing happened for twenty minutes, until a passenger took charge and organized the plane’s evacuation.

A month later, there has been no further word on anything being done about Cebu Pacific’s failure to train their crew. As I wrote at the time, I expect nothing to happen, because the airline is owned by one of the country’s richest men, and run by his son.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Two Days Late (But Still Cool)

Posting about my great-great-great-grandfather (below) somehow reminded me about this, which I remember seeing a few year ago. I wish I had remembered to post it on the Fourth.


Totally Meaningless News

Among the least-important news stories I have read recently is this one about Donald Trump and his Miss USA Pageant winning a lawsuit against a contestant who said it was fixed:
... pageant contestant Sheena Monnin has been ordered by a judge to pay Donald Trump and his Miss USA pageant $5 million in a defamation lawsuit after she claimed the contest was fixed. 
After the 2012 Miss USA pageant the former Miss Pennsylvania accused the contest of being rigged. She claimed on Facebook and the “Today” show that another contestant saw a written list of five finalists backstage before winners were officially announced onstage, according to the New York Law Journal. 
Monnin quit the contest and wrote on her Facebook page that the pageant was “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent and in many ways trashy.”
Trump fired back, calling her accusations “false and reckless,”the New York Post reported. “She was angry that she lost,” he added. 
Trump sued over the “false charge,” and the case went to an arbitrator, who ruled that Monnin had defamed the pageant, ordering her to pay $5 million. The beauty queen sought to have the judgment overturned. The judge ruled against her.
She's right, of course, about the 'trashy' part, but presumably she knew that when she entered the contest. As for it being fixed -- shrug -- who knows? Or cares? It's entertainment, and it wouldn't shock me if the organizers structured an outcome that they thought would most please their audience and advertisers. Hey, it's business. It's not like who wins this sort of thing actually matters.

Which brings up the final point (I'm wasting an awful lot of time on something so insignificant, and so are you if you're reading this), in order to collect damages for defamation, don't you have to prove that you have a reputation that was damaged? Does the Miss USA Pageant have that much of a reputation, that this kind of allegation did it $5mil worth of damage?

Addendum: Have you ever wondered why Donald Trump got into the beauty pageant business?

Philip Houk's Pay Stub

This pictures a payroll record (not sure where it comes from) showing that Philip Houk (my great x3 grandfather) was serving in Capt. John Sebring's company of the Somerset Militia, a part of Frelinghuysen's Battalion. He was a private, according to a couple other things I’ve come across.

I’m not sure how readable this picture will be, so I’ll add that it shows they were stationed at Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth, NJ) from Nov 19 to Dec 3, 1777.

During this time he had ten days of service. I sort of wonder what he was doing during the other five days, but I believe militia service was somewhat casual at the time, with a fair amount of coming and going. Philip was married at this point and had at least one child, so he might have had reason to visit home during this period. Another child was born in 1778, so it appears he made good use of any such home visits.

For the ten days, he was paid 6 shillings 8 pence, plus a ‘bounty’ (not sure what this is about) of another 6s 8p. He also received a mileage reimbursement of 3s 1.5p. As a note, the distance from Elizabeth to Somerville (today the county seat of Somerset County) is about 31 miles. I never had heard of militia men getting a mileage allowance, so I learned something new.

So his total pay for the period was 16s 5.5p. I haven’t been able to find anything that indicates what that might amount to today; and I probably won’t, since colonial currency values fluctuated greatly.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Filipino Reaction to Criticism

I've noticed that Filipinos, when faced with any form of criticism, whether it is something like a complaint to the manager of a restaurant about poor food or service, or something about their country, such as crime, corruption, crappy infrastructure, or whatever, will respond in one or more of three ways:
  • Deny that there's a problem ("The food is excellent, sir, you're the only one to complain")
  • Use the equivalence argument ("It happens in your country, too")
  • Shift the blame ("It's all the fault of the US")
What they don't do is fix the problem. But then, why should they, if there is no problem and it's somebody else's fault?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Party of Big Business

The government will enforce the Obamacare rules that apply to individuals and to religious institutions, but they're going to give businesses a pass.

Please tell me again, because I keep forgetting: which one is The Party of Big Business?

I am finding that I see American politics as less a matter of Republicans v. Democrats and more as what I might characterize (a bit melodramatically) as The People v. The Elite. The elite in the US are the people who make up the Bigs -- Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media, and their associated groupings in entertainment, the educational establishment, and so on.

At present, all the Bigs are allied with the Democrats, so I see myself as anti-Democrat. But I am not necessarily pro-Republican, since too many of the Republicans are allied with the Bigs, too (or become so as soon as they reach Washington and figure out that’s where the money is). Both the Bushes, for example, were about as Big Government and Big Business as it’s possible to get, and both McCain (though I supported him in 2008) and Romney (whom I have always distrusted) were more of the same.

I’ve been playing for several months with ideas on how to put together an agenda that could build a populist/libertarian/social conservative alliance, since all those groupings have a natural antipathy to the Bigs, and could together easily win, but they are often (especially libertarians and socons) in conflict.

Abdications

Charlie plays dress-up
Abdication seems to be all the rage among European rulers these days. Albert II, the King of Belgium, announced that he will abdicate and turn the job (such as it is) over to his son.

Earlier this year the Pope resigned, of course, and, though hardly anyone noticed, the Queen of the Netherlands let her son take over in April.

The Belgian guy (in case I haven't made it clear, I'm not much of a monarchist) made the announcement on TV today:
"I realize that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to," the king said in a televised address.
Given that Albert is 79, the stated reason of course brings to mind the one royal family most Americans pay attention to -- England's Elizabeth is 87, and the guessing (around my kitchen table, at least) is that she would probably resign if she had a successor who wouldn't bring the monarchy into disrepute (or at least ridicule).

Another Warning on Zambo

The US Embassy here has issued another warning about traveling to Zamboanga. I posted one a couple months ago, as well as a few posts earlier about my visit there in April.

Security Message to U.S. Citizens
U.S. Embassy, Manila, Philippines
July 4, 2013
THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES IS TRANSMITTING THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION AS A PUBLIC SERVICE TO U.S. CITIZENS IN THE PHILIPPINES. PLEASE DISSEMINATE THIS MESSAGE TO ALL U.S. CITIZENS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION OR NEIGHBORHOOD.
THANK YOU.
Security Message for U.S. Citizens
This security message is being issued to alert U.S. citizens residing in, or traveling to, the Philippines that effective immediately, the Embassy has further restricted its personnel’s travel to Davao City, Cotabato City, and Zamboanga City. 
For more information on security conditions in Mindanao, please refer to the January 30, 2013 Travel Warning for the Philippines that is posted on the Department of State’s web site,http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5734.html .

The Embassy wishes to remind all U.S. citizens to remain vigilant and maintain an appropriate level of personal security in all circumstances by reviewing your personal safety plans; remaining aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitoring local news sources for updates.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Large Dose of Irony

Edward Snowden, noted advocate of freedom of speech and press, defender of open and transparent government, has applied for asylum from Vladimir Putin.

I love it. This guy is such a phony.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Greater of Two Evils?

Why is the US backing the rebels in Syria?

I don’t propose that we should back Assad and the government, but given that both sides are odious, why are we involved at all? It would appear that we learned nothing from backing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; nor, to go back further, from the consequences of backing the Ayatollahs against the Shah in Iran. Now we’re backing a group that is part of Al-Quaeda.

I’m aware that there are often good reasons for choosing the lesser of two evils, but in this instance there’s little to indicate that the rebels are any less evil than Assad. Here’s their latest:

… Murad, 49, was setting up a monastery in Gassanieh, northern Syria. Last Sunday … extremist militants trying to topple President Bashar Assad breached the monastery and grabbed Murad. 
While earlier reports suggested Murad may have been shot to death, Catholic Online reported Saturday: “The Vatican is confirming the death by beheading of Franciscan Father, Francois Murad, who was martyred by Syrian jihadists on June 23.” 
The Catholic news service quotes local sources who report that the radical Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, or Al-Nusra Front, was behind the savage killing. 
In video posted by Live Leak purporting to show the execution, dozens of men and boys are seen cheering on as three men are seated on the ground awaiting their grisly fate. 
The men are methodically beheaded one at a time by men holding what appears to be a simple kitchen knife after which the heads are placed on top of the bodies. 
According to Catholic Online, the first victim was Murad.
Is this really what we should be allying with? If this is how they behave when they are trying to garner support, what will they be like when they take power?

Children in Conflict with the Law

I came across this term used several times in a news article I read today. I had never seen it before, so I googled it and got almost a million hits -- the first several of which were from UNICEF. This leads me to believe that it is the new (or maybe not-so-new, I'm not up on such things) PC term for what we used to call juvenile delinquents.

One of the really hilarious things about do-gooders is that they seem to honestly think that changing words changes reality; that if a thing or situation or group is negatively perceived by the public, that changing the name will change the perception and solve all the problems associated with the thing/situation/group.

It doesn't work, but they keep doing it. What does that tell us about them?