Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Positive View of Declining SAT Scores (Because a Positive Attitude is All-Important)

SAT scores sucked last year. Again.
Of the 1.66 million high school students in the class of 2013 who took the SAT, only 43 percent were academically prepared for college-level work, according to this year’s SAT Report on College & Career Readiness. For the fifth year in a row, fewer than half of SAT-takers received scores that qualified them as “college-ready.”
So fewer than half of the students who think they’re ready for college (since those who know they aren’t presumably don’t even bother to take the test), actually are.

There’s no doubt though that the students have better mastery than the tests indicate of the skills US schools are primarily devoted to teaching. For example, their self-esteem is probably top-notch, having always won some sort of prize in any competition they entered; and they know that avoiding hurting anybody’s feelings is far more important than stating facts.

Against these impressive accomplishments of our educational system, how important can it be that there has been a bit of slippage in the students’ understanding of math, science, English, and other such secondary considerations?

I would imagine that it is only a matter of time before there are calls to restructure the SATs to more properly reflect the real goals of our schools. That will be much better, because then nobody will be hurt by getting a low score on the test.

Resurrecting Jeeves and Wooster

I posted a few weeks ago about a ‘new’ Agatha Christie novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, which is to be written by somebody else. I was not enthusiastic about the idea, to put it mildly.

Here’s another writer, at The Telegraph in the UK, who shares my view. The article mentions the new Christie, but is primarily focused on similar desecrations new books carrying on the characters created by Ian Fleming and P. G. Wodehouse. I’m not a James Bond fan anyway, but I can assure you that I will not read the upcoming Jeeves and Wooster crapfest, to be written by some guy named Sebastian Faulks. The closing paragraphs express my feelings well:
Faulks admits that Wodehouse is inimitable, which rather leaves one to wonder what the point of his exercise is. I suppose it seemed like a piece of fun when first suggested, but as the grim day of reckoning – that is, publication – looms, it seems akin to an act of vanity and, indeed, hubris. 
No one, surely, will purchase Faulks’s vanity project because they expect to be entertained by it. On the contrary, many readers will want to be annoyed by it. I am confident Faulks’s novel is knowing and loving, but it’s unlikely to be anything more than that. Perhaps his next project will be to write a tragedy in blank verse. It could even be set in Denmark. 
These resurrections provide a passable entertainment for a rainy winter’s afternoon. But why settle for the imitation when the pleasures of the real thing are so much more nourishing? The test of any of these impertinences is whether they bear re-reading. Almost none do so. They are matters of commerce, not literature. 
Perhaps it is appropriate that Bond is considered as a brand to be exploited for maximum commercial gain. Fleming’s own obsession with brands and status was suitably vulgar itself. Treating Wodehouse in a comparable fashion, however, seems rather different. Even vaguely sacrilegious. Wodehouse exists in an Elysian genre of his own. He is, more than almost any other author, incomparable. 
Stepping into the ring with Wodehouse (or Tolstoy) can only end one way, and the comparison cannot possibly be to Faulks’s advantage. His new book is brave. That is to say: it is an act of lunatic folly.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hollywood Is So Hopelessly out of Touch with Reality

Somebody named Ellen Pompeo (of whom I had never before heard, but apparently she’s in a popular TV show) is upset that a dance number in the recent Emmy show didn’t have enough ‘people of color’.
Ellen Pompeo wasn't a fan of this year's Emmy Awards show. 
The 43-year-old actress says she "was really disappointed" by Sunday's telecast. 
"I didn't see any diversity in the Emmys at all. The Emmys felt so dated to me," she said in an interview Monday. "... That dance number was embarrassing. Did you see one person of color in that dance number?"
Not that this sort of thing is worthy of any attention at all, but it brings to mind two points.

One is the habit the left variety of wingnuts has of defining ‘diversity’ solely in terms of skin color (and, sometimes, gender). They have zero interest in any other form of diversity (e.g., diversity of thinking, opinion, religion, etc). I doubt that there were many Republicans or fundamentalist Christians dancing onstage, either, but Ms. Pompeo is unlikely to care about such things. (Nor do I, for the record – I hope the producer simply chose the best dancers).

The other is the incredible pettiness of the thing. If one is genuinely concerned with diversity, however defined, aren’t there areas of life more worthy of such concern than the Emmys?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What If They Had a Baseball Game and Nobody Watched?

It ain’t easy for a professional sports event to get a TV rating of 0.0, so kudos to the Houston Astros for accomplishing the feat.
The Houston Astros keep breaking records for the wrong reasons.This past Sunday according to Nielson ratings, the Astros and Indians game drew a rating of 0.0 in the greater Houston area.
To be fair, it should be noted that the rating does not mean that nobody watched the game. TV ratings are similar to political polls in that they project from a sample and therefore have a margin of error. So it’s quite likely that somewhere in the Houston metro area (population 6.2 mil) somebody was watching. But not a lot of somebodies.

When a special event happens, there’s usually some special cause; but in this case the special cause was not that big a deal – the Houston Texans (NFL) had a game on TV at the same time (recently, when there was a college football game on TV involving Texas A&M, the Astros got a rating of 0.04).

Other than that, the cause is that the Astros suck. They went into the game with eight consecutive losses and 104 for the season (afterwards, they had 105 for the season and nine consecutive). They also are shown on a crappy network apparently, but 0.0 ratings aren’t likely to elicit offers from anybody better.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

School Shut Down Because Students Were Possessed by Demons

From today's local news:
At least 20 high school students of the Quiot Integrated School in Sitio Bogo, Barangay Quiot, Cebu City were believed to have been possessed by evil spirits yesterday, prompting teachers to immediately suspend classes. 
The affected students reportedly started shouting inside the classroom, then “their voices changed and they went wild.” 
The possession reportedly started yesterday morning, affecting at least 10 students. This was, however, controlled by the teachers, led by a teacher catechist, who immediately prayed.
Putting aside the whole issue of possession, I wonder what would happen to a teacher in the US who tried to quiet disruptive students by praying.
Quiot Barangay Captain Vicente Ramos Jr. told The FREEMAN that it was around 2:00 pm when the possession started again, this time affecting at least 20 students from first year to third year. 
The teachers again started praying, together with Lupon Tagapamayapa member Victor Lunday, who is a lay minister. 
Ramos said some students regained consciousness while three others were taken to Msgr. Fred Kriekenbeek at the Mary’s Little Children Community in Barangay Tabunok, Talisay City. 
Kriekenbeek is the official exorcist of the Archdiocese of Cebu and is also the founder and father moderator of Mary’s Little Children Community.
Luckily the right guy was on the scene. It turns out, though, that there have been multiple outbreaks of possession at the school.
Ramos narrated that issues on possession started last Friday during the three-days and two-nights Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP) camping at the school compound. [ ... ]
Ramos said that school officials are now planning to have the school blessed again. It was blessed six years ago during its official opening.
Once again, I dare somebody to get up at their next school board meeting and suggest getting the school blessed.

On another point, I learned from this that blessings expire. I wonder if six years is the normal lifespan of a school-blessing.

The article closes with some helpful advice:
Victims of possession should also abandon demonic items and evil practices so as not to be taken in control again.
Thinking back to my behavior at that age, and that of my classmates, I find it difficult to see how anyone could discern when we were possessed and when we were just being teenaged boys.

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Taxes and Subsidies and Smuggling

An interesting item appeared in Cuenca HighLife, an expat publication in Cuenca, Ecuador. Apparently unconsciously, it makes a valuable point about one of the almost inevitable results of both subsidies and taxes – smuggling.

The article is actually about liquor retailers who have seen a terrible plunge in their sales since the government began raising liquor taxes a few years ago. The taxes are so high now that the price of a bottle of booze is more than double what it is in neighboring countries.
Cordovez said that a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label whiskey that can be purchased for $37 in Peru, costs about $80 in Ecuadorian stores.
What would you do in such circumstances (assuming you had both entrepreneurial and criminal tendencies)? You’d buy booze in Peru and smuggle it into Ecuador, that’s what. And if your such tendencies were a bit less pronounced, but you needed to save a few bucks, you’d probably buy your booze from the neighborhood bootlegger. And apparently, there’s a lot of that going on.
Quito customs officer Luis Cortez says that as much as 60% of foreign liquor purchased in Ecuador is smuggled in. “We do not have the personnel to keep all of it out. We can control it in stores and bars but it is difficult with prívate sales.”
That’s what happens when the governments distort markets. Another way the Ecuadorian government distorts markets is by subsidizing natural gas (which most people there use for cooking). This subsidy gives the smugglers the opportunity to make money on both ends of the trips between Peru and Ecuador – why send empty trucks down to Peru to bring back liquor?
The government admits that there is a growing black market for foreign liquor brands, almost all of it coming over the borders with Peru and Colombia. According to Cordovez, much of it crosses the borders in gas trucks smuggling low-price LP gas out of the country.
So the Ecuadorian government is losing money twice (and Peru doubling up their wins) – Ecuador is subsidizing Peruvians’ use of gas and Peru is collecting taxes on the liquor Ecuadorians drink.

The funny thing is that Ecuador could probably make a lot more money by charging reasonable taxes. If they charged the same tax as Peru, or even just a little more, there would be no reason to smuggle booze (they are planning to cut out the gas subsidies soon). If 60% of the liquor is smuggled, then Ecuador is collecting $0.00 tax on most of the country’s liquor sales. It shouldn’t take an economics PhD to figure out that such high taxes actually reduce tax revenue rather than increasing it.

I mention the PhD, because the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, under whom the taxes have been raised so much, is an economist; his degree is from the University of Illinois. He is not reflecting much credit on the ol’ alma mater.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tottenham Update

My favorite EPL team, Tottenham Hotspur (I adopted them as my team because I like the name), are tied for the lead after the first five weeks. This is good news, because they’ve had the habit in the past few years of getting off to poor starts.

It’s not all that big a deal, though, since their early schedule has been really soft. They have four wins in the five games – over Crystal Palace, Swansea, Norwich, and Cardiff. None of whom strike fear into anybody’s heart.

The only tough game they’ve had – away at Arsenal – they lost 1-0. It’s Arsenal they’re tied with (actually Arsenal is one-up on goal differential).

We’ll know more next week, when Chelsea comes to play at White Hart Lane.

Big positive: In five games, they’ve given up only one goal.
Big Negative: In five games, they’ve scored only five goals.
Great D; where’s the O?


Serial Stupidity

As mentioned a few days ago, I am reading (and enjoying) In the Garden of Beasts, about FDR’s first ambassador to Germany, William Dodd. Much of the story is about his daughter, Martha, an attractive woman in her early twenties, who had many affairs before, during, and after the period of the story (including Carl Sandburg while still in Chicago, and Thomas Wolfe when he visited Berlin).

She was initially enamored of fascism and among her lovers were high-ranking Nazis, including Rudolph Diels, the first chief of the Gestapo.
It was through Diels that she began for the first time to temper her idealistic view of the Nazi revolution. “There began to appear before my romantic eyes … a vast and complicated network of espionage, terror, sadism and hate, from which no one, official or private, could escape.”
Good for her. Her initial failure to see Nazism as it was can be forgiven, both because many others (including many high State Department officials) did not recognize its full horror and because she was young.

But what became of her political views after having her eyes opened to the “espionage, terror, sadism and hate” of Hitler? She turned to Stalin, and began a lifelong devotion to communism, including betraying her own country (and her father’s trust).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Today at Chong Hua

Chong Hua Hospital is one of only three hospitals in the Philippines to be accredited by the Joint Commission International (which means it meets US standards), and the only one here in Cebu (I think the other two are in Manila). I have used their doctors for just about everything I’ve had done here, other than dental work, and used their lab for tests.

I have been pleased with their work, and have often recommended them to other expats here – most recently this morning. Shortly after doing so, I went for my appointment for a pre-op exam at the Chong Hua Eye Institute (they're doing cataract surgery on my right eye Tuesday). Before the exam, the nurse was supposed to put a drop in my right eye to dilate it.

She put it in the left eye.

US Rescinds Tariffs on Ecuador Shrimp

In this post last month, I speculated that tariffs imposed on imports of Ecuadorian shrimp by the US might have been retaliation for Ecuador’s offer of asylum to Edward Snowden.

Whether or not that was the case, the tariffs, which had been imposed as a penalty for dumping by Ecuador, have been withdrawn.
The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has dropped countervailing duties on imports of shrimp from Ecuador, local media reported Friday. 
In a divided vote, the ITC ruled that the Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industry, the complainant, failed to present a strong enough case that it suffered from cheap imports of frozen shrimp from Ecuador as well as four other nations.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Things Have Changed a Bit in Eighty Years

When someone is appointed to a significant post in the US government -- something, we'll say, at the cabinet level or even a cabinet member's top assistant, or ambassador to a major country -- it is to be anticipated that there will be hearings by the appropriate committee of the Senate during which he or she will be questioned. In some cases the questioning may get rather tough, in other cases not, but certainly such candidates will be called in and expected to defend their qualifications and past job performance, and to give an idea of what they intend to do in their new position.

Currently I am reading a book called In the Garden of Beasts, about William Dodd, he first US Ambassador to Germany during the Nazi era, appointed in June 1933. About the appointment, the author, Erik Larson, writes:
... Dodd called the White House and informed Roosevelt’s secretary that he would accept the job. Two days later Roosevelt placed Dodd’s appointment before the Senate, which confirmed him that day, requiring neither Dodd’s presence nor the kind of interminable hearing that one day would become commonplace for key nominations. 
The book is quite good thus far, by the way. I read Larson's The Devil in the White City a few years ago, and enjoyed it as well.

An Amazing Post

When did 'amazing' change in meaning from "causing great surprise or sudden wonder", which is what this online dictionary says, to "really nice"?

I was reading a travel guide for Ecuador just now and it says, "All beaches in Ecuador are amazing ..." Really? A beach might be capable of causing great surprise and sudden wonder if, perhaps, it lacked water, or some other element one normally associates with beaches; but otherwise probably not -- though it might well be delightful, pleasant, and/or fun.

I get very tired of this particular word usage, which seems to be near-universal now. It is a symptom, I'm afraid, of America's increasing verbal poverty, which has become ... er, amazing. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's Now OK to Frighten the Horses

I can recall a phrase that people used to use (maybe they still do, though I haven't heard it in a while), to indicate that they were reasonably tolerant:
I don't care what you do -- just don't do it in public and frighten the horses.
I presume it dated back to when there were lots of horses around, but it was still occasionally cited in the 50s-60s.

That is a long intro to a short item from Sweden, where public masturbation is now legal:
A man who openly masturbated on a Stockholm beach has been acquitted of sexual assault in court after it was ruled he was not targeting a specific person, with the prosecutor saying it's "okay" to play with yourself in public.

Another Example of Philippine Business Practices

At Living in Cebu, an expat forum where I hang out, somebody posted a warning about badly-canned foods:
The other day I went to fix some (canned) sisig and scrambled eggs for dinner, and I noticed that when I pressed on the tops of the cans there was a bit of movement as though the can wasn't sealed. Into the garbage they went. Then just last Friday when we were doing our biweekly grocery shopping I noticed that several other cans in the store were the same way: not just sisig (Argentina Spicy Sisig, FYI) but also sardines. Most cans were OK, just a few of them were bad.
OK, so that sort of thing can happen. But the part of the story that tells about Philippine business practices comes in the next paragraph:
We reported it to one of the floor managers but she didn't do anything other than have one of the stockboys return the puffy cans we'd given her to their shelves …
Try to imagine an American store manager doing something like that. Here, businesses have no sense of responsibility toward their customers, in large part because they know that no one in the government or the courts will hold them accountable.

A few examples of unsafe Philippine business practices:

Bus travel
Another bus crash

Businesses here are never held accountable for anything they do, even if they kill their customers.

The US Embassy Is Getting Things Right Lately

On Sept 12, the US Embassy put out a warning notice that there was danger to expats in several place in Mindanao (beyond the obvious Zamboanga City, where the fighting is still raging, unfortunately). The warning was unusually specific, especially in terms of the sort of places that might be hit:
The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens that a credible threat against foreigners has been identified in southern Mindanao.  Individuals associated with known extremist groups are believed to have been conducting surveillance on public shopping malls and western-based cafés in the area, as possible targets of interest.  
Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests.  Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, and other destinations frequented by foreigners.
It looks like they had some good intelligence. Last night there were bombings at two theatres located in malls in Davao City. Thankfully, no casualties.
Separate Monday night explosions in two Davao City movie theaters wrecked seats and lights, but caused no casualties. 
According to a report on GMA 7's “Saksi”, investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blast at a SM City cinema, which occurred at about 9 p.m. SM said that it is cooperating in the investigation. 
Meanwhile, radio dzBB reported an almost simultaneous explosion at the Gaisano Mall's Cinema 5.
Kudos to the Embassy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When Failure Is Something to Brag About

One of the newsletters I get (sorry, can’t link to it) had this story:
Obama takes credit for U.S. economic recovery 
It's been five years since Lehman Brothers went belly-up, and the Obama administration is seeking to use the anniversary to take credit for the country's economic stabilization.
That’s really scary, because it means that he actually thinks things are going well and that there is ‘credit’ to be taken.

When I had employees who were doing a poor job, but knew it, I would have hope that, with help, they might be able to fix things. But those who were so clueless that they didn’t even realize they were screwing up were beyond hope. Obama is apparently in the latter category.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Chance to Send a Message on Flopping

FIFA is apparently investigating a Costa Rican player, Joel Campbell, who (it seems quite obvious) took a dive and faked an injury in last week’s game against the US. The incident resulted in the US player, Matt Besler, getting a yellow card which meant (because he had received a yellow in an earlier game) that he was suspended for the US’s next World Cup qualifying match.

Here’s a gif of the incident:

This sort of thing gives soccer a bad name. FIFA needs to come down hard on Campbell (a multi-game suspension) if they’re serious about putting a stop to it.

(Aside: I’d like to see the NBA take meaningful action against flopping in that sport as well. But I really don’t care that much, since basketball would still suck without the flopping).

Rescinding Besler’s yellow card would have no real meaning (he’s already served his suspension), but it might be a good symbolic gesture.

It was convenient that a Mexican ref was able to deprive the US of several players in their next game, which happened to be against Mexico.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What Counts in College Sports

From the Wisconsin State Journal:
The University of Wisconsin football team left Thursday for the trip to Arizona State, heading out of town a day earlier than usual for a road game in part to get acclimated to the expected hot weather for the non-conference matchup on Saturday night.
I presume this means that none of the 'student-athletes' on the Wisconsin team have any Friday classes, since we know that all these schools put academics first.

The First Pork Barrel Fugitive

The Philippine pork barrel scandal (I've written about it several times -- one post is here) may be heating up. The former chief of staff of one of the senators allegedly involved seems to have left the country, leaving no forwarding address
Jessica Lucilla “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile who was linked to the P10-billion pork barrel scam, left the country late last month and has yet to return, acting Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison said Thursday. 
Mison said Reyes left the country for Macau on Aug. 31. 
“Based on our records, she has not returned,” the immigration chief said. [ ... ] 
Reyes allegedly was one of those who served as “conduits” for channeling public funds to Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the scam.
There are several possible explanations: She could just be vacationing, though I'm not betting on that one; she also could be on the run, fearing arrest; or she could have been urged to leave by people who are endangered by her possible testimony.

I'm still assuming that this will be swept end as such things seem to always do here: a few showy 'reforms' will be made and then the theft will go on as before. Her disappearance is consistent with this, though it could also be consistent with a genuine clean-up, however unlikely that would be.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

PC Isn't Totally New

We’ve all seen dozens of pictures like this poster – advertisers are especially fond of them. Of course they are absurd and laughable in their pathetic attempt to offend nobody and include everybody. In addition to the omissions noted, I see they're missing the handicapped physically-challenged person.

But they also remind me of another, much earlier effort to be ‘inclusive’ (though less inclusive than today). I’m thinking of those great old World War II movies where at some point Sarge would call roll for the squad, and it would be something like, "Kowalski ... Garibaldi ... O'Malley ... Goldberg ... " and so on.

Of course, the Army wasn't integrated yet, or the list would surely have included a black guy named, no doubt, Washington. No Asians, either. Sometimes there might be a Hispanic, generally named Martinez; he’d be from Los Angeles. That’s because they were also aiming for regional inclusiveness -- there was always a guy from Brooklyn, a southerner, and a ridiculously naive farm kid.

Great stuff.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

'Christmas Creep' Continues

Remember when the Christmas season started at Thanksgiving? If so, you’re really old, like me. But even younger people probably don’t expect to see Christmas ads and in-store displays until Halloween.

Too bad – because now it starts with Labor Day.
In an unprecedented move, Kmart has aired its first holiday ad. The commercial, which promotes the retailer's layaway program, features a gingerbread man sneaking up on a woman working in an office cubicle. A voiceover says: "Don't let the holidays sneak up on you. Shop early with Kmart free layaway. … Kmart. Get in, get more Christmas."

The article in Ad Age notes that Target ran its first Christmas ad (well, they call it a ‘holiday ad’, but I’m not politically correct) on October 7 last year, so the Halloween barrier had already been demolished.

USA Is Going to the World Cup!

USA beat Mexico 2-0 and is now guaranteed a spot in next year’s World Cup in Brazil. The top three finishers in the Concacaf tournament go to Brazil; USA is currently first and cannot possibly finish lower than third.

The shocking thing is that there is now a very real chance that Mexico will not be in Brazil. Mexico is currently tied for fourth place with Panama, with very little chance of moving up to third. The fourth-place finisher gets one last chance – a playoff against New Zealand for one of the remaining World Cup positions.

Until recently, I (and a lot of people) thought that Mexico was set to be not just the dominant power in the region, but a major player on the world stage. They had a host of upcoming young stars (e.g., Giovanni dos Santos and Chicharito), they won the U-17 World Cup in 2007, they finished third in the 2011 U-20 World Cup, and they won the Olympic gold last year in London.

And now … pretty much a complete collapse this year. (To be fair, those young stars are still young, and still may develop into what was expected of them).

I love everything about Mexico, with two exceptions – they have crappy Mexican food, and I hate their soccer team. As you might imagine, I’m not unhappy at this moment.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Latest Zamboanga Warning from the US Embassy

Not that anyone should need this warning, but as a pro forma, here it is anyway:


Emergency Message to U.S. Citizens
U.S. Embassy, Manila, Philippines
September 9, 2013
Violence Near Zamboanga City, Mindanao

The U.S. Embassy in Manila advises U.S. citizens against any travel to the Zamboanga region due to ongoing clashes between Philippine security forces and armed insurgents of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).   MNLF insurgents have been engaged in battle with Philippine security forces in Barangays Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Tetuan, Talon-Talon, and Mariki in Zamboanga City since early morning, September 9, 2013.  The Zamboanga City airport is currently closed. We have no information at this time whether the clashes will expand to neighboring areas, nor how long they may continue.
The Embassy has heard no reports of violence in neighboring Basilan province, but urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution and remain vigilant regarding their personal security situation.
U.S. citizens in the Zamboanga City area should shelter in place to avoid becoming involved in the fighting or should follow any instructions from local authorities regarding evacuation.
The Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to postpone any travel to the Zamboanga peninsula area at this time. The Embassy strongly reiterates its recommendation that U.S. citizens exercise extreme caution when travelling to Mindanao and to keep personal safety and security in mind during any stay in Mindanao. 

More Trouble in Zamboanga

The US Embassy in Manila has posted a couple warnings recently about the danger of traveling to Zamboanga and other places in Mindanao, the most recent being in July, which I reposted here.

Zamboanga is ... er, different from anyplace else I've ever visited. I was there in April for a niece's wedding. As I've mentioned before, when I arrived, she told me that I was forbidden to leave my hotel without an escort; the concern being that white folks there have a tendency to get kidnapped. I (mostly) did as I was told, not wanting to cause any anxiety.

A lot of expats here laugh at Embassy warnings (Australia has issued some lately, as well), on the grounds that they're just a bunch of butt-covering bureaucrats. That characterization may well be true, but it looks today like the warnings may, in this case at least, have some validity.

Zambo is currently under attack from a group of Muslim extremists. At present the city is pretty much in lockdown mode, with an overnight curfew and with schools, government offices and most businesses closed again tomorrow.
As of Monday afternoon, six people have been reported killed and 24 wounded. Some 300 civilians were also held hostage by the rebel group.
I'm praying for the well-being of the people of Zamboanga, especially of course my family.

A map of Zamboanga City's center shows where hostages are being held by MNLF rebels in Bgy. Santa Catalina (middle icon), just four city blocks from city hall, where the rebels are purportedly intending to march their hostages as human shields so they can raise their flag. In their way are heavily armed troops and law enforcers facing a huge dilemma – will they confront the rebels and risk a massacre of hostages or allow the MNLF to reach city hall, signifying a victory for the Misuari-led guerrillas? The icon on the right marks the site of a firefight in the early hours of Monday in coastal Rio Hondo within the Zamboanga City boundary. That battle caused the death of at least one soldier, a member of the Navy's Special Operations Group.

Julian Assange Is Delusional

Perhaps it's the effect of being confined too long in the Ecuadorian embassy; or maybe the effect of people paying less attention to him than he wishes.

In any case, he thinks his 'Wikileaks Party' is a serious player in Australian politics, despite getting 0.62% of the vote in the election.
Julian Assange on Sunday declared that the WikiLeaks Party’s showing in Australia’s parliamentary elections had been a “great result,” despite winning less than 1 per cent of the vote. [ ... ] 
“The WikiLeaks Party will continue for sure,” Mr. Assange said, insisting that 0.62 per cent of the vote was a “pretty good outcome.” Others have declared WikiLeaks’ entry into party politics a shambles.
Absolutely right -- you need to keep it going. After all, consider that the Libertarian Party used to get about that much of the vote, and look at where they are now.

On second thought, maybe that's not such a good example. Give me a little time on this one.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

About Tattoos and Waiting Periods

The Washington, DC city council is considering a new rule requiring a twenty-four hour waiting period before getting a tattoo.
If you had to stop and think about it for a day, would you still get that giant dragon tattoo across your back? That’s the question being raised by health regulators in our nation’s capital, where Washington, DC officials are considering a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before getting a tattoo or body piercings. 
"The licensee or operator of a body art establishment shall ensure that no tattoo artist applies any tattoo to a customer until after twenty-four (24)hours have passed since the customer first requested the tattoo," reads the language of proposed language of new regulations from Washington DC’s Department of Health. 
“We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning . . . saying, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ Washington DC Health Department Spokeswoman Najma Roberts told the Washington Post.
In other words, the potential new regulation would largely be aimed at stopping people from getting a tattoo while drunk, or under the influence of other drugs.
This story offers lots of possibilities for comments from a snark like me. But here’s the most obvious one and the one all of my social-conservative friends will jump on: Given that it is a safe assumption that the DC council is populated entirely by people who are well to the left of US society as a whole, especially on social issues, I wonder what they would think of a twenty-four hour waiting period for more serious decisions – e.g., abortions?

Actually, something similar was voiced by a tattoo parlor owner: “Why not 24 hours’ waiting time before shaving your head?” Why not, indeed. Seems like a sensible course of action. The parlor owners are concerned, of course, since probably the majority of their customers are drunk. If this law passes, I can see people waking up the next morning and saying, "Geez, what a hangover! But at least I didn't get a tattoo."

A marketing opportunity for bar owners located near tattoo parlors comes to mind: Sell tickets good for free drinks to tattoo parlor owners, who will then give them to prospective customers signing up for the waiting period. The tickets are good for the next evening. The prospect, the parlor owner hopes, will get drunk again and maybe get the tattoo. Please forward 10% of your gross receipts to me.

My friends on the left would probably be thinking in terms of a waiting period to buy guns, but DC apparently already has that rule.

Full disclosure: I should state that I hate, hate, hate tattoos. Probably almost as much as some of my friends hate abortion and guns. Well, maybe not that much, but I told my kids when they were teens that if they ever got a tattoo they should not bother coming home. I might even have meant it.

A Good Dentist in Cebu City

If you’re in Cebu City and you need dental work done, I have a great recommendation for you. I recently had some work done at Bite Solutions, a small dental office on Juana Osmena between Baseline and Maria Cristina.
It’s a one-dentist office, Dr. Iris Rose Redulla-Salupan. Her work is outstanding and her prices are very, very reasonable (incredibly so, by American standards). I had five fillings done (two new ones and three replacements of old fillings) for 500 pesos (a little over $11) each. I also got two crowns at 6000 pesos (about $135) each. Total cost, 14,500 pesos. This is about $325-$330, half or a third of what one crown would cost in the US (I’m told they run $600 to $1000).

But much as I enjoy saving money, I’m of the opinion that low prices are meaningless if the work is inferior. Dr. Salupan’s work is excellent, her office professional, and her equipment very much up-to-date. And there was no pain. In addition, she is an extremely nice person and takes the time to get to know what her patient wants, even spending time just chatting (her English is excellent).

My visits to her office were the most pleasant dental experience I’ve ever had. OK, so ‘pleasant dental experiences’ is not a category with a lot of competition. Still, this was as close as visits to a dentist can get to being a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Before going to Dr. Salupan, I had visited a place called DentaLand, on a recommendation from another expat. It is in Ayala Mall, a high-end place frequented by expats. DentaLand cleaned my teeth and did an exam for a reasonable price (900 pesos), but then recommended several fillings – at 1500 pesos each.

That price was still very low by US standards, but I knew it was absurd for Cebu. I really resent being taken advantage of because I am a foreigner, and I thanked them and left. I cannot recommend DentaLand.

More detail on the office location: Coming from Mango/Maxilom Avenue, after you pass Baseline, the building next to it contains a beauty salon. Next to the beauty salon is Bite Solutions. If coming in the other direction, from Escario, on the corner of Maria Cristina is a pension, next to it is a residence, and then Bite Solutions. Should be no problem finding it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Africa Is Really, Really Big

I have long been aware that Africa is bigger than it appears on most maps (the same is true of South America). And, no, I don't think this is because of racism.

But anyway, it is bigger, much bigger. How much bigger, you ask? This much, which really surprised me.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Philippines Trails Most of Southeast Asia

Here are a couple interesting graphs I came across, showing that the Philippines ranks far behind most of its
neighbors in unemployment and foreign direct investment (FDI); the two being related, of course – the lack of investment leading to a scarcity of jobs.

As an aside, I think the unemployment figures are patently phony; a walk down just about any street will make it clear that far more than 7% are not working.

Until the Philippines opens up its economy, there will not be enough investment to create jobs for the fast-growing population, and Filipinos will have to continue to leave to find opportunity. About 10% of the population (and a far larger percentage of the workforce) is outside the country, and one of the biggest elements of Philippine GDP is the money sent home by these people to their families.

Unfortunately, the economy will not be opened anytime soon, since that would require the elite families (the Aquinos, Cojuangcos, Ayalas, Lopezes, Osmenas, and their cronies) to give up the stranglehold they have on the economy and the government.

(Sorry for the markings on the graphs -- go to the original site and they will be explained).

The Onion Nails It

The Onion reports that a recent poll shows that 90% of the US public thinks it is a great idea to intervene in Syria, as long as the intervention is done by the US Congress.
The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria—including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and, in fact, all current members of the House and Senate—is the best course of action at this time.
I am among the 90%, although I would add that the congress should be accompanied by Barack Obama and his apparatchiks.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Ecuadorian Media Crackdown Reaches the Internet

The Ecuadorian government is seeking to extend its media crackdown to the internet.
A senior Ecuadorian government official proposed a bill Wednesday that would criminalize insults posted on social networks, opening them up to receive similar treatment to those in the media. 
The head of the office of the legal secretary of the presidency, Alexis Mera, said he introduced the proposal to the Justice Committee of the National Assembly, which is discussing the new penal code. 
"There is injury in this media, as well as in a social network," Mr. Mera said in a television interview. "I think there are more people reading a person with 100,000 followers [on Twitter] than people following local media." 
The current criminal code provides penalties of between 15 days and three years in prison and fines for the crime of libel. The legislation doesn't state anything about new technologies, or social networks like Twitter or Facebook.
I absolutely agree that if I falsely state that “Jose Gomez is a drug dealer”, that I should be held accountable for it, regardless of whether the statement was printed in a newspaper, posted on a blog, tweeted, or said in conversation.

What concerns me is that I doubt that this is about stopping people from falsely calling Jose a drug dealer; it is much more likely to be about stopping people from calling Rafael Correa a bad president; whatever the truth or falsity of such a statement, we know for certain that the government will consider it false.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A New Hercule Poirot Novel Is on Its Way

It will not be a newly-discovered manuscript written by Dame Agatha, alas; her grandson, who has charge of the estate, has chosen to try to ‘update’ things.
Literary agent Jonny Geller, joint chief executive of Curtis Brown, said estates were keen to produce new work from their authors “to drive readers to the original work. One way of doing that is reinventing it”.
In case you might wonder what ‘re-inventing’ means:
Mr Geller, who has worked with the Fleming estate on new James Bond books, said: “There is real potential that hasn’t been exploited. You can have young Poirot or modern Poirot.”
Hmmm … are we going to have a hip young Poirot? That would seem difficult to do in the late 1920s, which is the timeframe in which they are planning to place the stories, according to the article. Poirot's first appearance in The Mysterious Affair at Styles makes plain that he was a refugee from Belgium who had already been retired from the police there at the time of WW1.

I fear though that we might have a ‘modern’ Poirot, concerned about the environment and expressing sympathy for gay rights, or taking on similar views inconsistent with a middle-class, rather traditionalist, person of the interwar era.

However worthy one might consider such ideals, they would be wildly out of place in a Poirot story. And yet such anachronistic sentiments are commonly ascribed by modern writers (of novels, movies, and TV shows) to characters of other eras, in an apparent effort to attract modern readers.

I guess it works, since they keep doing it. But I would find it rather annoying to read a book set in 1928 and find that it is populated by people from 2013 dressed up in period costume.

An Unlamented Death in Cleveland

Ariel Castro, the Cleveland Scumbag, has apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell. At least that’s the story they’re giving out.
Castro was also watched closely in Cuyahoga County Jail in the several weeks after his arrest and before his case was resolved by a guilty plea, with logs noting his activity every 10 minutes. He was taken off county jail suicide watch in early June after authorities determined he was not a suicide risk.
Doesn’t do much to increase my faith in the ‘authorities’, nor in the experts upon whom they rely.

Three possibilities:

  • There were plenty of people, most prominently his fellow inmates or any guards who might have been related to one of his victims, who might have wanted to kill him.
  • He had good reasons to kill himself – certainly he knew he was never going to get out. He might even, if he had a bit of humanity, have felt remorse and shame.

And a third possibility is a combo of the other two:

  • The ‘authorities’ knew that he was suicidal and didn’t give a damn, taking him off suicide watch in the hope that he would go ahead and do it.

In any case, I’m not going to lose much sleep wondering which it is.

Ecuador's Media Fights Back

I’m pleased to see that Ecuadorian media is suing over the country’s repressive new media laws.
Journalists, commentators and others in the media industry in Ecuador filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in the Constitutional Court, the country's highest court, aiming to declare unconstitutional a recently passed law to regulate communications. [ … ] 
In June, Ecuador's legislature approved the law tightening media regulations, which raised concerns about an erosion of press freedoms and which gave an important victory to President Rafael Correa, who has clashed repeatedly with independent journalists. [ … ] 
Among other things, the law orders that a third of radio and television frequencies be in the hands of the state, another 33% in the private sector and the rest for community media, which would be run by communities or NGOs across the country. 
The law creates a government communications superintendent position that will audit, intervene and control the media and be able to impose sanctions.
That last paragraph pretty much summarizes the problem, since I fail to see any difference between a “government communications superintendent”, as defined, and what I would call a “censor”.

I’m not terribly hopeful, unfortunately, since Correa has control of the courts, and I doubt they will have the courage to defy him.

McCain Makes a Fool of Himself (Again)

John McCain says Muslims shouting"Allahu akbar" is pretty much the same as Christians saying "Thank God."

And of course he's totally right. I always shout "Thank God!" whenever I behead somebody, and so do most Christians I know.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Peso/Dollar Rate

During most of the time I have been in the Philippines, the dollar has been at unusually low levels relative to the Philippine peso. A few years ago, the rate was around 55:1.

Here’s the exchange rate for the time I’ve been here:

I arrived on June 1, with the rate just a bit over 43, and it dropped badly from there. By the end of June, it was below 42 and continued sinking to near 40. Starting in about May, it began a good climb and is now over 44.

But the dollar was below 42 for about eleven months of my stay. I consider this grossly unfair, and I demand to know where I apply for the compensation I’m due!

The Arab League and Syria

Arab League Endorses International Action 
The Arab League on Sunday urged international action against the Syrian government to deter what it called the “ugly crime” of using chemical weapons. 
Of course, this simply raises the ...

First Question: What is the Arab League doing about something that is happening in its own neighborhood?

First Answer: Nothing (other than passing resolutions).

Next Question: Why do they think Somebody Else should do something they're unwilling to do?

Next Answer: So Somebody Else will have to take the blame for the inevitable nasty consequences.