Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Another One Is Getting Ready to Bite the Dust

Another liberal magazine looks like it's going into a death spiral. Newsweek died (or 99% died – I think it's still kinda hanging around) a couple years ago. Now, The New Republic appears to be falling apart.
On Thursday, the venerable Washington institution announced it is shifting its headquarters to New York, amid a shakeup that saw the resignation of its highest editors and promised to redefine the identity of a century-old institution that once served as liberalism’s leading voice. 
Franklin Foer, the top editor, sent a memo to staff in the afternoon announcing that he would be quitting due to differences of vision with the magazine’s owner, Chris Hughes, a 31-year-old Facebook co-founder who bought the magazine in 2012 and now aspires to reposition it as a “digital media company.” The move came, sources said, after Foer discovered that Hughes had already hired his replacement, Gabriel Snyder, a Bloomberg Media editor who formerly ran The Atlantic Wire blog.
Further down, we learn that twelve senior editors and 'at least 20' contributing editors have resigned, and that the once-weekly magazine is cutting its publication frequency to less than monthly, planning ten issues per year.

As an aside, being a fan of good euphemisms and linguistic misdirection, I applaud this effort to avoid saying, “We're gonna be laying people off.”
“Given the frequency reduction, we will also be making some changes to staff structure,” Vidra wrote. “This is not a decision we make lightly, but we believe this restructuring is critical to the long-term success of the company.” 
Those who haven't already quit will no doubt be sending out lots of resumes.

As was not the case with Newsweek, I would be really sorry to see TNR die. Newsweek was always a POS (I used to say that,at its best, all you could say for it was that it was almost as good as Time). TNR, on the other hand, was often very good. It was a resource that could provide an intelligent exposition of the liberal viewpoint, and would even sometimes question liberal orthodoxy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pakistan Sentences Actress to Jail – Because Using Religious Music on TV Is Offensive to Islam

Dependent upon how tough your employer is on such things, the pic of Veena Malik on the Reason site (where there is more about the story) may be NSFW, but this video of Malik's wedding is totally innocuous. It was enough to get Malik, her husband, and two others sentenced to twenty-six years in jail each, however for offending Islamic sensibilities. Why? Because it includes religious music, and using that music for a TV show is offensive.
Some things you just can't make up. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Classic Leftist Logic

Truth? What the hell does the truth matter?

This person has deleted her silly comment. But, of course, one of the lessons most of us learned early in the Internet Age is that nothing can be truly deleted.

I have, in my life, said many stupid things (though nothing that I recall as stupid as this); however, in 1975, if I said something stupid to a friend and he repeated it, I (if I were so inclined, and sometimes I was) could deny saying it.

Melissa McEwan is stuck with this.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Who Cares Who Discovered America?

So the president of Turkey says that Muslims discovered the New World before Columbus did.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century, nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there.
Yawn. It might well be true, I suppose, though it must have been crowded on the beaches, what with the Vikings, Irish, Chinese, and various others all taking turns discovering us.
But, if it is true, or if any of the other claims is true, so what? Given that it's un-PC to celebrate Columbus Day anymore, are we really supposed to even care who discovered the continents? As a matter of fact, I think it may even be un-PC to refer to it as 'discovery'.

A Look at the Republican Field for 2016

Because I know the multitudes are waiting impatiently for me to decide which candidate I'll be supporting in 2016, so they can be guided accordingly, I'll offer this very early (okay, too early) assessment of the Republican contenders.

(I suppose I should promise that I'll soon do an assessment of the Democrats, but the chance that I'd back Hillary or Biden is nonexistent, so my only 'assessments' of them will come in the form of periodic snarky comments).

In 2012, I was an ardent Mitch Daniels supporter, and I'm still convinced the Republicans would have been far better off with him as their nominee. But Daniels withdrew, and that's that. I never really settled on another candidate, and eventually it became obvious that Romney would get the nomination. By that time I was preparing to leave the country, convinced that Romney would lose. (An embarrassing admission: there was a point in October where I came around to thinking he might pull it out – wrong again!).

Anyway, on to 2016. I would still support Daniels in a heartbeat, but he seems perfectly happy as president of Purdue University, and getting him to change his mind about subjecting his family to the ugliness that American politics has become is, uh, unlikely.

So I’ll have to find someone who can fill the same slot – a reformist with executive experience, highly competent, able to relate to ordinary people, both fiscally and socially conservative, and defense-minded.

On those last three points let me add this, since the 'social conservative' part may surprise some, who know that I'm not particularly conservative on social issues):  the Republican Party (and any party that is more than a splinter movement, e.g., the Libertarians or the Greens) is a coalition. Any candidate that is going to unite a coalition must be, at minimum, acceptable to all major factions. Not that s/he is the favorite of all of them (or any of them). But s/he must not be obnoxious to any of them.

Therefore, in my opinion, the Republican nominee need not be a hard-core deficit hawk, but must not go far in the opposite direction; need not be a culture warrior but must not be pro-choice (or even weakly pro-life); need not be an interventionist, but must not be isolationist. Which means the candidate must be able to thread needles quite nicely.

Oh – and one more qualification: I refuse to support anyone who can’t win.

For my early choice I’m leaning toward Scott Walker. Walker is identified primarily with fiscal and reform issues (especially reining in public employee unions), but his social policy credentials are sufficient that I think my most ardently social conservative friends would find no problem accepting him (part of why I think this is because he is well to my right on social issues). I know nothing about his defense views (having held only local and state offices, he has not had occasion to take positions on defense). I’ll look forward to seeing what he has to say about defense and foreign policy.

He also comes from a solidly middle-class background (mom a bookkeeper, dad a Baptist minister) and can relate to the suburban and blue-collar people Republicans must get in order to win. He has that easy-going 'Midwestern Nice' thing going for him. Coupled with his inoffensive (some say ‘bland’ and/or ‘boring’) manner, he (like Daniels) seems able to take strong positions without being offensive to middle-of-the-roaders.

My second choice for now is Bobby Jindal, who shares many of Walker’s qualities – a proven record of reform at the state level (including a successful school voucher program), plus strong fiscal and social policy credibility. In addition, his grasp of policy is legendary, and to be blunt, his skin color is a positive. As with Walker, I know nothing of his defense views, and I’ll be waiting to learn more.

On the negative side, I have a perception of Jindal as being very outspoken on social issues – to the point that it might create problems for him with social moderates (whether or not strongly-held socon positions are a political negative in a national race is, in my opinion, dependent on words and tone more than the positions themselves).

This is just a perception, I admit, and only time will tell. I also think a Midwesterner would be a better choice than a Southerner.

It’s no accident that my two main choices are both governors. I strongly prefer governors for two reasons: 1) If Obama has proven anything, it is that executive experience matters greatly; and 2) I think the anti-Washington mood will continue into 2016, and these two, and most other governors,
will have little difficulty painting Hillary Clinton, assuming for now that she's the nominee, as an insider and contrasting her to themselves.

As for the others, just a few words on why I choose not (for now) to back them.

Mitt Romney – Obviously meets my executive experience criterion, in spades. He totally fails on appealing to blue-collar types and is past his sell-by date. In any case, I’m inclined to think, for now, that he isn’t running.

Mike Huckabee – Another governor who can sell socon positions with a smile, though I think he is so closely identified with social issues that he comes across as a one-issue candidate. His Arkansas record makes fiscal conservatives like me uneasy, to put it mildly. I can’t support him for that reason, and I think he will have problems with a big enough bloc of Republicans that he’ll be stymied.

Rand Paul – Certainly a better salesman for libertarianism than his father, though that isn’t saying much. (As a libertarian myself, I prayed nightly for Ron Paul to just go away). Unless he starts quickly to moderate his foreign policy views, however, I think he has zero chance of getting the nomination. Also – no executive experience.

Jeb Bush – If only he had a different last name. By all accounts he was an excellent governor, but … well, let’s put it this way: Republicans have an opportunity to run against a hard-core insider and are contemplating nominating a Bush? Really?

Marco Rubio – No executive experience. Probably hasn’t been in Washington long enough to be perceived as being 'one of them'. My problem with him is that I see no reason to support him other than his ethnicity.

Ted Cruz – Another short-term Senator. In addition to having no executive background, the guy is a loose cannon. Heaven only knows what he’d spout on the campaign trail.

Rick Perry — We’ll see if he learned anything from 2012. If he did, he might be worth giving attention to (though I think he’s damaged goods). If he didn’t, we won’t have to wait long for him to be gone.

Chris Christie – “Shut up and sit down!” might go over big in NY/NJ, but it will get real old real fast in the rest of the country. The guy just lacks the temperament for a long national campaign.

Paul Ryan – A fiscal conservative’s wet dream. On sober reflection, I don’t think a Representative can do it – though he has the advantage of having run a national campaign (losing, but still …). My objection is no executive experience, but I certainly wouldn’t be upset if he were the nominee.

Rick Santorum – Remember I said that a coalition can't afford to nominate somebody totally offensive to any of its major factions? That's Santorum.

Ben Carson – Okay, I’m scraping bottom now. Time to quit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Told You So!

Because I'm that kind of person, I want to draw your attention to this prediction that I made just about a month ago:
Within a very few days (probably no more than two or three) there will be no mention in the mainstream media of the beheading in Oklahoma. 
Was I right or was I right? (Told you I'm that kind of person).

People with Sense Need Not Read This

... but there are, unfortunately, still a lot of people with illusions about communism.

Particularly among the academic community and among those poor students who believe what their teachers tell them, one can find many who believe that communism is about empowering the working class and raising living standards for the poor.

One would think that real life examples of communism in action would have opened such folks' eyes, but such would be a vain hope.

Just to offer one more example though, here is the party boss of Hong Kong, in response to the recent demonstrations there, speaking about the dangers of allowing free elections:
... obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.
Heavens -- what a frightening idea!

Friday, October 10, 2014

I'm Betting That the Senate Will Flip

Chris Cillizza, in the Washington Post, has a good article making the point (as others have also done) that the 2014 election is looking a lot like 2006, with the parties reversed.

The most interesting part, to me, was this graph, which shows Republican Senate candidates' vote shares, compared to President Bush's approval rating in each state.

Almost all the Senate candidates failed to get any more than just a few points above Bush's rating.

At the time, I was wondering just how bad President Obama's approval ratings are on a state-by-state basis, with emphasis of course on the states where there are tight Senate races. Ask and I shall receive, apparently -- tonight there is just such a poll, and the news for Democrats is very, very bad.

Pretty much everybody expects that the three open seats (MT, SD, WV) will go Republican. If this poll is right, though, then a number of Democratic incumbents are in trouble. In virtually all the key states, Obama's approval rating is in the low forties or worse: CO (42), NC (41), IA (40), GA (39), NH (36), LA (34), AK (31), AR (27).

If all these states go to the Republicans, then the Senate would switch from 55-45 Democrat to 55-45 Republican. That won't happen, of course -- at least one or two Democrats, and maybe more, will manage to escape the Obama Effect.

But things are looking pretty grim for the Democrats.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Bombings Will Fail, People Will Die, but Obama Will Get through November

I make no claim to military expertise, but this guy can do so, and his position seems plausible.
The top ranking former British military official was head of the UK Defence Staff, and led ISAF forces in Afghanistan during his exceptional career. The Sunday Times reports his comments: "Ultimately you need a land army to achieve the objectives we’ve set ourselves — all air will do is destroy elements of Isis, it won’t achieve our strategic goal. 
“The only way to defeat Isis is to take back land they are occupying which means a conventional military operation. 
“The only way to do it effectively is to use western armies but I understand the political resistance.”
I think everyone pretty much realizes that President Obama's policies are based almost entirely on political calculations – the actions of ISIS had outraged voters to the point that doing nothing was an impossibility; on the other hand, to reintroduce ground troops was equally impossible politically, since it would be an open admission that his previous policies were a failure. Cornered, he chose the 'safe' route of air strikes only (safe for him – not for the pilots).

That this will accomplish little or nothing is less important than that he will be perceived as acting, in the run-up to the election.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Within a very few days (probably no more than two or three) there will be no mention in the mainstream media of the beheading in Oklahoma.

The American Elite do not want us thinking about such matters.

Very Late on This

I have been meaning to mention this for a while: I think the New York Mets' uniforms this season are arguably the ugliest in the history of any sport.

Goose Island

I was a little surprised to find Goose Island beer for sale at a convenience store in Show Low, Arizona. (Or maybe it was Pinetop -- anyway, it was somewhere where they read the White Mountain Independent).

I have fond memories of Goose Island (the island, not the beer). My office, for almost ten years, was at the south end of the Halsted Street bridge, with the island at the north end. I would usually cross the bridge for lunch, because there was a greasy spoon diner at a Greyhound maintenance depot just at the end of the bridge. Great cheeseburger/fries and nice folks. Since we were next to the notorious Cabrini Green projects, there weren't a lot of high-end dining choices.

The Goose Island Brewery was very trendy at the time. My daughter tells me it has been bought by Anheuser-Busch, which explains why it has wider distribution; she adds that it has also lost much of its cachet.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Another Glorious Day in the History of the Religion of Peace

I am sure everyone is much comforted and reassured because the beheading in Oklahoma has been classified at 'workplace violence'.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Nobody Respects the NCAA -- II

Over and over, the NCAA demonstrates why it is considered such an absurd organization (and why it needs to just go away).

Just two weeks ago, I posted this, and now they give us another example of their priorities.

Here's the sort of thing they get all worked up about:
Little League star Mo'ne Davis says she's "sad" that Connecticut received a secondary NCAA rules violation for coach Geno Auriemma's congratulatory phone call to her during the Little League World Series. 
Davis said they talked last month about her success in the World Series for Philadelphia's Taney Dragons, and there was no recruiting talk. 
Meanwhile, they continue to completely ignore the allegation that last year's Heisman Trophy winner is a rapist.

I'm pleased that Florida State claims to be investigating it, by the way, but I'm not expecting them to do anything real.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Just Like Old Times

I wrote a check just now, to pay a doctor bill. It was the first one I had written in over two years.

It was kind of fun, in a weird way -- it felt so strange and 'old school'.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Death of a Conference

Here is an interesting article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal about how much the Mountain West Conference has declined, and how dim its future is.
The days of the Mountain West being just a step behind the power conferences are over, and they’re not coming back. 
If anyone wanted a sense of just how much the conference has fallen, the first weekend’s results provided clarity. 
Boise State lost 35-13 to Mississippi, Fresno State 52-13 to Southern California, New Mexico 31-24 to Texas-El Paso, UNLV 58-13 to Arizona, and Utah State 38-7 to Tennessee. And there were some unimpressive victories, such as UNR’s 28-19 win over Southern Utah. 
That’s a far cry from the days when Mountain West schools could at least compete at a high level, but with the power grab taking place by the big five conferences, the MW and the four other little sisters are being left behind. 
“To the extent that there was ever any parity in college football between the 65 power conference schools and everybody else, it is now effectively over,” USA Today college football writer Dan Wolken wrote. “In truth, it has been for the last few years.”
A few years back (when Boise State was doing so well and Utah and BYU were still in the MWC), I was arguing (correctly, I still think) that the MWC was more worthy of an automatic BCS slot than the pathetic Big East was. That's not saying much, of course.

But now the Big East is dead and the Mountain West might as well be.

There's much to be said for the new set-up (anything is better than the BCS), but there are always some negative consequences.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Latest from ISIS

It's terrible to learn that another American journalist has apparently been beheaded by ISIS, and they are threatening a third (a Brit).

I understand that President Obama is so upset that it has completely messed up his putting.

Other Than That, This Guy Is Definitely a Winner

From the LA Times:
As a candidate in the 51st Congressional District, Stephen Meade's politics are a problem. 
He's a conservative Republican in a district where voter registration is more than 2-to-1 Democratic. The district is 70% Latino, but Meade does not speak Spanish. 
He has no money to campaign. And his opponent, Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas, has the power of incumbency. 
There's another thing that may make things difficult for the 88-year-old political novice: He wears women's clothing. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Unknown Writer Shouts, "Look at Me! Look at Me!"

Somebody named Will Self thinks he's a better writer than George Orwell.

He probably also thinks he's a better writer than Bob Houk. He may well be right on the latter point, but on the George Owell/Bob Houk spectrum, he's probably well over on the Bob Houk side.

Self objects to Orwell's passion for simplicity and clarity. Given that the the starting point of writing is (or should be) to communicate, one suspects that Self has yet to master an understanding of his trade. This lack of understanding, unfortunately, seems to be widespread among current writers. He summarizes his own limitations in what appears to be an attempt to mock Orwell.
I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity.
A bit of attention to clarity might have saved Self from calling himself a mediocrity.

To be fair, this is probably just an attempt to get people to pay him some attention, and it seems to have succeeded.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Second Thoughts about That 'Libertarian Moment' Thing

Only 57% of people who say they are libertarians know what the word means.

I particularly enjoy that 7% think that “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government” is the definition of a Unitarian.

It seems that saying one is a libertarian has become mildly fashionable* among some – there is currently a bit of a debate among the political cognoscenti about whether we are currently in a 'libertarian moment'. The cool thing about totally vague terms like that is that one can argue either way with equal validity.

In any case, it's not all that fashionable – only 14% of Americans say they are libertarians. Of course, I guess it still could be fashionable if those 14% were the coolest 14% of people in the country. Unfortunately, based on myself and the other libertarians I know, I think that's probably not the case.

Of those who say they are libertarians, 6% think the above definition means Authoritarian, 6% Communist, and 20% Progressive, in addition to those who chose Unitarian, which I guess was thrown in by the pollsters for laughs (though the other answers are also pretty giggle-worthy), or didn't answer.

Besides what this says about peoples' knowledge of politics (we can deride them for this, but we should also be aware that most people simply feel, with some justification, that there are more important things to worry about – like their jobs, or their families, or at which bar they are most likely to find the best-looking members of the opposite sex), this also might offer some lessons for those, of whatever political viewpoint, who are interested in persuading those folks who don't give a damn about politics.

In a newsletter I receive, Jim Geraghty makes the point quite well. The example he chooses is school choice:
Which argument is likely to be most effective? 
A) School choice is a good idea because it is consistent with the conservative principles that the government that is closest to the people is most likely to make the best decisions, is most accountable for those decisions, and is easiest to correct those decisions [sic]. 
B) School choice is a good idea because it is consistent with the libertarian principles that the power of the state should be limited and the power of the individual should be maximized. 
C) School choice is a good idea because it puts decisions in the hands of parents, who know what is best for their children.
As a supporter of school choice, I would agree with all three arguments. But, whatever one might believe on this particular issue, I think it is undeniable that C is the one that would motivate the most people.

* For the record, and stealing shamelessly from Barbara Mandrell, I was libertarian before libertarianism was cool.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

About Golfing and Vacations

Over the past year or so, there has been a rising level of criticism of President Obama over the amount of time he spends golfing and about the alleged frequency and lavishness of his vacations. This reached a crescendo a few days back when the President briefly interrupted his vacation to express his outrage about an American photographer, James Foley, being beheaded by ISIS, and then followed up his comments by, uh, going golfing.
President Obama returned to the golf course on Saturday amid mounting Republican criticism that he is spending too much time hitting the links during several international and domestic crises. 
The early criticism came almost entirely from Republicans, it's true, but now Democrats are joining in, as the New York Times (a publication usually solidly in Obama's camp) noted:
But the criticism went beyond the usual political opponents. Privately, many Democrats shook their heads at what they considered a judgment error. Ezra Klein, editor in chief of the online news site Vox, who is normally sympathetic to Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that “golfing today is in bad taste.” The Daily News published a front-page photograph of a grinning president in a golf cart next to a picture of Mr. Foley’s distraught mother and father under the headline, “Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve.” 
And if it's only Republicans, then Maureen Dowd must have switched parties:
FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible — even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL. 
I know reporters didn’t get a chance to ask questions, but I had to bounce. I had a 1 p.m. tee time at Vineyard Golf Club with Alonzo Mourning and a part-owner of the Boston Celtics. Hillary and I agreed when we partied with Vernon Jordan up here, hanging out with celebrities and rich folks is fun. 
Now we are engaged in a great civil divide in Ferguson, which does not even have a golf course, and that’s why I had a “logistical” issue with going there. We are testing whether that community, or any community so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure when the nation’s leader wants nothing more than to sink a birdie putt.
There are also, of course, people defending Obama. And if I thought the criticisms of golfing and vacations were really about golfing and vacations, I would agree with the defenders. Hey, it's a tough job and everybody has a right to unwind.

But I don't think that golf and vacations are anything more than symbols, being used as stand-ins for a wider but more difficult-to-define complaint – that Barack Obama is distant and out of touch with the American people and, worse, disengaged and even disinterested in being president.
Howard Kurtz stole what I was thinking about and wrote earlier this week:
It started with the ObamaCare debacle and continued through his seeming passivity or slow reaction time in the wake of the VA scandal, the Bowe Bergdahl mess, the military collapse in Iraq and so on …. 
What is striking now is a growing sense, fairly or unfairly, that Obama is not capable of rising to the occasion, that he just doesn’t like politics, that he’s disengaged, that despite his soaring rhetoric in 2008 he has a passion deficit.
I have often thought (and may have written here previously) that Obama resigned a year ago, and just forgot to tell anybody. It seems a lot of people, of both parties, are coming to the same conclusion.

Newspaper Tries Paying People to Subscribe

I went to the website of the Arizona Capitol Times, a weekly Phoenix newspaper dealing with politics and government, because they came up on a Google search as having an article that I was interested in; however, they wouldn't let me read the article because I'm not a subscriber. Fine -- that's absolutely their right, and I have no argument with publishers who take that approach.

I didn't care enough about the article in question to pay their subscription prices, though, so I passed.

But then I looked more closely at their offer.

A digital subscription is $179/year. A digital and print subscription is $149.

Read that again -- I had to do so several times before I was sure I had read it right. They are charging thirty bucks less for both formats than for digital only.

Though this seems on the face of it to be totally insane, the reasoning is not too hard to figure. Publishers can make more selling print ads than they can for online advertising. Therefore, the publisher is willing to give you a thirty buck discount if you'll just pretend to be a print subscriber so that they can charge their advertisers a bit more. "Hey, don't worry, you can just throw it away when it arrives."

Presumably they can, or think they can, sell enough additional ads to more than offset the discount (and to pay printing and delivery costs on the extra papers they're sending to people who don't really want them). But one wonders how long advertisers will keep paying for those ghost readers.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Nobody Respects the NCAA

This case illustrates why the NCAA is such a joke.
[An assistant coach] sent numerous texts to recruits during a time in the recruiting calendar when he was only allowed to email and fax them.
Given the rotten state of big-time college athletics, why does anyone pay attention to whether recruiters are sending text messages to high school kids? Really – the NCAA thinks this is worthy of attention?

At roughly the same time as these egregious violations, Florida State was apparently covering up a rape case involving its star player, and the NCAA totally ignored it

I know nothing (and care less) about Georgia Tech's athletic programs. I will venture an uninformed guess that they are about as dirty/clean as most college's programs (by which I mean, rather dirty) on things that matter. This doesn't matter.

Friday, August 22, 2014

James B. Shields: Man of Many States

A poll I saw today says that Scott Brown (formerly senator from Massachusetts) has a reasonable chance of winning a US Senate seat from New Hampshire. I wouldn't bet on it, but it got me to thinking about whether anybody has ever held senate seats from two different states.

My first thought was Sam Houston, but I was wrong; he was a senator only from Texas. He did also represent Tennessee in the House, so he was in congress from two states, and he is also the only person to have been elected governor of two states. But still, Sam doesn't quite fill the bill.

And then I found James B. Shields. Never heard of him? Neither had I, but he is the only person to serve in the US Senate from three states. Shields was a general in both the Mexican and Civil wars, and served as a senator from Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri (Missouri apparently was a more or less honorary appointment to fill out the last few weeks of a term).

Shields, who was born in Ireland, was not a US citizen when he was first elected to office (the Illinois legislature), which was perfectly legal at the time, but will probably frost some folks' butts. If it annoys you, though, you can take solace that it was Illinois -- what can one expect?

How the Jayvee Team Is Doing

Speaking at the Pentagon yesterday, here's what Chuck Hagel said about ISIS:
… Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel painted a new and more dangerous picture of the threat that the Islamic State poses to Americans and U.S. interests. 
The group "is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group," Hagel said in response to a question about whether the Islamic State posed a similar threat to the United States as al Qaeda did before Sept. 11, 2001. 
"They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They're tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we've seen," Hagel said, adding that "the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country." 
Hagel's comments added to the mismatch between the Obama administration's increasingly aggressive rhetoric and its current game plan for how to take on the group in Iraq and Syria, which so far involves limited airstrikes and some military assistance to the Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting the militants. 
I don't understand … a high administration official assured us just a few months ago that they were no big deal.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The New Age of Journalism: Media Companies Begging for Funds

From time to time we get new measures of how low the media biz has fallen, but here's a particularly interesting one, as reported by Advertising Age:
Last night The Huffington Post sent out a press release with the highfalutin title "The Huffington Post Is Not Leaving Ferguson." It contained the text of a HuffingtonPost.com article by Ryan Grim, HuffPo's Washington bureau chief, that begins: 
"What happens in Ferguson and the St. Louis metro area the day after everybody leaves? It's a question on the minds of nearly every resident, who know the camera crews will eventually fold up their sticks and pack up their vans .... We plan to be there as it all unfolds. For The Huffington Post, this'll involve a first-of-its-kind collaboration with readers, the local community and the Beacon Reader to create what we're calling the Ferguson Fellowship." 
Sounds good, right? Then there's the next sentence: 
"With reader support, we'll hire a local citizen journalist who's been covering the turmoil and train her to become a professional journalist ... " 
Uh, what? 
Yes, AOL's HuffPo is raising funds to allow one Mariah Stewart to continue what she's already been doing as a "citizen journalist." With your support, Grim continues, Stewart will be able to "work directly with HuffPost's criminal justice reporter Ryan Reilly to cover the ongoing story of Ferguson ….” 
So, you see, HuffPo is actually going to be leaving Ferguson after all -- despite that headline -- but it wants you to pony up so local resident Stewart can create content for HuffPo.
One could reasonably argue that it is a good thing for media companies to train 'citizen journalists', but it seems strange that AOL thinks its readers should give it the cash to do so.

Some journalists, including this one from The Guardian, are a bit bemused by the spectacle.

Ad Age thinks HuffPo ought to expand the program to getting readers to pay for their celebrity boob page:
I look forward to HuffPo crowdfunding some of its other essential journalism. 
Readers, won't you make a donation today to support HuffPo's nip-slip coverage? If you've ever gone to HuffPo's Wardrobe Malfunctions department page -- where, this morning, you can find headlines like "NSFW PHOTOS: Model Has Nip Slip On 'Arbitrage' Red Carpet" and "Maria Menounos On Her 'Bikini Malfunction': 'Oh No, My Vagina's Out'" -- then you owe it to HuffPo to cough up some cash, you cheapskate pervert.
But, while I have no objection to boob reports, I think I see other possibilities.

For example, at one time it was considered the role of local media, especially major metro newspapers, to provide polling on local elections.

Arizona, for example, has a very hot Republican primary for governor featuring six candidates, three of whom are believed to be tightly bunched for the lead. You'd think there would be lots of polls. But if you go to RealClearPolitics, you'll see that there are very few, and none are by the state's leading newspaper, The Arizona Republic, or any other state media outlet.

This is not peculiar to Arizona. I clicked on several other states that have tight gubernatorial elections – Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida. In none are there any local media polls. I did see a Sun-Times poll on the Illinois race, and one by The Albuquerque Journal (really -- an Albuquerque paper has the resources to do polls, but The Arizona Republic and The Miami Herald don't? Seriously?)

Of course, the Republic's cash is probably tied up in paying severance packages to all the reporters it's laying off. And now that its parent company, Gannett, has kicked it to the curb (“Hey, kid, you've got thirty days to find a job and move out of the basement, or I'm dumping your clothes on the street”), things are probably even tighter.

But maybe newspapers could take their cue from AOL and beg enough from their readers to fund a poll or two. If that works, they could try funding layoffs the same way:
Dear readers:  
Which of our reporters and columnists annoy you the most?  
Each reader making a $20 contribution to the Republic Layoff Fund gets a vote, and the biggest votegetters get the sack! 
What could be fairer?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wherein I (Mostly) Praise President Obama

I have never hesitated to say nasty things about Barack Obama.

However, he seems to be being criticized by some for having known in advance that James Foley might be executed, and doing nothing about it, which seems to me to be exactly the right thing to do.
President Barack Obama denounced the Islamist terror group ISIS on Wednesday after it released a gruesome video showing the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley. 
But news emerged just hours later that the White House knew Foley's captors threatened to kill him if American fighter jets and drones continued airstrikes against them in Iraq. 
Foley's family received an emailed threat a week ago warning 'that they would execute Jim,' and made the White House aware of it right away, according to Philip Balboni, who founded the Global Post – a Boston news outlet that published Foley's photographs. 
[ … ] 
A senior administration official confirmed to ABC News Wednesday afternoon that the White House knew of the threat in advance of the video's release. 
Balboni said the threat was made directly to Foley's family, and that the White House was made aware of it. WCVB-TV reported that the administration did not engage in any negotiations for his release.
So … what was he supposed to do? Stop the air attacks? Pay a ransom?

Any such response would merely encourage further kidnappings and further threats, and thus multiply a tragedy.

One wonders, though, if ISIS was reacting to Obama's willingness to negotiate for Sgt. Bergdahl's release. If so, this could be an encouraging sign that Obama is capable of learning from his mistakes, something I've doubted.

(Okay, I admit it, I can't get through an entire post about Obama without including at least one bit of criticism).

Why Won't Those Guys Compromise and Do as I Say?

I always enjoy the tactic, used almost universally by both parties to any political impasse (e.g., Obama and the US House), of saying that everything could be resolved quite simply if only the people on the other side would do the reasonable thing, which is of course whatever I'm telling them to do).

Ecuador a couple years ago gave asylum to the head guy of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, in their London embassy (he's under court order to be extradited to Sweden where there are sexual assault charges possibly awaiting him; he claims he might be extradited from there to the US for Wikileaks' activities in releasing US documents, and therefore he is entitled to political asylum).

Yesterday Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, said the solution was simple.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Tuesday that Britain had the power to resolve the Julian Assange standoff "tomorrow," after the WikiLeaks founder voiced hope he would soon leave Ecuador's embassy in London. 
"This could be resolved tomorrow if the United Kingdom gave him the safe-conduct," said Correa, referring to the pass Assange would need to leave the embassy without being arrested to face extradition.
Translation: “Hey, what's the big problem here? Just do things my way and we'll all get along fine.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Execution of James Foley

At some point it will be necessary for the west to recognize that we are dealing with totally uncivilized people.

As long as we keep pretending that Islam, in its radical form, is a legitimate religion worthy of respect, we will be unable to respond to the fanatics in any way that will get their attention.

Right now, they have only contempt for us, and from their perspective that's a reasonable attitude. How many such attacks have there been, without meaningful response?

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Democrats Surrender in Montana

The Democrats' appointee to the Senate in Montana and their candidate in the election, a guy named Walsh, got caught for having plagiarized a paper for a degree (I should probably say 'allegedly', but it seems pretty clear, and I'm not into playing games of that sort). So they replaced him with a one-term state legislator named Amanda Curtis, who does video selfies like these:

Anybody care to guess the Republican margin? I say they get 65%, but that's based on the assumption that she keeps her mouth shut from now to Election Day. If she keeps on with this kind of talk, the sky's the limit (well, 100% is the limit, but you get my point, right?)

It's not that I disagree with everything she says, it's just that I can't see this sort of platform going over real big in Montana, but the big problem is the way she says it -- her condescending attitude will be a huge turn-off on the campaign trail.

It probably doesn't make much difference since the Republicans were always favored in this race, even before Walsh imploded. This lightweight just makes the seat a total lock. The only benefit for the Republicans is that they can ignore Montana and concentrate their attention elsewhere. On the other hand, nominating her indicates that the Democrats have already done the same -- can you imagine the national party giving her any campaign money?

Great Moments in BS – III

As you might tell from the title, this is an ongoing personal obsession series. Recent previous entries (in the unlikely case that you're interested) can be found by clicking on 'Words' in the Labels column to the right.

'Gaming' is one of those euphemisms that really annoy me, because it's an obvious attempt to make an activity respectable by changing the word that describes it. “Hey, guys, 'Gambling' has a negative connotation with the public, so we'll call it 'gaming' and then everything will be okay.”

Sorry, the proper word is 'gambling', and that's the one I will continue to use.

Since I'm into quoting myself these days, I'll refer to a previous post in which I discussed the obfuscatory use of 'Children in Conflict with the Law'.
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.
This instance (gambling/gaming) is a reminder that this practice is not peculiar to do-gooders.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sinister Buttocks

I have some friends who are interested in the book and movie series, Left Behind.

I haven't read the books or seen the movies. I have, however, an interest in words and how they are used or misused.

Believe it or not, there is a connection (of sorts) between these two subjects. I receive a weekly newsletter called World Wide Words. This week it contains the following item, which I will quote in its entirety:
Synonymising fallacy. An article dated 7 August in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) introduced me to the new word Rogetism. Its creator is Chris Sadler, a lecturer at Middlesex University. 
He had wondered about mysterious out-of-context phrases such as tarry forth of the conquest, modern store guides, bequest mazes and Herculean personalised liturgies, which kept appearing in student essays. Eventually he twigged that they were plagiarising online material but trying to hide it by changing some of the words using a thesaurus. Unfortunately, they were using what they’d looked up without caring about its meaning. 
The phrases above resulted from applying this process to, respectively, stay ahead of the competition, new market leaders, legacy networks and powerful personalised services. 
Sadler’s favourite Rogetism (coined, of course, from the most famous of all thesauruses, that created by Peter Mark Roget) is sinister buttocks, which he has entered for this year’s THES exam howlers competition. The original was left behind.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Earthquakes and Volcanoes

I started thinking about these dangers because of chatter among Ecuadorian expats following yesterday's earthquake in Quito.

People get really worked up over the danger of volcanoes, but most seem to take earthquakes at least somewhat more in stride. I think this might be because we (meaning Americans and Europeans) see volcanoes as an 'exotic' thing; we have few volcanoes, but earthquakes, while frightening, are at least somewhat familiar.

Since Ecuador and my previous place of residence, the Philippines, are both part of the 'Ring of Fire', I have lived in some proximity to volcanoes (thankfully, peaceful ones); and any place that has volcanoes also is prone to earthquakes.

I find earthquakes much more frightening, since volcanoes are reasonably predictable and give plenty of warning before major eruptions.

Killing the 'Living Wage' with Robotics

I have often wondered why employees at QSRs (quick-service restaurants -- the industry's euphemism for fast food places) think demanding pay of $15 per hour won't result in the disappearance of their jobs.

Actually, that's not true. I'm pretty sure I know why:
  • They have never received any education in economics, since it's not required in US high schools (and the schools probably botch it anyway);
  • They are, by definition, low-level employees who have never held a management position where they are encouraged/required/incentivized to hold costs down;
  • They don't give any thought to the subject beyond, “Hey, fifteen bucks an hour sounds really good” and "I need more money".
It's probably all of the above, plus of course that the unions and activists using them are unlikely to give them any sensible advice.

Last year, I posted this item about White Castle trying out automated ordering kiosks to eliminate their counter employees enhance the customer experience.

Here are a couple things I noted back then:
A store that is open sixteen hours a day would save $7,500 per month for each $15/hour counter employee displaced. I don't know what such machines cost, but it shouldn't take long to amortize them at that rate. 
Today I read this item that discusses a restaurant in China that is using robots to (mostly) cook the food and to deliver it to tables, and tells us that the robots cost $6500 each. Assuming the White Castle kiosks are of similar cost, and that two robots or kiosks (the battery life is only five hours, though that will no doubt improve) would be needed to replace each shift worker laid off, the investment in machines could be amortized in the first quarter. This is without figuring in the cost of benefits, though such jobs don't have a lot. It's also without hiring and training costs and payroll taxes.

If I owned a few QSRs, I'd be booking a flight to China to check this place out first-hand.

My post back then also asked, “... how tough can it be to robot-ize flipping a burger?” The answer, apparently is, “Not tough at all.” The article says:
The cooking robots -- which have a fixed repertoire -- exhibit limited artificial intelligence, and are loaded with ingredients by human staff, who also help to make some dishes.
Given that the menus are very limited at McDonalds or KFC, a 'fixed repertoire' should be no problem.

It seems obvious that the restaurant in China is mostly a curiosity. Diners at restaurants with tablecloths will continue to expect service from human beings. But nobody goes to a QSR for the ambiance or the service.

Given the costs cited in the article, together with White Castle already experimenting, it would not surprise me at all to see robotics introduced at QSRs even without 'living wage' legislation. If my calculations above are at all close to reality, then costs could be recovered quickly even at current minimum wage levels. An employee striking for higher wages for this sort of work is simply asking to be laid off sooner, and those urging ill-informed workers to strike are utterly cynical in the way they are playing with peoples' lives.

OK, I'll be kind: Maybe they are just equally ill-informed.

I'll quote myself again in closing:
And so youth unemployment will increase. Crappy as such jobs are, they are often the only thing unskilled workers can qualify for, and they can teach valuable life skills that such employees may never have learned in their broken homes or broken schools – e.g., the importance of dressing properly, treating customers and co-workers respectfully, punctuality, etc. 
Not having the opportunity to learn these skills at White Castle, McDonald's, or Taco Bell, they will be unable to move on to marginally better jobs, as they now can. 
Update 15 April 2015: They're at it again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Don't Blame Me, I'm Just the President

One of the hallmarks of the Obama presidency has been his refusal to accept blame for anything that goes wrong. Recently, things have gone very, very wrong in Iraq, particularly in regard to ISIS taking over a large part of the country, starting not long after President dismissed them as no big deal. 
The president,who has been under harsh media criticism for likening ISIS to an Al-Qaeda JV basketball team in January said, "There is no doubt that their advance their movement over the last several of months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the the expectation of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq." 
In short: “Hey, I wasn't wrong – they were.” Who constitutes 'they' changes each time the guy blows something, but there's always somebody else he holds accountable. Never himself.

One of the things I learned very quickly after stepping into my first management role (like most things, I learned it the hard way), was that I was accountable for any of the errors of my subordinates. Barack Obama might be aware of that if he had ever held done any management before becoming president, but a majority of Americans twice decided that being cool was more important than having relevant experience.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Dumb Sport Engages in Dumb Politics

Disclaimer: I am not a hockey fan, to put it mildly.

The National Hockey League, custodians of the dying sport, have decided to sign on to global warming hysteria:
... the NHL released its first sustainability report, part of the league's effort to get a handle on the energy and environmental aspects of pro hockey. One of the conclusions? By leading to shorter winters, thinner ice, and truncated outdoor skating seasons, global warming could choke the game's future lifeline and keep potential Gretzkys and Lemieuxs cooling their heels. 
"Before many of our players took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the report. "Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors."
There is, of course, little evidence in the real world (meaning other than in computer models) of any shortage of winter ice, and the computer models are showing up as pretty consistently wrong.

This appears to be little more than an attempt by the NHL to be politically correct.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Doug Ducey for Governor

The Arizona Republic endorsed Doug Ducey for governor a few days ago, which is perhaps the best argument I've heard for supporting Christine Jones. Unfortunately, it's also pretty much the only argument, so I'll continue to go with Ducey and assign the paper's endorsement to the 'broken clock' category.

Actually, the Rep's endorsement is only the second-best reason for supporting Jones (or any of the other candidates except Andrew Thomas) -- Joe Arpaio has also endorsed Ducey, which for me would normally be pretty much the kiss of death. However, one of the best things about Ducey is that he seems to be capable of attracting support from both the Tea Party and Establishment wings of the Republican Party, which is an important quality; another example (besides in-state endorsements ranging from Arpaio on the Tea Party side to the Establishment's Republic) is that his outside endorsements include both Ted Cruz and Scott Walker.

So I suggest that people vote for Ducey, unless voters go nutso and Thomas starts looking like he has a chance. This so far, thankfully, hasn't happened -- he's in the low single digits in every poll I've seen, as even the farthest of the far right seems to be fed up with him, or at least to recognize that he can't win. If, however, Thomas starts to gain support as primary day nears, still a possibility with a lot of the electorate undecided, then I suggest voting for whichever candidate seems most likely to stop him (which is still probably Ducey). 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The History of Kotex

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know (which is another way of saying, “I just learned this myself”): Sanitary napkins (more specifically the first such – Kotex) are a by-product of World War I.

The story goes as follows: Because Egypt grew most of the world's cotton at the time and Egypt was cut off from Europe and North America by the war, there was a shortage of cotton. There was also a great need for bandages, which were, of course, made from cotton.

Kimberley-Clark came to the rescue with a product it called cellucotton, made from wood fiber (which, amazingly, they patriotically sold to the US government at cost). Red Cross nurses at the front didn't take long to figure out another use for cellucotton, which was highly absorbent.

After the war, Kimberley-Clark introduced Kotex. The product took a while to catch on, though, since magazines refused to accept ads for it.

First Look at 2016

I put little faith in political polls far out from elections. Until the general public begins paying attention to politics (to the extent that most people pay any attention at all, it is only in the last few months of the campaigns) ... until then, the polls are mostly just a test of name recognition.

Nonetheless, I thought this poll on the 2016 Republican nomination was interesting. Not because it tells us who the Republican nominee might be, but because it tells us that we don't have a clue. Here are the top five:
  • Chris Christie 13% 
  • Rand Paul 12% 
  • Mike Huckabee 12% 
  • Rick Perry 11% 
  • Paul Ryan 11%
For all my adult life, the Republicans have almost always had a clear frontrunner far in advance, and that frontrunner has ended up being the nominee (the only exception I can think of is '08, when Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain were running neck-and-neck in the polls, with Giuliani slightly ahead; Giuliani's campaign imploded and McCain got the nomination).

This time the race is wide open. I didn't even bother to check the margin of error on the poll, since clearly all of these are well within whatever it is. As a matter of fact, all the other candidates, including 'somebody else', 'none of the above', and 'no opinion' are probably within MoE, too.

This coming nomination battle should be a lot more fun than Republicans have had in decades.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Impeachment? Why Bother?

The Democrats are doing a good job of using the (very remote) possibility of an impeachment move against Obama as a fundraising gimmick. In this effort they are getting help from a few Republican wackos (I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin).

I yield to few in my contempt for Obama, but any attempt to impeach him would be an utter fiasco. Not only would it fail miserably, but do these people not remember how much the Democrats profited from the Clinton impeachment mess in the 1998 elections? The Republicans are looking likely to win the Senate in November -- why do something to stir the Democrats up?

Besides that, what's the point of impeaching him? I often wonder whether he resigned last year and forgot to tell anybody.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Ecuador as a Retirement Locale

Ecuador, where I intermittently live, is a wonderful country. Like all places, however, it is not perfect and it is not for everyone.

Ecuador is often touted as one of the best places in the world for Americans (and Canadians and Europeans) to retire. Although some of the touting is mere puffery by a much-quoted magazine/website called International Living (I'll tell you what I think of IL in another post – but the short version is this: don't trust them), there's still a great deal of truth to it. Ecuador is beautiful, with a wide variety of delightful environments – the Andes, beaches, the Amazon, Galapagos – as places to live and/or explore; it also has a relatively low cost of living (though not as low as IL might lead you to believe), and decent infrastructure (quite good, in fact, by third-world standards).

Anyone considering Ecuador as a retirement site, though, should give thought to the country's long-term prospects for stability. Much of Ecuador's current attractiveness is because it is enjoying the fruits of an oil boom. However, Ecuador had two major booms in the twentieth century – cacao in the early part of the century and bananas in mid-century. Both, as booms usually do, brought about periods of stability, but both also ended (again, as booms generally do) and when they ended, they were followed by considerable social/political turmoil and military coups.

Now we see Ecuador, having spent the proceeds of the oil boom, turning to currency manipulation. Having imposed (relative) fiscal restraint on itself by adopting the US dollar as its currency fifteen or so years ago, the country is now going to adopt a parallel digital currency.

Any currency (unless fully backed by something) is of course only as good as the faith it inspires in the international community (currency values fluctuate in large part because the amount of faith fluctuates based on each country's situation). Anything issued by Ecuador is likely to be greeted with some degree of skepticism, because of:
  1. Ecuador's past history of multiple defaults (the most recent default was in 2008);
  2. The history of defaults and/or runaway inflation of other Latin American countries (it may not be fair, but the reality is that we all take into account similar cases when making judgments about individual cases);
  3. The similarity of Ecuador's spending and fiscal policies to those of Venezuela and Argentina, and the current shaky conditions of those countries' economies (see #2 for whether this is fair or realistic);
  4. The unwillingness of the congress to back the new currency with dollars.
Point #4 bears further comment. The congress specifically rejected the idea of using dollars to back the new currency and said it would be backed by the assets of the country's Central Bank.
Oswaldo Larriva, a member of Correa’s political party and president of the congressional commission that studied the proposal, questioned attempts by lobbyists to require backing the new electronic money with hard currency. He said the government had expressed its commitment to using the central bank to guarantee any issuance. 
“To keep repeating the same thing, that dollarization is at risk, isn’t an issue that goes against the president, it’s against the nation,” Larriva said to reporters July 15 in Quito. “Don’t repeat those things.”
(By the way, the second paragraph is not an empty threat – in Ecuador, criticizing the president can lead to jail).

As the Bloomberg article notes, it's unclear what assets the Central Bank might use to back the new currency. Ecuador's oil is pledged for the foreseeable future to pay off debts to China, and most of the country's gold was recently turned over to Goldman Sachs in return for a temporary boost in liquidity.
“It does raise a red flag,” Bianca Taylor, a sovereign analyst who helps oversee $210 billion at Loomis Sayles, said yesterday in a phone interview from Boston. “Whenever a country needs to sell or monetize its gold reserves, it’s definitely a signal that the sovereign is strapped for cash.” 
President Rafael Correa is stepping up his search for financing at home and abroad after borrowing more than $11 billion from China since defaulting on $3.2 billion of foreign debt five years ago. Ecuador’s use of the dollar means it can’t finance deficits by printing money like other countries.
Adopting the 'digital currency' is a twenty-first century way to allow the country to effectively print money to cover its deficits. Bloomberg (the first link) also suggests that it might be easy to coerce some people, meaning those without the ability to say no, to accept the digital currency in lieu of dollars:
While the government says it won’t force anyone to accept electronic money as payment, public employees and contractors who want work may have little choice, Aguilar said.
Government contractors will just factor the discounted value of the new currency into their bids (e.g., if the new currency's street price is 91c on the dollar, they'll just add 10% to their bids). Government employees and pension recipients will just have to take the hit.

I make no claim to expertise in such matters, and even if I am right about the direction I think things are going, it could be a long time before the stuff hits the fan; but I think people should take these developments and their possible ramifications into account if planning on Ecuador as a long-term home.

On the bright side, even if my suspicions are right and Ecuador's economy is heading for the toilet, a prudent expat would be unlikely to be hurt (the people of Ecuador would be another matter, of course), because collapses of the sort I expect to see generally have many warning flags, allowing for a timely exit, if needed. A few of those flags, as noted, are already waving, but there will be more as the end nears. My advice – go to Ecuador if you want (I moved to Quito at the first of this year and plan to return as soon as I deal with some matters in the States), but keep your eyes open for further flags, and rent rather than buy.

ADDENDUM: The point of this post is about the effects I expect from this new currency, and what it likely means in light of the government's current policies. It's worth noting, though that the law also gives the government "the power to decide who gets loans and how lenders invest their reserves." Gee , what could possibly go wrong with that?

Friday, July 25, 2014

FIFA Engages in Its Usual BS re 2018 Cup

FIFA has decided to not move the 2018 World Cup out of Russia. Some European politicians have advocated withdrawing the games because of Russia's recent behavior in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

I have mixed feelings on this – I hate to see major world events of this type lending credibility to rogue states, a category that surely includes Russia. At the same time, I'm opposed to the politicization of sport. Or, I should say, increased politicization of sport.

However, in announcing their their decision, FIFA was as silly as usual:
FIFA ... said a World Cup in the country ''can be a force for good.'' 
''FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,'' the governing body said.
Right – because the idea of sports events as a force for good was so recently proven by the Winter Olympics in Russia.

Actually, I imagine the FIFA board was grateful for the political calls to move the Cup out of Russia, because it gave them an opportunity to go demand another round of bribes from Putin.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Place Your Bets Now

Michele Bachmann says she may run for President again.

I'm putting the over/under on the percentage of support she'll get at 2.

Not that I want her to stay out of the race -- we always need some comic relief (though I thought the 2012 Republican field may have had a bit too much).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thank You, Phoenix, for the Math Help

Near my sister's place (where I'm living temporarily) is a small city park called Los Olivos (I think this area was once an olive grove before being developed). I often go to the park to walk, run, or do a light workout, as do a fair number of others.

It's a nice park with a pleasant family environment.

There is a sidewalk looping through the central part of the park with markers indicating distances. There's a sign near the starting point (shown at right) with a map of the park and the following helpful information (I've enlarged the central portion of the sign below).

How very kind it is of the City Parks Department to help us with calculating that 3 x 1/3 = 1.

This leaves us wondering, however, whether the people of Phoenix are really that dumb. Or perhaps the problem is with the folks at the Parks Department who think higher-order math of this sort requires explanation (did they bring in consultants to help them with it?)

Don't get me started on the exclamation points.

Could We Get an Update on This?

Here's a picture of Hillary Clinton presenting the Russian Foreign Minister with a 'reset' button in 2009, intended to signify the new era in US-Russian relations that she and President Obama were going to institute.

I wonder how that's been going?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Kind of Marketing That Makes Me Ashamed of My Career

I spent almost my entire working life in marketing, and I am pleased to say that I, and most of the people I worked with, behaved ethically at (almost) all times.

Sometimes, though, I get embarrassed, as a marketer, by the actions of some practicioners. Today's example: AARP. I got a mailer today that starts:
Dear Friend, 
"We regret to inform you that your AARP membership has been cancelled. Unfortunately, because we didn't receive your renewal instructions, we had no choice.
It then goes on to pitch me on the benefits of AARP membership and to offer me an opportunity to reverse my error. There are two problems with this.
1. I'm not their friend, and
2. I've never been a member of AARP and never will be.
A common complaint about people of my age (I'm 67) is that we are a bunch of greedy bastards trying to grab every government freebie we can and passing the bills on to our children and grandchildren.

It's an ugly stereotype, but unfortunately there's some truth to it. And AARP exists for the purpose of making it totally true.

And a mailing of this type, that tries to trick people into buying a service, rather than trying to sell it on its merits, does nothing to change my opinion of AARP.

Great Moments in BS

I think I may make this a regular feature. As I mentioned in a previous post about Gwyneth Paltrow announcing that she and her husband were getting a divorce undertaking a 'conscious uncoupling', I love really good bullshit.

That may be because I'm interested in politics and government, which could not exist without BS (where else would we get such gems as 'enhanced interrogation' for torture, 'police action' for war, or 'undocumented persons' for illegal aliens).

I should point out that I could have titled this something like “Great Euphemisms”, but I don't think euphemism is the right word for this sort of thing. To me a euphemism is saying “I need to go to the bathroom” when I mean “I need to piss.” The sort of thing I'm discussing takes the practice to a higher level, at which point 'euphemism' itself becomes a euphemism for bullshit.

OK, that was a long lead-in to a short item. I was out walking today and passed an apartment complex on Indian School Road (aside: I wonder when they'll rename it 'Native American Road'). The apartment management had put out banners advertising various features of their apartments, such as WiFi.

And then there was this one. I guess the marketing folks decided that advertising their security guards might cause potential tenants to think, “Why do they need guards? There must be a lot of security problems.” So therefore, the complex doesn't have guards, it has a 'Courtesy Patrol'.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Starting Over

Yeah, I've been gone for a while (if you call almost three months 'a while'). I'll probably explain things at some point soon.

I think I'll start posting again, but a word of warning ... I think I'll probably get more political than I've been in the past, I'm in Arizona and there's an election going on and, as usual, I'm am dumbfounded by the politicians.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Little Bit of Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

This an old saying, and a good rule to be aware of. It is doubly true when it is a little bit of knowledge of a foreign language.

Today I got myself into a bind by thinking I know Spanish better than I do. I won't explain the whole thing because it's too long and involved (and mostly because to do so would be too embarrassing). Just trust me when I say that you should never say 'Si' unless you understand all of what has just been said to you.

You'd think I would have figured that out many years ago, wouldn't you?

I'm lucky if I catch about every third word, because I'm trying to listen and translate simultaneously.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Favorite Conspiracy

If you hang out on expat forums, as I do, you will come across a lot of nice people. I frequent these forums because they're often an entertaining waste of time, but also because they can be helpful. If you want to know which store in Quito carries American peanut butter (answer: apparently none), there's no better place to find out.

As I said, most of the folks are both normal and pleasant. However, both here in Ecuador and in my former place of exile, the Philippines, I have noted that there seems to be an unusually high proportion of conspiracy buffs in the expat communities. After a bit of thought, I concluded that this isn't particularly surprising since expats are not a random cross-section of their home countries – obviously, people who choose to leave their country differ from those who choose to stay put, and one of those ways might be a tendency to believe that they are out to get us.

Who 'they' are is not always clear. The conspiracies seem to emanate from both the left and right of the US political spectrum, with a fair number of the believers having political leanings that are rather inscrutable.

Some of the theories are very entertaining. My favorite is that the government is trying to trigger a humungous earthquake on the New Madrid Fault in order to create a big inland sea where the Mississippi River currently resides. Why this is being done is unclear, but apparently the Illuminati is involved. Here's a video about it on YouTube, which tells us that it's being done through fracking.

Others say the plan involves HAARP, which is a popular source of conspiracy theories according to Wikipedia.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Random Thoughts on Ecuador's Oil Boom

Commodity-driven economies, history tells us, can be counted on to go through boom and bust cycles. The politicians who are lucky enough to ride the boom are, not surprisingly, very popular. The bust, of course, is less fun.

Ecuador had two such cycles in the twentieth century -- the cacao boom in the early 1900s, and the banana boom in the middle of the century. In both cases, the bust brought on periods of instability (there were military coups in the twenties and seventies).

Currently, the country is enjoying the oil boom, but there are signs that it may be nearing an end. Will that mean a bust sometime soon, and what consequences might a bust have? We'll just have to see, but Ecuador should prepare for problems if oil prices drop, and I doubt if Rafael Correa's favorability ratings will stay where they are.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Watch out, Chicago. You're Getting Set up to Be Screwed Again

The Cubs' owner is asked about the Atlanta Braves' planned move to the suburbs:
Ricketts said the Cubs have been trying to avoid such an issue. 
"We've been approached by several suburban sites and alternatives to move the Cubs to a new ballpark," Ricketts said, "and although I haven't studied it thoroughly, I imagine that's probably an attractive proposition for us. 
"But we've made it our priority to try to stay where we're at because of what it does mean to the neighbors and what it does mean to the city, both economically and just from the standpoint of quality of life in general."
Note that Rickett never says flatly that the Cubs will stay put (though such a promise would be worthless anyway), he only says they will try.

Would the Cubs actually move out of Wrigley? Probably not, but the threat is ho doubt good enough to extort a few hundred million out of the taxpayers. Rahm Emmanuel is a leading practitioner of crony capitalism, and there's plenty of precedent (e,g., Daley's Soldier Field sweetheart deal for the Bears).

On a side note: It's interesting that Cubs attendance has dropped more than 20% in the past few years. Maybe Cubs fans are wising up. One reason I could never stand the Cubs is that their fans (at Wrigley) are mostly a bunch of drunken boors who know nothing about baseball – they go to the games as an excuse to get drunk and be seen doing something cool.

(Apologies to my Cub fan friends, who are exceptions to that rule).

If You Disagree with Me You're Not Just Wrong ...

... you are "immoral, unethical and despicable."

Well no, I don't actually think that way, but Al Gore does. He said in a recent speech in Hawaii that anybody who doesn't believe in global warming is, to repeat, "immoral, unethical and despicable."

The 'immoral' part is particularly interesting, I think, as it is the sort of language and thinking one normally associates with religion. Global warming has become a religion for its adherents, and they seem to speak and act more and more in ways emulating religious fanatics.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Public Education in the USA

In Los Angeles, a science teacher was suspended for teaching science.
A popular Los Angeles high school science teacher has been suspended after students turned in projects that appeared dangerous to administrators, spurring a campaign calling for his return to the classroom. 
Students and parents have rallied around Greg Schiller after his suspension in February from the downtown Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts. Supporters have organized a rally on his behalf at the campus for Thursday, gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition calling for his reinstatement and set up a social media page.
Schiller was ordered to report daily to a district administrative office pending an investigation after two students turned in science-fair projects that were designed to shoot small projectiles. 
One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.) 
Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers. 
A school employee saw the air-pressure project and raised concerns about what looked to her like a weapon, according to the teachers union and supporters. Schiller, who said he never saw the completed projects except in photos, was summoned and sent home. 
Both projects were confiscated as "evidence," said Susan Ferguson, whose son did the coil project.
This reminds me of the recent case in New York where a Spanish teacher was (alledgedly) not just suspended but fired for teaching Spanish. She used the word 'negro', which of course means 'black' in Spanish and would seem to be a word worth knowing to someone who wants to speak Spanish. But one of her students said the word was offensive, and God forbid a student should be offended, so the teacher was fired.

Soccer in Ecuador

Next time I'm sitting on the
other side.
I attended my first Ecuadorian soccer game yesterday. It was an interesting experience. Do I have to begin calling it football now – or futbol?

The game was Universidad Catolica versus Deportivo Quito (Catolica won, 1-0). It was a good game, though not of the highest quality – about as good as an MLS game (the best Ecuadorian players, of course, go to other countries, where they can make more money).

I certainly can't argue with the price, though – general admission was five bucks. Still, next time I'll pay a little more to get a seat on the other side – the cheap seats are looking right into the afternoon sun. The other side is covered and faces away from the sun. The shade doesn't mean that much -- it wasn't hot -- but it was very difficult to see well, even wearing sunglasses.

Put down that
#$%@ umbrella!
Lots of people had umbrellas. I was sitting in the Deportivo Quito boosters section, and lots of them had blue or red (the team colors) umbrellas. Very colorful, but I'd hate to be sitting behind somebody holding one.

This was a Deportivo Quito home game, though Catolica uses the same stadium -- three Quito teams share the stadium. Another Quito team (the rich kids, I guess) has its own stadium. Can you imagine US teams sharing a stadium? Perish the thought -- much better that the taxpayers spend several hundred million to build us our own stadium (and, of course, lease it to us for a dollar a year). US sports is rife with crony capitalism.

Lots of security. There were
another bunch of cops right
behind me on the concourse. 
Universidad Catolica, despite the name, is a professional team. In fact, three of the twelve teams at the top level (Primera A) have 'Universidad' in their name (the others are from Universidad de Quito and Universidad de Loja). Apparently Ecuador has done what the US should do – acknowledge that top-level college teams are actually professionals.

We've all heard stories, of course, about Latin American soccer fans rioting. They apparently take that possibility pretty seriously here. There were a solid line of cops protecting the field, and all fans are thoroughly frisked – twice – before entering the stadium. In any case, the game was quite peaceful, and a good time was had by all. Or at least by me (I probably shouldn't speak for the Deportivo Quito fans).