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).

I Think That's What They Call a Duty-Hug

Look at the expression on Obama's face as he hugs Kathleen Sibelius.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Step in the Right Direction

The National Transportation Safety Board is fining General Motors $7,000 per day for GM's failure to respond to the NTSB's demand for information about GM's cover-up of their safety problems.

This is a great idea. At seven grand a day, US taxpayers will have their bailout money repaid in only about four millenia. Better than I thought it was going to be.

A note on the math: $7000 x 365.25 days = $2,556,750/year x 4000 years = $10,227,000,000.

That isn't quite all of what's owed, but it's close.

More seriously: It's way past time to put an end to crony capitalism (by both parties).