Tuesday, March 31, 2015

About Trevor Noah

… of whom I had never heard before today.

For those of you who give a damn, he's the new host of the show that Jon Stewart used to have on Comedy Central. It seems he's a bit of an anti-Semite.





Comedy Central says that Noah's tweets are OK, because he 'pushes boundaries'. Hmmm … Mike Pence should try that defense for Indiana.

But anyway, no doubt some exec has pulled him aside and said, “Hey, Trev, it looks like you'll have to can the Jew jokes until things cool down.”

I'm going to go not very far out on a limb and guess that Trevor Noah is a left-winger. It's probable, in fact, that in drawing up the specs for job interviews Comedy Central had a line that said something like, “Must hold predictably liberal and PC positions on all issues.”

What's interesting is that, among large segments of the left, anti-Semitism is not just an acceptable outlook, it has become PC.

Here's a post about left-wing anti-Semitism in Europe from a while back.

What Does the World Need Now?

Jackie DeShannon (channeling Burt Bacharach) eloquently argued in 1965 that the answer to that question was (and presumably is), "Love, sweet love."


Tossing aside any alleged need for mountains, cornfields, wheatfields, and other things presumably advocated by various factions, she comes back repeatedly to Love, and, more specifically, Sweet Love.

Whatever one might think of her/Bacharach's argument (which made it to #2 on the charts at the time), I trust that absolutely no one would say that the need is for another college bowl game. But that is what Tucson wants to foist upon us.
Arizona athletic Greg Byrne confirmed to the Star that there have been discussions about bringing a bowl game back to Tucson, but said it’s far from a done deal. 
“We are aware of conversations,” Byrne told the Star. “Nothing has been decided, but we obviously want to try to promote Tucson and the state of Arizona as much as we possibly can.”
Tucson had a bowl for ten years or so late in the last century. It started out as the Copper Bowl, and then went under a variety of aliases before moving to Phoenix, where it's treated as the disreputable cousin of the Fiesta Bowl and continues to change its name periodically (I have no idea what it currently calls itself).

I'm not much of a fan of Tucson, as I have no doubt mentioned a time or two in the past. Danny White, the former ASU QB, has often said that when he has to drive through Tucson, he takes a big breath just before getting there, so he won't have to breath any of their air. I think that might be taking it a bit far, but I'm not far behind Danny in my feelings.

That said, Tucson would probably not be any worse a bowl venue than Shreveport or some other places. But we come back to the recurring question -- Why?

If there is to be such a bowl game, it will match teams from the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA. No doubt this is in response to hundreds of thousands of people signing an online petition demanding such an inter-conference showdown.

How about this, Tucson? Instead of another bowl game, give us some Love. Preferably Sweet Love.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Great Toilet Paper Debate Is … er, Over

Whether toilet paper should hang over or under the roll has been a long-debated question.

As a vigorous advocate for the 'over' faction, I am pleased to find my viewpoint verified and vindicated (if I may indulge in a bit of alliteration).

It is best, in such debates, to return to original sources, and there can be nothing more original in this case than the patent application in 1891 for the toilet paper roll, from which the accompanying illustration is taken.

Q.E.D.

I hope to hear no more of your nonsense, Under-People.

Update: In the interests of fairness, I must include this recent statement from Under HQ:
This alleged 'patent application' is clearly a result of photoshopping. We will battle on, fully confident of our final victory.
Defections from their ranks, however, are reported to be numerous.

Things TJ Never Said: Dissent Is the Highest Form of Patriotism

The quote referenced in the title is very popular among protestors, most often, it seems among the left, though not exclusively.

There is a good deal of truth to it, in my opinion, but it's certainly not always true; dissent, it seems obvious to me, may be either patriotic or not, depending on circumstances and, most importantly, motivation.

The quote is generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson (as are a great many things he didn't say). Monticello.org offers a list of spurious quotes, as well as info on their true origin. This one seems to be no older than 1961, where it appeared in this form:
"If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?" 
As Monticello notes, it came to wide attention during the Vietnam era. I remember hearing it used often (and no doubt used it myself) at that time.

In any case, that is all irrelevant, since dissent is no longer patriotic – it's racist.

More Loans for Ecuador

This article from Bloomberg details several recent loans Ecuador has received from various sources – most prominently China and some major investment firms.
Ecuador got $924 million in previously undisclosed loans from Deutsche Bank AG and other lenders, showing the extent of President Rafael Correa’s effort to line up a record amount of financing as oil prices plunge. 
The country took $181 million in two separate loans from units of Deutsche Bank and obtained $125 million from the European Investment Bank, according to a prospectus prepared before the government sold bonds this month that was reviewed by Bloomberg News. Ecuador also got financing from Bank of China Ltd. and a Chinese state oil company, the document shows. 
The 50 percent drop in oil prices over the past 12 months has pushed the Andean nation’s financing needs to a record $10.5 billion this year, prompting Correa to court banks, international debt investors and foreign governments to make ends meet. Last week the country sold $750 million of bonds with a 10.5 percent interest rate, the highest for any major dollar-bond sale this year. [...] 
Included in the newly disclosed financing was a $218 million credit facility agreement with the Bank of China in November. The Deutsche Bank loans were in November and February. The European Investment Bank loan came in December. 
The government also said it received $2.4 billion in loans from Unipec Asia Co., a unit of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., in May 2014. Last year, Ecuador had put the size of the loans at $2 billion.
There's nothing wrong with getting loans of course. Governments do it all the time (as do we individuals). The concern in this case is that these loans are being sought to cover fiscal deficits the country is facing as a result of social programs which President Correa has expanded greatly, and which are unsustainable without the income Ecuador was receiving from Amazonian oil.
The extra loans still aren’t enough to offset the decline in oil prices and a slowdown in Chinese lending, Edward Glossop, an emerging-market economist at Capital Economics in London, said in a telephone interview. The government will need more money in the second half of the year if it wants to maintain current spending levels, he said. 
A promised $1.5 billion loan from China that was expected to be disbursed in February has already been delayed twice and is now expected to be disbursed in April, Herrera said March 23. The loan amount has risen and is now expected to be $2 billion, he said. 
“These kind of piecemeal arrangements of financing from here and there are only going to take them so far,” Glossop said. “It’s not going to change the fact that they can’t sustain this level of spending.
If oil prices remain low for long, then the government will be faced with some very hard choices: either the social programs will need to be cut back (which will cause some political unrest, and cut into Correa's high popularity ratings), or the government will have to go deep into debt (possibly causing the sort of problems Venezuela is currently facing).

Of course, the parallel is far from exact – Venezuela has been on its current path longer than Ecuador has, and its problems have been visible for quite a while. Venezuela is also far more dependent on oil than Ecuador is, and thus has been hit harder by recent price drops. Most important, perhaps, is that Venezuela has its own currency, the value of which the government can manipulate. Ecuador uses the US dollar.

As the temptation to manipulate currency rises, the temptation to have a currency the government can play with to provide short-term relief from fiscal problems may become too great to resist. At that point, Correa may decide to de-dollarize Ecuador (he was opposed to the original dollarization decision, made prior to his presidency), or try to use Ecuador's new e-currency to fill any budget gaps.

Note that the above several paragraphs of speculation began with a big 'if': “If oil prices remain low for long ...”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Will the Obama Library (and the Obamas) Desert Chicago for New York?

Apparently the Obamas are strongly considering settling in NYC when he leaves office, and the Obama Library may quite possibly be located at Columbia instead of the U of Chicago, which had seemed a lock. Note the reasons (emphasis added):
Barack and Michelle Obama are seriously considering moving to New York after his presidency, and building the Obama Library at the city’s Columbia University, sources told BuzzFeed News. 
Columbia’s bid on the library — and the notion of the Obamas in New York — has been widely viewed as a kind of courtesy to the Big Apple, with the universal assumption among even the Obamas’ inner circle that the couple would move back to Chicago in January 2017. But sources familiar with the process said their thinking has changed in recent months, the result both of messy Chicago politics and a personal craving for a new beginning when they leave the White House for the last time as residents. The first family fears the Chicago they left is not one they want to return to, and a source close to the family said the long-shot New York library bid has emerged as a serious alternative.
What, Chicago's too screwed up for the Obamas? That's funny.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

MSNBC Is at It Again

Once again, MSNBC is caught spreading hate speech.
MSNBC apologized after a guest said, "nothing says ‘let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music." 
Ebony.com senior editor Jamilah Lemieux made the comment in regards to presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz's remarks on "CBS This Morning" that he switched from rock to country music after 9/11. 
Cruz said country music's response to the tragedy "resonated" with him more so than other genres. Lemieux's comments on the MSNBC program "Now with Alex Wagner" were met with giggles from her fellow guests Michael Steele and Joan Walsh.
To their credit, this time, unlike past incidents, MSNBC apologized promptly.
A few moments later, [the show's host] addressed the camera telling viewers, "We have a programming note. A few minutes ago on this program, a guest made a comment about country music that was not appropriate, and we want to be clear this network does not condone it."
This is just one more example of the contempt in which our ruling elite hold those who live in fly-over country.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Things I Don't Care About

... that the media seem to think I do:

1. Why the Obama Administration fired the White House florist.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Angel Esquire by Edgar Wallace

As this BBC item posits, Edgar Wallace is not all that much  remembered today, though one of his creations, King Kong, certainly is. This is surprising, since it's estimated that one-quarter of all the books read in the UK in the 1920s were by Wallace. The link (I haven't listened to the audio, not being prepared to devote three hours) argues that perhaps Wallace simply produced too much material. I can't argue the point, having read only a handful of Wallace's output, but most of it I enjoyed. Wikipedia tells us:
...Wallace wrote screen plays, poetry, historical non-fiction, 18 stage plays, 957 short stories and over 170 novels, 12 in 1929 alone. More than 160 films have been made of Wallace's work. 
So there's no doubt that Wallace could grind 'em out. Nor that he had a knack for grinding out stuff people of his time really, really liked. People of today, not so much, other than a few weirdos like me.

But enough background and generalities. This is about one particular Wallace book – Angel Esquire. The book was published in 1908, one of Wallace's earlier novels.

I downloaded the book (here) after reading this review last year (but just got around to reading the book):
Christopher Angel, an eccentric Scotland Yard detective, will remind you of Albert Campion in his early, silly-ass days, but he is often genuinely amusing, as well as resourceful: “Great fellow for putting things right … if you’re in a mess of any kind, Angel’s the chap to pull you out.” 
When he’s not working on a case, he sits at his desk working on a racing form, and he is not perturbed at all when the police commissioner comes into his office and finds him so occupied. Angel is the perfect sleuth for a far-fetched mystery involving master criminals, English gangsters, and an intricate puzzle that must be solved before the rightful heirs can receive several million pounds.
As the reviewer says, the plot is 'far-fetched'; but I will attempt a summary: A crooked gambler
Gertrude McCoy, who played
Kathleen Kent in the 1919 movie,
Angel Esquire
(retired, but still crooked) leaves an estate of two million pounds; instead of designating a recipient, he names three people – two he had worked with and a young woman, Kathleen Kent, who is the daughter of a man who had been financially ruined at his casino. Considering that there were probably lots of people who had lost their fortunes in the same manner, why her? Presumably because we need a beautiful young woman in the story. In case you were wondering if she was beautiful, see at right Hollywood's conception of her in a 1919 film version of the story.

The fortune, though, is not to be divided among these three. The gambler loved puzzles of various types, and left behind a will that included a short rhyme/word puzzle. The first one to solve the puzzle, the solution being the combination to the gambler's elaborate safe, would get all the money.

One of the male legatees, Jimmy (just Jimmy), declines his rights in favor of the damsel. It turns out that he is not in fact a crook, but an aristocrat (a baronet – Sir James Something) who played at crime for the amusement it brought and never really stole anything, or always gave it back, or something (the 'gentleman crook' was a popular figure in thrillers of this time – Raffles being the best remembered today).

The other, Conners, is a genuine bad guy, who is part of a gang called the Borough Lot, who seem to spend most of their time hanging out in their clubhouse discussing what badasses they are and getting captured and let go for no good reason that I can discern.

Jimmy and Angel, meanwhile, team up on behalf of the damsel and take turns outdoing each other in displays of sang-froid , with many arch and wry comments as assorted bad guys are holding guns on them..

I described Conners as a bad guy, but he's not the main villain of the story. If you haven't picked out the really bad guy by roughly the mid-point of the story, though, you're not trying. It's not a spoiler, I trust, to let you know that the girl ends up with the money, Jimmy ends up with the girl, and Angel is being arch and wry right up to the final paragraph.

It's a very good book for the limited audience of folks like me who dig this stuff. It's not really a mystery story, which is my usual favorite genre, it's more of a romantic thriller with some improbable crime elements thrown in.

For those who demand what they think of as 'realism' in their reading – steer clear, this is most definitely not you cup of … er, rotgut whiskey. I much prefer, for the most part, escapism, and Angel Esquire is not a bad escape.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Laurie Roberts' Latest Crazed Rant about Doug Ducey

You may recall this post from just a few days ago in which I quoted Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts going off about one-tenth cocked because the governor, Doug Ducey, had proposed an office of Inspector General to audit state agencies (many other states and cities, as well as the feds, have similar offices). Roberts mused darkly about 'secret police'.

Well, she's at it again.

Is Doug Ducey a governor or a dictator?

Let's see, Gov. Doug Ducey got elected with the help of dark money and he's surrounded himself with dark-money supporters, some of whom are now operating as his political muscle. 
He pushed his budget through the Legislature like a bullet train and has announced that he doesn't need legislation to begin work on his $24 million plan to help private charter-school operators expand their businesses. 
Now that the time for public hearings has passed, he suddenly wants to dissolve the Department of Weights at Measures. And oh yeah, he wants Republican legislators, still in full-blown honeymoon thrall, to give him a secret police force. 
I fully expect Ducey to come out any day now wearing a general's uniform with a lot of braid and shiny medals. 
Shall we just call you Fidel, governor?
You know, I'm beginning to think poor Laurie may have a problem.

Lee Kuan Yew v. Ferdinand Marcos

Lee Kuan Yew, the leader of Singapore from the time of its founding in 1965 (upon its separation from Malaysia) until 1990, has died. Singapore was a poor city-state with no natural resources in 1965 and Lee pursued policies that, amazingly quickly, made it one of the richest nations on earth on a per-capita basis (in 1965, Singapore's per-capita GDP was $500; fifty years later, it is $55,000).

Not all Lee's policies were what an advocate of democracy might wish. As an article about him in Foreign Policy notes:
... the miracle wasn’t without its price. Lee kept his political project on a tight leash, dampening free speech, muzzling his critics, and squashing political opposition before it could take root. [...] 
In polite company, it’s generally preferred to refer to Lee as a “soft” authoritarian — although it doesn’t feel that soft butting heads with a man who leaves you destitute, imprisoned, or beaten with a cane.
Lee didn't dispute the above. In an interview five years ago he was asked how he would be remembered. He replied:
I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial ... Close the coffin, then decide.”
In my experiences with the Philippines, I've often reflected on Lee and Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine leader who was almost an exact contemporary (Marcos ruled from 1965 to 1986). Both were Asian dictators who took over impoverished former colonies at the same time.

What I have wondered, as you may have guessed, is what would have become of the Philippines if it had had a leader like Lee Kuan Yew. Would it have prospered? That we cannot know, but we do know what happened under Marcos:
GDP per capita
1965: $187
1986: $535
2013: $2765
To compare the two countries -- in 1965, Singapore had a GDP per capita less than 3x that of the Philippines. Today it is close to 20x. But blaming Marcos may be misguided; as the numbers indicate, the country has done about the same in the post-Marcos years as it did during his reign.

Still, it is interesting to think about whether the country might actually prosper under honest and visionary leadership (however undemocratic). It seems unlikely, though, that the Philippines will ever get such leaders, since the people seem to be addicted to electing the same elite families, plus an occasional movie star or two.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Good Old Days in Ecuador

It is easy, at times, to become discouraged and to feel that the human race is not progressing at all. At such moments, it's good to take a cold, hard look at what life was really like long ago.

Although I'm a believer in law and order, I'm glad things have eased up a bit since this sentence was passed in Cuenca, Ecuador.
On September 10, 1783, Cuenca resident Melchor del Valle was convicted by the Spanish Royal Court of murdering his brother Sylvester. The sentence: “Two hundred lashes in the public square, then hanging on the gallows until death.” 
The court further ordered that, when the body was removed from the gallows, it was to be stuffed into a leather bag, along with a dog, a rooster, a snake and a monkey. The bag was then to be sewn shut and thrown into the Rio Tomebamba.
Although capital punishment was outlawed in Ecuador in the early 1906 (and had fallen into disuse well before – the last execution there, Wikipedia says, took place in 1884), justice was still quite rough.
The humiliation cross at Iglesia San Sebastian.
Public spectacle continued to be a central element of Cuenca justice until the second decade of the 20th century. Petty criminals were often tied to humiliation crosses at the entrances to the city, where they were kept for as long as two days. Citizens with grudges against the offenders showed up to apply personal versions of justice, usually with fists, whips and sticks. 
One of the humiliation crosses, made of marble, still stands on the corner of Simon Bolivar and Coronel Talbot, in front of Iglesia San Sebastian.
And it wasn't just justice that was tough in the old days. Public entertainment in Cuenca in the 18th Century was not for the squeamish.
According to the Spanish chronicler Marquez Gonzalez Suarez, [Governor] Vallejo [introduced] the popular Spanish pastime of cat roasting to Cuenca. The governor encouraged families to come to the central plaza, now Parque Calderon, on Sunday nights to watch cats in wire mesh cages lowered into a bonfire. According to Gonzalez Suarez, “The caterwauling and writhing of the burning felines always delighted and amused the spectators.” 

Re Discussions of Race at Starbucks

My first reaction was 'Huh?' That still pretty much covers it, since it's very hard to see the point of this.

From a business standpoint, it looks like a loser, since I don't think many people go out to eat or drink hoping to discuss political/social issues with their server. I sure don't.

It's also tough to see how this can accomplish anything real positive about race relations; there's unlikely to be much give-and-take in the discussions – on the rare occasions I've been in a Starbucks, the clientele seems heavily skewed to upper middle-class white twenty- and thirty-somethings whose thoughts on racial issues seem unlikely to differ much from the gender-studies and art history majors who will be preaching to them. Of course, that might well be the point – it could be that this is simply an opportunity for the company to preen in front of its core demographic. Ben & Jerry's has done well with this approach.

There is another possible benefit – some folks who have never visited a Starbucks might be tempted to go there just to have an opportunity to tell the barista to STFU. Hey, companies lay out lots of marketing bucks to get non-customers to try their products, this could be a relatively cheap way to accomplish the goal.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Doug Ducey's Secret Police

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is not much liked by the Phoenix newspaper's left-wing columnists. The guv has proposed an office of 'inspector general' to look into the activities of state agencies (offices with similar duties, under various names, exist in several states, and in the federal government). Local columnist Laurie Roberts, not at the best of times very rational, went totally off the rails on the subject, including accusing Ducey of creating a secret police force.
A powerful governor, backed by dark money now further consolidating his power with his own secret police? 
Hey, what's not to like? 
House Bill 2420 cleared its only committee hearing on Wednesday, on a party line vote.Under the bill, the new IG will carry a badge, have subpoena power in his pocket and report directly to the governor. The office will be staffed with a handful of inspectors. 
Ducey's private police force is conceived as a secret agency. 
Hyperventilate much, Laurie?

About Jeb Bush

From National Journal's TwentySixteen newsletter:
In 1985, "health-care entrepreneur Miguel Recarey Jr. hired" Jeb Bush "to help locate office space in South Florida." Bush later opened doors in Washington, "where Recarey … mounted an aggressive lobbying effort for a waiver from Medicare rules that would allow his fast-growing company to continue to expand. … [T]wo years later, the firm … was shut down as regulators searched for millions in missing federal funds. … Recarey fled the country to avoid prosecution” and “remains a fugitive in Spain. … Time and again," Bush "benefited from his family name and connections to land a consulting deal or board membership, sometimes doing business with people and companies that would later run afoul of the law." (Washington Post)
I have no idea whether Bush's actions in this instance were illegal (I presume not) or even unethical (sounds that way, but we're seeing only one side of the story). In any case, I don't see any likelihood that this will derail Bush's candidacy.

In truth, I consider that candidacy to be already derailed, or more accurately to have had little chance from the beginning. Bush of course seems to have tons of money, which is certainly better than not having tons of money, and there is always the strong possibility that the Republicans will do something stupid, but there seems to be approximately zero support for him among the party's grass-roots (aka the people who vote in primaries and, especially, caucuses), and I doubt that the Republicans (who very much want to win in 2016) will choose to counter a tired name from the past (Hillary Clinton) with … a tired name from the past.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sounds Like a Perfectly Reasonable Compromise on End-of-Life

Folks on the religious right argue strongly against 'assisted suicide' – there was much controversy a few months ago concerning this instance of a young woman with incurable brain cancer. There can be no question that such cases lead to incredibly difficult choices (such that I hope I never have to make).

Several US states allow for assisted suicide (a Wikipedia summary is here),

It seems to me that the law described in this article, recently passed by one house of France's parliament, would seem to meet the objections, since (assuming it is an accurate description) it does not hasten death, but merely offers palliation of pain:
France's lower house of parliament passed a bill on Tuesday allowing patients near the end of their lives to stop medical treatment and request deep sedation until they die, a move that critics say is effectively a form of euthanasia.The draft law, which polls show is backed by most French, passed in the lower house of parliament with 436 members voting in favor and 34 voting against. It is expected to get the final approval from the upper house in May or June.
I say that it would seem to meet the objections, but apparently it doesn't.
Allowing doctors to put patients within "hours or days" of their death under deep sedation until they die, as the law foresees, differs only from euthanasia in that precise time of death cannot be determined, they argue.
I fear that those folks can't be satisfied with anything short of a death that is as nasty, prolonged, and painful as possible.

“As Nearly Free as Possible”

The Arizona Board of Regents (the body that oversees the state's universities) is considering suing the governor and legislature because they're not providing enough funding. (Here's a previous post about amusingly incompetent demonstrators at the State Capitol, demonstrating about the same subject).

The basis of the threatened suit is a clause in Arizona's constitution, which reads:
"The university and all other state educational institutions Shall be open to students of Both sexes, and the instruction furnished Shall be as nearly free as possible."
Putting aside the interesting capitalization, and pausing to note that I was very pleased during my years at both NAU and ASU that they had seen fit to let girls in, we will focus on the last few words: What the @#$% does “... as nearly free as possible” mean?

I hate to disillusion the ABOR, but the issue would seem to be settled (as they no doubt know), since they were on the other side of a suit (Kromko v. Arizona Board of Regents) on the same point several years ago.
When it comes to defining the phrase, students, administrators and experts all seem to disagree. 
“‘As nearly free as possible’ is simply what it says,” ASA chairman Brad Busse said. “It is minimal tuition with a lot of state funding and support, and no tuition increases.” 
But the Arizona Board of Regents and the state attorney general’s office have agreed on a different interpretation — that the cost of tuition and fees at each of the state’s universities must be in the lower third of public institutions nationwide. 
ABOR spokeswoman Andrea Smiley said the lower-third rule is just a ceiling figure that the Board works with, and many factors beyond that are taken into consideration when setting tuition and fees. 
“The Board has long considered, and continues to consider, a wide variety of factors when setting tuition,” Smiley said in an e-mail. 
Other factors ABOR takes into consideration include the amount of financial aid available and the cost of running quality institutions. 
“The lower one-third is but one measure,” Smiley said. “Other measures and analyses by the regents do get at the issue of families’ ability to pay.” 
The Kromko case 
ABOR and the Attorney General’s office used the lower-third rule, however, when a group of UA students brought a lawsuit against them in 2003, in a case known as Kromko v. Arizona Board of Regents. 
The students claimed tuition increases for the 2003-04 academic year were excessive, and thus violated the “nearly free” clause. 
They did not challenge the constitutionality of the Board’s interpretation of the provision, however. 
As a result, the Arizona Supreme Court dismissed the case in 2007, arguing the issue was political, not judicial. 
“Our prior cases … provide no guidance on how to measure whether tuition at some level above zero is ‘as nearly free as possible,’” the Court’s August 2007 opinion stated. “Nor do our statutes currently provide standards by which a court could measure whether tuition was too high.”
Unless the latest budget cuts have caused tuition to rise out of the lowest third, all the state government will need to do if ABOR sues is quote what ABOR said last time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Crash Test

At times we look back with what I think is entirely too much nostalgia on the 'good old days'. A common complaint among people my age is that cars today are built out of plastic and that people miss the big, solid cars made of steel we remember from our youth.

I remember those big solid cars as gas-hogs that were unlikely to last more than four or five years (tires were typically guaranteed for 20,000 miles or so).

But this video shows the difference far better. This is a crash test of a 2009 Chevy Malibu and a 1959 Chevy Bel Air (ah, yes, remember those tail fins?) at 40mph.



More to the point, let's consider the condition of the crash dummies.

I'll take the new cars, thank you very much.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I'm No Fan of Nicolas Maduro, but …

Venezuela is a “serious threat” to the US? Really? This sort of stuff makes President Obama (and, by extension, the US) look silly.
Amid escalating political unrest in Venezuela, the White House on Monday sanctioned seven Venezuelans for human rights abuses and declared the conditions there to be a serious threat to the United States.  
"The situation in Venezuela," President Barack Obama wrote in his executive order, "constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." 

Great Moments in Politics

We are, at long last, blessedly free of Charlie Crist.
So much for The Last Temptation of Crist. 
Charlie Crist, the perma-tanned Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who has sought nearly every statewide office of note in Florida, will not run for Senate in 2016, he said Monday. 
"I will not be seeking office in 2016, but I will be working alongside you," Crist wrote in a Facebook post. "Too much is at stake for our beautiful Florida to be on the sidelines. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement." 
The news comes after CNN reported last week that Crist, much to the bemusement of Republicans who love having the former GOP governor to kick around now that he's changed his stripes and become a Democrat, was considering a Senate run following his narrow loss in last year's governor's race. 
A number of Florida Democrats are thinking about running for Senate next year, though none have the kind of star power and financial connections that Crist does. If Sen. Marco Rubio decides to abandon his seat to run for president, several Republicans are eyeing bids, too. 
Crist had been sounding out supporters and making calls about a potential run, but it was not clear how resolute he actually was about mounting another campaign.
Charlie Crist had the unique ability to look sleazy even when surrounded by other politicians.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Putin and Russia

The disappearance of Vladimir Putin is fascinating, even if (as is most likely) it turns out to be a big nothing. The mystery around him points out again how very different Russia is from every other developed country (if indeed Russia is 'developed').

This is the point at which anyone writing about Rusiia must trot out Winston Churchill's remark from seventy-five years ago.
Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Of course, the reason the quote gets used over and over is that it remains true. The one immutable fact about Russia is that it is … well, weird.

The problem, of course, is that this weirdness makes it difficult (or impossible) to understand the country or to predict what it might do next. That is compounded by the inevitable corollary that they find us equally unfathomable and unpredictable.

Along these lines, I greatly enjoyed this review by P. J. O'Rourke (a favorite writer) of a new book about Russia, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, by Peter Pomerantsev.

O'Rourke opens with an intriguing lead sentence: “This is the strangest book of note I have ever read. And that’s as it should be, since the subject is Russia, the strangest country of note I have ever visited” and follows with several vignettes that illustrate how strange Russia is. Among my favorites:
Corrupt crony capitalism is familiar everywhere. But in Russia the corruption is so pervasive that even the cronies have to pay bribes, not just to the higher-ups but to the lower-downs. 
Pomerantsev visits a TV studio owned by Kremlin-connected moguls. It’s in a shabby warehouse on the wrong side of town. There’s no sign or address on the metal door. Inside is a dirty little room with a drunk guard. 
Pomerantsev goes down a dark corridor and up two flights of dingy stairs to another unmarked metal door. Behind that is a modern, well-lit, busy Western-style production facility. But there’s an inconspicuous door here as well, with a secret code pad. And behind that is a more modern, better-lit, even busier production facility with an even less conspicuous door with an even more secret code leading to the real offices of the moguls, where the real business accounts are kept. 
All this is to foil the tax police. Who come anyway. One of the moguls tells Pomerantsev that “the tax police were much happier taking bribes than going to the trouble of stealing money that had been paid in the orthodox fashion.”
Or there's this one, which calls to mind the classic movie Gigi:
It’s an interesting moral atmosphere in Russia. 
In Russia, small-town girls go to the big city and get ruined, but that’s what they’re trying to do. Really trying. They go to school for it. 
The students take notes in neat writing. They have paid a thousand dollars for each week of the course. There are dozens of such “academies” in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with names such as “Geisha School” or “How To Be a Real Woman.” 
If a girl with potential studies hard, “she earns the basic Moscow mistress rate: the apartment, $4,000 a month, a car, and a weeklong holiday in Turkey or Egypt twice a year.” 
In return, she’s available to her “sponsor,” as he’s called, any time, any day.
Of course, Gigi was made in 1958 and set at fifty or sixty years prior. The rest of the developed world has moved on, but not Russia.

Of course, in the long, long term, Russia may not matter. The country's demographics are outrageously horrible; Russians have an extraordinarily low birth rate and short life spans (life expectancy is on a fourth-world level) and are being replaced inside their own country by the nationalities they once held captive. Which might someday pose a whole new problem.

But that's far in the future. Back to Putin, one obvious question is, if he's alive and in even reasonably good health, why don't they just prop him up in front of a press conference under carefully-controlled conditions, have him answer a few softball questions and … problem solved.

That I am unable to answer that question is the only reason I continue to think that maybe there is something to all the rumors.

Addendum: Here are a few of the articles I've seen recently.

Bought a Lenovo Laptop Recently? Sorry to Hear It

It’s hard to believe that a computer company could be stupid enough to sell their laptops pre-loaded with adware, but Lenovo is indeed that stupid. What’s double amazing is that they try to justify it as enhancing the customer experience.
Since at least September, Lenovo has been shipping OEM Windows laptops preloaded with Superfish “adware,” which would rudely inject its own shopping results into your browser when you searched on Google, Amazon, and other websites. This sort of behavior is associated more with spyware than with factory-shipped operating-system installs, and by itself would be a new low for Lenovo. But Superfish is more than just pesky. It’s the most virulent, evil adware you could find. 
By installing a single self-signed root certificate (trust me: That’s really bad) across all of Lenovo’s affected machines, Superfish intentionally pokes a gigantic hole into your browser security and allows anyone on your Wi-Fi network to hijack your browser silently and collect your bank credentials, passwords, and anything else you might conceivably type there.
The linked article contains sites you can use to test whether your computer is infected with this garbage. Die, Lenovo, Die!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In Politics, Some Endorsements Are Valuable, Others Not So Much

Dan Quayle is backing Jeb Bush.

Why is income from college sports not taxed?

According to the Duke University law professor quoted in this item:
” … if the [non-profit/tax-exempt] organization regularly carries on trade or business activities that are unrelated to its exempt purpose, the income from those activities is subject to federal income taxation at the same rates applicable to for-profit corporations.”
That would seem to cover collegiate sports.

Happy Pi Day

Less than an hour. I wonder if something remarkable will happen?


(Via Kaitlin Poe-Orsburn's Facebook post).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Harry Truman

I had often read about the fact that Franklin Roosevelt had kept his successor poorly informed about just about everything, and specifically that Truman didn't even know there was such a thing as an atomic bomb until after FDR's death. But something I just thought about today was this ...

Truman had been in office only three months when he had to make the decision whether to drop the bomb. Roosevelt died on April 12, the bomb was successfully tested on July 16, shortly afterward the US called on Japan to surrender, Japan refused, and the first bomb was dropped on August 6.

Maybe everybody else has thought about this, but to me the timeline is remarkable -- akin to teaching a kid to swim by throwing him into the water.

This Is Funny

... but it's also not-so-funny.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gold Cup Coming Soon to Phoenix and Chicago

The Gold Cup (aka Copa de Oro) will be played July 7-26 at several US (and one Canadian) locations, including double-headers in Chicago and Phoenix. This is the championship of CONCACAF, the soccer federation for our region of the world.

The Chicago (Soldier Field) matches are the first games in Group C on July 9th: Trinidad-Guatemala and Mexico-Cuba.

Phoenix (U of Phoenix Stadium) matches will be the second set of Group C on July 12th: Trinidad-Cuba and Guatemala-Mexico.

That last game (Guat-Mex) ought to be good, the rest are pretty meh. I don't think I'll go; I'd like to see a good soccer game, but I need someone to cheer for. TV will be good enough.

Since the Gold Cup started in 1991, it has always been hosted in the US, although hosting duties were shared with Mexico in 1993 and 2003. This year Canada is officially co-host, but gets only one set of games, a double-header in Toronto.

It might seem unfair that the USA always gets to host this event, but it's doubtful that any other nations in CONCACAF (possible exceptions: Canada and Mexico) have the resources to do it, and of course we shouldn't lose sight of why they hold the event in the first place – money. There are twenty-six matches being held in thirteen large venues – neither Canada nor Mexico could fill that many seats that often at the prices likely to be charged. In 2003, when Mexico City hosted part of the tournament, the only match that did not involve Mexico drew a crowd (if that's the term) of 3,000.

Besides, it's really not all that unfair – most of the countries competing have so many expats living in the US that there's really little or no home-field advantage for our guys.  I recall going to a Gold Cup final a few years ago at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game was USA v. Mexico, and I'm fairly certain Mexican fans outnumbered Americans by a pretty good margin. Damn, it felt good when we won!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Question for Pope Francis

In an interview with an Argentinian newspaper, Pope Francis commented, in answer to a question concerning reported ISIS plans to assassinate him:
“I have said to the Lord: take care of me. But if your will is that I should die or that they do something to me, I ask you one favor: that they don’t hurt me. Because I’m a real scaredy cat when it comes to physical pain.” 
Which is a reasonable enough request, it seems.

But why, then, does the Catholic Church refuse painless deaths to those faced with terminal illnesses?

Update, Mar 12: OK, upon reflection, I realize I'm being a little unfair. The Pope is only asking that he be allowed to die painlessly, something that any of us can do. Whether or not his prayer is granted is another matter.

Hillary Just Keeps Making It Worse

RealClearPolitics has a good summary of commentary on Hillary Clinton's press conference yesterday. It's not surprising of course that her performance was panned from the right:
“Hillary acknowledging that it would have been better to use two e-mail accounts is about as close to an apology from the Clintons you’ll ever get. But the matter of ‘convenience’ is just nonsense, as everyone knows. Even a tech dinosaur like myself has two e-mail accounts, which I now access on my spiffy new iPhone 6 Plus.” – Larry Kudlow, National Review 
An aside: The excuse that “I would have needed two phones for two email accounts” is among the funniest things I've heard in years.

But, in addition to the right, she also took shots from both the Establishment media (her natural allies):
“More than two decades ago, Bill Clinton’s operation perfected the notion of rapid response after the 1988 presidential campaign when Democrat Michael Dukakis lost in good part because he refused to address political attacks he judged foolish or inconsequential. Hillary Clinton’s comparatively laggard reaction to the email controversy, allowing more than a week to pass before she offered a substantive response, contributed to concern among party professionals that her political operation had gone rusty — or, worse, was maladapted to the 24/7 demands of today’s campaign world.” — Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times 
“She told reporters that she hadn’t wanted to be weighed down by a second electronic device. It wasn’t secrecy that motivated her. It was purse space and pinkie strain. And behind her forced smile, which was practically cemented in place, she seemed put out by all the skepticism and all the questions. She shouldn’t be. This latest Clinton controversy is not the work or fault of Republican enemies or a ruthless, unappeasable press corps. It’s her doing.” -- Frank Bruni, New York Times 
“Government employees don't have private servers in their homes and then become the sole arbiters of what is relevant to the public or not. That's the crux of the problem here, and I don't think that she answered that.”– Margaret Hoover, CNN
And from the far left.
“You wonder why the Clintons seem to feel above the rules, seem to feel arrogant, as some people say. And this is an unforced error. It’s political malpractice, something she could have easily avoided. Surely somebody in her circle, if not her herself, had to have said, ‘Uh, this is not a good idea.’” — Touré Neblett, MSNBC
Perhaps the left is trying to clear the way for a preferred candidate (e.g., Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders), but when somebody like Hillary Clinton loses the two coastal Timeses (?) and CNN, she's got problems.

'Kathleen' Isn't an Irish Name

Reading about smithereens (see next post below) motivated me to look up the source of my daughter's name, and to a surprise.

Though words/names spelled in English with an -een ending are typically Irish diminutives, I found that Kathleen, a very popular Irish name, is not. (In my semi-Irish family, we have three generations of Kathleens – my daughter, my sister, and my aunt).

However, Wikipedia says:
Kathleen is a given name, used in English and Irish-language communities. Sometimes spelled Cathleen, it is an Anglicized form of Caitlín, the Irish form of Cateline, which was the Old French form of Catherine. It ultimately derives from the Greek name Aikaterine, the meaning of which is highly debated 
Greek?

Smithereens

I had come across this at least once before, but a recent newsletter from World Wide Words reminded me of the derivation of 'smithereens' (as in, “I smashed it to smithereens.”
The -een ending at once makes us think of Ireland and of colleen, poteen , shebeen and other words that derive from the Irish diminutive ending -ín. (A colleen is a young woman, poteen for illicit alcohol is literally a little pot and a shebeen, in which such liquor was sold, takes its name from the Irish word for a small mugful; but note that tureen, canteen, velveteen, sateen and some other words aren’t from Irish, but from French.) Most dictionaries assert that smithereens is indeed Irish, from smidirín, a diminutive of smiodar , a fragment.
The newsletter adds a note that although it is derived from a word meaning 'fragments', it cannot be used as a singular; i.e., a fragment is not a smithereen.

The newsletter goes on to cite an interesting early example of a threatening note posted on a door and quoted in the Dublin Evening Post in August 1810.
Mr Pounden, — Sir, we gave you notice some time ago to quit this country, for you are making a rebellion here — we tell you now again, that if you do not be of directly, by the gost of William, our deliverer, and by the Orange we wear, we will break your carriage in smithereens, and hoch your cattle, and burn your house — so mind yourself — you will soon hear again from your friend, TRUE BLUE.
Now I want to know what they mean by "hoch your cattle"; is it an early form of 'hock', meaning that they will steal the cattle and pawn them?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Good Spot for Hillary?

This article from The Guardian (UK) argues that it is time for the UN to have a female boss.

Since Secretary-General of the UN is a very prestigious but totally meaningless position, heading up a totally meaningless organization, I think this might offer a good out for Hillary Clinton. Her presidential campaign seems to be sputtering and she's shown herself, both this year and in 2008 against Barack Obama, to be a really, really bad politician despite all the advantages her name gives her (she's on the Mitt Romney level of campaign ineptitude), so she may be looking for a graceful way out of another embarrassing loss.

Pushing Hillary into the Sec-Gen job would allow the Democrats to get her off-stage quietly and allow her to boast, “I am the first female __________”, which seems to be a big motivator for her (even if the title that fills in the blank isn't the one she had in mind).

A Sign of the Times?

The governor of Arizona has submitted his proposed budget, which includes, among other things, cuts in the amount of funding the state provides to state universities.

This of course is controversial and you will not be surprised to learn that there have been demonstrations, populated heavily by university students, at the State Capitol complex.

Having been mostly out of the state for the past 20+ years and only recently returned, I don't feel fully up to speed on complex state issues, so I'll avoid for the moment taking sides on this one.

However, I came across this picture (via Espressopundit) of a group of protesters with signs. You will note the young woman in the front with a sign saying, "I believe that will win".

There are a couple of possibilities here. Perhaps the 'that' that she believes will win is someone or something lurking nearby. Or, alternatively, she meant to say "I believe that we'll win".

If if is the latter, then I'm not sure whether the sign is a stronger argument than she thinks in favor of increased funding, or perhaps (assuming that she is an ASU student) an argument for tougher admission standards.

I suppose we'll never know.

Thanks, Barack

I would imagine that's what Scott Walker is saying today.

What could be better for a Republican seeking his party's nomination than to be singled out for criticism by Barack Obama -- and especially to be criticized for doing something that is very popular among Republicans?

After Walker signed a new Right-to-Work law into effect in Wisconsin:
President Obama inserted himself into the Republican presidential race Monday night with a statement blasting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for signing "right-to-work" legislation earlier in the day. 
The unusual statement—the White House has not often spoken out about state laws—comes as Walker's star continues to rise in a crowded GOP field. 
"I'm deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen, workers in the new economy," Obama said. "Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past.
Walker just picked up another several points in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

Social Security Records Say There Are 6.5 Million Americans over Age 112

An Inspector General's report says that, according to SS files, there are millions of Americans still alive who were born in 1901 or prior:
Many people are living longer, but not to age 112 or beyond -- except in the records of the Social Security Administration. 
The SSA's inspector general has identified 6.5 million number-holders age 112 -- or older -- for whom no death date has been entered in the main electronic file, called Numident. 
The audit, dated March 4, 2015, concluded that SSA lacks the controls necessary to annote death information on the records of number-holders who exceed "maximum reasonable life expectancies."
The audit even turned up a few thousand born before the Civil War who SSA says are still alive.

Many of the centenarians are still working; well, okay, to be more realistic, somebody using their SS number is working. And that, of course, is why this is a problem – many of the numbers are being used fraudulently.

But don't worry, the government will have no problem taking care of your medical records.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Top Cities for Each Sport

Some of the results on the map below and in this article are not at all surprising: the top TV ratings for college basketball are in Louisville, while Birmingham is #1 for college football. No kidding.


The NBA's top city is Cleveland? A little surprise, unless you factor in the LeBron Effect. I suppose twenty years ago, the NBA did best in Chicago.

But what's going on with soccer in DC, Wimbeldon in Richmond, and especially ... golf in Oklahoma City? Huh?

Firefox Commits Suicide by Intolerance

Just about a year ago, Mozilla, the parent of Firefox, gave in to a band of vigilantes and fired their CEO for having made a political contribution several years previous to a ballot initiative against gay marriage in California. After that happened, several church-related groups called for a boycott of Firefox.
In the last 12 months, Firefox's user share -- an estimate of the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser -- has plummeted by 34%.  
I support equal rights for gays including gay marriage. I do not, however, support getting people fired because they hold views opposing mine. If Mozilla goes belly-up because of this, it will be something they had coming.

I Thought George Pataki Was This Year's Laughingstock

Actually, you can't be a laughingstock unless enough people notice you are running that there is a substantial amount of laughter. George Pataki just barely meets that criterion. I doubt that Mark Everson will.

“Who the hell is Mark Everson?” I hear you asking. Which is of course the point. When I tell you that he was head guy at the IRS under Bush II, I expect I'll hear you say, “Oh yeah, that's just the sort of guy I'm looking for,” in that snarky tone of yours. Which is also the point.

Oh, and he was briefly the head guy at the American Red Cross until he was forced to resign because he was having an affair with a subordinate.

Good luck, Mark.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I Don't Often Say “I Wish I Were in Chicago” This Time of Year

… but I'll make an exception. I would love to have seen Rahm Emanuel run an ad saying, “I'm sorry I've been such an asshole.” I wonder if it's on YouTube – hold on, I'll be right back.
Yay – here it is! Love it!
I love the Internet -- it saved me a trip to Chicago and freezing my buns off.

The Worst Book Ever Written about Jesus?

After the reviewer generously notes that The Lost Gospel is not overall the worst book ever (citing a ghastly encounter with dinosaur porn), he details why he thinks it's the worst in its category. Great review with a perverse effect -- it almost makes me want to read it, just for the laughs and to see if anything short of dinosaur porn can really be that bad.
Here are some of the claims that Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson make: (1) a 6th-century text that never once refers to Jesus or Mary Magdalene is secretly about Jesus, Mary, and their children; (2) the character “Joseph” named in this text represents Jesus, Apollo, Helios, Mithras, and a Roman emperor simultaneously; (3) Mary Magdalene was not Jewish and was, moreover, a priestess of Artemis; (4) when Jesus refers to the Queen of Sheba (Matt 12:42), he is speaking of Mary in code; (5) Jesus — not a peasant, but a powerful figure in the world of Roman politics — was the victim of not one but two assassination attempts, both of which he survived; (6) the Roman general Germanicus was the second threat to Jesus, but a Roman prefect named Sejanus saved him, Mary, and their children; and (7) the wine of the Last Supper symbolized Mary’s menstrual blood. As you will see below, this is only a small sampling of this book’s originality. 

Hard Times for Golf

I'm probably not the right guy to comment of the state of golf, since I think it's one of the stupidest, most boring sports ever created. But I've seen a couple articles recently confirming my point of view and can't resist passing them along.

This item, from the Washington Post, discusses declining participation (mostly from a business point of view: fewer participants = bad times for sporting goods companies, course developers, etc).
But the business behind one of America's most slow-going, expensive and old-fashioned pastimes has rapidly begun to fall apart. TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, the world's biggest maker of golf clubs and clothes, saw sales nosedive 28 percent last year, its parent company Adidas said Thursday. 
"A decline in the number of active players ... caused immense problems in the entire industry, and as a market leader, this hit us particularly hard," Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer said on a call with analysts. 
It's been years since the increasingly unpopular sport of golf plunked into the rough, and the industry now is realizing that it may not be able to ever get out. All the qualities that once made it so elite and exclusive are, analysts say, now playing against it. 
The game -- with its drivers, clubs, shoes and tee times -- is expensive both to prepare for and to play. It's difficult, dissuading amateurs from giving it a swing, and time-consuming, limiting how much fans can play. [...] 
Even Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer in history, makes a strong argument for why new players aren't flocking to golf. 
"I'd like to play a game that can take place in three hours," Nicklaus told CNN in January. "I'd quite like to play a game that I can get some reasonable gratification out of very quickly -- and something that is not going to cost me an arm and a leg."
The number of young people (18-30) playing golf has dropped 35% in the past ten years. Fewer women and minorities are playing as well, and those who play are playing less often.
That drop-off has hit America's greens and links hard. More golf courses closed than opened in 2013 for the eighth straight year, according to the National Golf Foundation. And the number of course closures has sped up, averaging 137 closings every year since 2011, data from golf-industry researcher Pellucid show.
That's the sport from a participation standpoint. As for fans watching the game – well, that's more bad news, with the problem there being that fans seem to be interested only in Tiger Woods not in the game itself, and Tiger looks like he's nearing the end of the line.
Consider these words about Woods from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who spoke with reporters the day before the tournament began at Torrey Pines: 
“Candidly, I think when [Woods] tees it up this week, everybody in the world is going to want to see how he’s going to play, because here you have a guy who was so incredibly good for such a long time and he’s struggling out there. [Even] if he’s not winning golf tournaments, people still want to see Tiger Woods play golf. As long as he’s playing, he’s still going to have the same impact.’’ 
Finchem’s words were equal parts arrogant, insensitive and truthful. 
Woods’ presence in the game has made Finchem, the players on the PGA Tour and everyone else surrounding the game countless millions of dollars and opened up endless opportunities for many. 
For nearly 20 years, Woods has been a crutch — for Finchem, for TV, for those of us in the news media, for equipment manufacturers and everyone else involved in the game. That crutch is splintering and weakening. 
With Woods’ age (39), increasing list of surgeries, swing changes, new coaches and health-related tournament withdrawals, we are fast approaching a time when we need to come to this realization: If we like golf, we had better get used to taking interest in the PGA Tour pros out there who are not named Tiger Woods.
I wonder how long people will continue to watch Tiger Woods suck. The PGA and the TV people who are deeply invested of course hope that this strange fascination will continue indefinitely, but I suspect fans will tire of it fairly soon.

Crystal Gayle Was Just Ahead of Her Time

There is a laser treatment (awaiting FDA approval) that will change brown eyes to blue – if you think doing so is worth five grand.
According to ophthalmologists, we all have blue eyes below our brown eyes, under a thin layer of pigment. 
A California company has now developed a laser treatment that disturbs the melanin in the pigmented part of the eye and causes the body to eliminate it over time. The procedure only lasts seconds, but it may take weeks before the blue tint emerges. 
This laser treatment is not available here in the U.S. yet, but has been tested overseas with success. Researchers claim it is safe but have to conduct more clinical trials before they can apply for FDA approval.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Graffiti Grammar Nazis in Quito

A small group in Quito who call themselves Accion Ortografica Quito (rough translation: Spelling Action Quito) is on a quest to correct the grammar and spelling errors that are rampant in the city's graffiti.
Since last November [the group has] been working to correct the spelling and grammatical errors of Quito’s graffiti artists. All three are anonymous (charges of
A successful mission.
vandalism in Quito can result in a fine and up to five days in jail ...) and they take stealth very seriously. Each operation begins with a reconnaissance mission to the scene of the grammatical crime, where one team member will take a picture of the offending work. Then, typically while sharing of beer (so much for “write drunk, edit sober”), they gather to debate the graffiti’s many grammatical failings: Where should the comma go? Is this letter supposed to be an “O” or an “A”? This can take a while — the team once found 13 mistakes in a simple, two-line message.
 
The final edit always happens after dark. Clad in hoodies and ski masks, they sneak out in pairs — one to act as lookout, one editor — to complete their operation. Because the three agentes are grammar nerds and not actual secret agents, these missions don’t always go according to plan. 
“The first time we went out and corrected something, I was on lookout and I was supposed to whistle if I saw something,” Ponto Final recalled in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “But the very first car that went by was a cop car, and all of a sudden I couldn’t whistle, so I yelled ‘caw caw’ instead.”
Read it all – it's fun.

The Salmon Cannon

An innovative solution to the problem of helping salmon return to their spawning grounds. Said to be suitable for other fish as well.


Are We Entering the Post-European Era?

That we are in a ‘post-American era’ is a well-worn idea (particularly among the class of commentator that hopes it’s true). This article explores Europe’s many, many problems (my list would start with immigration/failure to assimilate, demographics, economic stagnation, a dysfunctional currency, excess regulation, an out-of-touch bureaucracy, and go on from there) and how they may be signaling Europe’s fade from a major role on the world stage.
In the years after the Cold War, much was written about Europe’s emergence as the third great force in the global political economy, alongside Asia and the United States. Some, such as former French President Francois Mitterand’s eminence grise Jacques Attali, went even further: in his 1991 book Millenium Attali predicted that in the 21st century, “Japan and Europe may supplant the United States as the chief superpowers.” 
This notion of a fading America has been embraced among some here as well, by authors such as Jeremy Rifkin who has written extensively about a “European dream” supplanting the American one on a global scale. In 2008, CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria predicted the rise of what he called “the post-American world,” with the U.S. still preeminent but losing ground, particularly to emerging countries in Asia. This view is widely held in American elite circles, including many people in or close to the Obama administration. 
Yet something funny happened on the road to a post-American era: it didn’t happen. Even under two of the most incompetent administrations in our country’s long history, we are headed not to a “post-American” world, but more likely a “post-European” one.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Selective Environmentalism: The Greenies Are Silent on the Nicaragua Canal

The government of Nicaragua has made a deal with a Chinese engineering firm to build a canal across Nicaragua, which will compete with the Panama Canal. The idea of a canal in Nicaragua is not at all new – the US had strongly considered building a canal there before the deal was done with Panama back in 1900 (and Wikipedia says Napoleon III had previously looked into the idea). From time to time, the idea has been revived.

What is new is the immense size of this planned project. The Panama Canal at its narrowest points (the locks) is currently 110 feet wide (widening is either currently happening or planned (I'm not certain which). The plan in Nicaragua, though, is for a ditch whose narrowest point is 754 feet in width.

While there is considerable doubt in some quarters as to whether the project will go far, another point of interest beyond the immensity of the undertaking, is the silence of major environmental organizations in the face of something that will unquestionably have an incredible impact on the environment.

An article in Nature is quoted here as saying the project will require …
“The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” 
And yet ...
Interestingly, despite this potential massive threat to one of the most pristine environmental reservoirs in the Americas, none of the leading international environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or the Sierra Club, has issued a single statement about the Nicaragua Canal.

Heighten the Contradictions

I haven't, up until now, written much (or anything) about the Chicago mayoral race. It has been fascinating to me that someone I see as very much to the left, Rahm Emanuel, is under attack for being too conservative. If a similarly rightist politician were being challenged by an extreme rightist, we would be seeing numerous articles and editorials tut-tutting about how the Republican Party is doomed because it's controlled by its most extreme factions.

But in this instance, the media is mostly silent, though this editorial in today's Washington Post lightly chastises the Democratic Party for its extremism.
A runoff election next month to determine if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets a second term appears to be close. His opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is not as well known and has far less campaign money, but recent polls show him within single digits of Mr. Emanuel. Democratic Party purists and special interest groups have reached the startling conclusion that the able and decidedly liberal incumbent is not liberal enough, and they are intent on punishing him for not toeing their line. If there is no room in the party for a pragmatic progressive like Mr. Emanuel, who was President Obama’s first chief of staff in the White House, then the party, and by extension the country, are in trouble.
To bring those not in metro Chicago up to date, Emanuel is seeking re-election and, having failed to reach 50% in the first round, is facing a county commissioner, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia, in a run-off.

Tom Bevan argued a few days ago in Real Clear Politics that Emanuel, having received a well-deserved black eye by being forced into the run-off, now should get the support of sensible folks. His viewpoint, though from the right, is pretty much in line with the establishment-liberal WaPo.
But now that the schadenfreude has worn off, Chicagoans face a choice. 
As is the case in many big cities across the country, Chicago has been ruled exclusively by Democrats for a long time — since 1931, to be precise. The city’s last mayor, Richard M. Daley, ruled for 22 years before retiring in 2011, using a number of budget gimmicks on his way out the door to paper over the city’s profound fiscal problems — most notably a ticking time bomb pension payout set to detonate next year. 
It’s hard to see how Garcia, a Democrat who’s more liberal than Emanuel and far more simpatico with the unions and other entrenched special interests, will be able to muster the political courage to make the tough choices that need to be made. 
What Chicago really needs is a pragmatic, center-right technocrat — a Windy City version of Michael Bloomberg, for example — who could implement meaningful and lasting reforms to get the city’s fiscal house in order. But such a person isn’t on the ballot and, even more depressing, probably could not be elected if he (or she) were. 
So Chicago faces a “lesser of two evils” election. It’s an unfortunate situation, but one that brings to mind the old saying “better the devil you know.” Rahm Emanuel is the devil we know — even if he has egg on his face.
It’s a perfectly reasonable viewpoint, which I, being unreasonable, as I often am, choose to reject. I will reach back almost five decades to my days hanging around with campus Marxists for the ‘why’, as well as for the title of this post.

‘Heightening the contradictions’ is an old Marxist idea that making the tottering capitalist system even more oppressive would make the workers more conscious of their burden and thus push them toward rebellion (or something like that – not being a Marxist, I was and am a bit hazy on the details). In the late sixties, though, my Marxist friends would often use the phrase in the course of arguing, for example, that Nixon was preferable to Humphrey, since Nixon was clearly a tool of the oppressors, while Humphrey posed as a friend of the workers.

It’s pretty much the opposite of the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument Bevan offers.

I’m taking my contrarian position because of the accumulating fiscal dilemma Chicago faces. Bevan and WaPo both allude to it, and this item from about a week ago spells it out a bit more.
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago drew closer to a fiscal free fall on Friday with a rating downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service that could trigger the immediate termination of four interest-rate swap agreements, costing the city about $58 million and raising the prospect of more broken swaps contracts. 
The downgrade to Baa2, just two steps above junk, and a warning the rating could fall further still, means the third-biggest U.S. city could face even higher costs in the future if banks choose to terminate other interest-rate hedges against fluctuations in interest rates. All told, Chicago holds swaps contracts covering $2.67 billion in debt, according to a disclosure late last year. 
“This is an unfortunate wake-up call for anyone still asleep over the fiscal cliff facing the city of Chicago,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based government finance watchdog, The Civic Federation. 
Chicago’s finances are already sagging under an unfunded pension liability Moody’s has pegged at $32 billion and that is equal to eight times the city’s operating revenue. The city has a $300 million structural deficit in its $3.53 billion operating budget and is required by an Illinois law to boost the 2016 contribution to its police and fire pension funds by $550 million. 
Cost-saving reforms for the city’s other two pension funds, which face insolvency in a matter of years, are being challenged in court by labor unions and retirees.
If one accepts, as I do, the idea that Chicago will sooner or later follow Detroit into bankruptcy, then why not sooner? Let’s move things along so that it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone but the willfully blind to deny that the blue model is failing. If Garcia, as is likely, would refuse as mayor to do anything to rein in pensions and benefits while maintaining or expanding social spending – so much the better.

Bring on the revolution!

Reverse the Genders …

…. what sentence do you think a male teacher would get in these circumstances?
Former Corona special-ed teacher Summer Hansen is expected to get a 3-year jail sentence when she returns to Riverside Superior Court April 3rd.  
She pleaded guilty Friday to 16 sex-related crimes involving five underage boys when they were students at Centennial High School.  

The Only Jodi Arias Comment I Will Ever Make

I was (thankfully) out of the country throughout most of the trial and knew nothing about it until I returned. As I understand it, though, there was much testimony (and even more conjecture) about kinky sex.

Would anyone have paid the trial any attention otherwise?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Update on 2016 Republican Potentials

Back in November, I posted this assessment of the potential Republican field for 2016. A the time, I said of Scott Walker:
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.
Thus far I am underwhelmed, though I still lean toward Walker, and in some ways he's doing quite well.

A Facebook friend posted this item by Eric Erickson from a more-conservative-than-me website called Red State, to which I responded:
I surprised myself by being mostly in agreement with Erickson.  
I am leaning toward Walker for now, but it will remain only a lean until he demonstrates some foreign policy chops (or, at minimum, an ability to talk his way around the lack -- his recent FP comments have been an embarrassment). Rubio and Jindal are probably my back-ups. 
If Bush is the nominee ... well, I don't know what I'll do. Maybe leave the country for a couple years as I did in 2012.

Today in History

Well, actually yesterday

March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second Inaugural Address.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Sorry, I wanted to include a video, but I searched YouTube and couldn't find one, so I had to go with this crappy B&W pic.



Gangster Government

The murder of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow brought to mind the thought that Russia under Vladimir Putin is a good picture of what the US would have been like if Al Capone had somehow become President.

Help Wanted: No Robots Need Apply

It may be that someday the last job requiring actual human beings may be stitching baseballs for use in the big leagues. Unfortunately for Americans, the work is done in Costa Rica.
The average baseball is only used for a few pitches in the U.S. Major Leagues, but for the Costa Ricans who make them each ball is the result of hours of painstaking stitching by hand. 
For 10 hours a day, workers at the world's only factory authorized to supply Major League Baseball, in the town of Turrialba in central Costa Rica, sit at desks yanking strands of waxy red fiber to form each baseball's 108 stitches.
Apparently, efforts have been made to automate the stitching process, but the results have been deemed unsatisfactory.