Sunday, May 31, 2015

The South China Sea May Be Coming to a Boil, so to Speak

It looks like there is growing awareness of the problems China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea may present.

Here are some recent articles on the subject:

The Sydney Morning Herald says that China is installing weaponry on the artificial islands it has
been building in the disputed zones.

Australian officials are concerned that China could also introduce long-range radar, anti-aircraft guns and regular surveillance flights that will enable it to project military power across a maritime expanse which include some of Australia’s busiest trading lanes.

Here’s another article that I’m including mostly because the map shows the incredible extent of the area China is claiming.

And finally, an argument that China sees a window of opportunity in the remainder of Obama’s term.

Eighteen months. That’s the timeframe Beijing has to test how much territory it can claim in disputed Asian waters, before a more uncompromising United States commander in chief takes over from a perceived militarily-passive President Barack Obama.
“The Chinese calculation is ‘run hard now’,” says Ernest Bower, a senior adviser for south-east Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cool, but I Still Want a Laser Sword

The US Air Force is developing an electromagnetic pulse weapon.
The weapon in question: Boeing’s “CHAMP,” short for Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project. [Bob’s snide aside: The acronym seems a stretch.] It’s essentially the old nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon that we used to worry so much about — but without the nuclear part. CHAMP carries a small generator that emits microwaves to fry electronics with pinpoint accuracy. It targets not nations or cities but individual buildings, blacking out their electronics rather than blowing up physical targets (or people). 
What makes CHAMP even more interesting is that, unlike a nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon, which fires once, blacking out entire nation-states, CHAMP can fire multiple times, pinpointing and blacking out only essential targets. This would permit, for example, taking down radar defenses in a hostile state, while saving the electrical grid that supports the civilian population. In a 2012 test flight in Utah, a single CHAMP was reported to have blacked out seven separate targets in succession, in one single mission.
Fascinating technology and tremendously valuable for use against a nation-state, but probably just about worthless against ISIS or similar organizations.

Was Shakespeare Catholic?

This didn’t entirely convince me, but there’s some interesting information here. I ended up almost convinced that his family was mostly Catholic; as for Will himself -- maybe, maybe not.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Study re Changing Minds on Gay Marriage Retracted

You may have heard about this – the story has been around for a couple weeks, and I’ve been meaning to mention it.
In what can only be described as a remarkable and swift series of events, one of the authors of a much-ballyhooed Science paper claiming that short conversations could change people’s minds on same-sex marriage is retracting it following revelations that the data were faked by his co-author. 
[3:45 p.m. Eastern, 5/28/15: Please see an update on this story; the study has been retracted.] 
Donald Green, of Columbia, and Michael LaCour, a graduate student at UCLA, published the paper, “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” in December 2014. The study received widespread media attention, including from This American Life, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,  The Los Angeles Times, Science Friday, Vox, and HuffingtonPost, as LaCour’s site notes.
Beyond the subject matter, the story on how the fakery was uncovered is interesting.

The Clinton Connection to the FIFA Mess

According to The Daily Beast, among the Clinton Foundation’s generous donors are FIFA, the Qatar 2022 Committee (the group that won the bribefest for the 2022 World Cup, and that runs the slave labor camps building the stadiums and other facilities), and the government of Qatar.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, partnering with the State of Qatar, “committed to utilizing its research and development for sustainable infrastructure at the 2022 FIFA World Cup to improve food security in Qatar, the Middle East, and other arid and water-stressed regions throughout the world,” according to the Clinton Foundation website. 
The cost of the two-year project is not listed on the Clinton Foundation website, but the Qatar 2022 committee gave the foundation between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014 and the State of Qatar gave between $1 million and $5 million in previous, unspecified years.
Of course, it’s no surprise at this point to find the Clintons mixed up anywhere sleazy money is to be made.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I started hearing about 'chemtrails' starting about six months or so ago, but apparently it's been a thing for several years now (I really need to start going to those 'Out the Illuminati' meetings more often).

Just today, I finally looked it up on Wikipedia to see what the heck it's about. 
According to the chemtrail conspiracy theory, long-lasting trails left in the sky by high-flying aircraft are chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. Believers in the theory argue that normal contrails dissipate relatively quickly, and contrails that do not dissipate must contain additional substances.
Then I read this. Kylie would be so disappointed in me -- please don't tell her.

Monday, May 25, 2015

All Aboard for Moldova!

We know of course that lots of people want a passport or residency rights in the US, or in one of the
other safe, advanced, prosperous countries of the world.

But Moldova?

And yet, there has been, in the past year or so, a sudden clamor for Moldavian passports, with most of the demand coming from their even poorer, more backward neighbor, Transnistria. What happened is that the European Union gave citizens of Moldova the right to travel freely in the EU.
And with that, the citizenship applications started coming in... The breakaway republic loyal to Russia is located on what Moldova considers Moldovan territory, and ever since Transnistria broke away relations between the parties have been frozen, not to say freezing, with no movement in either direction regarding Transnistria’s status. But Transnistrians themselves apparently have a clear idea of what they want. 
When Moldova broke off from the Soviet Union, Transnistria broke off from Moldova, with the help of Russian tanks. But now Transnistrians, yoked to Russia, see Moldavian passports as a way out of the mess they've created.

Apparently about 74,000 of Transnistria's 500,000 people have applied for Moldavian passports. If that keeps up for long, Transnistria may become a country without people.

 (Map is from Wikipedia: "TransnistrianRegionMap" by Serhio - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A Thought for Memorial Day

I don't want to get too heavy today, but it's worth noting, on a day when we honor those who died protecting our freedoms, that there are a great number of our fellow citizens who would be perfectly happy to give away one of our core freedoms – freedom of speech.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Interview with Art Garfunkel

Artie comes across as a bitter guy, very resentful of Paul Simon.

How Segregated Public Housing Came to Be

A historian argues on NPR that inner-city ghettos are the result of conscious public policy begun under FDR.
Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America. 
“We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls ‘de-facto’ — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods or because there was white flight,” Rothstein tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. 
“It was not the unintended effect of benign policies,” he says. “It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that’s the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies.”
Rothstein cites primarily two federal policies; one in regard to public housing:
… policy was that public housing could be used only to house people of the same race as the neighborhood in which it was located, but, in fact, most of the public housing that was built in the early years was built in integrated neighborhoods, which they razed and then built segregated public housing in those neighborhoods. So public housing created racial segregation where none existed before.
The second policy he cites involves FHA financing:
 … the Federal Housing Administration gave builders like Levitt concessionary loans through banks because they guaranteed loans at lower interest rates for banks that the developers could use to build these subdivisions on the condition that no homes in those subdivisions be sold to African-Americans.

Sheriff Joe Asking for Money

Joe Arpaio is sending out letters asking for help with his legal bills.
Arpaio said in a letter to supporters that he doesn't have the money to continue paying for attorneys out of his own pocket, adding that he feels "targeted" by the immigration rights groups that have sued him to stop what they say are racist policies targeting Latinos. 
"In some instances I have to personally pay for attorneys to represent me in these cases," Arpaio wrote in an email Thursday. "I do not have the personal wealth or the wherewithal to keep up with the costly demands of paying for attorneys to defend me. 
Arpaio made the plea while awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow on whether the sheriff broke the law in failing to carry out a 2011 court order to refrain from bias against minorities.
Arpaio also wants to have Judge Snow removed from the case.

Joe is unlikely to get a dime out of me.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thornton Quarry Tours

For all my friends in Chicago's South Suburbs, you can get tours of the Thornton Quarry, which apparently is due to be filled with water.
Until the water starts flowing, however, the MWRD is taking groups to see the dry reservoir. Various delegations from neighboring communities have visited, and Spyropoulos said that if interested groups contact her office, it will arrange a tour. I carefully explained, several times, that if you put a thing like that in the paper, people will actually do it. But she insisted that’s OK. So for next month or so, now’s your chance. Because it’ll be under water a long, long time. Though if you do go, a word of advice: Bring sturdy boots. Because Brad Sutter won’t let you in otherwise. 
To schedule a tour, contact the MWRD Office of Public Affairs at or phone 312-751-6633.

LA Adopts $15 Minimum Wage

Los Angeles has approved a $15/hr minimum wage (to be achieved in increments between now and 2020). The city council took under advisement an additional proposal to give twelve personal-leave days per year.

Quick – go out and buy stock in robotics companies.

I've previously posted about this here, here, and here.

Ireland Votes for Gay Marriage

Ireland voted yesterday on whether to legalize gay marriage. The results were announced today, and ‘Yes’ won by a landslide.
Irish voters backed legalizing gay marriage by a landslide, according to electoral figures announced Saturday — a stunning result that illustrates the rapid social change taking place in this traditionally Catholic nation. 
Figures from Friday’s referendum announced at Dublin Castle showed that 62.1 percent of Irish voters said “yes.” Outside, watching the results announcement live in the castle’s cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried. 
The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. Analysts and campaigners credited the “yes” side with adeptly using social media to mobilize first-time young voters and for a series of searing personal stories from Irish gay people to convince voters to back equal marriage rights. 
Ireland is the first country to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice.
To anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties, when the idea even of legal divorce was unthinkable for Ireland, so strong was the hold of the Catholic church, this is absolutely stunning. Divorce was not, in fact legalized there until the nineties.

When things start changing, it seems that the changes often come amazingly fast.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Youth Baseball in Decline

This article, and accompanying stats, confirms my own observations. I attended two games last season – a Diamondbacks game in Phoenix and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. There were few kids in evidence in Phoenix; I saw none in Chicago (Wrigley didn't even have soft drink vendors in the stands, beer was the only beverage available -- why bother to sell something for which there are no customers?)
The ball fields at Delano-Hitch Park were covered in snow when Jim Wilson launched a campaign to keep them in use. As president of the City of Newburgh Little League, he had seen participation numbers plummet to the point where the league was in danger of folding. Now, he and the league’s board of directors were calling parents one by one, asking if their children would play this spring.To the extent that kids don't play the sport anymore, its future is in jeopardy.
Oh, and I should mention that the two games I went to last year, I left early, because they were so slow and long and boring.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Long, Weird History of the Flying Car

People of my generation (and even those less ancient) often ask, “Where is that flying car that I was promised as a kid?” I know I figured we'd have them by now, but hell, we're just closing in on driverless cars (something I'm really looking forward to – why couldn't we have had them when I had that godawful 35mi each way commute to downtown Chicago?)

Anyway, this is from Popular Mechanics.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How Not to Start a Campaign

Unless you're a politics junkie, you may not have heard about Loretta Sanchez's strange behavior over the weekend. I had heard about it, but that's me.

Sanchez is a Democrat and a member of the House of Representatives from California, and had just announced her candidacy for the Senate a few days before.

As I said, I had heard about it, but today I finally saw it.

She was already considered an underdog, but now ...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Question about Words and Propriety

The word 'thug' having been declared racist, am I allowed to use it to describe the bikers who just shot up a sports bar (and each other) in Texas?

All the thugs bikers I've seen in pictures of the scene appear to be white, but if the word has been banned, then perhaps that isn't sufficient grounds to use it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Self-Driving Cars as Imagined in 1956

Great video (if you enjoy outrageously cheesy stuff, as I do) by General Motors from 1956, showing the self-driving cars that we would have in 1976.
That it all happens to crowds of similarly choreographed cars threading through cloverleaf interchanges in the middle of a desert, complete with rocky prominences straight [out] of a Roadrunner cartoon, is icing on the cake.

The plan for 'self-driving' seems to have been for the roads to control the cars, with a very top-down, somewhat militaristic, governmental authority running things.

Asian-Americans File Suit against Harvard

Upon more careful reading, it isn't a suit, it's a complaint filed with the Departments of Education and Justice. In any case, here's the part quoted at the link.
Over the last two decades, Asian-American applicants to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges have increasingly experienced discrimination in the admissions process. Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1% GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted. Because of this discrimination, it has become especially difficult for high-performing male Asian-American students to gain admission to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges. 
My guess is that the in the current administration, this will go nowhere. The idea may be to have it in place for the future.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Obama Takes His Customary Hypocrisy to a Whole New Level

From RCP:
This week, at Georgetown University, the president bemoaned the scourge of private schools, driven by “an anti-government ideology that disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.” 
One wonders: Did he feel that way as a teenager while in the bosom of the exclusive Punahou prep school in Honolulu?  The Obama children, of course, attend Sidwell Friends, a private institution that costs $37,750 a year. Before moving to Washington, D.C., Sasha and Malia studied at the University of Chicago’s elite Laboratory School, where middle school tuition runs at $29,328. 
Of course, his statement had nothing to do with private schools -- it was just class-war rhetoric.

Let It Be True, Dear Lord

From Advertising Age:
Amazon's subscription-video service will drop several Viacom shows, including "Teen Mom" and "Mob Wives," people with knowledge of the matter said, evidence that viewer fatigue with reality shows is spreading online.  [...] 
The prime-time audiences at networks that rely more on reality shows, such as A&E and History, co-owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., have declined 20% to 30% this year, according to Nielsen data.
 Wouldn't it be lovely if reality shows went away?

Of course, they'll probably be replaced by something worse.

Girls Are Evil

That is not just my opinion, it is a fact, and has been proven mathematically.

If you deny it, you are a science-denier. Or, at least a math-denier, which is pretty much the same thing, I think.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Accountability in the Obama Administration

A follow-up on last year's VA scandals:
The nationwide scandal last spring over manipulated wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals led to the ouster of the secretary of veterans affairs and vows from the new leadership that people would be held accountable. 
Then in February, the new secretary, Robert A. McDonald, asserted in a nationally televised interview that the department had fired 60 people involved in manipulating wait times to make it appear that veterans were receiving care faster than they were. In fact, the department quickly clarified after that interview, only 14 people had been removed from their jobs, while about 60 others had received lesser punishments.Now, new internal documents show that the real number of people removed from their jobs is much smaller still: at most, three. 
The documents given this month to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which provided them to The New York Times, show that the department punished a total of eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal. One was fired, one retired in lieu of termination, one’s termination is pending, and five were reprimanded or suspended for up to two months.
So – the VA deals with a culture of lies and cover-ups by … lying about what they're doing about it.

And meanwhile, I wonder what's being done about the veterans who need care?

How's It Working Out So Far?

From The New York Times, 25 March 2008:
At the core of Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority. 
To achieve the change the country wants, he says, “we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done.” 

Whither HuffPo?

If this article in Advertising Age is correct, Verizon's $4.4bil buy of AOL (which shocked the hell out of me, frankly) was all about buying AOL's 'programmatic ad buying' capabilities (those ads you see before the video that you actually want to watch).
In 2013, AOL purchased, a video-advertising start-up that specializes in automating the connections between advertisers and media companies, a process known as programmatic ad buying. Publishers provide videos they want to have advertising on, marketers hand over ads that they'd like people to see before watching whatever it is they actually want to watch, and AOL's computers play matchmaker. This year, 28% of all video ads will be purchased through a system like this, according to eMarketer. By next year it will be 40%. 
Verizon needs something like this. "The principal interest was around the ad tech platform that [AOL has] done a really terrific job building. We really like the technology a lot," said John Stratton, Verizon's exec VP-operations, at an investor conference Tuesday. "We've talked a lot about our over-the-top video ambitions, and this is, for us, a very important cornerstone enabler as part of that broader strategy."
So that leaves us wondering what will happen to the piece of AOL with which most of us are familiar – the popular lefty content provider Huffington Post (the 30th most popular site on the web)?
But there's a fair deal of skepticism that Verizon actually wants to run a network of online publications. James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, immediately speculated that Verizon would sell off the Huffington Post. 
Shall we pass the hat and see about buying it? I'm good for upwards of twenty bucks, if pressed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

John Quincy Adams and the Journey to the Center of the Earth

JQA believed that inside the crust that we're standing on, there are several concentric spheres (or something like that).

He tried to get Congress to fund an exploratory expedition, but they weren't having no part of it.

Chicago Downgraded to 'Junk'

Well, not the city, just its bonds.
Moody's downgraded Chicago's credit rating down to junk level "Ba1" from "Baa2." 
The announcement, which the ratings agency released Tuesday afternoon, cited a recent Illinois court ruling voiding state pension reforms. Moody's said it saw a negative outlook for the city's credit. 
Following that May court decision, Moody's said it believes that "the city's options for curbing growth in its own unfunded pension liabilities have narrowed considerably."
That court decision is explained here.
On Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that pension reform legislation passed in 2013, commonly referred to as Senate Bill 1, violates the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution. The Court upheld a previous circuit court ruling that invalidated the law in its entirety. The Court held that the State could not rely on its inherent “police powers” to diminish the benefits of membership in a pension system. 
While I think the decision is disastrous for the state, it also seems to be on solid legal grounds. The section of the Illinois constitution in question reads:
Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.
That seems pretty clear.

It also seems pretty clear that this is going to end badly.

Update: Five Reasons Chicago Is in Worse Shape Than Detroit

Grexit Delayed, Again

Greece managed to delay their seemingly-inevitable default once again, but the big tests are coming in the next few months.
While Athens once again managed to pull together enough cash to avoid a default, it is not clear how much longer Greece can continue to scrape by.Unless creditors agree to more aid, Greece will have trouble making a series of looming debt payments. The continuing standoff over the aid — and the uncertainty it has created — has darkened the outlook for the country’s economy, which risks another downturn.
The big hurdles, as I mentioned, are still ahead.
The authorized payment to the I.M.F., which is due on Tuesday, is 757 million euros, about $848 million. By mid-July, Greece must pay the I.M.F. nearly €3 billion more and roll over €11 billion of short-term debt. From July through August, Athens must also pay theEuropean Central Bank about €6.7 billion on its Greek bond holdings. 
While the Greeks have done just about everything short of confiscating the piggybanks of the nation's kids, they still refuse to consider what the creditors want – a basic restructuring of the Greek economy, including pensions (which are a problem in more places than just Greece, of course).

Assuming the two sides stick to their positions, it looks like Grexit (Greece dropping the Euro) has to be the final result.

The President and the Finger-Flipper

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, is making a fool of himself again. This time a teenager flipped off Correa's motorcade, Correa jumped out of his car, screamed at the kid and apparently had him arrested (I haven't seen anywhere what for). The kid was sentenced to do community service. You can't make this stuff up.
Ecuador’s notoriously thin-skinned president took his hypersensitivity to the next level last week when he abruptly ordered his motorcade to halt in the middle of the street to berate a teenager for mocking him from the sidewalk. 
Correa gets pissed and goes after a kid.
President Rafael Correa stopped his motorcade in downtown Quito on May 1 after spotting a 17-year-old teen flipping him the bird from the sidewalk. 
Bravely surrounded by his bodyguards, Ecuador’s most powerful man stepped from his bullet proof vehicle and aggressively huffed and puffed towards the teenager to confront him and his mother. 
The startled teenager, Luis Carrera, says President Correa poked him repeatedly in the chest and scolded him on the sidewalk. He said the president was so angry that tears were forming in his eyes. 
“He screamed ‘Show some respect, little kid! I am your president, you rude scoundrel!’” Carrera said.
Team Correa denied the part about poking the kid in the chest. Oh, well, that makes everything much more presidential, right?

Correa a couple months ago had a twitter snit about a comedian, John Oliver, who made fun of him on HBO for his hypersensitivity (thus, of course, proving Oliver right). Here's a link to the YouTube – it's really, really funny.

Correa also used his weekly TV show to attack a private citizen who had set up a Facebook page that had mocked him, as recounted here in The New York Times Magazine.

These examples are ludicrous, of course, and rather amusing, but it gets more serious when Correa sues newspapers for millions of dollars for criticizing him, in order to shut down dissent in the country.

This doesn't bode well for Ecuador's future.

Monday, May 11, 2015

More Like Europe – Part II

Many in the US (mostly on the left, politically) think this would be a much better country if only we would act more like Europe. With that in mind, I am enjoying watching Europe's response to their current immigration crisis.
Libya has criticised EU proposals to authorise the use of force against people smugglers taking migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe. 
The Libyan ambassador to the UN told the BBC that the EU's intentions were unclear and "very worrying". 
The EU is seeking a UN mandate to allow military action to destroy or halt smugglers' boats in Libyan waters.
I guess air strikes against coyotes in the Sonoran Desert and strafing the Rio Grande might make us more like Europe. How do you think that would go over? (I am definitely not advocating anything of the kind).

The EU is also considering a cap on the number of amnesty-seekers they will accept each year, as well as rules requiring each country to accept a portion of the continent's immigrants based on population and GDP. Britain has said, “No way, Jose,” or something like that.

Note: If you're interested, Part I is here.

Rise of the Log Cabin Republicans

From National Journal’s ‘Wake-Up Call’ newsletter, quoting CNN:
At the South Carolina Freedom Summit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Sen.Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) mostly “emphasized humble roots. In doing so, the candidates … sought to distinguish themselves from the summit’s most notable absentee:” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R)
In the 19th century, it was popular among politicians to claim have been born in log cabins. I wonder who will be the first of the 2016 candidates to do so? Of course, that gets them onto shaky ground in their appeals to SoCons.

To explain that last comment to my non-political friends: their is a group of gay Republicans who go by the name 'Log Cabin Republicans'. I know -- explaining a joke makes it worthless.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cold War Roots of Religious Movements?

A former general in Romania's communist-era secret police says that the Russian KGB 'invented' the liberation theology movement that swept across Latin America in the sixties and seventies.
Liberation theology is a progressive movement that developed in Latin America in the 1950s and 60s seeking to engage the Catholic Church in efforts for social change, with its core idea being the “preferential option for the poor.” Many theologians and Church historians consider it the most important, and certainly the most divisive, movement in Latin American Catholicism of the second half of the 20th century. 
When debates over liberation theology were at their peak in the 1980s, proponents hailed it as a recovery of the social dimension of the traditional Christian notion of “liberation,” while critics dismissed it as Marxist class struggle sprinkled with holy water. 
In a nutshell, Pacepa told CNA that liberation theology actually was “born” not in Latin America, but in the bowels of the KGB, as part of a broader strategy to promote Soviet influence in the region that included backing the National Liberation Army of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, and, of course, the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Further on, the article brings up something else I had never heard, that many Catholic officials in Latin America think the widespread defections from their flock to evangelical churches was the work of the US, which was responding to liberation theology.

Both seem unlikely to me, for reasons stated in the article – i.e., that there were more basic explanations for both phenomena:
In the case of liberation theology, it emerged at a time of deep tension in Latin America fueled by poverty and social exclusion, the rise of military regimes and police states, and widespread human rights abuses. It also came shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a global summit of Catholic bishops in Rome from 1962 to 1965, called Catholicism to a deeper engagement with “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.” […] 
... today most Latin American Catholics concede that the fundamental force driving people away was a clericalist model of the Church within Catholicism itself, which often translated into a lack of basic pastoral care and a largely passive notion of the lay role. 
The bishops commissioned an “exit poll” of 1,000 former Catholics in the early 2000s in which many said that if the Catholic Church had offered deeper Bible study, better worship, and more personal attention, they never would have left.
Of course, that the movements were home-grown does not mean that outsiders couldn't have encouraged them, for their own purposes.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ayelet Shaked

Never heard of her? Neither had I, before today – she is the new Justice Minister for Israel, and I
herewith nominate her as the world's best-looking far-right Justice Minister (not a category in which there is a lot of competition, I admit).

This is from an article in Foreign Policy titled 'The New Face of Israel's Hard Right':
Her rapid ascent to the highest reaches of the Israeli political system hit a new peak Wednesday … when the 39-year-old computer engineer and mother of two was given control of Israel’s Justice Ministry. Shaked got the post as part of a desperate last-minute deal that saved Netanyahu from a looming deadline …
There are always contrarian opinions, of course.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The UK Election Has Been Fun to Follow

Lots of shocking stuff in the results, but probably nothing more unlikely than one of Labour's biggest names getting beaten by a twenty-year-old student in Scotland.
Douglas Alexander, Labour's campaign manager, lost his Paisley South seat to a 20-year-old student. 
Mhairi Black, the new SNP MP, is 20 years and 238 days old and becomes the youngest MP since the great Reform Act - having captured the Labour seat with an extraordinary swing of 26.9 per cent. 
Miss Black, a politics student who sits her final exams at Glasgow University after the election, becomes the youngest MP since 13-year-old Christopher Monck in 1667. 
A devoted Partick Thistle supporter, Miss Black made the mistake after becoming a candidate of failing to delete some of her more colourful tweets, including one in which she wrote: “I’ve only just realised - I really f***** hate Celtic” and “Celtic, yer a joke!#scum" 
On another occasion she posted a boozy confession, saying: “Woke up beside half a can of Tennents and a full pizza and more money than I came out with. I call that a success!” 
I suggest that when her final exams come up, she should just turn in her election results.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Onion Nails It

Free expression on campus today:
Saying that such a dialogue was essential to the college’s academic mission, Trescott University president Kevin Abrams confirmed Monday that the school encourages a lively exchange of one idea. “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus. “Whether it’s a discussion of a national political issue or a concern here on campus, an open forum in which one argument is uniformly reinforced is crucial for maintaining the exceptional learning environment we have cultivated here.” Abrams told reporters that counseling resources were available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

This song came up on my mp3 player while I was driving today.

I was struck by the irony of it -- not funny, haha, irony; irony can often be sad and even bitter. The song is about a brutal, racially-motivated crime that occurred in Baltimore on my sixteenth birthday -- February 9, 1963. And I was listening to it as a 68yo man and it made me think, of course, of the events of the past few weeks in Baltimore. The similarities and contrasts made me think of how far we've come in my lifetime -- and, sadly, how far we have to go.

According to Wikipedia, the verdict came down on the day of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Dylan had attended the speech and read about the case on way back to New York.

The album was released in early 1964, and I spent most of 64-65 listening to it and similar music.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

70 Years Ago Today

... the Battle of Berlin ended (but the raping, looting, etc continued unabated for quite some time.

This article, based on interviews with Antony Beevor, one of my favorite historical writers, indicates that Stalin was so anxious to get into Berlin first (so interested that he spent 70,000  of his soldiers lives doing so) because he wanted to capture the German atomic research facilities (Soviet research having not gone well up to that point, even with the help of spies within the American research program).
So what are the reasons for Stalin's hurry to reach Berlin? After all, he was happy to share the city with his western allies after the city's surrender. The traditional explanation is that it was a question of Soviet prestige and mistrust of the west. However, during his research, Beevor discovered a startling new document: 'It struck me so powerfully that the moment I started to read it I knew I had to look at a totally different aspect of Stalin's interest in Berlin.' 
The document shows that Stalin was desperate to get his hands on the German nuclear research centre, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the southwest of Berlin - before the Americans got there. The Soviets knew through their spies of the American atomic bomb programme. Stalin's own nuclear programme, Operation Borodino, was lagging behind and Soviet scientists wanted to find out exactly what the Germans had come up with during the war. 
As it turned out, the special NKVD troops despatched to secure the German institute discovered three tons of uranium oxide, a material they were short of at the time. 'So the Soviets achieved their objective,' says Beevor, 'the uranium oxide they found in Berlin was enough to kick start Operation Borodino and allow them to start working on their first nuclear weapon.'