Saturday, June 27, 2015

WWC Summary

So we're down to the Final Four. My money (if I had any, and if I were inclined to gamble with it) would probably be on Germany. They've been very impressive. The USA has been just good enough to win, which is not, when you think about it, a bad thing to be. They've stepped up their game at each level, and looked good against China in the quarters.

Japan and England both were good in their quarters wins today, although neither impressed me tremendously.

The best game in the tournament, by far, was Germany over France -- it was a classic. USA will have to step it up a good bit on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Strange Obsession

Some guy has done 2300 painting of Barack Obama, one on each day of his presidency, and plans to continue as the duck gets lamer. I'm not
sure if it’s the subject matter or the painting style, but I don’t care much for the paintings shown.

Here's one. There are a bunch more (though not all 2300) at HuffPo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Acknowledging the Arguments Against Free Trade

I am a fairly hardcore free-trader; sometime, I’m afraid, just reflexively so. I think, however, that it may be time to re-examine my position, and be more careful about judging each trade proposal on its own merits.

I was impressed by this article by David Frum in The Atlantic, which is predominately pro-trade (and, more specifically, pro-TPP), but it ends with this cautionary note that I think free-traders such as myself should take heed of:

Trade is a pro-growth policy. But when the proceeds of growth are not widely shared, and not perceived as widely shared, it becomes difficult to sustain the consensus in favor of pro-growth measures—especially when those measures seem to impose costs on American workers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Samsung Intros the See-Thru Truck

Ever been stuck behind a big semi on a not-divided highway, and you don't know whether it's safe to pass it or not? Of course you have.

Well, those days may soon be coming to an end, thanks to this great new piece of technology.
In an attempt to make the roads safer for drivers, Samsung has unveiled a new ‘transparent’ truck. 
The prototype truck uses a front-facing camera that is live streamed onto its back doors, so drivers following the over-size vehicle can see what is ahead. 
“This allows drivers to have a better view when deciding whether it is safe to overtake,” Samsung wrote in a blog post.

Thank you, Samsung.

How to Print a Bridge

I still want my flying car. I was promised one, and I expect the promises to be fulfilled.

In the meantime, though, this is almost as cool.
The 3D-printed home has been accomplished — and apparently the next step is something a little more structurally challenging. A 3D-printing company based in Amsterdam has developed a revolutionary, multi-axis robotic 3D printer that can “draw” structures in the air — and it’s planning to build a bridge over a canal in the heart of the city.
Construction is scheduled to begin in September. The accompanying picture is an artist’s conception of the process. A video and bridge plans are at the link.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brian Williams to Move to MSNBC

Insert jokes about credibility here.

Russia Is Going to Investigate the US Moon Landings

Get out your tinfoil hats – Russia is going to do an investigation to determine whether US astronauts did indeed ever land on the moon.
In an op-ed published by Russian newspaper Izvestia, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the government’s official Investigative Committee, argued that such an investigation could reveal new insights into the historical space journeys. 
According to a translation by the Moscow Times, Markin would support an inquiry into the disappearance of original footage from the first moon landing in 1969 and the whereabouts of lunar rock, which was brought back to Earth during several missions.
In some convoluted way, this investigation seems to be connected to Russian annoyance over the FIFA scandals.
So, why is Investigative Committee member Markin speculating about conspiracy theories surrounding US moon landings that happened decades ago? In his op-ed, the Russian official also emphasized that “US authorities had crossed a line by launching a large-scale corruption probe targeting nine Fifa officials,” according to the Moscow Times.
I don't see the connection, but I guess I don't need to.

A Personal Email from Scott Walker

There may be some who doubt my credentials as a big-time political insider. Well, if so, I’ll have you know that I’m on a first-name basis with Scott Walker.

Just today I got this highly personalized message from my pal Scott asking my advice on an important decision he’s trying to make.

Let’s get right to the point … 
I am nearing a decision on whether to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States and the strong support I receive in the coming days will help me decide. 
That is why I am reaching out to key conservatives like you, Bob. Please let me know you support a run with a contribution of $10, $35, $50, $100, $250, or even $500 right now. 
We will need the strong support of like-minded conservatives from all across the country if we decide to run. If you think I should run — and will support a run — please let me know right now with a generous contribution today.


I’m still working out how to advise ol’ Scotty. Anyone want to advise the advisor?

PS: Did you note that part about “key conservatives like you” — how ’bout that? And you thought I was just some nobody.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Flag Controversy

Apropos the recent controversy about the Confederate flag, someone dug this up from twenty-plus years ago:

Will Belgium Sue FIFA for Fraud?

Belgium and Netherlands bid together on the 2018 World Cup, spending $10.2 mil in the process. If Russia got the host job through fraud, Belgium wants their money back.
Belgium may seek compensation over the €4.5m (£3.2m) spent on its unsuccessful 2018 World Cup bid if Fifa’s decision to award the finals to Russia is found to be fraudulent. 
“If fraud is proven, it is obvious to me that we will seek compensation,” the Belgian Football Federation chairman, François de Keersmaecker, told Het Nieuwsblad. The country made a joint bid with the Netherlands that cost €9m.
The article doesn't mention if Netherlands has decided also to sue.

What Do You Do When Your Whole Freaking Country Is Full of Demons?

You perform an Exorcismo Magno, of course.

Given the county's high levels of violence, drug running, abortion (and, no doubt, the spread of gay marriage), it should be no surprise that two Mexican archbishops and a top exorcist recently performed a national exorcism  to rid the country of demons.
Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, presided at the closed doors ceremony, the first ever in the history of Mexico.Also participating were Archbishop Jesús Carlos Cabrero of San Luis Potosí, Spanish demonologist and exorcist Father José Antonio Fortea, and a smaller group of priests and lay people. 
The event was not made known to the general public beforehand. According to Archbishop Cabrero, the reserved character of the May 20 ceremony was intended to avoid any misguided interpretations of the ritual.

Tomorrow Will Be Interesting in Athens

I've been following the Grexit drama for what seems like most of my life, though in reality it has only been several months (with roots reaching back to 2009). But we finally seem to be coming to the end game.
Dorothea Lambros stood outside an HSBC branch in central Athens on Friday afternoon, an envelope stuffed with cash in one hand and a 38,000 euro ($43,000) cashier’s check in the other. 
She was a few minutes too late to make her deposit at the London-based bank. She was too scared to take her life-savings back to her Greek bank. She worried it wouldn’t survive the weekend. 
“I don’t know what happens on Monday,” said Lambros, a 58-year-old government employee. 
Nobody does. Every shifting deadline, every last-gasp effort has built up to this: a nation that went to sleep on Friday not knowing what Monday will bring. A deal, or more brinkmanship. Shuttered banks and empty cash machines, or a few more days of euros in their pockets and drachmas in their past - - and maybe their future.
Good luck to the Greeks, but this seems unlikely to end well for them. As Margaret Thatcher noted, the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money, and Greece has run out.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

WWC Brackets

Now that we're in the knockout phase, here are how the brackets look.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mexico's Supreme Court Has Effectively Legalized Same-Sex Marriage

Another country, one we may not have expected, has (effectively) legalized same-sex marriage.
In ruling after ruling, the court has said that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory. Though the decisions have been made to little public fanfare, they have had the effect of legalizing gay marriage inMexico without enshrining it in law. 
Several other countries in Latin America have done the same as Mexico. This may run contrary to our perceptions about highly-Catholic populations and macho cultures.
… the Mexican court’s rulings have added the country to a slowly growing list of Latin American nations permitting same-sex unions.  
Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil already allow same-sex marriage. Chile plans to recognize same-sex civil unions this year; Ecuador approved civil unions in April; and Colombia grants same-sex couples many of the same rights extended to heterosexual married couples.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Is Argentina Getting Ready to Wag the Falklands Dog Again?

In the early 1980s, Argentina was in the midst of serious economic problems. The country's ruling military junta decided to invade the Falkland islands as a way to distract public attention and to get the populace behind the government. The whole idea flopped when Britain surprised the junta by resisting.

Argentina gets itself into financial trouble with distressing regularity, and each time the government seems to react by making nasty noises about the Falklands. I posted this two years ago when they were doing it, and brought up a couple of other examples.

Why Fahrenheit Is the Best System for Measuring Weather

Actually, I'm fairly neutral on the subject, but I really like this graphic. It originally appeared in Mother Jones, but I got it from Instapundit.

Zimbabwe Gives up on Its Currency

Zimbabwe is killing off its worthless currency as of Monday. Holders of the Zimbabwean dollar can exchange for US dollars at a rate of Z$35,000,000,000,000 = US$1 (that's thirty-five quadrillion).
The southern African country started using foreign currencies like the U.S. dollar and South African rand in 2009 after the Zimbabwean dollar was ruined by hyper-inflation, which hit 500 billion percent in 2008.At the height of Zimbabwe's economic crisis in 2008, Zimbabweans had to carry plastic bags bulging with bank notes to buy basic goods like bread and milk. Prices were rising at least twice a day.
This brings to mind stories I've heard about the Weimar Republic in the early Twenties.

Apparently, some Zimbabweans sell banknotes to tourists as souvenirs. With a Z$100 trillion note being worth about forty cents, that's probably a good course to follow. Heck, if I were in Zimbabwe, I'd probably pay a couple bucks for one.

Islam and Pigeon Porn

Avert your eyes if you offended by avian thingies.
The accompanying picture may be NSFW if you are in Syria.

The practice of raising pigeons is now banned in ISIS territory, because … get ready for it … when the pigeons fly overhead their genitals
might be visible.
Radical clerics have issued an edict prohibiting the breeding of pigeons in IS-controlled territories under Shariah law. 
Breeders have been given a one-week notice to stop – or they could face the terror group's feared religious police who can dish out punishments including public floggings. 
The ban is "to put a stop to the greater criminal act of harming one's Muslim and Muslim women neighbours, revealing the [pigeon's] genitals and wasting time", an Arabic notice said.
Except: Apparently pigeons don't have external sex organs. Nonetheless, their concern for women is touching.

In a separate report, three pigeons have been executed for spying.
The Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria have reportedly executed three pigeons that it had arrested on charges of spying.
I'm anxiously awaiting PETA's statement on this.

Friday, June 12, 2015

McCain's Challenger?

Up here in the Rim Country of Arizona where I'm living these days, our local Tea Party group was addressed by state Senator Kelli Ward, who is expected to run against John McCain next year. The Payson Roundup reports:
One questioner said he’d heard that the funding for Common Core comes from Saudi Arabia and that students would end up reciting Muslim prayers under its provisions. 
Ward responded, “Common Core is an example of a federal takeover — if not an international takeover — of education. They don’t call it Common Core in China, but it’s exactly the same.”
A little further on:
She said of the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms, “That right shall not be infringed and it comes from our Creator and that’s that.” 
A lot of conservative donors, who would love to see McCain primaried, are saying they'll invest their money where it will do more good if there isn't a more-serious competitor (e.g., Matt Salmon). The above gives some idea why they are skeptical.

Drones Don't Like Chinese Cheaters

The government has drones flying over testing centers where college entrance exams are conducted in order to detect 'unusual signals'.

Pew Says Support for Gay Marriage Is at a Record High

Unless you: a) have been living under a rock, or b) are a social conservative in deep, deep denial –
you will not find that headline a surprise. What is surprising is the degree of support that exists for gay marriage and (as many have pointed out before me) the incredible swiftness of the change.

As the accompanying graphs show, in only ten years, we've gone from a seventeen point margin against to an eighteen point margin for – a thirty-five point swing. And while there continues to be a huge difference in opinions by party affiliation, the trend line for Republicans is as the same as for Democrats and Independents.

Many more graphs and demographic breakdowns at the Pew site.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Pink Lake

Actually, there are apparently more than one in Western Australia. This is Lake Hillier.

The Aussies tell us:
Lake Hillier is a pink-coloured lake on Middle Island, the largest of the islands that make up the Recherche Archipelago off the coast of Esperance. 
From above the lake appears a solid bubble gum pink. The lake is about 600 meters long, and is surrounded by a rim of sand and dense woodland of paperbark and eucalyptus trees. A narrow strip of sand dunes covered by vegetation separates it from the blue Southern Ocean. 
No-one fully knows why the lake is pink. Scientists speculate that the colour comes from a dye created by bacteria that lives in the salt crusts.
I ragged on Australia in the previous post, so consider this a make-good. Besides, it's interesting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

WWC: USA-Australia

On Monday, the USA played Australia in the first round of games in the Women's World Cup. The USA was shaky in the first half, with a halftime score of 1-1, and it could have been worse. The second half was totally different, though -- the USA was over its jitters, Australia, which used the soccer equivalent of a full-court press, wore down, and the US won 3-1.

You gotta read the sour grapes on the Australian team website, titled “Australia v USA: 4 things we learnt”. Only the first two matter:
  1. The USA, well, they just aren’t that good 
  2. Australia has developed into a world-class team
So, let's get this straight: A not-very-good team beat a world-class team, 3-1. That does happen sometimes; when it happens, it generally indicates either great coaching or a magnificent performance by the not-very-good team (and calls for congrats to them), or a crap performance by the world-class team.

Which was it? We're not told, unfortunately.

Well, I guess there's another possibility: luck. Yeah, that's it, the USA just got lucky.

Grow up, Aussies. Your team is pretty good, they deserve better from their support staff.

Connecticut Gets Really Dumb

From CoyoteBlog (one of my favorites):
But the biggest blow is making permanent a 20% surtax on a company’s annual tax liability—a tax on a tax—and for the first time taxing Connecticut companies on their world-wide income, rather than what they earn in the state. 
If I were a governor of another state, I'd have my Economic Development office make up a list of large international corporations headquartered in Connecticut, and I'd be on the phone a large part of every day calling their CEOs.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Millenials Get Their Political News from Facebook

I can't think of anything to say about this, other than "We're screwed."

Germany’s Birthrate Now Lower Than Japan’s

A rather remarkable report out of Germany indicates that the country’s leaders are concerned about whether they can maintain their hegemonic position in Europe in light of the precipitous population declines that are virtually inevitable in coming decades.
Germany’s birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan’s by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe’s leading economy. 
A study by the World Economy Institute in Hamburg (HWWI) found that the average number of births per 1,000 population dropped to 8.2 over the five years from 2008 to 2013, further compounding a demographic crisis already in the pipeline. Even Japan did slightly better at 8.4.
Here's a chart of Germany's birth rate (light line) and death rate (dark line) since 1950. Things don't look good, do they?
If your German is a bit rusty, the light line is the birth rate, and the
dark line is the death rate.
Off the topic, it looks like Germany's baby boom came about a decade later than ours. Which isn't surprising – things were pretty grim there in the years right after the war. But a side effect of that is that those German boomers – born in the late fifties and well into the sixties -- will be leaving the workforce in the next decade or two.
Germany’s population is expected to drop from 81mil at present to 67mil in 2060, with an even more severe decline in working-age population as lifespans extend well into the eighties. 
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in a speech in Davos earlier this year that Germany will lose a net 6m workers over the next 15 years, shrinking gradually over the rest of this decade before going into free-fall.
The International Monetary Fund expects the decline in the 2020s to be more concentrated – and harder to handle – than the gentler paces of decline seen in Japan so far.
The obvious solution is immigration, but immigrants already account for 12% of Germany’s population – which has led to a predictable electoral backlash.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

WWC: Germany 10-0 Ivory Coast

That's the second-biggest margin in Women's World Cup history, according to the post-game show.

It's early in the tournament, and maybe all this means is that Ivory Coast really sucks (their defense looked awful -- no support for the keeper at all), but Germany sure looked like a serious contender for the title.

I'm looking forward to the USA game tomorrow. I don't expect a blowout, though -- Australia is good.

Front-Page News

Usually, that term is used for something really important, but not at The New York Times, apparently -- if they see an opportunity to play 'gotcha' with a Republican.

A couple days ago, the NYT had a major story (two reporters and a researcher got by-lines) telling us that Marco Rubio has had four traffic tickets in the past eighteen years.

No, you didn't read that wrong -- four tickets in eighteen years.

Oh, and they called Rubio's F-150 pickup a 'sports utility vehicle'.

The Blowhard Blows Again

Donald Trump, in an interview with the Des Moines Register:
I’m the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody’s ever been more successful than me. I’m the most successful person ever to run. Ross Perot isn’t successful like me. Romney — I have a Gucci store that’s worth more than Romney.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Phoenix Had Its First Rain Ever on June 5th

Phoenix's all-time heaviest rainfall for the fifth of June came yesterday. It wasn't much, 0.03in, but that was enough to break the previous record of 0.00in, which was set whenever they started keeping records, and tied every year since.
The National Weather Service said Friday the 0.03 inch of rain recorded at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by 4 p.m. was the largest amount for June 5. 
Meteorologist Chris Kuhlman said that it had never officially rained in the desert city on this date. 
"So far we had not anticipated that June would be a wet month, it almost never rains in the month of June in Phoenix," Kuhlman said.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

It Looks Like Some of the FIFA Elite Are Ready to Sing

This is from a newsletter I get from Foreign Affairs magazine. Could get interesting if some of these crooks decide to take others (especially Blatter) down with them.
Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner said during a TV address that he would reveal information about institutional corruption in the soccer body. Warner alleged that he provided documents outlining links between FIFA, its funding, and the 2010 election in Warner’s native Trinidad and Tobago. According to Warner, Blatter is implicated in the transactions. 
Warner is one of the 14 people recently charged by the U.S. Justice Department for accepted bribes and kickbacks estimated at upwards of $150m over a 24-year period. The former vice president, who faces extradition to the United States, denies the charges against him. 
Another top FIFA official who had been previously charged with corruption, Chuck Blazer, has also outlined bribe-taking. According to a newly released transcript of a 2013 plea deal, Blazer admitted that he and other FIFA officials accepted money in exchange for supporting South Africa as the 2010 World Cup hosts. South African officials have denied the allegations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does Anybody Really Not Know That Cigarettes Are Unhealthy?

I'm a non-smoker. I smoked for many years, starting in my late teens, but quit about thirty-five years ago. I very much wish my friends who do smoke would quit, because I want the pleasure of their company for many years to come (but I don't preach to them – it's their call).

But I read this item with a great deal of skepticism:
A Canadian court has ordered three tobacco companies to pay C$15.5bn (£8bn; $12bn) - the largest award for damages in the country's history. 
The plaintiffs were Quebec smokers who said the firms failed to warn them of health risks associated with smoking.
All smokers, though, surely know that smoking is unhealthy, and have known for many years, several decades at least. My sympathy for someone blaming their habit on the evil corporations is rather limited at this point.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Lots of people describe things they think are really, really good as 'to die for.' My sister does
To be honest, I don't think she's anything special,
but maybe that's just me.
this regularly, e.g., “That restaurant has enchiladas that are to die for.”

In Australia, a marsupial has been found, the males of which apparently think every that every female of their species is to die for – quite literally.
Researchers in Queensland, Australia have discovered a new mammal with some unique breeding habits: The Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus will mate until it dies. These mouse-like marsupials can lose up to half of their population every mating season, as the testosterone-driven males engage in “orgies of violence and sex” reminiscent of Game of Thrones, according to mammalogist Dr. Andrew Barker. The process, which can last for weeks, causes the male’s immune system to fail, leading to hair loss, internal bleeding, and ulcers. Even then, they will continue, “stumbling around blind, trying to mate.” 
Hmmm ... that last sentence reminds me of some guys I've known.

What Happens if ISIS is Defeated?

I think we can all agree that ISIS winning in Iraq/Syria would be a bad thing. But what happens if they lose?

Probably most of their foreign recruits would just melt into the crowds of refugees and eventually return home, wherever home might be.

Then what?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Got a Problem with Caitlyn Jenner?

I don't, as I mentioned several weeks back (though the Caitlyn' part will probably take some getting used to).

But some folks do, it seems. And it may not be one of the problems you expect.

 Hill, in case you've never heard of him (as I hadn't), is a lefty talking head at CNN.

Blatter's Out!

Anheuser-Busch tweeted him, "Time to drink your words." (See the video in the post below if you don't get this). Oliver's response:

Monday, June 1, 2015

John Oliver on FIFA

Magnificent excoriation of FIFA (I'm becoming quite a John Oliver fan -- I may have to start paying for HBO).