Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Graphic Scenes Of Disembowled Machinery

We go from brand new machinery to something a little older, found via Neatorama, one of my new bookmarks. (Switching monitors left some spaces open. You'd be amazed how many bookmarks you can have if you're economical titling them; I have 18 just on my main screen and, with Neatorama, 28 more on my side menu without it having to scroll.)

A guy named Todd McLellan, for the sake of art, has taken apart a number of older-style gadgets- a clock radio with the flippy numbers, a rotary phone, a typewriter, a push lawnmower, etc.- and displayed all the component parts in a series of pictures he calls "Everyone has a piece of the puzzle". You can check it out here at his website; click 'New work' and it'll be right there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No, Stop, I Am Your Creator

Every so often, a video of some robot or other will make its way around the Internet. You're going to get one now. But this robot is different from those other robots for one very notable reason: none of those robots were inspired by invertebrates.

This little bundle of creepiness comes from Harvard, out of the lab of one George Whiteside. The basic idea is that the robot is powered by compressed air (note the trail of wires). The outer layer is made of something they call "elastomers", which I suppose is as good a word as any, and inside are some compartments, acting as balloons. Inflating, deflating and compressing certain compartments at certain times makes the robot move and walk.

And yes, before you ask, it can walk on Jell-O.

As IEEE Spectrum notes, "You could probably smash this thing with a hammer a whole bunch of times and it would still keep coming for you. And that's part of the idea." So, have fun with that line.

'Soft' robots like this are becoming more and more common; this is just the first one you're likely to have seen. Researchers are working on how to give robots more fluid movements that a more rigid traditional-looking robot can't do. There are two main problems to work out: the potential for puncturing, and the external power source (again, note the wires).

Of course, those external power sources may be the only thing giving humanity hope to stop them. After all, hammers won't work.

Monday, November 28, 2011

For A Hint, Watch The NIT Sometime

Keeping with the 'random' part of this site, it's quiz day. Your task: name all the schools in NCAA Division 1 basketball.

Just to make things interesting, the BCS conferences- in their current incarnations- have been taken out of play. No driving up your score on the backs of Duke and Kansas and Kentucky and the, well, BCS polls. You want all those random cupcakes they play at the start of the year, and that they play in the first round of March Madness.

You have 20 minutes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Verdingkinder

Not sure how the writing for this one is going to come out, because I'm still in rather a bit of shock over it, but we have today an article from the Associated Press written on Thursday.

The article concerns a period in the history of Switzerland from the early 1800's up until the 1960's, during which time the country built itself partially on the backs of verdingkinder. The AP translates that as "contract children", but I would use "verdingkinder" to do your searching because "contract children" is only going to get you reprintings of the AP article itself.

Verdingkinder were, at least legally, foster children taken from parents deemed too poor to care for them. In practice, single mothers and parents who had become 'morally destitute' were targeted as well, which amounted to whoever wasn't meeting society's expectations. Once sold, children became little more than farm slaves. Authorities auctioned the children off to whichever set of parents submitted the lowest bid- who would agree to be paid the least for helping to raise the child- and then the child was expected to work in the fields so as to earn their keep. They would be at that farm for a few years, and then resold to some other family, repeatedly, until reaching adulthood. Any education the child might have been receiving came to a screeching halt the second they became a verdingkinder.

The child was completely at the mercy of whatever family got them. Some children got lucky and were given to families that treated them well, but often they were barely fed, barely clothed, and physically and sexually abused. Some children attempted escape, but they usually could not find a sympathetic ear. Where could they go? The entire country was in on it.

Not only that, but after reaching adulthood, the verdingkinder that hadn't committed suicide (and many did) had to live with a heavy stigma. Not only did they now lack an education, not only were their career options largely limited to whatever it is they did in the field, but once someone found out they were a verdingkinder, they were looked down upon, as if they had committed a crime and their time as a verdingkinder was their punishment. As a result, most verdingkinder just tried not to talk about it. In fact, when journalist and former verdingkinder Turi Honegger was writing a book about the practice in 1991, he was advised by his publisher to tone the book down, because the publisher didn't think anyone would believe this was a thing that had happened in Switzerland.

This episode in Swiss history is not very well-documented, though as the AP article notes, efforts are now underway to change that using those verdingkinder who are still alive, which is estimated to be as many as 30,000 people. There is also a campaign underway for an official apology- the government is reluctant to talk about it as well- as well as reparations in the form of back pay for all that unpaid labor.

As a first step, though, historian Marco Leuenberger, whose father was a verdingkinder and who has been heading up the effort to document what went on, would be happy with just getting the story out and seeing former verdingkinder step forward. (If you read German, Leuenberger has written a book, Versorgt und vergessen - Ehemalige Verdingkinder erzählen.)

Hope this helps, Marco.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

American Idiot

Something you may or may not know about Time Magazine is that they make covers for each of four regions every time they put out an issue: U.S., Europe, Asia, and South Pacific. Often, these will all be the same cover. However, sometimes they won't. For any of a variety of reasons- importance to the region, what they think will sell copies, whatever- the cover will often be changed to suit the needs of the region.

The December 5th, 2011 issue of Time, though, is an illustration of what some suspect is a much more distressing reason to change the cover: dumbing it down for the Americans. For Europe, Asia and South Pacific, as you can see here, the cover story picked was 'Revolution Redux', concerning the Egyptian military taking such control of the country that it's spurred a possible second revolution there. The U.S. cover, meanwhile: "Why Anxiety Is Good For You (as long as you know how to use it)".

Knowing this, I went through the archive of cover comparisons, as far back as I could, and while there have been some occasions where the U.S. actually came out ahead on the headline, or where it's been something of a wash, after a while the trend does show that, for whatever reason, Time doesn't think Americans can handle the hard stuff. Other regions also will run some of the subpar American covers separately; however, they will do it a few weeks later, after running covers of more pressing matters. The U.S. will get them first.

Frequently, one region's cover story won't even be included in another region's issue at all. You can do the math.

I have thus compiled a list of the 20 most egregious dumbing-downs Time has inflicted on their American readers in the last five years, including that of the December 5th issue. Prior to that, the U.S. cover was usually copied for the South Pacific, which for our purposes disqualified it. To qualify for inclusion, the U.S. version could not be the same as any of the other three regions, so cases where two regions ran one cover and the other two regions ran a second cover are out, even if the U.S. came out with the worse of the two.

At the start, it's bad, but not quite as bad as it could have been. Towards the end, it is.

#20- 6/22/2009
Europe: "Why Britain Wants To See The Back of Gordon Brown".
Asia/South Pacific: "Containing Kim Jong Il".
U.S.: "How Not To End Up Here", "here" being a hospital bed.

#19- 5/25/2009
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "How Pakistan Let Itself Down".
U.S.: "The Future Of Work".

#18- 1/12/2009
Europe/South Pacific: "Again", concerning fighting on the Gaza Strip.
Asia: "Democracy: Why it's failing in Asia and how it can be helped".
U.S.: "Why We Need To See The Light About Energy Efficiency".

#17- 7/16/2007
Europe/Asia: "Keeping An Eye On Terror", concerning an increase in security measures in Britain.
South Pacific: "Culture of Violence", concerning ethnic gang violence in New Zealand.
U.S.: "How We Get Addicted".

#16- 3/7/2011
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Last Stand", concerning Moammar Gahdafi.
U.S.: "Understanding Pain".

#15- 9/28/2009
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "China's Moment", concerning the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic.
U.S.: "Mad Man", concerning Glenn Beck, who on the cover is sticking out his tongue.

#14- 4/6/2009
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "All Together Now (Please?)", concerning the then-upcoming G-20 summit and the issues facing the countries therein.
U.S.: "The End Of Excess: Why This Crisis Is Good For America".

#13- 11/29/2010
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "The Lady Returns", concerning the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
U.S.: "Who Needs Marriage?"

#12- 10/3/2011
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Why Germany Can't Save The World", concerning the Eurozone.
U.S. "Why Mom Liked you Best: The Science of Favoritism".

#11- 4/19/2010
Europe/South Pacific: "Why Britain's Election Should Be About Her", "her" referring to a representative female soldier on the cover.
Asia: "Obama's China Challenge".
U.S.: "Should Schools Bribe Kids?"

#10- 9/20/2010
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Pakistan's Despair", concerning the aftermath of massive flooding in that country.
U.S.: "What Makes A School Great?"

#9- 8/18/08
Europe/South Pacific: "Ethiopia's Harvest of Hunger".
Asia: "Beijing: 8/8/08", concerning the Beijing Olympics.
U.S.: "Rick Warren: The Purpose Driven Pastor".

#8- 2/8/2010
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Haiti: The Aftermath".
U.S.: "The Most Dangerous Game", referring to football.

#7- 2/2/2007
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Talibanistan".
U.S.: "Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School (but very, very carefully)".

#6- 7/5/2010
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Seeking Refuge", concerning the growing difficulties of people seeking asylum around the world.
U.S.: "The History Issue: Thomas Edison".

#5- 1/28/2008
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Ny-lon-kong", concerning how New York, London and Hong Kong drive the global economy.
U.S.: "The Science of Romance".

#4- 10/24/2011
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Why The U.S. Will Never Save Afghanistan".
U.S.: "The Return of the Silent Majority".

#3- 8/8/2011
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "Travels Through Islam".
U.S.: "Chore Wars".

#2- 12/5/2011
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: 'Revolution Redux', concerning the Egyptian military.
U.S.: "Why Anxiety Is Good For You (as long as you know how to use it)"

#1- 9/14/2009
Europe/Asia/South Pacific: "The Global Economy: One Year Later".
U.S.: "Jay Leno Is The Future Of Television. Seriously!"

Friday, November 25, 2011

They're Probably Sicker Than Me

So it turns out I have this really nasty bug that my mom had a week ago. I'm consistently nauseous, I'm sleeping a lot, I'm short of breath, I'm fatigued to the point where it actually exhausts me to type too much. But I already took one day off from here for Thanksgiving and I've got to give you something to do.

So, here's Matt Peacock of ABC Australia talking about asbestos in India. Embedding was disabled on the clip; it runs 27 minutes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Speedbumps

According to USA Today, the Occupy movement has opted to make themselves noticed on Black Friday, using a variety of tactics- perhaps shambling around the stores as 'zombies', perhaps trying to direct people to small businesses, perhaps creating a 'really, really free market' where people donate items for shoppers to just come and take so they don't have to spend any money anywhere, perhaps just straight-up protesting.

For their sake, they'd better not be standing anywhere near the front doors when the stores open. Outside this blog, I'm a retail worker, and that is a damn good way to get yourself trampled.

Black Friday, experienced at the opening stampede, is basically Christmas minus all the nice parts. There's no frolicking in the snow, no family togetherness, no gathering around a tree, not even really a 'oh, little Billy would love this!' that you'd think would happen here, seeing as it's shopping and all. Oh, no. You, on the retail end, are spending your Thanksgiving- the day prior- manning stations, setting up the set pieces (and the markers for them). We set up waiting lines at our store. We have bathroom passes. We give a manager- a predetermined, designated manager we know can handle things- a bullhorn. The cashiers are told to get out of the way when the doors open. Nobody unauthorized is to get anywhere near the doors, because when they open, it is a wave of humanity streaming at you, that at some point must keep moving simply because too many others behind them are moving as well. Keep pushing forward, or get run over by people that are.

On the shoppers' end, it's a straight-up military operation. All the disparate times the stores kick off their Black Friday sales are mapped out and combined into a daylong battle plan. You'll hit Store A at midnight. Then you'll hit Store B at 3 AM, Store C at 6 AM, Store D at 10 AM. Add in drastically reduced prices to the equation- plus, mind you, a lengthy economic downturn- and the result really rather sucks the Christmas spirit out of you in a hell of a hurry. Christmas is a lot of places, but it's not in those stores. All that's there is semi-panicked chaotic entitlement.

Those clips they run on the news about the opening stampede may look fun- maybe even funny- when you're a shopper or not participating, but when you're in retail, it dawns on you very quickly that there's someone whose job is to stand on the other end of that madness and maintain some sort of order, and that someone is you. The price for failure can be high. Everyone in the industry remembers the Walmart people greeter that died in a Black Friday stampede three years ago on Long Island. It's only the one death, but none of us in retail want to be the second and take every measure we deem necessary to keep it from happening.

Behave yourself out there Friday morning, and it won't.

Be in the thick of it protesting and adding bodies to the equation that don't have any other business being there, and you put yourself and everyone around you at risk.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Thanksgiving Survival Guide

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, as happens with the major holidays, there are a number of articles popping up about 'how to survive whatever holiday this is'. Like this one, for example, about Thanksgiving travel.

But when you look through the article, there is not a single survival tip in there. It's just stuff about busy airports and gas prices. This more general 'survival' guide talks about things like how to compliment the cook afterwards.

Now, I'm all for helping people make Thanksgiving easier on themselves. Butterball has a helpline open every year for people who are having problems preparing dinner. But let's talk about that term, 'survival'.

'Survival' means to preserve one's life. We are not talking about anything close to that here. We are talking about making things less awkward and yelly. This is making a headline sing for the sake of a couple extra clicks.

So if we're going to have a Thanksgiving survival guide, let's be literal about it. I present some tips now on how to literally survive Thanksgiving.

RULE #1: Do not substitute yourself for the turkey.

I cannot stress this enough. Any role normally performed by the turkey is to be performed by the turkey. Do not feel sorry for the turkey. The turkey is dead. Do not have yourself basted (not fatal, but unpleasant and creepy). Do not have yourself basted in your own juices (more unpleasant and perhaps more harmful, depending on the juices, and perhaps even illegal). Do not jump into the oven. Do not dive into the deep-fryer, if you have one. Do not encourage people to 'stuff' you in the way one would stuff a turkey. Do not request that someone pull out your giblets. The police may regard these things as suicide attempts, or even homicide if someone else is involved.

And under no circumstances are you to be carved and eaten during a football game. That's just right out.

RULE #2: Only eat the food.

Preferably, only eat the prepared food, as someone worked to make that dinner, but that's just etiquette. In order to SURVIVE Thanksgiving, you must at least limit yourself to edible foodstuffs and potable beverages. Make sure all food to be eaten has not turned a strange and unusual color. (What is 'strange and unusual' depends on the food eaten. A color that is normal for cranberry sauce is not normal for the turkey.) Make sure you only eat food that has been intended to be food. Do not eat the plates. They are hard, may harm your teeth, and hard plastic shards can cut up your insides. Do not reach below the sink and eat all the rat poison. Do not head out to the driveway and drink out of your car's gas tank. Do not eat the carving knife. Do not make a valiant effort to eat the carving knife. If you are using plastic cutlery, eating a spork is generally not going to be fatal, unless you choke on a piece of plastic, but it will possibly result in a hospital stay.

RULE #3: Have common sense regarding extra activities.

Some people manage to burn down their house when deep-frying a turkey, so do be careful there. You definitely don't want to add any extra flair to the process; it is quite interesting to see on its own. Do not go out into space, find a turkey or turkey-like object 60% of the size of the Earth, and attempt to drop it into your deep fryer at escape velocity (e.g. the speed at which a large object would drop if placed barely within Earth's gravitational pull and left alone). The impact would potentially destroy the Earth, not to mention the difficulty of getting the turkey to fit inside of your deep fryer.

One other thing you must do is remember, if you play any football outside, not to take fantasies too far. Jerome Bettis may have been known as the 'Bus', but refrain from driving one when playing. When throwing a 'bomb', do not actually throw one. When 'blitzing' the quarterback, do not drop bombs on London while you do so.

RULE #4: Adhere to basic societal norms, except when it can no longer be helped.

These are family and friends you're having over for dinner. Please remember that. It is preferable that you be nice and personable, but that's merely etiquette. To SURVIVE Thanksgiving, you must refrain from permitting your family members to stab you with their knife, pouring gasoline all over the place, burning the house along with any survivors, and then going on a five-state killing spree where they make puppet shows from the intestines of their victims before finally succumbing to police in a violent shootout that leaves the nation shocked and horrified right in the middle of Christmas season.

This may require vigilance on your part. You never know what those people are thinking. Maybe they remember that time you swiped the last of the potato chips and it's just been festering and stewing within them for years. You may need to incapacitate them first. Chloroform and a rag works well, though only for the first target. After this, your remaining family will be appalled. They may move to restrain you. It's a trick. You must overpower them. If you know you cannot do so, your only hope is to trick them back. Ply them with sweet potatoes, throw them into the middle of the room, and escape while they are distracted.

Then run! Run for your life! Run for the hills! Run to SURVIVE THANKSGIVING!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Random News Generator- United Arab Emirates

Third appearance of the UAE here; that ties them for first on the RNG leaderboard with Trinidad and Tobago. You know, for those scoring at home in your Random News Generator fantasy leagues. (At this point in the year, Senegal would be an awesome waiver wire pickup.)

Those of you who keep up on oil-related news might already know the significance of the Strait of Hormuz. For those who don't, the Strait- that little notch separating the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf; the northern tip of the UAE points to it- is the most crucial oil shipping lane in the world. Oil has to come through there if it's going to get from oil wells inland from the Gulf out to open sea. Close off the Strait, and you close off 17% of the world's oil supply, and a third of the world's seaborne oil. It handles about 15.5 million barrels a day.

The Strait of Hormuz is, for all intents and purposes, controlled by Iran; the Strait juts into their land. Considering Iran's reputation and demeanor, that fact leaves much of the rest of the world ill at ease; were someone ever to go to war with Iran, the Strait would be one of the places most at risk. The UAE, sitting across the Strait, would be severely impacted.

That's why they've recently completed- and have almost made operational- a bypass pipeline, running south of the Strait from Abu Dhabi and emerging outside of the chokepoint at the port of Fujairah, with a capacity of 2.5 million barrels a day. They hope to have it up and running by mid-December. They don't know how likely it is that anyone will actually bomb Iran or anything, but it's a better-safe-than-sorry proposition. They're also working on a refinery in Fujairah, which they hope to have running by 2016.

The pipeline will be operated, initially, by the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations, which in turn is 60% owned by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mind-Blowing Scientific Discovery Of The Day

The invention of the world's lightest material, described as light enough to sit on a dandelion without crushing the seeds.

No, wait... it's this creation of a new class of molecules, with immediate usefulness in the search for new drugs.

No, wait... it's light from a vacuum.

No, wait, hang on... maybe it's an earlier experiment at the CERN labs in Switzerland showing particles going faster than the speed of light being successfully repeated. We'll need other groups to independently confirm the result, but excitement here growing.

Seriously, if science were NBA Jam, there would be a charred, flaming net and backboard fragments in the next state right now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

So There I Was, As Far As You Know

From a favorable round of Wikipedia Roulette, we tell the story today of a guy going by the name of Oskar Daubmann.

Right off the bat, let's repeat that: going by the name of Oskar Daubmann. The real Daubmann had been killed in World War 1; if the Polish translation from here is to be trusted, he died in 1916 in Grandcourt, France; it is, however, possible that this isn't totally correct and Daubmann had simply been rendered one more unknown body among the hundreds of thousands killed. His soldier's passport, however, had found its way into a second-hand jacket, where in a shop in Offenbach, a petty thief named Ignaz Karl Hummel noticed it in 1932. An alias was always good to have, so he grabbed it.

To match the ID, Hummel concocted a story where he was captured at the Somme and spent the next 16 years in POW camps in France and Algeria while being tortured, starved, and kept in solitary. On his second escape attempt, according to his claims, he walked for 3,000 miles before coming across an Italian steamer headed to Naples. Once in Italy, to add the small bit of credibility to the backstory, he sent a letter from Italy to Daubmann's parents asking if they could get someone to help pick him up.

Now, had he just grabbed the ID of some random guy, that'd be the end of the story. But Hummel had grabbed the ID of a World War 1 soldier whose whereabouts weren't definitively known. In addition, France had told Germany that the last of their POW's had been released back to Germany in 1930. Daubmann's sudden appearance in 1932 would contradict this story, and with the Nazis building their power at the time, this could only help them build German anxiety towards their neighbors. So they ran with it.

There was a little hitch, though. Daubmann and Hummel didn't have matching eye colors. In addition, Daubmann had a facial scar whereas Hummel, even after supposedly spending 16 years as a POW and having been tortured, did not. So when Daubmann's parents got a good look at Hummel, they of course...

...wait, this can't be right. It says here they accepted him as their son. Really? They did? Wow. Well then.

Well, if they didn't have a problem, that was the green light to really make hay of Daubmann. There were lectures, awards, talk of a movie, one soldier who had served with the actual Daubmann either accepting him as well or just shrugging his shoulders and cashing in on his association, other soldiers who served with Daubmann somehow accepting him as well, and the Nazis using the appearance as part of their platform to take minority control of parliament in the July 1932 elections.

France, meanwhile, was insistent that this person was not Daubmann, and while they were dismissed by many Germans, others more sympathetic decided to at least look into it. From here, two versions of the story diverge, differing on how Hummel was ultimately caught. One version is rather mundane, with the local police running checks, fingerprinting Hummel, identifying him as Hummel- a career criminal known to German authorities, remember- and taking him into custody. The other version is rather more dramatic, with Hummel's actual father showing up at one Daubmann event and calling Hummel out right then and there.

Either way, he was caught in October 1932-- very close to the next elections in November, as the Nazis were unable to form a government after the July elections. It was a literal October Surprise. They kept control, but lost ground. (The results are almost irrelevant to the larger scope of history, as between then and the next election, the Reichstag burned and everybody knows the story from there. But for sake of reference.)

Hummel was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but his real punishment came later on. After taking full control of Germany, the Nazis remembered the guy who embarrassed them on a national scale back when they were rising to power. In 1938, Hummel was shipped to Schwabisch Hall, where he would stay in preventive detention until liberated by American forces in 1945. He would remain in town after his release, living there until his death in 1954.

He got a job as a tailor. No word on if that fateful jacket had anything to do with that choice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Global Warming, or: None Like It Hot!

(Suzie walks outside with an ice cream cone. The ice cream melts. Suzie cries.)

You're probably wondering why your ice cream went away. Well, Suzie, the culprit isn't foreigners, it's global warming!

"Gwobal wappa?"

Uh, yeah. Meet Mr. Sunbeam. He comes all the way from the sun to visit Earth.

"Hello, Earth! Just poppin' in to brighten your day! [He hums.] And now I'll be on my way!"

"Not so fast, Sunbeam! We're greenhouse gases. You ain't goin' nowhere! [Mr. Sunbeam is beaten up.]

"Ooh! Ah! Oh, God, it hurts!"

Pretty soon, Earth is chock-full of sunbeams, their rotting corpses heating our atmosphere.

"How do we get wid of the gweenhouse grasses?"

Fortunately, our handsomest Mongolian politicians came up with a cheap, last-minute way to combat global warming. Ever since 2011, they put some giant ice cubes around Ulanbataar now and then.

"Just like Daddy puts in his drink every morning. And then he gets mad."

Of course, since the greenhouse gases are still building up, it takes more and more ice each time. Thus solving the problem once and for all.




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bad Parents Of The Day Are Also Stupid

Last week, we talked here about the stupidity of parents sending lollipops through the mail infected with chicken pox in order to get their kids infected and, in the process, immunized.

We're revisiting it- briefly- today because it turns out that, in addition to the sheer irresponsibility and illegality of the act, according to Mental Floss today, it wouldn't even work. The chicken pox virus doesn't last very long outside of the body, and it would take a huge viral load and a very fast mail delivery to even give the virus a shot at surviving long enough to get into the second kid's mouth. If you're going to get infected, you need to be sneezed or coughed or breathed on. Chicken pox is spread through airborne particles, not saliva.

You could, however, succeed in giving your kid something else that can be transmitted through saliva. Like hepatitis C.

Now I've spent two separate posts talking about how stupid it is to give a kid chicken-pox-laden lollipops. I hope you're happy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back At Square One

LGBT rights are the major civil-rights push of the times, and at least stateside, the results are starting to show, most notably through the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell and gay marriage being slowly- very slowly- legalized state by state.

But that's in the United States. Compared to other places, the fight here is easy. You'll see at Wikipedia a chart of countries by the LGBT rights they do or do not have, and in over 80 countries, homosexual activity is illegal, sometimes punishable by death. A map is also there for reference. In those countries, the tide of LGBT rights is often going in the other direction entirely, most notably in Uganda.

These places are the ones now on the radar of the Human Dignity Trust, based in the United Kingdom, which tomorrow in the House of Lords is kicking off an effort to challenge anti-gay legislation in every country where it's illegal, starting in Belize. They intend to do this through pointing to international law- the 1994 UN Human Rights Committee case Toonen v. Australia figures to see prominent play- and by using local talent wherever they can. Caleb Orozco will head the case in Belize, which is intended as a test case, along with Jamaica (headed by Maurice Tomlinson) and Northern Cyprus (head there not found), intended to be brought by the end of the year. Essentially, the easier cases are getting priority; the hope is that wins in those places will intimidate some of the more entrenched nations, such as Cameroon, into decriminalizing it on their own rather than have their hands forced in court. If need be, the HDT is prepared to bring cases themselves.

The United Kingdom being the home of the lead actors here is a coincidence,
but not very much of one. About half the countries targeted are part of the Commonwealth of Nations, an organization of countries holding a historical connection to the British Empire (the United States is not part of it), and in the Empire's heyday, homosexuality was illegal, a policy exported to its subjects and only decriminalized in Britain in 1967. The HDT, among its other aims, feels a sense of obligation to undo the damage the British exported.

The HDT stresses that they don't intend to go any further than that; they won't be doing any gay-marriage cases. There isn't enough international case law to fight that fight. They just are aiming for decriminalization.

And let's hope they get it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Walker Recall Underway

The clock has started on the signature-gathering campaign to oust Scott Walker, beginning at midnight last night. The campaign has 60 days to gather 540,208 valid signatures statewide, and they didn't waste a second getting started, hosting approximately 70 kickoff signature drives across the state beginning at midnight. More such events are planned throughout the drive, and especially early on, so as to mop up all the easy signatures and save the recall effort as much time and energy as possible for later on. A calendar of planned events can be found here.

All day today, one such staging area is set up on the State Street corner of Capitol Square in Madison, probably the most target-rich spot in the entire state, given that State Street is pedestrian-only and leads directly to the UW-Madison campus.

However, someone else knew today was Day 1 as well, as the website where volunteers could download petitions was taken down by a particularly strong DDoS attack that knocked it out for most of the day (it's since gone back up). There is no word yet on who launched the attack, though organizers have their suspicions.

Strap in; this is going to be an ugly one.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It Can Be Christmas Season Now, On One Condition

I tend to try to resist the annual forward creep of Christmas season as much as possible. It's supposed to be the most special day of the year. Granted. I get that. But... it's one day, two if you roll Christmas Eve in there as well. Not 90 of them. Unless you are a total Christmas-every-day devotee to the atmosphere, there eventually gets to be a point where you just get sick of it. You don't want to have people hitting the wall and getting sick of Christmas so that by the time Christmas actually gets here, people just want it to be over with. That defeats the purpose. (I personally have long held to the principle that Christmas season starts when Santa's float appears in the Macy's Parade, and not one second sooner.)

If nothing else... there are other holidays too, you know. We've almost succeeded in stampeding Thanksgiving into near-irrelevance because we just need that much more Christmas, and apparently now we want to start trampling Halloween too.


If we absolutely must... MUST... have Christmas season now, let's at least make ourselves useful while we do it. If we can do that, I'll meet you halfway.

There's this woman in West Chester, Ohio, roughly midway between Cincinnati and Dayton, named Reola Hunt. She's 84 years old. She runs a charity called the Jamaica Children's Fund. Every year, she- and some other people that are a tad younger than 84, of course- they take a whole bunch of toys and fly down to Jamaica to distribute them to kids who otherwise wouldn't be getting anything for Christmas, visiting schools with dirt floors and communities where people showing visible signs of having money or needed supplies get pounced upon by groups with that kind of single-minded intensity that only severe desperation can invoke. This is going to be their 12th year doing this.

There isn't a direct donation page on their website, but if you're in Christmas Mode right now and are inclined to lend a hand, you can contact them here and work something out with them. If you're in the Cincinnati or Dayton areas, you could probably drop by personally.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

F**king Buzkashi, How Does It Work?

If you hang around trivia sites as much as I do- and trust me, running this blog you hang around them a lot- sooner or later each and every one of them is going to get around to telling you about a sport in Afghanistan played on horseback called buzkashi. Why? Because they use a goat for a ball.

There's a problem, though.

When they go into detail, all the trivia sites will tell you all about how chaotic and violent and straight-up nuts a buzkashi game gets. Usually, they'll use the 'traditional' version, which can take place on any semi-open stretch of land someone has on hand and, according to the Bathroom Reader version of events, can easily result in horses and riders careening into the spectators and even traffic- and plowing right on through, because the horses are trained to go through obstacles where normally a horse might pull up. The reputation is not unwarranted. But none of them ever actually say how the game actually freaking works. Maybe it's because there are different versions of the game, but honestly, that should be brought up.

The portrayal from Cracked- #7 on their list of 'The 10 Most Insane "Sports" In The World'- is pretty typical of how buzkashi usually gets covered by trivia sites. (The news sites do a far better job, though they don't tend to cover it as often. They were primarily interested when the Taliban banned it, and again when it was un-banned.)

So we'll largely forego the 'look how crazy those guys are' tack everyone else takes- if you want that, it isn't hard to find- and at least try to stick to the actual structure of the game.

Of course, buzkashi's nature doesn't make it easy. Like a game of Monopoly, everyone's got their own house rules.

The goat- decapitated, de-hooved, cleaned of its organs, soaked in cold water for 24 hours, and stuffed with sand- is placed in the center of the field. Recently, calves have become more popular; the carcass lasts longer.

There are two main game modes that determine what you do with that head: Tudabarai and Qarajai.

*In Qarajai, you take the head, round a marker at one end of the field, and toss it into a scoring circle- the "Circle of Justice"- at the other end.
*In Tudabarai, the aim is simply to take the head and get clear of the other players; what is considered "clear" is, as is becoming quickly common here, ill-defined, though it seems to involve a goal line. When the Bathroom Reader people were talking about plowing through traffic, that was probably a Tudabarai game.

Standing in your way are teams- it doesn't just have to be two teams on the field; it's however many they can form on a given day and that could easily get up into six or eight at a time, and on occasion it can even be every man for himself- of riders brandishing whips, trying to get you to drop the carcass however they have to do it, while your team (if applicable) tries to run blocking for you. And if 'however they have to do it' means 'knocking you off your horse and allowing you to potentially be trampled to death', well, them's the breaks. The only thing they can't do is whip you directly. They can whip your horse, but not you.

You will have a tough time defending yourself. Goat carcasses stuffed with sand can get rather heavy, especially when you're holding on to them off the side of a stampeding horse.

How long a game goes depends on who's running it. In more traditional versions, there is no time limit. Depending on the dimensions of the field, the size of the teams, and everyone's mood, a game could last for hours, or days.

There is a more regulated version governed by the Afghan Olympic Federation, mandating a time structure identical to soccer: two 45-minute halves with a 15-minute halftime. They also mandate field size- a 400-meter square- and team sizes: 10 riders to a team, only five of which can be on the field.

There's only one place that I found that even gave an indication of the scoring rate, a 2009 account from the New York Times. There, they covered a three-team contest that lasted three hours. The winning team (which, by the way, gets to eat the goat afterwards) scored 30 goals, second place had 20 goals, and last place had 16, which works out to a goal every 2.7 minutes or so. Is this high-scoring? Low-scoring? No idea.

Here's a video of what appears to be a game using the Qarajai format:

There isn't any league structure; every game's a one-off thing, though there does tend to be a buzkashi 'season'- November to February, with Friday designated as Buzkashi Night In Afghanistan. Sponsors dole out the horses and hope their horse ends up in the hands of the eventual MVP. Rider and owner stand to make a lot of money if that happens; the Wall Street Journal article notes that the player who scores can make "thousands of dollars" in a country where most get by on less than a dollar a day.

As ESPN noted in September in what is far and away the best profile of the sport I've come across, the scale of the money on offer has in recent years led to a small wave of players going pro, playing buzkashi full-time. That, in turn, has led to complaints from some that buzkashi players, rather than playing for love of the game or community pride, are now all about the money and sucking the life out of the game, which they would like to see in the Olympics someday.

Which just goes to show that no matter what you're playing, how you're playing or where you're playing it, some things never change.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Really, Really, Really Rapid-Fire Book Club

I've got a TED talk for you today, conducted by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel in Boston. This talk revolves around a question: what if you were to read all the books?

All of them. Like... all of them.

Aiden and Michel didn't quite hit that point, but they did make a program that could read 5 million of them dating back to 1800, which we can pretty much agree works as a representative sample. Now, obviously, you're not going to comprehend the context of all those books. If I know my cartoons, what always happens if you do that is your head gets really large and veiny and people run around screaming 'oh my God he's going to burst'. Also you start uncontrollably spouting mathematical equations. But what you can do is write a program to scan the words in the books, and graph each word's usage by year.

Of course these guys work for Google. Why do you ask?

(NOTE: When the guy on the right, Aiden, quotes xkcd, he's kind of not. He may be thinking of this shirt, but the phrase never actually appeared in a comic.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Veterans Day

First off, apologies for the lack of update yesterday. My monitor- a box monitor- decided it wanted to do this thing where the picture would briefly cut out, like a TV being turned on and off real fast, and make this sound like a fuse blowing. This basically meant I needed to go buy a new monitor. That took up enough of the day to where it wasn't really worth trying.


Today is Veterans Day, and today you're going to be reminded, more than usual at least, of all the difficulties that veterans face after they come home from active duty, and the challenged they face re-integrating into society. You've (hopefully) had it told to you quite a bit over the past week in the runup to today, actually.

You have also heard, I'm sure, about how difficult it is for ex-convicts to re-integrate as well, as even after their release, after they have supposedly 'paid their debt to society', society decides to start collecting interest on that debt. There are often so many roadblocks to rehabilitation that many ex-cons, even those who want to rehabilitate, ultimately feel they have little choice but to go back to a life of crime as a matter of simple survival. But there's a lot less sympathy for them, to say the least.

But what about when the ex-cons are veterans?

As far as re-integration goes, this is a double whammy. Take two worlds that have been proven as very difficult to come back from without a good support structure, put someone in both of them, and the task goes from daunting to almost Herculean.

Enter the Florida Department of Corrections, where veterans comprise 6.6% of the population. The FDC has recently introduced a program where a few hundred veteran inmates- currently 300, with a capacity of 400- are placed into separate wings. In these wings, the FDC intends to reinstall military values in the inmates, who must have three or fewer years left on their sentences to qualify for placement. They also must have been honorably discharged, and have a clean record during their stay in prison.

The cell doors are painted with a giant American flag. Further murals depict fighter jets and the Iwo Jima Memorial. 'Taps' is played daily. There are daily flag-raising and flag-lowering ceremonies.

That's for aesthetic value, anyway. More structurally, those participating will be expected to uphold military standards in the dorms, refrain from swearing or using racial slurs, and attend group meetings that teach better decision making, as well as maintaining good conduct. In return for upholding those standards, standards higher than in general population, they'll be provided with a number of services such as PTSD counseling and better access to and assistance with Veterans Affairs benefits.

In addition, the setup itself places the inmates among other veterans, people that they were once trained to fight alongside, and it's hoped that this will create a sense of brotherhood in the dorms. The whole idea is to remind them of what they once were, what they represented and even behind bars continue to represent, and what they can, if they work at it, make themselves into again.

Purely pragmatically, every veteran inmate that gets rehabilitated enough to stay out of prison is one more person that doesn't walk back in the door, and every one that doesn't is that much more money saved by the state.

But in a more humanistic sense, it's a support structure, and a second chance given to those who, otherwise, might never be able to find it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bad Parents Of The Day

Everyone that has ever safety-checked their kids' Halloween candy, and then turned around and encouraged those same kids to suck on lollipops licked by other kids with chicken pox and sent through the mail.

There are also parents out there that, more commonly, organize 'pox parties'- one kid comes down with the pox, and then a bunch of other parents get their kids near that kid so everyone comes down with it at once and then get an immunity to it. Those are also bad ideas. So are the ones for measles and mumps.

Honestly, this is what vaccines are for. They have those. They made them for a reason. You know how your kid will react to the vaccine, or at least you're reasonably sure. You don't know how your kid will react to actually getting sick. For all you know, your kid may react badly to the disease, and then you've got real problems. There is the chance, albeit a small one, that your kid might actually die from it. And let's also note: with the vaccine, your kid does not get sick. Getting your kid sick... gets your kid sick. Which is what we're trying to avoid here, right?

Imagine doing this with a car. 'The best kind of protection against collisions is ramming my car into a tree the second I buy it! Surely I will never crash again afterwards!'

And God help you if your kid actually remembers that lollipop down the road and decides to strike up a conversation with you about it years later. 'I've already had the pox, right?' 'Yes, dear.' 'When was that again?' 'Oh, I sent for this lollipop through the mail that had pox on it and--' '...wait, you did what?' 'Ummmmmmmm...'

Honestly, you baby-proof the house for years, plug the electrical sockets, put the Mr. Yuk label on everything poisonous, and then you turn around and go 'Here, have this mysteriously lightly-used and unwrapped lollipop I found in the mail' so as to deliberately get your kid sick? What is wrong with you?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Random News Generator- Denmark

There's been a considerable amount of worry in the United States- and let's be honest, a lot of other countries- about a potential 'fat tax'- taxing foods that make you fat in order to bring down spiraling obesity rates. This worry has led to what has got to be one of the more pathetic and embarrassing debates in American history:

"For God's sake, stop shoveling everything that's not nailed down into the big hole in your face. This is not Skee-Ball."
"Pleeeeeeeaaaaaase? But all this food is so tasty! And so American! Eating is how I know I'm free!"
"Have a cake. I put frosting on it so it looks like a flag!"

Meanwhile, Denmark went ahead and did it, taxing any food with more than 2.3% saturated fat. The funny thing is, Denmark is not a fat country. In fact, they're really pretty fit by developed-nation standards.

So they didn't think of it as a 'fat' thing. They thought of it as a life-expectancy thing, as Denmark's life expectancy had dipped below the standard the rest of Western Europe had set. They were also the first country to ban trans fats, and several other European nations have either followed Denmark's lead or are looking to do so.

One of those countries considering following Denmark's lead is the United Kingdom, namely Prime Minister David Cameron. According to the Guardian:

"I think it is something that we should look at," he told 5 News during a round of broadcast interviews at the Tory conference in Manchester. "The problem in the past when people have looked at using the tax system in this way is the impact it can have on people on low incomes.

"But frankly, do we have a problem with the growing level of obesity? Yes. Do we have a kind of warning in terms of – look at America, how bad things have got there – what happens if we don't do anything? Yes, that should be a wake-up call."

Ouch, babe. It is rarely good when you've got other countries talking about you behind your back and telling each other 'Look at them, do you want to end up like that?'

Monday, November 7, 2011

Please Go On

How angry can one get at one's own words? Quite angry indeed. Often, we get angry only over time, once we've had time to reflect on things we've said in the past. But we can get emotional with ourselves much more quickly than that.

We just need to have someone conversing our words back to us. Even if that someone is a computer.

In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT created a chatterbot, one of the world's first, called ELIZA. A chatterbot programmed earlier, DOCTOR, used a tiny knowledge base and Rogerian therapy to arrive at diagnoses. (Rogerian therapy, named for a founding father of psychotherapy, Carl Rogers, uses passive techniques, neither agreeing or disagreeing with any statement, and aims to let the patient arrive at their own solution.) Weizenbaum, mocking how little actual knowledge DOCTOR had, decided to create a parody in a field that required even less actual knowledge. Thus, he created ELIZA, which did little more than make DOCTOR from a doctor into a therapist. A therapist can be utterly oblivious to a patient's state and still remain able to maintain conversation.

If you'd like the full blow-by-blow of the program's innards, Weizenbaum goes into that here.

What happened? Well, I just explained to you what ELIZA is about- using various little tricks like keyword searching and canned responses to communicate your own words back to you. Give ELIZA a spin and see for yourself. Take as long as you like.


My, but you're worked up. That's the funny thing here. I told you how it worked. I told you it was just a computer, a very dumb chatterbot, and yet you're still emotional. So were the subjects when Weizenbaum decided to test ELIZA out. Some got so attached that they didn't want to show Weizenbaum the chat logs because they thought it an invasion of privacy.

Weizenbaum actually became frightened of what ELIZA could invoke, so much so that in 1972, he put out a book called Computer Power and Human Reason, the purpose of which was to attack the concept of artificial intelligence, and ELIZA specifically. Much of the book is spent educating the reader as to what's going on in the computer (though as it was published in 1972, it's nowadays very primitive). The result is a book about the morality of computing that remains very well-received today.

Though it's probably fair to guess that, by the time of his death in 2008, Weizenbaum had become fairly dismayed about how extensively AI had been developed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tina Fey Goes Jokeless For Two Hours

You know, the things you find when you're looking for something else sometimes. What I was looking for was word on when the new season of 30 Rock would get started.

What I found was what Tina Fey's evidently been doing in the meantime. Namely, she has been hosting a pair of hour-long specials for NPR called 'The Hidden World of Girls'. (Parts 1 and 2 linked respectively.) And if you didn't get told outright it was Tina, you'd never ever guess it. There is not a joke here for miles that isn't there totally by accident, which is kind of the opposite of what you would expect any time you see her, and normally what she expects of herself.

It makes more sense once you think about it a bit, given Tina's drive towards giving women a larger and more respectable platform in media and the rest of society (much of which she's had to do if for no other reason than to make opportunities for herself), but it still just looks really, really strange to see- or, as the case may be, hear- stories about nomads in Ireland and hunters in Mississippi and birth control education in Nigeria... introduced by Liz Lemon. Not to take anything away from it. I applaud it. It's just weird is all.

By the way, no date's been announced for the 30 Rock season premiere. It looks to be part of the midseason lineup.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Death Of 'Unununium'

The periodic table has three new elements. Well, really, it already had those elements, but now they have proper names instead of Latin numerical placeholders. Element 110 is now darmstadtium (Ds), 111 is now roentgenium (Rg), and 112 is now copernicium (Cn). As with pretty much any element at this high level of the table, none of them are going to be found outside of the lab, and none of them last very long even after being found. But they're found, and so they're on the table.

No, we are not going to do the song. That thing is only accurate up to element 102.

Copernicus, you probably already know. Hopefully you already know him. He's the guy who first said the earth revolved around the sun. The other two namesakes, you'll be forgiven for not knowing. Darmstadt in particular, because that's just the name of the town in Germany where the GSI Helmholtz Centre is based. GSI found both darmstadtium and roentgenium, and naming one of the elements after the discoverer's home turf is more or less the scientific version of dancing in the endzone after a touchdown. It's not the first time, not by a longshot, and it won't be the last. It's not even the first touchdown dance for GSI, who also got to name element 108, hassium, after the German state of Hesse, where Darmstadt is located. GSI actually got to name all three elements here, and this brings their total to six, alongside hassium, meitnerium and bohrium.

So, big round of applause to them.

As for that third one, roentgenium. That one's named for Wilhelm Roentgen, who won the first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901 for discovering X-rays. He did this despite being expelled from school for refusing to tell his teachers who drew a caricature of one of them, an expulsion which led to his getting professionally hamstrung for the rest of his life up to and including being accused of stealing the X-ray discovery.

No word, of course, on if the guy who actually made the drawing got punished. But it's just as well. That guy doesn't even have his name recorded. The guy who took the fall is on the periodic table now. So ha.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Hall of Very Good, 2011 Edition

Yesterday, the Veterans Committee finalized the list of candidates they will be voting on for potential induction into the Hall of Fame. The candidates come from what's being termed the 'Golden Era', that being 1947-72.

The ten are: players Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo and Luis Tiant, general manager Buzzie Bavasi, and owner Charlie Finley.

They will join the candidates on the BBWAA ballot. Returning are, in order of votes they got last time: Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez. Also eligible- though not on the ballot yet; they have to get through a screening committee first- are first-timers Edgardo Alfonzo, Pedro Astacio, David Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Scott Erickson, Carl Everett, Jeff Fassero, Alex S. Gonzalez, Danny Graves, Rick Helling, Dustin Hermanson, Jose Hernandez, Brian Jordan, Matt Lawton, Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Jeff Nelson, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Joe Randa, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Jose Vizcaino, Bernie Williams, and Eric Young.

I figure this news a good excuse to dust off something I ran here last year: the Hall of Very Good. The place all of these players are forced to reside until they get the call from Cooperstown. (Or unless they get bounced off the ballot without getting 2% of the vote, our cutoff for inclusion.) The idea behind the Hall of Very Good is that, while you can't really compare Hall of Famers by the vote totals that got them in, you can more easily (though still not perfectly) do so when the candidates have had as many as 15 tries each over as many years to get the highest total they can. So you'll note all the people that get talked up for inclusion towards the top of the list... including those on this year's Veterans Committee ballot.

So what follows is a list of the high-water marks of everyone not in the Hall of Fame who has ever achieved at least 2% of the vote. There is one revision from last year's list (in addition to updated totals and the removal of now-Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven): the 1936 Veterans' Committee ballot is now included under special circumstances, namely that, in a unique case, it was treated identically to the baseball writers' ballot, the only difference being the timeframe of the candidates. The same people on that ballot would appear on the baseball writers' ballot in subsequent years, chief among them Cy Young, who was on the veterans' committee ballot in 1936 and elected in 1937 through the baseball writers.

Players currently on the BBWAA ballot are bolded; players on this year's Veterans Committee ballot are italicized. Good luck to everyone in getting out of this Hall and into the real one.

Especially Ron Santo.

62.1 Barry Larkin
60.1 Gil Hodges
53.5 Jack Morris
47.3 Lee Smith
47.3 Tony Oliva
43.1 Roger Maris
43.1 Ron Santo
42.6 Steve Garvey
41.7 Jeff Bagwell
40.6 Maury Wills
40.0 Marty Marion
39.3 Harvey Kuenn
37.5 Tim Raines
36.2 Edgar Martinez
35.9 Hank Gowdy
35.6 Phil Cavarretta
34.0 Johnny Sain
33.6 Allie Reynolds
31.7 Tommy John
30.9 Luis Tiant
29.8 Johnny Vander Meer
29.6 Jim Kaat
28.2 Don Mattingly
25.5 Ken Boyer
25.5 Mickey Lolich
25.4 Mel Harder
24.9 Mickey Vernon
24.5 Dave Parker
24.3 Alan Trammell
23.7 Bucky Walters
23.7 Mark McGwire
23.2 Dale Murphy
23.2 Lew Burdette
22.2 Joe Torre
21.5 Fred McGriff
21.1 Minnie Minoso
20.7 Elston Howard
20.7 Tommy Henrich
20.3 Larry Walker
19.9 Herman Long
18.9 Roy Face
18.5 Al Dark
18.0 Smoky Joe Wood
17.3 Pepper Martin
16.9 Dave Concepcion
16.7 Dick Allen
16.7 Lefty O'Doul
15.7 Vada Pinson
15.5 Thurman Munson
15.3 Don Newcombe
14.4 Ted Kluszewski
14.4 Walker Cooper
13.7 Babe Adams
13.5 Duffy Lewis
13.1 Sparky Lyle
12.8 Curt Flood
12.3 Don Larsen
11.7 Terry Moore
11.3 Dom DiMaggio
11.2 Orel Hershiser
11.0 Rafael Palmeiro
10.8 Keith Hernandez
10.6 Bobby Bonds
10.4 Dwight Evans
10.2 Vic Raschi
10.0 Dickey Kerr
10.0 Jimmy Dykes
9.9 Johnny Kling
9.8 Charlie Grimm
9.5 Pete Rose
9.4 Bobo Newsom
9.0 Hal Chase
8.8 Jimmie Wilson
8.8 Ron Guidry
8.7 Vida Blue
8.3 Graig Nettles
8.3 Muddy Ruel
8.0 Lou Criger
7.9 Hank Bauer
7.9 Rusty Staub
7.7 Albert Belle
7.7 Bill Lange
7.7 Bob Boone
7.7 Harry Stovey
7.7 Jerry Denny
7.5 Nick Altrock
7.5 Tommy Bridges
7.4 Dave Stewart
7.0 Wilbur Wood
6.9 George Foster
6.7 Glenn Wright
6.5 Lon Warneke
6.5 Sal Maglie
6.4 Nap Rucker
6.2 Fernando Valenzuela
6.2 Paul Derringer
6.1 Charlie Keller
6.1 Harold Baines
6.0 Doc Cramer
6.0 Freddie Fitzsimmons
5.7 Babe Herman
5.7 Cy Williams
5.6 Dolf Luque
5.6 Joe Judge
5.5 Fred Lynn
5.3 Frankie Crosetti
5.2 Juan Gonzalez
5.2 Stuffy McInnis
5.0 Bob Meusel
5.0 Fred Hutchinson
5.0 Hal Schumacher
5.0 Rudy York
5.0 Schoolboy Rowe
5.0 Willie McGee
4.9 Art Nehf
4.9 Red Rolfe
4.9 Steve O'Neill
4.8 Jeff Reardon
4.8 Stan Hack
4.7 Ewell Blackwell
4.7 Ken Griffey Sr.
4.6 Bobby Thomson
4.6 John Franco
4.5 Bill Madlock
4.5 Eddie Rommel
4.5 Howard Ehmke
4.4 Wilbur Cooper
4.4 Will Clark
4.3 Al Oliver
4.2 Manny Mota
4.1 Andres Galarraga
4.1 Mark Grace
4.1 Wally Schang
3.9 David Cone
3.9 Del Crandall
3.8 Charlie Bennett
3.8 Dan Quisenberry
3.8 Earl Whitehill
3.8 Frank White
3.8 Joe Carter
3.8 Ross Barnes
3.8 Tim McCarver
3.7 Mark Belanger
3.7 Ted Simmons
3.6 Wes Ferrell
3.4 Jack Quinn
3.3 Dwight Gooden
3.2 Carl Erskine
3.2 Dennis Martinez
3.2 Everett Scott
3.2 Fred Dunlap
3.1 Bert Campaneris
3.1 Fred Tenney
3.0 Birdie Tebbetts
3.0 Dixie Walker
3.0 Frank McCormick
3.0 Jimmy Archer
3.0 Joe Dugan
3.0 Mike Donlin
3.0 Pete Reiser
3.0 Spud Chandler
2.9 Lou Whitaker
2.8 Dave McNally
2.8 Harvey Haddix
2.6 Bill Dinneen
2.6 Bobby Grich
2.6 Don Baylor
2.6 Harry Bracheen
2.6 Jack Glasscock
2.6 John Hiller
2.6 Ned Williamson
2.6 Orval Grove
2.5 Art Fletcher
2.5 Bill Bradley
2.5 Bill Carrigan
2.5 Charlie Root
2.5 George Earnshaw
2.5 Jim Abbott
2.5 Kirk Gibson
2.5 Larry Bowa
2.4 Bob O'Farrell
2.4 Clyde Milan
2.4 Vern Law
2.3 Bobby Shantz
2.3 Carl Mays
2.3 Pinky Higgins
2.3 Roy McMillan
2.2 Bing Miller
2.2 Paul O'Neill
2.1 Bill Buckner
2.1 Kevin Brown
2.0 Bill Donovan
2.0 Bill Wambsganss
2.0 Bob Elliott
2.0 Bobby Richardson
2.0 Heinie Groh
2.0 Virgil Trucks
2.0 Willie Wilson

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Noooooo! My Spread Gunnnnnn!

I'm sure if you're old enough and dig deep enough into your memories, you'll remember the name Daniel Ortega. If you can't qute place the name, Ortega was part of the Sandinista faction in--- okay, now it's coming back to you. Reagan, Contras, arms-for-hostages, Oliver North. That whole business.

Well, in any case, Ortega was a Sandinista, who won the Nicaraguan presidential election in 1984 despite Reagan's administration funding the opposition Contras. The Reagan administration opted not to recognize the results (unlike pretty much everybody else in the world) and put an embargo on the country. Ortega went on to lose in 1990 to Violeta Chamorro in an election heavily influenced by American campaign dollars and American threats of continuing the embargo if she didn't win.

At that point, maybe even before that point, Nicaragua faded from America's view.

So those of you who recall the Reagan era will be dismayed to know that not only was Ortega re-installed as president in 2006, he is currently cruising to re-election, despite Nicaragua's constitution prohibiting re-election (he got a court to rule in his favor on this in 2009). His current goal is to get enough seats in the legislature to allow him to amend the constitution to codify re-election, and as he appears willing to rig elections if all else fails, odds are pretty good he'll get it. The polls, however, are showing Ortega won't have to rig much of anything.

Ortega has a good working relationship with Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and came out in support of Moammar Gadhafi. Chavez's support virtually guarantees Nicaragua will be fine in the face of any renewed embargo anyone wants to employ, but even independent of Chavez, businesses in the area are aligned to Ortega as well, who can point to a good economy as a major point in his favor. This is a powerful argument in a country second only to Haiti in Western Hemisphere poverty. (And given how deep Ortega has rooted himself, should he actually lose, he also has the ability to sabotage the economy and let his successor take the blame.)

So how'd that whole 80's thing work out again?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Americans Don't Like Soccer

In fact, they don't like it so much that they attended games in 2011 to the tune of 17,870 fans a game. This surpasses the NBA, which drew 17,319 a game, and the NHL, which drew 17,126. (MLB and NFL figures are, of course, far higher than any of these.) Compared to other soccer leagues around the world, MLS now ranks 10th, coming in between Japan's J-League and England's second-tier Championship.

If you've been continuing to insist that America actually doesn't like soccer, this may come as a shock. But if you've been paying attention, you've seen the groundwork for these numbers already laid. Soccer is beginning to win cities, beginning to make cities identify as soccer towns even if they don't quite realize it.

It starts in Seattle. When the Sounders arrived on the scene- well, they already were, they were just in a lower league- Seattle's sports scene was in its darkest hour. The Sonics had left. The Mariners were terrible, and still are. The Seahawks were terrible, and are still pretty bad. Seattle had paid for two very expensive stadiums for both of them, and lost the Sonics when they wouldn't pay for a third. Their best team was their WNBA franchise, the Storm.

Then came the Sounders. They came in with a rabid fanbase migrating from the second tier, Drew Carey got on board, they got to share the Seahawks' stadium, and most importantly, the team immediately came out of the blocks like a house afire. Seattle all of a sudden had a good team that they could be proud of (sorry, WNBA). They needed it badly, and they responded in force and continue to do so. The Sounders' focus on the U.S. Open Cup, a competition that many other MLS clubs do not take seriously, has led to them racking up a lot of comparatively easy trophies, thus quickly building the image of a winner, and thus further feeding the fans. The franchise has quickly become one of the marquee teams in the league, almost unheard of for a team so young compared to its peers.

In fact, the Sounders' immediate success led to franchises being granted at the very first opportunity to Portland and Vancouver, the homes of Seattle's old rivals from the second tier, the Timbers and Whitecaps.

Vancouver, being in Canada, is always going to be a hockey town. Portland, meanwhile, has only one other pro team in the city, the Blazers of the NBA.

There's a lockout in the NBA right now. You may have heard about it.

The Timbers, now the only game in town, have free run of Portland. The fact that their fans are fairly passionate and the team not being terrible only helps matters. (The Timbers need it; right now their home is a converted baseball stadium.)

The NBA lockout helps any team from any other league that shares a city with the NBA. And aside from Portland, that also means Salt Lake City- of all the towns- is now ceded to MLS as well, which has a presence in Real Salt Lake. They will certainly welcome the help as well. Real Salt Lake won the league title in 2009, but only a year or two prior, faced the prospect of relocation to Rochester or St. Louis if they didn't get a new stadium. (They got the stadium. Rio Tinto Stadium opened in 2008.)

And then there's the case of none other than Los Angeles, California; home of the Galaxy and Chivas USA.

The Galaxy is likely to be the first club any big international signing is headed to, and one of the teams the league will market as 'marquee'. In 2011, the Galaxy's attendance is sitting at 23,335. Chivas USA, a far inferior team, draws far worse. In 2011, they had 14,830 fans a game, but for a bad team in a league that's not supposed to have any fans, that's still pretty good.

To compare, there is no NFL team (yet). The Lakers drew 18,997 and the Clippers drew 17,742- less than the Galaxy. These two are out of play for the lockout, and when they come back, there is no way they'll continue to draw those numbers. The NHL's Kings drew 18,083 last season- again less than the Galaxy- and the Anaheim Ducks drew 14,738- less than Chivas. Baseball, is, of course, still out front, but while the Angels are doing fine (39,090, fifth in MLB), the Dodgers ceded a lot of ground this year in the wake of the tribulations of Frank McCourt, who only today has agreed to sell the team. Their attendance dipped 18% this year to 36,236- still far ahead of MLS, but an 18% drop and an on-field product in turmoil leaves a lot of fans in a very what's-next city looking for something else to do. (Though they may come back to the Dodgers now that McCourt will be out of the picture.)

That's right: the third most popular pro sports team in Los Angeles... is a soccer team. And that soccer team has more goodwill going for it than one of the teams in front of it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Can Bring Down Your Entire Civilization With A Single Word... No, Wait... Ten. Ten Words. Just Ten

As I noted in a recent edition of the Rapid-Fire Book Club, one of my recent acquisitions is Killing the White Man's Indian, a 1996 title by Fergus M. Bordewich. In the 1990's, tribes across the country were asserting themselves culturally and politically, and had a kind of clout that they had not known with the white man (as you can see from the book title, that is the term that gets used) for their entire history. Treaties that had any legal teeth whatsoever, many of them newer ones that tribes had negotiated while the white man had barely noticed, were now being turned around and enforced, with non-Indians and even governments finding to their dismay just how little power they actually had in the face of them.

This includes the very first anecdote in the book, where the Seneca tribe in 1991 had given the white man a 100-year lease on land including the city of Salamanca, a lease the locals had completely forgotten about except for the part where they were paying very low rent. Then the lease expired, with the Senecas showing zero interest in renewing it. Salamanca, New York was out of nowhere to become part of an Indian reservation, with all land owned by the tribe. They would be the only city in America with this arrangement. The locals were uproarious with anger. There were protests. There were appeals to government. There were lawsuits. But in the end, 15 households of Salamanca were evicted by the Senecas for refusing to agree to the new terms. (Or 16, depending on the source.)

You need only glance at this thread to see the acrimony that continues today.

The book captures the mood in this moment, detailing the history of various tribes, how each of them went into decline, what was taken from them, what if any bloodline current tribe members still retain (and many of them really don't; with some tribes only surviving through creative interpretations of what exactly it means to be a member of the tribe- another central theme of the book in itself), and the tribes as of the 1990's, some trying to take back what was theirs, some trying merely to survive or gain recognition, and all dealing with misconception upon misconception from people that have this idea that they all still live in tepees or that many of them lived in tepees in the first place.

Some tribes did not make it into the book. First, Bordewich wanted to avoid the book becoming a dry and dreary tome, and says as much. Second, some tribes didn't survive at all. When tribes were under siege, there sometimes was just no way to win. And in at least one case, a tribe died by nothing more than pure bad luck.

The Karankawa tribe lived in southern Texas and northern Mexico, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the online resources have them as dying out in 1860, right before the Civil War. The links provided in this paragraph give a primer on how they lived, but we're here today to note how they died. And their effective death came a few decades prior to 1860.

As told by Noah Smithwick in The Evolution of a State: or, Recollections of Old Texas Days, at the time of the Texas Revolution of 1836, the Karankawa had a good relationship with Captain Philip Dimmitt. (Whose name gets spelled a lot with one T, including in the name of the county named for him, Dimmit County, Texas. No real way to figure out which one's right, so we'll just arbitrarily go with 2 T's here and apologize to Phil if we're wrong.) Dimmitt had a ranch towards the mouth of the Lavaca River; Port Lavaca is probably the closest modern-day city.

They needed the help. The tribe had frequently had to fight settlers brought in by Stephen F. Austin in 1823. Dimmitt was one of these settlers, but he was a valued and needed ally.

At one point, Dimmitt left to fight in the war. The Karankawa, however, knew nothing of this. Dimmitt had a policy of sharing beef with them any time they dropped in, so when one day they showed up at the ranch and Dimmitt wasn't there, they didn't think it would be a problem to simply help themselves. It came as a little bit of a surprise, then, when some Mexican soldiers appeared and demanded to know what the Karankawa were doing there.

But they didn't think it too much of an issue. "Oh, it's all right; we're Captain Dimmitt's friends."

Wrong answer. The passage is vague on the specifics, but it does say that the Mexicans charged, killing some of the tribe and scattering the rest. After they regrouped, they soon came across another group of people. They still had no idea what in blazes was going on, but they did know that they didn't want to be attacked by Mexicans again.

So when they met this second group, the first thing out of their mouth was "Viva Mexico!"

Wrong answer, part two. This second group was American. The Americans, now having Mexicans on their hands in a war with Mexico, attacked the Karankawa, who this time were slaughtered past the point of no return. Only a fraction survived the assault, fleeing once more, and those that did survive were unable to repopulate the tribe. Little record is available of the final decline, only noting that the last member died in 1860. 20 years later, a record of the language that died with them was published. There's skepticism about its accuracy, but it's all that was able to be recorded.

The place where the tribe most lives on now is in the 1996 book, The Karankawa Indians of Texas: An Ecological Study of Cultural Tradition and Change, by Robert Arthur Ricklis.

It'll have to do.