Friday, January 31, 2014

Nobody Ever Drink Water Again, You Left It Out Overnight And It All Spoiled, All Of It

So, you're at the store. You're in the aisle with the water in it, and once you walk past all the empty shelves because you people keep spending whole entire dollars on bottled water when the stuff that comes out of your tap is perfectly good (fracking victims and West Virginia residents excepted) and costs a tiny fraction of a penny for the same amount oh my God what's wrong with you people, eventually you come across some water someone hasn't bought yet. You look on the bottle, and note that it has an expiration date of about two years from now.

So what happens after those two years? Is that when the water becomes unsafe to drink, because of the plastics leaching in or sitting at room temperature for however long or something else?

No. It's water. It's like all the other water. Guy I never caught the name of, please explain where that expiration date comes from.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Are You Using Yahoo Mail?

Might be a good idea to change those passwords, because you're the newest victims of a hacking breach. You join the illustrious list that includes pretty much everybody sooner or later, because any security measure constructed by people can also be cracked by people if they're dedicated enough. It's just a matter of how much dedication, how much time you're willing to spend on it, how well you know your selected point of entry, how far you're willing to go, and sometimes pure dumb luck that lets someone just guess a password out of the blue Hollywood-style. (Hi, dude in Valencia, Spain that blurted out a credit card number at random to buy a soda or something some years back and came up trumps with mine. I hope you choked on the cap.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Republican Response Repository

So how did the Republican responses go last night, given that that was yesterday's topic here? Did anyone shine? Did anyone go down in flames?

The official response, for historical purposes, went to Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington, as you know. Personally, I thought she looked like a Stepford wife reading a bedtime story, but judge for yourself.

"The real State of the Union is in your heart, and your home." Seriously, what?

McMorris-Rodgers was hamstrung by the same thing that hamstrings a lot of responses: they're written out beforehand, often recorded beforehand, without knowledge of the exact text of the President's speech. You're responding to what you're predicting the President will say and not what he's actually said. She ended up treading a lot of the same ground Obama did, making its nature as a rebuttal far less effective. But it wasn't as obviously bad as some of the previous responses, so she should live to fight another day.

Next up, the 'official' Tea Party response, from Mike Lee of Utah, which continues to fight the beyond-lost Obamacare battle on behalf of "those Americans who feel they've been forgotten by both political parties":

All Lee managed to do here was play into Obama's hand. A key theme of Obama's speech was how he'd start doing things himself where he could because of impatience with Congressional inability to act. He laced his speech with phrases like "if Congress wants to help" and "when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could" and "To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say, you don't have to wait for Congress to act". He verbally slugged Congress right in the face all night long. Lee spent his response being exactly the kind of guy Obama was talking about. But then, you're either on board with that or you're not, and if you are, you had your mind made up before the night began anyway. So Lee will live to fight another day.

Rand Paul of Kentucky gave this response:

Professionally done, no visible gaffes, but then, not too much attention was paid to the words, which were... not so much with the sane. People taking themselves off welfare not because they had found work, but because they have faith that they will... that's a nice one-off story when the job is found, but seriously, don't go holding that up as something everyone ought to be doing. You're just going to end up with a lot of people who guess wrong and end up starving under a bridge. Come on now. As far as responses go, Paul lives to fight another day, despite being a nutter.

I don't have video of Ted Cruz's response, so I guess we'll move on to the responses that didn't count as official or unofficial responses, of which, of course, there were many. Two people came off particularly badly here, and if anyone goes down in flames, it'll be them. First was Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, speaking with Rachel Maddow after a tweet regarding the close of the speech that Maddow brings up towards the start of the segment as reasoning for why Huelskamp is on in the first place.

Things went south very, very quickly.

The big loser of the night, though, was Michael Grimm of New York, for a) his words and deeds towards a New York-area reporter, and b) forgetting where the camera was when those words and deeds were worded and deeded. He's a bit hard to hear, so I picked a video with subtitles.

This, of course, got everyone else interested in what Grimm's deal was. For that, I'll send you to, where else, New York magazine, where you will be regaled with stories about allegations of illegal campaign contributions, straw donors, associates with ties to the Gambino crime family, and a fun little incident in a bar in 1999 where Grimm, once an undercover FBI agent, allegedly threatened to make a bar patron "disappear", left, came back, threatened him with a gun, left again, came back again, and used his FBI authority to put everyone in the club up against the wall in order to find him later on in the night (key quote: "All the white people get out of here").

This man serves in Congress. He gets to help lead America.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

State Of The Union Day

Tonight, Barack Obama will give the annual State of the Union speech, so I hope you didn't have any big TV plans otherwise tonight. There appear to have been two broad schools of reporting on the runup: the expectation that Obama will be setting his sights lower than in past addresses, a result of Congressional gridlock that's forced him to bypass Congress somehow if he wants to actually get anything done; and the thing we'll be looking at here: the post-address response. The response has been drawing attention because there's been a recent string of rather disastrous responses, made all the more shocking because the response is generally given over to a big name from the opposition party. Bobby Jindal being compared to 30 Rock's Kenneth the page, and Marco Rubio awkwardly reaching for a glass of water mid-speech come immediately to mind.

I think it might be more instructional to take the entire history of response-givers and see if we can take anything from that, instead of just looking at the last couple. The first televised response was in 1966, so that's where we'll count from. We're counting only the English-language response, by the way, so the Spansh respondents that have recently popped up aren't included here.

1966: Everett Dirksen (R-IL), Gerald Ford (R-MI)
1967: Everett Dirksen (R-IL), Gerald Ford (R-MI)
1968: Thomas Kuchel (R-CA), Charles Percy (R-IL), Howard Baker (R-TN), Hugh Scott (R-PA), John Tower (R-TX), Peter Dominick (R-CO), Robert P. Griffin (R-MI), George Murphy (R-CA), William Steiger (R-WI), Gerald Ford (R-MI), Richard Poff (R-VA), George H.W. Bush (R-TX), Robert Mathias (R-CA), Charlotte Reid (R-IL), Albert Quie (R-MN), Melvin Laird (R-WI)
1969: No response
1970: William Proxmire (D-WI), Mike Mansfield (D-MT), Scoop Jackson (D-WA), Ed Muskie (D-ME), Al Gore (D-TN), Ralph Yarborough (D-TX), Philip Hart (D-MI), Donald Fraser (D-MN), Patsy Mink (D-HI), Carl Albert (D-OK), John McCormack (D-MA)
1971: Mike Mansfield (D-MT)
1972: William Proxmire (D-WI), Frank Church (D-ID), Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), Leonor Sullivan (D-MO), John Melcher (D-MT), John Brademas (D-IN), Martha Griffiths (D-MI), Ralph Metcalfe (D-IL), Carl Albert (D-OK), Hale Boggs (D-LA)
1973: No State of the Union
1974: Mike Mansfield (D-MT)
1975: Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), Carl Albert (D-OK)
1976: Ed Muskie (D-ME)
1977: No response
1978: Howard Baker (R-TN), John Rhodes (R-AZ)
1979: Howard Baker (R-TN), John Rhodes (R-AZ), Bob Dole (R-KS), Barber Conable (R-NY)
1980: Ted Stevens (R-AK), John Rhodes (R-AZ)
1981: No State of the Union
1982: Jerry Brown (D-CA), Don Reigle (D-MI), James Sasser (D-TN), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Gary Hart (D-CO), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), Alan Cranston (D-CA), Tip O'Neill (D-MA), Al Gore (D-TN)
1983: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Paul Tsongas (D-MA), Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Joe Biden (D-DE), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Barbara Kennelly (D-CT), George Miller (D-CA), Les AuCoin (D-OR), Paul Simon (D-IL), Timothy Wirth (D-CO), Bill Hefner (D-NC), Tip O'Neill (D-MA)
1984: Walter Mondale (D-MN), Joe Biden (D-DE), David Boren (D-OK), Carl Levin (D-MI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Clairborne Pell (D-RI), Walter Huddleston (D-KY), Dante Fascell (D-FL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), William Grey (D-PA), Tip O'Neill (D-MA)
1985: Bill Clinton (D-AR), Bob Graham (D-FL), Tip O'Neill (D-MA), Robert Byrd (D-WV)
1986: George Mitchell (D-ME), Harriett Woods (D-MO), Charles Robb (D-VA), Tom Daschle (D-SD), William Grey (D-PA)
1987: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Jim Wright (D-TX)
1988: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Jim Wright (D-TX)
1989: Jim Wright (D-TX), Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX)
1990: Tom Foley (D-WA)
1991: George Mitchell (D-ME)
1992: Tom Foley (D-WA)
1993: Bob Michel (R-IL)
1994: Bob Dole (R-KS)
1995: Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ)
1996: Bob Dole (R-KS)
1997: J.C. Watts (R-OK)
1998: Trent Lott (R-MS)
1999: Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), Steve Largent (R-OK)
2000: Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Frist (R-TN)
2001: Tom Daschle (D-SD), Dick Gephardt (D-MO)
2002: Tom Daschle (D-SD), Dick Gephardt (D-MO)
2003: Gary Locke (D-WA)
2004: Tom Daschle (D-SD), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
2005: Harry Reid (D-NV), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
2006: Tim Kaine (D-VA)
2007: Jim Webb (D-VA)
2008: Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS)
2009: Bobby Jindal (R-LA)
2010: Bob McDonnell (R-VA)
2011: Paul Ryan (R-WI)
2012: Mitch Daniels (R-IN)
2013: Marco Rubio (R-FL)
2014: Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA)

Going over this list, it quite simply isn't true that giving a State of the Union response is some sort of curse. You see three future Presidents- Ford, Bush 41, and Clinton- embedded in here, as well as future Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore. Many of these names have gone on to live out distinguished careers, or at least survive long enough to be able to give a lot more responses later on. Tom Daschle may have been voted out of Congress in 2004, the year of his final response, but Daschle had also given four other responses dating back to 1983. Robert Byrd gave responses on six different occasions in the 1980's. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi gave the response in 2005 and a decade later, they're both still leading their respective parties in their respective houses. You can get in and out of the thing and be perfectly fine afterward.

So what's gone wrong?

There was a theory when I posted the list on Fark that it's a matter of the Democrats sending up their leaders (Reid, Pelosi, Daschle, Foley, Wright, Byrd, Gephardt, Mitchell, O'Neill, etc.) while the Republicans send up their Presidential hopefuls (Ryan, Jindal, McDonnell, Daniels, Rubio, Dole, Baker, maybe Frist if you want to stretch it to its breaking point). But that doesn't really work out, because the Democratic leaders have had their own share of downfalls. Daschle did get defeated, after all, after his third response in four years. Tom Foley gave two responses, the last in 1992, when he became the first sitting Speaker of the House to get defeated for re-election since Galusha Grow in 1862. Gephardt's second of two responses was in 2002, and he went on to abandon his seat to run for President in 2004; he came up empty-handed. Jim Wright gave two responses in 1987 and 1988, and in 1989 surrendered his seat as Speaker, and then his seat in Congress due to an ethics scandal.

Look at the responses by those who've gone on to be President or Vice President. There is one thing they all have in common that you can see without even looking at the responses themselves: None of them gave their responses alone. (If you'd like to talk about the response itself, I'll send you over to this Q&A with 1995 respondent Christine Todd Whitman. We're focusing here on the technique.)

*Gerald Ford gave responses as House Minority Leader in 1966, 1967 and 1968. The first two were alongside Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen; the 1968 response was done by a team of 16 people, one of which was Ford.
*George H.W. Bush gave one response; it was also as part of the 1968 16-man team.
*Al Gore gave one response, in 1982. He was alongside ten other people.
*Joe Biden gave two responses, in 1983 and 1984. In 1983, he was part of a 12-person team. In 1984, the team was 13 strong.
*Bill Clinton gave one response, in 1985, alongside Bob Graham, Speaker Tip O'Neill and Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd.

They weren't just 'not alone'. All five gave a response on at least one occasion as part of a group of at least four people. All except Clinton gave a response as part of a team of at least 11 people. The mass response, though, has fallen out of favor, with 1986 being the last year that a team of more than two people has responded. Since 2006, all responses have been solo. And since 2006, the flameouts have gotten more common.

The obvious solution- other than to have good ideas, of course- is to give this year's respondent, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, some teammates. But that isn't what's happening. Instead, there are competing unofficial responses from Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as a station the GOP will have set up for Republicans exiting the chamber to give on-the-spot responses via Vine and other media. If they were all joining together for the same response, at the very least they would be able to give each other some cover so that the chance of any one of them embarrassing themselves is lessened. They'd also be providing a more unified voice. But they're all competing instead, and thus presenting a more confused voice (not helped by trying to respond with a prewritten speech to a speech you don't know the exact content of beforehand), undermining each other. Each of them is going up alone, by themselves, in usually an empty room, against a President that has just spoken in front of a packed house and been applauded after every other sentence for the better part of an hour. Bob McDonnell, for his part, did try and handle the applause problem by holding his speech in Virginia's legislative chamber. But again, he was ultimately speaking alone. The President is the President. If he flubs a word or something, he's pretty safe from harm. If he needs to take a swig of water, he can wait for the next bout of applause. And people are focusing more on the actual content of his speech than the way in which it's given. The respondent does not have that kind of gaffe insurance. Something doesn't look right, you are getting memed to within an inch of your life, and what's more, you go down in flames all by yourself. There's nobody else up there to cover for whatever difficulties you might have. There's nobody to share the blame with. It's all on you.

If Paul, Lee and Cruz won't help, the next-best thing might be to at least send Speaker John Boehner, and whoever else might be loyal to Boehner at this point, to go help McMorris-Rodgers out. But that isn't what's happening.

Good luck, Cathy.

Halftime Scoreboard Quiz

Yeah. There's a bit of a lot of soccer content you can be expecting around here. Today, while I try and figure out how I can get MS Word to let me have a 10.25-size font (it's only letting me do full-point and half-point fonts, not quarter-point as I want), enjoy the following soccer-themed Sporcle quizzes, along with my scores.

ROUND 1: Name the countries that won the World Cup. No, no, that's too easy. Name them and also the winners of the six continental national-team competitions. Your time limit is 8 minutes. (My score: 107/108, missing only the champion of the 1970 African Cup of Nations.)
ROUND 2: You're given the top ten ranked domestic leagues in Europe: England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Russia, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belgium. Your task here is to name the ten countries that provided the most foreign-based players in each of the leagues. (My score: 90/100. I had the toughest time with the Portuguese league, missing three countries there.)
ROUND 3: Through April 12, 2013, there have been 255 players who have earned at least 100 caps- that is, appearances for their national team. I didn't do so hot here, but the at-first-glance humiliating score of 33/255 is misleading. In fact, that's in the 90th percentile. A lot of really famous names never made that 100-appearance threshold because national teams simply play more often than they used to. In addition, a lot of the names are for some national teams that don't get paid attention to and come from leagues that don't get widely followed. For example, six of the names come from the United Arab Emirates. Six more are from Latvia. There were some names I ought to have gotten, granted, but a lot of them you could have given me a million years and I wouldn't come up with them. In fact, only five names out of the entire list have been correctly identified by over half the people who've played. The all-time cap leader has been named only 10.8% of the time. Nobody has cracked 183, let alone gotten a perfect score.

Monday, January 27, 2014

That's So Chi

We are about 2 1/2 weeks out from the Opening Ceremony. On February 6, we will all see Sochi... well, the intent is always to introduce the host city to the world, show it off in the best possible light, all gleaming and shiny and don't you want to come here and spend money and be unusually receptive to the ideas of the local politicians?

The thing is, in this day and age, the host of the Olympics, and the World Cup for that matter, gets introduced fairly thoroughly throughout the course of the preparation process, beginning with the day they're awarded hosting duties. Immediately, a years-long process begins where people from all over the world pick the place apart, judging exactly how well their pre-existing infrastructure is put together with the aim of trying to guess how stadium and hotel construction is going to go, as well as public transportation to get people to the games. People will bring up any local laws that might reflect poorly on the area's ability to welcome the wide variety of cultures from around the globe that will be arriving not just to watch, but to compete. People will take note of any areas near host stadiums that they figure will probably be swept clear of poor people so the visitors don't see them, especially if the poor people are living in an area that's designated to house an actual as-yet-unbuilt stadium. People will see the lengths the organizers will go to in order to solve their problems, or failing that, to sweep them under the rug. And they can bring any of it up at any time they choose over the course of seven years in the case of the Olympics, and potentially even longer in the case of the World Cup, because it's never old news. It's far too much time to keep problems swept under the rug. By the time the event actually arrives, people know the deal with the place.

This close to the event, people can have a look at the place and get a pretty good idea of how ready the host is, because this is about the point where, if you're not ready, you basically have no choice but to admit that you're going to have to go without whatever it is that's not ready. This is the part where all you can really do between now and then is start adding whatever gloss will hide the ugly parts of town so it isn't shown live on global television.

Sounds like a perfect time to drop by Sochi. This photo gallery went up om about 23 hours ago. Another gallery that Miriam Elder posted on Buzzfeed in October concurs with the basic message: Sochi has spent some $51 billion (the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing cost $40 billion) on... what, exactly? Cracked and often outright missing sidewalks, massive amounts of Pardon-Our-Dust-style corrugated fences lining the streets behind which sit mountains of rubble and uncut lumber and not-even-remotely-close-to-finished buildings, ditches, bare fields where there ought to be grass, dirt spraypainted green to simulate grass, unpaved roads that are little more than mudholes, potholes, trash everywhere... and some isolated showpiece buildings that already have their gloss applied.

And there isn't a snowflake in sight.

Good luck with that "introduction" in a couple weeks, Sochi. You'll need it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Super Bowl Preview Substitute Video Thingy

As I remain in my bolding-the-hell-out-of-words personal hell, please enjoy the following video.

The Seattle Seahawks '12th Man' fanbase has twice this season set a Guinness world record for loudest outdoor stadium. The record originally lay with Turkish soccer club Galatasaray, who achieved 131.7 decibels in a match against Fenerbahce in 2011. The Seahawks took it in Week 2 against the 49ers, getting up to 131.9 and then 136.6 later on in the game. The Chiefs then took the record with 137.5 decibels against the Raiders in Week 6. The Seahawks then took the record back, just squeaking past the Chiefs with 137.6 decibels in Week 13 against the Saints, who in turn tried and failed in an attempt to set the loudest indoor stadium record, only getting to 122.6 against the Panthers in Week 16, short of the record of 126 set by the Sacramento Kings on November 16. (The Kings took the record from the Milwaukee Bucks, who in 2008 set out one random December night against the Clippers to set a whole mess of records and basically just invented the record, setting the mark to beat at a paltry 108.8 decibels, a mark that had already been topped in, for example, 1991 by the Chicago Bulls, except that Guinness wasn't there that day and they weren't even trying to set a record but they still hit 113, getting to 108 just singing the national anthem.)


The clip I have for you is of some Seahawks fans, specifically, players and coaches from the Seattle Youth Football League. They were invited into Fox Sports studios to watch the NFC Championship against the 49ers, and because the youth league was strapped for cash, needing new equipment and fields, they could earn $5,000 for the league just by watching the game.

The catch, because you know there is one: to get the money, they had to stay completely silent for the duration of the game.

I give you a clinic in how to torture a sports fan.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Bad Idea For A Lightning Rod

The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. Last week, the statue was hit by lightning and lost part of a finger, forcing repairs that began a few days ago. Being on top of a mountain and being the tallest thing around, the statue is a natural target for any passing lightning storm, and being made of concrete and soapstone as opposed to metal, the statue can take a beating from the accumulated strikes as well as high winds at altitude, thus necessitating periodic repairs like this one. This can happen even though the statue has a number of lightning rods on it in order to draw away some of the impact; more are to be added in this repair, slated to take about four months. The lightning rods are bundled up on the top of the head, but given that lightning strikes tend to hit the middle finger- as this one did- the middle finger is getting lightning rods now as well.

Spectacular pictures, though.

(Book update: "Hey, you know what I should do? Bold the names of the clubs at the top of the profiles so as to improve readability." *cue epic tedium working my way through the text and manually bolding little bits for hundreds and hundreds of pages*)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Veritable Font Of Disregard

Right now, what I'm doing is playing around with fonts. I need to pick one to use for the main text of the book, but then in addition to that, I also need a font for chapter headings and subheadings. The object of the main-text font is to look professional and get out of the way. You go through your bookshelf, and look not at the words, but the font. If you never notice what font it is, that's a good sign. If you're remarking on the font choice in any way, it was a poor choice.

Look through the books on your shelf- or on your e-reader, whatever- and you'll notice some trends. The first thing you'll note is that the bulk of the fonts are serif fonts, meaning there are little hangy bits at the top and bottom edges of the letters. The font you're reading now is a serif font.

Sans serif, such as this font right here, does not have those hangy bits. They tend to get used only for quirkier works. More common fonts in books are things like Garamond, Minion, Georgia, New Baskervilles, Modern, or Palatino Linotype. (Times New Roman is common chiefly among self-publishers, and because of that, it's associated with amateur writing. So you might want to actually avoid that one if you ever get around to writing a book.)

That's the main text. The rules for chapter headings and subheadings work a little differently. You don't want to get too crazy, but you have significantly more license to be showy if you choose. The type here, by rule, is going to be larger and bolder, so as to say 'hey, we're starting a new section of the book now'. But you still don't want people to pay too much attention to the font. If you want to be showy, that's okay, but the font choice still needs to be appropriate for the subject matter. The wingdings fonts still aren't going to work, and neither are a large number of fonts that are only suitable for logos or, sometimes, nothing but the sake of making a font.

For one example of 'font for the sake of font', I bring you what is probably the most ill-conceived font I have ever seen, and one that should probably elicit no further comment: "God Hates Westboro". A font that parodies Westboro Baptist Church protest signs. That is... a significant amount of effort that must have taken to... do that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sanka, You Dead?

The Olympics begin in a few weeks. Given my Kickstarter prep, I don't know how well I'll be able to adhere to what I did in Vancouver and London; that is, having some kind of Olympics content here every day of the Games. (But I'll try.) Sweden, as you might expect, will feature rather prominently as usual. One nation that won't, and never has, is Somalia. A handful of African nations can typically be seen these days at any given Winter Olympics with token representation. Togo and Zimbabwe are projected to make their winter debuts in Sochi, and over the years, Africa has previously sent delegations from Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland. None of them, of course, have ever won a medal.

Bandy is not an Olympic sport. For those of you who don't know what bandy is, and I imagine there's a lot of you, bandy is essentially soccer on ice: 11 players per side, playing on a soccer-pitch-sized rink, playing two halves of 45 minutes, competing to direct a ball into a large goal. The players are using hockey sticks (apart from the goalie, who's relying on his hands), with a ball small enough to be hit by a hockey stick. There are restarts similar to soccer's, with free... well, strokes, corner strokes, goal... well, goal throws, and the like. You've even got red cards and bandy's yellow-card equivalent, the blue card. Russia, Sweden and Finland dominate the sport, though Kazakhstan has also been in the mix since the Soviet breakup.

You might see where this is going by now, but just in case you haven't figured it out, I've got a Somali expat bandy team for you, based out of Sweden. They'll be competing in this year's Bandy World Championships in Irkutsk, Russia, which starts on Saturday and runs through February 2, five days prior to the Opening Ceremony.

Somalia will not win. That's not just due to the Cool Runnings factor, where few even expect them to score let alone win. They literally can't win. The way the tournament is structured, the 17 participating teams are split into two divisions, Division A and Division B. Division A is the only one a champion can come from; Division B is playing for promotion into next year's Division A. Final rankings are sorted by division first and performance second. The divisions can get shuffled a bit from year to year depending on how many countries enter a team, but the divisions are sorted out based on what happened the previous year, with the top team from a lower division swapping places with the bottom team from the division above. This year, it's eight teams in Division A, the top eight from last year (Belarus, Canada, Finland, Kazakhstan, Norway, Sweden, Russia, United States), and nine in Division B (Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Somalia, Ukraine). The teams are further divided into groups for the first round, also based on previous performance... but not with seeding, like you'd think would happen. Instead, the top teams- Finland, Kazakhstan, Norway and Russia- are all thrown into the same group together, with the other groups sorted out likewise.

All of that means Somalia, in exchange for not being eligible to win, will at least be grouped alongside the weakest other teams in the field. They're still not expected to do anything but be a human-interest story.

And here's that human-interest story, from Sarah Crompton of the Telegraph, who was so caught up in the human-interest part (they only learned to skate a couple months ago, how charming!) that she missed the fact that there are 17 competing nations, not 15. Another such story, in video form, comes courtesy of Cia Silver for Journeyman Pictures.

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Net Gains

God, these article titles are getting cornier by the day, I swear.

Back in April 2012, I was talking about space junk, and how its steady rise in quantity was eventually parodied/prophesied/something or other by the movie WALL-E. I was also mentioning that nobody had quite figured out how to get all that junk back down again, with the best anyone could come up with being to send it even further up in a 'graveyard orbit', which just kicks the can down the road. As such, ideas were being tossed around, but nothing really beyond the drawing board. The issues are: how are you going to pick up the junk, how are you going to do it without accidentally making more junk, and how are you going to get the retrieval device back down.

We're almost two years further down the road now, and it appears that JAXA, Japan's space agency, has something that they're prepared to go ahead and do a test launch for come late next month. The idea is, they have a satellite towing a tether, 300 meters long and about one meter thick. Behind that tether is a net with a magnetic charge, which is supposed to attract the usually-metal junk. When the net fills up enough, the satellite will be instructed to haul the whole mess down into the atmosphere, where it's all supposed to burn up on re-entry.

Is it going to work? Who knows. That's what experiments are for. But this is a small net, as far as we're speaking. If it does go well, JAXA is prepared to send up larger nets that can bring in bigger junk, including eventually rocket parts.

The main risk as far as 'accidentally making more junk' would essentially be either something smacking into the satellite, or far more likely, something smacking into some other something that the net had already collected, smashing one or the other (although hopefully those new bits of junk would become attached themselves). But then, that was kind of happening anyway.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Abracadabra, You're A Cadaver

You hear about shortages of a lot of things, or pending shortages, every once in a while. Oil. Water. Runs on ammunition. Helium shortages. Whatever crop has had a particularly bad growing season. Whatever the hot toy is this holiday. Demand gets too high or supply gets too low, that's what happens to anything.

Today I present to you a shortage of cadavers. We're not just talking about organ donors here, though that is part of it. We're also talking medical students, certified doctors who need to keep up their training, This isn't new; it's been a rather chronic thing for quite some years now.

Now, you'd think, at first thought, that cadavers wouldn't be in short supply. After all, people keep dying all the time. But it isn't that simple. For most people, they have the funeral or the cremation straightaway and that's the end of it; many people and some entire cultures revere the body and don't want it chopped up in any way other than for ceremonial disposal. Other bodies get mangled too badly in their deaths to be able to use. Others get too riddled with disease to use; obviously it had to have been something that caused the person to die, but to be usable as a cadaver, it can't have overtaken too much of the body, which tends to rule out your particularly nasty infection victims. The person also must have been in relatively good health beforehand, which rules out the elderly and the obese. You can see the candidate count dropping even before we get into the issue of people willing to donate a body, or the fact that another major source- unclaimed bodies- is drying up as well, because more bodies are getting claimed these days. (And in, for example, India, even the unclaimed bodies are off-limits.)

That's your lack of supply. It's being met with a rise in demand, because not only are more people attending medical school, but more programs are using cadavers than before. So with a lack of bodies, the medical community is forced to either find a way to shore up the numbers, or else find an alternative and do without. The latter way has workarounds- virtual cadavers, for instance, or reusable mannequins- but there's no true substitute for an actual body. So the former method- getting more bodies- is explored, and for that, you can either ask people to consider that option in their wills, or if that's not fast enough a method, you're left paying for the funeral/cremation of someone who's otherwise too poor to handle those expenses themselves, a legal workaround to paying for a body directly, which you can't do.

What's the solution to this, you ask? That pretty much is the solution; get more people to make their bodies available. The med schools might be able to pay for more donor funerals if money was going to that part of the school instead of, say, the athletic program. Hint, hint.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hell Is Other Brand Names

I don't typically talk about my day job very much around here. I try not to. My day job, in case you don't know, is that I work at Walmart. Until recently, I was unloading trucks; I'm now doing something a little less rough on my knees, grabbing stuff out of the back and stocking stuff that runs out on the shelves. Generally not much to discuss there from day to day; most shifts tend to blend into each other in my head. But something I noticed sitting on the shelves not long ago took me a little by surprise.

Hell's Kitchen-brand no-bake creme brulee kits, coming in vanilla and coffee flavors. Here's the press release from September announcing it, and here's a picture of the bag:



Now, the kits themselves, I can't speak to personally. I've never had creme brulee, I don't know what a good one's supposed to taste like, and I'm not really about to go start now just so I can test this out... though poking around, I'm seeing decidedly mixed reviews (the consensus is easy to make, very rich, bland topping, tastes halfway decent but probably wouldn't buy again, especially given the calories). And I'm certainly not going to start slagging Gordon Ramsay or anything.

What I will slag is the marketing choice: specifically, the choice to market it as a Hell's Kitchen kit. Gordon Ramsay has pedigree. We all know that guy can cook. He even has another show you can choose, Masterchef, that might speak better about the quality. Masterchef gets some pretty good talent through the doors. Hell's Kitchen, meanwhile... people, we know Hell's Kitchen's legacy to television and food by now. That show is not a competition to find the next great chef. That show is a public service announcement, exposing crap cooks who think they're hot shit so that nobody will unknowingly subject themselves to restaurants containing them ever again.

Or let me put it another way. This is Hell's Kitchen's legacy, condensed into 57 minutes.

And when you go to Hell's Kitchen, as a diner, you don't go with the expectation of getting fed, especially if it's the first service of the season. You go for the floor show, and maybe along the way you get the food as a bonus. There's a reason the diners can see inside that kitchen.

Of course, given the reviews given so far to the kit, maybe that's why they decided to label it a Hell's Kitchen kit. One reviewer noted the lack of Gordon's name on it; figuring maybe Gordon tried it, didn't want anything to do with it, and then the execs decided to press ahead just using the show's name. I wouldn't be all that surprised if the reviewer had it dead-on.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Smoking: Still Bad

Smoking. Bad. We should be well acquainted with that little tidbit of knowledge by now, and if we're not, what the hell is wrong with you unless you just stepped out of a time machine from the 1950's, and in case you did... er, first, this thing you're looking at is like that UNIVAC thing you've heard about, but it's a whole lot faster and smaller and you can actually interact with other people by using that typewriter-like device in front of you; second, we have a thing called Wikipedia that you can use, on this device, that makes those dozens of encyclopedias in your house obsolete (for example, here's the entry for UNIVAC); and third, bad news about that habit of yours.

Anyway, for those of you who haven't used a time machine to get here, what you're already familiar with is that smoking causes lung cancer. You know that part. You probably also know about the link to heart attacks, birth defects, and if you watched one of those disturbing anti-smoking commercials, strokes. Mouth cancer too if you're one of those people that use chewing tobacco and if you are, really?

Well, acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak has come out with a new report that will officially be released sometime after I wake up in the morning but of course it's been given over to the major media outlets first, and from what they're getting from it, we can seemingly add type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, macular degeneration, and erectile dysfunction to the list, as well as adding cleft palates to the list of birth defects. I don't even think I got everything they're mentioning. (There's also a mentioning of worsening asthma, which, doy.)

Now let's be clear, of course, that once the report actually hits later today, we'll want to give the thing a good thumb-over so as to get the specifics; once it does drop, I'd imagine it will go to the top of the list of reports here. (It isn't the one marking the 50th anniversary of the original report.) There are also some decent amounts of uncertainty yet regarding some of the links- though given the history of linking smoking to various diseases to this point, it's pretty damn likely to be guilty of anything it's accused of. But, uh, yeah. That's a honker of a list they got.

Just in case you have a cigarette in your mouth right now, let's reiterate part of that for the men in the audience: it makes your pee-pee not work. If you buy fewer cigarettes, you'll have to buy less Viagra.

Put the cigarette out so the cigarette doesn't put your pee-pee out.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rapid-Fire Book Club: Wait, I'm Seriously Doing This Two Days In A Row? Edition

Apparently I am. You see, since my birthday falls on a work day, we opted to have the birthday party today. Of course, a birthday doesn't have quite the present quantity as Christmas does, particularly when your birthday comes less than a month after Christmas, as mine does. Typically, what happens with me is a present or two from my Christmas list gets held over for my birthday, and this year was no exception... because the present in question was late in shipping. Because it didn't make it in time for Christmas, hey, might as well hold it over.

The present, of course, is a book: Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot by Steve Menary. Because more soccer books. More, I say. More!

The idea here is, FIFA has more members than the United Nations. However, the idea of being a national entity is kind of murky. When you get right down to it, being a country comes down largely to getting everyone else to agree with you that you're a country. Most of the places we hear about, their status as a nation isn't really in question. The United States is a country, France is a country, Germany is a country, Japan is a country, and so on. But work your way far enough down the list, and eventually you're going to reach some places where you go '...well... I don't know...', if not a flat no. If I asked you whether, for instance, Hong Kong is a country, I'd wager some of you would have to think about that one at least a little bit. And it might not be a reflexive answer over the status of Guam, or Gibraltar, or Somalia either. At some point, though, international organizations such as the UN, or FIFA, have to come down with either a yes or a no. You're either in or you're not. Some places get in everywhere, others don't get in anywhere, and others get into some places but not others. You might be in FIFA but not the UN (ex. the Faroe Islands, Anguilla); you might be in the UN but not FIFA (ex. Vatican City, Monaco). For places sitting along that fringe, getting that recognition is a big deal- the more recognition, the better. Any organization will do.

Outcasts! concerns itself with places where FIFA, at least, has come down as a no, or at least places that haven't made much of an effort to become part of FIFA for whatever reason. Greenland, for example, or Tibet, or Northern Cyprus. Or Kosovo, which is actually happy that FIFA has just a few days ago permitted them to begin playing friendly matches against FIFA-affiliated clubs and countries on condition that they not fly their flag or national livery, play their national anthem, or play anyone from the former Yugoslavia. They just want to play. They want that recognition. They want that respect.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Cabin Fever Edition

Between bouts of snow, I ran into Madison today for my latest book run. It wasn't a long bookstore crawl, as I ended up having to beat the second run of snow home, but three books came out of the trip:

*Scott, Henry E.- Shocking True Story: The Rise And Fall Of Confidential, "America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine"
*van Bergeijk, Jeroen- My Mercedes Is Not For Sale: From Amsterdam To Ouagadougou... An Auto-Misadventure Across The Sahara
*Wilson, Jonathan- Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Soccer Tactics

Because it's never too late to keep plugging stuff into my soccer book. (Well, until the day it gets sent off to the publisher, but that's another matter.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Some People Out There In Our Nation Don't Have Maps

I think it's time for a Sporcle quiz. Simple, really, I'm only going to ask you for 20 countries, and you'll have 8 minutes to place them on a map. Generous time limit.

Oh, yes, one little thing. There's not actually a map. There are dots noting the location of Juneau, Alaska and Wellington, New Zealand; 20 other dots, and you have to say what countries those dots would be in if there was actually a map to look at.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Internal Programming Note: Kickstarter Ahoy

I've mentioned a couple times that I've been working on a book revolving around adopting a club soccer team. The plan has been, naturally, to go find a publisher for it. Unfortunately, that didn't quite work out the way I'd hoped; it seems that the people we'd shopped it around to are too concerned about the amount of time I focus on places other than Major League Soccer or the English Premier League, the leagues that they feel safe selling in America. They don't know if there's an audience there. They're not sure.

Well, I take that as a challenge. Plan B is to go find that audience via Kickstarter. My intent is to put together a campaign, convince everyone in the whole wide world to give me money (or at least enough people in the whole wide world to hit the all-important ask number), and then use that money to cover the costs of getting an editor and a cover designer and printing it off and shipping and the whole rewards/stretch goals dealie, all that good stuff. (Fingers crossed on me doing well enough to hit stretch goals.)

I feel I should let you know about that now, even though actually starting the campaign is still some time away, because that is going to be my chief creative concern over and above everything else. If there are a couple more off days than usual around here, it's likely because I'm setting up the campaign, and of course, once the campaign actually gets underway, the bulk of programming around here is likely to revolve around campaign status updates because I'm basically going to have one month to raise the funds once the clock starts and that is it. That is going to be hugely super important to me.

So, set aside all of your money, because I will need to relieve you of it at some point not all that far off in the distance. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Men Aren't Becoming Extinct; What Am I Even Reading

What in the world is on my wires right now.

Okay. So there's this bit of news, I'm seeing it in the Huffington Post, concerning the Y chromosome, the gene that makes you a male at birth. (Remember, XX chromosomes mean female; XY means male.) Over the course of a couple hundred million years, the Y chromosome has shed bits of DNA, eventually taking it from a size on par with the X to about a tenth of the same size. This has led some people to worry that the other tenth will shrivel away as well, thus meaning there won't be men anymore. The HuffPo article notes that, don't worry, folks, we think the Y is done shrinking.

First off, let us note that this is not a new worry. The New York Times made a similar commentary two years ago, and says this worry has been around for quite a while.

Second... what in the world is wrong with you people. I've heard of inbreeding. I've heard of dead-end hybrid animals, such as mules, offspring of a male donkey and female horse, which reproduce so rarely that a lot of people go about their lives believing them to be sterile (and the males may in fact be sterile). I've heard of species proving to be poor fits for a changed environment. I've even heard of a species self-destructing, as may end up being the case for the kakapo, a bird that once upon a time was able to fly but can't anymore but still thinks it's able to fly and you can guess how endangered the species is. But I have never heard of a species breeding away one of its genders. I'm not even sure that's possible. Even if the Y chromosome did go away- which happened in the case of a couple species of Okinawa spiny rat- what happened there is another gene took over to become the new differentiator between male and female and the rat kept on keeping on.

No, concerned people. Males aren't going to go away. There isn't some heretofore-unknown piece of genetic code hiding somewhere inside of you that's all of a sudden going to activate and take away your penis and replace it with a vagina. Or whatever it is you're worrying about. Probably some version of that, because I sure as hell haven't seen anyone worrying about, oh, say, the survival of the species because there's only one gender left. It's pretty much all been OH NOES MY MANHOODS. For Pete's sake. You whipped your genes out and the girls' is bigger. Get over it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Very Last Book I Expected To Be Popular On The E-Book Market

Mein Kampf. As in, the Hitler book. People are buying it on the iTunes bookstore, in large quantities, and by all accounts, most of these people are not neo-Nazis.

So let's just jump right to the obvious question: why? Why in the hell? The thought, according to several people commenting on the matter and which seems to make sense to other people commenting on the matter, is basically this: Who among us has actually read the damn thing? Very few. And most of us would like very much to keep it that way, and in fact encourage others to keep it that way, because unless you're a professional historian, best not to give Hitler any more of a platform, and besides, he sucked at writing.

But there are others for whom the curiosity gets to be too much. They, for whatever reason- research; a hate-read (the way you'd hate-watch a bad TV show); the 'those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it' principle; the simple fact that it's a historically important book, albeit in a very different way from the likes of Uncle Tom's Cabin or Huckleberry Finn- decide that they need to at least have a look. But they can't exactly go down to their local bookstore and say "I would like your finest copy of Mein Kampf, garcon", because first, that is language you would use in a restaurant, second, the waiter would dump hot gravy into your lap for being so pretentious, and third, the bookstore clerk would dump hot gravy into your lap because you just tried to buy a copy of Mein Kampf. Nor would a library be particularly keen on carrying a copy either. And good luck trying to read it in the break room at work.

So how do you read a copy of Mein Kampf when it isn't socially acceptable to obtain one in public? You buy an e-book, where nobody's going to see you buying it or reading it. Of course, this raises another issue: you spend money on it. Even though there are versions available for free. Which means someone else makes money off of it, even if only about a buck and a half a pop.

People, if you for some reason feel it's necessary to read the thing, that's one matter. I'm not exactly approving- there is the occasional book throughout history that I think might be best left to rot, and Mein Kampf is among them- but if you have your reasons, as long as they're not horrible and racist, you have your reasons. But for the love of all that's holy, don't go creating a market for it. Let's try and draw the line somewhere ahead of the point where we're making a market for Nazi paraphernalia. That's just creepy.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Hall of Very Good, 2014 Edition

Earlier today, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were inducted to the Hall of Fame, joining Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox. Craig Biggio missed enshrinement by two votes. Rafael Palmeiro finished below the 5% threshold to remain on the ballot. Sammy Sosa only got 7.2% of the vote and may well join Palmeiro on the sidelines next year as another deep class arrives. Don Mattingly barely stayed on, gaining only 8.2% in his 14th of 15 years on the ballot; if he gets in next year, I will eat my own face.

Biggio becomes the lead name in an annual posting of the people who are on the outside looking in, the Hall of Very Good. Only he and Mike Piazza set personal bests among the holdovers; everyone else finished some degree off their highs. Piazza, in his rise, crossed the Gil Hodges Line of 60.1%, Hodges' high-water mark, where everyone who's gotten above it has eventually been enshrined. Jack Morris, who has also previously crossed it, fell off the ballot due to the 15-year limit, but most think he shouldn't have to wait too long for the Veterans Committee to mop up. If he waits too long, though, we may have to move it to 67.7% and call it the Jack Morris Line.

Torre is the only member of the Hall of Very Good to graduate out of it this year. The rest, and their new brethren, are shown below. This is a list of all those who have achieved a high-water mark of at least 1.0% without getting enshrined on either the BBWAA ballot or the 1936 Veterans' Committee ballot, which worked the same way. Players in bold appeared on this year's ballot. (Those who didn't make the 1% mark: Luis Gonzalez got five votes worth 0.9%, Eric Gagne and J.T. Snow got two votes worth 0.4%, and Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones and Kenny Rogers got one vote each, worth 0.2%. Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Todd Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Richie Sexson and Mike Timlin got no votes.)

74.8 Craig Biggio
67.7 Jack Morris
62.2 Mike Piazza

60.1 Gil Hodges
59.6 Jeff Bagwell
52.2 Tim Raines
50.6 Lee Smith

47.3 Tony Oliva
43.1 Roger Maris
42.6 Steve Garvey
40.6 Maury Wills
40.0 Marty Marion
39.3 Harvey Kuenn
38.8 Curt Schilling
37.6 Roger Clemens
36.8 Alan Trammell
36.5 Edgar Martinez
36.2 Barry Bonds

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
23.9 Fred McGriff
23.7 Bucky Walters
23.7 Mark McGwire
23.2 Dale Murphy
23.2 Lew Burdette
22.9 Larry Walker
21.1 Minnie Minoso
20.7 Elston Howard
20.7 Tommy Henrich
20.3 Mike Mussina
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
15.2 Jeff Kent
14.4 Ted Kluszewski
14.4 Walker Cooper
13.7 Babe Adams
13.5 Duffy Lewis
13.1 Sparky Lyle
12.8 Curt Flood
12.6 Rafael Palmeiro
12.5 Sammy Sosa

12.3 Don Larsen
11.7 Terry Moore
11.3 Dom DiMaggio
11.2 Orel Hershiser
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
9.6 Bernie Williams
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 Kenny Lofton
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 Sandy Alomar Jr.
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
1.9 Bullet Joe Bush
1.9 Moe Berg
1.9 Max Bishop
1.9 Wally Moses
1.9 Will White
1.9 Billy Pierce
1.9 Jim Perry
1.9 Paul Blair
1.9 Ron Cey
1.8 Al Schacht
1.8 Dutch Leonard
1.8 Dick Groat
1.8 Rick Sutcliffe
1.7 Jack Coombs
1.7 Ossie Bluege
1.7 Jim Hegan
1.7 Gil McDougald
1.7 Buddy Bell
1.7 Darrell Evans
1.7 Lance Parrish
1.6 Norm Cash
1.6 J.R. Richard
1.5 Roger Peckinpaugh
1.5 Larry Doyle
1.5 Bill Donovan
1.5 George Burns
1.5 Cookie Lavagetto
1.5 Urban Shocker
1.5 Dolph Camilli
1.5 George Uhle
1.5 Hal White
1.5 Riggs Stephenson
1.5 Ellis Kinder
1.5 Mike Marshall
1.5 Jack Clark
1.4 Carl Furillo
1.4 Vic Wertz
1.4 Frank Howard
1.4 Ron Perranoski
1.4 Tug McGraw
1.4 Darryl Kile
1.4 Dave Stieb
1.3 George Van Haltren
1.3 Arlie Latham
1.3 Bill Dahlen
1.3 Charlie Pabor
1.3 Joe Battin
1.3 Lip Pike
1.3 Jimmy McAleer
1.3 Matt Kilroy
1.3 Jack Remsen
1.3 Tommy Bond
1.3 Jack Doyle
1.3 Hardy Richardson
1.3 Cal McVey
1.3 Doug Allison
1.3 Jake Daubert
1.3 Eddie Grant
1.3 Billy Jurges
1.3 Red Lucas
1.3 Charlie Gelbert
1.3 Whitey Lockman
1.3 Grady Hatton
1.3 Hank Sauer
1.3 Curt Simmons
1.3 Matty Alou
1.3 Boog Powell
1.3 Joe Niekro
1.3 Kent Tekulve
1.3 Pedro Guerrero
1.3 Bret Saberhagen
1.3 Matt Williams
1.3 Robin Ventura
1.2 Gavvy Cravath
1.2 Terry Turner
1.2 Tommy Thevenow
1.2 Lew Fonseca
1.2 Fielder Jones
1.2 Firpo Marberry
1.2 Milt Pappas
1.2 Tommy Davis
1.2 Ken Holtzman
1.2 George Bell
1.2 Tom Henke
1.2 Darryl Strawberry
1.1 Jack Barry
1.1 Tony Cuccinello
1.1 Willie Kamm
1.1 Frankie Gustine
1.1 Billy Werber
1.1 Charlie Berry
1.1 Mort Cooper
1.1 Bill Doak
1.1 Mike Gonzalez
1.1 Luke Sewell
1.1 Red Kress
1.1 Eddie Stanky
1.1 Jackie Jensen
1.1 Roy Sievers
1.1 Eddie Lopat
1.1 Willie Randolph
1.1 Jose Canseco
1.1 Mo Vaughn
1.1 Julio Franco
1.1 Moises Alou
1.1 Hideo Nomo

1.0 Hans Lobert
1.0 Marty Bergen
1.0 Ping Bodie
1.0 Ossee Schrecongost
1.0 Sherry Magee
1.0 Harry Davis
1.0 Shoeless Joe Jackson
1.0 Donie Bush
1.0 Jim Tobin
1.0 Guy Bush
1.0 Hughie Critz
1.0 George Case
1.0 Art Houtteman
1.0 Wes Westrum
1.0 Del Ennis
1.0 Augie Galan
1.0 Jim Fregosi
1.0 Kent Hrbek
1.0 Ozzie Guillen
1.0 Hal Morris
1.0 Tino Martinez
1.0 Vinny Castilla

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This House Would Get Its Ass Handed To It

You're familiar, I presume, with the fact that high schools and colleges commonly have debate teams. There's a set topic, often assigned viewpoints (as in, you have to argue for a certain side even if you don't agree with it), a structured ruleset, time limits, judges, a winner and a loser. You're definitely familiar with Presidential debates (and debates for smaller offices), which in theory are similar to those but in practice are filled with behaviors that would get a debate team laughed off the stage, topics that attract little or no dissent between the candidates, and the only real way a winner is declared is on Election Day.

In competitive debate, the highest level of competition... well, really it's the debates for public office, but other than that, the highest competition judging pure debating skills is the World Universities Debating Championships, held since 1981. The 2014 edition concluded on Saturday in Chennai, India. Debates here use what's called the British Parliamentary style, using four two-person teams, and with the topic (often one relevant to the host nation) expressed as a 'motion' which one side, two teams acting as the 'government', is arguing in favor of, and the other side, the other two teams as 'opposition', is arguing against. The way it works is, in short, each of the eight debaters has seven minutes to make their assigned case as best they can, given only 15 minutes of prep time beforehand. Things are ordered so that the first member of each team goes, and then the second member of each team goes. Throughout the debate, each side tries to trip up the other as well as establish and maintain their own relevance by demanding 'points of information', which in colloquial terms might be akin to this:

In addition to the main (or 'open' competition, there are separate competitions encompassing English as a second language, English as a foreign language, public speaking, 'masters' (aka the judges, competing as national teams), and there's even a stand-up comedy competition, which I imagine isn't exactly the Laugh Factory but hey. Team competitions also hand out awards for best individual speaker.

This year, the open competition was won by Josh Zoffer and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard (USA), who in the final defeated teams from the University of Sydney (Australia), University of Glasgow (UK), and Cambridge (UK). Elle Jones of the Sydney squad won Best Speaker. The topic of the quarterfinal, for those of you that want to play along, was "This House would auction off the long-term right to govern bankrupt cities for profit." The topic of the semifinal was "This House believes that women should reject practices that alter the appearance of their genitalia, such as waxing and labiaplasty." The topic of the final was "This House believes that India should adopt aggressive free market policies", with Zoffer and Sprung-Keyser being assigned the Government role.

The English-as-second-language competition was won by Dessislava Kirova and Kai Dittman of Berlin Debating Union (Germany), defeating teams from  with Mubarrat Wassey of International Islamic University (Malaysia) winning Best Speaker. The topic of the quarterfinal was "This House would remove all copyright protection for material deemed to be morally objectionable." The topic of the semifinal was "This House believes that Pope Francis should publicly encourage Catholics to support radically redistributive government policies." The topic of the final was "This House would allow countries to pay other countries to settle asylum-seekers at their borders."

The English-as-foreign-language competition was won by Vicario Reinaldo and Fauzan Reza Maulana of Institut Teknologi Bandung (Indonesia), with Helena Ivanova of the University of Belgrade (Serbia) winning Best Speaker. The topic of the semifinal was "This House believes that the gay rights movement should abandon the claim that sexuality is not a choice." The topic of the final was "This House believes that multinational companies should be liable for any human rights abuses that occur anywhere in their supply chain."

The other topics from throughout the tournament, as well as previous tournaments, can be found here. Some selected topics:

PRELIMINARY ROUND 1: "This House believes that the United States of America should fund moderate Madrassas (schools of Islamic study) throughout the Islamic world."
PRELIMINARY ROUND 2: " This House would allow first-time offenders to, with the consent of the victims, pay compensation to them in place of a prison sentence."
PRELIMINARY ROUND 8: "This House believes that NATO should unconditionally offer membership to the states of the former Soviet Union, excluding Russia."
OPEN COMPETITION, OCTOFINAL (the round before the quarterfinal): "This House believes that Japan should shame its soldiers who participated in WWII, including those who did not commit war crimes themselves."
MASTERS ROUND 1: This House believes that the feminist movement should actively fight to liberate men from their prescribed gender roles."
MASTERS ROUND 2: "This House would redraw the borders of Africa."
MASTERS FINALS: "This House would never categorize people on their race."

Do remember the challenge here regarding, in particular, that last one: you are assigned your side, and you must argue it regardless of your personal belief. The side given the Opposition was made to argue that you should categorize on race no matter how abhorrent they think that is, and they are judged on how well they do it. This kind of topic does come up every so often, where in reality the debate ought to be a curbstomp. The Dublin 2006 open final, for instance, had the topic "This House would abolish all laws prohibiting cruelty to animals." If an actual government tried to sneak that one through, there'd be an international outcry and rightly so. The task in competitive debate is remembering that that isn't the point.

So let me give you some other topics from the archive that meet that criteria. If you were a competitive debater, sooner or later, you would have to make a potentially uncomfortable argument regarding the following.

GABORONE 2011, PRELIMINARY ROUND 2: "This House believes that all states have a right to nuclear weapons."
GABORONE 2011, OPEN OCTOFINAL: This House would buy countries' votes in international organizations."
KOC (Turkey) 2010, ENGLISH-AS-SECOND-LANGUAGE QUARTERFINALS: "This House would ban any scheme intended to cure homosexuality."
CORK 2009, PRELIMINARY ROUND 9: " This House would ban the publication of political opinion polls."
CORK 2009, ENGLISH-AS-FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FINAL: "This House would prohibit all private health care."
BANGKOK 2008, PRELIMINARY ROUND 1: "This House would allow the use of torture."
BANGKOK 2008, PRELIMINARY ROUND 7: "This House would assassinate Vladimir Putin."
SINGAPORE 2004, PRELIMINARY ROUND 2: "This House supports all forms of child labor."
SINGAPORE 2004, OPEN QUARTERFINAL: "This House believes parents should cast proxy votes for their children."
SYDNEY 2000, MASTERS ROUND 1: "This House would club baby seals."

Well. Go on, Government. Tell me why you would club a baby seal. You've got 15 minutes to prep.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Utah Gay Marriage Update

Remember how I said on Christmas Eve that the Supreme Court wasn't a fast option for Republicans who wished to halt gay marriages in Utah?

Two weeks is quite fast indeed and I should never say things again about things that might happen in the future because THEY WILL ALWAYS BE DIFFERENT THINGS THAN WHAT I SAY THEY'LL BE WHY DO I NEVER LEARN THIS.

Maps, Maps For All

One of your more strangely fun blogs out there is the Strange Maps blog at Big Think. Strange Maps collects, well, strange maps, which show something or other in an unusual way. I highly recommend it for at least a couple binge sessions.

In fact, while I thaw out from my latest bout of awful winter weather that caused my car window to roll down and then not want to roll back up again aaaaaaaaaaagh, I'm gonna have you binge right now.

*Map #334 advertises The Atlas Of True Names, in which geographical locations are traced back to their etymological roots, and renamed as such.
*Map #398 is a map of the Golden Gate Bridge, showing the number of suicides that took place at each location along the bridge from its opening until the time of posting in 2009. The bridge is the world's most popular spot for suicide attempts.
*Map #490, posted in 2010, showed what would happen if countries were rearranged in such a way that the country with the largest population were moved to the largest country in size, the second-largest population were moved to the second-largest country, and so on. So the population of China would be moved into Russia's land, for instance. The United States, at least at that time, didn't actually have to relocate. (Neither did Brazil, Yemen or Ireland.)
*Map #522 is one put together in 2011 by MIT and IBM, showing America split into zones within which people were more likely to call someone within that zone than someone outside of it.
*Map #553 is the map of John Steinbeck's route for the book Travels With Charley, compared with map #90, Jack Kerouac's route for his book, On The Road.
*Map #578 is a layout of Disney's infamous It's A Small World ride, showing what nations and regions and stereotypical cultural elements are placed at what sections of the ride.
*Map #614 is a map of the world, depicted in terms of human tissue: specifically, the human tissue most closely associated with each region's most common cause of death.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


This is the Tupolev ANT-20. Introduced in 1934 and retired in 1942, the ANT-20, better known as the Maxim Gorky (named after a writer celebrated by the Communist Party; Joseph Stalin himself served as pallbearer during his funeral), was an eight-engine Soviet aircraft, the largest of its day, with a wingspan of 63 meters (a modern Boeing 747 has a 64-meter wingspan). Its purpose, as was the case with so many Communist megastructures, was pure propaganda: to be a massive, in-your-face statement of Stalinist-era Soviet power. Look at this huge-ass plane we've got. Aren't you impressed?

No, because its top speed was 171 mph. A 747 can get north of 600 mph. (More era-specific, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the plane that bombed Pearl Harbor, could do 331 mph.)

The Maxim Gorky's task was basically to fly around and about Soviet airspace looking impressive, and was decked out with all sorts of media resources to make sure everybody knew how impressive it was, including a radio station, a printing office, a movie theater, a photo lab, and a loudspeaker called the "voice from heaven" that could communicate with people on the ground. As it flew, the Gorky was accompanied on either side by a couple tiny little biplanes, who were there so everybody could look at the Gorky, then look at the biplanes, and go 'Wow, look at that huge-ass plane they've got. We're impressed!'

As one of the biplane pilots, your orders were simple: just fly alongside the Gorky and don't draw any attention to yourself aside from your comparative tininess.

And they all did and we have nothing further to talk about. Of course someone drew attention to himself.

On May 18, 1935, a man named Ivan Blagin was manning one of the biplanes as the Gorky flew over Moscow. (Some sources have him named Nikolai, but it appears Ivan's the name to go with.) There's little out there about Blagin, and that's exactly the way the Soviets wanted it, because Blagin, who was clearly a bit of a showboat, decided that the day was instead about him. He decided he'd try and impress the crowd himself by doing aerial stunts, namely, loops around the Gorky. This despite explicit orders not to attempt stunts.

Blagin succeeded in doing something spectacular. Unfortunately, this was because Blagin slammed right into the Gorky, which promptly spun out of control, cracked up, and crashed in several pieces into a residential area not far from the aerodrome. 48 people died in the crash, Blagin among them.

47 urns were laid in state two days later. It should not take much guessing to figure out which of the dead was not among them. The place in the cemetery in which they were laid to rest not only memorialized the victims, the Gorky, and the crash, it also went out of its way to condemn Blagin. State officials went so far as to coin a new word- 'Blaginism'- which meant exhibitionism unbecoming of a Communist Soviet. And then some months later, an obviously forged "last will and testament" from Blagin was published, in which whoever it was that actually wrote it claimed, "Tomorrow I will fly my winged machine and ram it into the airplane which bears the name of the scoundrel Maxim Gorky. In this manner I will kill dozens of Communists."

Plans were made to build four more planes just like it, though in the end they only built one, the Maxim Gorky II. Without the hoopla, it was relegated to the role of civilian transport until its retirement in 1942. And by retirement I mean it crashed due to pilot error.

How fitting.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Soundpack Joyride

You ever watch some piece of fiction, TV, movie, cartoon, whatever, where someone revs up an amp- or several amps- hooks an electric guitar up, and then unleashes a soundwave that physically throws people backward?

The first thing we should establish today is that there is proof of concept of such a thing. Obviously, not to that extent, but it is possible to not only move objects with sound, but make them float. The process is called, logically enough, acoustic levitation. HowStuffWorks has a detailed overview of the process, and I'm not going to even claim to be able to break down the full process in anything but baby terms. But in short... you've heard of soundwaves, right? Soundwaves are a form of force, if relatively weak. They're a pressure wave. They move air. By sending out a series of such waves, of the proper frequency, aimed and reflected and timed juuuuuuuust right, you can get an object airborne and floating. The key is what's called a standing wave, which is a wave with points that remain stationary, such as a string instrument, or a jump rope such as this one:

The stationary parts of the wave are the parts where you can levitate an object. Scientists have been experimenting with this for some time now; Louis V. King of McGill University seems to be the first to have dealt with the topic as far back as 1934 with his paper "On the Acoustic Radiation Pressure on Spheres". Right now the applications are lacking in the commercial realm- current usefulness is largely industrial, scientific, medical- but with enough time, with enough enhancement, you figure out what you might want to do with something that uses sound to levitate. You've probably come up with about three or four awesome things off the top of your head.

The news over the wires right now is that there's been an evolution in the capability. Up until now, scientists have only been able to lift an item (and at a limit of a couple kilograms; again, soundwaves don't have a lot of lift to them), through pointing all the speakers in one direction. A team at the University of Tokyo has given things a third dimension through having four speakers surrounding an area: in addition to lift, they can now get an object to move, and stop, and move again.

As you can see here:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Burying Your Mistakes

Today is a lesson in mistakes. Our lesson is very simple: when you make a mistake- and you will make mistakes in your life- it is in your best interest to catch it and correct it as quickly as possible. Mistakes can compound if not caught, and they can snowball and snowball into larger and larger mistakes.

I presume you know by now there is an example attached, and I shall not disappoint you. The initial mistake occurred in a cemetery and I can already see you burying your face in your hands going 'oh no' because the cemetery is not the optimal place to make a mistake in the first place. You are probably, though, expecting something like 'they buried the wrong person'. No, all the right people got buried. There wasn't a funeral that had to be stopped or anything.

What did happen was that, in 1968 at a funeral in Elkton, Kentucky, they buried someone in the wrong plot. For some, that isn't a big deal, but people do make requests to be buried in particular places in a cemetery, such as near other members of their family. Nobody caught this initial error, and over the years, 11 other people who died were in turn buried one row off. In 2010, they began using a computer to map out their plots- until then they'd been pacing it out by foot- and found the error. At either one end or the other- I can't figure out which- sits the plot of Sherrie Fischer, who isn't dead yet, but who would like to be buried near her parents. Sherrie's plot is occupied by someone else. Given that it is, after all, her plot, the result is that there's nothing to do except dig up the person in her plot and move them to the correct plot... which is occupied by another someone else, and on down the line for 11 plots.

The families of the people in those plots, according to the article, might be attempting to work something out amongst each other to where they don't all have to get moved, because I should not have to tell you that people become rather upset when their loved ones are dug up out of their graves.

It appears that in July, there was a town meeting about this. The site Topix has a local page for Elkton that discussed the meeting. As you will see, 'heated' is an understatement.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shut It Down Some More

It appears I have an obsession. A year minus a week ago, I posted an article that was, in essence, a compilation of as many instances as I could find of TV stations making the switch from analog to digital. What I was interested in was the very last piece of footage they ran before shutting off the signal. I had a lot of fun with it.

The problem is I never quite stopped having fun with it. I posted it, and usually I just go on from there, but on this particular occasion, I just kept coming back over the weeks and months, adding station after station after station.

It's a year later. I am still- STILL- adding stations, and I guess that might not entirely be a bad thing, as since the original posting, more places have made the switch, giving me more footage to add, chiefly from Japan and Australia. So I guess all I can do is re-link the article now, as there's significantly more there than there was at the beginning.

Maybe now I'm done with this.