Saturday, May 31, 2014

All Of The Things

So this apparently was on the History Channel at some point in between the rerun of Pawn Stars and the rerun of that show that spun off of Pawn Stars which is every show on the History Channel that isn't Pawn Stars. Seems like a good video to link, and I know it's an hour and a half, but I've well established that I will link stupidly long videos and not even blink.

So, I present their history of the world in two hours (25% off if you act now!) All of the history. Or at least all of it that would fit in 90 minutes of film. Enjoy your Friday night that is now a Saturday morning here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

But You Don't Have To Take MY Word For It

I'm clearly too late as far as the matter of 'whether it will be funded or not'. But if you are my age, you remember Reading Rainbow, and clearly a lot of you do. After Reading Rainbow went off the air, we lost basically the only good show purely about books that we even had on television. (Because come on. Nobody watches Booknotes on CSPAN, right?)

So anyway, as anyone who would be caught dead at this blog already knows, LeVar Burton has launched a Kickstarter to bring it back and get it into classrooms. And on a million-dollar ask, within the first few days he's already got $2.5 million (as of this writing), with 33 days still on the clock. It took only 11 hours to hit the target.

Call me greedy, but while I am ecstatic and happy over this... it still is only one good book show, aimed at getting kids to love reading. I want more. What I'd like, once we have Reading Rainbow back, is a good book show for adults. Let's face it, adults aren't reading Thomas The Tank Engine unless they're reading it to kids. I'd like a show tackling the stuff that gets on the bestseller lists, on the talk shows, in the People and Entertainment Weekly writeups, that kind of thing. I want it to be something people would actually watch. We don't have that and I want it.

But Reading Rainbow first, of course.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Expensive Worthless Paper

It's a funny little tidbit that inevitably gets tossed around in every championship or conference championship round of team sports that there are always a small number of T-shirts made in advance that depict each of the surviving teams eventually winning the title. The actual winner will have their T-shirts immediately thrown on them in the postgame celebratory chaos and quickly placed on sale to the victorious fans, while the loser's shirts never show their face in American public if the league can help it. They are quietly transported to some part of the world, typically impoverished, where the locals don't care about the sport and don't care what's depicted on the shirts as long as they have clothing to wear. This process is these days not quiet enough for someone to keep from finding where exactly this season's shirts are headed and incorporating it into the requisite trash talk.

That isn't the only piece of merchandise made in advance, though. The actual game tickets are printed in advance as well. It takes some time to get tickets out of the printer and into the hands of fans attending the games, and teams want and need this to be done before the game takes place. But the process can very possibly take longer than the time between when a team qualifies for a particular round of the playoffs and the time that round starts. In order to buy themselves time, tickets are printed and sold early by teams still alive at that point. It's then a simple matter to cancel and refund the tickets if the team doesn't make it, or if the team is not so nice (often they're not), bank the money and offer regular-season tickets for next year instead.

But these tickets don't see much circulation either. They may remain on-continent, but you can't wear a game ticket. And there's no sentimental value; the tickets are sold to fans of the team, fans who are not exactly going to be inclined to hang onto a reminder of a failed season and playoff games that they had hoped to attend but which ultimately invited someone else. The tickets will usually simply be thrown away or returned to the team (or incinerated if the team never sent them out), though perhaps not until someone takes a self-loathing picture of them for mass consumption.

It isn't particularly often that either T-shirt or ticket ends up in enemy hands.

According to this LA Times article from 1986, all teams in Major League Baseball still in contention going into September were required at that time to print off playoff tickets, and when playoff tickets are printed off, it's for the entire playoffs. They have to take that last-minute miracle run to the title into account. This article from the Baltimore Sun on August 22, 2012 suggests that such a policy remains in place. Therefore, it can reasonably be inferred that when, going into September 1, 1990, though no team was officially eliminated yet (though some were getting close), those who were 10 or fewer games back on the division leads, or in the lead, needed to start putting the wheels in motion. In this case, in addition to the leading Red Sox, Athletics, Pirates and Reds (all of which held their leads), that meant the Blue Jays, White Sox, Mets, Expos, Dodgers and Giants also needed to take playoff ticket-printing seriously, just in case. That in turn means ten teams printing World Series tickets when only two sets will be needed- namely, those of the Reds and Athletics.

I don't know what happened to the other sets. But I do know that at least one set of White Sox tickets survived, was framed, and entered public circulation. How do I know this? Because today, I located that set inside Clara's Antiques here in Watertown. And while the tickets may have originally been priced at a combined $150, in the end it only took $12 for them to fall into the hands of a Cubs fan.

We Cubs fans, we know a little something about suffering.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

School's Out Forever

From time to time, far too often really, you'll hear about a school that closes down due to lack of funds. The students are dispersed to other nearby schools, jobs are lost, the building is repurposed or torn down. But the thing about these closings is that they are usually K-12 schools. Colleges are never thought to be at any particular risk of closure; in fact, with spiraling tuition fees and crippling pressure on high school graduates to both go to and graduate from college, one might think your average college as quite profitable.

So what happens when that isn't the case? What happens when a college closes down? The Chronicle of Higher Education has endeavored to find out, as they happen to have a shuttering college to profile, or at least, one that's desperately fighting to avoid it. That college, which began as an elementary school in 1888, is Saint Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, which in what makes a depressing kind of sense happens to be a historically black college.


I have spent the past few days getting progressively outraged over the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, and progressively more embarrassed to call myself a man. I have seen women of all stripes, ages, shapes, sizes and walks of life angrily pour their hearts out about the violations of their dignity and sometimes their body inflicted upon them by men who at best saw nothing wrong with their actions and at worst were adamant that she must have liked it, stories that until this moment they have been afraid to tell for fear it would negatively impact their career and/or their lives. I have seen women who are still, even amongst all the visible support, afraid to tell their stories because they continue to fear the men that still don't understand why the women are angry and why they won't just shut up about it already, men who are liable to respond to them on Twitter within seconds. I have seen women express fear of rejecting a man now, lest that man turn out the same way.

I have seen many men offer their support as best they can, hopefully taking to heart the pleadings from the women to do what they can to get it through their gendermates' heads because clearly the women aren't being listened to by those that need to do so. For I have seen some men insult the appearance of these women, disregarding their cares because they are 'too ugly' or 'too fat' or 'overreacting' or 'paranoid'. I have seen men call women 'man haters' as an excuse to continue their vile behaviors. I have seen men who have taken this moment as a sick and twisted opportunity to push an NRA agenda, suggesting that women carry guns so that they may ward off men like them, even though many women already carry mace and tasers for this same purpose, as if to suggest that the women will have to actually kill the men in order to stop them. I have seen this train of thought furthered in complete ignorance of the actual point, which is that women feel like they should not have to carry guns, mace, tasers, take karate classes, or make any other special effort to defend themselves against unwanted advances from men who refuse to take no for an answer.

Never mind that I and everyone else has seen a woman use a gun against threats from her husband, as a warning shot, and be sentenced to 20 years in prison as a direct result.

I personally AM a man who has expressed disgust, is expressing it now, that I cannot step in and admonish these men, these men who objectify and diminish and violate, without being accused of 'white knighting'. As a fan of Taylor Swift, I have seen her- a woman who takes great pains not to discuss her sex life lest she become objectified- accused both of sleeping with too many men (thereby being a slut) and of sleeping with too few (thereby being a prude), sometimes in consecutive comments in the same thread. I have seen men threaten women that they had better pose for nude pictures soon lest men stop taking interest in them, and men immediately cease to take interest in women who have done so quickly after ogling their bodies. I have seen men see a current photo of Jennifer Lien- aka the highly desired Kes from Star Trek: Voyager, replaced on the show by the even more desired Jeri Ryan, aka Seven of Nine- and, now deeming her to be insufficiently attractive, gnash teeth, rend clothing and curse the heavens that now they'll never have sex with her. I have seen countless men post about the disgusting and harmful things they would do to themselves in order to sniff an attractive woman's farts. I have seen far too many demands to hand over my 'man card'.

I have seen women shamed for sleeping with men, and I have seen men celebrated for sleeping with women. I have seen far too many premises in major media where a man's quest to sleep with as many women as possible makes him into the protagonist, such as in virtually any movie starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn or Jason Sudekis, 'Hall Pass' being a particularly enraging example. I have seen far too many premises in which the female equivalent is made into an antagonist, such as Mystique of the X-Men, or Krysten Ritter's character in 'Don't Trust The B---- In Apt. 23'. I have seen far, far, FAR too many plots in which the woman is turned from the side of the bad guy to the side of the good guy after sleeping with the male protagonist, but a man is not turned but rather ensnared into the service of the bad guy when sleeping with a woman. The genders are almost never reversed. The woman is encoded and perpetuated as evil for desiring sex even though she is commanded to supply it, as all that is needed to turn her good is being fucked by the right guy (and she must be the submissive one, as attempting to take control could be harmful to the man). The man is encoded and perpetuated as merely undertaking a humble and noble quest to "score", and of course, when one is scoring, one must try to get the highest possible score.

I have seen men pat themselves on the back merely for refraining from raping a woman.

I have seen enough.

I have had enough.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Don't You Want To Have A Body?

At one point or another, you've probably gotten into a conversation with a chatbot. A chatbot, of course, is designed to be able to hold up its end of a conversation about a given topic. Often, this is for commercial purposes and the chatbot is only programmed to deal with the commercial task at hand. For example, any of you who have Charter as your cable provider who have needed customer service at some point- like me- will run into a chatbot who will run through the more common customer-service issues with a complainant. It makes sure the issue is handled the same, pre-prescribed way every time, and it frees up their employees for the more complex issues. It pays for the chatbot to appear as human as possible; better that the customer never realize they're talking to a robot, because if they do, Charter knows as well as anyone that the customer is likely to just quit talking to the chatbot and demand to speak to a human. And that uses up resources.

Disguising a commercial chatbot as human is one matter. General conversation, which can be about literally any topic, is a far more dicey proposal. This is what the infamous Turing Test covers, and chatbots have historically fared rather poorly at it. Sooner or later, the topic gets too esoteric and the chatbot starts making odd conversation choices. Often, this comes sooner, as if the people I know are any indication, the chatbot will be immediately slammed with the most bizarre possible topic of conversation the human can come up with just to see how it handles it. And when a failure point is inevitably found, rest assured it will be mined for every last troy ounce of humor.

But perhaps this is being too rough on the chatbot. Perhaps it can be given an easier task. What if you merely asked a chatbot to hold a conversation with itself?

Meet Cleverbot, our contestant. Cleverbot has been running since 1997, and has remembered every single conversation it's ever had with a human, and if Wikipedia is to be believed on the matter, grand total that means over 150 million of them. As I write this, it's having over 9,400 conversations at this very moment; typically the number is around 10,000. It takes into account everything that's ever been said to it, everything it said in response, and everything that's been said in response to that response, and use that information to continually make for better conversation.

I did mention that said information is filled with people being deliberately ridiculous, correct?

In 2011, Igor Labutov, Jason Yosinski and Hod Lipson, three residents of the Cornell Creative Machines Lab- an endlessly fascinating playground of engineering- decided to hook Cleverbot up to itself. Well, to be honest, first they hooked up a different, earlier-model chatbot, Eliza. Eliza is essentially built to repeat your own conversation back to you, which is fine when a human is talking to it (and liable to quickly get them angry when their own ridiculousness is thrown right back in their face), but when Eliza has to come up with its own conversation to repeat back it itself, it gets a bit lost. The result isn't all that amusing, as I will demonstrate by feeding two Elizas each other's conversations:

"Hello. My name is Eliza. How may I help you?"
"Hello. My name is Eliza. How may I help you?"
"We were discussing you, not me."
"Oh... not you?"
"OK... "We was discussing you, not me." Tell me more."
"We were discussing you, not me."
"You're not really talking about me, are you?"
"What makes you think I am not really talking about you, am I?"
"How long have you been not really talking about me, are you?"
"Would you prefer if I were not?"
"Oh... prefer if you was not?"
"Oh... were not?"
"Tell me more..."
"Tell me more..."
"Tell me more..."
"Why did you repeat yourself?"
"We were discussing you, not me."

That's where I stopped, as it was clear to me at that point that I'd heard just about everything that was going to be said between them. Enter Cleverbot, which was fed into a text-to-speech synthesizer, which was then fed into an avatar that would speak that text, and then pitted against a second Cleverbot hooked up the same way.

This is what happened. (I am not ashamed to say, thank you, Outrageous Acts of Science on the Science Channel. I was blanking on a topic for today.)

That year, Cleverbot, or at least a souped-up version of it, was given a Turing test at the Techniche 2011 festival in India. In order to pass, generally a computer needs to make over half of the conversation subjects think it's human. Cleverbot managed to get 59.3% of its human counterparts to vote it as human. Actual humans, serving as controls, scored 63.3%.

Apparently, this is what almost passing a Turing test- or even passing it outright, depending on how you look at it- looks like. Ferrets. Which ones? All of the ferrets. What are their names? NO NOT ANY FERRETS AT ALL. Drink from a rhinoceros bean.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How To Strip Naked In Front Of The White House

...really? You're kidding.'re not kidding. Ohhhhhkay fine. If you say so.

1. Do not strip naked in front of the White House.
2. Do not strip naked, in fact, in any public place that does not explicitly permit nudity.
3. Do not climb fences while naked.
4. Do not climb the White House fence at any time.
5. Do not climb the White House fence while naked.
6. Do not assault people.
7. Do not assault law enforcement personnel.
8. Do not assault people while naked.
9. Do not assault law enforcement personnel while naked.
10. Do not assault Secret Service personnel while naked.
11. Do not assault Secret Service personnel on the White House lawn while naked.

If alcohol turns out not to be a factor in this, I am going to bury my face in my hands and scream for all the days.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chris Kluwe Has Given A TED Talk

And here it is, presented back in March in Vancouver. The topic is augmented reality, as demonstrated by his wearing a Google Glass during his talk. I really don't need to introduce any further.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Termite Mad Science

As I just got done noting in the prediction book review, the human genome was cracked in 2003. I bring this up because there is some rather intriguing news out of Purdue's entomology department, where due to research headed by Michael Scharf, the termite genome has also been cracked.

Specifically, it's the Nevada dampwood termite. That's not the one famous for eating all the wood in your house; you'd be thinking of the eastern subterranean termite. But it's a close enough relative that it works for Purdue's purposes. Cracking their genome will provide massive, massive amounts of information into their behavioral patterns, just like cracking the human genome has for humans. And everyone's very excited about that. But that isn't the implication that's making the headlines.

What's making the headlines regards pest control. Termites are generally handled by copious quantities of pesticides spread over a large area, large because you don't know how widespread they are and better safe than sorry. By cracking the genome, the hope is that a part of the termite's genetic code can be located that tells scientists of a less toxic way to kill them, or at least keep them from eating the house. In fact, Scharf sees a number of options, but he appears partial to mind control; that is, instead of doing anything in particular to make the termites physically incapable of their task, you would instead mess with the proteins in their brains in order to make them fight each other so that the colony devolves into internal warfare... which, Scharf notes, would be rather easy, as things are naturally somewhat tense in a termite colony and you wouldn't have to introduce very many termite hate zombies to get the whole colony going.

Termites and humans are not the only genomes to be cracked, for the record. Not even close. Even before the human genome, a species of worm was the first complex organism cracked, back in 1998. Just in the first couple hundred Google results, you've got bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, corn, cows, tsetse flies, blood flukes, the wooly mammoth, the bubonic plague, malaria, cholera, a couple species of diploid cotton, an ancient species of horse, purple sea urchins, white spruce trees, and clearly this list could go on for quite a while. Even Bangladesh, a nation not exactly known for its scientific achievements, has gotten into the act by cracking the genome of the buffalo back in January. What's clear here is that scientists know how to map a genome. It's just a matter of what species they want and how much code they have to crack.

And whether they want to stock up on Tesla coils and fright wigs and practice laughing maniacally, but enough about Scharf.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No, 'Leg Bone' and 'Ankle Bone' Don't Count

Today is a simple, simple Sporcle quiz: name the human bones. There are 206 of them, though to make things easier on you, they've been sorted into 57 types.

Your time limit is 10 minutes.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Big Book O' Predictions

All right, time to crack this puppy open for realsies. The Book Of Predictions mentioned yesterday, copyright 1981, will today be analyzed to see how well things have gone for the assortment of experts, self-proclaimed experts and psychics that David Wallechinsky went and consulted.

Though it seems, I'm not the first to stumble across it and have my fun.  First off, let's note that nuclear war, world peace, cures for cancer, wristwatch computers, immortality and existential energy crises were very common predictions. Those were probably the top six, in no particular order. Just to get those out of the way. Second, not everybody is wrong wrong wrong. There are some genuine good calls. Let's give credit where it's due. The book's far too large to go through everything in here, but among what I've managed to notice:

*David Pearce Snyder puts 1985-1987 as the time when "Courts are generally open to television coverage. Both criminal and civil courtroom proceedings are increasingly carried on cable television, where they become so popular that they eventually lead to the elimination of soap operas and game shows from broadcast television." His years were off and his catalyst was off- it was the O.J. Simpson trial- but TV cameras in the courtroom did in fact result in the decline of soaps. (Game shows... debatable, but they did decline on the networks around the same time as the soaps.)
*Jerome Goldstein was a rare person in the early 80's who could actually manage to call "Effective collapse of the Soviet empire from internal political stress." That was a ballsy prediction back then; he was overwhelmed in the book by swarms of competing predictions of nuclear war between the two or one side at least achieving military victory over the other. (His timeline was 1995-2005 for that. Oh well.) Immediately after that, he calls the "Complete reshaping of Japanese economy well under way after a period of declining Japanese economic influence but increasing Japanese military influence." His timeline for that was right on the money.
*Andrew Greeley also goes for internal strife collapsing the Soviet Union, calling for its breakup and mass independence "before 1990". Of course, he also called for the Republican Party to be replaced in that same timeframe.
*A.E. Van Vogt, for the period 1982-1993, also hits paydirt by restraining himself from going for the big, dramatic nuclear climax. He simply reasons that the big nations, the nuclear powers, will continue to fight proxy wars in smaller nations that aren't strong enough to do anything about it. "I predict that war in the future will continue to be a sad regional disaster for small countries." Places like, say, the Falkland Islands, Grenada, Kuwait, Panama...
*One of the psychics, Bertie Catchings, held similar restraint. Regarding 2000: "I do not foresee disarmament. War weapons will continue to proliferate. The fear of nuclear weapons will always be present, but such a war will never actually come to pass."
*Felix Kaufmann, regarding 1982-1992, predicted "Second-world countries will compete successfully for some of the new factories that can no longer be profitably built in the first world. Their main competitive advantage is a relatively undemanding labor force which works long hours (though not very productively, either) and is not accustomed to striking. China, especially, is likely to be the recipient of numerous factories to supply the West with products that it can no longer manufacture, at least not economically." Productiveness is one thing, but other than that, nice job.
*The people asked to make predictions regarding the entertainment industry generally had a pretty good bead on the concept of consumers having more options as to what, how, where, and when to consume. Explosions of cable channels, YouTube, DVR's and such were pretty well seen, particularly by Nicholas Johnson. Arnold Brown foresaw computers leading to the demise of encyclopedias.
*Finally, writer Georges Simenon kept his predictions very simple. He predicted "there are chances for the world to live the years to come as ever before: hills and valleys, wars and peaces." (Pretty much.) "I passed through two wars, and I wouldn't be surprised to go through a third." (Nope.) "All chances are that I shall not live in 1993, all the more so in 2020. Why worry, then?" (Simenon died in 1989, age 86.)

Some predictions eventually came true, but their predictors whiffed by calling for technological innovations to happen sooner than they actually did. The demise-of-soaps-and-game-shows-by-way-of-courtroom-antics prediction falls into this, but in addition:

*Arthur C. Clarke did manage to successfully predict a "permanent space station similar to Skylab, but in a higher orbit; carries 5-10 men". However, he had it launching in 1985; the International Space Station, which maintains a 6-man crew, actually launched in 1998. (Ben Bova also missed here, having such a space station launching in 1984.)
*Edmund C. Berkeley predicted that "A champion chess-playing computer program will be better than almost all grandmaster human chess players." That was slated for 1987. Malcolm Peltu had it as 1985-1987. Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.
*Trudy E. Bell foresaw "The People's Republic of China will put an astronaut into orbit around the earth- becoming the third nation to put a man in space." That was supposed to happen by 1986. Yang Liwei got into space in 2003. They were in fact the third (and latest) nation to put a man into space, even if they were only the 33rd nation to have a man in space.
*F. Lee Bailey foresaw a Supreme Court with four or five women on it as opposed to nine men; it ought to be noted that the initial publication date was not 1981 but rather 1980, and so when Bailey made his prediction, he didn't yet know that Sandra Day O'Connor would be seated in 1981. We're currently at three women, so we'll be there before all that much longer. Problem is that Bailey had this happening in 1992, by which time there were only five seats opened between prediction and deadline. (Sandra was the only woman to fill one of them.)
*F.M. Esfandiary predicted "extensive mapping of genes" for 1982-1992. The human genome was declared cracked in 2003.
*Arthur Knight saw that "Satellites will provide at least 300 channels of programming to home video viewers." I have that on my TV now, but he had that happening in 1985.
*Alan Vaughan predicted that in 1984, "The U.S. will introduce an International World Games in Los Angeles. Selected teams from around the world will compete. Unlike the Olympics, the sports competitors will be professionals." The prediction as a whole fell apart when the Olympics went ahead in LA on schedule. But elements of this one individually were pretty good, if premature. Two years later, the Goodwill Games were introduced, and though the first edition was in Moscow, they were set up by Ted Turner, an American. Meanwhile, under then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch's rule, the Olympics itself became far more accepting of professionals.

And, well, then there's Thomas Carleton, who forecast that "The majority of predictions and forecasts projected beyond the year 2000 will appear to be ridiculously shortsighted before the year 2000."

But of course, you and I both know what's far more entertaining. With no further ado, show me the crazy. And I am fully aware that if I tried my hand at it, I'd end up in the crazy category.

*In 2000, "The U.S. legalizes cocaine." (Shelley Levitt, then-editor of High Times)
*In 1981-1992, soccer loses popularity in the US, but cricket enjoys a surge in popularity and a brand spanking new professional league after a successfully-held cricket exhibition in Yankee Stadium in the fall of 1981. (Martin Abramson) The best he got was a Cricket Hall of Fame built in 1981 in Hartford, CT. Have you ever heard of it? Me neither. It isn't even the official one either; the official one doesn't have a dedicated building.
*Abramson then goes on to predict that in 1989, the NBA will raise the basket by two feet because "a sizable percentage of fans will not want to support all-black teams composed of giants who can amass large scores by stuffing balls in the basket instead of shooting." What came out in 1993, folks? That's right: NBA Jam. And it hadn't worn off by, oh say, 2011 either.
*In 1990, "Near the Arctic Circle, a lost tribe will be found. Its members will know of a secret passage through the ice to a place deep within the earth where beautiful gardens flourish." (Bertie Catchings)
*By 2000, "You will be able to walk across the Atlantic Ocean. There will be many cities on this ocean, linked by flexible bridges." (Also Bertie Catchings)
*In 1989, "There will be a revival of moats like those around medieval castles. They will be used to provide security for new government buildings and for the homes of the wealthy." (Ann Fisher) Tom Brady does not constitute a revival, as can be seen by the incredulousness of the notion seen by Deadspin.
*In 2000, "An alien virus, brought back by an interplanetary ship, will decimate the population of Earth, but leave the colonies on Luna and Mars intact." (Philip K. Dick)
*While a lot of people predicted a California earthquake- and one did happen in 1989- the predicted years were all over the place. Erskine Caldwell predicted that, in 2000 (his call for the date), as a result, California from San Francisco to Los Angeles will "disappear into a black hole while being televised by ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS." One year prior, in 1999, Caldwell forecast that "The U.S. government, including the Capitol, White House, taxis, spies, and call girls, will be moved and established in Minneapolis, MN."
*In 2010, "A federation of all Middle East countries will come into being with Jerusalem as its capital, but with a Christian enclave to which the Vatican will be moved on the decision of then then black Catholic pope, Dr. Ulusolo Mojo." (Dr. Mari'on Mushkat)
*This particular bullet point is set aside for everybody who predicted a second Ice Age. Nigel Calder provided a list of 15 nations that would be killed my marauding glaciers, including Bhutan, Nepal, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
*By 2000, "Men will no longer speak of their "sex drive" as a biological phenomenon. Male sexuality will change radically from the way we know it today. Masculinity will no longer be universally equated with intercourse, and there will be more open discussion of sex and sex roles among men." (Shere Hite)
*"Shortly before 2000 A.D., transcontinental travel time between New York City and Los Angeles will be reduced to 54 min. if the Planetran system is operational." (Walter Kempthorne)
*In 2010, we will have a "robot that can cross a busy highway without being hit." (Malcolm Peltu)
*In 1990, "Particles capable of traveling faster than the speed of light will be discovered." (Dr. James Trefil)
* In 1983-84, "For a time, New York and two other large U.S. cities will become armed wastelands with inner-city warfare and strife. Parts of these cities will be barricaded off by the National Guard." (Beverly Jaegers)
*In 1991-2010, "Plans will be announced to carry out mass evacuations around the world to escape air and water pollution, which has become so serious by this time that human life can no longer exist on the earth's surface. Safety will be found deep in the interior of the planet, where cities of the future will be built." (Andrew Reiss)
*In a chapter regarding what would become of various notables of the day, Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan was projected to attempt but fail in a run at Israeli prime minister, attempt and succeed in that run by another predictor, and a third had him fading out of political life and eventually becoming an artist. in reality, by the time the book came out, Moshe was already well into his final illness and would die of a heart attack in October 1981. All the predictions regarded 1983 and later.
*In a prediction-summary chapter, Juneau was projected to be replaced as Alaska's state capital by Willow in 1982. This was also regarded as a 'more or less sure thing' as it was already scheduled... and then a referendum to fund it got defeated at the polls in the 1982 elections. Another 'sure thing' was Colombia hosting the 1986 World Cup... and then they declared themselves unable to host and Mexico took over. A third 'sure thing": a locust plague in the eastern US in 1987.

Finally, in one section, journalists were asked to predict the five biggest headlines of 1985. Here is what 1985 actually looked like, and in hindsight, one might put down:
*Scientists Discover Hole In Ozone Layer
*Gorbechev Becomes Head Of Soviet Union
*Tragedy Strikes As Fans Riot During European Cup Final
*Schengen Agreement Causes Borders To Fall In Europe
*Titanic Found At Bottom Of Atlantic

What was predicted?
*Woman Becomes Pope (Jim Bellows, Los Angeles Herald Examiner)
*Mondale Names Kennedy Ambassador to Ireland (Sidney Goldberg, Independent News Alliance)
*Quebec Becomes 51st United States State (A.E. Insobia, Newsday)
*New Zealand Sinks Into Sea (K.J. Kavanagh, Courier Mail, Brisbane, Australia)
*Last White Leaves Africa (also Kavanagh)
*United Nations Disbands (Edwin O. Park, Indianapolis News)
*Home-Made Nuclear Bomb In New York: Mass Evacuation (Harvey Wood Tyson, The Star, Johannesburg, South Africa)

This was the best $6 I ever spent.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Gorged On Free Cheese Samples Edition

Today I attended the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, and as is my way when I go to the farmer's market, I stuff myself to bursting on cheese, baked goods, meats of animals various and sundry (emu! bison!), and perhaps maple syrup, honey and something out of a food cart.

After I filled up there, I found a couple books on State Street:

*O'Bryan, John- A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things That Can Seriously Mess You Up
*Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Amy; Wallace, Irving: The People's Almanac Presents The Book of Predictions

I need to explain that second one, found in Browzers Bookstore, which deals pretty heavily in some old, dusty, forgotten titles, rare or simply unloved. It's a bookstore for the hardcore bookworms only, which, in Madison right near the UW campus, there is no short supply. The book carries a 1981 copyright; in that year, a wide variety of experts were called upon to make predictions as to what they thought would happen over, usually, the next 50 years; about 2030 is where the prediction timelines seem to peter out.

We're 33 years down that timeline, meaning a large quantity of the prediction deadlines have come and gone by now, and many of the others are coming up. I felt it would be just a peck of fun to browse through the book and see just how well the experts have done. Perhaps we'll do that tomorrow.

...except for one little wrinkle at the very back of the book. Two contests were given to the readers about events that would happen in 1982/1983: a prediction contest, in which you were asked how various notable statistics, facts and figures would look that year (what would be the US inflation rate on Halloween; who would win the women's singles at Wimbledon; how many seats in the US House of Representatives election for 1982 would be won by lawyers, etc.), and you were given the relevant stat for several years previous to help guide your prediction. That one's not all that interesting to me.

The interesting one is the psychic contest. This one consisted of five questions, all five of which asked you for specific bits of information regarding 1983 that were WILDLY unpredictable. The thinking, of course, was that you would pretty much have to be psychic to manage to nail any of them. The five questions were:

*What title will be #7 on the New York Times hardback fiction best-seller list on July 5, 1983?
*Which horse will finish second-to-last in the 1983 Kentucky Derby?
*What will be the banner headline in the LA Times (morning final edition) on July 1, 1983?
*Which television program will get the lowest Nielsen rating for the week beginning May 8, 1983?
*Who will finish 47th in the 1983 Boston Marathon?

Yeah, good fucking luck with those, Carnac. In fact, this is tough even today, because it isn't as much a test of psychic ability as it is a test of research ability. I can tell you only three of them for sure.

*#7 fiction bestseller: Well, technically there wasn't a list on July 5, 1983. The contest got the release date wrong. They either meant to say July 3 or June 5; they probably meant June 5. But since the question specifically states that they want the book that was #7 on July 5, we should go with the list that is current for that date, which is July 3. That book is Ascent Into Hell by Andrew Greeley. (Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer was the book for June 5.)
*Kentucky Derby horse: Law Talk.
*LA Times headline: Well, it's definitely one of these five, but they're behind paywalls. It's not one of the ones Google is able to get to. Doesn't help that it appeared to be a slow news day.
*Lowest Nielsen show: CBS News Report, "Nuclear Arms Debate". Damn it so much, people.
*47th in the Boston Marathon: Nearest I can give you is that Mark Mesler finished 30th. Boston Marathon's official record archives only go back to 2001.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Games of the New Emerging Forces

The ideal of the Olympics, however much it may be subverted or ignored, is that for the duration of the event, the world is supposed to leave politics at the door. However hated another country may be to us, however much we may abhor their collective ideologies, however much we may want to see their downfall, for two weeks, that is supposed to not matter. For two weeks, we are to set our differences aside, sit down and watch sports together. Whoever wins, whoever loses, it's not supposed to matter as much as the mere fact that winner and loser have fairly competed together. If that ideal can be held to for two weeks, perhaps it can be done for longer.

It usually can't be done for two weeks, but that's the idea. World peace may never be truly attainable, but you can always get a little bit closer.

The World Cup, meanwhile, is under no such mandate. It may be a gathering of nations, but it is first and foremost an explicit competition. People do not watch to bask in the glow of the world's various peoples and cultures. People watch to see if their people and culture is better at kicking a ball into a large net than the other guy's, and many will raise hell if it happens that they are not. Most of the world's nations are not actually in attendance, having been denied entry in the qualifiers. Politics are to a degree considered fair game. However, there are limits. A certain amount of peace is expected to be kept. Get excited, brag and taunt if you want; that's what fans do. When national pride is at stake, some amount of politically-based taunting is unavoidable. But you're expected to keep it within reason. There are lines you don't cross. After all, this is still only sports. Politics are not officially part of the agenda, and besides, FIFA, publicly at least- we'll leave their private actions aside- maintains that sports and politics don't mix.

But what if they did? What if an international sports organizing body explicitly, as a matter of central policy, invited the world to bring politics in to play a central role? It has, to be sure, been done countless times on a domestic scale, as various nations have used sports to puff themselves up, or as various local political issues have wormed themselves into the limelight to degrees both large and small. I've discussed that at length in this space. But on a global scale, in a central capacity, what would happen?

The Games of the New Emerging Forces would happen.

Our story begins in 1962, when Jakarta, Indonesia was exercising hosting duties for the Asian Games, the continent's Olympic equivalent. They were one of only two candidates to host that year, narrowly defeating Karachi, Pakistan by a vote of 22-20. While Pakistan would be more immediately recognizable as unstable, Indonesia wasn't much better. At the time, Indonesia was led by Sukarno, who had served as president since their independence in 1945 and had spent most of his tenure trying to hold together a wildly disparate and often antagonistic assortment of cultures. His policies, therefore, trended heavily autocratic, as he believed that Western-style democracy- which, being aligned with the Eastern Bloc, he distrusted- would never work among his people. His approach, among other things, drew heavy retaliation from the military, who along the way had seen their influence with Sukarno decline as in 1959, he voided the current constitution and replaced it with one giving him more control, and the following year, dissolved Parliament and replaced it with one where he appointed half the members himself. By 1962, Sukarno was dodging assassination attempts left and right.

He was also dodging pressure from the other participating nations. The Arab countries were against the idea of Israel competing, as it had in the two previous editions. China, which had not competed in any Asian Games to that point (or much of any international sporting competition for that matter), was against the idea of Taiwan competing. When a sporting event is essentially forced to choose between which of two sides of a dispute they'll be able to get to participate, generally, the decision will come down to which side is likely to perform better on the field, thereby giving the event more credibility and prestige. However, that was not the case here. Geopolitical influence was what drove Sukarno's decision, as China was a far more desirable ally than Taiwan, and better to court many Arab nations than just one Israel.

And so it was that when the brand-new Bung Karno Stadium opened its doors for the August 24th opening ceremony, Israel and Taiwan's flags flew, but no athlete was there to bear them. They had been denied entry visas, in violation of a promise made to supply them to all athletes regardless of diplomatic status.

The nations being courted were not there either. They had simply opted to sit out anyway. They wouldn't enter until 1974, when by agreement of the entire continent, China effectively replaced Taiwan, a decision in line with what the United Nations had done in 1971, eventually forcing Taiwan into the 'Chinese Taipei' designation they use in sports today. The Arab nations, meanwhile, simply waited for the Asian Games to be awarded to Tehran before showing up, with Bahrain and Kuwait participating... alongside Israel, who had by then found their footing in competition but who would be kicked out for good one Games later in Bangkok.

Not satisfied with mere exclusion, when Asian Games Federation vice-president G.D. Songhi of India wrote to the International Olympic Committee asking that the Games be stripped of official status, an angry mob trashed the Indian embassy in Jakarta, and a second mob tracked down the hotel that Songhi was staying at, searching for him room by room. Songhi wound up fleeing the country. India's soccer team, for which Jakarta was quite possibly their finest hour, was greeted with hostility by the spectators, and after defeating South Korea 2-1 for the gold medal, their national anthem was drowned out by boos.

The West, predictably, was outraged, but the IOC, led by the zealously idealistic Avery Brundage, was apoplectic. The Asian Games were but one of several different regional Olympics-style competitions that had been sprouting up around that time, and the IOC was uneasy about their presence, fearing that one of them may upstage the Olympics, or denigrate its image due to poor behavior. Poor behavior such as Sukarno's. As such, Brundage fully expected IOC members to uphold the IOC ideals of inclusion and apolitical competition in whatever sporting events they held. As Brundage would write, "it is perfectly obvious from the the proceedings at the IV Asian Games that Olympic principles are not being upheld in that country."

Indonesia was an IOC member. But they weren't for long, as in response to the expulsions of Israel and Taiwan from the Asian Games, Indonesia was, by a 5-1 vote of the IOC executive board on February 7, 1963, expelled- or officially, 'suspended indefinitely'. This unprecedented move would shut them out of the upcoming 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, an Olympics that, as the first Olympics in Asia and therefore a prime opportunity to win over that part of the world, needed to go off without a hitch. Brundage could not risk a troublemaker like Indonesia causing problems in Japan.

This was supposed to force Indonesia to submit to the far more wide-reaching IOC, which, after all, was hosting the far more prestigious event, and take some sort of corrective action in order to be allowed back in. What actually happened could not possibly have been less submissive. Instead of being frightened, Sukarno was freed. The IOC had shot their load. Having expelled Indonesia, there wasn't anything else they could do to them. While getting back into the IOC was a priority- and they immediately began protesting and lobbying to that effect- the Chinese and Arabs did not abandon Sukarno, with the Arab nations launching their own threats at the IOC, musing that they might boycott Tokyo. In the end, of the Arab nations that had competed in Rome four years prior, only Syria would not travel to Tokyo, but this ultimately mattered little.

Because Sukarno was going to beat the IOC to the punch.

Completely, perhaps even conveniently forgetting the actions against India that might have earned a suspension all on their own, Sukarno was outraged that India, whom he had previously viewed positively, would embarrass him like that. And he wanted revenge. If Indonesia couldn't be in the Olympics, he'd create his own, the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO), representing nations that, it was hoped, would overthrow the established order. They would be everything the Olympics were not. Politics would be welcome. The first edition would be held in 1963, one year before the Olympics. And of course, it would be held in Jakarta.

It helped that, on October 4, 1962, four months before Indonesia's ouster from the IOC, an editorial in the Chinese sports newspaper T'i Yu Pao lobbied for the creation of a competition that would fight the "forces of imperialism and sports organizations manipulated by imperialist countries." Perhaps China had come up with the idea themselves. They were certainly providing Sukarno with the funding to host GANEFO. They weren't recognized by the IOC in the first place, so there wasn't much that could be done to them, but for the blood to be on someone else's hands was always nice. Sukarno's Minister of Sport, Maladi, provided his own words for the occasion while opening the Indonesian Swimming Association in July 1963:

"The IOC has been shown to be just an imperialistic political tool! The Olympic Games have proved to be openly an imperialistic tool... It is better we state bluntly that sport could not be separated from politics. Indonesia proposes to mix sport with politics... Sport is a means to achieve the nation's ideal so that sport must be laid on the earth of politics."

Sukarno needed the help from China. Badly. Being who he was, his word was enough to get most things done in Indonesia, but hosting two international festivals of sport in consecutive years was rough on the wallet. Not only that, it was going to be a lot harder to get athletes this time around. GANEFO was considered by Brundage, quite rightly, to be such an affront to everything the IOC stood for that the law was laid down hard. Any athlete who participated in GANEFO, it was declared, would be banned from competing in the Olympics.

Many nations needed no such prodding. GANEFO would demonstrate just what happens when politics and sport become too intermingled: eventually, only those who agree with the politics that the sports have adopted will want to participate. In this case, headed by a nation that had gotten in with the Eastern Bloc, the Western Bloc stayed well clear, and GANEFO thus became a Second World playground. (This was partially by design; when defining what exactly a 'New Emerging Force' was and therefore who got invited, the organizers wrote the definition in such a way as to specifically disqualify Brundage's United States. Other than that, things were left ambiguous so that as many nations as possible could be construed as qualifying.)

However, many of those Eastern Bloc nations also wished to compete in the Olympics. How do you support GANEFO while still going to the Olympics? Simple. The sanction was that any athlete who competed in GANEFO was excluded. It didn't say anything about nations. The solution taken by the likes of, among others, the Soviet Union, was to send athletes who were not of Olympic quality, people who never would have qualified for Tokyo anyway.

A secondary, unintentional solution was for the athletes to fend for themselves. Roughly a third of the nations that were in attendance at GANEFO- who was who proves impossible to know for sure, not that the IOC didn't try to find out- were there in an unofficial capacity, which goes a long way towards explaining the presence of France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, among others. In all 51 nations found themselves represented in Jakarta, whether that was their aim or not.

India was not one of them. Japan was, though when questioned by the IOC, they denied any official involvement.

Some GANEFO attendees did end up sitting out in Tokyo. In addition to Indonesia, China and Syria, there was Albania, Guinea, Laos, North Korea, North Vietnam, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Guinea and Somalia were actually among the most worrying to Brundage. Among the nations competing in Rome 1960 was South Africa, who was increasingly under fire from the global community for its apartheid policies. Antidiscrimination was an IOC ideal, but Brundage felt that his jurisdiction on the matter extended only to the Olympics itself, and as long as South Africa sent a mixed team to that, there wasn't a problem. Few agreed with him, and it was only under pressure- chiefly from the Soviet Union, who had political designs on black Africa and was willing to take up their cause while the nations themselves were busy fighting off colonialism- that Brundage acquiesced. It wasn't so much Soviet power off the field but Soviet power on it that swung Brundage to expel South Africa from Tokyo, in effect, forcing him to play politics as well.

His reluctance to act had quite possibly cost him, and he knew it. His worry was that black Africa would remember who had fought for them, and obligingly drift into the arms of GANEFO, giving it enough credibility to be a true challenge to the Olympics.

But China posed the biggest threat, being a non-member of the IOC that was showing a significant amount of influence. Their threat was existential to Brundage: "If the Federations [IOC members] do not stand fast on matters of this kind, I mean both the visa and non-member problems, independently organized international sport is finished. The politicians will take over completely."

At some point, though, all Brundage could do was sit, wait, and hope GANEFO went poorly.

Approximately 100,000 people, many of whom were carrying fake tickets, packed Bung Karno Stadium on November 10, 1963 for GANEFO's opening ceremony. Perhaps intentionally, Belgium and Bolivia showed up in Jakarta too late to compete in anything. Everyone else watched as, when the Chinese contingent passed by the diplomatic box, Sukarno got up to shake hands with China's vice premier, Ho Lung. No other nation got that kind of welcome from Sukarno, though the Dutch, Indonesia's former colonial masters, got a rousing approval from the stands, perhaps due in part to the sheer contrast between Indonesia's 500-strong delegation and the Netherlands' tiny, token presence.

During the ceremony, strangely, God Bless America and Stars and Stripes Forever were among the songs played by the marching band. It wasn't any particular comment on Avery Brundage; they just liked the melody.

The actual games were a mess. China, knowing they weren't going to be in Tokyo anyway, had sent a full-strength team, which continually found itself pitted against athletes from the bottom of some nations' depth charts and, since there wasn't any sort of screening process, many people who were merely there to make a political statement and weren't really athletes at all. Some weren't even representing their nation so much as representing groups that wanted to overthrow that nation. There was only ever going to be one outcome: Chinese domination. Accounts don't seem to agree on who won what in Jakarta, but what's agreed upon is that China won somewhere between twice and three times the amount of gold medals as the second-best Soviets, and over twice the total medals of second-best Indonesia. Most of the rest of the medals were won by North Korea, who had also sent their first stringers, and Egypt (then known as the United Arab Republic). The exact results might not be recorded anywhere. Nobody had a system in place to keep track. After all, the sports were not the main attraction.

The individual performances were to a man well short of Olympic-level standards. Boxer Camara Mami of Guinea showed up drunk for his bout against the far larger Nurmahanov of Mongolia, a bout that ended in Mami being knocked out in 20 seconds. The final of the 100 meter dash saw Lin Chengfen of China win with a wind-aided time of 10.7 seconds, a time achieved only after he and Khum Khen from Cambodia jumped the gun, an action only the starter failed to notice. Left behind was Mohammed Sarengat of Indonesia, who had won the Asian Games the previous year by running a 10.5. (The world record at the time was 10.0.) Another sprinter, Jootje Oroh, got himself and the rest of the Indonesian track team into a brawl with security as he was leaving the stadium... a brawl that the track team won. Both medal-round matches in soccer were decided by a coin flip, with the gold medal match also ending in a fan-led riot on the field.

In the West, it was a laughingstock run so poorly that they almost wanted to watch just to see what could be mocked next. By the time it had ended, they were barely even mad anymore. Brundage was still wary, however. The first few Olympics hadn't been well-run either. The individual athletes who competed were still on the outs, having competed with political entities not approved by the IOC. But Brundage had a wingman, chancellor Otto Mayer of Switzerland, and not only had he already bent a little on Indonesia itself, he denied that the IOC had taken a position even past the point where they obviously had, and he was never as much of a hardliner as Brundage. It was under Mayer's advice, not Brundage's, that Indonesia, even before the Games officially started, had been permitted a path out of their suspension. All they had to do was agree to abide by IOC rules again and they were back in.

Brundage may not have been happy about Mayer's stance, but it did seem to work out in a sense. Even if the IOC was relaxing their stance, FINA, the organizing body for aquatic sports, and the IAAF, overseeing track and field, were willing to play the bad cop instead. As it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual sports' organizing bodies to set up their own events, FINA and the IAAF held the original line of barring GANEFO athletes from Tokyo. For most nations, this wasn't all that much of a problem, as it had been their non-Olympic athletes competing anyway. Indonesia and North Korea, though, had sent their best athletes, and were similarly unwilling to bend. They presented an ultimatum: either all of our athletes will compete, or none of them will.

The answer turned out to be none. North Korea was typically intransigent, and Indonesia was rather pleased with where they stood, as domestically, GANEFO was actually popular. It may have been a complete mess, but what a proud and lavish mess it was. Sukarno, having already declared politics within bounds, had milked it for every bit of propaganda value he could squeeze out of it, making sure as many Indonesians as possible had some skin in the game. Students were given time off class to serve as volunteers; the police and army had part of their salary earmarked for hosting costs; cars got requisitioned as athlete transport. And two days after the closing ceremony, hosting duties for the next GANEFO were handed to Cairo in an effort to ensure there would in fact be a next GANEFO, and Indonesia's glory given permanence in the same way Greece has enjoyed with the Olympics. In the process, awarding them to Africa would drive a further wedge between the IOC and the nations that had demanded South Africa's ouster.

There was one major problem with this: when you live by politics, you die by politics. The second GANEFO was set for 1967, but by then, what was now Egypt would be contesting the Six Day War against Israel... and losing the Sinai Peninsula in the process. But Egypt had already bowed out, citing financial difficulties. Beijing had been named as an alternative site, but the period following the first GANEFO had been spent building towards the Cultural Revolution, which would commence in May 1966. The Chinese could still compete, but hosting was completely out of the question.

As for Sukarno, he had been all but neutralized.

To this day, the events of what happened are still not quite fully known in Indonesia, and so the full account is still murky to a certain degree, especially the long-debated question of who set the events in motion and why. Newspapers from the area were heavily censored or blocked. But what we know is that in the early morning hours of October 1, 1965, a group calling itself the September 30 Movement launched into an operation with the intent of killing seven army generals. They succeeded in killing six; the seventh escaped. They claimed in a statement that this was done in order to head off a coup attempt aimed at removing Sukarno on October 5. The operation, however, backfired; within a few hours, Major General Suharto took control of the loyal forces and moved to shut down the coup, who had not thought far enough ahead to provide sufficient provisions, as well as a host of other tactical miscues. They paid dearly for them. By the end of the day, not only was Suharto in control of everything the September 30 Movement had taken, he was in control of the army as well.

By extension, he was also in control of Sukarno. Suharto was quck to blame the PKI- the Indonesian Communist Party, sympathetic to Sukarno- as the sole conspirators. Regardless of the accusation's validity, that's what was acted upon, and for the next month, a communist purge swept the nation and killed an amount of people that has been the subject of dozens of attempts at estimates ranging from nearly 80,000 to 3 million. Over the next year and a half, Sukarno would find his power slip increasingly from his hands to Suharto's, culminating in being formally stripped of his position on March 12, 1967. He would die three years later under house arrest while Suharto began a brutal regime that would last until 1998.

Suharto had far less interest in GANEFO than Sukarno did.

Ultimately, the second GANEFO fell into the hands of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. China paid for the stadium again, with Cambodia being utterly unable to host on their own dime. The stadium was originally intended for the 1963 Southeast Asian Games, but not even that was a feasible goal, and the Games had to be cancelled entirely without an alternative host. They have not hosted the Southeast Asian Games since, even after all other nations in the region save Timor-Leste have done so, a list that includes Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Laos. They are scheduled to finally try again in 2023.

In the process, GANEFO was limited to a merely Asian membership- and advertised as such- with the exception of Guinea, who didn't attend anyway after trying and failing to qualify their soccer team in a tournament in Pyongyang. 17 nations arrived in Phnom Penh, a long way down from the 51 in Jakarta. Brundage's African problem had essentially solved itself.

Even less documentation exists for Phnom Penh's event than exists for Jakarta's. Record-keeping was still an issue, but this time there were no gawking Westerners around to look for things to mock. The war in neighboring Vietnam had their attention instead. Any interest in Cambodia was limited to whether or not Viet Cong forces were hiding there. China once again dominated in both golds and total medals, with North Korea finishing second in both.

On December 9, three days after GANEFO II closed, the 1966 Asian Games began in Bangkok. This was deliberate on the part of the GANEFO organizers, an effort to draw contrast between them and the IOC, but in effect, all it did was make GANEFO look like the undercard. China, North Korea and Cambodia were absent from Bangkok, but among the nations in attendance were Israel, Taiwan... and Indonesia.

Indonesia won 32 medals, five of them gold. Taiwan won 19 medals, also with five gold. Israel won 11 medals, three of them gold.

The end was quiet, meek, and political to the end, with North Korea striking the finishing blows. The IAAF held fast with their lockout of any GANEFO athletes that just so happened to otherwise qualify for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and while Indonesia attended, North Korea once again stayed away partially as a result of that, but also partially due to indignation that the IOC would not refer to them as the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea'. The third GANEFO was allocated to Beijing, to be held in 1970. But with the Cultural Revolution still raging, China was still in no shape to host their own games.

The substitute host was Pyongyang. By that point, they were in no mood to host either, as they were busy threatening the next host of the Asian Games, which happened to be Seoul. Seoul begged off, fearful of a restart of the Korean War, but the Asian Games still went ahead due to Bangkok stepping in to host for the second consecutive time. GANEFO, however, did not go ahead. It never would again.

Sports and politics have a long relationship, sometimes ugly, sometimes inspiring, recurrently uneasy. Whatever the relationship, though, the place of power in that relationship is clear: the sports, ultimately, are to come first. The sports are the stage that must be constructed well enough that they can support the weight of the politics placed upon them. Whenever there is a fight for inclusion in sport, whatever the demographic, the competition must be important enough to be deemed worth that fight. When politics enter into the Olympics, or the World Cup, those who utilize that stage do so knowing that the events carry credibility. They mean something to people. They gather elite athletes at the top of their game.

The Olympics and World Cup have found, and ignored at their peril, that their competitions are best awarded to hosts that are, above all, capable of ably hosting them. The stadiums must be well constructed, the conditions suitable for play, and the personnel, be they athletes, coaches, officials or fans, able to set enough of their political differences aside so that they can play fairly, play their best, and most importantly, play together at all.

The Games of the New Emerging Forces failed and refused to learn that lesson. Instead of the best athletes, politically aligned athletes were sought, resulting in farces of competition. Instead of recording the event results, they focused on recording the opening ceremony. Instead of the most suitable host, politically agreeable hosts were sought, resulting in a high risk of those host nations proving too overwhelmed by those politics to safely hold a sporting event.

And when the politics overwhelmed the sports, the sports simply vanished.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Bought This Cheese With A Genuine $3 Bill

Before I do anything else today... if you'd go scream at the FCC for a while re: net neutrality for a good, long time today, that would be great. Be sure to use many vulgar words.

That very important matter having been addressed, let us now talk about counterfeit cheese. A cheese factory near Caserta, Italy was raided and seven stores selling their product were shut down on Monday when problems were discovered regarding their buffalo mozzarella. That's not the 'buffalo' spice you've come to think of when you hear of things like 'buffalo chicken', but rather mozzarella cheese made from the milk of an actual buffalo. That's what was supposed to happen, anyway. What was actually discovered to be happening is the factory was making the cheese partly from cow's milk, which is cheaper. 13 people have been arrested.

It's not just cheese. Just about any food can be adulterated or made into one thing while claiming to be another. Bon Appetit put together a slideshow (sorry) of 15 commonly counterfeited foods back in February. (So you're not poking around looking, the text for each slide is over to the right.) For those of you who don't feel up to a slideshow, the list contains olive oil, honey, fish, scallops, balsamic vinegar, saffron, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, black pepper, caviar, milk, juice, wine, and "mystery meat".

Milk in particular ought to be hit upon. In 1858, an expose by Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper enlightened the people of New York to what would be named the 'swill milk' scandal. He wasn't the first, but he was certainly the loudest... and most sensationalistic, with P.T Barnum being an early influence on him. Normally I'd harp on that, but at least his heart was in the right place and he in fact needed to be sensationalistic, because he was going up against Tammany Hall, who was on the side of the distilleries. Said distilleries were revealed to be taking milk that was taken from cows that had been worked unto death, by milkers who weren't washing their hands, and fed distillery waste, aka 'swill'. The milk they gave was so sickly that the New York Times reported a bluish tint to it.

If you sold milk like that, nobody in their right mind would buy it. So the distilleries gussied it up with things like water (often filthy), eggs (often rotten), sugar (often burnt), molasses, flour, starch, even chalk and plaster of Paris. Anything to make it look pure white for long enough for someone to buy the stuff, after telling them how pure the milk was. Unsurprisingly, thousands of children a year died from drinking it.

So of course Tammany man Michael Tuomey was put in charge of the Board of Health investigation and headed off any kind of reform... temporarily. It wasn't the kind of thing that people would just forget about by next week. By 1862, New York State did what New York City wouldn't, passing regulation requiring proper maintenance of swill stables, and two years later, they just banned the distilling outright.

The Italian counterfeit cheese at least appears to have been made with healthy cows. However, that doesn't mean the cheese is necessarily safe. Buffalo mozzarella keeps longer than cow mozzarella, and the counterfeit cheese had 20 times the permissible amount of bacteria, which means some of the cheese on the shelves is expired now when the buffalo cheese would not have been.

You know, Italy, some of us just use cows to begin with...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Achievements In Weather Forecasting

The Galveston hurricane of 1900 was one of the most devastating in North American history, and is frequently held up as a hallmark of poor forecasting. It should be noted, though, that in comparison to today, forecasting methods were prehistoric. Talking about Galveston has been done to death besides; therefore, by blog doctrine, I'm inclined to skip by it.

I have a more recent, and less forgivable meteorological blunder to bring up.

Meet Michael Fish. Those of you in the audience who happen to be British probably know where this is heading, but remember, I'm American. Michael Fish has been doing forecasts since 1962, many of them for the BBC. He would be regarded with the respect given anyone who's been plugging away at their job for that long... except for there was that one time he's never lived down in the slightest.

That one time was October 15, 1987. Here was his forecast for that day, and particularly pay attention to those first few seconds.

Don't worry, there won't be a hurricane. Technically, this was correct, but only in the sense that Europe rarely gets hurricanes. Europe is further north (let's put it this way: Monaco is further north than Toronto), with colder oceans nearby and colder winds hitting them from the Atlantic, and of course, hurricanes live on warm water.

However, Europe does get windstorms, windstorms that feed on cold water. They typically form on our side of the Atlantic as nor'easters. And really, when it's the worst storm to hit the area in some 300 years, it's semantics. It's time to play the thing up. After having made a remark like Fish did, telling people to 'batten down the hatches' isn't going to be taken seriously.

What was eventually called the Great Storm of 1987 happened mere hours after the forecast. After the 15 deaths and 2 billion pounds of damage in the UK alone, attention quickly turned to Fish, who has spent the following months and years attempting backtrack after backtrack. I was talking about Florida. No, nobody actually called. The call was actually a staffer. Did you not hear me tell you to batten down the hatches?

How much has Fish failed to live it down? The forecast found its way into the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. That's how much. The next year, when another major storm hit and happened to knock over a tree on Fish's lawn, there was no way he was going to stay out of the news.

Meanwhile, other British forecasters took note of what happened to Fish. Since 1987, the tendency among forecasters has been to assume the worst. Better to be wrong in a way that just wrecks people's day than to be wrong in a way that gets them killed. In Britain, this has been called the Fish Effect.

Being right? That's another story.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Burn Everything... FOR SCIENCE

I think today's going to be a science-experiment day. Let's see... what's a good one we haven't done yet around here...

(browses YouTube)

...all right, I think I've got a good one. Despite the video I'm about to supply coming from people telling you how you can try this at home, FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME YOU DITZ YOU'RE GONNA BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN. Because today we are dealing with fire. Specifically, we are dealing with the color of fire. If you've ever watched a fireworks display, you're seeing this experiment in action: different colors are created by using different material for the fireworks... several of which you'll be seeing in the next few minutes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The International Random Film Festival

The film festival is, in its purest form, a hallmark of high art. A town's movie theaters are taken over for the duration of the festival to show films that are, usually, being shown to the public for the first time, often the only time. Even the ones that will go on to see wide theatrical release come to the festival in a raw form; the director will bring something pretty close to their original vision to the festival and use the reaction from festivalgoers when he reenters the editing room so as to make it more palatable for a general audience.

They are typically taken deadly seriously. Typically.

Then there's the International Random Film Festival. Maybe there will be high art there. They don't really care if there is. Every element of the festival is determined randomly. Festivals take submissions beforehand because they can't show everything people want to screen. Usually these are picked on merit, but, well, guess how the 50 screened films- any origin, any genre, any length- are picked at the International Random Film Festival., go on, guess.

Bet you didn't answer with this, which is how it happened last year.

The date of each year's festival is determined by going on and having it pick a number between 1 and 365 (366 in leap years, of course). The location was at first determined by going on Wikipedia and clicking the Random Article button until it spits out a location that lists a local population, but in 2012, they realized there was a geographical bias, as everything they were getting was in northeastern Europe. So now they use's coordinate generator, which is a thing I'm just now learning they have, and clicking until they come close enough to somewhere inhabited that they can go with it. What they've come up with is the following:

2010: Wiesensteig, Germany
2011: Bor Zapilski, Poland
2012: Anija, Estonia
2013: Garpenberg, Sweden
2014: ...oh, hello, Gdynia, Poland, I believe we've already met when talking about you and international ridiculousness.
2015: The first festival outside northeastern Europe will be next January in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia.

How do they pick who wins? That's right, now you're getting it. Even the awards themselves are more or less random, aside from picking an overall winner. There has been the Spoon Award, the Goldfish Award, the Runaway Turtle Award, the Pasta Award, and don't even try to figure out any sort of meaning behind them because there isn't one. Last year in Garpenberg, an audience member- selected at random, of course- got to present at least one element of nonrandomness, as he simply was permitted to pick his favorite film.

I suppose there are other elements of nonrandomness; for instance, they do try and use actual movie theaters, and try to make the screenings of reasonable length. And the films themselves aren't randomly generated; that you already see in the form of static, and that wouldn't be any fun. (Unless that's what the film's producer decides to do.)

I would show one of the films from one of the festivals, but it turns out it's really super hard to hunt one down. So just take my word for it that something called Spycat and the Paper Chase can get a screening.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Too Old; Didn't Read

I'd like to carve an extra couple hours out to get back to my big piece, so continuing on the creative trend, allow me to shunt you off to D.J. Taylor of the Guardian today, as he explores the topic of literary reputations over the years: specifically, why the names you know now aren't necessarily the names that are going to get remembered down the road.

I Hate This Piece Already

Currently, I seem to have entrenched myself in one of my more involved pieces, one I'm not ready to bring out into the sunlight yet because this just does not want to be anything resembling a short story.

Perhaps by the time I'm ready to put it out there, I'll be pretty proud of it. Five, ten years from now, though... that's a far dicier proposition. I've held that a good way to tell that you're improving as a creator is that you start hating your previous work. You see flaws in things you've previously done that you would never do now. The second you stop seeing those flaws and start seeing everything you do as great and perfect, that's when you start declining.

The thing is, there isn't really a timetable as to how long it needs to take in order to start hating it. In fact, you can start hating it immediately. In the new book Turning Point 1997-2008 by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, cofounder of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki tells that this self-hatred is what keeps him going.

"Making films is all about--as soon as you're finished--continually regretting what you've done. When we look at films we've made, all we can see are the flaws; we can't even watch them in a normal way. I never feel like watching my own films again. So unless I start working on a new one, I'll never be free from the curse of the last one. I'm serious. Unless I start working on the next film, the last one will be a drag on me for another two or three years."
Compare this with Lorne Michaels, head of Saturday Night Live, who adopts the philosophy, "We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30." Sometimes that hatred can creep into the creation of the work itself, where you're never satisfied, always looking for little tweaks and adjustments and improvements to the point where you have trouble letting go of it. Will there be errors? Of course there will. There is no perfect piece of art. There's no maximum 'art score' which upon hitting it means you win art. All you can do is your damnedest and take the lessons you learned on your last piece and apply them to your next. Michaels and the SNL crew have no choice but to adopt that approach, because they have a timeslot to fill and that timeslot isn't moving. When it's showtime, they have literally no choice but to go on stage with whatever they have for a script at that point. Is it just like they want it? No. But they have a deadline, and because they have a deadline, they have to learn to let go and move on to the next work.

As Michaels puts it, at least in an SNL context:

"It’s in no way natural to be performing at 11:30 on a Saturday night in a skyscraper in Rockefeller Center, so to get comfortable, to get loose, to feel that it makes perfect sense, takes just doing it. Sometimes you blow a line, or that thing you’re completely confident about falls apart. There’s no blaming the marketing campaign. You just weren’t good. They didn’t laugh. It was a big moment and you weren’t there for it. And it’s really hard to deal with, but you go through it, and you learn, and you do it again next week. That’s the resilience of the show and these people. You love it and you endure it and you slowly but surely get better. Sometimes the clock runs out for people, but most of the time we stick with them until that moment when they’re just flying, owning the stage, lighting it up and knowing that the audience is with them."
In both cases it comes down to work driving more work. Is there something wrong with your work? Yes. Always has been. Always will be. Give someone long enough and they'll start picking out flaws in the Sistine Chapel. It's still the Sistine Chapel.

Will you know if you have the Sistine Chapel on your hands, or at least something close enough to it? Typically not. But you won't know for sure unless you give it to someone so they can tell you.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

How To Draft Johnny Manziel (NFL Draft How-To Special)

1. Do not draft Johnny Manziel. Seriously, the dude's got 'bust' written all over him.
2. In fact, don't draft anyone who talks before the draft about the kinds of teams he doesn't want to go to, thus completely missing the point behind a draft.
3. If you must draft Johnny Manziel, do not be the Cleveland Browns.
4. If you are the Cleveland Browns, just don't draft a quarterback at all, actually.
5. If you must draft a quarterback for the Browns, again, perhaps consult some help.
6. A $100,000 analytics study on quarterback prospects, that ultimately spits out Teddy Bridgewater- who is available when your turn arrives- is a fine choice for consulting help.
7. A random homeless guy on the street who walks up to the owner and says "Draft Manziel" is not.
8. Do not give more weight to the homeless guy.
9. Be afraid when he gets a sullen look on his face and starts chugging beers during his wait. For the record, Aaron Rodgers largely managed to keep a poker face, though at one point he did shrug his shoulders at the camera.
10. Be very afraid when, on stage, he adopts the most forced smile since the last time the Joker gassed someone.
11. When announcing the pick to your online fans, it is '22nd', not '22th.'

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tip #1: Make The Pitching Machine Drive

It's nigh-inevitable that every baseball season, there will be some fan or other who makes an attempt to visit all 30 major league ballparks. Last season was no exception, with Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster endeavoring to visit them all within a scant 30 days. This didn't merely require a Herculean driving effort, lots of lost sleep, luck with extra innings and no rainouts. It required an algorithm- which they could do, being from Harvard and all. It required a set of dates that permitted all 30 stadiums to be visited one by one by car within that time, and it also required those car trips to be halfway drivable. Blatt and Brewster based the trip they took on the optimal route their algorithm spit out, which for them ran about 18,000 miles.

The rules they laid down were to allow four hours for each game, though you had to be there for every single pitch of the ballgame. The object is to complete the trip in under 30 days while maximizing the time spent between cities, so as to permit easier drives. The algorithm also makes efforts to reduce breakneck driving as much as possible, so that you're not trying to make a long-haul drive with only a one hour grace period. An additional rule is that you also have to drive back to your starting point before the 30 days are up. If you begin at Miller Park with a Brewers game, you have to get yourself back to Milwaukee after your 30th game, so the algorithm will generally be nice enough to place your 30th game at a nearby stadium, say, Wrigley Field or Comerica Park.

Human fatigue is accounted for only in the sense that the longest leg of the journey is given as much time as possible.

Usually these trips allow for the traveler to use the entire season to get the job done, so they can take a day off here and there and actually enjoy the scenery. But if you're not one of these people and enjoy pain pain pain, Slate has a copy of the algorithm here to use to your leisure. You pick the starting stadium, then pick a starting date, and it'll do the rest of the work for you... unless there isn't a way to make it work without the aid of a TARDIS, in which case the date simply isn't selectable for that stadium.

The trip suggested by Blatt and Brewster, the optimal route from the remaining portion of the season, dumps you in Oakland to start on May 30, mandates you to drive to Seattle first, and then gives you two days to get from Seattle to Milwaukee. You're supposed to get from a Washington night game to a Cincinnati day game to a Colorado night game the next day, as well as a similar day-to-next-night drive from Baltimore to Miami. You're given one doubleheader towards the end, when you have to get from a Dodgers day game to an Angels night game. This will run you 16,927 miles overall.

But what if you're crazy? What if you looked for the most obnoxious route possible, like I did? While it may or may not be the longest route provided- probably not- it is plenty long enough. The route I found begins at Coors Field in Denver on July 23, and has four doubleheaders on it: Padres day game to Dodgers night game, Mets day game to Yankees night game, White Sox day game to Brewers night game, and Phillies day game to Orioles night game. Your route starts out as Colorado, Seattle, LA Angels, San Francisco, two days to Houston, one day to Chicago Cubs, one and a half days to San Diego. You're expected to cannonball run from Phoenix to the Mets/Yankees doubleheader in a day and a half. There's a drive from Miami to Cleveland to Arlington. You'll be transitioning from night games to early games the next day on your way from Pittsburgh to the White Sox, Atlanta to Detroit, and from St. Louis to your final game in Minnesota. And then, from Minnesota, you will be spending your final day driving from Minneapolis to Denver without even a baseball game to entice you to keep going. All you're trying to do is beat the clock.

That's 25,333 miles in 23 days, 19 hours.

Good luck.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Random News Generator- St. Helena

Sometimes I hate this thing.

This is the second time, according to my records, that I've done St. Helena. (Yes, I have records of this. England, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Arab Emirates lead the pack with three appearances each.) I hated this just as much three years ago, and found that so do the locals, many of which run screaming into the arms of England at the first opportunity because there's nothing on the island and it's boring and isolated and blech.

Back then, I noted that a ship serves the island every other week or so in order to truck in supplies. There is actually a thing happening regarding that: namely, St. Helena is in the process of building an airport. That would significantly reduce the amount of isolation, as supplies could be brought in within hours instead of days or weeks. Construction began in 2012; it's slated to be completed in 2016. Once it's up and running, the ship will be retired.

There is actually some opposition to this. A ship is able to carry different kinds of freight than a plane- the heavier stuff, chiefly, like cars- and so despite funding for the airport winning a referendum in 2002 by a margin of 72-28, it wasn't absolute. The referendum was alleged to have been slanted in favor of the airport, as it stated straight out that money was going to be spent on something. The choice was to spend it on the airport or spend it on a new ship. Some people didn't want to spend anything on anything, and especially do not want the island to suffer from overdevelopment, preferring a slow-paced existence to what modernization would bring.

I know how I'm voting. If it's not for the airport, I'm telling you about coins with birds on them.