Monday, June 30, 2014

Kurdish Delight: Turkey and Israel Back Independent Kurdistan

Two quotations:
“In the past an independent Kurdish state was a reason for war [for Turkey] but no one has the right to say this now.” - Huseyin Celik, spokesman for the ruling AK party 
 “We need to support the Kurdish aspiration for independence. They deserve it.” -  Benjamin Netanyahu

Supreme Court Rules For Hobby Lobby's Religious Exemption to Obamacare, and People LOSE THEIR FREAKING MINDS

Instead of focusing much more on the amazingly unhinged and hateful responses of some angry folk on social media, let us try to look at the decision.  I give you initial thoughts by law profs Ann Althouse and Jonathan Adler.

UPDATE 1: OK, I laughed:

UPDATE 2:  Thoughts?

Hilarious Thought of the Day

Fabulous: Fashion Grandpas

This Instagram account is a veritable art gallery of the sartorial stylings of fashionable fellows of a certain age.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Fleeing Christians of Iraq

It's one of the world's oldest Christian communities, and it's on the verge of extinction.  Many are fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan, which seems to be one of the only (relatively) safe spots in the region.

Don't Read This Unless You Want To Be Depressed

Obama's top 10 foreign policy disasters.  Number 1 is Syria because:
This is a blunder that arguably sums up every one of Obama’s weaknesses in conducting foreign policy.  ...

Syria has shown us the many faces of Barack Obama.

First we had Obama the deer in the headlights, doing nothing for a year after the revolt against Bashar al-Assad broke out in April 2011 and people started dying—a period when there was a real opportunity to shift the balance of forces in the Middle East.

Then we had Obama the redliner in August 2012, promising swift action if Assad used chemical weapons against the rebels … then doing nothing when they were used.

Then came Obama the unilateralist, deciding he had to take military action so he wouldn’t look like a prevaricating poltroon. This was immediately followed by Obama the devious, leaving ultimate responsibility for the decision to Congress.

By then, of course, half a million people were dead and Al Qaeda was left to take over leadership of the  rebellion against Assad.

Then came Obama, president of the Vladimir Putin fan club, gratefully taking up the Russian leader’s offer to broker the handover of Assad’s chemical weapons stash because it got Obama off the hook for military action. It also taught Putin that if he wanted to start reassembling the broken bits of the old Soviet Union, starting with Ukraine, Obama wouldn’t raise a hand to stop him.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Prince Harry to the Rescue in Chile

World Cup TV-repairing chivalry.  Hey, you think this is a joke?  Soccer is a religion!  Too bad Chile just lost to Brazil, though.

"The Overseas Selfie": Narcissism and Global Voluntourism

Not surprised.  A blurb:
Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit.  In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems.  In Ghana, I realized that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months.  This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

LOL: A Comment on Journalism

Jon Stewart vs. IRS "Lost Emails" Nonsense


"Borders on criminal stupidity" ...
and, why, yes, I do have a old blog category tag called "felony stupidity"!

LOL: "Rainbow-Cake Recipe Inspires Comment Apocalypse"

Good grief, people, it's just a cake recipe.

Turn Turn Turn: Baltimore's Trash-Clearing Water Wheel

40 tons of trash removed from Baltimore's Inner Harbor since the wheel started turning in May!  Wow, that's a LOT of rubbish.  I don't remember the water being that filthy when I was there not too long ago.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meet Philani Dladla the Pavement Bookworm of Johannesburg

Read on!

World Cup: Fit To Be Tied

Well, the US and Portugal tied 2-2 last night, and my crew and I were NOT HAPPY.  Still, in retrospect, it was a crazy match, and Portugal - I have to hand it to them - actually made their desperation into a last-second goal to stay alive in the tournament. (Still, my favorite reaction was a buddy's who saw it and screamed, "ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME?!")  Next up we get to face Germany, and it will be a case of the current girlfriend meeting the ex, as Klinsmann used to coach the German team and now he's coaching ours.

Aside from the action on the pitch, though, the US fans in the stands provided plenty of entertainment from the folks dressed as the Statue of the Liberty to this utterly magnificent madness as captured by ESPN:

Awesome Monday Therapy: Coffee-Glazed Doughnuts

Yes, you read that right!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Movie Review: "Edge of Tomorrow"


Full Metal Groundhog Day.

Add Edge of Tomorrow to the list of excellent but underappreciated sci-fi movies.  It really should be doing much better at the box office than it currently is.  Combine an alien invasion with temporal anomalies, Tom Cruise in a redemptive role, Emily Blunt cast gloriously against type, and lots of things going kaboom, and you have one of the best non-franchise science fiction action flicks I've seen in a while.

The premise is pure Groundhog Day, the setting pure Independence Day:  Cruise is Major William Cage, a soldier who after a horrifying encounter with an "Alpha" alien on the battlefield finds that he has acquired the tentacled invaders' ability to manipulate time.  Now able to reset the day whenever he dies, he gains a brutal education in the attempt to find a way to defeat the aliens.  This is sheer video game (you learn more and get farther with every attempt, but every time you die you have to start at the beginning), but Edge of Tomorrow makes it work with clever editing, character development (!), convincing special effects, and a good supporting cast (especially Bill Paxton as Sergeant Farell, whose backwoods accent belies a singular way with words: "You're an American?" "No, sir, I'm from Kentucky").

Assorted thoughts: Maybe it's because I had only recently been thinking about D-Day, but I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of Forward Operating Base Heathrow and the human military's attempt to mount a massive invasion of the French beaches and from there to push back the alien horde that has already engulfed Europe (beginning with - yes - Germany).  I hope this isn't a spoiler, but ... There's an action sequence in Paris that is just gangbusters.  The Louvre has never been so exciting.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out Emily Blunt's excellent turn as Rita Vrataski (what a name), the tough-as-nails Special Forces warrior who helps Cage.  In my head Emily's always the hoopskirted lead of The Young Victoria (2009) and the actress in other roles (such as her turn in The Devil Wears Prada) that are as far as you can get from brutal sci fi battlefields filled with metal, fire, and whirling aliens.  As Rita, Emily Blunt is convincing, riveting, simply terrific: this is really her movie as much as it is Cruise's.  (The Cinema-Mad Sibling yelled, "Cast her as Wonder Woman!  NOW!")

Mad Minerva gives Edge of Tomorrow a grade of A.  I personally liked it a lot better than Cruise's slow-moving sci fi attempt from last yearEdge of Tomorrow brings the action along with an unexpected sense of humor.  Besides, how can you go wrong with a kick-ass character called both "the Angel of Verdun" and "Full Metal Bitch," right?

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 90%.

Edge of Tomorrow runs 113 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and alien violence, some language, and a bit of nudity.

One more thing: the source of this flick is a 2004 Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka called All You Need Is Kill.  Part of me wishes that the moviemakers had kept the title, as Engrishy as it is! 

Here's the trailer:

Amelia Earhart 2.0

Another Amelia Earhart is attempting to fly around the world.

A Christian Convert in Afghanistan

On the run.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Headline of the Day: "Pope Francis Excommunicates the Sicilian Mafia, Takes the Cannoli"

Well, you can't talk about the mob without working in a Godfather reference!

Let Them Eat Regulations

A thought about food freedom.  You want government out of the bedroom and boardroom?  How about out of the kitchen too?

Nerd News: One Tax Professor vs. the IRS Scandal

If you're not reading Professor Caron's blog, gentle readers, you are missing out.

Ave atque Vale: Stephanie Kwolek

She was the inventor of Kevlar.  (Hat tip to California Dreamer.)

Nerd LOL: Clickbait Dissertations

What if dissertations were titled like Buzzfeed articles?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick, Name the Washington Football Team

Because obviously the government doesn't have anything else to do than mess with nomenclature:
Anyhow, it’s comforting to know that in the midst of a massive IRS scandal that makes Watergate look like child’s play and the disintegration of the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Iraq, our government is focusing on the issues that really matter: the names of professional sports teams.
I personally don't freaking care about the name of the Washington Redskins, but I do care that government's taking sides in what is basically a boutique argument about political correctness.  In any case, it's a horrible precedent.

At least people are cheerfully mocking this on Twitter with the hashtag #NewRedskinsName. My favorites so far:

IRS NSA LOL

Here's a hilarious follow-up to the pathetic Lois Lerner "lost emails" mess

Look at this headline. Just look at it: "IRS Claims Two Years Of Emails Were Destroyed In A 'Computer Crash;' Congressman Asks The NSA To Supply 'Missing' Email Metadata."  Bwahaha!

This is also a perfect excuse to listen again to the NSA Slow Jam, as Alessandra just said.  Well, I never need an excuse to post a Remy video, so here you go.

Quote of the Day: US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Or, more accurately, lack of it:
While other administrations have shown weakness or had failures in the region, “This is the first administration to see the region as inconsequential.” Believing our “real” interests lay elsewhere (e.g. Asia) has led to a lack of focus and engagement in the Middle East. We continue to appear unserious because, in essence, we are.
YOU DON'T SAY!

Kurdistan as Fait Accompli

"Kurdistan Exists: What Now?"

Bowe Bergdahl: the Movie?

Really?  I think I'd rather watch any of these - yes, even the absolutely godawful Batman and Robin.

World Cup: Spain's Out

The defending champions are out.  Is there a World Cup curse? Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern?  

Remy vs. Obamacare Underemployment

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The World Cup's Most Expressive Referee



Quote of the Day: Nation-Building In Iraq

Yes. THIS:
"The problem in Iraq isn't that we tried to impose democracy by the point of the figurative bayonet, but that we stopped trying to do that too soon."
I'm a historian.  One major problem is that too many people trying to say/do things about Iraq don't know much (anything?) about history, let alone much (anything?) about playing the long game.  I find it absolutely incredible that anybody can seriously think we can just leave after a mere decade and think it's all going to be OK.  That's barely any time at all in the historical perspective.  (Remember Germany?  Japan?)  But hey, who cares about this stuff when your main concern is political optics at home?

Turkey: Hey, We're OK with a Kurdish Free State

Well, isn't this interesting.

I was just mentioning this to Alessandra:
"I wonder what made the Turks change their minds, eh?" 
"I bet they want the Kurds as a buffer zone between them and those [expletive referring to ISIS] in Iraq."

Monday, June 16, 2014

If Cartoon Minions Played Soccer

Nerd News: I'd Like a Tall Mocha Frappuccino, No Whip, With a Shot of Arizona State University

Here's the news blurb:
Starbucks Corp. will provide a free, online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University, the company and the university will announce Monday. 
The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 US employees who work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition; for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost. But even for many of them, courses will be free when government and university aid is included.
I expect ed bloggers and commentators to start a firestorm in 3 ... 2... 1 ...

A Win For Internet Privacy in Canada

Want to get my personal info from my Internet provider? Get a warrant, eh!

In Teacher-ese, This Is Called "Exceeds Expectations"

And boy, does he.  It's almost impressive.  

Safe Haven From ISIS

It's Erbil, thanks to Kurdish security forces, and refugees are flooding into it.

Monday Therapy: May Your Day Go Better Than This

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Nerd News: Race-Based Admissions at UCLA

Professor Whistleblower.

The Very Definition of "Backfire"

Recently taxi drivers in Europe went on strike to oppose new rideshare services like Uber.  To nobody's surprise but the strikers', this move infuriated customers and only made them more aware of Uber and other competitors of traditional cabs.  In London alone signups for Uber skyrocketed 850%.

Fugly or Fabulous? The Fiber Optic Dress

HE SAID XI SAID: Dangerous Brinkmanship in China’s Air Defense Zone

OK, I admit it: I first decided to link this story because I thought the headline was so clever.  Still, we would do well to keep an eye on the increasingly tense jockeying for position in East Asia:
Ships belonging to the various players in Asia’s game of thrones have been menacing, tailing, and ramming one another in the seas around China ... Now, things have taken an even more dangerous turn: China and Japan have started to do the same with aircraft.

Quote of the Weekend on Iraq

From the Wall Street Journal's blistering editorial:
The possibility that a long civil war in Syria would become an incubator for terrorism and destabilize the region was predictable, and we predicted it. "Now the jihadists have descended by the thousands on Syria," we noted last May. "They are also moving men and weapons to and from Iraq, which is increasingly sinking back into Sunni-Shiite civil war. . . . If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki feels threatened by al Qaeda and a Sunni rebellion, he will increasingly look to Iran to help him stay in power." 
We don't quote ourselves to boast of prescience but to wonder why the Administration did nothing to avert the clearly looming disaster. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

Iraq: Revenge of the Kurds

In the catbird seat.

Dignified Rant on Iraq: Work the Problem, People

You might have been wondering why I haven't said much about the situation exploding in Iraq.  It's because I can't seem to find the words to describe my utter horror and screaming frustration.  None of this has been a real surprise.  The fact that you don't want to fight anymore doesn't mean that the other guy wants to stop.  Clearly some people aren't willing to stop killing other people and persecuting minorities and now summarily executing civilians in Mosul.  Look at that mess on a map.  If I were, say, Jordan, I'd be shaking in my boots.

Yes, yes, I'm supposed to be able to compartmentalize and turn off the emotions so I can try to make dispassionate analyses.  I'll try to write something soon, but I've been busy and also currently find myself with various family issues to deal with.  For now do read Dignified Rant's take.  Here's a teaser:
Yes, the Obama administration screwed up by leaving Iraq on its own. But conservatives should be in the lead to urge the government to work the problem rather than settling for blaming (rightly, I'll add) the Obama administration for getting us to this position ...
But I'm also convinced that this administration doesn't have the foggiest notion what to do ... and that it's obvious to everybody else that it doesn't.  It also seems completely incapable of learning from its mistakes and engaging with reality.  There, I said it. (Related.)

Remy vs. the VA Scandal




I've always enjoyed Remy's work, and I've posted a number of his other videos before (he has his own category tag here, so click on it see cleverly done political humor like the NSA Slow Jam or the TSA Christmas videos).  He's always been witty and incisive and hilarious and just a little goofy.  It's funny and kind of cute.  This time, though, he's taken things to a whole new level.  The first time I saw the video I was cheerfully listening along and then my jaw dropped.  He went there.  It was bold. Ballsy. Brutal.  And brilliant.  Sometime you need a comedian to savage the news and people behind it.  I'm not even sure it counts as "humor" or "satire" anymore ... but I am sure that I've never loved him as much as I do right now.

Friday Fun Video: From Russia With Sludge

Take a look at this pottery wheel performance art!

Best Foreign Policy Analysis In 140 Characters or Fewer

Brooks is currently a Georgetown law professor. She worked in the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2011.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The World Cup Is Here! Get Yer Hate On, Sports Fans!

For your amusement, you get not one but two haters' guides to the World Cup, both hilarious in their intentionally hyperbolic hatred and gross national stereotyping.  Here you go:
Obviously the caveat is that if you are easily offended, don't bother.  Then again, if you were easily offended, you wouldn't be reading this blog, right?

By the way, I think my favorite insult from the haters' guides is this:
Colombia: Oh hey, how'd you guys get in? DRUGS.  You're not fooling anyone here, Colombia.  When a rich guy moves in next door and I never see him commute or he runs a shop that appears to have no customers but he lives like a rich man anyway, I suspect drugs.  And that is how you got here.  We all know that FIFA chooses its host countries and tourney entrants by demanding briefcases full of bearer bonds and bondage hookers and DRUGS.  So many drugs. Enough drugs to make your eyes bleed.  That's how you bought your way in.
You know why it's so funny?  Because it's riffing on the widely known fact that FIFA is laughably, obviously corrupt.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Movie Review: La Parisienne Reviews "Maleficent"


Apparently all disturbingly good-looking villains must now wear horned headdresses

“Maleficent” is clearly rooted in Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty,” and it is sure to evoke childhood memories. This is a tactic that works for the movie and against it. The story begins with a young Maleficent, a fairy child who lives happily in the magical realm of the Moors. She develops a friendship with a young Stephan (yes that Stephan) from the neighboring human kingdom.

So, how does this kind fairy turn into a powerful villain? Without giving any spoilers, I’ll just say well-worn tropes are used, which is a little disappointing. Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Maleficent, however, is remarkable and makes up for the rather cliché storytelling. I have to wonder how many times she watched the animated movie to prepare for the role. She is magnificent in her villainy, but she also manages to blend moments of humor and humanity into her character as she interacts with the sickeningly sweet Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, and her faithful raven, Diaval, whom Sam Riley gives human form. 

Sharto Copley plays the adult Stephan and demonstrates what a life of hatred and greed will do to a man. Much like Maleficent, he becomes trapped by his own acts of vengeance, costing him both his family and his sanity. He is nothing like the animated character, and he instills feelings of pity and disgust in the audience.

Like the animated film, three fairies agree to raise Aurora. I must admit to some personal bias here. The fairies in “Sleeping Beauty” were the characters I enjoyed most as a child. The fairies in “Maleficent” seem to be plot devices who appear for comic relief and additional CGI. Just think of women playing the Three Stooges and you get the idea. They have no character development, and I highly question if they ever develop feelings for their human charge. Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple deserve better. 

Overall, I give “Maleficent” a B. The story was a little disappointing in parts, but the acting and special effects are worth watching. In the end, I’m not sure if “Maleficent” departed too far from the original animated film or not far enough.

A Tale of Two Humorists: The Onion and the MFA

Oh, MFA. Who knew you had such a sense of humor?

World Cup 2014 Prelude: What If England Actually Wins It?

The biggest sporting event in the world Universe begins tomorrow, so here's a humorous what-if.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Movie Review: "X-Men: Days of Future Past"


What's past is prologue.

The sequel to 2011's pretty good X-Men: First Class is even better as it brings Wolverine center stage for a daring mission to the past in order to prevent a disastrous future.  Icing on the cake: the past is the 70s.  Get ready for all the wide collars, long hair, and polyester you can handle, my darlings (American Hustle should have helped prepare you!), and enjoy a rollicking story with all your old favorites, a fascinating villain, and, perhaps best of all, the delightful surprise of a supporting character who absolutely steals the show.

Letters From Cold Harbor

Grant and Lee correspond with each other on the battlefield.

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Con Is On

Consider yourselves warned.  Details here.

Taiwan Nerd News: Law Students vs. Chiang Kai-Shek's Statue at Fu Jen Catholic University

Here's the story.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Thoughts on Tiananmen and Taiwan

Food for thought.

A German Commander Reports on the Allied Invasion of Normandy

Here's something I hadn't come across before!  Take a look at a piece of Field Marshal Karl R. Gerd von Rundstedt's report:
I--Four facts which must be emphasized:
(1) The enemy's complete mastery in the air.
(2) The skillful and large-scale employment of enemy parachute and airborne troops,
(3) The flexible and well-directed support of the land troops by ships' artillery of strong English naval units ranging from battleship to gunboat.
(4) The rehearsal of the enemy invasion units for their task; most precise knowledge of the coast, of its obstacles and defense establishments, swift building up of superiority in numbers and material on the bridgehead after just a few days.

Going Ape in Tenerife

What happens when the zoo veterinarian mistakes you for a runaway gorilla?

Meanwhile the different branches of the zoo staff might want to get on the same page finally, y'think?  Communicate, people!

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: 25 Kitty-fied Food Items

I think I lost my appetite.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Normandy on D-Day and 70 Years After

Remarkable photographs from then and now.  See this too.

While you're thinking about the day, take a few minutes for:
  • Jim Martin, the 93-year-old Ohio vet who will parachute back into Normandy to mark the occasion by making the same jump he did 70 years ago as a private in the 101st Airborne.
  • A glance across the pond, where the BBC has Sir Patrick Stewart, Toby Jones, and Benedict Cumberbatch reading bulletins from D-Day in chronological order of their original broadcast.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ave atque Vale: Chester Nez (1921-2014)

Mr. Nez was the last of the 29 Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.  The Code Talkers' work was not declassified until 1968 ... and the Japanese never did crack that code.

Forgetting Tiananmen Square

It's been 25 years, and three new books consider how it has been suppressed.  If you're in a hurry, you can jot down the titles of the books and take a look later:
  • The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, by Louisa Lim, OUP USA
  • Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, by Rowena Xiaoqing He, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos, Bodley Head
Well, here we're not forgetting!  Please take a look at:
25 years ago I was only a child watching the news on TV, and from that year I remember two overwhelming feelings that were so intense that they probably shaped my adult take on foreign relations more than I realize: 1989 was defined by the joy of the fall of the Berlin Wall with all its jubilant crowds ... and the absolute, stomach-churning horror of Tiananmen Square.  God, what kind of monstrous, despicable, (what the hell, let's use the word and call a spade a spade) evil government sends its tanks and troops to mow down unarmed students?  And you wonder why I practically have an allergic reaction to people saying that Taiwan should be part of China. 

UPDATE: The Onion nails it again.

Monday, June 02, 2014

John Oliver on Net Neutrality

Monday Therapy: Deciphering Work Emails

Translating work email-ese into plain English!

Nerd News: Disappearing Conservative Commencement Speakers

So we've managed to over-politicize graduation ceremonies as we've over-politicized everything else. The worst of it might not even be schools' increasing habit of only inviting speakers whose views their people personally share - it's that students and faculty have developed (like a rash) the nasty tendency to protest and pitch fits and refuse to hear speakers who hold different views.  The Condi Rice debacle at Rutgers is only the latest incident.  The obvious desire to be cocooned in a world in which you never encounter a divergent idea is as appalling as the utter lack of understanding that your view is not the only one that might be held by reasonable people of good will.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)


Monster mash.

Watching gigantic radioactive critters level entire city blocks (in 3D!) has never been so much fun.  The iconic beastie who first appeared in Ishiro Honda's 1954 movie has become an international pop culture icon with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and with this 2014 film he is back and better than ever.  It blows away the awful 1998 movie with a force as powerful as Godzilla's own atomic breath (would you like a mint, big fella?).