Sunday, October 22, 2017

Czech Republic Joins Movement

After wins by anti-immigrant parties in Poland, Austria, and Hungary, one began to wonder about the Czechs ... would they fall in line? The New York Times reports their answer which is "yes."
An anti-establishment party founded by a billionaire oligarch overpowered the Czech Republic’s longstanding mainstream parties on Saturday, making the blunt-talking, enigmatic tycoon almost certain to become prime minister in a coalition government.

Ano, the party formed by Andrej Babis, 63, had nearly 30 percent of the vote with 99 percent of ballots counted. The Social Democrats, who have been at the center of Czech politics for a quarter-century and had finished first in the previous election, came in a distant sixth with just 7 percent. The Communists were fifth. And the Christian Democrats, another party that traces its roots to the country’s founding, got less than 6 percent, perilously close to the cutoff to qualify for seats in Parliament.

Ano was not the only anti-establishment party to do well. The extreme right-wing Freedom & Direct Democracy, with 10.7 percent, doubled its proportion from the previous election.

The self-destructive open-borders politics typifying Western Europe are being rejected by those farther east. Add Ano's votes and those for Freedom & Direct Democracy and you see nearly half of the country voted anti-immigrant. The Times adds Babis is "Often compared to President Trump" as his themes are quite similar.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Travel Blogging IX

Sydney, Australia: We just docked in Sydney, at 7 a.m. local time. We had somewhat rough seas as we neared Sydney, as predicted. Apparently, that's usual.

The 55 day cruise we're on is actually two consecutive cruises on the same ship, and now the first of those - some 23 days San Diego to Sydney - is over. What remains is a month of sailing completely around Oz, returning to Sydney on the 22nd of November. Then we fly home on Thanksgiving Day, the 23rd.

We have a shore excursion this morning, which includes a tour of the famous opera house. It is just across the estuary from where we are moored. We understand some 600 pax are departing today, and something like that number will join us for the circumnavigation.

Australian immigration requires all pax to disembark no later than 9 a.m. to go through passport control. They also have a rule that if we return to the ship (to have lunch or whatever) we cannot go ashore again ... weird.

Later ... our shore excursion included a really good tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House, which looks like nested nuns' cowls. That zoomy landmark is 44 years old and in process of renovation, bringing the technology up-to-date.

We also visited the famous Bondi Beach, pronounced "bond-eye" in case you wondered. It is a pretty setting but less expansive than I imagined. Our guide Peter said it wasn't Sydney's best beach by any means, but it is the closest in and most famous.

Apparently 70,000 or so young people from all over the world congregate there at New Years eve, that is early summer hereabouts but early winter for most of those who are northern hemisphere residents.

Sydney has a new and nice cruise terminal which is essentially downtown, just across a narrow estuary from the opera house and the similarly iconic "Coathanger" bridge to north Sydney. This is an excellent location, so much better than most cities have.

Tomorrow is a "sea day" and the following day we're in Brisbane, where the DrsC have never visited. I hope it is as attractive as Sydney, which is darned nice indeed.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Travel Blogging VIII

At sea, en route to Sydney: Something I didn't write about when it happened: crossing the International Dateline via ship. It is a surreal experience I've had three times headed west toward Asia (but never headed east).

Ship time always switches in the middle of the night, like 2 a.m. when most pax are asleep. So, sailing west the day is, for example, Oct. 12, a Monday and you'd expect the next day to be the 13th, a Tuesday. If you cross the dateline, the next day is the 14th, a Wednesday, and you never experience Tuesday or the 13th.

Going east, you'd experience the same day twice, today would be Oct. 12 and Monday, and so would tomorrow! I've flown across the dateline going east and you land the same day you took off, with little apparent time lapse, or even before you took off. As I said, it's surreal.

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Each cruise line has its peculiarities, mostly derived from its origins (or the eccentricities) of its owner. Holland America Lines revels in its Dutch heritage They hand out a blue on white Delph tile to each guest each trip. Princess recruits mostly from the Philippines, Royal Caribbean from the island nations in the Caribbean.

HAL recruits many of its onboard "hotel side" employees from Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. I'm told HAL has a school there which trains cabin attendants and waiters. Because Indonesia is mostly Islamic, all HAL barmen and drink servers are Filipino Christians who have no prohibition against alcohol.

"Ship side" HAL sailors are Asian, not sure from where. HAL officers are largely European, many actually from the Netherlands. There are also odd specialty occupations like the casino workers who have their own uniform and are likely employees of a firm which subcontracts the casino operation. There are also a few shop attendants who tend to be Europeans (or white South Africans).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Travel Blogging VII

Docked in Noumea, New Caledonia: I am certain I never expected to be here. It turns out it is an interestingly complex place.

The neo-colonial Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere didn't quite spread this far. On the other hand, we were told they had to bring Charles de Gaulle out to get the local French on-board with the Free French and the Allies; apparently some Vichy elements were active here.

A French colony, New Caledonia was a major U.S. military base in World War II and many Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) troops passed through as well.

A thing that really puzzled me before I went ashore was the dry barren-looking hills surrounding Noumea. Yesterday's New Caledonia island - Mare - was total green jungle anywhere people hadln't bulldozed it.

The hills hereabouts look like those in Southern California - dry brush and grass. I asked how this was possible in the tropics and was told New Caledonia has many microclimates.

Likely it's no accident the capital is in a dry zone. In days when Europeans sickened and died in the tropics from malaria, dengue, and yellow fever - a dry region would be healthier, having fewer mosquitoes.

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We had a weird experience here, we took a ship excursion to see a WW II museum and the tour group went back to the ship leaving the two of us at the museum. This was a major tour guide screw-up, they normally count people every time they load a bus to be sure they have all their customers aboard.

It could have been a terrible experience but the museum docents called the tour operator who sent a big bus back just to bring the two of us to the ship. To keep us from complaining they said we would get our tour fee refunded and the ship confirms it.

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Later ... As soon as the ship left the islands of New Caledonia behind the Coral Sea became rough, likely the result of relatively strong winds. The seas east of Oz have a reputation of being rough, especially the passage between EnZed and Oz. We are north of that region however, roughly east of Brisbane.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Austria Turns Right

In an election on Sunday, Austrian voters turned to the right. The New York Times reports the incumbent Socialists came in third.
Nearly 58 percent of Austrians who voted cast ballots for center-right or far-right parties, with the far-right Freedom Party running neck-and-neck for second place with the establishment center-left. But the theme of the election was identity — anti-immigration and anti-Islamization — with the charismatic winner, Sebastian Kurz, just 31, tellingly absorbing much of the far-right’s agenda to transform his once-mainstream conservative People’s Party.
After the far-right AfD party made the biggest gains in recent German elections, the Austrian result suggests the German-speaking world is moving rightward, along with the neighboring Hungarians and Poles. Very clearly opposition to mass immigration is the key issue driving the rightward movement.

Travel Blogging VI

Port Vila, Vanuatu: We got a new country today - Vanuatu! It is a pretty set of 83 islands with some protected interisland waterways that probably qualify as "the lagoon."

Vanuatu got independence from joint French-British colonial rule in 1980 and today seems to rely heavily on France and Australia, with China coming on strong in 3rd place. Definitely part of Melanesia, the people are a very dark brown and most closely resemble Australian Aborigines.

We took a lagoon tour today on a powered barge with a nice roof for shade and comfy chairs. It was both comfortable and interesting. The trades were blowing and the weather couldn't have been better.

It turns out many wealthy folk have vacay homes here, some in the half million dollar range. That much should get a waterfront lot and a sturdy home with a view.

We hear the unemployment rate is nearly 50% and a couple of years ago a cyclone (aka hurricane) tore this island up a lot. Two years later there are still people living in tents and shacks made of corrugated steel and plastic tarps - no power or running water, surrounded by mounds of trash.

Tomorrow we are in port in New Caledonia, I'm not certain we're going ashore. The following day we're in Noumea and we have an excursion there, something related to World War II in this region.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Playing Checkers or Chess?

The New York Times' Thomas B. Edsall is as reliably on the left as the rest of their opinion-writing "Democrats with bylines." That said, he nevertheless manages to come up with something smart on occasion.

In his current column, Edsall deals with Democrats' difficulties in getting the votes of blue-collar whites, pulling together the views of a variety of pollsters and academics on this subject. Choice examples include:
When Trump stands up in front of his audience at rallies during the campaign and tells them he’s going to give them their country back, Trump is having a conversation about race. Our response is that we are going to raise the minimum wage — we are having a conversation about economics. We are playing checkers while Trump is playing chess. And he continues to do so as he focuses on things like Black N.F.L. players taking a knee.

Heightened tribal polarization is the primary hurdle to Democrats’ ability to better compete and win white non-college voters. Avoiding that conversation isn’t going to work.

The left’s lack of awareness of the excesses of their own evolving dogma makes it increasingly easy for Breitbart, Fox News, and similar-minded others to portray liberals as hypocritical and out of touch with the day-to-day lives of many Americans.

The cultural problem is Democrats looking down their noses at blue collar work and flyover country. (snip) Let’s get back to celebrating the work of those who fix pipes, install wind farms, etc. Many of us in Democrat bubble lands are just too full of ourselves.
Actually, Republican readers will find Edsall's whole column refreshing and upbeat. N.B., The first time COTTonLINE wrote of tribal politics in the U.S. was 3.5 years ago.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Travel Blogging V

At sea, en route to Fiji: We crossed the international date line last night so the date on this post is wrong, it isn't Wednesday, the 11th; it's Thursday, the 12th here. I have trouble wrapping my head around losing a day (Wednesday) going west and regaining it going east.

We get cable news on our shipboard cabin TV, choice of Fox or MSNBC, depending I suppose on one's politics. American pax are mostly Fox, mostly conservative I would guess. BBC is also available for those with a high tolerance for soccer and cricket scores. Plus we have gratis access to the online NYTimes.

We've been following the wildfires in NorCal, one of which is somewhat near our vacation home there. Niece Karen reports areas around Napa are a mess; her place is probably not threatened but she has airborne ash falling in her backyard pool.

Reading email bulletins from our former employer Chico State, it appears air quality on campus is poor. Staying indoors as much as possible is recommended.

Wildfires are an every-Autumn event in CA, caused by the savannah climate which delivers no rain during summer and early fall. By October everything is extremely dry and flammable. We have no realistic expectation of significant rain before late November, and we may not get any then.

I spent my growing-up years watching the brushfires burn across the Coast Range mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. Meanwhile my parents kept busy reassuring relatives that no, our house had not burned down. Pro tip: the media always overstates the damage.

Late summer and fall fires are a routine part of life in CA, as are earthquakes. On the other hand, we get no hurricanes, very few tornadoes, and little hail. Water shortages are semi-common but humidity is rare.

Life, as someone wisely noted, is a series of trade-offs.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Travel Blogging IV

Pago-Pago, American Samoa: This is our second (and last) stop in Polynesia, from now on we'll be stopping in Melanesia until we reach Australia. Time for a quick geography lesson.

Islands in the Northern Pacific - places like the Marshall Is., the Marianas Is., Palau - are deemed Micronesia. "Micro" meaning "small" and "nesia" standing for "islands," together they mean "small islands."

In the South Pacific we find two sets of island groups. Polynesia, which means "many islands." And Melanesia, which means "islands of dark skinned people." Generally, Polynesia is east of Melanesia, although it isn't a hard and fast rule.

Today we took a tour of the Pago Pago area of Tutuila, an island in the group known as American Samoa. Not that you can tell from the spelling but it's pronounced "pango-pango."

The first thing that struck me about this place is what a marvelous sheltered port it is. In addition to our medium sized cruise ship, there are a couple of other ocean-worthy ships in port - a tanker and a Chinese container ship. This port is probably almost as sheltered as San Francisco Bay.

Obesity is the norm in Samoa, slender people are the decided exception. We drove by a funeral parlor and the other DrC saw a double-sized casket, she said it was huge which I totally believe.

It is common to bury the dead at home, on the family plot, and often pour a concrete slab over the tomb, protection agains the elements I suppose. Others, possibly more wealthy or more traditional, build a low step pyramid (maybe 4-5 ft. high) over their graves.

Tutuila looks like most inhabited tropical islands. All plant life thrives as if it wer on steroids, everything created by humans deteriorates at an accelerated pace.

The reason for both is the warmth and humidity which, as anyone who has visited a greenhouse knows, makes plants happy. The humidity and salt air causes human-made stuff to rust, corrode, rot, and mold.

Today I saw an example of something common on Guam in the 1980s but now rare there - what we expats called a "Guam planter box." This is an abandoned vehicle minus its hood, or with hood open, where a palm or other tree has grown up through the engine compartment alongside the motor. Sounds like it would take a decade but in the tropics, where everything grows fast, perhaps 2-3 years.

We are here in the dry season so the humidity is only 80% or so, in the rainy season it will push 100%. We have a nice trade wind blowing and, in the shade it is almost comfortable, in the sun the breeze doesn't help much.

Our next port is in Fiji, which is Melanesia. More when we get there.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mean Megyn Mourned

In The New York Times, Batya Ungar-Sargon writes of missing the Fox News Megyn Kelly. That Megyn didn't worry about being liked and was tough on interviewees.

Her NBC morning show is all about "like me" soft topics. The author finds the new Megyn insipid, or worse.
You can catch Megyn Kelly on her new NBC program, “Megyn Kelly Today,” where she performs each morning as some horrific bizarro version of her former self.

It’s one of the bitterest ironies in television that it was at Fox News, network of blond bombshells and chronic sexual harassment, that Ms. Kelly was given the breathing room to become that most unusual of unicorns: an unlikable woman on television.
Maybe Roger Ailes had redeeming qualities after all? Ungar-Sargon concludes:
Whatever the reason, however, her descent into banal harmlessness operates as a cautionary tale to all women: You will have to be likable if you want to go mainstream.
"Likable" is a trait that's not easy to fake, even for someone as bright as Megyn. If it was, most bright people would be likable - obviously, not the case.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Travel Blogging III

Miscellaneous Musings ... We had a local Hawaiian group onboard entertaining the pax last night ("pax" is insider slang for "passengers"). Honestly, they weren't very good.

To my ear most Hawaiian music sounds like it was written by the same 3 composers; after a couple of songs it all sounds alike. We actually got up and left during the performance, something we almost never do.

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We came aboard a week ago today so we're 1 week into a cruise that will last almost 8 weeks. So far I've read 2 books and will start a 3rd today, a Clive Cussler novel.

While cruising is the primary time I read novels these days, it's something I enjoy doing. Ashore I spend more time scanning for things about which to blog or dealing with the minutia of daily life.

It's time to browse for more reading fodder. The Maasdam actually has quite a sizable library, as large as those on the small former Renaissance Line ships now sold to Princess and others.

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Perhaps you've noticed I'm linking to more NYTimes articles than is customary. It's because access to the online Times is free, it doesn't "burn" costly minutes of paid WiFi like browsing other sources does.

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Our cell phones are Verizon and don't work in Europe. They do work in Hawaii and the other DrC is on the phone with relatives in CA. We're wondering if they'll work in American Samoa, there's no guarantee that Verizon has bothered with the small Samoan market.

I just reread "small Samoan" and chuckled, because individual Samoans are anything but small. If you've seen the two large lads in supporting roles on the Hawaii 50 TV show, you know what I mean. They're huge.

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Later ... we've left Honolulu and are sailing the second of two long reaches of this trip, some 2000 miles to American Samoa. In some ways this is an odd itinerary, with two longish stretched of so-called "sea days" when we're not in port. Mostly an itinerary will have only one such.

We had calm water between San Diego and Hawaii but now we are experiencing some significant open ocean swells on the first day of this leg. We're rolling enough to make some pax uncomfortable.

The other DrC saw a couple of schools of flying fish one day out of Hawaii, as well as a manta ray perhaps 3' across. Fish are unusual sightings. We do sometimes see porpoises which seem to like playing alongside ships.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mass Murder Musings

Out here in mid-Pacific, I've been reading about the shooter in Las Vegas. What he did is clear, why he did it is not.

Apparently the man had no very well known hobby-horses, no axes to grind. He was a gambler, had made quite a lot of money in his life, and was no ideologue, as far as any acquaintances or neighbors were aware.

No Facebook rants or Youtube videos have turned up so far. If he had literature tying him to an angry movement we've not learned of it. And it's almost certain he knew none of those killed or injured.

The shooter was a planner; this was no spur of the moment 'lark.' He knew of the concert, selected a room with a view thereof, gradually ferried a number of weapons, tripods and much ammunition to that room, and was tapped into a video camera array giving him advanced notice of the arrival of police.

I'm going to guess at a motive, and let's be clear, it's one of those "what's left when you've discarded all the alternatives" guesses. Call it the 'Guiness Guess.'

I speculate he saw his one chance at enduring fame (or infamy, if you prefer) and took it. He will likely hold, for a long time, the record for "most shot by a person acting alone in a single place and time."

I would never claim to understand why holding that record would appeal to anyone, but I sense that it might, to a few.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Gerrymandering, a Primer

The New York Times has a good article about gerrymandering and efforts to rein it in. It focuses on something called the "efficiency standard" as a measure of whether too much bias has been used in districting.

As the article notes, the geographical distribution of adherents of both parties confounds some efforts at fair districting. People will choose (or be forced) to live near others with similar views.

To the extent that districts are at all compact, this ideological sorting process causes them to lean heavily one way or the other. It turns out that complicates efforts to legislate, or judicially rule against districting bias.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Singapore's Health Care Model

Today's New York Times has an article about the good outcomes of the health care system in Singapore, where lifespans are 2-3 years longer than in Britain or the U.S.
There are private and public hospitals, as well as a number of tiers of care. There are five classes: A, B1, B2+, B2 and C. “A” gets you a private room, your own bathroom, air-conditioning and your choice of doctor. “C” gets you an open ward with seven or eight other patients, a shared bathroom and whatever doctor is assigned to you.

But choosing “A” means you pay for it all. Choosing “C” means the government pays up to 80 percent of the costs.

The most frustrating part about Singapore is that, as an example, it’s easily misused by those who want to see their own health care systems change. Conservatives will point to the Medisave accounts and the emphasis on individual contributions, but ignore the heavy government involvement and regulation. Liberals will point to the public’s ability to hold down costs and achieve quality, but ignore the class system or the system’s reliance on individual decision-making.
Like many things in Singapore governance, it reflects the ruthless application of intellect to daily life. Singapore is a de facto one party state notorious for its lack of a soft heart, it rewards winners and penalizes losers. Unsurprisingly, this unambiguous reward structure produces in Singapore more winners and fewer losers.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Adios, Doofus John

Various sources, one cited by Drudge Report, are reporting Ohio governor John Kasich has suggested he may have to leave the Republican Party. To hear him tell it, the Party just isn't him anymore.

For the first time in quite a while, Kasich is correct about something. He should definitely exit as he sure as blazes isn't a modern Republican.

Kasich tries to be the sort of Rockefeller Republican that exists only in memories, and those from the 1960s. He'd be more comfortable as a blue dog Democrat, and they're an endangered species.

I give him props for recognizing that he leads a parade with no followers in today's GOP.

Travel Blogging II

Shipboard life ... On some cruises team trivia, which the other DrC plays, is a blood sport. She has literally been headhunted by groups seeking to win. On this cruise, she reports people are having fun and not taking it too seriously. I joined her for 60s/70s music trivia last night and was surprised both by how many old songs I could remember the title of, and of how few I knew the singer or group performing.

A couple of months ago the other DrC fell while hiking in Canada. She crushed the bony end of the humerus and put a hole in one of the 4 rotator cuff tendons. She has spent much of the time since wearing a sling to support the arm while the bone heals and, it is hoped, the tendon does too. You can see her x-rays on her blog at cruztalkingtwo.blogspot.com.

I mention this because onboard literally dozens of people have looked at the sling and said "Hurt your rotator cuff, eh?" We conclude rotator cuff injuries must be nearly as common as the flu, every third passenger seemingly has a cuff story to tell. I have my own, damage done maybe sixty years ago and never repaired, merely lived (or coped) with.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Review: Churchill

These days Brits are into biographies which focus on former heroes' feet of clay. The first which caught my attention was the biopic of Thatcher which focused on Maggie as an elderly sufferer from early stage dementia.

This afternoon the ship screened Churchill which focuses on Winston Churchill's role in the run-up to the D-Day landings at Normandy. The film would have you believe Churchill tried to kill D-Day. Supposedly it reminded him of an earlier (World War I) landing - Gallipoli - an actual disaster for Commonwealth troops for which he was blamed.

I can't speak to the film's historical accuracy, but it is very well made and moving. I went in thinking I'd probably fall asleep in the dark theater ... it did not happen.

I was glad the theater didn't have "smell-O-vision." The actor playing Winston smoked fat cigars constantly and I hate their smell.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: Dangerous Minds

Over the last couple of days I read Dangerous Minds, a 2017 book by Janet Evanovich, checked out from the ship's library. Herewith a review.

I don't know about you, I read Evanovich for the humor she brings to the Stephanie Plum novels. These now total some 27 volumes. I've read these, many of them more than once, and chuckled throughout.

So I picked up this, the second book (so it says) in her Knight and Moon series. Let's say I was disappointed.

Sure, it featured her quirky characters and breezy, off-the-wall plotting, but the belly laughs were missing. And she can't blame a co-author as none was listed.

You could call the book science fiction, or techno thriller, or even how to marry a millionaire and be sorta correct. It has elements of all three and more.

With another author's name on it, you might give the book a "pass" and say it was mildly diverting. With the Evanovich name on it, you expect funny dialog but don't get much of it in this book.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Bias Primer

As noted the other day, Holland America provides online access to The New York Times. Today their lead articles (2) concern the President's plan to revise the income tax system. The first is almost all straight reportage, as it should be.

The second, labeled "News Analysis" begins to demonstrate how to spin a story. The "Analysis" mentions all of the lacunae in the White House announcement. These are the not-filled-in details and the imponderables (characterized as "problems") those gaps might create.

You have to read to the final 2 paragraphs to learn economists think Trump's new plan would definitely be stimulative, a boost to the economy. Witness the classic misdirection ... author Binyamin Appelbaum puts the good news at the end. That's where many will never read it because the story - as written - becomes repetitively negative three paragraphs back.

The "Analysis" is an example of finely crafted subtle evil. The evil is easy to deny and hard to prove absent the Times' overt editorial bias.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Travel Blogging I

San Diego harbor: Holland America's Maasdam is not a new ship, but she's newly refurbished and entirely functional. Our flight was uneventful and Southwest's ground personnel in San Diego very helpful, those in Sacramento less so.

We are comfortably aboard, our cabin is fine, the location low and midships is good, and we've survived the lifeboat drill, always a bore on HAL. However it happens only once per cruise.

Other lines do lifeboat drill better, provide more info with less tedious standing. I remember one we did on Royal Caribbean sitting comfortably in a night club setting, without free drinks unfortunately.

We are loading up on fresh produce as there are a bunch of long hauls between here and Sydney, SD to Honolulu is 5 days, Honolulu to American Samoa is another 5, I think. It appears we may sail somewhat later than originally planned - no biggie in the greater scheme of things. The captain will pile on 2 extra knots and we'll arrive in Honolulu as scheduled.

San Diego is having a spectacular, warm, blue-skied Chamber of Commerce-type day. Basically no wind and beautiful shirt-sleeve weather. It normally isn't this warm along the CA coast, inland a few miles is a different story, often even hot.