On the Price of Gasoline

One cannot help but notice that as Putin’s war in Ukraine drags on, the price of gasoline has gone through the roof. A combination of post-COVID economic adjustments and sanctions on the Russian regime has driven the price to a comparative level not seen since the oil embargo of the 1970s.

Needless to say, there are a lot of complaints and questions:

Why can’t the president do anything about this?”

Why does it always seem like the price goes up even before any sanctions / disasters / whatever could possibly have an effect?”

Why is there so much variation in prices from one station to the next?”

The first question is a general gripe that reveals a poor understanding of economics and presidential power; the last two contain hints as to the reason behind the dramatic price increase. Continue reading

Putin’s War

The opening phase is over. The invaders’ initial assault has run out of momentum, and the defenders have rallied their people – both at home and around the world – to their side.

Now we’re in the next phase, where the combat becomes a long, dirty, and ugly slog.

And it’s not going to get better for some time.

Continue reading

Yet Another Halloween Miscellany

It’s that time of year again!

Atlas Obscura is putting the spookier of its worldwide Places and Things of Interest under the banner of “Fright Club” this month.

We’ll be taking you to a mountain of mannequins, the gender-fluid masquerade balls of Imperial Russia, and a church wall in dire need of an exorcist. You’ll learn about Cambodian ghost cakes, the practice of skull blasting, the history of Mischief Night, and more.

USA Today digs deep into how a blend of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg made Pumpkin Spice the flavor of Autumn. They start back in Medieval Europe, when those spices were worth their weight in silver (if not gold).

During winter months, medieval European physicians prescribed the use of warming spices like ginger, clove and cinnamon to accentuate the “hot” and “humid” qualities of roasted meat.

Need some background sounds for your Halloween party, display, or whatever? Check out the free soundscapes at Ambient Mixer:

“Witches, vampires, werewolves, and other ghastly creatures roam the streets. Nightmares come to life with the sounds of old castles, abandoned asylums, or a creature hunting you through the dark woods.

Whether it’s for a haunted porch, a reading or writing session or even a gaming session, create your own eerie and scary ambient noise mix for free!”

And if you’ve got a little one who loves being read to, you will both love “Scaredy Cat” by Heather Franzen.

Support the author/artist and buy a copy! Keep in mind they’re assembled individually by hand, so give plenty of time for delivery.

A story without words, but it doesn’t need any….

The Countdown to Halloween is up and running; they’ve been linking to and supporting blogs in the spirit of the season since 2009. The links to this year’s Cryptkeepers are in a sidebar on the right.

I was also musing earlier today about witches. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein’s Monster, even mummies get their due this time of year. But witches? They’re just a generic wicked or magical character….. That doesn’t seem right to me. There are plenty of witches of note in literature and popular culture.

The Witch of Endor in the Old Testament. The three witches in Macbeth, who almost certainly established the potion-brewing spellcaster archetype. Margaret Hamilton and the role of a lifetime as the Wicked Witch of the West. Witch Hazel, the comic foil to Bugs Bunny. Broom Hilda of the comic strips. Elizabeth Montgomery bewitching viewers as Samantha Stevens. The Halliwell Sisters of “Charmed”. Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman, hanging out in Riverdale with Archie and the gang. Wanda “The Scarlet Witch” Maximoff…..

And those are the ones I didn’t have to look up.

Maybe I’ll do a full-length post sometime.

Jeter, Miller, Simmons, Walker

Just a few days ago, Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ve already written about Jeter; there’s no need to do it again.

With regards to Marvin Miller, one of the things that seems to be overlooked with his contributions is that he didn’t come across as a “union boss”. No cigars or three-piece suits for him. He was approachable; players felt they could talk with him and not get a lecture. His portrait at the National Portrait Gallery shows this.

But what of Ted Simmons and Larry Walker?

Continue reading

Counting Medals

There’s an almost unhealthy obsession in some circles (the print media especially) about the “medal count” in the Olympics: which country has the most medals. Admittedly, it’s an easy shorthand for reporting the results, but no one who knows anything about the Olympics really likes it. The bigger, wealthier countries can obviously send more athletes, so they’re naturally going to win more medals.

One could make a list of “Medals per Capita”, but even that has some problems. A country might not, for whatever reason, be particularly interested in competing in the Olympics. India is the best example here. The nation of over a billion people just doesn’t seem to care that much about the Olympics. It’s not that they don’t have sports – if cricket were an Olympic sport, you’d KNOW they’d be all over it.

What if we did a list of medals per athlete sent (or athletes per medal, so we’re not dealing with tiny fractions)? Well, there are a LOT of team sports, and in some disciplines it’s possible for an athlete (e.g. gymnastics) to enter more than one competition.

How about medals per competition entered? This would be a kind of “medal efficiency” – how good your country is at winning medals. That just might work, but it would really smell of jingoism. The exact sort of thing we’re hoping to avoid. And don’t forget that the IOC has rules about how many athletes you can enter in any given area.

And what about the medals themselves? Isn’t a gold medal more “valuable” than a silver or bronze? What weight – if any – do you give to the type of medal?

It’s all a mess.

But I do know that there are some medals that carry a bit more meaning than any others.

Hidylin Diaz (women’s weightlifting, 55kg division), Flora Duffy (women’s triathlon), Mutaz Essa Barshim (men’s high jump) and Fares Elbakh (men’s weightlifting, 96kg division) won their country’s first ever gold medals (Philippines, Bermuda, and a pair for Qatar).

Pollina Guryeva (silver, women’s weightlifting, 59kg division) and Hugues Fabrice Zango (bronze, men’s triple jump) brought home medals for the first time to Turkmenistan and Burkina Faso. Alessandra Perilli (women’s trap shooting), Gian Marco Berti (silver, mixed trap shooting – with Alessandra Perilli), and Myles Amine (bronze, men’s freestyle wrestling, 86kg division) all brought home medals to San Marino.

Not a single one of them should have to pay for drinks in their home countries ever again.

(For the record, there were 206 countries or delegations at these Olympics. 93 of them brought medals home – 65 of them earned a gold.)

Olympians of the Moment

(I’ll be adding to this as new Olympians bubble up into the headlines….)

(Update 1, 7/28. Update 2, 7/31. Update 3, 8/2. Update 4, 8/5)

Seems that whenever the Olympics come around, the sports media here quickly develops a story line that will utterly dominate their coverage. This time, it’s the Simone Biles Olympics. Only things that happen to her deserve detailed coverage. If someone else manages to win a medal, everyone rushes to her to get her reaction. It gets annoying after a while – especially when there are so many other great athletes with real interesting stories to tell.

When you just barely qualify for the finals in the 400m Men’s Freestyle, you get stuck in Lane 8. Against the side of the pool, where you have to deal with waves reflecting off the concrete wall. In a contest that comes down to hundredths of a second, that stuff matters. Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui wasn’t going to let that bother him….

Continue reading

Let the 2020 Games Begin

As I’m writing this, some of the preliminary & qualifying rounds of the competitions at the Tokyo Olympics are underway. There are still plenty of people questioning the wisdom of holding an international event of this scale given that we are still technically in a pandemic.

I am not one of them.

COVID-19 is shifting from “pandemic” to “endemic”. It’s all over the world; we can’t contain it anymore. We know what it is, how it spreads, and how it works. We’ve got vaccines that work better than we could have hoped for. To those who have been vaccinated and take reasonable precautions, it – and even the variants – should no longer be a big deal.

Continue reading

Juneteenth

So we’re coming up on June 19th, which is in the process of becoming a major holiday. It’s supposed to mark the day that slavery ended in the US…..

HOWEVER, they’ve got the date VERY wrong. June 19th, 1865, was when Union Army general Gordon Granger announced “General Order Number 3” – that as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery had ended in Texas – in the city of Galveston.

That’s a pretty darned limited thing. First of all, as we should all know, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. Secondly, it wasn’t until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, that chattel slavery was finally made illegal in the United States.

If they really wanted to mark the day slavery ended, the celebration would be in December – right in the middle of the holiday season. That’s not going to happen. And people started celebrating June 19th almost immediately afterwards, so there’s enough of a tradition behind it.

Continue reading

Unmasking

With the CDC issuing another set of de-masking guidelines, there are a few groups of people who are upset that they are being lifted too soon, in their opinion. Other places have tossed the “Masks Required” signs into the garbage – if they ever had them up in the first place. There’s ambiguity in the new guidelines, and each state is likely to be in a different situation where following those guidelines isn’t the best option.

Frankly, it seems to me like it ought to be easy to come up with a set that should work everywhere.

Health Care Facilities: REQUIRED. Duh. Hospitals, nursing homes, dentists, even eye doctors – you’re going to be around people who aren’t in the best of health. Do you want to catch whatever it is they’ve got? Why even walk in to a place with lots of sick people WITHOUT a mask?

Continue reading

Eurovision 2021

I honestly didn’t think they were going to have it this year, so I didn’t bother checking weeks ago to see when the performers were finalized and the official music videos were released. Evidently, things have settled down enough in Europe for them to have the “battle of the bands” this year.

I hope I don’t have to explain what this is – just look for the posts with the “Eurovision” tag. This year’s event details are at the usual place – https://eurovision.tv/

The official “recap” of the music videos for the entries:

I haven’t had enough time to decide which ones I prefer.

Look, if you still think Verka Serduchka is the standard example of a Eurovision entrant, that’s like saying Arnold Schwarzenegger is the standard example of a state governor. Yes, they count as one, but in no way are they typical.

And we all know the real point of following the contest – making fun of the entries. Eurovision doesn’t take itself too seriously, so why should you?

I wish I could watch the actual competition here in the US (the semi-finals are May 18 and 20; the Grand Final on May 22). Even if it wasn’t happening during working hours here, I don’t think any cable network is carrying it. And for some reason, you can’t easily stream it online.

But if you can watch it, give it a look. There’s almost always going to be something fun, cool, goofy, or downright awesome.

(Yes, I know about the Will Ferrel movie on Netflix. No, I haven’t seen it. It’s a comedy spoof (at least it’s supposed to be), and should never be taken as a serious and accurate depiction of the contest.)