Wednesday, June 25, 2014

U.S. Odds Are 63% to Lose but 76% to Advance

If the U.S. national team plays Germany tomorrow in tiddlywinks it will be mandatory to chant U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A. whatever your personal feelings about the game of tiddlywinks. Soccer haters just keep it to yourself, you'll have the whole rest of the summer to hate soccer, trust me.

I've become a bit of a soccer fan, in no small part because my nephews play and one was on a 2012 state champion high school team in Oregon. It's kind of like watching good baseball, an offensive move starts to develop and then comes to nothing. But it's done without the commercials, so the games actually last for a decent amount of time instead of going on for 3 or 4 hours. Play the game with no long timeouts or commercial interruptions, what a great concept.

The last minute loss to Portugal, officially a tie but it felt like a loss as we were about to clinch, has created all sorts of complicated scenarios under which the U.S. either advances or gets eliminated in about 18 hours. Fortunately, the prognosticator Nate Silver breaks it down. He gives the U.S. a 63% chance of losing to Germany tomorrow, but nonetheless a 76% chance of being one of the two teams to advance out of Group G.

Recap of the ways we can advance and the odds of each:

USA beats Germany15%
USA ties Germany22%
USA loses, but Portugal ties Ghana18%
USA loses, but edges Portugal v. Ghana winner in goal counts21%

That last one gets complicated but suffice to say that the sports announcers will be happy to explain it. And really, you don't need to know, you just need to chant U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.

Yes, this could go on for a few more weeks until the final match on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro. But don't worry haters, Nate's crew only gives Team USA a 4% chance of getting that far. The home team is Brazil, and they're given a 47% chance to make it to the final, and a 37% chance to win the final. That leaves a 10% chance of Brazil going down to an inglorious defeat as host nation in the final game.

Those percentages will only grow for Brazil as the Word Cup tournament wears on, a rendezvous with destiny, either glory or a bullet to the back of the head ball in the back of the net.

Update 7/9/2014: I heard the news last night near the soccer fields at Danehy Park in Cambridge that Germany had knocked out Brazil in the semi-finals. Many are calling the 7-1 defeat embarrassing, but it's the 1 point losses that truly crush the spirit. There is something to knowing you have been well and truly beaten.

Friday, June 20, 2014

IRS Commissioner Offers No Apologies

The IRS Commissioner says no apology is owed for the unrecoverable Lois Lerner emails, Nancy Pelosi wants to buy the IRS a new computer system, and Paul Ryan is not going to take it anymore:

I don't usually like the style of legislative hearings. Ostensibly the witness is there to answer questions but, instead of asking thoughtful questions, each legislator instead takes their turn to give speeches. When it's a private citizen, it can be abusive. Does Congress really have the power to subpoena people it doesn't like so that it can administer tag-team lectures?

I feel differently when it's a government employee, as Congress is the boss, and every employee occasionally deserves a good chewing out. If only we could subpoena members of Congress to community meetings where they'd have to listen to our speeches. The most we ever get from national politicians is staged town hall forums where they only answer questions they have rehearsed.

The sad truth is that I trust the Congress even less than I trust the IRS.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sad News from a "Friend" in the Philippines

I got this email from an acquaintance today:
I really hope you get this fast. I could not inform anyone about our trip, because it was impromptu. we had to be in Philippines for Tour..The program was successful, but our journey has turned sour. we misplaced our wallet and cell phone on our way back to the hotel we lodge in after we went for sight seeing. The wallet contained all the valuables we had. Now, our passport is in custody of the hotel management pending when we make payment.

I am sorry if i am inconveniencing you, but i have only very few people to run to now. i will be indeed very grateful if i can get a short term loan from you ($2,450).this will enable me sort our hotel bills and get my sorry self back home. I will really appreciate whatever you can afford in assisting me with. I promise to refund it in full as soon as soon as I return. let me know if you can be of any assistance. Please, let me know soonest.
At first it appeared to be from the guy's actual email address, but on closer inspection it wasn't. I do know some people, an uncle in particular, from which I might expect to get a call for help like this, but not this guy.

Telltales that this is not from an American from Illinois:
"hope you get this fast"
"sort our hotel bills"
"we misplaced our wallet and cell phone"
"the hotel we lodge in"
"after we went for sight seeing"
"our passport is"
"very few people to run to now"
"whatever you can afford in assisting me with"
"let me know soonest"
The sad thing is I want to edit the thing and have the scammer try again.

Update: I found an email dated 11 days ago with this subject line:
Congratulations you have won 1,000,000.00 USD from Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes that was held today,do email us back Claims Requirements: Name= Address= Mobile-No= Sex= Occupation= Country= Email us back:
No body to the email, just a long subject. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sometimes Stuff Just Happens to Lois Lerner

The Washington Post has the official story on the lost IRS emails. The IRS's 6 month rolling email backup is fairly common. The idea is that if you haven't needed an old email you deleted X months or more ago, you don't need it. Email backups aren't being done for posterity, they are being done so that people don't lose work they are in the middle of.

If you screw up so badly that you've lost months of work, you should probably be fired, and why should your employer care then what files might happen to be on your machine after you are gone? Most times, it's not worth it to pay someone to go through them.

Let's posit that Lois Lerner may or may not have been an OFA cell member acting on instructions coming from outside the IRS. Lois might very well keep email on her local hard drive to avoid the regular IRS email server backups. Or, she might have done it because there were limits on how many emails she could save on the IRS server. Or maybe that's just the way that IT setup her email.

Then let's say the conspiracy gets hot. Or maybe you have done what you needed to do, and realize the inevitably of discovery. It should be an easy matter to trash your hard disk and destroy the evidence. Your OFA cell leader can get you instructions on how to do that. Sometimes hard disks just crash. It's happened to me a couple of times.

The Washington Post did get its hand on some emails from July and August 2011:

Email exchange about Lerner hard drive

Lois gets philosophical fairly quickly:
"We can only try - but it may be too late - don't they send them off to the hard disk cemetery?"
The final email is innocuous enough:
Thanks for trying. I really do appreciate the effort. Sometimes stuff just happens.
There is a noticeable lack of swearing. Did she really want her hard disk recovered, or just to exhaust every effort to confirm that the information on it was in fact gone for good?

Either way, the story is entirely believable.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Iowa Brings Knife and Gun to Fight for U.S. Senate

Joni Ernst has won the Iowa Republican primary to replace retiring Democrat Tom Harkin in the U.S. Senate. The Iraq War veteran and Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa National Guard beat out four men for the nomination, winning 56% of the vote. How did she do it?

"I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm," was the money quote in her first campaign ad:

The city folks, even in Iowa, were predictably appalled but the country folks know it's all just good clean fun. And don't think she just brought a knife to the gun fight. This was her second ad:

Her third ad took the edge off a bit, and closed the deal with the brilliant phrasing, "The church I grew up in is the church where our daughter was baptized." That third ad also mentions walking beans, and there are things you can do with a bean hook that might make for an interesting fourth ad.

I recognize the church in the third video as the Lutheran Church in the small Swedish-immigrant farming town of Stanton, Iowa, which is about 20 miles from where I grew up. Stanton is the hometown of Mrs. Olsen in the old commercials for Folgers coffee. Here Mrs. Olsen schools Batgirl on making better coffee:

I do not envy her Democratic opponent in the fall election, U.S. Congressman Bruce Braley. Joni is perfectly positioned to pummel him across Iowa on Obamacare, the VA scandal, the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap and any number of other issues. If Joni starts serving Swedish ham or meatballs at her campaign rallies, it's all over.