When the new normal is better than the old normal

Recently my daughter told me that her friend from high school, whom I also know and happens to be the daughter of a colleague, had got married and was pregnant. She is in a same-sex marriage. Another colleague of mine, also in a same-sex marriage, just had a baby too. What struck me was how ordinary this news seemed to me. Just a decade ago, same-sex couples getting married and giving birth to children would have been big news. Now I find myself responding pretty much the way I would to news of an opposite-sex marriage and pregnancy of people I know, happy for the couple, wishing them well, and then moving on to other things.
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We’re really #1!

American exceptionalists are always claiming that the US is the greatest nation in the world and the best at practically anything that matters. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not see it in the same way and marvel at how deficient we are in areas like health care, social and economic mobility, infrastructure, public services, and other quality of life measures.
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Who is the mysterious Egg Man? And how does he do it?

There is a very strange news story emerging from a Cleveland suburb near where I live. Since March 2014, someone has been throwing eggs at the front of a house occupied by an 85-year old man. This was not some isolated random prank by a child or a by a disgruntled trick-or-treater who decided to get their revenge long after Halloween. This has been a sustained attack of more than 100 eggs. These eggs were projectiles launched from a distance and hitting the house with remarkable accuracy.
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The ‘world’s greatest democracy’ is not quite

Politicians in the US are proud of boasting that it is the world’s greatest democracy. That is part of the routine pandering that the public has come to expect, along with being the sole possessor of many civic and even personal virtues. But according to this year’s Electoral Integrity Project report, when it comes to electoral integrity, a measure of whether “polling day ends with disputes about ballot-box fraud, corruption, and flawed registers”, surely one of the most basic elements of a democracy, the US ranks a lowly 45th among the 127 nations it surveyed in 2014.
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2015 World Cup update #18: The path to the championship

The preliminary rounds are over and the matchups for the quarterfinals are now set. This is a knockout process in which anything can happen, where a spectacular performance by a single player or a lucky break or a fielding lapse can change the situation dramatically. As I said before, I am terrible at predicting cricket outcomes but that does not prevent me from keeping on doing so, so here are my picks for the rest of the tournament.
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The double standard is now standard

The lawyers for Stephen Kim, who is serving a 13-month jail term for talking to a reporter about a classified matter that was considered minor, are asking the Department of Justice to immediately release him from jail, saying that the plea deal they made with David Petraeus reveals a “profound double standard”. Peter Maass at The Intercept has the details.
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Conan O’Brien visits a cigar factory in Cuba

One of the good things about the loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba is that more and more people from the US will get to mingle with the Cuban population and find out what the people there are really like and rid themselves of absurd misconceptions about them.

In this clip, Conan O’Brien visits one of the factories where they produce their world-famous cigars entirely by hand to see how they do it and to try his hand at making one. Note the expressions of the woman in the beige dress on his right.
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I’ve just about had it with dangerous drivers

Within the space of two days, the following things happened to me during my daily commute.

A car that was behind moved into the left lane and passed me and then drifted right back into my path, forcing me to brake sharply and cut to the right to avoid colliding with it. At the next light the car was halted and I drove up next to it to glare at the idiot who was driving the flashy BMW. Of course, the young man did not see me because he was too busy reading what was on his damn phone!
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The IRS and me

I do my own taxes. Over the years, I have figured out the increasing number of forms that I have to fill out. They are not that difficult for anyone who can do simple arithmetic and is comfortable with “if …, then …” logical reasoning.

I do not use a professional tax preparer since I figure I will be able to exercise more care since I know the information well and can devote careful attention to it, rather than someone who has to deal with a whole lot of forms and documents. I also do not use the commercial software out of principle. I resent the fact that the government has made a deal with these software companies to not provide their own direct online tax filing system, which would be the logical thing to do. I do not see why I should give my personal data to a private company that lobbies to keep the tax rules complicated so that more people would come to them.
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