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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Film review: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

This Woody Allen production that he wrote and directed has a plot that readers of this blog will be able to easily relate to. It is 1928 and Colin Firth plays a famous magician and illusionist who also has a second career as a debunker of all those who claim to be mediums who can talk to the dead or other supernatural powers. He is a total materialist and rationalist and has never failed to expose anyone who came under his investigative gaze. Think of James Randi but even more so.
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Presenting the ‘World’s Greatest Deliberative Body’

American exceptionalism is prone to making claims that the US is the greatest country on Earth in every aspect and always has been. The true believers likely think that the Garden of Eden was here and that Jesus was an American too. In this spirit, the US senate keeps boasting that it is the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body though it is telling that as far as I can tell no one other than its own members gives it that title because not only is it false, recent years have shown that calling the behavior of its members childish would be to give children a bad name.
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