The Spelling Bee is broken

As long time readers know, I am not a fan of the Spelling Bee competition for many reasons. I have also been puzzled by the dominance of people of South Asian ethnicity in this competition. That community seems to be willing to spend enormous amounts of time and money to coach their children to do well in this competition. This year’s competition that ended yesterday resulted in an unprecedented result in which eight students, seven of them with South Asian names, were crowned co-champions because of a sudden rule change. The reason apparently is that the organizers were running out of difficult words.
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The case against extraditing Julian Assange to the US

Currently Julian Assange sits in a British prison after being unceremoniously ousted from his asylum situation in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. The US has indicted him and seeks to extradite him to the US to face charges. Assange arouses strong feelings. Some people detest him for some of the things he is accused of in his personal capacity while some journalists hate him because he exposed government secrets in ways they do not approve of. But Matt Taibbi argues that whatever we may feel about him, we should be very concerned about the implications for journalism as a whole contained in the indictments.
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The deadly Mount Everest bottleneck

I had been aware that more and more people were climbing Mount Everest these days but was absolutely stunned when Marcus Ranum had a post showing a photo of a line of people waiting to get to the summit. At first I thought it must be some kind of hoax because it seemed impossible to me that the top of the world could be just like the long lines outside theaters to see the latest superhero film. But it is apparently true and has been so for some time as this video shows.

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The obsession with fair skin in South Asia

This article looks at a controversy that arose over a photomontage of the finalists for this year’s Miss India contest where observers noted that all the contestants looked pretty much the same: light skinned with straight black hair, leading some to jokingly wonder if they were all photos of the same woman.


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Corruption and greed in cricket

The latest episode of Hasan Minhaj’s excellent show Patriot Act examined the deplorable state of international governance in cricket. He points out that the official bodies of the big three cricket nations (India, England, and Australia) act like a cartel and ram through measures that benefit themselves at the expense of other nations and the game itself. They have also resisted efforts to enable more nations to play at the highest level, because they seem to feel that widening the game’s appeal would dilute their power. They even derailed moves to have it included as an Olympic sport.

Here is the show.


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Boris Johnson to go to trial for lying to the public

Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and foreign minister who has been trying to inveigle his way to the prime ministership for the longest time, is to go on trial for repeating an egregious lie that was at the heart of the 2016 Brexit campaign.

In an unprecedented ruling issued here on Wednesday, a judge has paved the way for Boris Johnson to stand trial for a false claim that was at the very center of the Brexit campaign. The Vote Leave campaign bus was emblazoned with the slogan: “We send the EU £350m a week.” The independent U.K. Statistics Authority said the figure was misleading and the Institute for Fiscal Studies argued it was “absurd,” and yet Vote Leave, and Johnson in particular, continued to use the number throughout the hotly contested Brexit referendum in 2016.
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Ending the perks of political leaders

Politicians are supposed to be servants of the people but it is amazing how quickly they learn to see themselves as rulers, demanding perks and privileges going well beyond what their official duties requires or allows. These extend to cars, drivers, private planes, and who knows what else. They acquire a sense of self-importance in which their time and what they do is more important than that of anyone else, with the only exceptions (at least in the US) being big money donors to their campaigns who are grovelingly deferred to.
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How this year’s Sanders campaign is changing politics

Bernie Sanders ran a good campaign during the 2016 primaries that resulted in him posing a serious challenge to the party establishment’s preferred candidate Hillary Clinton. But there were problems, particularly with Sanders’s lack of explicit attention to the specific issues facing minorities and women and the poor. It is not that he does not care about those issues. Those have dominated his thinking from his days as a high school student activist. But he is an old-style socialist who sees discrimination in any form as an outgrowth of mercenary capitalism that seeks to pit marginalized and exploited groups against one another in order to keep them divided and unable to join forces on the things they agree on, because if they do, that would challenge big business and the oligarchy.
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Seeking messages from gods

Many religious people seek some sort of sign from their god that s/he exists and is also willing to violate the laws of science to demonstrate that fact, either by doing a general miracle or something specific to benefit them personally. Some are so desperate for this that they are willing to assign coincidences or random events or even obvious hoaxes (like the fish falling from the sky) the status of miracles.

While most of the time this is harmless, unscrupulous people can use this to trick people and swindle them of their money.
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Gerrymandering changes blocked by US Supreme Court

Just recently, the ACLU of Ohio won a big victory when a federal Appeals Court ruled that Ohio’s congressional districts were blatantly gerrymandered and should be redrawn by June this year for the 2020 elections. Courts in Michigan had ordered similar redrawing. Both rulings were appealed by Republicans and on Friday, there was a setback when the US Supreme Court blocked both those orders without any reasoning.

The decisions in Michigan and Ohio that were put on hold by the justices were the latest rulings by federal courts determining that electoral maps designed by a state’s majority party unconstitutionally undermined the rights of voters who tend to support the other party.

But the action by the justices was not unexpected as they weigh two other gerrymandering cases – one from North Carolina and the other from Maryland – that could decide definitively whether federal judges have the power to intervene to curb partisan gerrymandering. The rulings in those cases, due by the end of June, are likely to dictate whether the legal challenges against the Ohio and Michigan electoral maps can move forward.

So the fate of these two cases now rests on the outcome of the other two cases, unless the decision is made to consolidate all four cases.