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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guns

The University of Michigan's Health System has a fact- and link-filled webpage dedicated to Gun Safety for Kids and Youth. Recent data revealed "3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years" in one year:
* 214 unintentional
* 1,078 suicides
* 1,990 homicides
* 83 for which the intent could not be determined
* 20 due to legal intervention
The overwhelming majority (2896) were teens aged 15-19.

Thanks to its liberal gun laws, the U.S. does not stack up well, internationally:
According to the CDC, the rate of firearm deaths among children under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. American children are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die in a firearm accident than children in these other countries
One recent study found that two-thirds of gun owners store their weapons unlocked and loaded.

For many, many years, researchers have reported these kinds of results:
The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6). Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.
I'm very saddened to report that in just the past 7 to 10 days, at least two teenage boys in Louisville have committed suicide with a handgun.

I offer my most sincere condolences to their families.


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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Change?

With Scott Brown defeating Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, the Democratic Senate majority now stands at 59-41. In most legislative bodies, this election wouldn't matter at all since large majorities tend to get their way.

Republican exploitation of Senate rules, however, has made it virtually impossible to bring legislation to a vote because cloture requires 60 votes. Republicans won't agree to end debate to allow substantive votes.

At this point, I guess we'll find out if Barack Obama can deliver what he promised. Remember this?
We're up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner. It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea...
Of course, a lot of progressives would add that "It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Democrat had an idea..."

No President has all that much power in domestic politics -- aside from setting the agenda and employing the "bully pulpit." It seems apparent to me that Obama has to go on the offensive using one of his most effective weapons -- his own ability to frame issues in accordance with a populist understanding of preferences. In short, he should work to shape the agenda and pound the bully pulpit.

Many of the people telling pollsters they are opposed to the health care reform legislation are against it because they don't think it goes far enough (and it doesn't do enough for them). Obama has to convince a clear majority that it is a good idea. He has to fight for his ideas. Some key Democratic and Republican Senators have to feel that their own constituents want real change.

Most voters may have good health care coverage today, but millions are vulnerable in this economy. People understand that, at some level, but they need to know that the health care bill is for them -- not just the 30 or 40 million who are uninsured.

That aside, I suppose it's also possible that the House could just vote for the Senate health reform bill. Whatever the case, the country needs health care reform and then both branches of government should move on to topics that are clearly popular (and meaningful): limiting Wall Street's power, promoting jobs (perhaps via green energy, even if de-linked from the climate bill), etc.

A lot of people have been talking about deficit reduction, which most economists will report is a bad idea during a deep recession. Someone in authority needs to own that argument. Once the economy grows, tax revenues will increase and deficits will decline. Keynes 101.



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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Technology, Talent, and Tolerance

Is it time to revisit Richard Florida's thesis about urban development? Over six years ago, I blogged about Florida's ideas about the "creative class." Cities that attract and/or keep top-notch talent succeed where other cities fail. Florida has long argued that the way to retain or lure people able to exploit the "knowledge economy" (built on using technology) is by showing tolerance -- towards gays, for example.

In January, American Prospect ran a piece on Florida that punctured many of his ideas. According to writer Alec MacGillis, Florida has abandoned his old thesis:
Florida has been arguing that the recession has so decimated many cities and regions that it's time for the country to cut its losses and instead encourage growth in places that are prospering, like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and North Carolina's Research Triangle. And the rest? In his much-cited cover story in the March issue of The Atlantic -- "How the Crash Will Reshape America" -- he delivered the harsh news: "We need to be clear that ultimately, we can't stop the decline of some places, and that we would be foolish to try. ... Different eras favor different places, along with the industries and lifestyles those places embody. ... We need to let demand for the key products and lifestyles of the old order fall, and begin building a new economy, based on a new geography."
I'm not really an urbanist, but I watched two movies last week that made me think about Florida's thesis.

The first was the classic "Last Picture Show" by Peter Bogdanovich (by way of Larry McMurtry). Young characters played by actors Jeff Bridges (Duane) and Cybil Shepherd (Jacy) clearly wanted to abandon their small (dying) Texas town. Even the more contented Sonny (played by Timothy Bottoms) seeks adventure and marriage elsewhere -- in Mexico and Oklahoma. It's difficult to say if any of these young people had talent, though McMurtry's story is supposed to be autobiographical and he presumably left town to pursue his art. The fictional Anarene, TX, seems to tolerate all kinds of sleeping around, but citizens are not especially sympathetic towards a couple of mentally challenged characters.

The far more recent "Happy Texas" can more directly be viewed as a demonstration of Florida's thesis. Set in another sleepy Texas town, escaped convicts played by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam pretend to be a talented gay couple who offer their unique skills to a surprisingly tolerant community. In a way, they also save the local economy. If I was teaching Florida's thesis in a class, I'd think about using this movie.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

Elsewhere

Today, at the Duck of Minerva international relations blog, I posted "Good news on Iran?" It concerns an apparent Iranian nuclear enrichment moratorium and a possible breakthrough in the ongoing negotiations.

Sunday, January 10, I blogged about "Gitmo." The post focuses on the Pentagon's somewhat dubious claims about what happens to detainees that have been released from the prison.

December 29, I posted "Kidnapping," which focused on Phoenix, Arizona as the "kidnapping capital" of the United States.

December 9, I blogged "Selling the Afghan Surge."

December 8, in reaction to a Steve Walt post, I wrote "Wal-mart Isn't Green."

December 1, you can find my post about the "2010 Grawemeyer Winner," Trita Parsi.

On November 22, I blogged "Praying for the end of time," about President Obama's then-delayed Afghan policy review.

November 20, I produced a call "Seeking Grawemeyer Nominations: 2011 Prize." The deadline, by the way, is January 15.



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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Top Americana CDs of the Aughts

It looks like I've selected my top 20 Americana recordings of 2000 to 2009.

Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker and Gold
Dave Alvin, Ashgrove
Grayson Capps, Wail and Ride
Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby
Drive By Truckers, Decoration Day
Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now
Jackie Greene, American Myth
Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
Los Super Seven, Heard It On the X
Marah, Kids in Philly
James McMurtry, Childish Things
Tift Merritt, Tambourine
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Soundtrack
Todd Snider, East Nashville Blues
White Stripes, Elephant
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

As the links make clear, I sometimes blog about my favorite artists -- and their local live performances (or CDs).

I'm surprised the above doesn't include any Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams, but I like their earlier recordings more than their work in the 2000s. In blogtopia, I saw lists topped by Kasey Chambers, Gillian Welch, and a different Neko Case recording. Lists like this are inherently idiosyncratic.


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Sunday, January 03, 2010

20 Best Movies of the Decade

Obviously, I have to begin with an important caveat: I have not seen very many movies from 2009. Moreover, scanning Metacritic's list, I apparently missed some of the best films of the past ten years, including their top two choices -- Pan's Labyrinth and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I have the former on an old videotape somewhere and the latter is currently on my DVR, so I figure to watch them soon.

In any case, these are my top 20 movies of 2000 to 2009. I often picked films that I found especially entertaining -- typically good enough to watch again when they appear on cable. You'll also find plenty of IR-related films and one baseball flick:

Almost Famous
Black Book
Dark Knight
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Fog of War
Good Night, and Good Luck
The Incredibles
Juno
The Lives of Others
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Man on Wire
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Sideways
Sugar
The Quiet American
Thank You for Smoking
V for Vendetta
The Visitor
Wag the Dog

As the links reveal, it turns out that I've often blogged about my favorites (and sometimes used them in class).

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Books of 2009

Last year, as I have annually since 2005, I posted a complete list of books I read in the preceding year. This is certainly a blog tradition worth preserving.

As usual, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awarded $200,000 to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations. It is probably safe to acknowledge that I read the winning book, though I didn't read it until after the international jury had promoted it to the final round of our process.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links).

Non-fiction

Positively Fifth Street by James McManus.

The Film Club
by David Gilmour.

Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States by Trita Parsi. This book won the 2010 Grawemeyer Award.

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier.

The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.

21: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrick.

Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren by Joseph Dimento and Pamela Doughman.

American Empire by Andrew J. Bacevich

Seven Sins of American Foreign Policy by Loch K. Johnson.

Global Environmental Governance by James Speth and Peter Haas.

Poker Nation by Andy Bellin.

A Theory of Poker by David Sklansky

Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez

Read 'Em and Weep by John Stravinsky (ed.).

Zen and the Art of Poker by Larry Phillips

Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy

Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams

Big Book of Baseball Legends by Rob Neyer.

Saving the Pitcher by Will Carroll

The Fenway Project by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan (eds.)

Uncle Robbie by Jack Kavanagh and Norman Macht

Seasons in Hell by Mike Schropshire

A Short Guide to Writing About Film by Timothy J. Corrigan

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2009, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. I started out the year reading McManus's terrific book (recommend by Jeffrey Toobin on a private listserv) about the author's 2000 experience in the World Series of Poker. McManus was covering the participation of women in the event as well as the Ted Binion murder trial, which was indirectly related to the tournament. Ultimately, I found the syllabus for a class he teaches on poker writing and started making my way through some of his required works. Not all the poker books above are on his list and none of them are as good as Positively Fifth Street.

I ended the year reading Gilmour's wonderful memoir about the time he spent watching films with his teenage son -- a condition of father allowing son to drop out of high school. It's terrific reading in a genre I don't usually read.

The Collier book is likewise highly recommended and I adopted it in my fall class on Global Ecopolitics. I previously blogged about Zakaria's fine book and I would recommend it to readers generally interested in global affairs.

I would not place any of the listed baseball books in the pantheon of great baseball writing, but I enjoyed Leavy's bio of Koufax and learned a great deal about the steroids era in baseball from Game of Shadows.

Fiction

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

Forgetfulness by Ward Just.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene.

Burmese Days by George Orwell.

Lincoln by Gore Vidal

When the Light Goes by Larry McMurtry

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Devil in the Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

The Ivory Grin by Ross MacDonald

Ratking by Michael Dibdin.

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammett

One Fearful Yellow Eye and Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. Macdonald

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley.

New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford

American Tabloid by James Ellroy

The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley

A Very Private Plot by William F. Buckley

Of these, I placed the best literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction with the least entertaining listed last. I really like Graham Greene and Larry McMurtry, generally, and these books are worth reading. In 2010, I'll likely be reading still more about Harry Angstrom, Updike's protaganist. It's unclear if McMurtry has anything left to say about his recurrent character, Duane Moore.

Months ago, I meant to blog about The Road since its post-apocalyptic vision might presume a prior nuclear war or climate calamity -- two frequent topics in my blogging. But I didn't. Forgetfulness was recommended by our new President, allegedly, though I cannot find the link now. The film "Fight Club" is faithful to the excellent book, but Chris Buckley's book is not as good as the recent film.

I read William Buckley's book because I read all his other Blackford Oakes stories years ago and want to complete the series. The last one is on my shelf for 2010 reading. I was fairly disappointed by the Crumley selection and won't be reading any more of Ellroy for awhile.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books tend to have a harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy.


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