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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movies of 2009

As I've written previously, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed as DVDs on my television. Because I do not see that many films in the theater, it can be difficult for me to write a post on the year's best movies (of 2009, or any other year).

Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were 2008 films that I missed in the theaters or saw in the theaters during 2009. Some were even older.

To make this rank-ordered 2009 list, I scanned the top 150 grossing movies of 2008, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2009 (and their most popular by average vote list). These were the only 2009 films I saw this year, so far as I know. Those marked with asterisks were viewed in a theater:

Julie & Julia
Sugar **
Away We Go **
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince **
The Hangover
Sunshine Cleaning **
Un conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)
Extract **
Last Chance Harvey
The Proposal

And here's the annual list of movies I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2010): (500) Days of Summer, Amreeka, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Broken Embraces, Bronson, Brothers, The Brothers Bloom, Brüno, Cloud 9, The Cove, Crossing Over, The Damned United, An Education, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Funny People, The Girlfriend Experience, Humpday, The Hurt Locker, I Love You Man, Inglourious Basterds, The Informant!, In The Loop, Invention of Lying, The Maid, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Messenger, Moon, Paranormal Activity, Pirate Radio, Precious, Public Enemies, The Road, A Serious Man, Skin, Star Trek, State of Play, Taking Woodstock, The Evening Sun, Up, Up in the Air, Watchmen, Whatever Works, Whip It, White Collar, and Zombieland.

Metacritic helped me compile that list.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2008 movies from last year's list: Adventures of Power, American Teen, Appaloosa, Brideshead Revisited, Cadillac Records, Definitely Maybe, Diminished Capacity, Edge of Heaven, Frozen River, Gomorra, Gran Torino, Happy-Go-Lucky, JCVD, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Momma's Man, Revolutionary Road, Role Models, Seven Pounds, Shine a Light, Standard Operating Procedure, Stop-Loss, Street Kings, Synecdoche, New York, Taken, Tell No One, Under the Same Moon, What Just Happened, and Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?

Note: I did not provide links to the Powell's Bookstore website, where you can buy DVDs of many of the films listed in this post. However, if you buy books or DVDs from my link, I receive a 7.5% sales commission. All funds are used to operate this blog -- or will be gambled away at my monthly poker game.

Powell's is a great independent bookstore -- always a highlight of my trips to Portland -- with union representation, tremendous selection, and reduced-price used or sale books.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

RIP Duck

Tragically, my old friend Scott Deatherage has died. I debated against him, then coached him for a year at Baylor. Later, after I joined him in the Chicago area, we were in a fantasy baseball league together for many years. Scott was a great guy -- and probably the most successful debate coach of all time. His teams won the National Debate Tournament 7 times.

Twenty-five years ago, in Waco, Scott told me he loved this song by CCR:

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Steroid decade?

Earlier this month, Alex Remington of Yahoo Sports Big League Stew posted his Ten noteworthy offensive statistics from the 2000s.

As baseball fans might expect, the list is dominated by sluggers -- notably the PED-tainted hitters Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez:
I've tried to avoid the impulse to make this an entire list of Barry Bonds stats, but even though he stopped playing before the end of it, Bonds dominated the decade like no other player has ever offensively dominated, since Babe Ruth himself.
Remington notes that the 2000s featured 12 players hitting 300 or more home runs, "the most ever. (There were 11 in the 1990s, five in the 1960s, and no more than three in any other decade.)"

While those numbers for the last two decades certainly sound inflated by steroids, it is worth noting that major league baseball included 30 teams throughout the 'aughts, but only 16 teams from 1900 until the 1961 expansion. The 1960s ended with major league baseball at 24 teams. Two teams were added in 1961 and 1962 and four teams were added in 1969, so figure just under 20 teams per year that decade. There were fully one-third more teams in the just-completed aughts than in the 1960s. The 1990s featured 28 teams until 1998 when two expansion teams were added.

Incidentally, with expansion, major league baseball increased the length of the season from 154 to 162 games. That's about a 5% increase and people typically remember it when they think of the controversy surrounding Roger Maris in 1961.

If someone like Remington had noted in December 1969 that the 1960s featured 5 players with 300 or more homer runs and no other decade had more than 3, he would certainly have been reminded about expansion and the longer season. The number of teams had grown by 25% in 1962, 50% by 1969.

Until 1960, decades typically had 16 teams playing 154 games (ignoring rainouts, etc.). That meant about 1232 games (it takes 2 teams to play a game). In the 2000s, by contrast, 30 teams playing 162 games each tallied roughly 2430 games, almost twice as many. Observers could reasonably expect a doubling of certain kinds of counting statistics -- like the number of players who reach a particular milestone.

I'm not saying steroids had nothing to do with the recent home run explosion, but it is frustrating to see people write about baseball as if the structure of the leagues and seasons was the same throughout its history. This is not a knock on Remington per se, as I've even seen this in SABR conversations. Members sometimes like to highlight Hall of Fame arguments by noting whether a player finished in the top 5 or 10 of a desirable statistical category. They refer to the "black ink" or "gray ink" tests -- and they overlook the fact that it is much harder to do this now in an expanded player pool.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Though his website has been on my blogroll for years, I don't think I've ever mentioned Ken Pomeroy in a post. The silence reflects a selfish interest in winning NCAA tournament pools against people not as well-informed. I've admired Pomeroy's website since learning some years ago that the author had touted George Mason in its 2006 run to the Final Four. The local newspaper has also long promoted Pomeroy as the main college hoops statistical guru.

According to Pomeroy's system for evaluating college basketball, Kansas should be favored to win every game this season -- save for their road game against Texas in Austin. Given other probabilities, Pomeroy expects the Jayhawks to finish their schedule with a 28-3 record. According to his system, the team currently has the second best offense in the country, coupled with a top-10 defense. The 2008 national championship team from Lawrence had an equally good offense, but also had the nation's best defense. The 2009 team, which lost to UCLA in a regional final, had the sport's best defense, but only a top 20 offense.

In fact, great defense has been a hallmark of Bill Self's teams at KU. The 2007 team was tops in that category and the 2006 squad finished 2nd. His 2005 team was 18th, but had a great offense (11th) left over from Roy Williams.

The matchup against his system's #10 team Cal next Tuesday should be exciting and I'm also looking forward to the road date with #9 Tennessee on January 10.

Right now, Pomeroy has Kansas #2 behind #1 Texas.

Rock chalk!

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Dog Blogging

It's been a long time since I last posted pictures of the dogs. These photes of Paddy and Robey (the bigger dark brown one) are actually from August.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Best mysteries of Twentieth Century

Nearly 10 years ago, the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's online membership compiled a list of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century.

Based on a quick edit of the list, it appears as if I've read the following 16 books (including a couple marked with ** read in 2009):

Cain, James M.. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Vintage/Black Lizard)
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep (Vintage)
Crumley, James. The Last Good Kiss (Vintage)
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon (Vintage)
Harris, Thomas. The Silence of the Lambs (St. Martin's)
Hiaasen, Carl. Tourist Season (Warner)
Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Vintage) **
le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came in From The Cold (Ballantine)
Leonard, Elmore. Get Shorty (Delta)
Grafton, Sue. "A" is for Alibi (Bantam)
James, P.D.. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Warner)
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird (Warner)
MacDonald, John D.. The Deep Blue Good-by (Fawcett)
Mosley, Walter. Devil in a Blue Dress (Pocket) **
Paretsky, Sara. Deadlock (Dell)
Rosen, Richard. Strike Three You're Dead

There are some excellent stories there. Most have also been made into films, which are also typically very good and worth viewing.

I may have read these 2 books as a teen, but I do not remember with certainty:

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles (Berkley)
Queen, Ellery. Cat of Many Tails

These books are on nearby shelves, so I should be reading them soon:

Ambler, Eric. A Coffin for Dimitrios (Carroll & Graf)
Crais, Robert. The Monkey's Raincoat (Bantam)
Macdonald, Ross. The Chill (Vintage/Black Lizard)
Turow, Scott. Presumed Innocent (Warner)

There are many more books on the list that I intend to read eventually.

Disclosure: This blog receives a 7.5% commission on any books purchased through these recommended links to Powell's bookstore.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama Doctrine?

I'm teaching American Foreign Policy in spring 2009 and have been thinking about how to discuss the transformation in policy from the Bush years. It's still early in the Obama term and not much academic writing has evaluated Obama's foreign policy. Katrina Vanden Heuvel recently provided a useful course:
The president's quartet of major speeches abroad--in Cairo, Prague, Moscow and Accra--began to lay out an Obama Doctrine in international affairs: support for diplomacy and the UN; commitment to a nuclear-free world; a belief that democracy is strengthened not through US intervention but when people win for themselves their rights and liberties; and engagement and cooperation with, rather than antagonism toward, the Muslim world.
Students will read these four speeches, plus the Af-Pak speech the President delivered last night.

I may well add the Nobel speech, but I want to read it first.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Summer and Autumn Duck

With the exception of my Nobel entry here, it's been a long time since I mentioned my posts at the international relations (IR) group blog, Duck of Minerva.

Tuesday, November 10, I posted "Syria updates," which focused on news about the alleged Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007.

October 29, I blogged "Nuclear news" about Obama administration changes in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy -- and in planned arms deployments.

September 23, I posted "The legitimacy of America's wars," comparing the status of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

September 15, you can find "Reading Fareed," which is my take on Fareed Zakaria's latest book The Post-American World. 

My August 17 post was about "The IR Analogy." Viewed from the perspective of international politics, American domestic politics is topsy-turvy -- placing vast power in the hands of small states and minimizing the importance of large affluent states with big populations. 

August 4, I posted a video highlighting the end of the Bush era -- "Better When French."

"Desertification between the rivers" was the topic of my July 30 post. It concerns an ecological crisis Iraq faces.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate updates: fall edition

This personal blog has not been updated for a week, but that doesn't mean I have abandoned the blogosphere. These are the most recent entries on my Climate Politics: IR and the Environment blog hosted at e-IR. The last update covered late summer.

November 16, 2009
Will a new climate agreement require developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (ghgs)? Will developing states agree to make reductions? In this post, let’s consider the prospects for Brazil agreeing to such reductions.

First however, keep in mind the history. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 199…Read more

Interim Deal?
November 13, 2009
The Copenhagen climate summit is now less than one month away and observers are not optimistic that states will agree to a deal cementing either specific greenhouse gas emission reductions or increased environmental assistance to the developing world so they can meet the standards without threatening growth vital to fighting poverty.

Last month, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lo…Read more

Hidden costs of the status quo
November 1, 2009
In late October, the United States National Academy of Sciences released an interesting on-line “prepublication” edition of a report called Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. The October 19 New York Times reported the key finding on the costs of air pollution from burning fossil fuels:

Burning fossil fuels costs the Unite…Read more

Copenhagen: Will a deal emerge?
October 24, 2009
This past week, the news related to the ongoing climate negotiations was quite confusing. On Monday the 19th of October, the BBC reported optimistically:

“It’s an uphill battle, but I just feel today it’s more do-able than (I did) yesterday,” Mr Miliband [UK climate secretary] told journalists in a briefing directly after the MEF meeting closed on Mon…Read more

October 15, 2009
Do you remember when I mentioned “Greenfinger” on this blog a couple of months ago? Greenfinger would be a rich master environmental criminal — perhaps pursuing climate geoengineering without international approval.

In the October Atlantic Monthly, representatives of the ICE Coalition wrote to the editors to offer a legal solution to the potential Green…Read more

Washington’s 2-level-game
October 6, 2009
This past weekend, Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy proclaimed that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade climate bill (which passed the House this summer) is not going to become law prior to the upcoming climate negotiations. The NYT :

“Obviously, we’d like to be through the process,” Carol Browner said durin…Read more

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Senators against (Political) Science

Yesterday, the United States Senate voted down the so-called "Coburn amendment," which would have eliminated National Science Foundation support for research in the field of Political Science. Actually, I'm being polite. The resolution offered by the Republican from Oklahoma used this wording:
"Coburn Amendment 2631 – Prohibits the National Science Foundation from wasting federal research funding on political science projects."
Tough stuff.

The Senate defeated this amendment 62-36.

Locally, citizens are represented by Senators who side with Coburn. Mitch McConnell (a Political Science graduate of my Department) voted Yea, as did Jim Bunning and Indiana's Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh. All of those Senators are Republicans, except for Bayh.

John McCain, who is about to make an appearance at University of Louisville, voted with the losers to kill NSF funding to Political Science. Perhaps someone in the packed house can ask him about his vote.

On October 19, the President of the American Political Science Association, Henry E. Brady, outlined his organization's case against the Coburn amendment:
Senator Coburn’s amendment stems from a mistaken belief that political science research is neither scientific nor contributes to the well-being of our nation and its citizens. Science does not come in degrees; it is not logically possible for one science to be “truer” than another. Political science is a “science” because like all the sciences its research methods are based on testable hypotheses and evidence collected according to well-tested criteria that are subject to peer review and verification. The National Science Foundation has led the way in ensuring careful peer review and in applying the highest scholarly standards to all areas of research, including political science.

Political science funding at the National Science Foundation is a remarkably modest amount of funds – just some $9 million. It generates transformative results vastly beyond this small investment. Basic political science research funded by the National Science Foundation has contributed to the nation in myriad ways. Just last week, Dr. Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist at Indiana University, was awarded a Nobel Prize for research funded by the National Science Foundation. She found that collective use problems such as the overuse of shared resources and the degradation of water quality can be effectively handled by local communities rather than by relying exclusively on the central government.

Similarly, 13 of the 17 National Science Foundation and Department of Defense co-supported projects requested by Secretary Gates that examine threats to U.S. interests in the world and identify effective responses, are being carried out by political scientists.

The U.S. National Election Study, also supported by the National Science Foundation’s political science program, has operated since 1948 and is the only reliable, sustained source of information about Americans’ participation in their own political system. The National Election Study has provided assistance to government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Elections Assistance Commission. Pollsters of all political persuasions have supported the ANES over the years because it provides the only reliable baseline for long-term trends and for innovative thinking about how to measure political participation and involvement.

Other political science research is helping federal, state, and local authorities charged with developing effective evacuation plans understand decisions that citizens make in response to natural disasters.

Still other research has helped identify the causes of ethnic strife and civil wars, the impacts of different electoral institutions around the world, and the causes of international disagreements and wars.
Disclosure: I'm a member of the APSA -- and have participated in selection processes and events pertaining to the McConnell Center.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

College Athletic Costs: Louisville

The University if California at Berkeley, like many other universities, is facing a severe budget crisis. With a $150 million shortfall, the school has cut faculty salaries, closed the Library on Saturdays, and reduced course offerings.

Some members of the University's progressive faculty want to take another tough step -- cut spending on Athletics:
"With dozens and dozens of cuts to its academic programs, is it not obvious that UC Berkeley must cease putting millions into a program which isn't part of the core academic mission and is supposed to be self-supporting? It's just a matter of priorities," said Brian Barsky, a computer science professor who has been leading the "Academics First" camp.

He's among eight professors who will present a resolution tonight urging Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to stop campus subsidies immediately, or as soon as contractually possible.
Cal is currently slated to transfer nearly $14 million total to Athletics over the next two years.

That got me thinking about budget shortfalls at University of Louisville -- and potential cash transfers from the school to sports. The most recent Athletic Association Financial Statement is from 2008:
The University, during its annual budgetary process, agrees to transfer funds to the Association to assist with expense related to retention and gender issues. The University transferred $2.1 million and $1.8 million for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2008 and 2007. Additionally, the University collects certain fees from students designated for use by the Association. The University transferred $1.9 million of student fees collected for each of the years ended June 30, 3008 [sic] and 2007.
In 2008, it appears as if the University gave Athletics $4 million. A USA Today story from February 2004 reported that the University had imposed a tuition increase to provide $3 million to Athletics at the time, so the higher figure sounds about right.

Athletic supporters might note the "retention and gender" benefits the University is allegedly getting from half the money, but my guess is that UofL could get a lot more bang in those areas with bucks spent elsewhere. Also, the Athletic Department is mandated by law to produce gender equity -- and pressured by the NCAA to care about retention and graduation rates. They have to be paid to meet the standards?

I'm a fan of college sports, but I do not think the University should be paying millions of dollars to Athletics in a time of budget crisis. Basketball coach Rick Pitino makes $2.25 million annually. Reportedly, his salary will retroactively become $2.5 million/season if he stays until the end of his contract in 2013.

The University has an enrollment of about 21,000 students. Each and every one of them pays about $90 in annual tuition and fees to Rick Pitino and the rest of the Athletic Department every year. That accounts for $1.9 million of UofL spending.

As for the other $2.1 million, faculty have not seen a salary increase in more than two years. If the University had used that money to raise faculty salaries, each of the roughly 1000 full-time tenured or tenure track faculty would have $2100 higher income this year, less taxes and benefits.

During that two-year period, Coach Pitino received a $600,000 annual raise.

I realize that Pitino is a family man with five children, and he led the men's basketball team to a great season and top seed in the NCAA hoops tournament, but football coach Steve Kragthorpe is making a $1.1 million base during a third consecutive mediocre (or worse) season.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Top-ranked Kansas

The pre-season college basketball polls agree that the Kansas Jayhawks are this year's team-to-beat for the national championship. The team is ranked #1 by both AP and ESPN/USA Today. It appears as if Kansas received 55 of 65 first-place votes in AP and 27 of 31 in the ESPN/USAT poll. I'm really looking forward to watching preseason All-Americans C Cole Aldrich and G Sherron Collins, as well as the rest of the team.

Michigan State and Texas are #2 and #3, respectively, in both polls. AP has Kentucky and Villanova rounding out the top 5, while the other poll has North Carolina and Kentucky. UNC is 6th in AP, Villanova is 6th in ESPN/USAT. Purdue is 7th in both polls, followed by West Virginia (8/9) and Duke (9/8), then Tennessee (10/11) and Butler (11/10).

Louisville is ranked 19th by AP and 23 by ESPN/USAT.

Maryland is 26th if both polls.

Rock chalk!!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Coal state environmentalism

The University of Kentucky just approved construction of the second LEED-certified building on the Lexington campus. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The certification is designed to promote sustainable building and development. University of Louisville apparently has two such buildings completed and is working on more.

Guess what UK is going to name its new building? If you guessed "Wildcat Coal Lodge," then award yourself 10 bonus points for today.

The Board vote was 16-3. The negative votes came from faculty, staff, and student representatives -- the people who mostly work on campus.

The new construction project is a $7 million building designed to house the UK basketball program, which is a fairly high profile institution in this state.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

I need a new agent

Consider this a very special edition of UofL Today.

Lexington Herald-Leader, October 17, 2009:
The University of Louisville Foundation paid U of L President James R. Ramsey $1.9 million in 2007 to compensate him for state retirement benefits he forfeited, according to the foundation's most recent filing with the IRS.

Ramsey, who became president of Kentucky's second largest public university in 2002, had spent 17 years working for state government, including serving as state budget director under former Gov. Paul Patton between 1999 and 2002. While working for the state, he accrued time in the Kentucky Retirement System.

But because he left the state job without the necessary number of years of service to be fully vested, the U of L trustees inserted a provision in Ramsey's contract calling for him to be compensated for the retirement benefits he left on the table when he took the U of L job.

The foundation, which manages the university's private donations and endowment funds, paid Ramsey a $1,935,299 lump sum in 2007, the year he would have been eligible to retire with full state benefits, said Robert Gunnell, senior partner with Peritus Public Relations who serves as spokesman for the U of L Foundation.

"That was the amount that an actuarial firm calculated to make President Ramsey whole in his retirement account," Gunnell said.
Until today, most faculty and staff that I know hadn't heard about this.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today, I received the following message in my email. The company name and phone number has been deleted:
[Deleted] Indoor Range would like to invite you to attend a free Handgun Familiarization Class on Sunday, November 8th, at 2:00 pm. This free information & training session is reserved for professors and administrators of local universities & colleges. The purpose of this event is to allow professors & administrators who have little or no experience with handguns to learn the basics about handguns and experience shooting them.

The session will be free, but limited to the first 20 professors or administrators to sign up. Those wishing to attend this event must reserve a seat by contacting [Deleted] Indoor Range (502-deleted). The event will consist of a 2-hour classroom session covering the below topics. The instructor will also take questions throughout the event. Following the classroom session, attendees will be invited to shoot on the range. Instructors will be available to assist those shooting. Everything needed to shoot (gun, ammunition, eye & ear protection, targets, etc.) will be provided.

Schedule for College Day:
Classroom Session 2-4 pm
Handgun safety
Types of handguns (revolvers & semi-automatics)
How to load & unload
How to shoot
Options to secure (lock up) a handgun
Concealed Carry (CDWL procedure)

Range Session 4-5 pm
- Shooting (for those wishing to shoot)
University of Louisville bans firearms on campus -- though local politicians recently tried to tweak the law by allowing guns in cars.

Personally, I'd ban all handguns.

I wonder if any of my colleagues accept this offer?

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in the USSR

Saturday night, my daughter unexpectedly invited me to join her for the Louisville Orchestra's performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 82 and Shostakovitch's Tenth Symphony.

Predictably, the Haydn literally put me to sleep. In my family, I'm notorious for dozing off at various choral, orchestral, or operatic events. Haydn was like a lullaby to me.

The Shostakovitch piece, however, was terrific and I didn't miss a note.

Conductor Daniel Hege introduced the piece by telling the audience about the composer's personal history -- and about the four movements to come. He described a classic struggle between an artist and a brutal regime and made the audience eager to hear the artist's personal description of the tale.

My ears heard a resounding critique of the Soviet state -- emphasizing the brutality and illegitimacy of Stalin's rule, the composer's personal misery under that state, and the (somewhat tentative, but hopeful) elation at Stalin's death. It's hard to imagine that anyone in the west listening to this piece during the cold war ever doubted the inevitable demise of the Soviet state.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the far more popular Dr. Zhivago, which addressed some similar themes. Shostakovich's 10th symphony, however, told the tale much more efficiently -- and effectively, to my mind.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Ecological Costs of Low Prices

This is from Jefferson Decker's review of Nelson Lichtenstein's The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business in The Nation on October 5:
Today, Wal-Mart's world buying headquarters is in Shenzhen, a bustling industrial city along the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province. In 1979 the Chinese government designated Shenzhen a "special economic zone" with low corporate taxes and few environmental regulations. Guangdong now produces a third of China's exports, 10 percent of which end up on a Wal-Mart shelf somewhere in the United States.
While I've previously mentioned the large economic bond between Wal-Mart and China, the numbers still surprise me.

This particular quote emphasizes the way that Wal-Mart, like many other businesses, manages to evade environmental standards imposed in the United States (and in other affluent western nations).

Shenzhen is a very large city these days, with over 10 million residents. The people there are relatively wealthy as the per capita GDP exceeds US $8500 -- one fruit of 20% growth rates for 20 years.

However, the UNEP's 2007 report Shenzhen Environment Outlook emphasized the growing environmental burden of unsustainable development. Under the "business as usual" model, which the report calls "Scenario A," disaster looms in the next two decades (p. 157 of Chapter V):
In a short term, the economy will retain a fast growth pace but in a long run the resources and energy can hardly meet the demand of the influx of population and surging industrial development, and water and land resources are in tight supply. Massive sea filling projects have great impacts on coastal ecology and urban expansion has reached the extremity. Pollutant discharge is more than doubled and serious pollution is threatening urban ecology. As the impact of resource depletion and environmental destruction loom large, the economy falls into recession after experiencing fast speed development. Various contradictions emerge as a result. In a word, Scenario A presents a picture of a deteriorating society.
This is a very high cost of "Always Low Prices."

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Baseball wrapup

I really enjoyed the Tigers-Twins game Tuesday that reflected a prolonged regular season. My sympathy goes out to the Detroit fans among my group of friends. I've also seen long stretches of several post-season games and many of those have been fairly exciting too.

As a Royals fan, however, this was a difficult and somewhat depressing year. The team was very bad and the post-season is populated by long-time rivals -- including the cross-state Cardinals ('85 World Series foe), Phillies ('80 World Series opponents), Yankees (ALCS opponent in '76-'77-'78-'80), and former AL West competitors Twins and Angels. People from Kansas grow up predisposed to dislike teams from NY and LA (Dodgers), meaning that my post-season choices are basically the Rockies (the AA farm team is now in Tulsa, near where I completed high school; at that time, Tulsa was a Ranger farm team) or Red Sox (who were briefly my home team in 2005, but are already down 0-2 in their first round divisional series). Ugh.

What can be salvaged from this baseball season? On September 26, the KC Star had this nugget about my team's young power-hitting first baseman:
Billy Butler became just the seventh major-leaguer to hit 50 doubles in a season before turning 24....

PlayerSeason, teamAgeHRRBIAvg.OBPSLG2B
Hank Greenberg1934 Tigers2326139.339.404.60063
Alex Rodriguez1996 Mariners2036123.358.414.63154
Enos Slaughter1939 Cardinals231286.320.371.48252
Albert Pujols2003 Cardinals2343124.359.439.66751
Stan Musial1944 Cardinals231294.347.440.54951
Miguel Cabrera2006 Marlins2326114.339.430.56850
Billy Butler2009 Royals232193.301.362.49251

Grady Sizemore also hit 50 doubles in 2006, but he turned 24 midseason (August 2) that year. Also, I edited Butler's totals to reflect his final seasonal numbers.

Greenberg, Slaughter and Musial are in the Hall of Fame, A-Rod and Pujols seem destined for Cooperstown, and Cabrera is off to a very good start.

Basketball practice starts next week.

Hat tip: I'm fairly certain that Brian Wood's post, which brought Butler's historic accomplishment to my attention, can only be viewed by SABR-L members.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009


Yesterday, at Duck of Minerva, I blogged "Peace Prize" about Barack Obama winning the Nobel award. I noted my surprise since nearly all of his many peace and disarmament initiatives remain in the discussion or implementation stages. At this point, I argued, he has generated far more hope than change and the gap between them is wide.

As I thought more about it through the day, and talked to friends and colleagues, I became convinced that the Nobel committee decided to reward certain norms of behavior and process that they must think promote peace. Obama the Non-Bush has obviously changed the way the US behaves in world politics and altered the image of the US.

As a Habermasian, I can certainly appreciate the decision to reward procedural norms. However, it still feels like a form of recognition that could have waited another year or two. Most Bush critics hoped for new results as well as new processes.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sustainability Report Card 2009

Many local administrators are pleased that the Sustainable Endowments Institute has awarded the University of Louisville a grade of B+ in its 2009 report card.

The University has improved its grade for four straight years. In 2007, for example, I noted the C+ that the school was awarded.

In the intervening years, the university has created a Sustainability Council (I'm a member), completed a greenhouse gas audit, participated in the preparation of a climate action plan, committed to reducing emissions via that plan, etc.

This is real progress, but there's still a long way to go.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Real Food Challenge

This year, I'm heading up the Arts & Sciences "Green Team," which has mostly focused on energy conservation issues in the two previous academic years. Last week, however, I had a conversation with a colleague who emphasized the importance of buying (and eating) locally-grown food. We had just concluded a meeting that featured delicious food grown and prepared locally.

Later that same evening, I read Anna Lappé's piece in September 21 issue of The Nation on student efforts on campuses nationwide to change food purchasing for their dining halls. The campaign is called the Real Food Challenge. Lappé:
The concept is simple, really. Students, some who pay as much as $100,000, or more, for four years at a private college, should have a say in what grub their schools serve--and that food should reflect shared values of fairness and sustainability. The Real Food Challenge provides an organizing tool to empower students to persuade their schools to make the move. Schools that join the challenge pledge to shift at least 20 percent of school food to "real food"--sustainably raised, grown with fairness, and from local and regional farms--by 2020.
Unfortunately, Louisville doesn't have dining halls in dorms. Instead, students purchase food from vendors based in locations scattered throughout the campus.

Most are chains: Papa Johns, Wendy's, Subway, Einstein Bagels, etc.

Apparently, hundreds of schools have embraced the challenge. I'd like to see University of Louisville and other schools in the region meet the standard.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Climate Politics update

I haven't been providing links to the blog I started in August: Climate Politics: IR and the Environment. So, here's a list of my most recent September posts, complete with opening sentences. You can find half a dozen posts there from August as well.

Dirty energy subsidies 
September 26, 2009 |

Last August, the UN Environmental Programme reported that “around $300 billion or 0.7 per cent of global GDP is being spent on energy subsidies annually.” These subsidies are particularly important because most are devoted to fossil fuels. They artificially reduce the price of those fuels, thereby increasing consumption and

The Problem of China: As viewed from the USA 
September 20, 2009 |

For more than a century, the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases have been emitted by advanced industrial states. Recently, however, China has assumed the top spot in annual emissions. On a per person basis, of course, China still trails the global leaders by a good distance.

Those statistics highlight the related problems of scale (China is really big) and inequality (mu…

Weep for OPEC? 
September 10, 2009 |

Representatives from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are meeting in Vienna this week and the looming threat of Copenhagen is clearly on their agenda. I wrote “threat of Copenhagen” because OPEC states are primarily devoted to selling a commodity that is a significant source of climate change. The U.S. Energy Information Administration…

What’s the baseline? 
September 4, 2009 |

The Copenhagen conference starts in three months and this blog will cover key negotiation issues. Let’s start with the framework for negotiation, OK?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dates to the June 1992 Earth Summit. The overwhelming majority of nations are parties to this agreement — even the United States, which did not ratify the fol…

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books and reading

This isn't the greatest on-line test that I've taken, but blogging around here has been rather slow lately:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Book Snob
Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

PEDs in Iraq

Last week, The Independent reported that "many" private security contractors in Iraq are using steroids to bolster regular workouts:
Paranoid, competitive and fuelled by guns, alcohol and steroids. That is how one senior contractor in Baghdad describes the private security industry operating in the city's Green Zone...

At night they return to the Green Zone, where the only releases are working out in the gym – with many also using steroids
Ted Rall's September 12 cartoon emphasizes this point, but I've rarely seen the alleged drug problem mentioned in the mainstream reporting about Iraq.

The LA Times did report a major drug bust in August 2005:
Italian police seized 215,000 doses of prohibited substances as they broke up a ring that supplied steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to customers around the world, including American soldiers in Iraq, a police official said Monday.

The U.S. military there had no immediate comment, but steroid abuse has long been discussed as an issue in Iraq, where American troops and contractors work out in gyms on military bases and even in the mirrored halls of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.
Both this story and the Rall cartoon implicate U.S. troops, not merely private contractors.

The American Council for Drug Educationdr suggests that steroid abuse causes severe behavioral problems:
Some users show bad judgment because the drugs make them feel invincible. Other users suffer from uncontrolled aggression and violent behavior called “Roid Rage”, severe mood swings, manic episodes and depression. They often suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability and can have delusions.
Oh, and of course, they are not good for your health either.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

How fast did this page load where you live?

AT&T's U-verse service has arrived in Louisville -- potentially challenging Insight Communication's dominance of the cable television and broadband markets.

Maybe the consequence will be improved service (and lower price). Right now, Kentucky ranks 31st in internet download speed -- 4.6 megabits per second. That's roughly 10% below the national average of 5.1 mbps.

Granted, Louisville residents probably benefit from a higher download speed than do rural Kentuckians -- but readers should keep in mind that US speeds are not especially fast by world standards. Many European countries have internet download speeds that are much faster -- France, Sweden and Finland average between 15 and 20 mbps.

Korea and Japan obliterate the US, with speeds average 45 and 60 mbps, respectively.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Telemarketing College Prep

A few minutes ago, I received a phone call from someone who identified himself as a representative of the Smart Education Foundation. He asked for a parent of my oldest daughter (he had her name) and then proceeded to try to market an ACT/SAT test preparation software (DVD) package for $189 plus $10 shipping and handling. The "non-profit corporation" (licensed since July 13!) guaranteed a 300 point improvement in SAT scores (and a comparable increase for ACT, though I didn't catch the precise number).

He sounded like a polished telemarketer and I could hear other telemarketers in the background, presumably "selling" the same product.

He said the software was tax deductable (and returnable for a refund) and that Smart Education Foundation (SEF) used customer "donations" (???) to fund use of the program for needy college-bound children.

As he was about to ask me for my credit card number ("So, does this sound like something you would be interested in for XXXX [my child]?"), I asked him the percentage of funds they donated to needy children.

He had no answer -- though he assured me it was a good question -- and then quickly moved to tell me the website and phone number (which you can find on their website in any case).

The website provides the details about their benevolence: 6 awards for a total of $5000:
The Smart Education Foundation (“Sponsor”) offers the following awards to our members only:
  • 3 awards of $500.00 each
  • 2 awards of $1,000.00 each
  • 1 GRAND PRIZE award of $1,500.00
Oh, but check out the fine print. This is the first rule:
All applicants must be enrolled in the “Continuing Education” online service provided exclusively to our members. All members must continue to pay the monthly fee of $54.95 for at least 4 consecutive months in order to compete in the contest. Contestants must keep the online service throughout the month the award drawing takes place.
Even a "winner" has to pay at least $220 to compete in the contest for the prize. The other rules are fairly onerous too.

Their telemarketers certainly fare better than this, as an August 13 ad on Craiglist in Chicago assures experienced
"Educational Consultants can Earn Between $35,000 and $75,000 + A Year!"
I found an ad from this past week, so they are still recruiting for telemarketers.

A self-identified "scam reporter" claims that the firm has a sordid history. I'm not 100% sure it is the same firm, but the story sounds similar.

I found one guy on LinkedIn (update: reference to his personal page deleted 9/13/09 upon reasonable request) who lists his affiliation as "Educational Advisor" at Smart Education Foundation (SEF) in Chicago. He is a 2007 college graduate...

"Caveat emptor."

3/17/10 update: They called me again today! The telemarketer again had my daughter's name and asked for her father or mother. I cut him off when he mentioned calling from the "Smart Education Foundation" and I asked if he was selling education software. I politely thanked him for the call and hung up.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Internet radio

Does anyone have an opinion about the various internet radio choices? As readers may recall, my favorite XM station (X-country) perished with the Sirius merger. After the end of the baseball season last year, I let my subscription lapse (anyone want to buy a radio and boombox?).

Lately, I've been listening to Americana Homeplace radio on my computer, but I am thinking about buying a radio that I can use when I'm not on the computer. I don't know much about the various brands, though Grace has received some positive reviews. I'm looking for some feedback here.


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Monday, August 17, 2009

Cash-for-clunkers: lawnmower edition

Last week, my 12-year old Craftsman gas-powered lawnmower died. It had been a gift from my Dad, replacing a similar older model that was stolen from the garage more than a decade ago. The guy at the hardware store said the problem was probably the carburetor and that it would likely cost at least $100 to fix it. And I'd have to find a repair shop since they only did minor repairs.

I read Consumer Reports recommendations about lawn mowers and shopped the various "best buy" options on-line -- and discovered that the new mowers were going to cost from $225 to $400 (or more). Ugh.

When I inserted the word Louisville in my search for local electric mower retailers, I discovered that the city of Louisville has a Lawn Care Rebate Program that helps consumers and air quality. I had read about this program a few years ago (and even clipped an article that was with my old mower manual), but had forgotten about it altogether -- and wasn't even sure if it was still ongoing.

It is!

The city will provide a $50 rebate if you buy an electric mower -- and $50 more if you trade in an old mower like mine! I had to drive a few blocks to the drop-off center, but all I needed in addition to the junk mower was a driver's license for ID. The clerk handed me a signed and stamped rebate form that instantly cut $100 off the price of the electric mower I bought at a local hardware store.

The price was $10 cheaper at a big chain store in the suburbs, but I prefer to buy locally and the chain store doesn't honor the city's rebate. I would have had to mail in the form and wait for the cash rebate. Plus, the employees in the local shop had already assembled the mower.

After reading the manual, I was ready to mow. It took some effort to work around the cord (primarily because of our rose bushes, tomato plants, and rock garden), but I really liked the relative quiet of the new mower. And, I'll never have to worry about whether my can has gasoline, whether the mower needs an oil changes or tuneup -- or if I am contributing to growing urban asthma rates.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The future of Iraq

In July, I was interviewed about Iraq by Northwestern graduate student/journalist Jessica Harbin. University PR people set it up after she contacted them, so we expected the piece would eventually appear on the Medill News websites. Instead, the piece appeared on Harbin's blog, Mid-East Meets Midwest.

I'm quoted many times throughout the piece and she also apparently talked to Raed Jarrar and Professor Daniel Byman, among others.

Here's a taste:
University of Louisville Political Science Professor Rodger Payne says allowing Iraq’s fledgling democracy to establish its legitimacy with its people is critical to its long-term success.

Payne said, “A new democracy, like Iraq, that’s not fully democratic, those are among the most vulnerable government types in the world.”

As such, it is important that the United States take a step back politically, as well as militarily, for a democratic Iraq to become legitimate enough to survive domestically and internationally.

“I think the worst thing that can happen from the U.S. point of view is for Iraq to be perceived as essentially a client state for the U.S., with a government that’s basically approved by the U.S., and that would essentially let the U.S. do whatever it wants,” Payne said, warning that this scenario could turn into a reality if the U.S. didn’t scale back its interference in Iraq.
Read the whole thing. Harbin asked very good questions and did a good job reporting.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not in the best interests of baseball?

In 1976, major league baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn used the authority of his office to prevent Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley from selling off star players from its three-peat championship team. ESPN:
Finley tried to sell [Vida] Blue to the Yankees and [Rollie] Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox for a combined $3.5 million, claiming he needed the money to sign free agents and rebuild. Kuhn disagreed, voiding the sales by saying they weren't "in the best interests of baseball."
The free agent era had just started and Finley wanted to get something in return for his stars.

Yesterday, the Toronto Blue Jays made a transaction even more egregious than the ones Finley tried to complete -- and the current baseball commissioner Bud Selig is apparently not going to stop it. The Jays simply waived starting outfielder Alex Rios (and the nearly $62 million remaining on his contract from now through 2014). He was claimed by the Chicago White Sox, who will apparently not give the Jays anything in return. No grade C prospect, no cash considerations, no player-to-be-named later.


To my thinking (which not everyone shares), this transaction is not "in the best interests of baseball" because it likely hurts competitive balance and might encourage teams to risk moral hazard. NYT:
The economy has worsened since the Jays signed Rios, who would probably not get that lucrative a contract if he were a free agent in the off-season. The Jays see unloading Rios as an opportunity to use that money to address other needs.
A big-market team like the White Sox acquire a talented player without giving the Blue Jays anything in exchange -- other than the money owed on the player's contract.

Ordinarily, the only players exchanged through waiver claims are really bad. They are literally unwanted by their current team because they are unskilled. That's not Alex Rios. He may be overpaid, but he has significant value as a baseball player.

Lopsided trades and outright sales (like the ones Finley pursued in 1976) are arguably not in the best interests of competitive balance, but this transaction seems fairly clearly bad for the game. While it is true that the Jays now have $62 million to spend in other ways, they are also down a somewhat above average outfielder (he has more value to the Sox as a centerfielder) -- and they didn't receive any compensation for the player's five years under contract.

As proven repeatedly over the years, baseball salaries that seem high in the current context may look like a bargain in a season or two. In this case, Rios is under contract through 2014 so there was plenty of time for the situation to change.

Bud Selig should have intervened for the sake of the game.

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New blog: Climate Politics

Starting this week, I'll be blogging until at least the end of the year on the e-IR website. The new blog is narrowly focused on Climate Politics: IR and the Environment, so I'll still be blogging about other issues here -- and international relations topics at the Duck of Minerva. The idea is to focus on the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen this December.

Hopefully, I'll have something to say as I'm currently writing a chapter on the politics of climate change for a new edition of Ralph Carter's USFP textbook. Also, I'm teaching "Global Ecopolitics" this fall, with a focus on climate change.

If you are interested, drop by the new blog.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Idiot Savant of Bloviating

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh compared Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler. The money quotes being widely repeated are from a fairly lengthy rant:
"Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook...they [Nazi's] were for cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare....a Hitler-like policy that's being heralded like a Hitler-like logo...Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did."
Limbaugh has perhaps proven Godwin's Law for public discussion (in the context of the health care debate). Eventually, some doofus always compares an opponent to Hitler and the Nazis.

Remember just a few years ago when conservatives went crazy with outrage because two obscure videos produced by people entering an on-line ad contest compared then-President George W. Bush to Hitler? The video ads were originally hosted on the MoveOn website (along with 1500 from other competitors) and they quickly created a political firestorm.

MoveOn just as quickly denounced the ads, removed them from the web, and announced procedures to make sure the error could not repeated. The ads in question were not among the 15 contest finalists that received the lion's share of attention (and web traffic). In fact, most attention drawn to the ads came thanks to the Republican National Committee, which featured the ads on their website to highlight the evil of MoveOn.

Does anyone believe Limbaugh's reductio ad Hitlerum is going to create the same reaction -- from those on both the left and right outraged by the Bush comparison? To jar your memory, here's Fox News, January 2004:
RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie called the ad, "the worst and most vile form of political hate speech."
Of course, Limbaugh has used the term "Feminazi" for years without sparking this kind of reaction from RNC chairs and others, which likely means that the outrage about the Bush comparison may have been completely partisan and cynical.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Waiting for the locusts

Just over 24 hours ago, Louisville received about 6 inches of rain in 75 minutes. It was the most intense rain anyone can remember and the effects were predictable. The main University of Louisville campus, for example, is closed today because of the flooding. The photos reveal the water's reach at my workplace. Fortunately, my office is on the second floor of my building, which was apparently undamaged. The basement was flooding yesterday morning, however, and we await word about the first floor offices.

Luckily, my family lives in a neighborhood known as "The Highlands," which was famously unaffected by the great Flood of 1937. The region is defined by a steep 60 foot incline above the flood plain. That historic disaster flooded 60% of Louisville as it rained for 53 consecutive hours (about 19 inches of rain accumulated) and the Ohio River was above flood stage for more than three weeks.

Regular readers may recall that September 14, 2008, Louisville was socked by hurricane-force winds as part of the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Temperatures were mild, thankfully, during the 10 day period my home lacked electricity. It was a minor inconvenience to live out of a cooler, cook on a grill, and read by a lantern. It was like camping in one's own home.

On January 28, 2009, Louisville was hit by a deadly ice storm that left my family homeless for nearly a week as our electricity was out and temperatures were well below freezing. Roads were treacherous and ice-covered trees became deadly threats to humans.

My spouse and I have lived in Louisville for 18 years and have experienced three incredibly strange storms in the past 11 months. In the previous 18 years, we had a couple of heavy snowfalls (the most memorable featured 19 inches that shut down the state on MLK day 1994) and a heavy rain that dropped 9 inches of water over a 30 hour period.

These more recent storms have been unique and more than a little frightening. Yesterday, I know of at least two other people who made Biblical references suggesting that a plague of locusts might be next. The local newspaper agrees.

Any good scientist would say that it is impossible to blame a particular storm on global climate change. However, the consensus among scientists remains that global warming increases the intensity and frequency of major storms.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

London Times: Best 60 books of past 60 years

In honor of the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the London Times has compiled its list of "The best 60 books of the past 60 years." The list is somewhat surprisingly filled with popular fiction rather than "literature."

I skimmed quickly and found that I'd read the following works:

Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell

The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger

Casino Royale
Ian Fleming

Lord of the Flies
William Golding

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

Catch 22
Joseph Heller

Frank Herbert

Salem’s Lot
Stephen King

Smiley’s People
John le Carré

Tourist Season
Carl Hiaasen

Get Shorty
Elmore Leonard

Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass)
Philip Pullman

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

There are many books on the list that I should read, of course. These books have the advantage of being stacked a few feet away, in the "to be read" pile:

Our Man in Havana
Graham Greene

Funeral in Berlin
Len Deighton

Eventually, I'll likely read Wodehouse, Coetzee, DiLillo, Nabokov's Lolita, and Dick's A Scanner Darkly.

Hat tip: Largehearted Boy.

If you are now inspired to do some additional summer reading, most books on the list are available at worker-friendly independent bookstore Powell's. Disclosure: use this link and the blog receives a 7.5% commission on your purchase.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Transparent banking

In The Nation July 13, economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that greater banking transparency could help fight corruption in the developing world.
Developing nations are often criticized for corruption, but secret bank accounts wherever they may be facilitate corruption, providing safe haven for stolen funds. Developing countries want this money returned and want access to information that will allow them to detect secret accounts.
Stiglitz is critical of recent congressional legislation for failing to go far enough to solve this problem.

Paul Collier makes a similar argument in The Bottom Billion and calls explicitly for new international norms -- such as budget transparency -- to make this kind of corruption far more difficult.

Collier also calls for transparency initiatives in natural resources.

The U.S. spent much of the 1990s arguing for a "strategy of openness" -- seeking open markets, especially. However, as Andrew Bacevich outlined, the Clinton administration sweepingly sought to remove "barriers to the movement of goods, capital, people, and ideas."

Perhaps the Obama administration can devote some attention to a slightly different form of openness. The President certainly seems to understand the critique offered by Stiglitz and Collier.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Duck

Today, at the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I posted "Is America cool again?" The piece looks at results from the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project, which finds some big improvements in the U.S. image around the world -- apparently attributable to the Obama administration.

On Monday, July 6, I posted "RIP: Robert McNamara." I saw the former Secretary of Defense speak a couple of times and dined with him once.

On Friday, July 3, I blogged "Oops" about an unfortunate mistake concerning a book ad (since corrected) at the Barnes and Noble website.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

High noon high

Watching "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" wasn't as difficult as trying to sit through Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" (which I failed to do), but the former certainly reminded me of the latter. Guess which film this reviewer is describing?
[The] film is a highly stylized, dreamlike tone poem that defies linear conventions and is almost surreal in its approach. Using flashbacks and recurring images from different points of view, the film captures the mood and tone of its adolescent world: its perceptions, its self-absorption, and ultimately its darkest instincts.

The camera is a detached observer, and the strength of the film lies in its acute power of observation and detail....[The director] shows us all the surface rituals
In the end, both feature a troubling school massacre.

That review describes scenes of cheerleading rather than quidditch, but the meaning for the larger story is similar.

There is an important difference between these films. In the more recent one, the protagonist vows revenge -- foreshadowed by both prior books and films and the fact that Harry Potter has tasted a bit of evil in this film (the inevitable ring -- and of the course the subtitle character's potion book).

Perhaps the final episode will be "Harry Potter at High Noon."

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Monday, July 20, 2009

No future

Clearly, I have no future as a foreign policy wonk. I've violated many of Stephen Walt's "Ten Commandments for Ambitious Policy Wonks." The list describes “taboo” subjects in contemporary foreign policy discourse. Interestingly, his list doesn't include this taboo.

While I've often implied arguments against many of the commandments, on this blog I've fairly directly challenged #3. Thou Shalt Not Question the Need for a Nuclear Deterrent.

and #5: Thou Shalt Not Call For an Accommodation with Cuba (or North Korea, or Iran, or….).

And #9: Thou Shalt Not Question the Right of the United States to Intervene in Other Countries.

Read the entire list.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Threatdown: The Heat is on China

China recently passed the US and became the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. According to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Chinese emissions are poised to explode.
If China’s emissions of global warming gases keep growing at the pace of the last 30 years, the country will emit more such gases in the next three decades than the United States has in its entire history, said Mr. Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics.
Chu was speaking at Tsinghua University, apparently viewed as China’s top science university.

On US soil, US officials seem even more worried about China's long-term role, implying that the world may view China as a threat to ecological security:
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce that China shared a special responsibility with the United States to address global warming. China passed the United States two years ago as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the two countries together account for 42 percent of humanity’s emissions of these gases.

“Fifty years from now, we do not want the world to lay the blame for environmental catastrophe at the feet of China,” Mr. Locke said.
In 2007, by the way, European officials annoyed American diplomats by reminding the world that US emissions had increased 60% over 1990 Kyoto baseline levels. As recently as 2005, China claimed that it was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama on Climate at G-8

Last week, President Obama told the other G-8 leaders that the U.S. plans to make some rather remarkable changes in terms of climate change policy. After dismissing all doubts about the science and calling for developing countries to make reductions in future emissions, the President said:
We also agree that developed countries -- like my own -- have a historic responsibility to take the lead. We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita, and I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities. So, let me be clear: Those days are over. One of my highest priorities as President is to drive a clean energy transformation of our economy, and over the past six months, the United States has taken steps towards this goal.

We've made historic investments in the billions of dollars in developing clean energy technologies...

We've also for the first time created a national policy raising our fuel-efficiency standards that will result in savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold in the next five years alone. And we just passed in our House of Representatives the first climate change legislation that would cut carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050.

These are very significant steps in the United States.
It is far too early to rejoice, but these are important initiatives.

Indeed, it is relatively easy for politicians to make big promises about policy changes due over the course of four decades. Needless to say, they won't be around to assure followup. By contrast, it is far tougher to make costly investments in the short-term that have measurable benefits.

Rhetorically, it is also interesting that Obama used the same sort of unifying language globally that he employed in his 2008 political campaign:
It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change. We each have our national priorities and politics to contend with...

It's even more difficult in the context of a global recession, which I think adds to the fears that somehow addressing this issue will contradict the possibilities of robust global economic growth.

But ultimately, we have a choice. We can either shape our future, or we can let events shape it for us. We can fall back on the stale debates and old divisions, or we can decide to move forward and meet this challenge together. I think it's clear from our progress today which path is preferable and which path we have chosen. We know that the problems we face are made by human beings. That means it's within our capacity to solve them. The question is whether we will have the will to do so, whether we'll summon the courage and exercise the leadership to chart a new course. That's the responsibility of our generation, that must be our legacy for generations to come, and I am looking forward to being a strong partner in this effort.
At this July 2009 G-8 meeting, it sounded as if the U.S. under new management was trying to reclaim leadership on an important global issue and heal the so-called "transatlantic rift" that marked the Bush years (especially during his first term).

Especially given that the alleged U.S.-European divide never came close to full separation, it will be a lot easier for Obama to accomplish this political task than to take the kind of policy action necessary to stave off global climate chage.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Newsweek's 50 Books for Our Times

Newsweek recently posted a list of "Fifty Books for Our Times." It is laden with contemporary works of non-fiction, in stark contrast to the novel-heavy "meta-list" of the "Top 100 Books" compiled from other top booklists: "Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John's College reading list, Oprah's, and more." This is their justification for wanting a new list to supplement the classics:
which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.
Fair enough.

In scanning through the 50 books, I discovered that I haven't read very many of them. In the first 20, I've read only Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Many others look interesting (some were already on my "to-read" wishlist) and I plan to read them eventually.

As for the remainder of the list, I've read some Mark Twain (three books are compiled as "The Mississippi Books"), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Underworld by Don DeLillo. That's it, five of fifty. Nearly all are novels.

I do much better on the classic list of 100: 1984 by George Orwell, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Shelley's Frankenstein, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, Orwell's Animal Farm, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon, and Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" (actually 3 books).

That's 20 of 100, though I confess that many were read in high school or college English classes.

Plus, I've read memorable portions of many others on the list: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Capital, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Thucydides's Peloponnesian Wars, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (I likely read this entire book to my daughters), John Milton's Paradise Lost, various works of Shakespeare, and The Holy Bible.

That's 8 to 10 more, depending upon how many works of Shakespeare I can recall reading (as opposed to simply viewing)

Some more from the top 100 compiled list are on my shelf, just waiting to be read one of these days. Top-listed works by Evelyn Waugh, Ralph Ellison, Conrad, Anthony Burgess, and Robert Penn Warren are literally stacked or shelved nearby in a "to read" collection.

Maybe I should set them aside in favor of books from the contemporary list?

Take a look at that Newsweek list and make a recommendation if something is familiar -- and good.

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