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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009


Today, at Duck of Minerva, I posted "Iraq: the light at the end of the tunnel." President Barack Obama has announced a formal withdrawal plan.

On February 7, I posted "Iran's Sputnik" about the recent Iranian satellite launch.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Honest Abe

If you live in or near Louisville, you might want to attend Bunbury Theatre's "Honest Abe 23 Minute Play Festival" tonight at 8 pm or Sunday afternoon at 2 pm. My family saw it last weekend and was quite entertained. As one critic wrote (in the form of a letter to the company):
I'm glad you chose to celebrate the bicentennial of Kentucky's favorite son by producing four short plays about him, rather than premiering one original full-length biodrama. Abe Lincoln truly was a larger-than-life character; too large, certainly, for only one play. So instead, you gave us four, each one enjoyable for a different reason, and each one celebrating a distinct aspect or theme of Lincoln's life, legacy, character or lore.
The Theatre's website notes that my youngest daughter is again on a Louisville stage:
The casts feature Matt Orme as Lincoln and the other players are: Dale Strange, Katherine Mapother, Cathleen Payne, Meghan Winrich, Tara Tyler, Ted Lesley, Paul Reynolds, Mike Burmester, Pat Whetherton.
Additionally, I'm celebrating the month of Lincoln's birth by reading Gore Vidal's Lincoln, which I'm not enjoying as much as his Burr.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Digital Political Science

Monday afternoon, I attended an interesting presentation by Burt Monroe, a University of Louisville graduate, former Rhodes Scholar, and current Associate Professor of Political Science at Penn State. He was in town as part of a ceremony honoring his father, who was a former professor here.

In any case, Monroe's talk was on "Digital Political Science," which I'm not sure I can explain in a short post. His Penn State website that I linked above describes his work this way:
He is currently director of a multidisciplinary NSF-funded project with political scientists, computational linguists, and statisticians on The Dynamics of Political Rhetoric and Political Representation, developing methods for the statistical analysis of political speech. This team was awarded the 2006 Gosnell Prize for Excellence in Political Methodology.
Many of the applications he demonstrated used Wordle, which many readers have probably seen in the New York Times or on various websites. Monroe says he can explain a lot about political behavior by examining word patterns -- perhaps more meaningfully than other scholars who use voting records, for example.

When I returned to my office, I compared a Wordle result from my latest blog entries to my blogging from 5 years ago. It's clear that I'm writing a great deal more about my interests in film and baseball -- and much less about Iraq, the war on terror, etc. Of course, you knew that, since most of my IR blogging is now at Duck of Minerva.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Boyle vs. Ritchie

What does Danny Boyle know that Guy Ritchie needs to learn?

This weekend, I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" at the theater and viewed "RocknRolla" on DVD. For viewing pleasure, it was no contest.

The former is the overwhelming favorite for the Academy Award for Best Picture, while the latter was mediocre at best.

At the end of "RocknRolla," the credits suggest that Ritchie has a sequel in mind, though the movie already seemed too much like "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Maybe I'm just getting tired of British gangsters. Oh, and I don't really care to see Thandie Newton sleepwalk through another film.

Boyle has never made a movie quite like "Slumdog" and now has a made a variety of interesting films. Sure, like "Millions," Boyle has directed a movie about children, gangsters, and lots of money. And yes, as in "Trainspotting," trains play an important role in "Slumdog." But the characters and their stories are interesting and alive in "Slumdog" in a way that the thugs in "RocknRolla" can never be.

I wasn't taken with Boyle's "Sunshine," but it held my attention and seemed admirably ambitious. His "28 Days Later" was somewhat predictable, but fairly entertaining. "Shallow Grave" is a genuine hidden treasure, worth finding on DVD.

In sum, Boyle has made a credible sci-fi flick, a contemporary horror favorite, a family film that is entertaining for both adults and children, a cutting black comedy, an art-house movie laden with observations about our society, and a crime drama/romance movie that appeals to a very wide audience.

Guy Ritchie, if he doesn't branch out soon, is in danger of making an endless stream of movies featuring Jason Stratham and his lot. Yawn.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ice Storm

Long-time readers may be wondering why blogging has been so slow in the new year.

About 3 am on Wednesday, January 28, my home was one of 769,000 in Kentucky that lost power due to a powerful ice storm that was eventually declared a natural disaster. Schools were closed for a week, roads were treacherous, and dozens of people died. My family spent the following night in the home of some friends, then four more in a local hotel once we found a kennel for our dogs. The temperature inside my house was in the mid-30s (Fahrenheit) during the daytime. Luckily, the water pipes did not burst during any of the even colder nights.

The power to our street was restored on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1. However, for lack of a tall ladder, three homes -- mine included -- were not connected to power that day. My family watched the Super Bowl with some friends and tried not to think about our plight. Finally, though we feared that an individual home hookup might take several more days, the electricity was restored to my home during the afternoon of February 2.

Unfortunately, many thousands of people didn't have power restored for many days. I can certainly empathize with their plight. Just last September, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, high winds caused my home to lose power for 9 frustrating days. Of course, the temperature was relatively mild then and my family did not have to evacuate the homestead. We had to cook outdoors, refill the ice in our coolers daily, and try to read by candlelight. I listened to baseball games on a hand crank radio.

Count me among those who would like to see Louisville bury its electrical power lines.
[Peter] Fox-Penner is an energy consultant for the Brattle Group, based in Washington, D.C. He says nine out of ten new subdivisions in the U.S. have underground lines, and the rest will get them as the current infrastructure becomes obsolete and is replaced with new technology, which will have to happen if renewable and green energy becomes standard.

“I think it should be done when the power grid starts to be modernized, as part of that,” he says.

Fox-Penner says a full modernization would cost upwards of 800 billion dollars. President Obama has talked about modernizing the power grid, leaving open the possibility that some of that money might be available from the federal government.
The recent stimulus package apparently moves the U.S. in this direction. In Louisville, Mayor Jerry Abramson is asking the power company to look into this option, but the company has previously estimated that it would cost about $1 million per mile to bury lines. In Greenville, SC, however, the city is considering a $12.5 million tab to bury 30 miles of line. That's only $417K per mile.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lying to Congress

At last, someone has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to Congress during the Bush era. CNN:
[Shortstop Miguel] Tejada admitted that he lied to congressional investigators during an August 26, 2005, interview in which he said he "had no knowledge of other others players using or even talking about steroids or other banned substances," according to the [news] release [fom U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor's office].

After the December 2007 Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball, which appeared to contradict Tejada, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Tejada "made knowingly false statements to the committee."

According to court documents, Tejada admitted that he discussed steroids and human growth hormone with a teammate in 2003, while he was with the Oakland Athletics. He also admitted that he bought more than $6,000 worth of HGH from the teammate but added that "he had second thoughts and ... simply discarded them," the documents state.
Yes, that's right, I'm blogging about steroids again.

Should we believe that Tejada really tossed aside the performance-enhancing drugs? Major league baseball wasn't even testing for HGH at the time he reportedly bought it. Tejada's stats seem to reveal him to be a power hitting shortstop -- kind of a poor man's version of Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, wait. A-Rod, earlier this week:
I did take a banned substance. You know, for that I'm very sorry and deeply regretful...The culture, it was pretty prevalent. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things...So I am sorry for my Texas years.
It was like the '60s, man, without the paisley and classic rock.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The Barry Bonds Trial

This week, the press has released a good deal of the federal government's evidence against Barry Bonds in his approaching trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. A federal judge unsealed a 223-page stack of documents that seems quite damning. The SF Chronicle summarized:
-- Positive tests on a urine sample originally collected from Bonds by Major League Baseball in 2003. The government says retesting proved Bonds had been using "the clear," also known as THG, the undetectable steroid distributed by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative of Burlingame.

Also detected in the 2003 sample was Clomid, a drug sometimes used by male steroid users to mask their drug use or to jump-start their natural ability to produce testosterone after prolonged steroid use, the government said.

-- Three private steroid tests, done in 2000 and 2001, that allegedly show Bonds was using steroids at that time. The tests were ordered by BALCO to track Bonds' drug regimen, company Vice President James Valente told a grand jury in 2006.

All three tests showed Bonds was using the injectable steroid methenolone, and two also showed use of nandrolone, prosecutors said.

-- A 2003 recording in which [Bonds personal trainer Greg] Anderson described Bonds' use of an undetectable drug to evade baseball's steroid tests...

-- Testimony from Oakland A's slugger Jason Giambi, his brother and former Athletic Jeremy Giambi, and former Giants Benito Santiago, Bobby Estalella and Marvin Benard. All will acknowledge using banned drugs and identify calendars kept for them by Anderson to track their steroid use, the government said. Prosecutors say the players' calendars are virtually identical to calendars Anderson kept for Bonds.
Because Anderson has long refused to testify against Bonds, however, much of this evidence could be considered hearsay and the judge has already said that she is inclined to throw it out of his trial.

The judge did not threaten to toss out the 2003 conversation taped by Bonds's longtime friend and business manager Steve Hoskins, nor the results of major league baseball drug tests. One test used new methods on an old urine sample to identify a steroid that was not found at the time of the test.

I'm currently reading Game of Shadows by Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who originally reported about the Hoskins tape in 2004 and also revealed most of the other evidence years ago.

What I can report about the book is that the reporters' accusations about Bonds and other athletes matches closely what the federal government has against Bonds. Of course, this should not be especially surprising since an attorney for Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) let them see copies of the secret grand jury testimony years ago.

The book provides a means to get a handle on the full story, though the writing is sloppy in spots. Its message is somewhat depressing and will make readers even more cynical about high-level sports.

Armed with the book's insights, one can use google and ruin many a good story.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Climate Teach-In

As part of a nationwide effort, UofL will host a local Teach-In on Global Warming Thursday, February 5.

At 11:15 am to 12:30, I'll be talking about "International Geopolitics" on a panel about "Political and International Aspects of Global Warming." For locals, that panel is in Ekstrom Library, Room 102. That will be followed a free lunch of locally grown food at the Rauch Planetarium.

This is from the University press release:
National Teach-In on Global Warming
Feb. 5, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Rauch Planetarium and Ekstrom Library, Belknap Campus
Admission is free and open to the public.

Before people can decide what to do about climate change, they must first learn the facts about the issue.

That’s the logic behind a global warming “teach-in” at the University of Louisville. UofL’s Sustainability Council organized the event in collaboration with student groups and faculty.
The entire schedule is here.

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