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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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