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Friday, December 31, 2010

Books of 2010

As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Let me review the rules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awarded $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations. It is probably OK to acknowledge that I read the winning book, though I didn't read it until after the international jury had promoted it to the final round of our process.

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

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


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.

Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales. This book won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award.

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich.

Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player by Anthony Holden.

Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong by Jonah Keri (ed.).

Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning by Steve Goldman (ed.).

The Long Season by Jim Brosnan.

Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years by Red Smith.

Fair Game by Paul Daugherty.

Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship by Mark G. Judge.

Poker - Hold 'Em: Book One by Andy Nelson.

Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Questions by New Scientist.

The World Series' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Championship Teams, Broken Dreams, and October Oddities by John Snyder.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2010, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Bacevich book was assigned in a spring 2010 American Foreign Policy class and worked out quite well. I'm assigning his lastest book next term.

Though Freakonomics was widely read a few years ago, I had failed to pick it up until this year. And then it turned out that I was familiar with many of the chapters and examples because I read so many reviews -- or articles and blog posts that discussed them.

Nick Hornby is a terrific writer, so I always enjoy his work -- even when he's writing short pieces about his favorite music or books. The book listed above is taken from his monthly columns discussing the books he buys and reads -- or doesn't.

I would not place any of the listed baseball books in the pantheon of great baseball writing, but I enjoyed the two books put together by Johah Keri, Steve Goldman and the other analysts at Baseball Prospectus. Jim Brosnan's memoir was a nice read too.


Libra by Don DeLillo.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut.

The Ticking Tenure Clock by Blaire French.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Red Lights by Georges Simenon.

361 by Donald E. Westlake.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney.

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke.

Blue City by Ross Macdonald.

Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. Macdonald

Moonraker by Ian Fleming.

Forty Lashes Less One by Elmore Leonard.

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith

Two in the Field by Darryl Brock.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi.

Shut Up and Deal by Jesse May.

Of these, I placed the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction. The least entertaining are listed last.

The lengthy works of historical fiction by DeLillo and Johnson were good, but I left both of them feeling a bit unsatisfied. I have previously read almost every book Vonnegut has penned, and this book was worth my time, but it was far from his best work (which was published decades ago).

I probably enjoyed Ender's Game, Funeral in Berlin and A Red Death more than any books I read this year, proving that I should listen more often to recommendations from colleagues -- and other readers. In their own way, each of these books suggests nostalgia for the cold war.

The Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is faithful to the spirit of the popular book. Both are creepy and unsettling. I enjoyed the film V for Vendetta more than the original graphic novel, even though the filmmakers took substantial liberties with the text.

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

I will likely read more Dave Robicheaux stories by Burke in the future, though there is no urgency. I have now completed Elmore Leonard's old westerns and will probably never return to them. Ian Fleming's Bond plays a mean game of bridge in Moonraker.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010


The French transnational company Sodexo contracts with the University of Louisville to provide food and food services to students and others who dine in various campus facilities.

According to a troubling piece by David Moberg in The American Prospect, Sodexo's global reach is truly vast, as it "employs 380,000 workers in 80 countries." That global reach can make it difficult to keep an eye on the company's behavior around the world:
Sodexo, which says that it "has always recognized and respected trade union rights," is fighting [Marcia] Snell's attempt [at Ohio State University] to organize a branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Human Rights Watch concluded that the company's U.S. operations had frequently violated the same international labor standards it observes in Europe...

French Sodexo union leaders Jean-Michel Dupire and Gerard Bodard say that after visiting Columbus [Ohio, home of Ohio State] last spring, they were shocked by differences between the lives of Americans like Snell and French Sodexo workers -- and the difference between Sodexo's self-image and reality. In France, anyone can easily join a union, and everyone in the food services is under union contracts. Most French Sodexo workers earn the minimum wage (about $12 an hour), but they have comprehensive public health insurance, a much more generous public pension, full work weeks, and six weeks paid vacation.
Moberg documents that Sodexo pays the Ohio State employee he profiles closer to $9 per hour. Moreover, she cannot afford the company's health care plan and did not receive any vacation days until this year -- after working 10 years with the company.

As a member of the University of Louisville's Sustainability Council, I've been involved in many meetings that discussed Sodexo's food purchasing decisions. Generally, the Council has encouraged "buy local" initiatives, supported a campus garden, promoted a Health Science Campus farmer's market, etc. Along those lines, Sodexo has been praised for partnering with another company to "bring on a line of natural and organic [food] products."

For obvious reasons, Sodexo's policies and practices pertinent to sustainability are primarily evaluated by the Operations Committee of the Council. However, it seems clear that the Administration, Finance & Outreach Committee should also monitor a company like Sodexo since the group "works to ensure that the University of Louisville... Compensates our employees fairly, provides for their basic needs, and treats them with dignity."

According to Moberg, the SEIU wants Sodexo to sign a concrete and global "compact that will guarantee unions' unimpeded right to organize Sodexo workers." Competing union UNITE HERE also favors a compact, but it wants to preserve the right of workers to organize under all unions equally -- so as not to privilege SEIU.

Could the Sustainability Council support these union efforts?

By law, Kentucky is a "union shop" state, but it is a target of "right to work" supporters who believe their arguments resonate among citizens of the Bluegrass. The AAUP does not have an especially strong presence on the U of L campus. The webpage still has a flashing "new" icon to promote a local conference that was held in April 2006. And, of course, Sodexo employees are not University employees.

In sum, I'm going to bring this up with some colleagues, but am not confident that it will go very far.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Last year, my family spent Christmas at Zion National Park in Utah. We flew into Vegas, drove to Zion, and then motored down to the Grand Canyon -- where many of us got sick. This is me in Zion:

Merry Christmas 2010!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Commencement Winter 2010

University of Louisville celebrated its Winter 2010 commencement today. Some weeks ago, one of the top students in Political Science (and a participant in my senior "capstone" seminar) informed me that she was giving the commencement address. UofL Today has a nice interview with Ashley Harris about her time at the university and her interests and experiences.

I congratulate Ashley on her accomplishments to-date and sincerely wish her continued success in the future. Indeed, I extend the same sentiments to all the graduates -- particularly the six others that were classmates in my seminar.

Unfortunately, Louisville was hit by an ice storm that closed public schools and the university on Thursday. The administration decided to carry on with the ceremony downtown in any case, but I ultimately did not attend and am truly sorry for missing Ashley's speech -- and for being unable to congratulate all the students in person.

Three cheers for the graduates!

Update: video of the address:

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Please give

Cross-posted from Duck of Minerva today.

This year began with a human tragedy of horrific proportions -- the earthquake in Haiti. We may never know precisely how many people died, but the government in Port-au-Prince estimated 230,000 in February.

The news did not improve as the year progressed. Consider this ANI news report from Saturday about flooding in Pakistan -- and keep in mind that floodwaters have not yet receded in some areas even though the worst flooding occurred months ago:
It is estimated that the floods affected up to 20 million people, while over 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The UN had rated it as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, saying that the number of people suffering from the crisis exceeded the combined total in three recent mega disasters - the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
In 2011, experts predict that thanks to La Niña, Kenya may well experience a humanitarian emergency. Zimbabwe is on the brink of disaster because of cholera, measles, and flu outbreaks.

Haiti itself is ending the year with a cholera epidemic that has infected 100,000 people and killed nearly 2200 already.

And yet, despite these truly heart-wrenching emergencies, the number of people harmed and killed in them is dwarfed by the ravages of day-to-day poverty of the type described in Paul Collier's work on the world's "bottom billion." A billion people live in abject poverty on $1 a day and roughly another billion live on $2 per day.

In the November/December Washington Monthly, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, explains that "complex humanitarian emergencies" like the Haitian earthquake and Pakistani floods are not, in fact, the primary source of human suffering worldwide:
[F]ocusing on war, flood, famine, and earthquakes is in itself a selection mechanism. Humanitarian emergencies are thankfully rare, concentrated, and usually short-lived events. Take Africa—often seen as the home stable for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Less than three-tenths of a percent of the population was affected by famine in the average year between 1990 and 2005. And in 2005, only one-half of 1 percent of the population were refugees.

If tens of millions of people are in need of urgent assistance every year, this still suggests that, however telegenic are humanitarian crises, they don’t represent the biggest challenges of global poverty. More than 16 percent of children born in Africa die before their fifth birthday, for example. Around a billion people worldwide are malnourished....The considerable majority of extreme human suffering occurs outside of what is commonly recognized as a crisis situation.
Kenny explains in that article that humanitarian emergencies are often rightly followed by new emergency assistance -- even as development aid to address the endemic problem of global poverty languishes. Thanks partly to the Great Recession, government development assistance is certainly down from peak levels earlier this decade.

Americans like to consider themselves a charitable people -- particularly at this time of year. Indeed, Giving USA Foundation reports that Americans give away over $300 billion annually, which is over 2% of GDP. And it amounts to a lot of cash. Jeffrey Sachs has been saying for years that global poverty could be eradicated for about $200 to $250 billion per year.

However, close scrutiny reveals that individual charitable giving by Americans does not typically go to causes that help the global poor -- or national poor, for that matter. In the December 6 issue of The Nation, CUNY Graduate Center History Professor David Nasaw asks, "Where does this money go?"
Some to disaster relief or to feed, clothe and shelter the poor—but not very much. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich claims that only about 10 percent of charitable giving goes to the poor and needy. A third goes to religious organizations; 13 percent to education; 7 percent to hospitals, healthcare organizations and research; 4 percent to arts and culture; 3 percent to international peace and relief efforts; 2 percent to environmental and animal-related causes.

Although it is never easy to quantify giving, closer scrutiny of individual, as opposed to foundation, funding indicates that much of it goes to causes that directly or indirectly benefit the donors. Individual donors are more likely to give to the church or synagogue they or members of their families attend, to their alma maters, their children's private schools and the museums and cultural institutions they patronize.
I am not sure of the precise NGO or IO targets for charitable giving to alleviate global poverty, but I am certain that this issue should be a higher priority for individual donors like you and me -- though Nasaw points out that the 3.1% of Americans earning $200,000 or more annually (or who hold assets above $1 million) give about 70% of the $300 billion US total.

I guess that means we need to convince affluent people to be less selfish in their annual giving.

One last note. Nasaw points out that thanks to the US tax code, "every $100 donated to charity by a high-income person means $35 less to the Treasury." He is not trying to sound like a Grinch (or perhaps a Scrooge), but if affluent people could not deduct their private donations, the US Treasury would have nearly $75 billion potentially to use in the public interest.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Climate change diplomacy

This past week, I've posted twice to the e-ir blog, Climate Politics: IR and the Environment.

Sunday, December 5, I posted "Hot times?" about the latest temperature news (2010 still has a chance to be the warmest year on record, though it will most likely finish behind 1998 and 2005) and my brief (pessimistic) assessment of the ongoing international climate conference in Cancun.

Today, December 9, I posted "Wikileaks and climate diplomacy," which looks at some of the latest leaked cables pertaining to climate change. For any IR scholar, the documents reflect fairly predictable practices. A powerful state like the US pursues its interests by using the resources at its disposal to influence other states. Not really shocking, but revealed for all to see.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Critical IR Theory

It has been awhile since I visited their webpage, so I only recently learned that State University of New York (SUNY) Press has posted a pdf of chapter 1 from Democratizing Global Politics (2004), my coauthored book written with Nayef Samhat.

The chapter is "Critical Theory, Habermas, and Internatioanal Relations."

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2011 Grawemeyer Award

As I noted today on Duck of Minerva, Kevin Bales has won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. His work focuses on ending slavery in the contemporary world -- a problem that IR scholars have discussed as an exemplar of normative success -- largely because of an extensive prohibition regime.

Here's a video of Bales discussing his ideas at TED 2010:

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Friday, November 26, 2010

"HP 7A"

I have not read the Harry Potter books, but saw "Deathly Hallows" the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The kid with the mark of Zorro continues to be under threat from the villain who strongly resembles Nosferatu. Oh, and the Smoke Monster from "Lost" seems to appear at regular intervals to menace HP and his allies. Often, HP, Mr. Scott, and the female Spock escape these attacks by teleporting away at the last moment. I'm not sure why they don't simply use their cloaking device.

Spoiler alert: Luckily, HP and his pals find Excalibur and are thus prepared to defeat the bad guys (perhaps in the forthcoming sequel, "HP 7B"). Unluckily, the Dark Lord has obtained a very big wand from the White Witch and now thinks he's destined to beat HP.

Thanks to a helpful explanation of a key symbol provided by a minor character (Robert Langdon? Lovegood? Something like that...), the non-reading audience now knows that this sequel will likely concern the search for a small rock apparently belonging to Christ.

The final film will open after the current one closes.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bush memoirs: definitive takedown

Dan Froomkin has posted "The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of George W. Bush's Memoir." Read it. I was going to quote some of the best parts, but there are simply too many to excerpt.

Froomkin has written a lengthy and link-laden piece demonstrating that George W. Bush was NOT reluctant about attacking Iraq. The former Yale cheerleader was also cheerleader-in-chief for war. Moreover, despite Bush's claims, torture was NOT a legitimate weapon in the war on terror.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Multitasking Doesn't Work

I am the father of two teenagers, which means I have a fair amount of experience observing them "multitask." Typically, this means they are doing homework, eyeing their cellphones for text messages, answering incoming messages -- and perhaps listening to music too.

This doesn't seem especially productive to me -- and there's now a good deal of academic research that backs up my impression.

Former Yale English Professor and current literary critic William Deresiewicz condemned "multitasking" last year when speaking to cadets at West Point (published in the spring 2010 The American Scholar and reprinted recently in Utne Reader). He's read some of the literature:
[A Stanford study team of researchers] separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking. They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. In other words, they were more distractible. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly. In other words, their minds were more disorganized. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks.

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.
Around the same time I read that essay, I listened to part of a multitasking story on NPR featuring David Meyer of the University of Michigan. NPR reports that Meyer "has spent the past few decades studying multitasking." He is not keen on it:
"For tasks that are at all complicated, no matter how good you have become at multitasking, you're still going to suffer hits against your performance. You will be worse compared to if you were actually concentrating from start to finish on the task," Meyer says.

Multitasking causes a kind of brownout in the brain. Meyer says all the lights go dim because there just isn't enough power to go around.
While searching for the link to that NPR story, I came across another one featuring Earl Miller a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT.
"People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves," said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, "The brain is very good at deluding itself."

...What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

"Switching from task to task, you think you're actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you're actually not," Miller said.

"You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly."
A University of London study found that people distracted by incoming phone calls or email messages lost about 10 IQ points. Another study found that switching tasks made students 40% less productive at solving math problems.

Multitasking increases stress and frustration as well, with potentially adverse consequences for health.

Kids, please just try doing one thing at time.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bush Memoirs

Over at Duck of Minerva, I've been blogging about revelations from the George W. Bush memoirs.

On Friday, November 12, I posted "Drip, drip, drip," which focused on Bush's acknowledgement of the Israeli destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007. Did the Bush doctrine have limits?

Saturday, November 13, I blogged "Bush: McConnell plays politics with national security." Bush says the Kentucky Senator wanted to withdraw troops from Iraq so the GOP would not lose Congress in 2006 -- even when he was publicly condemning Democrats for proposing the same reductions.

Updated: Monday, November 15: "(Head of) State Secrets." It is about Bush's accusation that German Chancellor Schroeder flip-flopped on the Iraq war -- and the former German leader's reaction. Put simply, someone is lying.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The "Lost" year

In the last 10 months, I watched the entire series run of "Lost," primarily on DVDs checked out from my university library. I caught a few episodes on Hulu.


At the beginning of the year, Entertainment Weekly named "Lost" the second best show of the past decade. Since they named "The Sopranos" number one and "The Daily Show" third, I wondered if EW knew something about television that I didn't. Both of those shows were terrific this past decade.

When I watched the first few episodes, the IR theorist in me was intrigued by the idea of people living "in a state of nature" (literally) and under apparent threat from unknown outsiders ("others" or "hostiles") -- not to mention polar bears. One of the central characters was named John Locke. Soon, other characters named Hume and Rousseau were introduced. Then more characters named after philosophers were placed into the show. Hmmmm.

Anyway, I've viewed the entire series now and cannot say that I would have been better off watching contemporary films. The storyline was usually interesting and most of the acting was good. Watching "Lost' wasn't that time-consuming. I ended up seeing 10 to 12 episodes per month -- often watching 2 or 3 in an evening. Since they ran 42 minutes each (no commercials on DVD), viewing 3 in a row was like watching a single 2 hour movie.

Thumbs up.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Baseball flashback

This morning's paper reported that both Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner are on the veterans committee ballot for the baseball Hall of Fame.

Naturally, this fact made me recall the following scene:

I still recall exactly where I was when that happened. It was a wonderful moment -- sweet revenge for this outcome.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010


I very rarely watch Keith Olbermann's television program any more, though I certainly understand how it serves a purpose in America's political discourse. Arguably, it served a much bigger purpose when it was launched during the Bush era. Few people in the media gave much real scrutiny to the Iraq war and Olbermann was willing to poke at some of the weaker claims.

Olbermann has now been suspended from his job for donating to several Democratic political candidates in 2010.

As it happens, I had a debate case many years ago about the harm of employer's requiring employees to forego constitutional rights. Given how the U.S. Supreme Court has equated political contributions with political speech, this is a troubling case. Moreover, it is difficult to see how an opinionated journalist like Olbermann is allowed to say almost anything (loudly) on-air without violating his network's ethics standards, but cannot make private political contributions.

Olbermann works for MSNBC, which apparently overlooked Republican colleague Joe Scarborough's donations in 2006. Apparently, those were reported in advance, which hardly makes the double standard less of a double standard given that the ethical concern is that media members shouldn't appear to have conflicts of interest when reporting about politicians they support. If transparency is the issue, I'd think public FEC reports would suffice.

Indeed, in 2007, MSNBC identified nearly 150 journalists who gave to political campaigns. A 2010 report by found 235 media donors this year -- giving nearly half a million bucks!

Olbermann's "crime" isn't exactly unique in his field.

Media Matters has documented that Fox News "personalities" operate by a different ethical code altogether:
In recent years, at least twenty Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in all 50 states.* Republican parties and officials have routinely touted these personalities' affiliations with Fox News to sell and promote their events.
The list is not merely former Republican politicians like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, etc. (and those are just the stars). Rather, it also includes Fred Barnes, Glenn Beck, Monica Crowley, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, etc.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

French Film Fest

Over the next two weeks, the University of Louisville's Floyd Theater is hosting a French Film festival. Admission is free!

It appears that the selected films are first-rate. Kudos to the organizers.

I'm going to try to take in at least some of the festival -- and should have gone to see "Lorna's Silence" at 3 pm today. It's been a quiet afternoon and it would have fit in my schedule. Plus, I do like film noir -- even if this film is neo-noir rather than the classic variety.

Of the films, "Séraphine" has been the most critically acclaimed -- you may have heard about it already

"Summer Hours" sounds a bit like "A Christmas Tale," but stars Juliette Binoche instead of Catherine Deneuve.

You can even find family fare, with "A Town Called Panic."

Check it out.

Did I mention that it is free?

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

2010 Election

Originally uploaded by NQNorman

Monday night, I attended a rally at the University of Louisville and saw Bill Clinton speak live. Oddly enough, I've never previously seen a past or present President speak in-person. Clinton is still a very effective politician and communicator.

Many of the politicians who shared the podium that night were elected, including Representative John Yarmuth. However, the intended primary beneficiary, Senate candidate Jack Conway, lost to Rand Paul.

Update: I forgot to mention that a small group of faculty arrived for this 6 pm rally at about 5:45 and had an OK view of the stage. My 17-year old daughter, however, arrived just after 3 pm with a group of friends and claimed front row seats. Thus, she got to shake hands with the guests (including Clinton) and one of her friends received a hug from the Big Dog.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Campus "songtalk"

Bernice Johnson Reagon, who describes herself as a "songtalker," will be delivering the annual Anne Braden Memorial Lecture on Friday, November 5 at 6pm in Comstock Hall (School of Music): “The Civil Rights Movement and Students: Creating a Vital, Transformative Change in the Struggle for American Freedom.”

The event is free and open to the public.

Here's a sample of her singing an American classic tune:

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nostalgia for Republican Economics?

When George W. Bush inherited the White House in January 2001, the nation's unemployment rate was 4.2%. Eight years later, his administration's assortment of economic policies managed to turn that into 8%.**

That's an increase of 90% -- not quite a doubling.

Unfortunately, due to the Great Recession that began in 2008, unemployment levels have continued to increase during the Obama admininistration -- up now to 9.6% in September (the latest month with complete data). That's an increase of 20%.

It's bad, but it's dumb to blame Democrats exclusively -- especially since Republicans limited the stimulus, demanded much of it in the form of tax cuts, and won't agree to fund infrastructure projects and other spending at the level that helped the US exit the Great Depression.

Much of the debate in the 2010 midterm election is about government's role in the economy, but I assure all readers that this would simply be little more than background noise if unemployment was closer to 6 or 7%.

Incidentally, with a little help from Google, you can easily find wild (tea party) claims that the Obama administration has "quadrupled the national debt."

The U.S. government debt was $5.73 trillion on Bush's January 20, 2001, inauguration day. By the start of Obama's presidency on January 20, 2009, it stood at $10.63 trillion. Bush's tax cuts and the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nearly doubled the federal debt in 8 years. Specifically, it was an increase of 85.6%.

The current U.S. government debt on October 23, 2010, stands at $13.67 trillion. That's an increase of 28.6% -- largely because the Bush tax cuts do not expire until January 1, 2011, and the wars remain unfunded.

The tea party's claim seems to be based on CBO estimates from March 2009 of future deficit spending forecast through 2019. The latest projections are not as bleak and are quite volatile, depending upon assumptions about economic growth, tax revenues (will those Bush cuts expire or not? -- it's a $700 billion question over a decade), etc.

In a nutshell, Republicans are poised to retake the House and perhaps the Senate because their noisiest loyalists have convinced too many members of the media and electorate that the Obama administration is somehow to blame for what they label unprecedented government spending, borrowing, and intervention into the economy.

** New presidents assume office on January 20, so it makes sense to average the monthly data for January/February as I've done here.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

R&D $

This election cycle has included a lot of talk about spending, deficits, and government intervention into the economy. Generally, however, participants in the debates simply (and perhaps hypocritically, given the rhetoric) favor certain government programs and oppose others. Even tea partiers like Dana Loesch reject defense budget cuts, apparently, and would exempt Social Security and Medicare. They hate the so-called "bailouts" even though economists note their stimulus value and the emergency loans were mostly repaid already.

This tidbit from Time illustrates the problem of misplaced priorities:
In mid-June, a group of corporate titans, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, descended on Washington to call for U.S. spending on energy research to be tripled. They noted that the government today spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development — not counting temporary stimulus projects — compared with $30 billion annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military R&D.
Apparently, the U.S. values new weapons more than it does new drugs or energy sources. I don't think the new Congress is going to change that ordering.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010


My paper (“The Buildup to the Iraq War as Farce”) for the ISAC/ISSS conference in Providence is complete.

Based on the literature I reviewed in the section, here's my summary paragraph about farce:
A farce is a fast-paced and outrageous story featuring characters that freely employ hyperbole and make nonsensical claims about their situation. Protagonists and antagonists can often be described as reckless fools or devious knaves, though the regular instances of mistaken identity may blur the distinction for members of the audience. Frequently, the threat of physical violence or aggression looms over the story.
Hopefully, I've demonstrated that the buildup to the Iraq war can readily be viewed as farce.

The paper also gives some attention to critic Eric Bentley's "comic catharsis" thesis. Here's an old (March 10, 1961) story from the Harvard Crimson, published after a Bentley campus forum:
Bentley pointed out that by picturing an absurd situation, farce fulfills repressed wishes, although in disguise. "The contrast is between tone and context: the actor threatens murder in a playful tone, but the murderous wishes are true. Farce is a dialogue between aggressiveness and flippancy."

Farce cannot function without this aggressiveness. Bentley stated. He agreed with Freud that innocent jokes do not make us laugh. "We want satire, obscenity, and attack."
Obviously, the buildup to the Iraq war seemed pretty serious at the time, but I think much can be revealed and learned by reading it as farce. I'll try to have a link to the paper next week.

Update: I put a copy on Google Docs.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

2010 Hardy House champs

I often blog about my Hardy House fantasy baseball auction/draft results in the spring of each year, but I've never blogged about the end-of-season results. This is largely because the Bolts From the Blue haven't won the league championship since 1998.

Until 2010, that is.

After week 17 (of 26 weeks in a season), the team's prospects looked pretty dismal in this 12 team fantasy American League. The league uses the ordinary 8 statistics and my team was 20.5 points behind the first place Trapper Keepers (managed by two very smart guys). That was good for second place, but TK appeared to be runaway winners and was genuinely great from top-to-bottom. TK had the best list of retained players heading into the auction and were widely expected to win the league. They had been in first place for many weeks and several owners feared the team had enough retainable talent to repeat in 2011.

Worse, that week 17, my team lost OF Scott Podsednik to the National League when the KC Royals traded him. Also, my top closer, Jon Rauch, was relegated to setup relief when the Minnesota Twins obtained Matt Capps at the end of July. As it happens, I was already next-to-last in saves and 7th in steals and had traded away some power hitters to acquire those guys to help fix the problem. Those were my team's worst categories, though the Bolts were also just 6th in batting average and tied for 6th/7th in pitching wins. My second closer, CLE P Kerry Woods, was also traded to the Yankees that week. It was a disaster.

Thanks to a good draft and a hot start, my team seemed to have plenty of RBI and home runs and because of LAA P Jered Weaver and SEA P "King" Felix Hernandez was doing very well in "ratio" (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, or WHIP) and ERA. 42 of my 63.5 points were in those four categories.

Years of not being able to win had me feeling frustrated again, but a very careful study of the statistics after the Podsednik and Rauch deals made me wonder if I might be able to implement a mid-year "Sweeney plan," "a popular strategy where you punt the two power categories (HR/RBI) and try to win the remaining six. You buy a few speedsters who'll hit for good averages and pretty much blow the rest on buying yourself a pitching staff."

I already had a lot of points in HR/RBI and a solid base of starting pitching. What if I traded all my cheap prospects for high average "speedsters" and some relievers who garner saves?

It seemed like a possible pathway to victory. My spreadsheet showed that it could work.

The Hardy House League is a "keeper" league, which means that owner-managers can retain players for an additional season or two. Inexpensive potential "keepers" are highly valued by teams far out of the running for the current season title. Given that my team was in second place and far behind the leaders, I figured it might be a buyer's market.

Plus, that weekend, one team near the bottom of the standings sent a very pricey 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET), OF Nelson Cruz (TEX) (2011 free agent) and P Rafael Soriano (TB) ($36 in 2011) to the third place team (not far behind the Bolts) in exchange for OF Josh Hamilton (TEX), who would be $26 in 2011 and $30 in 2012.

That deal seemed to confirm that the market would be soft. Hamilton is MVP material, but it was a load of talent traded for maybe a few dollars savings at next year's auction. Who pays more than $30 for a player who doesn't steal bases?

On the morning of August 2, I made the following trades (2011/2012 prices in parenthesis):

1. Sent KC 3B Alex Gordon ($13/$16), LAA P Joel Piniero ($5/$7), TB P Grant Balfour ($3/$5) and DET P Daniel Schlereth ($5/$7) for TB OF Carl Crawford, CWS 3B Dayan Viciedo, NYY P CC Sabathia, and CWS P Matt Thornton. All the guys I acquired are very expensive to retain or 2011 free agents. Viciedo was basically a 3B throw-in until I could fix my positional needs -- but even he was very pricey (his owner, a Sox fan, paid over $30 for him in free agent cash).

2. Sent TB C John Jaso ($3/$5) and CLE OF Trever Crowe ($7/$9) for CWS P Bobby Jenks and SEA OF Ichiro Suzuki, two more pricey guys.

3. Sent CLE SS Jason Donald ($3/$5), TOR P Brett Cecil ($4/$6), and MIN P Jon Rauch ($5) for NYY 2B Robinson Cano, BOS P Jonathan Papelbon and TEX C Taylor Teagarden ($7). Cano and Papelbon have very high salaries.

That gave me two new closers and two of the league's top basestealers that also hit for high average. The trades also brought a top hitting 2B and a third ace starter to go with my top two of Weaver and Hernandez.

I also pressured some teams into including additional free agent cash as part of the deals. Why?

The week also brought some new talent into the league thanks to real baseball deadline trades. Thus, I spent $30 of my newly bolstered free agent cash for LAA P Dan Haren. Four aces? Haren has pitched like an ace in the past, but was having a difficult 2010 in Arizona. I tried to buy Capps, but someone with more resources bought him.

Rather than spending on other marginal new NL talent (mostly power), I also picked up rookie outfielders Ryan Kalish (BOS) and Mitch Moreland (TEX). Indeed, part of my strategy was now built around picking up young free agent talent for relatively low prices and then peddling those very same players in trade to fill needs on the fly.

The first place team responded the following week with a trade or two that potentially undermined some of what I accomplished.

Thus, on August 16, I made two more deals:

4. Traded SEA P Brandon League ($5) for LAA P Brian Fuentes. Unfortunately, Fuentes was almost immediately traded by LA to the Twins to become a setup reliever. League ended the season with a handful of saves versus 1 for Fuentes. This trade was a bust for me and it was clear almost immediately. The owner with Capps and NYY P Mariano Rivera was not available that morning. Sigh.

5. Traded TB 1B Dan Johnson ($3/$5) and BOS IF Jed Lowrie ($3/$5) for SEA IF Chone Figgins. Johnson and Lowrie ended up hitting a lot of September homers, but Figgins was another basestealer with a history of good batting average. This was a gamble since he was not hitting for average in 2010.

By now, Bobby Jenks was injured and it was clear I needed another closer. Plus, wins was a tight category. So, on August 23, I made these trades:

6. Traded BOS OF Ryan Kalish ($15/$18) for MIN P Capps.

7. Traded TEX 1B/OF Mitch Moreland ($13/$16) for BOS P Jon Lester. The other team really wanted Moreland and offered a fifth ace. How could I refuse now?

Our league allows owners to add a player for September and my pickings were slim. Thus, on August 30

8. Traded NYY P Kerry Wood ($17/$20) for a very pricey NYY 1B Lance Berkman. Wood has an outside shot of serving as a closer in 2011, while Berkman was definitely going to be in the auction pool at his price.

By now, the Bolts were gathering steam with steals, improving average, wins and some saves. However, a few teams were starting to mount challenges in HR/RBI. Thanks to the Jenks injuries and Fuentes trade, the saves were not increasing fast enough.

The Hardy House League doesn't have a trade deadline!

September 20, week 25. The Bolts finished week 24 in first place! TK kept making more trades (the third place team sent them Cabrera, Cruz and Soriano) and the competition for available talent was now quite fierce. TK was grabbing relief pitchers they didn't need just to keep the Bolts from garnering more saves. They also traded for a bunch of two-start pitchers to maximize their chance of pulling ahead of the Bolts in wins:

9. Traded TEX C Teagarden ($7) for BAL C Matt Wieters. I decided not to acquire more starters and stuck with my five aces, plus CLE P Carlos Carrasco, obtained as a September free agent.

September 27, week 26. Every save, homer, win and steal was potentially important for a point or two in a tight contest:

10. Traded LAA Hideki Matsui ($14/$17) and LAA P Fuentes for CLE OF Shin-Soo Choo and DET P Jose Valverde who was supposed to be healthy at long last (he was available for trade for weeks).

And that was barely enough.

In the end, the Bolts finished with 83.5 points and TK had 81.5 (down from 84 on August 2). The Bolts concluded the season with 7 of 13 original offensive players, but only 3 of 10 pitchers. One of those 3 was reserved for the stretch run to make room for Carrasco. The Bolts won batting average, ERA, WHIP, tied for 2nd in wins, and finished 3rd in HR and RBI. Steals (4th) and saves (5th) didn't go quite as planned, but still were much improved over the July totals.


Of course, the 2011 keeper list looks kind of thin....Weaver, TOR OF Vernon Wells, TB P Joaquin Benoit, maybe OAK P Henry Rodriguez, and likely one or two very pricey stars.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Read the Duck

Virtually all of my recent blogging has been posted at Duck of Minerva:

Today, September 30, I posted Flashback: Afghanistan "Mission Accomplished." The post recalls something goofy Donald Rumsfeld said in May 2003.

Tuesday, September 28: Another war on terror outrage: asylum denied. Read about yet another way the U.S. has been screwing Iraqi civilians.

Thursday, September 16: The Latest in Mole Whacking. The post is about proposed escalation of the "war on terror" -- in Yemen.

Monday, September 6: "Debate Day." I reminisce about how Labor Day was traditionally an important work day for the University of Kansas debate team. The post takes note of recent articles and books by other former debaters.

Wednesday, September 1: "Preemption News." The Pentagon is gearing up to launch "preemptive" wars against potential cyber-attackers.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Rand Paul Update: Hypocrisy 101

Someone put a Rand Paul flyer on the billboard next to my office. When I read through it quickly yesterday, I noticed something odd that is apparently a point that he has been emphasizing in his latest ads. Fox News:
Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Rand Paul's latest ad is selling him as a Washington outsider. In a new 30-second commercial, the Bowling Green eye surgeon declares he's a "physician, not a career politician."
On his webpage, Paul takes this further, calling for term limits for "career politicians":
Long term incumbency leads to politicians who seem to care more about what is best for their career than what is best for their country.
These are kind of strange claims from someone known primarily as the son of a long-time politician, Ron Paul.

The elder Dr. Paul, Rand's father, has served in the U.S. Congress representing District 14 in Texas continuously since 1996. However, he has been in the House of Representatives much longer as Project Vote Smart clarifies:
Representative, United States House of Representatives, District 22, 1976-1977, 1979-1985
Ron Paul has been in the House for 22 years.

Additionally, Paul lost election for that House seat in 1974 and 1976, which is why he didn't serve consecutively in the period from 1975 to 1985. He also ran for the U.S. Senate and lost in 1984 and ran for President unsuccessfully in 1988 as a Libertarian.

Even if we posit that Paul wasn't a politician from 1989 through 1996, that still means about 30 years of politics as a career choice.

So, would Rand want Ron booted out of Washington?

University of Virginia Political Scientist Larry Sabato explains that Rand definitely benefits from his father's family business:
“As we know from almost every state, having a family member in politics can be very helpful. You gain contacts, experience, you understand what the job is all about, campaigning. It’s like the family business,” Sabato said. “When he ran for president, Ron Paul was very popular with a segment of students. They are fiercely anti establishment and perfectly happy to accept Rand Paul.”
That same Miami Herald story notes that the family connection "helped the political newcomer net a big boost in contributions - in part by relying heavily on his dad's donor list."

Always follow the money.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joydeep Sarkar, RIP

I never met Joydeep Sarkar face-to-face, but we've exchanged email for more than a decade as part of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League.

Very sadly, NY Streetsblog reports that Joydeep died in an auto accident earlier this week:
29-year-old Joydeep Sarkar was hit and killed yesterday at 2:22 a.m. on the northbound side of the FDR Drive, near 72nd Street, according to the NYPD. No criminality is suspected, despite a WPIX report that the crash was a hit-and-run.
Back in March, many of the 24 team owners were discussing the history of the league and Joydeep posted this to the rest of us:
I can't believe I've been with this league for so long...I still remember searching the internet for fantasy baseball leagues and somehow randomly stumbling on Jim's OBFLB page with all the history and all-time records. E-mailed Jim then to put my name in the hat as an AGM. If my memory serves me right, I came on sometime during high school as an AGM for the Fevers. I think I stayed an AGM for almost 2 years before taking over the team in '98a.

Was definitely the youngest owner at that point at 18. Now I'm 29...been with you all through some of high school & than all of college, post-baccalaureate, medical school and now as an emergency medicine resident. My only regret is not meeting any of you in person. Jim & I have tried to hook up for Yankee games from time to time but my schedule's always been insane. Tried to hook up with Burke on my trips to Boston to visit my nephews but I see them so infrequently that I never find any time to separate from them. it's been a blast though.

And I third the glad to see Randall's back sentiment! I remember trying to scrounge up money in the early days to buy Baseball Weeklies just so I could do all the weekly stats for the team. LOL, can't imagine what my parents would think if this all happened in this day and age. "You're what?! Playing fantasy baseball with 30 year olds. Why do you keep coming home late? Why are you being so quiet these days? I'm calling the police!"
AGM means assistant general manager.

Joydeep Sarkar's death is a great loss. I've been staggering around all day.

Not that it matters, particularly, but Joydeep was very good at fantasy baseball. His team (Bronx Bombers) won the league championship in 2004B (we play two half seasons per year) and finished second in 1999A, 2001A, 2002B, 2003A, 2009A, and 2009B.

As of today, with the final regular season week of 2010B ending on Sunday, his team has a shot of making the playoffs as the wild card team.

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Save the whales?

In the July/August 2010 Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman makes a case for moving freight by ship rather than truck. Put simply, he writes that "we’ll use less oil, emit less carbon, [and] cut highway traffic."

Longman writes that less than 5% of U.S. freight moves by ship, but significant increases would have meaningful consequences:
If only 30 percent of the freight that currently goes by truck went by barge instead, it would result in a reduction in diesel fuel consumption of roughly 4.7 billion gallons. This is equivalent to conserving more than 6 percent of the total end-use energy consumed by U.S. households, including heating, cooling, and lighting.
Later, Longman writes that "10 percent of U.S. gross domestic product [is] involved in freight logistics."

While Longman writes of using all sorts of domestic waterways, including inland lakes and rivers, many of the examples he employs involve coastal and blue water transportation.

I wonder if Longman saw the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly? In the September 2010 issue, Melissa Gaskill had a short piece noting that whales are threatened by the type of ocean traffic Longman promotes:
When a container ship strikes a 60-ton right whale, no one on board usually notices. The whale, however, may die from massive trauma, hemorrhage, and broken bones. Ship propellers slice whales up “like a loaf of bread,” says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

North Atlantic right whales—one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 400 living in the wild—are particularly vulnerable. They feed, breed, and migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, where, as the map at right shows, they encounter increasingly heavy ship traffic.

...According to the New England Aquarium, ship strikes and fishing-gear entanglement until recently were killing the whales faster than they could reproduce.
Gaskill does point out that reducing vessel speed saves whales, though the shipping industry is opposed.

This is one of those cases where one environmental value seems to conflict with another. I've often argued in class, without hard evidence, that environmental organizations believe that "poster animals" like whales help attract attention and resources that make their other missions possible. This is an interesting test of the implications, I suppose.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Top 10 List: "Most Intellectual" College Environments

As my oldest daughter continues to think about her college choices, I'll point readers to Unigo's top 10 list of the "most intellectual" campus environments:
University of Chicago
She visited 5 of those 10 and thought seriously about looking at 2 others. Several were rejected primarily because of geographical preferences.

Meanwhile, 3 of these 10 "new Ivies" are also still under consideration:
Carnegie Mellon
Johns Hopkins
Washington (St. Louis)
Unsurprisingly, you'll find no overlap from those two compilations with this list.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Iraq post-mortem

Combat operations have ended in Iraq and all but 50,000 troops have withdrawn (so long as you don't ask about the private security contractors who remain).

How did the U.S. do? Did "we" win?

Former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) isn't kind in this interview:
Hagel flatly rejects the notion — now conventional wisdom among many Americans — that the war in Iraq has been a success. “Did you see today’s paper?” he asked, holding up a front-page story in the Washington Post that described vast swaths of the country as being plagued by electricity outages.

“Look at the facts: No government, less electricity and people want us out,” Hagel pointed out. “Anyway you measure Iraq today I think you’re pretty hard pressed to find how people are better off than they were before we invaded. I think history is going to be very harsh in its judgment — very, very harsh.
Hagel stills says the Iraq war was the worst foreign policy decision since the Vietnam war and one of the five worst in U.S. history.

Hagel is no fan of nation-building, which is why he also says "I think we’re headed for a similar outcome in Afghanistan if we don’t do some things differently.”

Hat tip: Steve Clemons.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Ripley; Believe It or Not

I just finished Ripley Under Ground, written by Patricia Highsmith and published in 1970. It's the second novel in a series of five. The first book was creepy, but well-done.

This story was fairly implausible; thus, I read it as a cold war allegory -- published prior to the Pentagon papers (1971) and the Church committee hearings (1975).

Highsmith was simply ahead of her time describing unbelievable tales of American dastardly behavior abroad.

In this book, Ripley, the amoral American-in-residence among Europeans, rides roughshod over the region. His self-interested murders and lies are open secrets among those in his closest circle, even though the public officials he evades cannot nail him for the crimes. While Ripley originally went abroad to seek adventure (and perhaps to provide assistance and earn some cash), he is now a man of leisure living in the shadows off a former victim's inheritance, his own criminal activities, and his European wife's allowance. And his wife knows about many of his past and present misdeeds.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coalition of the Unwilling: Afghan edition

Thursday, at Duck of Minerva, I blogged "Coalition of the Unwilling: Final Edition?" The post noted the U.S. withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq and pointed out my many posts here over the years on the disintegration of the Iraq "coalition of the willing."

The post also briefly notes that the Afghan war is becoming increasingly unpopular among the American public. Over 60% of those surveyed by CNN oppose the war. Can the U.S. sustain its participation in an unpopular war? Would it want to do that?

Likewise, European publics have long been unenthusiastic about the war. Earlier this year, the Human Security Report Monitor posted a story with this headline: "Dutch Divided on Afghanistan Mission."

That turned out to be important as this past week the Netherlands broke with the Afghan coalition and withdrew its combat troops. Of the 145,000 foreign troops serving in-country, just under 100K are U.S. Thus, any collapse of the coalition would be significant.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Conference paper

In the next six weeks or so, I have to write a paper for mid-October delivery at the 2010 annual conference of the International Security Studies Section of ISA and the International Security and Arms Control Section of APSA. That's a mouthful, eh?

As my title and abstract reveal, the paper is part of the ongoing comedy book project. Almost every conference paper I've delivered over the past few years fits into the project.

“The Buildup to the Iraq War as Farce”

Realist international relations theorists such as Jervis, Lebow, Mearsheimer, and Morgenthau commonly describe world politics in terms of tragedy. Dramatically, tragic narratives focus on the downfall or death of an elite character, often caused by the protagonist’s inherent character flaws. The stories are set in the Great Hall or on the battlefield and reveal how little control (despite concerted attempts) the protagonist has over difficult situations and conflict. Despite the obvious parallels with realist views of IR, however, the events of global politics often seem more like farce than tragedy. Farcical narratives often focus on elites, but place the characters in improbable or ludicrous situations that may be exaggerated for comic effect – even though the threat of violent action that would shock the audience may loom over the tale. These are usually frantically paced stories serving to reveal the ridiculous and to critique the characters and the situation. A farce often turns on intentional acts of deception, but does not end in the complete downfall or death of the protagonist.

This paper will explain the buildup to the Iraq war in terms of farce – focusing on the period between August 2002 and March 2003. As is now well-known, the war was premised on evidence and rationales that have been largely undermined by subsequent revelations and events. In retrospect, the claims were improbable and ludicrous. Can international relations scholars recognize a farce while they are observing it?

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Personal notes

In part, I've been silent here because since August 4 my family celebrated two birthdays, made a long weekend trip to Tulsa, and then hosted my wife's mother.

Additionally, I've been unpacking my office -- the entire building got new carpeting and most rooms on my floor received new furniture. All my books and files were packed from the first week of June through late July. While unpacking, I've been recycling lots of really old paper and boxing unwanted books for donations, trade or sale. Anyone want some issues of the American Political Science Review from the 1970s?

Unpacking, I've been listening to a lot of internet radio on my PC, including my Whiskeytown radio station on Pandora. Feel free to check it out.

In any case, don't look for a lot of blogging until Labor Day. I have to complete the syllabi for my two classes, finish a book chapter -- and teach classes. That's right, we begin August 23. Ugh.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Other writing

Sorry that this blog has been silent for more than a week.

If you want to read my most recent blog posts, then check out these links:

On August 14, I posted about "China's energy future" on the e-ir blog, Climate Politics: IR and the Environment.

At Duck of Minerva on August 5, I blogged "Another Iran Data Point." A former CIA Director (under W) says a strike on Iran "seems inexorable."

July 28, I posted "Identifying Groupthink," which pointed out some additional hypocrisy exhibited by Journolist critics.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

France Declares War on al-Qaida

Last week, various media outlets reported this news:
"Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France is 'at war with Al Qaeda' after the announced killing of a French hostage by an Al Qaeda affiliate in Mali."

France will step up military and intelligence assistance to North African governments to “track down the terrorists and hand them over to the judiciary,” Mr. Fillon said.
French terror experts say that the latest act of violence reflects an attempt by North African groups to garner attention and resources from more prominent terrorists in Pakistan:
The militant organization [in North Africa] was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat before rebranding itself as Al Qaeda three years ago, and the group has been trying to gain financial and organizational support from Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan since, who treat the North Africa branch as “a peripheral operation,” [Professor Jean Pierre] Filiu [of Sciences Po] says.
NGO leaders in the area insist that France is mischaracterizing the security threat in the region: Remi Hemryck of Paris-based SOS Sahel International:
"Most of the insecurity is in the northern desert fringe... Here, the main problem is banditry, not Al Qaeda. The Sahel is under a famine which nobody mentions. Fifteen to 20 million people are directly affected."
I've often blogged in the past about state policymakers overstating "traditional" security threats at the expense of human security. This looks to be another instance.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Reynolds on Journolist

Instapundit conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds (also a law professor at the University of Tennessee) published a provocative op-ed about Journolist in Sunday's Knoxville News.

Reynolds begins by pointing out that J-List was merely a list service, and "like most email lists, much of the content was profane or sophomoric." However, Reynolds quickly references a few selective (and incendiary) quotes and implies that they are all attributable to journalists. Then, he makes a few hasty generalizations about the list (and media) from these few selective quotations. Remember, the list members exchanged well north of 10,000 postings since 2007.

Yes, some of the quotes are embarassing. In turn, some of the people who wrote what was quoted have apologized for their remarks. All of the participants thought they were contributing to an off-the-record forum that they did not expect to become public.

Furthermore, some of the most incendiary quoted postings were not written by journolists, though Reynolds emphasizes at the very beginning that the list included "reporters at top publications like the Post, the New York Times, Newsweek, Politico, PBS, Time, etc." Reynolds never mentions that the list additionally included academics (like me), policy wonks, social movement and labor activists, etc. I don't know how many of the 400 members were working journalists, but then again neither does Glenn Reynolds. Listowner Ezra Klein long ago disabled the function that allowed members to see the email identities of the other members. Only people who posted were known to everyone else -- and many members were silent parties on the list. There's no way of knowing if they even read the content.

Moreover, many of the journalists on the list were bloggers or people who work for opinion outlets like Mother Jones, The Nation, The New Republic, etc. This is an important distinction since many listmembers are being criticized for lack of objectivity when their job is to provide opinions. Given academic freedom, scholars like Reynolds and I are likewise free to express our opinions in private email lists or in public newspaper columns. Are the J-list critics like Reynolds saying that journalists of all types should not be free to talk privately to each other and to academics, activists or wonks?

In any case, let's consider Reynolds's discussion of what he sees as the list's worst offenses to journalism:
Some JournoList members talked about getting the FCC to shut down Fox News, or about denying web traffic to rivals deemed too conservative. And, most troubling, there were concerted efforts to choose a storyline and spread it across the outlets for which they all worked, so as to manipulate the public's perceptions. When John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, JournoList participants coordinated their attacks.
Should I begin by pointing out that Instapundit primarily links to and blogrolls fellow conservatives? His blogroll doesn't include Daily Kos or Ezra Klein, for instance, and just last week Reynolds declared that he won't send traffic to particular websites.

As has been reported, the single member who asked a question about whether the FCC could shut down Fox News (“but is there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?”) was in fact a law professor -- and working journalists replied that it was a bad idea. Nobody actually advocated the idea. It was an hypothetical question about what might be possible, working from a assumption that Fox is an arm of the Republican Party rather than a genuine news network.

Professors -- even Reynolds -- sometimes conjecture about ideas that are quickly viewed as incredibly dumb by others with more expertise in the subject area. That doesn't mean the forum hosting the idea is to blame.

As for the remaining attacks, Reynolds provides no evidence for them. Yes, individuals on Journolist may have urged colleagues not to write about specific stories, or to emphasize other important stories in their blog posts or opinion outlets in order to shape a particular news cycle -- but there's no evidence that these posters were non-opinion journalists and no evidence that the ideas were overlooked in the media (even by J-listers). Where are the smoking guns?

Daily Caller originally quoted Chris Hayes of The Nation and some other opinion journalists arguing that the Jeremiah Wright story was a distraction from the real issues in the Clinton-Obama primary campaign and that many right-wing media outlets (like Fox) were trumpeting the Wright videos for partisan purposes. Not even Hayes's colleagues at The Nation listened to his advice as the magazine posted dozens of stories about Wright in 2008. Indeed, many J-listers undoubtedly wrote about the Jeremiah Wright story regardless of what colleagues were urging: Ezra Klein pointed out his own post the very next day after being encouraged to go silent.

By contrast, when any overtly political activism appeared on J-List, Klein shut it down.

The idea that J-list was the source for Sarah Palin attacks is mind-boggling. Andrew Sullivan was not on the list. So far as I know, no one associated with television programs featuring Katie Couric or Charlie Gibson was on J-list. Tina Fey (or SNL writers) never posted, so I presume no one from SNL was a listmember. And Sarah Palin herself provided plenty of new ammunition on a daily basis from the campaign trail. She's the one that emphasized Alaska's proximity to Russia, supported the bridge to nowhere, talked divisively to the "real America" about Barack Obama's "socialism," and claimed "Obama sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists."

The attacks on Palin practically wrote themselves. The Daily Caller posted first reactions by members of J-list who (like the American people) had very little idea of Sarah Palin's identity. Most of the participants in the thread responded to her words and ideas in any case -- and several slimey lines of attack that did appear in other political outlets were dismissed in the thread by various J-list members.

Daily Caller reproduced this email and many J-list critics have referenced it as proof that an "unofficial campaign" of journalists was secretly backing the Obama campaign:
Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation noted that Obama’s “non-official campaign” would need to work hard to discredit Palin. “This seems to me like an occasion when the non-official campaign has a big role to play in defining Palin, shaping the terms of the conversation and saying things that the official [Obama] campaign shouldn’t say – very hard-hitting stuff, including some of the things that people have been noting here – scare people about having this woefully inexperienced, no foreign policy/national security/right-wing christia[n] wing-nut a heartbeat away …… bang away at McCain’s age making this unusually significant …. I think people should be replicating some of the not-so-pleasant viral email campaigns that were used against [Obama].”
First, Levy is not a journalist, obviously.

Second, Levy was talking about the very large group of people (including bloggers) who openly advocated for Obama in specific domains even though they were not in any way coordinating with the campaign -- or even with each other. That's why he talks about "viral" outlets. And third, Levy thought national novice Palin provided an opening for the exact kinds of attacks that unknown Obama experienced. And he was right. Andrew Sullivan's infatuation with Trig (shared by others) proves the point.

As Kathleen Parker opined last week, the J-list controversy is "weak tea— a tempest in Barbie's teacup."

Ironically, and perhaps hypocritically, Reynolds previously coauthored a book on "the appearance of impropriety," which argued that many contemporary Washington ethics battles are "tempests in ethical teapots." The book criticized the press and bureaucracy for focusing on "regulatory minutiae."

Maybe Reynolds should give it another read.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Right's Journolist

Daily Caller leaks of private Journolist emails continue, now focusing on the fact that one or more "political operatives" were apparently on the list, sometimes spamming colleagues with appeals to pay attention to their message, issue, or candidate. Anyone on a political listserv of any type has received this kind of email -- I often receive them even on academic lists.

The Journolist problem seems to be that such "networking" was conducted by email. After all, the political right has long brought together political operatives, journalists, bloggers and members of think tanks (or interest groups). On July 26, Joe Conason wrote an excellent piece for Salon about one such regular meeting.

Specifically, Conason wrote about the weekly Wednesday meetings hosted by Republican political operative Grover Norquist.
Specific, orderly, disciplined, ideological coordination -- and not the freewheeling blather to be found on Journolist -- has been proceeding every week for nearly two decades at the "Wednesday meetings" convened by lobbyist Grover Norquist in the Washington offices of Americans for Tax Reform.
Conason includes a couple of long quotes from people who attended these meetings and I'd encourage everyone to check out his piece.

Of course, it's actually fairly easy to find information about these sessions. For example, journalist Patty Reinert (Mason) wrote an informative article in 2008, when she worked at the Washington Examiner:
It’s 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, and 150 of his closest center-right allies have packed the second-floor conference room at his L Street office for their weekly invitation-only, off-the-record meeting...a whirlwind hour-and-a-half meeting in which speakers on the agenda get three minutes each. The rules are simple: Get up. Talk about what you are working on. Answer questions. Surrender the microphone and sit.

...The “Wednesday Meeting,” which began in 1986 and has since spawned conservative strategy sessions in virtually every state and in many countries around the world, is Norquist’s signature creation
Norquist himself is quoted describing the flow at the meetings:
“The point of the meeting is to get everybody who is center-right to tell each other what they’re doing, to share technology, share tactics, share strategy, tell stories,” Norquist explained during an interview. “You don’t get to talk about mistakes somebody else has made. ... It’s a positive meeting, not a negative meeting.”
Perhaps more importantly, here's how Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson described Norquist in a New Republic article he wrote ("What I Sold At the Revolution") June 9, 1997 (I have EBSCO access):
Norquist is more than your garden-variety Washington lobbyist. He's one of the most influential conservative strategists in America--an intimate of Newt Gingrich, a small-government radical, the Che of the Republican Revolution.

...The purpose, he [Norquist] says, is not simply to influence specific pieces of legislation, but to build and strengthen what he calls the Leave Us Alone Coalition, a nationwide alliance of conservative activists. The coalition is Norquist's version of the Bolshevik vanguard, and, like the early Soviets, Norquist envisions a day when this revolutionary cohort will lead the proletariat to rise up, crush the corrupt liberal ruling class and reorder society along radically new lines.
Finally, consider the money paragraphs from the piece, highlighting the hypocrisy in Carlson's current journalism:
Today, the [Norquist-hosted] meetings draw a group of anywhere from fifty to eighty people--think tank analysts, members of Congress, sympathetic journalists and Hill staffers--who gather every Wednesday morning at 10:30 to talk about how to advance the Movement. The meetings are worth going to, says someone who attends, "if you want to know what The Washington Times and National Review will be writing about next week."

Norquist's meetings were influential partly because he himself was considered above ideological reproach, a man wholly and single-mindedly devoted to the Movement.
Journolist was nothing like that.


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