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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books of 2011

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

Allow me to repeat the groundrules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I served until July as chair of a committee that will award $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees submitted books and I read my share of the nominations. But those books are not listed here.

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).


Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner

Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics by John J. Mearsheimer.

Nuclear First Strike: Consequences of a Broken Taboo by George H. Quester

Washington Rules: How America's Quest for Dominance Has Undermined National Security by Andrew Bacevich.

The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable
by John C. Hulsman & A. Wess Mitchell

Small Stakes Hold 'em: Winning Big With Expert Play by Ed Miller, David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.

Cowboys Full; The Story of Poker
by James McManus.

The Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley

The Bill James Gold Mine 2009 by Bill James.

The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom M. Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin.

Stone Me: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards by Mark Blake

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2011, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. I read several of the relatively short international relations books to see if any of them would be appropriate for my various classes. In the right circumstances, I would not hesitate to use the Drezner book. Additionally, the passport-sized Hulsman and Mitchell volume might be useful for my film class.

I enjoyed the Quester and Mearsheimer books, but these are not the best works by these prolific authors. Both are readable and full of interesting examples, but they are not must-read works. Likewise, I found this Bacevich work (assigned in a spring class) a bit more polemical than his prior books. Plus, the historical sections and analysis were not up too his typical standard.

Yardley's Education of a Poker Player is considered a gambling classic, but I did not find it indispensable. By contrast, if you play small-stakes poker, the Miller, Sklansky and Malmuth volume is first-rate. The 500-page McManus tome is certainly very informative, but it is an odd book and not as compelling as Positively Fifth Street. The work covers poker history, includes many anecdotes about famous poker games and players, and surveys the rise of the World Series of Poker. The author has interesting personal experiences in the WSOP, but those are covered extensively in the older work.

Bill James is a seminal sabermetric-minded baseball writer. However, the Gold Mine books are not exactly packed with riveting information. Still, the book was worth my time if only for a few key short essays included in the volume. The Book is a somewhat difficult-to-read baseball book, but it is densely packed with tactically (and sometimes strategically) useful baseball information. Too bad The Book's authors didn't work with James on one magnificent book.

Keith Richards can be hilarious, but this book of quips is too short.


The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Rabbit is Rich by John Updike

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

The Wrong Case by James Crumley

B is for Burglar
by Sue Grafton.

Blaze by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman).

The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake

The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

The Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser, Bk 1) by Robert B. Parker

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.

The Hunter: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich

Dress Her in Indigo by John D. Macdonald

April Evil by John D. MacDonald

The Barbarous Coast by Ross Macdonald

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley

Perchance to Dream by Robert B. Parker

Grift Sense by James Swain

A Case of Lone Star by Kinky Friedman

The Greatest Slump of All-Time by David Carkeet.

The King's Game by John Nemo.

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 in each section.

The novels by Roth, Updike, Hornby and O'Neill are all excellent. Roth and O'Neill were overtly influenced by 9/11, though Roth's book is actually a counterfactual history about events prior to World War II. What if Charles Lindbergh (sympathetic to Hitler) had been elected President over FDR? As I've written previously, Hornby is one of my favorite authors and this is an entertaining read about personal relationships and popular music. Yes, those were also the themes of the terrific High Fidelity.

I pick up Evelyn Waugh and Cormac McCarthy novels with the understanding that I may already have read their best books. Their other work reflects their great talent, but there's bound to be some disappointment. Gary Shteyngart is likewise a skilled writer, but I hope Absurdistan is not his masterpiece.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. Eric Ambler was recommended highly by someone on Journolist. I'm grateful to that person, though I cannot recall his or her identity.

I much-enjoyed Michael Connelly's first Harry Bosch book and will continue with the series. Likewise, James Crumley's Milo Milodragovitch is an interesting character and I look forward to reading additional stories about him. Robert Parker's Spencer books are entertaining, so I decided to start at the beginning of his series as well -- though I've previously read at least one of the later books. The second volume in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is not as good as the first book, but I still intend to read the third one in the near future.

Cornell Woolrich was very talented at generating creepy atmosphere and I've already acquired a couple of his other works. That is traditionally Stephen King's domain, but Blaze is a strange crime novel published as his Richard Bachman alias. I think the book's smart writing suffers by featuring a mentally-challenged lead character.

Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block have written dozens of crime-themed novels over the decades. I enjoyed Westlake's more humorous burglary story about a stolen diamond than the first book in his brutal Parker series. I'll read the next volume in each line, however. Likewise, I'll be reading more cases featuring Block's dedicated, thoughtful, and drunken detective Matt Scudder.

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. April Evil is a stand-alone noir fiction -- and it has a harder edge. Grafton says Ross Macdonald is an influence and I enjoyed her second alphabet mystery story. I read her A is for Alibi back in the mid-1990s, but won't wait very long to start C is for Corpse.

I cannot recommend the Swain book about a casino detective and I have tired of Kinky Friedman's redundant prose. Christopher Buckley has written some entertaining books, but The Supreme Courtship is far down his list of accomplishments.

If you are looking for baseball fiction, I enjoyed Carkeet's psychological approach to the game's players, but was less taken with the religious-themed novel by Nemo.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorites of 2011: technocracy edition

Henry Farrell wrote a great line in his review of David Marquand's The End of the West; The Once and Future Europe (Princeton, 2011) for The Nation (pdf), December 12, 2011:
It is tempting to see the procedures of the EU as a long-term conspiracy to bore the public into submission.
In the next sentences, Farrell retreats a bit from this statement. The institution churns out regulations that Farrell notes are boring and hard to understand, but this result was not produced as a result of top-level secret planning: "The truth is more mundane. Europe’s leaders fell into technocracy by accident rather than design."

One consequence of this reality is the so-called institutional "deficit of democracy" that was met this year by protesters claiming to represent the bottom 99% of us. We'll see in 2012 and beyond if the EU is influenced by their frustration. This EU statement does not seem promising.

Occupy Brussels Photo credit: Justine (juznie)

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Do not confuse this man for the real Santa Claus:

That photo is from 2010, when we spent the holiday at home.

This year, we've hit the road:

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Baseball Prospectus

A few days ago, the good folks at Baseball Prospectus announced that they are soon releasing a 2-volume Best of Baseball Prospectus: 1996-2011. I think it is going to include a mix of web articles and book pieces, as well as some new essays. It would likely make an excellent Christmas gift.

So far as I know, unfortunately, it will not include my two old pieces written for BP many years ago. One of those articles is still available on-line at the BP website: "Do Top Prospects Get Traded?" It was posted April 8, 1999.

However, the other one is apparently not to be found anywhere. It was a defense of then-KC Royals manager Bob Boone, written in response to a piece by Rany Jazayerli. On the Wayback Machine, I found Rany's critique of Bob Boone posted March 3, 1997: "Is There a 12-Step Program for Overmanagement?"

Rany and I are both KC fans and we co-authored the Royals team comments for the Davenport Translations published exclusively on the web (in the group during the 1994-1995 winter. Unfortunately, I cannot find those team comments on the web either -- though I did find them for nearly 20 other teams. And I have the February 1995 files on my hard drive.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Around the web

Sorry for the silence lately. We traveled for Thanksgiving and I'm really making a push on the book project since the current sabbatical ends in four weeks.

Meanwhile, over at Duck of Minerva, you can read my post from November 30 on "Comprehending Gingrich." Does he have a Belgian pro-colonial worldview?

November 7 on the Duck, I posted "Hans Beinholtz: Europe For Sale." That post is basically a funny Stephen Colbert video about the Euro-crisis.

At the e-IR Climate Politics: IR and the Environment blog, I posted "The US is Not a Climate Outlaw?" on November 21. It is part 2 about my October talk at Cardiff University in Wales.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Hot Stove: Adam Jones vs. LHP

Adam Jones - Baltimore - 2009 Black Alternate

Given that I started the book in April, you would probably say that I am slowly making my way through the 2011 Baseball Prospectus. Moreover, I do not read the team (and adjoining player) summaries in order. Rather, I read the comments for the good teams first. I'm now on the Baltimore Orioles section (meaning I'm nearly finished), which is why I read the Adam Jones comment today. Jones is a right-handed hitting outfielder for the Os.

In any case, the 2011 BP points out that Jones has had a weird platoon split in his career. He has been fairly bad against left-handed pitchers (LHP), which is abnormal for right-handed hitters. Put succinctly,
"The average platoon advantage for right-handed batters in 9%. Righties hit 9% better against lefties than righties."
I checked the end of year statistics for 2011 and Jones did it again this season. His "triple slash" line vs. LHP was .242/.293/.373 (batting average, on-base average, slugging percentage) for an OPS of .685 in 2011. Versus RHP, he hit .295/.329/.829. For his career, he's now .253/.303/.370 vs. LHP and .285/.326/.464 vs. RHP. That's over 100 points in OPS advantage against same-sided pitchers.

The career lines include about 700 plate appearances versus LHP and nearly 1700 versus RHP. Jones is a talented and fairly young player and still could improve his game. However, as BP points out, if he does not improve in some areas, he could end up as a fourth outfielder -- a useful, but ultimately replaceable reserve.

It seems more-and-more clear that Jones's reverse-platoon split is not the product of an overly small sample size from a single season. Rather, it is a fairly odd (and in this case, unfortunate) player trait. As BP said.

Yahoo has a link to let users see Batter vs. Pitchers matchups, so I had a closer look at Jones. He has had quite a bit of difficulty against some of the league's premier left-handed pitchers. John Danks (CHX), Gio Gonzalez (OAK), Cliff Lee (CLE-SEA-TEX-PHI), Jon Lester (BOS) and David Price (TAM) have dominated him. Against these five pitchers, Jones is 18-for-101 with 3 doubles, one home run. and only 7 walks received. That would make for a horrible triple slash line, around .178/.231/.238. That is an approximation because I didn't bother to see if Jones had reached base because he was hit-by-pitcher or if he had any sacrifice flies against these hurlers.

Moreover, against Brett Cecil (TOR) and Jason Vargas (SEA), guys who are not household names and not discussed as potential Cy Young candidates, Jones is 5-for-33 with 1 walk. That's around a .152/.176/.152 line. I didn't find very many other LHP that Jones has faced more than 10 times in his career.

To show the importance of sample size -- and to reveal that Jones has done much better against some lefties -- consider Jones's performance against staff aces Ricky Romero (TOR) and C.C. Sabathia (NYY): 22-for-70 with 3 doubles, a triple and 3 home runs, plus 4 walks. That's about a .314/.351/.514 line. If Jones could hit that well against all LHP, he'd be a star given his proven ability versus right-handed pitchers and his defensive skills.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Liberal Hollywood?

“Contagion” Touches Real Fears – Are We Prepared for an Outbreak?

For weeks, I've been meaning to mention an interesting point about Hollywood and politics that I read in a piece about Contagion and The Ides of March, written by John Powers for The American Prospect: Contagion goes on, you realize that it's doing something so rare as to be groundbreaking. Ever since the '60s, Hollywood has tended to treat U.S. government employees as bad guys--CIA assassins, heartless immigration officers, those mean NASA scientists who try to snatch E.T. (The great exception in recent years, of course, has been the military.) In contrast, Soderbergh's film shows how a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team headed by Laurence Fishburne, working alongside the World Health Organization (and other one-worlder sleeper cells), goes about stopping an epidemic even as the public panics, the media goes bonkers, and Big Pharma doesn't have a clue. These medical officers do what they need to do--risking, even sacrificing, their lives--in order to set things right. They don't always behave impeccably or according to protocol, but they are the good guys...

Contagion may be the purest expression of Obamaism I've seen on-screen...Rather than revving us up with fears--Globalization is evil! A killer virus is on the loose! Inoculations are worse than the disease!--the movie plays out its scenario matter of factly. Far from laying on the Hollywood melodrama, it's detached, rational, and while highly involving, also deliberately unexciting. The phrase that comes to mind is "no drama."

Like Obama, albeit more persuasively, Contagion expresses faith in public institutions at a time when too many people want to gut them...[G]overnment can hold things together during an outbreak of a deadly virus. In case of an epidemic, the CDC can and will do more to save you than the executives at Pfizer or Merck.
It is interesting that Hollywood makes so many anti-government films given that it is supposed to have a left-wing bias. Incidentally, I found a NY Times piece making the claim that Hollywood is anti-government in 1995, so this is not a new idea.

The point Powers makes about war films is very important and shows how much the country has changed since the 1970s when Vietnam films often portrayed the military negatively.

The military has been the most trusted public institution annually since 1998! No wonder the US militarizes campaigns against drugs, criminal terrorism, illegal immigration, etc.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In a few minutes, the Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team plays against the 2nd-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Given that I've been a KU fan since the early 1970s and that I live in Kentucky, I'm excited about the game. These two schools have won more college basketball games than any other school. UK has 14 more wins than KU.

The game has me thinking back to other big KU games -- and wishing I had found a way (like many other fans) to go to NYC for the game. KU fans take KU hoops seriously. An old friend used to attend almost every game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse -- even after she'd moved to Dallas!

In any case, over the years I have attended some memorable KU road games.

On February 21, 1987, I saw KU beat St. John's in Madison Square Garden, 62-60. It was vintage Danny Manning, just a bit more than a year until he led his team to the national championship. Ultimately, his junior-year team lost to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

On December 5, 1992, I traveled up to Indianapolis to see third-ranked Kansas beat second-ranked Indiana 74-69 in the now-defunct Hoosier Dome. It was the second game of the season for KU and proved to be the harbinger for a successful season. Indeed, later that season, Kansas thumped Louisville by more than 20 points in Freedom Hall -- a game I also attended. The Jayhawks eventually made the Final Four, but lost to North Carolina in the semi-final game.

On December 12, 2000, the memorable day Al Gore surrendered to George W. Bush, I was in Chicago watching Kansas beat DePaul 75-69. Interestingly, that Kansas team eventually lost in the Sweet 16 to Illinois, coached by Bill Self.

And I think that's it. I have apparently not attended a KU road game in more than 10 years. That's gotta change soon. In January, I almost went up to Michigan for a game -- but didn't.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Squashfest 2011


Tonight was Squashfest in Louisville. Courier-Journal reporter Ron Mikulak, who recently wrote an article about the annual event, was in attendance along with several dozen others -- newbies and veterans alike.

Question from the event: Should published poets get credit for their creative work -- even if the work under discussion is simply a silly Haiku about squash? From the 2010 event:
“Eat the squash,” I said.

“No, I do not like it, Dad.”

“Fine. More squash for me.”
This year, attendees played Squash Jeopardy. A bit of silliness pervades Squashfest.

My wife and I made a curried pumpkin soup -- though it was a very warm 72 degrees in Louisville today.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011


Wednesday night, in LA, I attended a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. You can probably see my arms at about 20 seconds into this clip of guest Freida Pinto.

She's very skinny. The show was OK, not especially hilarious. Pinto was the only guest actually in the studio that night -- the rest of the show must have been taped at another time.

Trivia: Outside the theater, while waiting in line, I stood near the Buddy Hackett star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Just before entering, the line passed stars for Tim Allen and Roger Ebert. Since this was 6834 Hollywood, I missed the markers for Penélope Cruz, Steve McQueen, and Sissy Spacek.

Buddy Hackett's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Monday, November 07, 2011

USC talk

I'm flying to LA tomorrow in order to talk Wednesday at 12:30 pm at USC's Center for International Studies. The talk will focus on elements of my sabbatical project: "The Comedy of Global Politics."

Eventually, I believe a video recording of the talk will appear here.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

French Film Festival 2012

This is essentially the University press release (with minor edits):
Third Annual Floyd Theater French Film Festival

The third annual Floyd Theater French Film Festival will bring five contemporary French films to the big screen between Nov. 3 and 18, four of which have never been screened in Louisville.

The schedule includes:

• “White Material,” 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4
• “A Prophet,” 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 8 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 9
• “Of Gods and Men,” 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11
• “Carlos,” 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 15 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 16
• “Making Plans for Lena,” 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 17 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 18

The festival marks the Louisville debuts for “White Material,” “Of Gods and Men,” “Carlos” and “Making Plans for Lena.”

Films will be shown in 35mm format at the Floyd Theater in UofL’s Student Activities Center, 2100 S. Floyd St. All movies will be in French with English subtitles, with “Carlos” also containing Italian dialogue with English subtitles.

Films are free and open to the public thanks to a Tournées Festival grant supported by the French government and secured by Matthieu Dalle, UofL department of classical and modern languages.

A full schedule, descriptions of each film, parking directions and other information, is online.

Sponsors for the Floyd Theater French Film Festival include the French section of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Student Activities Board and Class Act Credit Union.
I was really hoping to see "A Prophet," but I'll be in LA next week speaking at USC. I'll try to check out one or two of the other films instead.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

IR/Climate blogging

You can find some of my other recent blogging at these websites:

On e-IR, my Climate Politics: IR and the Environment blog, I posted "Is the US a Climate Outlaw?" on October 20. This is part one, which argues that the U.S. can be viewed as an outlaw.

At the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I blogged "War and the Eurozone" on October 28. The post notes some recent striking rhetoric by European conservatives in power.

Also at the Duck, I blogged "Graduation Rates" on October 26. What can we make of the apparent disparity in graduation rates between athletes and the regular student population?

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Thursday, October 27, 2011


Earlier today, I took a peak at the Kansas basketball schedule for the 2011-12 season. On November 15, the Jayhawks play against Kentucky, a school with 7 NCAA basketball titles in its past. Then, on the 21st, Georgetown (1 title) is the foe. Depending upon results in the Maui Invitation Tournament, their next two opponents over the following two days could be UCLA (11) and Duke (4).

In other words, over a 9 day span, Kansas could face a veritable who's-who of college basketball history -- 23 titles won. Then, on December 10, the team plays against Ohio State (1).

The NCAA tournament apparently dates to 1939, so there have been 73 titlists. Kansas has 3 championship banners of its own. Conference rival Oklahoma State, a team KU will face after the new year, also won 2 titles back in the 1940s.

Rock chalk! I'm ready for some basketball.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Young in the 60s

I've been a fan of the Rolling Stones (TGRNRBITW?) for decades, so I asked my youngest daughter to snap this photo when we stopped by the National Portrait Gallery near the theatre district. I wanted to see the small exhibit.

The exhibition "Mick Jagger: Young in the 60s" runs through 27 November.

For balance, I also read Stone Me: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards, which was compiled by Mark Blake. As Richards says in the book in regard to Mick Jagger, "My aim is always to try to introduce a bit of levity into his life."

Update: Since I included the Jagger photo, I wanted to post a picture of my debate colleague from freshman-year at Kansas, Dave McCullough. People used to say there was some resemblance, and he used to go around in a hick voice quoting a funny line about Margaret Trudeau that Steve Martin delivered on "Saturday Night Live."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Whenever I travel to England, this baseball fan becomes something of a cricket fan. For example, I watched much of this one day international match on television last week.

In preparation for the England trip, I obtained a copy of Joseph O'Neill's award-winning novel Netherland, which features a good deal of cricket. Near the end of the book (pp. 210-11), which I read while traveling, I was particularly struck by a long speech delivered by an important character -- Chuck, a small-time criminal (and thug?) originally from Trinidad -- who explains the importance of cricket for global politics:
"Trobriand Island is part of Papua New Guinea," Chuck said professorially. "When the British missionaries arrived there, the native tribes were constantly fighting and killing each other--had been for thousands of years. So what did the missionaries do? They taught them cricket. They took these Stone Age guys and gave them cricket bats and cricket balls and taught them a game with rules and umpires. You ask people to agree to complicated rules and regulations? That's like a crash course in democracy. Plus--and this is key--the game forced them to share a field for days with their enemies, forced them to provide hospitality and places to sleep. Hans, that kind of closeness changes the way you think about somebody. No other sport makes this happen."
The main character of the book, his friend Hans, asks Chuck if he is implying that "Americans are savages?"
"No," Chuck said. "I'm saying that people, all people, Americans, whoever, are at their most civilized when they're playing cricket. What's the first thing that happens when Pakistan and India make peace? They play a cricket match. Cricket is instructive, Hans. It has a moral angle. I really believe this. Everybody who plans the game benefits from it. So I say, why not Americans?"
In the book, this exchange is made more interesting because Hans's estranged wife had warned of America's hawkishness in the run-up to the Iraq war. Indeed, she abandoned Hans in NYC after the 9/11 attacks, but before the start of the Iraq war.

Chuck ultimately fails to achieve his dream of making cricket a major sport in the US -- and as revealed early in the story, becomes the victim of an act of violence that kills him. Various characters eventually affirm that Chuck's plan had been doomed all along.

Chuck's business failure and murder seem to demonstrate America's savage nature after all -- though another reading would emphasize Chuck's violent business dealings (despite the fact that he loves cricket). Like his wife, Hans ultimately abandons his adopted NY home and returns to England where his wife has moved with their child. And where cricket is significant.

Like every good novel, this one makes the reader think. Whatever point O'Neill is making about American foreign policy, it is interesting that the primary characters are all immigrants (strangers in a strange land?) who feel a fairly strong love for America -- right up until the day they depart for Europe or die.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Back in the USA

For a bit more than 2 weeks, I've been in the UK. About a week of that was personal time with family in Brighton. From there, I went to Bristol Tuesday October 18 to speak to the International Affairs Society on "The Future of World Order." The turnout was very good and the Q&A was terrific. Thanks to my hosts Eric Herring and Bryn Larkman.

Thursday the 20th, I spoke at Cardiff's School of European Studies on ‘Is the US a Climate Outlaw? Can it be “Scared Straight”?’ Stephen McGlinchey of Cardiff (and E-IR) was an excellent host and I enjoyed spending time with many of his colleagues as well.

Then, Saturday the 22nd, I delivered my promised paper on "Cooperative Security: Grand Strategy Meets Critical Theory?" at the LSE/Millennium conference.

Sorry for the lack of posting -- intermittent wi-fi, train travel locally, and other factors kept me quiet. I did post to twitter fairly regularly over the period.

Learned: Bristol claims British street artist Banksy and has a couple of pieces in its (free) museum. Here's one:

Didn't catch the name of this statue but it was the first thing to really make me laugh!

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Academic update

I finished the paper for the LSE/Millennium conference to be delivered October 22. This link should work: "Cooperative Security: Grand Strategy Meets Critical Theory?"

Additionally, I spent some time this past week adding a bunch of my papers and publications to my page. If you have journal access from a university, virtually all the open/download links will work. Some of the links should work for anyone.

If you really need one of my papers, shoot me an email.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Obama and Wall Street

Is Occupy Wall Street fueling a populist political movement on the left that can pave the way to new economic stimulus, dramatic economic reforms in the tax code, or whatever else they might seek? I'm not trying for cheap snark -- but they have been somewhat unclear about their goals.

Could the protest movement even help energize voters on the political left, in the same way the tea party did on the right in 2010, and thus help Barack Obama and other Democrats find victory in November 2012?

Or, as my Duck of Minerva colleague Megan MacKenzie argued today, should the White House be ashamed for ignoring (and thereby "insulting") the anti-Wall Street populism for the past 10 days?

I have to disagree with Megan on this one.

Sunday, Obama blasted Bank of America for its $5 fee on debit card users. "You don’t have some inherent right just to, you know, get a certain amount of profit, if your customers are being mistreated,” he said. Later, he added, “this is exactly the sort of stuff that folks are frustrated by.” Was that a nod to the protesters? It sure sounds like they are on the same side.

The National Journal today criticized the President for his overt "tax the rich" populism -- an approach some of his advisors apparently think will fail in key swing states. Steve Benen dismissed that take, however.
A month ago, independents sided with the GOP by a five-point margin on creating jobs, but now we independents siding with Obama by 13 points. That’s a pretty dramatic swing in a fairly short period of time, suggesting that those arguing that the president is driving independent voters away with his new economic message have this precisely backwards.
Google the White House website for "Wall Street" and you learn that the President or his chief spokespersons have been demonizing Wall Street in some way almost every day -- and pointing out that their reform law was aimed at tightening regulation. Here's a sample from September 30:
frankly, we had seen the rules tilted against ordinary folks in favor of those who were well connected in Washington or powerful on Wall Street.

And we argued in 2008 -- and we captured I think the imaginations of a lot of people -- that we could bring about some fundamental change if we got past some of the partisan rancor and the constant politicking that had come to characterize Washington.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner today emphasized "shock" that Wall Street itself has turned against President Obama -- and he expressed (somewhat incoherent) sympathy for the concerns of those who Occupy Wall Street. For the new populist Obama, it is desirable for Wall Street to hate you. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," right?

And finally, Politico reported this additional evidence today:
“He [Obama] gets genuinely pissed off at the banks; it’s not an act,” said Jared Bernstein, a former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, who participated in Obama’s daily economic briefing in the Oval Office for the first year of the administration.... “The angriest I ever saw the president was when we found out about those bonuses,” he said. [The banking industry] is like a Doberman he found by the side of the road, nursed back to health, only to have them jump up and bite him.
Our newly populist president has seen his poll numbers drop month-after-month. I do not know if his new economic message will reverse those trends, but it does appear as if he's rolled up his sleeves for a fight with Wall Street. And in doing that, he's with the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A's Moneyball followup

As an addendum to Friday's post, I found an exchange on SABR-L, from December 9, 1998. I don't know that I can quote the person I was debating, but my words should be fair game for quotation here. I had contended that "Small-market teams have won recently, and have a chance to win in the future." More specifically, I suggested that the A's would be competing for a World Series appearance by 2001.**

A skeptic in turn pointed out that the A's of 1998 had a terrible third baseman and bullpen, plus no starting pitching or right-handed power-hitting.

My response:
First, I said they'd be competitive for a playoff spot, not a sure Series winner. Second, the A's have one of baseball's top prospects at 3B in Eric Chavez. My prediction was based, in part, on the A's willingness to reward OBA in their minor leagues (this *will* pay off as it did for the Yankees in the past half-decade). RH power hitters are easy to come by for 1b/dh/lf. How much would Billy Ashley cost right now? How much was Bubba Trammell worth last year at this time? Hinch, Tejada, Grieve et al provide a great young nucleus. Pitching? You don't like Witasick (3/1 k/bb ratio in PCL with a sub 4 ERA in 1998)? I agree they need to develop some talent--but who predicted Glavine/Smoltz in 1990? Saberhagen/Gubicza/Jackson in 1983? A 2001 World Series rotation might include someone currently in college--or even high school. What if the A's offered Stairs and Rogers for Clemens? Bullpen holes are among the easiest to fill since there are plenty of hard throwers out there that find their control or develop new off-speed pitches every season.
The 2001 A's won 102 games and made the playoffs as the Wild Card (Seattle won 116 games!). Eric Chavez was the starting 3B and he hit and fielded like an MVP candidate. The rotation was led by Tim Hudson (2nd year pitcher from Auburn; a member of '97 draft class), Mark Mulder (2nd year pitcher obtained in trade, but drafted in '98 from Michigan State), and Barry Zito (2nd year pitcher drafted from UCSB in '99). Right-handed Jermaine Dye slugged almost .550 for Oakland after coming over in a mid-year trade for trinkets and beads (KC got Neifi Perez, but it was a three-way deal with the Colorado Rockies). RH Olmaedo Sáenz also had 30+ extra base hits in a limited role as a corner infielder. The A's bullpen featured a lot of no-name relievers in their late 20s and early 30s who limited walks, got strikeouts and performed perfectly well. Their closer was Jason Isringhausen who did a fine job and had been obtained by the A's in a trade for an older reliever -- Billy Taylor.

I'm not claiming any sort of clairvoyance here -- I think this set of predictions were all made conceivable by the work of Bill James and those who followed him.

** In fairness, I also mistakenly predicted a Pirates resurgence.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Me and Brad Pitt: ? degrees of separation

Today, the "Moneyball" film is being released nationally, starring Brad Pitt (longtime blog favorite Angelina Jolie's spouse) as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane. I read and enjoyed Michael Lewis's book of the same name many years ago.

A lot of people in baseball directly or indirectly contributed to this moment. When Michael Lewis wrote this book, he consulted then-ESPN baseball columnist Rob Neyer, who used to work for Bill James. I don't know if Lewis was reading the usenet group (or some similar discussion forums), but there was some great stuff being posted there by people who created and operated Baseball Prospectus. Many SABR members were also involved in these discussions. Here's my contribution to a KC Royals discussion, September 11, 1996. Readers might note that the on-line baseball community was giving a lot of attention to on-base percentage and runs scored in 1996. That's because we all read Bill James in the 1980s.

Anyway, in April 2000, inspired by what I was reading in those on-line forums and in some related books, I gave a talk for the Louisville SABR group called "Can Small Market Teams Compete?" I've archived a scan of my presentation on Google Docs, complete with my pre-powerpoint handouts about the size of American cities (census data), the Forbes magazine 1999 list of team values, team payrolls from USA Today, etc.

I thought it was a good talk, though some members of the audience were fairly skeptical about my conclusions. For those who don't want to look at the scans, here's an October 5, 2000, post I contributed to STATLG-L, a baseball discussion list that I used to frequent:
Subject: small market teams
From: Rodger A. Payne
Reply-To: Baseball (and Lesser Sports) Discussion List
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000 12:41:08 -0400

At a SABR Regional meeting in Louisville earlier this year (April, iirc),
I presented "Can Small Market Teams Compete?"

I'm a KC fan and have a personal interest in this question for obvious
reasons. However, the team I used as my case study was Oakland.

Much of my presentation was about team finances and population. Teams like
Philly and the Chisox are in big media centers, but media often seem to
consider them to be "small" (and some smaller city teams are considered
"big"). It's interesting stuff, but I'm leaving it out of this post.

Instead, I'm posting about the last portion of my presentation, which was
devoted to strategies that small market teams could use to build discount
winners in today's context. Then, I pointed out that the A's employ
virtually all of them. Here are the 3 most important:

1. Build on youth.

First, teams can set very low salaries until players are arbitration-
eligible, and even then pay below free agent prices for players. This
means, in practice, that most players work on-the-cheap for 3 years and at
well below market for the next 4 years (if they decline arbitration in the
last year, they are on the road to free agency).

Further, data on performance indicates that players tend to reach a high
level of play in this discount period (some research shows that most
players are fully developed around ages 24-25, though the data is better
for hitters), often peak around 27, and decline from age 30 onward--when
free agent market conditions are often determining salaries.

The Indians developed an innovation now sometimes copied by other teams:
offering certain players multiple year contracts to "buy out" years of
arbitration (or even a year or 2 of free agency). With strong choices,
this can really save money and buy good will with a player who might
otherwise get a very low salary in years 2-3 of his major league career.

The A's, as was noted yesterday, take much advantage of this with Chavez,
Tejada, Hudson, etc. Next season, look for Jose Ortiz (a middle
infielder), Eric Byrnes (OF), and Adam Piatt (corner infielder) to play
important roles on the A's--replacing perhaps higher-priced Velarde,
Stairs and Jaha (the A's probably screwed up in resigning Velarde and Jaha
last season).

2. Use "Ken Phelps All Stars" to plug holes.

The minor leagues are filled with veteran baseball players that could be
obtained easily (as minor league free agents or in "minor" trades) and
quite cheaply. Triple A rosters, in particular, are now littered with
these guys (often "failed" prospects). Just look around the AAA rosters
the past few seasons. These players are generally not arbitration eligible
and can be paid peanuts for several years, which is usually during their
peak/pre-decline age 28-30 seasons.

Moreover, many of these veterans are quite capable of playing important
roles on major league teams. The key issue is whether teams will give them
a chance. It might be difficult to find an All Star hitter, or a very
talented SS, CF, or C, but talented LF, 1B, DH, pitchers and probably some
2Bs are readily available. Think Brian Daubach--not a star, by any means,
but quite capable of putting up an .800 OPS and contributing to a winning
team (if not asked to carry too much of the load). Daubach actually had
putrid numbers against LHPers this year (657 OPS in 110 PAs), but fits the
bill versus righties: 794. He was better in 1999 (943 vs. RHPers, when he
got only 50 PAs vs. LHPers). Dave McCarty would be another example.

The A's have been quite good at acquiring and using these players:
Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs, Olmedo Saenz, Sal Fasano, Gil Heredia
(arguably) and perhaps Jeff Tam fall into this category. Jeremy Giambi
may as well.

3. Value walks.

I think a good argument can be made that major league teams dramatically
undervalue on-base skills. Players who walk a lot don't seem to reach the
majors in proportion to their real value. I'm not confident that there's
systematic study of this (yet), but it seems apparent to me. The cliche
repeated about players from the Dominican Republic is that "you don't walk
off the island." Similarly, players seldom "walk" their way through the
minors to the majors.

Yet, walking is a vital part of OPS. Players who walk more than other
players contribute a great deal to scoring runs. That's a huge positive
and some teams obviously don't get it. Sadly, KC is one of those teams.

The A's, however, are well known for appreciating the base-on-balls. The
major league team has been near the top for a couple of years now, GM
Billy Beane has said in interviews that the organization looks for players
that walk, and their minor league affiliates from top to bottom are at or
near the top of their leagues in walking/OBA. I used numbers from 1998-99
in my presentation to demonstrate this point. These walking teams are also
very good at scoring runs.


Teams should, of course, combine these strategies. Since KPAS are mostly
1B/LF/DH-types, it makes sense to focus scouting and other resources on
developing SS/C/CF/3B. KC, of course, has mostly failed at this, while
Oakland has Tejada, Hernandez, T. Long and Chavez. NYY has Jeter, Posada,
Williams and soon Soriano/Jimenez.

This would also mean getting KPAS who know the strike zone. Detroit should
be rewarded for finally giving Billy McMillon a chance. The IL walk
leaders this season included Ozzie Timmons (TB), McMillon, and Morgan
Burkhart (Bos). Three of the top 8 in the PCL were A's players (Mark
Bellhorn, Bo Porter and Steve Decker), but the list also included Mike
Neill and Brian Lesher--potential KPAS hitters. It's interesting to me to
see former KC non-walking prospect Phil Hiatt just barely in the top 20.

Well, this is pretty long so I should stop. Comments would be appreciated.
I'm also interested in how few walks a team surrenders to its opposition
(I think pitchers with great control are often undervalued) and potential
gains from developing talent with an inflated value and trading it for
players of *real* value. Swap that stolen base king or proven closer for
someone who can really help a team win.
One point that I didn't discuss, and neither did Michael Lewis, is the use of steroids. Those Oakland teams a decade ago featured Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada. That's two MVPs linked to steroids -- and that's not even counting prototypical moneyball players like late-career David Justice and Jeremy Giambi.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Upcoming: Paper for Millennium conference at LSE

Photo credit = leelver

Next month, I'll be heading to London to present a paper at the Millennium: Journal of International Studies annual conference featuring this theme: "Out Of The Ivory Tower: Weaving the Theories and Practice of International Relations."

Here's the abstract I submitted for my paper, “Cooperative Security: Grand Strategy meets Critical Theory?”
Major powers are frequently urged to embrace grand strategies tied to particular international relations theories. In the case of United States foreign policy, scholars usually analyze a well-known set of strategic choices -- primacy, selective engagement, off-shore balancing, collective security, and cooperative security. These grand strategy choices have typically been favored by relatively mainstream realist, neorealist, liberal and neoliberal thinkers in IR. This paper explores the evolution of cooperative security from its clear ties to liberal and neoliberal international relations theory to its current understanding in world politics, which is surprisingly consistent with critical IR theory. Cooperative security no longer merely implies multilateralism, negotiation, and arms control. Rather, security is now more frequently described as indivisible and genuine cooperation requires shared decision-making and consensual practices. Even nongovernmental organizations are increasingly granted a voice in security discussions. While weapons and warfare remain very important security concerns, the cooperative security agenda today includes ideas associated with human security. This has meaning for the unit of analysis (both the actor providing security and the actor being secured) and for the breadth of the security agenda, which currently seems to include poverty, environmental calamity, global inequality, and hunger. In all, the evolving notion of cooperative security offers a potential promising pathway towards achieving the emancipatory ideals associated with critical IR theory.
The conference is the weekend of 22-23 October, but I'm going to be in the area Monday through Friday, 17-21 October, as well and am still looking for academic opportunities.

I'll be searching for pints of well-hopped bitters too.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is LEED misleading?

Center for Predictive Medicine dedicated

Photo credit = University of Louisville.
Pictured: Center for Predictive Medicine, LEED building

The September/October 2011 Mother Jones has a short article challenging the notion that LEED-certified buildings use less energy. University of Louisville, along with many other institutions, have embraced Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the US Green Building Council as a key means by which to achieve sustainability in their operation practices. If LEED is a fraud, then that's a huge story.

You can get electronic access to the MJ piece by providing your email address, but here's a key excerpt for those who want to be saved the trouble:

According to 2008 study commissioned by USGBC, LEED buildings are 25 to 30% more energy-efficient than conventional ones. But when Gifford looked at the study, he found that it had compared the meaning of one group of buildings to the median of another-what seemed to him a classic apples-to-oranges mistake. He got some of the data and calculated that LEED buildings actually used 29% more energy. “Going to so much trouble and expense to end up with buildings that use more energy than comparable buildings is not only a tragedy, it is also a fraud,” he wrote in a trade magazine. The USGBC stood by its numbers.
Henry Gifford is identified in the piece as a NY energy efficiency consultant.

An Oberlin College physicist, John Scofield, is also quoted in the article -- and he does not think much of LEED certification either: "This is like requiring people to wear copper bracelets for arthritis!" Another blogger, Erich Vieth, has poked around at Scofield's website and helpfully provides a link to the academic work by Scofield backing this claim.

When I return to the Sustainability Council after my sabbatical, I'll be asking about this.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Election 2012: Early Analysis

Photo source =

Today, I've been participating in a discussion at Outside the Beltway about Barack Obama's reelection prospects in 2012. It is still very early in the election cycle and much can change before next November.

One basic fact stands out, however, regardless of polling showing the incumbent President's vulnerability in specific states he won in 2008. Obama can win reelection in 2012 merely with the Kerry states plus Florida. That means (a) the incumbent can lose Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Omaha; and (b) Republicans could be in big trouble regardless of the economy if they select a candidate who tells Florida’s retirees that their Social Security benefit is built on an unconstitutional ponzi scheme.

If the Republican’s spend most of the next year talking about the deficit (and more tax cuts), then it’s pretty easy to imagine that Social Security would seem vulnerable under their leadership -- regardless of candidate. Everyone recalls the first major policy initiative Bush pursued after his 2004 victory, right?

Despite the concessions I make above, there are long-term demographic issues working against Republicans in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

Finally, it must be noted that campaign Obama proved a lot more effective at his job than governing Obama has. Think of the jobs bill (and related tax cuts/increases) as part of the campaign instead of as a meaningful policy initiative that is likely to gain traction in the current Congress. That perspective reveals it to be an essentially populist proposal aimed at attracting swing voters — especially when pitched directly against specific Republican counter-proposals in a two-way race, namely, additional corporate tax cuts and deregulation.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Unanswered Questions about Saudi links to 9/11

Photo credit = secret1me's

So, here we are a decade after the 9/11 attacks and many long-time mysteries of the early Bush "war on terror" years have been solved -- Osama bin Laden was located in Pakistan and killed; Scooter Libby of Vice President Dick Cheney's office leaked covert CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak to bolster the dubious case for war on Iraq; and the anthrax terrorist was identified by the FBI after he committed suicide. Bruce Ivins was a Army-employed microbiologist.

Not every loose end has been tied together, of course. For example, we still don't know very much about alleged Saudi connections to the 9/11 hijacking plot.

As long-time readers may recall, neither congressional investigators nor the 9/11 Commission were completely forthcoming about this topic. From Salon, two days ago:
What's in the famously redacted 28 pages?

A joint inquiry of the House and Senate intelligence committees produced an 800-plus page report on activity of the intelligence community in connection with the 9/11 attacks, completed in December 2002. But 28 pages were redacted in the public version, all in the section titled "Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." It has been widely reported that those pages -- which neither the Bush nor Obama administration have declassified -- deal with links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials. Newsweek, for example, reported that the section "draws apparent connections between high-level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers."

As long as those pages remain classified, though, it's impossible to assess the nature of those connections.
I'm no "Truther," but as this story from McClatchy on September 7 reports, there are still puzzling mysteries concerning the alleged Saudi connection to the hijackers:
Just two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, members of a Saudi family abruptly vacated their luxury home near Sarasota, Fla., leaving a brand new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter — and an open safe in a master bedroom.

In the weeks to follow, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but also phone calls were linked between the home and those who carried out the death flights — including leader Mohamed Atta — in discoveries never before revealed to the public.
Local counterterrorism officials describe a scene that sounds like it came from a movie you've already watched:
"The beds were made ... fruit on the counter ... the refrigerator full of food. ... It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie. ... (But) the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip. ... A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they'd taken (another) computer and left the cord."
The story quotes former Florida Senator (and former Select Intelligence committee member) Bob Graham saying that this news "opens the door to a new chapter of investigation as to the depth of the Saudi role in 9/11. ... No information relative to the named people in Sarasota was disclosed."

Graham has raised similar concerns for years. Until more is revealed about what the US knows of the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks, people are going to keep asking these sorts of questions. Some will be formulating troubling conspiracy theories.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Palin in Iowa

September 18 2008 1180
Photo credit: Dave Davidson (2008 campaign)

Who writes Sarah Palin's speeches? Saturday, in Iowa, she spoke out against crony capitalism:
Sarah Palin did not say whether she would seek the Republican presidential nomination, a 40-minute speech before a Tea Party rally here, which was one of her most expansive addresses since she accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination three years ago, she railed against “crony capitalism” in both parties.

“I want all of our GOP candidates to take the opportunity to kill corporate capitalism that is leading to this cronyism that is killing our economy,” Ms. Palin said.
Does she understand the meaning of "crony capitalism"? From Investopedia:
What Does Crony Capitalism Mean?

A description of capitalist society as being based on the close relationships between businessmen and the state. Instead of success being determined by a free market and the rule of law, the success of a business is dependent on the favoritism that is shown to it by the ruling government in the form of tax breaks, government grants and other incentives.
In Iowa Saturday:
[Palin] outlined economic proposals for creating jobs, including the elimination of all federal corporate income taxes. She said the cozy relationship between political contributions and government favors needed to be exposed and eliminated.
And as a reminder, consider Sarah Palin's multi-million dollar job working for Rupert Murdoch at Fox News. From The Nation's Eric Alterman in the September 5 edition:
One key factor must always be kept in mind when discussing Rupert Murdoch: he has a lot of money ($7.6 billion, according to Forbes) and makes even more for other people. Between 1977 and 2001, News Corporation outearned every other blue-chip company save Berkshire Hathaway and Walmart. And while money might not buy you love in America, it does buy a great deal of special favors and improper indulgences from powerful people.

Being a billionaire media mogul is even more fun when it comes to politics. Not only do politicians need your cash; they need your newspapers, magazines and TV networks too. It is this unholy nexus that Murdoch has mastered...

Murdoch regularly uses book deals, television contracts and columnist gigs as bribes to the powerful, just as he uses these same properties to punish those who refuse to go along. Don’t forget that until recently, Murdoch had four potential Republican presidential candidates on the Fox payroll. One of them—Sarah Palin—even got a state-of-the-art studio built in her home, gratis. And each of these powerful people has a pretty strong incentive to look the other way every time one of Murdoch’s properties or employees feels it necessary to break a law here or there in the service of the great man’s power, profits and influence.
Either Sarah Palin is a brilliant ironist, or she represents the dénouement of a horrifying Orwellian nightmare.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

I saw mascots

From mid-June to early August, I was on the road for 28 days, visiting Boston for a wedding, the Delaware Shore, Tulsa (twice), and Traverse City, Michigan. I'm posting a couple of interesting cell phone photos from the period. Both, coincidentally, depict local mascots of sports teams.

This first shot is the Delmarva Shorebird. After many years of visiting the Delaware shore, I finally made it to a minor league baseball game. The nice little park is in Salisbury, Maryland, and this creature sat right behind my spouse for an inning:

The second shot is a Bulldog in downtown Big Rapids, Michigan. This dog is the mascot for the local Ferris State University and downtown Big Rapids has a number of these little statues in different guises. My spouse and I had just dined at the terrific Blue Cow Cafe, which emphasizes local and organic food. The ale I drank was very good, though a bit floral tasting. The pork chop was simply outstanding, perhaps the best I've ever had and I frequently eat chops at good restaurants all over the US:

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Sheep Blogging

Friday night, the family made the annual trip to the Kentucky State Fair -- always held in Louisville in mid-August. I took this photo with my cell phone.

And no, the creature is not in the Klan or some other evil society. It was recently shorn.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Jasmine Revolt: Cascade Effects?

Photo credit: Flickr page on HINDRAF Rally in Kuala Lumpur by Shamshahrin Shamsudin

Thanks to my sabbatical, I had time this week to attend an interesting panel of a relatively small workshop sponsored locally by the Center for Asian Democracy: "The Jasmine Revolution and the 'Bamboo' Firewall: The impact of the Internet and new social media on political change in East Asia." My colleague Jason Abbott (CAD Director) explains a bit more about it on his blog -- and promises a more complete recap next week.

The panel I attended featured three interesting papers on "The New Media in Southeast Asia: Spotlight on Malaysia."
Asha Rathina Pandi (University of Hawaii, Manoa)
“‘Makkal Sakthi’ (People’s Power): Blogs, civil society and the 2007 Hindraf protest rally in Malaysia”

Meredith Weiss (SUNY – Albany)
“Parsing the Power of ‘New Media’ in Malaysia”

Thomas Pepinsky (Cornell University)
“Tak Nak Mereform: Contemporary Malaysian Politics in Historical Perspective”

Chair/Discussant -- Jason Abbott (University of Louisville)
As a student of international relations, it was somewhat unusual for me to attend a panel clearly constituted by comparativists talking almost exclusively about domestic economic, political and social variables. Indeed, during the Q&A, a fellow workshop participant asked the question that was most on my mind -- how did the Malaysian events the speakers described during their talks tie into the Jasmine Revolt?

One respondent pointed out the different ethnic mix in Malaysia and agreed with an audience member that only Bahrain is somewhat similar in the Middle East context.

I would have liked a lot more followup, to explore potential international and/or transnational dimensions. Did local activists learn from protesters in North Africa and the Middle East? Were new communications media employed globally, or were they primarily used on a local level, as emphasized in the talks? Were there any contagion effects of the other rebellions? Are states of East Asia (this panel focused on Malaysia) feeling any international pressure from bigger powers, international institutions, or transnational NGOs to embrace democratic norms?

Unfortunately, this particular panel did not really address those sorts of questions and I did not have time to attend the Roundtable scheduled to follow this session.

In short, the presentations were good, but not sufficiently IR for my tastes.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NPR's Top 100 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books

NPR recently published a list of the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books, compiled from a survey of 60,000 listener-readers. The full list is here.

I don't really read work in this genre very often, but I did read some sci-fi in my teens and have occasionally grabbed something unread if it is already on my shelf.

These are the ones I've read from the list. You'll note that I've read half of the top 20, but apparently none of the bottom 35.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
6. 1984, by George Orwell
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

And this is the much longer list of books I have not read -- including a few that are important in popular nerd culture. Some are marked (maybe) because I read some Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein and Wells when I was a teenager (decades ago, ugh), but cannot recall the specific titles. My friends then were also reading and discussing these books, so the titles are kind of one big blur. I probably read at least 3 or 4 of the works marked (maybe), meaning I've read about 20% of the NPR list.

My memory is especially hazy when I know that I've seen a film based on the book (noted by ** below). My household includes copies of the books in bold, so it is plausible that I'll read them eventually:

[2023 NOTE: I've subsequently read these highlighted books.]

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams **
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (maybe) **
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (maybe)
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman **
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore **
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov **
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke **
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (maybe)
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess **
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein (maybe) **
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (maybe)
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells (maybe) **
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne **
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells (maybe) **
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan **
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman **
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson **
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne **
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke (maybe)
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (maybe)
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury (maybe)
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov (maybe)
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Popular will

The voting lines 10:30a NW DC

Photo credit, christopher j. dorobek

Andrew Hacker has an interesting piece in the August 18 New York Review of Books, explaining why Barack Obama's chances for reelection are much better than recent poll results would suggest:

The 2012 electorate will differ from 2010’s in a crucial respect: it will contain nearly 50 million additional voters. Some will be new, but most of them will be people who supported Obama in 2008. Compared with the 2010 House electorate, they will be younger, more ethnically diverse, with fewer identifying themselves as conservatives, and a higher proportion will be women. Most of them would not have voted for the Republicans who now make up John Boehner’s House.
Hacker, by the way, discusses a number of recent political books in the article, including one on the 2010 election edited by Larry Sabato. That volume includes a chapter on Kentucky's junior Senator, Rand Paul, written by my colleague Laurie Rhodebeck.

Hacker credits Sabato with pointing out that election outcomes are "determined by the people who show up" to vote. In midterm elections, about 40% of voters turn out to vote, while presidential elections draw substantially more voters -- about 55 to 60% of the electorate in the past quarter century.

This column in yesterday's Guardian succinctly summarizes the importance of this difference:
...the sweeping Republican gains in Congress in the midterm elections of 2010 were on the usual 40% turnout; Obama was elected in 2008 on a 61% turnout. Yet it is the Republicans who think they have a mandate from the American people.
Perhaps, in hindsight, Democrats should have tried harder to convince non-voters that the 2010 midterms were a referendum on Obama that required their attention. Republicans certainly made that case to the likely voters -- who are older, more affluent, less diverse, and more likely to vote in midterm elections. Instead, Democrats often ran away from their successes (health care reform, the stimulus) and distanced themselves from the President.

In any event, despite the poor economic numbers, it would appear that President Obama stands a pretty good chance of reelection -- so long as his 2008 voters actually show up to the polls.

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