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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Films of 2014

(#20 of 365) Movie Night
Photo credit: Jennifer Finley (j-fin) on Flickr
As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot yet write a credible post on the best movies of 2014. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

Again this year, I missed many of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw many late 2013 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year.

To make this abbreviated 2014 list (split, as usual, into two sub-lists), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2014. I also consulted Metacritic.

In rank order of my preference, these were the best 2014 films I saw this year, so best as I can recall:

The Grand Budapest Hotel **
Birdman **
Wild **
Gone Girl **
Venus in Fur
The Double

** I saw these films in the theater.

The top two films are doing well in end-of-year critic lists, so I anticipate they will be competitive for Oscars. The Grand Budapest Hotel was hilarious and Birdman was unique, though I'm not sure I liked the ending (or interpreted it correctly). Basically, that film can be viewed as a critique of superhero action films, even though it stars a number of actors who made lots of money from their work in those kinds of movies.

Wild and Locke are substantial films that provide real showcases for their lead actors, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy. Both seem deserving of Academy Award nominations.

I read Gone Girl in 2013, so I was already familiar with the twists and surprises. Still, this was a fine film and worth viewing.

Frank twists the typical rock band bio-pic into unexpected directions, though other members of my family were split as to whether it was watchable. Venus in Fur is a provocative Roman Polanski film that is trying to say something artistic about the theatre, but also comments on gender relations. It is a two-person film featuring a male director casting a leading actress for his adapted play.

Filth is from the same mind as Trainspotting and includes a number of scenes that are provocative, but perhaps not entertaining. I did not much care for the adapted The Double.

The rest of the my 2014 list consists of genre films -- bawdy comedies, action flicks and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom:

Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat.)
Guardians of the Galaxy
22 Jump Street
Alan Partridge
Bad Words
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes **
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I've switched the positions of Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy twice already on that list. The latter film has a much stronger sense of humor, but I am a huge fan of Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow is a science fiction-action movie take on the concept. That said, I'm far more likely to watch Guardians a second time when it finds its way to cable.

Both 22 Jump Street and Alan Partridge featured characters that Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Steve Coogan have played before. Sigh. Moreover, both are unusually violent for comedies. Nonetheless, they are quite funny and 22 Jump Street clearly recognizes the limits and dangers of repetition.

I viewed Captain America on a very small screen on a plane, but I did not care for it very much. I had similar reactions to the Iron Man and Hulk films, so perhaps Marvel isn't appealing to me all that often (Guardians is a notable exception). I wish the filmmakers of the bottom three movies had been a bit more creative and less reliant upon CGI and explosions. For me, of course, the gold standard is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.

Here's the annual list of 2014 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2015):

Adult World, American Sniper, The Babadook, Begin Again, Belle, Big Eyes, Birder's Guide to Everything, Blue Ruin, Boyhood, Cheap Thrills, Chef, Dear White People, The Drop, Equilizer, Fault in Our Stars, Force Majeure, Foxcatcher, Fury, Get on UP, Godzilla, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Ida, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant, Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Joe, John Wick, Le Week-End, The LEGO Movie, Listen Up Philip, Lone Survivor, Lucy, Manuscripts Don't Burn, A Most Wanted Man, A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner, Neighbors, Nightcrawler, Night Moves, Noah, Non-Stop, Obvious Child, The One I Love, Only Lovers Left Alive, Palo Alto, Railway Man, Rob the Mob, Rosewater, Selma, St. Vincent, Theory of Everything, Top Five, Two Days One Night, Under the Skin, What If, Whiplash, and the Zero Theorem.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2013 movies from last year's wishlist:

12 Years a Slave, 56 Up, Ain't them Bodies Saints?, Despicable Me 2, The East, Ender's Game, Fruitvale Station, Kill Your Darlings, Love is All You Need, Manhunt, Much Ado About Nothing, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, Place Beyond the Pines, Prisoners, Short Term 12, Spring Breakers, Stories We Tell, The To Do List, Trance, You're Next, and We Are What We Are.

Yes, somehow I've missed the acclaimed 2013 Oscar winner. Shame on me. Virtually all of those films are now readily available -- as DVDs at my University library or as recordings on my DVR. A few are on Netflix.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books of 2014

d-221 books
Photo credit: azrasta on Flickr

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

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I reviewed a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." However, only the winning entry is listed here. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.

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 may include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links). I posted short reviews of most of these books at Shelfari


The Rule of the Clan; What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom by Mark S. Weiner.

New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew Bacevich

Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State by Garry Wills

Bigger Deal by Anthony Holden

Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers, edited by Steven Goldman (Baseball Prospectus team)

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2014, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Weiner book won the 2015 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. I blogged about it at the Duck of Minerva.

Bacevich and Wills offer stark and important warnings about the dangers of United States militarism. Holden returns to the Texas Hold 'em poker circuit after the 2003 Chris Moneymaker boom. I preferred his earlier book on poker.


As I have in most years, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Constant Gardener by John LeCarré

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon.

Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

All of this fiction is worth reading, though McCarthy's book is kind of a slog given the way it is written and its subject matter. With the exception of the Wodehouse (which was my first book ever read using a Kindle app on a tablet), all of these books are fairly dark. The works by McMurtry and McCarthy are set in Texas and are meant to feature a desolate context. LeCarré's novel begins in impoverished Africa, but the main character travels also to Europe and North America to solve a mystery about his wife's death. Gaiman's book is a sweeping work of modern mythology, while Pynchon offers a strange post-modern noir detective story.

State of Siege by Eric Ambler

Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin

Find a Victim by Ross MacDonald

D is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton

Children of Men by P.D. James

Judas Goat by Robert Parker

Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry

Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke

The Scarlet Ruse by John MacDonald

Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky

Bank Shot by Donald Westlake

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

The Mourner by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski

Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

Lucky at Cards by Lawrence Block

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array  of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Rankin's Inspector Rebus, and Lehane's Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.

Grafton is from Louisville and this (D) Millhone case was very interesting, making me look forward to reading the next (E) book. I read Rankin while visiting Edinburgh, though I cannot say the book would be endorsed by that lovely city's Chamber of Commerce. I have stuck with Burke's Robicheaux series through several violent books that did not appeal to my tastes. However, I liked this one a good deal. Travis McGee, Lew Archer, and Spencer were all challenged by good cases that made for solid stories. Spencer's book is set abroad and involves terrorism.

The Lehane books I've read feature over-the-top violence. Strike one. This work involved serial killers working together, which count as strikes two and three.

By contrast, the Dibdin book involves a clever murder and just enough violence to propel the story to an interesting conclusion. I highly recommend it. Look for the touch of international politics in a character's correspondence.

Though Djibouti was certainly not Leonard's best book, it is an entertaining contemporary story about piracy and terrorism. Mockingjay is the basis for a new film (the first of two, ugh) and in my view is the weakest book in the popular dystopian trilogy. I saw the film made from P.D. James's Children of Men several years ago, but the book is quite different from the film in many details. Generally, these details make the book bleaker, simpler, and less reliant upon contrived circumstances. The science fiction book, set in a future when all men are infertile, is laden with Christian symbolism.

Ambler and McCarry were writing during the cold war and their stories involve interesting geopolitical dimensions based on real-world events. McCarry offers an odd theory about the JFK assassination.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Ho Ho Ho.

That's Robey (L) and Paddy (R), when they were just pups. We celebrated their 9th year in the family this fall. They were likely born in July 2005.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Inherent Vice

When my spouse and I saw "Birdman" recently, the film was preceded by a trailer for Inherent Vice. Since I already owned a copy of the book, I decided to read it before I see the film.

My review of the novel:
I really cannot do justice to this book with a short review. The work can be read as a relatively mainstream detective story set in the drug-culture of southern California in 1970. Pynchon has clearly read Raymond Chandler as the plot includes many references to Philip Marlowe and his most famous cases. If you are looking for a postmodern Chandler, then you might enjoy this book. However, many parts of it may seem really strange. Indeed, this book's main character encounters situations and people that are more overtly comical (if not ridiculous) than any situations and people Marlowe ever encountered. The book packs in so many odd characters, coincidental meetings, and contrived circumstances, in fact, that it can also be read as satire -- and Chandler and Marlowe could be viewed as targets. Many of Marlowe's encounters could be viewed as far-fetched and ridiculous if not portrayed in the way they were written by Chandler. PI Larry "Doc" Sportello's drug of choice is pot rather than alcohol, but he is a viable stand-in for Marlowe. Doc's adventures parallel Marlowe's and led me to think about how Marlowe would survive in Doc's world and vice-versa. The book seems to lament the end of the counterculture 1960s (Doc's world), though the "gumsandal" PI obviously has significant ties to the "straight" world. His girlfriend works in the prosecutor's office, he trades information with a prominent cop, and he earns a living working as a "hopeless stooge of the creditor class" (which he realizes in an epiphany near the book's end). Other targets of Pynchon's satire are more overtly identified: heavy-handed police officers and other elements of law enforcement, heroin, and the background political figures, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Here's an interesting video promoting the novel, apparently narrated by Thomas Pynchon in the voice of PI Doc:

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will Rogers on Inequality

I just returned from a trip to Tulsa to visit family members. The Tulsa World newspaper runs a piece called "Will Rogers Says" and I quite liked the quote from last Saturday:
"[Economists] show that there is just as much of everything as there ever was, and all that. But they don’t tell that what’s the matter with us is the unequal division of it. Our rich is getting richer, and our poor is getting poorer all the time. That’s the thing these great minds ought to work on.” – December 14, 1930

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Divine Intervention?

I'm still working my way through the array of article clippings surrounding my desk at home.

This quote is from General Lee Butler, former head of the US Strategic Command:
...we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.
The quote was included in an article I read back in June, but it was originally delivered in a speech by Butler in 1999.

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Environment and Security

I have not blogged very frequently in 2014 and thus have a big stack of magazine clippings surrounding my desk. One story that caught my eye this past year was authored by journalist Sharon Lerner in The Nation back in November. It concerned alleged links between local pollution from a defense contractor and a cluster of pediatric brain tumors in a small Florida community called The Acreage.

This paragraph caught my eye given that I often work on both environmental issues and national security topics:
“If Al Qaeda sent a team of sleeper cells to poison our groundwater and release toxic materials into the air, people would go nuts. It would be an act of war,” [Law Professor Stephen] Dycus [at Vermont, the author of National Defense and the Environment] notes. “But if we do it to ourselves in the name of national security, in preparation for war, that seems to be sort of OK.”
These are the key paragraphs about the pollutants and area in question:
...the plaintiffs’ attorneys have been constructing their case based on the defense contractor’s well-known history of involvement with projects that involve radioactive materials. Since so many of its operations are top secret, it is difficult to disprove the company’s claims that it has never worked on nuclear planes or spacecraft in Florida. But documents from the 1960s through the ’90s show that Pratt & Whitney had licenses to use at least a dozen radioactive substances [PDF], including radium D and E, thoriated nickel and cesium-137, in Florida. The plaintiffs’ lawyers also unearthed company correspondence indicating that some of these radioactive materials wound up outside of their proper storage places. In court filings, Pratt & Whitney denied having any “contaminations” beyond “properly stored chemical compounds.”
In fact, there is a clear documentary record, stretching across many decades, of Pratt & Whitney contaminating its Florida environs with a variety of toxic materials, both radioactive and nonradioactive. According to a 1985 Department of Environmental Regulation update, the company had soil on its property that contained PCBs—chemicals that have been linked to brain cancer—at more than 200 times the maximum level now allowed even in fenced-off, nonresidential areas. PCBs were also found in fish [PDF] that swam in ponds on the company’s grounds, at more than 7,000 times the safe level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for human consumption.
Jet fuel, which was the suspected cause of another cancer cluster in Fallon, Nevada, may also have played a role at the Acreage. A mixture of chemicals that can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause cancer in mice, jet fuel was found at the Pratt & Whitney facility in Florida. According to a 1983 report, there were three plumes of jet fuel totaling some 53,000 gallons beneath the company’s property, and a layer on top of the groundwater in certain places as well.
 In 1979, just one year after the Acreage Homeowners Association formed and began constructing a system of canals to make the area habitable, 2,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic solvent, leaked into the groundwater and surface water on Pratt & Whitney's campus, as the company later admitted. 
The entire article is worth your time.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Untappd: Austin Local Beer

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled to Austin, TX, for an academic conference last weekend. This was my first trip to the booming city since conducting dissertation work at the LBJ Library in the late 1980s. I spent some time walking around downtown, but the conference is short and intense, so I had very little free time to do much during the 48 hours I was there. Nonetheless, I was able to take in some of what the city has to offer as the alleged "Live Music Capital of the World."

From my experience, it appears that Austin's 6th Street genuinely rivals or even surpasses Beale Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans for nightlife and entertainment. On Saturday night, some friends and I walked around that area of Austin looking for good live music and local beer. It didn't take long to find what we sought.

I think the band that we all enjoyed the most was Light Horse Harry, which we caught at an Irish pub (B.D. Riley's) near the end of our evening. All the musicians are UT-Austin students and they played a nice mix of covers and original songs. Earlier, we also liked Larry g(EE), who played an eclectic set of music with a very large band at Gatsby's.

During that evening, I tried Austin Beerwork's tasty Fire Eagle IPA, Independence Brewing's very good Stash IPA, and Thirsty Planet's potent Buckethead IPA (8.9% ABV). I typically avoid the high alcohol IPA's, but I didn't realize the ABV until I had the beer in hand and looked it up on Untappd. Despite the fact that it was an excellent brew, I left one-third of it behind because it was served in a pint glass and I had to give a presentation as a discussant on Sunday morning.

During the conference, I also had a bottle of Shiner Bock at the reception and drank a delicious pint of Racer 5 IPA at Haymaker. The latter California beer is difficult if not impossible to find in Louisville, so that is my main justification for not trying another local beer. Incidentally, Haymaker came recommended to me and its beer list was certainly quite impressive. Unfortunately, the Fire Eagle IPA served to me there lacked carbonation and seemed flat. That's another reason why I followed up with the Racer 5.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

ISSS-ISAC Austin 2014

Last weekend, I traveled to Austin, TX, for the annual joint meeting of the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association and the International Security and Arms Control Section of the American Political Science Association. Luckily, the groups had not previously shortened the name to ISIS. It is still known as the ISSS-ISAC meeting.

The event opens with a keynote speaker and a reception. These sessions occurred on Friday night, but during some past meetings they have occurred on Thursday with the conference ending Saturday at noon. The opening evening is followed by a full day of panels, concluding with another guest speaker and a dinner in the evening. Indeed, all the meals during this long day are provided as part of the registration fee. The final day ends at noon, but breakfast is also provided. This year, the panels were on Saturday-Sunday.

Because the conference is brief and relatively small, attendees seem to feel obliged to remain at the event and attend panels or network with other participants. Dining together probably also contributes to the social environment. The meetings definitely provide a nice opportunity to catch up with colleagues who share an interest in security politics and meet graduate students and junior faculty from around the country. Next year's conference is in Springfield, MA, and will be hosted by Jon Western of Mount Holyoke and Duck of Minerva.

On Saturday afternoon, I participated in a panel on “Images of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism” and delivered my paper, "The Dark Knight and the National Security State." This is a significantly revised version of a paper I delivered in August at a humanities conference in Scotland. Yes, I delivered yet another academic paper on Batman and the war on terrorism.

This latest version of the paper considers the conversation around a popular film like The Dark Knight as a potential public sphere, conceivably igniting important discussions about otherwise unchallenged national security issues and assumptions. I have long been interested in public deliberation and thus some of the paper might seem familiar based on my past blogging. I discuss the well-known problems about public debate on security issues, particularly during conditions of crisis (high threat and "state of emergency"): secrecy, executive branch dominance, lack of participation, etc. Even the mass media is stymied by these factors, which means that the coverage in the media is framed around war and security (the Copenhagen's "securitization" literature is relevant here). The media also "indexes" their reports to executive branch sources.

Comments on this paper would be welcome.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Iraq's New Old Chemical Arsenal

Yesterday, a student asked me about the recent news reports indicating that Iraq did, in fact, have "weapons of mass destruction" back in 2002 and 2003 when the U.S. was attempting to justify a "preemptive" war. The New York Times reported that American soldiers were injured in the past decade by chemically-armed munitions found in Iraq.

Already, a slew of articles in the media have debunked the claim that this vindicates George W. Bush and his Iraq misadventure. This Washington Post piece is perhaps the best since it primarily quotes Bush administration claims from the pre-war period.

The Times piece certainly does not try to claim that Bush is vindicated:
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale. 
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims. 
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. 
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them. 
In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.
Read the piece and it offers more reason to believe that these revelations do not help the save the Bush administration's reputation:
Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier [“a recently retired Army major who was present for the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war”] said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.” 
Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.
A decade ago, when I was blogging regularly about this, the media would occasionally report about old chemical munitions found it Iraq. I posted this passage on May 19, 2004:
What is very clear is that there was no vast infrastructure of WMD programs and no readily deployable arsenal. The nuclear program was dead. No one denies Iraq had chemical weapons in the 1980s and that scientists could again make them. What is the appropriate level of threat justifying preventive war
I ended up writing and publishing a number of pieces about that question and the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of "preemptive war." In one of them, I quoted from this exchange involving David Kay, who was the head of the Iraq Survey Group in 2003 (the original team looking for WMD) and then-U.S. Senator Mark Dayton:
DAYTON: Which weapons of mass destruction qualify in that upper echelon of truly mass destruction? 
KAY: Well, I think all of us have and would continue to put the nuclear weapons in a different category. It's a single weapon that can do tremendous damage, as opposed to multiple weapons that can do the same order of damage. As you know, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, in terms of number of people killed, was roughly equivalent to a single bomb in Nagasaki, but it took a lot more aircraft to do it. 
So I still treat, and I think we should politically treat, nuclear as a difference. But I must say, the revolution of biology, some developments in cyber -- I think we're going to have a blurring out there of capabilities. And that makes the control and makes the intelligence problem far more difficult to estimate. 
DAYTON: Just based on your general knowledge, how many countries would you say in the world today would qualify under the category of developing weapons of mass destruction-related program activities or having such activities?
KAY: Senator Dayton, I hesitate to give you an off-the-cuff number because I know it'll probably is going to be like the 85 percent; I'm going to have to live with it for longer than I want to.I would say that in the nuclear area, in addition to those that we know have possessed nuclear weapons, that includes India... 
DAYTON: I want to go to the vernacular that we're using in this broader category. 
KAY: The broader category. Oh, I suspect you're talking about probably 50 countries that have programs that would fall somewhere in that broader vernacular. 
DAYTON: So if we're going to take out those countries or their governments which are engaged in what we would call weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, we're going to be cutting quite a world swathe. 
KAY: Well, Senator Dayton, I think you're on to the issue. We no longer are going to be living in a world in which we can control capabilities. Intentions are what are going to be important.
Kay is correct. The war was primarily justified based on the threat allegedly posed by Iraq's nuclear program. If the bar for preemptive war is lowered to justify attacks against states with potentially menacing chemical or biological capabilities, then states with such preemptive doctrines could launch attacks against thousands of universities or industries in dozens of states.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Prior to War: Debate, then Vote

Interesting exchange about the legitimacy of America's wars, from the October 1, 2014, The Colbert Report.
Stephen: Can I tell you why I think the American people might be tired of it? And want to go back to bed? And I’m speaking for myself, and, therefore, the American people. We’re asked to be afraid of it. You get to think about it all the time or you did get to think about it all the time and say to yourself, “You know what? That little corner of the desert looks like it could blow up real good. Let’s go over there.” Whereas, we’re asked to be afraid of it and we’re reminded to be afraid of it, but we no longer have much of a voice in it because our Congressional representatives won’t vote on whether we’re supposed to do anything about it. We’re not asked to sacrifice that much for it. Very few of us go fight. And we’re also not told all that much about what’s happening over there. So, all we have is the fear and none of the action. And so we eventually want to stop thinking about it. And that’s why that 25,000-man mercenary army starts to sound good. We also want to stop caring about what happens to our men and women who go over there, because we don’t want them to sacrifice for something that we don’t think is right. And yet we don’t have much voice in it anymore. 
Adm. Mike Mullen: So, you bring up a concern that I have with respect to a growing disconnect between the men and women who serve in this all-volunteer force, who are the best I’ve ever seen. They’re less than 1% of the population. They come from fewer and fewer places in America. And the American people who didn’t have to buy into these wars, as you said – and I agree with that – and certainly the vast, vast majority didn’t have to fight in them, don’t know who we are as a military. And in fact – and I’ve said this many times – what I actually do worry about is that we become some version of something like the French Foreign Legion, which is please go off and fight our dirty little wars and let us get on with our lives. And I think that’s a disaster for America. We need to be connected to the American people and we need to do that through the system that’s here; those that are elected. And I certainly agree that those who are elected ought to vote on what we do. And we ought to have a fulsome, raging debate about that in this country.
Mullen is absolutely correct. Where is the public and legislative debate -- followed by a congressional vote?

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

2014 Louisville Sluggers

This is my (very late) annual post about the Louisville Sluggers of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League. We draft twice each season -- once prior to the regular season and again at the beginning of July. I didn't get around to putting this post together until now. Sorry, though I doubt anyone cares. I'll just report draft results and transactions for the second half season -- my A season did not go all that well.

Prior posts: 2013 20122011201020092008,  2007, and 2004.

Why do we draft twice each year? Well, the OBFLB crowns champions for both the "A" first half and "B" second half of the baseball season, divided by the All Star game. My team's most recent championship was in 2008B. The current team is all-but-assured a place in the 4 team playoff competition that begins Monday. I'll update this post as appropriate to provide results.

As I list the team's current roster, keep in mind that the OBFLB is a 24 team head-to-head fantasy baseball league using 10 categories: home runs, stolen bases, batting average, runs produced average (R+RBI/ABs), plate appearances, innings pitched, wins, saves, earned run average and "ratio."

Here are the 2014 B Sluggers (players in red were retained from 2014A). Since I kept 12 players, I started the draft in round 13. We use 28 man rosters, exclusive of injured players. Because Arenado and Profar were on the major league and OBFLB DL mid-season, I had 2 extra picks at the end of the draft.

For the B season, our league requires that a player appear 6 times at a position during the current year -- or once during the week when he is listed at a position.


 C:  Yasmani Grandal (SD) (22nd round)
1B: Joey Votto (CIN) DL 7/8 during draft; has not played in B season
       James Loney (TB) (17th round)
2B: Jason Kipnis (CLE)
3B: Nolan Arenado (COL) 
SS: Troy Tulowitzki (COL) DL 7/22 during draft; has not played in B season
       Jose Ramirez (CLE) (free agent)
OF: Corey Dickerson (COL)
OF: Oswaldo Arcia (MIN) (15th round)
OF: Ender Inciarte (ARI) (19th round)
DH: Chris Carter (HOU) (18th round)

SP: Alex Cobb (TB)
SP: Chris Archer (TB)
SP: Homer Bailey (CIN) eventually DLed and out for the season
SP: Tyler Skaggs (LAA) (13th round) quickly DLed and out for season
SP: Phil Hughes (MIN) (14th round)
SP: Jeremy Hellickson (TB) (16th round)
SP: Matt Shoemaker (LAA) (20th round)
RP: Francisco Rodriguez (MIL) 
RP: Edward Mujica  (BOS) (28th round)
RP: Kevin Quackenbush (SD) (free agent)


 C: Cameron Rupp (PHI) (30th round) released when sent to minors
 C: Rene Rivera (SD) (free agent)
IF: Wilmer Flores (NYM) (26th round)
IF: Charlie Culberson (COL) (27th round)
IF: Nick Franklin (TB) (free agent)
SS: Addison Russell (CHC) (minors)
IF: Jurickson Profar (TEX) DL missed entire 2014 season
OF: A.J. Pollock (ARI) (21st round) (DL for most of B season)
OF: Cameron Maybin (SD) (25th round) released
OF: Anthony Gose (TOR) (free agent)
UT: Daniel Nava (BOS) (23rd round)
OF: Byron Buxton (MIN) (minors)

SP: Chris Capuano (NYY) (free agent)
RP: Danny Farquhar  (SEA) (24th round)
RP: Kirby Yates (TB) (29th round) eventually released

I have felt strong pressure to trade current (or recent) top prospects, Russell, Profar, and/or Buxton all season because a team with Votto and Tulowitzki needs to win NOW and not build for the future. However, I resisted because I believe all three are going to be very valuable talents. Plus, my all-stars got hurt and I assumed the B season would be another bust.

In any case, Russell and Profar are very young middle infielders who can seemingly hit like outfielders and Buxton is an excellent young hitter, with tremendous speed and looming power. I did trade away top power pitching prospect Archie Bradley at mid-season in a deal that returned Bailey. I received Nolan Arenado of the Rockies in a separate deal. Also, I traded long-time DH Billy Butler for closer Rodriguez.

At season's end, the draft and trades clearly went very well. As of today, September 13, Carter has hit 17 HRs since the all-star break, which leads the majors. Newly acquired Arenado has been a top 10 player and has 12 homers. Arcia and Dickerson have 11 homers each. These are top 20 figures in all of baseball. Each of the power hitters except Arcia is in the top 15 in slugging percentage, though that is not a category this league uses. Plus, Arcia has slugged over .500 himself.

Inciarte and Ramirez have 8 steals each, which puts them in the top 30 in baseball post-break. Gose has 10 steals, though he rarely plays on my team. Kipnis has 9 thefts. The team has plenty of speed and power, really.

In a league that still uses batting average, Loney has hit .320, which is a top 15 figure for the second half. Only about 25 players have hit .300 or better. Arenado, Carter, Dickerson and Inciarte have all hit between .283 and .296, placing them among the top 55 hitters for average.

Among starters with at least 35 innings pitched, Cobb has the lowest ERA in baseball in the second half. Shoemaker is in the top 10. Hughes has also been terrific. Indeed, all three of those starters are among the top 20 second half pitchers in WHIP. Bailey (1.61 ERA) and Skaggs (3.18) pitched very effectively, but in only 7 total starts before being derailed by injury. Potentially, the pitching could have been even better as Archer and Hellickson have had ERAs between 3.75 and 4.00.

Thanks to trades and injuries, the Sluggers now have 3 closers in the bullpen.

Is this a championship team? Maybe. Surprisingly.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Twenty-five years ago today, my spouse and I saw the Rolling Stones live -- with Living Colour as the warmup group. I've found several different websites that claim to have the setlist. This is from (it is supposed to automatically update when edited):

This one, slightly different, is from someone who has a recording:

01. Continental Drift
02. Start Me Up
03. Bitch
04. Sad Sad Sad
05. Undercover Of The Night
06. Harlem Shuffle
07. Tumbling Dice
08. Miss You
09. Ruby Tuesday
10. Play With Fire
11. Dead Flowers
12. Mixed Emotions
13. Honky Tonk women
14. Midnight Rambler
15. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
16. Little Red Rooster
17. Before They Make Me Run
18. Happy
19. Paint It Black
20. Sympathy For The Devil
21. Gimme Shelter
22. It’s Only Rock’N’Roll
23. Brown Sugar
24. Satisfaction
25. Jumping Jack Flash

And has one too.

At the time, I thought the Stones were rapidly becoming old men. Mick Jagger was 46 and Keith Richards would turn 46 later that year. Now, I'm one full sabbatical cycle older than that. Gulp.

Of course, Jagger and Richards are now 71 and 70 and still going strong. Below, you can watch their performance of "Miss You" from a concert they performed in Hyde Park during mid-summer 2013. That song was the first cut on an album released in 1978 when I was in high school. Indeed, based on the tape's presence in my car's 8-track player, you could say it was the soundtrack to my high school experience. A few months ago, I watched the Hyde Park concert film on television:

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Sally Ride Book

Sally Ride

Lynn Sherr's book about Sally Ride has now been published, but I have not yet seen it. I have read a couple of reviews, including this one in the July/August The American Prospect.

Sally Ride and I were both fellows at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation beginning in September 1987 and Sherr interviewed me about the experience some time ago. Google Books tells me that my interview figured into a page or two of the book (see chapter 9).

I'm not sure if Sherr recounted my favorite story, but Ride really embarrassed a Reagan administration official visiting CISAC and selling a version of the Strategic Defense Initiative. He was talking about elements of a space-based system that would have required payloads larger than the U.S. boosters had. Ride nailed him with a couple of simple questions.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday dog blogging

It's been over a year since I posted pics of our dogs, Paddy and Robey. The siblings turned 9 years old in July and have spent about half of this August in the kennel thanks to family travel.

According to my youngest daughter, the dogs are quite attentive and photogenic when you say the word "treat" first.

Paddington on the left and Darrowby on the right.
This is the dogs on their return from one of August's three separate kennel visits. They travel back-and-forth in the rear of a Honda Fit, with a bar preventing them from leaping into the backseat:

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Touring Scotland

As you might have noticed in my twitter feed (in the right-hand column), I was in Scotland August 4-8 and again August 12-15. The first week, three-fourths of my family was in Edinburgh attending the annual Fringe Festival. Our youngest daughter, though a recent graduate, was performing in a production with her high school theater company. They staged "Our Town, Louisville" four times over the course of the week.

You can see some photos and a playbill here for their show, cleverly "derived" from Thornton Wilder's "Our Town":
In Edinburgh, my wife and I had a busy week. For example, it was exhausting and exhilarating walking the Royal Mile during Fringe:

We also visited the famous castle. The blue seats outside it are for the nightly Royal Military Tattoo, which my daughter's high school group attended:

This was one of the highlights of the National Museum of Scotland. It's one of Jackie Stewart's cars (they had at least two on display):

After a journey south over the weekend to Brighton to attend a baptism for the latest twins in the family, a nephew and niece, I returned to Dundee, Scotland for the Words and Images conference I blogged about last week.

The first night, I visited the BrewDog and had a tasty pint of Punk IPA. I had actually already had a pint in the Hanging Bat, a fine beer cafe in Edinburgh.

The second night, I attended a Scotch tasting organized as an "extra" for the conference. Here's the setup before the event:

After the tasting, we watched Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share" and tasted some beer. I tried the Joker IPA, of course, given that my Batman paper focused on "The Dark Knight." 

Earlier on Wednesday, I visited the "Yes" hub in Dundee. The guy I talked to assured me that "yes" on Scottish independence referendum was going to win in Dundee and he thought it would win in all of Scotland. The vote is September 18. I'm curious as a political scientist, but I obviously don't really know enough to comment about the issues or the predicted victory:

I may blog a bit more about Scottish nationalism if I get a chance. This image hangs in the National Museum in Edinburgh:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bat Signal

This week, I'm attending my first Words and Images conference in Dundee, Scotland. Specifically, it is the joint Tenth International Association of Word and Image Studies Conference (I'm now a 3-year member) and Twenty-First Annual Scottish Word and Image Group Conference: "Riddles of Form: Exploration and Discovery in Word and Image" (that links to the full program).

My paper is slated for the film panel Thursday afternoon: "The Dark Knight: Science and the National Security State." Here's the abstract:
The crime-fighting character Batman was created 75 years ago; yet, his age has not been an impediment to achieving tremendous recent successes in popular culture. The two latest “Dark Knight” films, released in 2008 and 2012, rank among the top 20 highest grossing films worldwide. Strangely, Batman is a super-hero without a physical superpower. Indeed, his successes are largely due to the development and application of scientific and technical achievements. This paper analyzes and explains the importance of Batman’s application of various scientific discoveries in “The Dark Knight” and other popular Batman films. Specifically, I argue that the most recent version of the Dark Knight reflects the dubious nature of the war on terror. To counter the threats he encounters in Gotham City, Batman is willing to employ an electronic spying device that appears to emulate the remarkable capabilities of the U.S.  National Security Agency. In addition to secretly monitoring electronic communications, Batman also employs various weapons and transportation technologies that make possible the extrajudicial rendition of foreign nationals and the enhanced interrogation of prisoners. Ultimately, these applications of science challenge the legitimacy of Batman’s crime-fighting efforts, in much the same way the aims of America’s “war on terror” were undercut by similar methods. 
You can find the paper at my webpage.

The paper owes a debt to my blog post about The Dark Knight back in August 2008 and to my recent use of the film in my class on Global Politics Through Film.

While writing the paper, I discovered this similar argument. John Ip, however, primarily argues that the film reveals the practical limits of torture, rendition, and surveillance. My argument is more critical and normative.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

At least he didn't mention Munich....

A few days ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin E. Dempsey said the following at the Aspen Security Forum (full text here):
“You’ve got a Russian government that has made the conscious decision to use its military force inside of another sovereign nation to achieve its objectives -- first time, I think, probably, since 1939 or so that that’s been the case,”
To some readers, the remark fails the laugh test even though no one in the room apparently laughed.

In that last link, former Reagan Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts is hot and bothered that the United States is demonizing Russia and Vlad Putin in apparent preparation for war -- and he means World War III, all caps and Roman numerals. The title of his post (which I received somehow in my email) is "The World Is Doomed By Western Insouciance; don’t expect to live much longer."

That title didn't fail the laugh test as I chuckled when reading it. That's why I put it in bold.

Anyway, Roberts notes that the U.S. has been using its military force inside of other countries a great deal just in the post-cold war era. Think Bush in Iraq or Obama's drone war in "Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen." Thus, how could anyone say this is the first time a country has used its military inside another since 1939?

Is that what Dempsey meant? Was he saying that no state since 1939 had militarily intervened in another state like Putin's Russia has in Ukraine? If so, that would be profoundly stupid.

However, it's pretty clear that Dempsey was saying Russia hadn't intervened in this way since 1939.

In context, his statement was in a Q&A conducted by Lesley Stahl of CBS News. She had asked Dempsey about ISIS in the question before and then said:
MS. STAHL:  OK, let’s switch to Ukraine and Russia.  There were reports today that the Russians were firing from Russian territory into Ukraine.  How does that change the situation, if it does? 
GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I think it -- I think it does change the situation.  I mean, you’ve got -- you know, you’ve got a Russian government that has made the conscious decision to use its military force inside of another sovereign nation to achieve its objectives -- first time, I think, probably, since 1939 or so that that’s been the case.  So you’ve got -- you’ve got -- in my view, you’ve got a very different security environment inside of Eastern Europe. 
The problem for Dempsey is that even by more generous reading, the claim is still pretty stupid.

Just Russia now: Hungary 1956. Czechoslovakia 1968. Afghanistan 1979.

AFGHANISTAN 1979 until 1989.

Georgia 2008.

So maybe Roberts has a point about the laugh test.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Racial injustice

If you haven't read it yet, then I recommend you give some time to "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was the cover story in The Atlantic in June.

On the same theme, here's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, the Staple Singers performing "When Will We Be Paid (For the Work We've Done)?" live in 1971.

In 3 minutes, the song effectively communicates a similar message. Lyrics.

And since it's baseball Hall of  Fame induction day, you might also check out "42" on DVD. It's the story of Jackie Robinson -- and to some extent, Branch Rickey. It focuses on real events from 1946 and 1947 when Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

I had put off watching the film for at least a year because I was afraid that the story would be Disney-fied and therefore gloss over the injustices faced by Robinson. It was almost certainly softened a bit for contemporary mass audiences, but the film does reveal a sample of the disgusting overt racism prevalent at the time. Movie critic Richard Roeper wrote a thoughtful review explaining the film's value even with these limitations. Roeper gave it 3 of 4 stars and that sounds about right to me. Here's the Metacritic summary.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

15 years ago...

July 23, 1999, an old friend and I attended a game in Yankee Stadium. New York beat Cleveland 9-8 that night in just over 4 and a half hours. Long game.

Photo credit: Paul Parker

This might be a good time to mention Hardball Passport.  If you save old baseball tickets stubs from games you attended (they also have a basketball site, with football coming soon), you can easily retrieve details of the games you attended. Here is my list. I attended some games in the early 1970s that are not yet covered by the website and many, many minor league games that are not in their database -- many from the late 1990s and early- to mid-2000s. Oh, I've also apparently lost some tickets stubs from college. They don't seem to have exhibition games either, at least not from 1987 when I saw 8 games in 7 days in Spring Training in Florida.

The website likewise doesn't show that I attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies two days after that Yankee game in Cooperstown, New York. I went because of George Brett, though Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were also inducted that weekend (along with four others nominated by the Veterans Committee: Orlando Cepeda, Nestor Chylak, Frank Selee, and Joe Williams).

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Friday, July 04, 2014

Dave Alvin - "4th of July"

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American History Through Family Ties

I believe that this is the headstone of my great, great, great grandfather, buried in Clear Run Cemetery Bridgeton, Indiana.  That's about 150 miles from where I live. If correct, his descendants made their way to Kansas just before the Civil War began.

As you may notice, James Payne died on July 4, 1884.

That was exactly 130 years ago today.

If the information at a grave site website is accurate (James Payne (1799 - 1884) - Find A Grave Memorial), then I'm descended from a Payne family from colonial-era Virginia. James's father Augustine fought in the Revolutionary War and also moved to Indiana (in 1835).

I'm definitely descended from George Daily Payne, who is supposed to be James's son, but George (my great grandfather) was born when James was 58 years old. That's 5 years older than I am now and is difficult to imagine. Moreover, the gravestone says that James's wife's name was Sarah Webster (married 1829), but the alleged son's webpage says that his mother was Maria Daily Payne. Given that George was born 28 years after the marriage between James and Sarah....then Maria could have been a second wife. Why is Sarah on the gravestone, but not Maria?

I think someone has made an error.

The accurate information seems to be that James Young Payne, married to Sarah Webster, is actually George's grandfather and his father was James Webster Payne, who married Maria Daly. George was in Kansas by the 1860 census, but the record indicates that he was born in Indiana, apparently in 1857. That would have been a violent time to be in Kansas, actually.

Kansas became a state in January 1861.

So there's some history.