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Monday, March 31, 2014

Opening Day 2014

Baseball's opening day should be a personal holiday. This is "Joe Dimaggio Done It Again" by Billy Bragg and Wilco:

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Zombie Comedy at ISA 2014

This morning at 8:15, I participated in an Active Learning panel at the 2014 International Studies Association  Annual Meeting. Specifically, I presented a paper on "Using Zombie Comedies to Teach Critical International Relations Theory." That link takes you to my page, where you can also find previous papers from my "Comedy of Global Politics" project, including a couple on teaching.

Feedback welcome. Basically, I argue that zombie comedies undermine the standard narrative employed in the genre. The stories are not dominated by survival under anarchy. Rather, the characters in Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and Warm Bodies seek stronger family and communal ties and deal with zombie threats rather easily (and cooperatively, as in a security community). Elite lifestyles turn out to be unsustainable.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 NCAA Tourney

I'll post my bracket here in the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, I encourage readers to join me in the Yahoo! Sports Tournament Pick'em group, "Payne Twitter-Blog Followers":

I'm not sure if I have to provide more detailed sign-in information or not. The name of the private group is "Payne Twitter-Blog Followers" and the group slogan is "Who will defeat Wichita State?" The group, which uses the standard Yahoo! scoring system, can be found among the various groups associated with Kansas. Rock chalk!

Again, I don't know if you need a password to join.  You can apparently sign in with your Facebook or Twitter account -- without a password for the group.

Update: This is my bracket for the blog. In most competitions, I picked Florida to win:

Watch to watch Kansas play? First-round watch-party for Jayhawk fans:

KU vs Eastern Kentucky
Friday, March 21st at 4:10pm ET
Buckhead Bar & Grill
3020 Bardstown Rd
Louisville, KY 40245

I intend to be there, but I may not arrive until 4:30 to 4:45. for directions

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Monday, March 17, 2014

"Peace Through Strength"

Senator Kelly Ayotte

This morning, I attended a McConnell Center event featuring Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire. Though she recently sponsored popular bipartisan legislation, Ayotte delivered a highly partisan attack on the Obama administration's policy towards Russia.

Basically, Ayotte argued that the Obama's administration's "reset" policy toward Russia has been too conciliatory. Indeed, she said that this policy has failed and caused Vladimir Putin to take advantage of American weakness -- primarily in Ukraine. She emphasized these points as evidence of Barack Obama's weakness:
• "His decision in 2009 not to place NATO missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. 
• Obama’s choice in 2010 to “brush aside” the Russian invasion of Georgia, which happened during the George W. Bush administration, by pushing through a trade agreement with Russia.
• And Obama overlooking violations of one nuclear arms agreement at the same time the two countries were negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty."
She noted that despite American overtures to Russia, it has not been helpful in regard to the "humanitarian tragedy" in Syria or Iran's nuclear and missile programs. Plus, Russia has "a horrible record" on human rights.

In the question and answer session, Ayotte agreed with an audience member who claimed that the $17 trillion dollar national debt is America's number one concern. Indeed, Ayotte referenced Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen who said that the "biggest threat to our national security is our debt." Notably, the Senator's website has a debt meter on the front page.

Ayotte praised Ronald Reagan throughout her speech, but she definitely didn't emphasize either of the Bush presidencies.

Indeed, the partisan nature of the speech was as much about what Ayotte did not say as what she did say. Her attacks were pointed at the Obama administration, but she very carefully overlooked some pertinent details:
1. While Russia's attacks on Ukraine are a clear violation of international norms protecting state sovereignty, she did not mention the difficult rhetorical position the U.S. faces because of the Bush administration's adventure in Iraq. This has long been a problem, as I noted in 2008 in regard to Georgia.
2. Ayotte made passing reference to Georgia, but did not explain whether this Bush-era conflict should be tied to her overall argument about Russian adventurism, which she linked to American weakness. Was America weakened by more than a decade of fighting insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan? She didn't say.
3. Oh, about that debt. Ayotte didn't mention that Bush's tax cuts (which, granted, are mostly now Obama's as well), plus the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, played a huge role in the accumulation of the $17 trillion debt -- and will play an even bigger role in the accumulation of future debt. Did that weaken the US and embolden Putin in 2008? 
4.  About those missile defenses and the alleged INF arms control violation, Ayotte didn't mention that the Bush administration unilaterally killed the anti-ballistic missile defense treaty with Russia in 2002. Would anyone want Russia to do that with the INF or START treaties? No. All signs suggest both the US and Russia are implementing the new START accord. The INF allegation is new and the Obama team is attempting to sort out the details via diplomacy -- much like the Reagan administration did with an alleged violation of the ABM treaty in the 1980s. 
By the way, Western European states favored the decision to scrap the missile defense system she mentions, primarily because the U.S. is aiming to deploy instead an alternative technology that many defense experts believe will be superior technology (Aegis on land).
5. Ayotte also didn't mention Russia's help in getting Syria to agree to eliminate its chemical arsenal. Or the role it plays in trying to prevent Iran nuclear weapons. Russia doesn't want a nuclear-armed Iran. 
Finally, Ayotte's policy suggestions didn't really offer new ideas to the debate -- or even ideas that are significantly different from the status quo. Today was all about carping about alleged weakness, not suggesting actual policy that would provide new leverage over Russia:
In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Ayotte stopped short of calling for military intervention, but she urged Obama to order a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions sanctions on Russia.
Ayotte called for the U.S. and the world community to “alienate” Putin, to increase natural gas production in an effort to cut off Russia economically and to “revisit” the decision not to put missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Ayotte also backed freezing bank accounts and blocking visas for Putin’s top aides — which Obama had done earlier in the day.
The G-8, a group of the top industrialized nations, also may expel Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
Ayotte did call for more American military assistance to Ukraine, so that the country could defend itself -- and opposed the proposed defense cuts that are under discussion in Washington as part of planned deficit reduction.

The Senator openly agreed with many policies already taken -- she would not take military action, approves of some US signals with its military, etc. Indeed, the links I included above in her proposals point to policies the U.S. is already taking or considering.

Really, the conclusion was very bland given the "peace through strength" vision of Reagan she offered throughout the speech. It was as if an '80s defense hawk had ended a talk on the "window of vulnerability" by emphasizing that the U.S. should build bomber aircraft and nuclear submarines to supplement its arsenal....Oh wait, we already had those, so land-based missile vulnerability probably wouldn't cause world war III. .

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins
Does everyone remember an old joke about Michael Jordan from the 1980s? I first heard it while living in Chicago, but I'm sure it must originate from his North Carolina days:
Question: Who's the one man that can hold Jordan under 20 points per game?
Answer: Dean Smith (coach of Jordan's North Carolina Tar Heels) **
Well, Kansas Jayhawk basketball fans might soon be telling a similar joke about freshman star Andrew Wiggins.
Question: Who's the one man on the court who can hold Wiggins under 20 points per game?  
Answer: Joel Embiid
Embiid, Kansas's star 7' center has missed four games this season thanks to back injuries. In those games, teammate Wiggins has scored almost 100 points, averaging 24.3 per game. In the last two Kansas games, Wiggins has scored over 70 points and hit 21 of 35 shots. He's also averaged 8 rebounds in both games, plus had 5 total blocks to go with 8 steals. He's been a genuine athletic force and has dominated both games for long stretches of time.

KU vs. OK-State 3/1/14
Wiggins's seasonal scoring average is now up to 17.3 points.

Embiid has a stress fracture in his back and may not play again this season; thus, the apparent leap forward by Wiggins is a hopeful development for Kansas.

Wiggins has occasionally looked like the best player on the basketball court in Kansas games this year, but that has been much easier to see this week with Embiid sitting on the bench. Losing the star center doesn't make Kansas a better overall team, but it has highlighted the talent of his more highly recruited teammate.

I'm not saying that Wiggins is ready for the NBA. Frankly, I don't really care except that his presence in Lawrence and on the court would almost surely make Kansas a stronger team next season. I do recall that long-time NBA all-star Paul Pierce was a much better all-around Jayhawk player by his sophomore and junior seasons than he was during his less steady freshman year. I think he's the most comparable Jayhawk to Wiggins in my memory. He is also reminiscent of Ben McLemore, of course, but I thought the talented McLemore left with some holes in his game that another year at Kansas would have helped fix.

** Yes, I know Jordan tallied 20 points per game in his sophomore season at UNC.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Tourney Month

The madness of March basketball is about to begin. While I'm a Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan, let's not forget another KU strength:

The 2014 National Debate Tournament is going to be held at Indiana University in Bloomington, March 28-31. I'm hoping to drop by to wish the 'hawks luck, though I might go the prior weekend for the CEDA (Cross Examination Debate Association) national tournament.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscars for 2013 Films

Oscar statuettesThe Oscars are tonight and my wife and I have been using our leisure time these past few weeks to view nominated films and acting performances. Regular readers may recall that I saw only one of the films nominated for best picture during the 2013 calendar year. Until 2014, I didn't see many of the nominated acting performances either.

In any case, based on my 2014 efforts to see the 2013 contenders, I'm going to rank-order the films and acting performances. Obviously, this is my completely subjective perspective -- and not an ideal way to think about art. Plus, I can only rank the performances I watched. That is a big limit since I failed to see four of the Oscar-nominated Best Picture nominees -- including "Wolf of Wall Street" and "12 Years a Slave."

Note that these are not my predictions about winners in each category. Go to Inkling if you want predictions.  Spoiler Alert: "12 Years a Slave" is a fairly strong favorite, though Cate Blanchett is probably the strongest favorite. Louisville's Jennifer Lawrence might win another Academy Award, but she is no longer the favorite.

Note: Most of the Documentaries have been available on Netflix for many weeks.

Update note: Shaded yellow will indicate additions/edits after the Oscars (and the original blog posting).

Best Picture

12 Years a Slave (DVD January 2015)
American Hustle **
Nebraska **
Dallas Buyers Club
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street (DVD June)
Her (DVD July)
Philomena (DVD July)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena DVD)

Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

Best Director

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best Documentary Feature

20 Feet from Stardom (Nominees to be determined) (Netflix February 2015)
Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher)
Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill)

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen)
The Square (Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer)

** I saw these films in the theater.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


I spent much of my Saturday afternoon watching a baseball game between two teams that were in last year's College World Series, University of Indiana and University of Louisville.

Indiana won  three of the teams' four match-ups last season, including the first round game in the CWS, and the Hoosiers won again Saturday 6-2. 

Nonetheless, the temperature was in the 50s and Jim Patterson Stadium is beautiful:

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