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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books of 2016


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 read 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 include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari). 


Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan by Dana Burde

How Bill James Changed Our View of the Game of Baseball ed by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

Crazy '08 How a Cast of Cranks Rogues Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2016, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was again edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.

Of these non-fiction books, the Burde book really stands out and it won the 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Though the work focuses on the role of education in US foreign policy towards Afghanistan, it is more widely applicable to education policy in other nations.

I was somewhat disappointed in the Frankfurt book. It was undoubtedly a good political year to read it, but it was kind of dull. I'd heard of the book more than a decade ago and the original essay was written in 1985. Watch the video linked here to see Frankfurt interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show years ago.

I read the Murphy book because it seemed like 2016 was going to be the Cubs year to end their losing ways. And it was. However, in truth, I kept falling asleep late at night reading the rich detailed history of the 1908 season. It is interesting if you like baseball history, but I could have used a more compact version.

The Festschrift for Bill James had some interesting passages, and it was a quick read, but it does not include a lot of new information for the savvy baseball fan.


As I traditionally do, 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.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

If He Hollers by Chester Himes

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Joyland by Stephen King

The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

Borrowed Time by Robert Goddard

Early Autumn by Robert Parker

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly 

The Zebra-Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald

Black Betty by Walter Mosley

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald

The Jugger by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

To the Hilt by Dick Francis

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Jimmy the Kid by Donald Westlake

The Fountain and Updike books are definitely the cream of the crop here. I highly recommend Fountain's tale of a young war hero home for a PR junket to help market the war on terror. It is incisive and very well-written. Updike's Rabbit Angstrom is an interesting character who deserved another book. Put simply, Updike was a master. The book set in the 1980s mentions both Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

I again read a couple of prominent science fiction works this year, books that true fans probably finished years ago (long before they were my age). Xenocide was OK, but the first book in the Ender universe is difficult to top. Earth Abides is definitely a classic, but some of it seems a little dated now. 

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, Mosley's Easy Rawlins, Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer.

Spencer and McGee are starting to confront their position in life. Grafton seems to get better with every book.

Several of the books near the bottom have comedic elements -- but the jokes don't always work.

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Monday, December 26, 2016


Agnes Augusta (Ard) Payne was born October 1, 1939, into a very large family of seven children. Agnes was a common family name, as her grandmother McFayden was named Agnes, as was a cousin, and a direct ancestor (Agnes Scott) who lived in the early 1800s  in Scotland.

Ultimately, her family would include five brothers (Elmer "Buster," Merle, Jack, Ed and Bobby) and four sisters (Ethel, Lois, Edith and Verna). She also had two step-siblings from her father's previous marriage. The family lived in a modest-sized house in Osage City, Kansas.

Mom told few stories of her childhood and youth in the small town. She was born towards the end of the Great Depression and the family was poor even by the standards of the time. She shared a bed with multiple siblings and typically wore hand-me-down clothes.

One of her most vivid shared memories of her childhood was watching televised boxing with her father. In high school, she missed an entire year with rheumatic fever. She kept up with her studies, however, and graduated in 1957 with her classmates.

At age 20, Mom married my father, Allen Payne, in July 1960. The Payne family had been neighbors in Osage City and Mom's older sister Ethel married one of my Dad's older brothers (Dean).

Allen Payne worked for a road construction company, so he and my mother soon began living a nomadic life across Kansas and parts of Oklahoma. I was born in August 1961 in Ulysses, Kansas, and my sister Gina was born in October 1962 in Emporia, Kansas. Gina was born only a day after my mother's 23rd birthday.

Sadly, Mom's parents died in 1961 and 1962. My sister and I did not know our grandparents, but had an enormous supply of aunts, uncles and first cousins.

As construction projects were completed, our family moved repeatedly in Kansas -- to Salina, Manhattan, Wichita, McPherson, Ottawa, Ponca City (Oklahoma), Osawatomie (for school, but the rural route home address was Paola), El Dorado, and Kingman. Neither my sister nor I had ever attended the same school more than two years in a row when we arrived in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, in summer 1977. I completed my final two years of high school there and my sister was able to complete her remaining three years.

Throughout those school years, Mom was the primary caregiver as my father worked long hours and often commuted great distances to the worksites. In the construction business, it was common to work six days per week when the weather was good because winter often shut everything down to a stop. As he got older, my father also took on increasingly demanding work responsibilities as he was promoted from laborer to equipment mechanic, to machine operator, to foreman, to supervisor, to executive.

Mom was responsible for integrating the children into new schools almost every year, as well as packing the household for the regular moves. When settled, she transported my sister and I to swim lessons, sports team practices, Brownies and Cub Scouts, bowling leagues, etc. She often did this without much of a social network since the entire family was new to the communities we joined.

As her children grew up and gained independence, Mom occasionally worked in light manufacturing. She worked in sewing factories on multiple occasions, making men's sports jackets and blue jeans. She also worked in a Venetian blind factory as some sort of inspector towards the end of the production process.

Mom was largely responsible for my career as an academic as she was a firm believer in the value of education. She used to help my sister and I prepare for tests and she always made sure our homework was completed. My father and mother set firm rules about bedtime and clearly instilled strong values in my sister and I. Mom often regaled shoe sales staff and clothing clerks with stories of her childrens' successes (this continued through grandchildren). If they listened patiently, they usually earned a sale.

Mom loved dogs and had a fear of cats developed in childhood. The family had a pekinese named Blondie in Wichita that ate only when my mother fed her. She was tolerant of a beagle named Droopy that my sister and I had through most of the 1970s. After I went to college, my parents adopted a part-chow named Sam and a larger mutt named Boots. Sam was friendly to everyone in the family, but Boots followed my mother everywhere.

Mom liked to sew and also crocheted until her worsening arthritis made this impossible. My family still owns several afghans that she made in the 1970s and 1980s. She enjoyed the works of Erma Bombeck and owned a small library of her books. Mom also liked music, especially country music. She was a fan of Mac Davis and Charlie Pride in the 1970s and advanced to Randy Travis in the 1980s. We saw Mac Davis perform live in Kansas City at Worlds of Fun in the 1970s. Mom often spoke favorably of Owasso neighbor Garth Brooks and I think she liked Carrie Underwood as well. She enjoyed gardening too and once had an enormous tomato patch (nearly 50 plants!) and canned a great deal of food.

Mom was a loving and doting grandmother to my children, born in 1993 and 1996, and to a slightly older grandson who was welcomed into the family upon my sister's marriage. A final granddaughter was born in 1998. Grandma and Grandpa Payne traveled frequently to see these grandchildren, provided an enormous amount of babysitting, and generously purchased all kinds of toys, shoes, clothing, and other necessities of childhood.

As my father's career advanced, my parents were able to abandon the nomadic lifestyle. Indeed, my mother lived in Oklahoma from 1977 until her death. Initially, she and my father purchased some rural property near Mannford, Oklahoma and lived there for several years in the mid-1980s. In 1986 or 1987, they purchased a home in Owasso where they lived until late 2004. After a brief stay in a rental apartment, they moved into their last house in 2005 and Mom lived there until she had a bad fall a few years ago. Dad died in October 2008 on Halloween. Save for the last few months of her life, Mom spent several years in an apartment in an assisted living facility near the famous Southern Hills golf course in Tulsa.

Unfortunately, Mom suffered creeping memory loss and some form of dementia. She had a bad fall in August, which landed her in the hospital with a broken arm and injured leg. Sometime in September she contracted a serious infection that sapped her strength and will to live. Indeed, Mom never fully recovered even after a second hospital stay in the autumn. She died on December 23, 2016.


Obituary here.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the:

Alzheimers Association
225 North Michigan Ave., FL. 17
Chicago, IL 60601

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dr. Strangelove's "Wargasm"

I forgot to blog about this, but back on November 4-5, I attended the annual ISAC-ISSS conference at Notre Dame University. If you are interested, my paper was entitled "Grappling with Dr. Strangelove’s Wargasm Fantasy," which was placed on a panel "Perspectives on Gender and Security."

Here's the abstract:
Dr. Strangelove continues to be one of the most acclaimed comedic films of all-time, often appearing on critics’ lists enumerating great films. Likewise, international relations experts commonly view the film as a “no brainer” choice among the most essential IR-themed movies. Dan Lindley’s 2001 Teaching Guide to Dr. Strangelove offers the standard rationale for studying this film. It can be “a springboard to discuss deterrence, mutually assured destruction, preemption, the security dilemma, arms races, relative versus absolute gains concerns, Cold War misperceptions and paranoia, and civil–military relations.” This paper considers critical theoretical concerns raised in the film that Lindley and others overlook. First, the film’s narrative is scripted as a satire or black comedy rather than as a tragedy or romance. This is a meaningful choice that strongly influences the way the film should be understood. Second, as film critic Tony Macklin argued decades ago (1964), the film can be viewed as a sex allegory, a dominant theme that has typically been ignored. Even director Stanley Kubrick acknowledged the film’s “sexual framework.” What does the film’s “Wargasm” imply about international relations and nuclear strategy?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Vicious cancer"

Conservatives in Washington have claimed that "personnel is policy" at least since the Reagan administration. If there is any truth to that maxim, then Americans might want to be worried about the announcement that retired Army three-star Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn will be Donald Trump's National Security Advisor.**

Why should Americans be uneasy about Flynn's advisory role in a Trump administration?

First, Flynn is one of those hawks who believes the US is in the midst of an unending war against radical Islam. In the words of the BBC, "Flynn believes the US is losing a global war against Islamist extremism that may last for generations." As national security journalist Eli Lake noted when reviewing Flynn's book, "the skeptical reader" might see Flynn's war against radical Islam as "a recipe for endless war."

While Donald Trump certainly campaigned as a hawk when discussing ISIS and terrorism, he also tried to signal that the US under his leadership would not make dumb decisions that would commit it to long and unwinnable wars. I believe this explains his criticisms of the Iraq war (including his repeated false claims that he opposed the war before it started -- and his similar false claims that he opposed US intervention into Libya and Syria).

Trump has clearly expressed opposition to nation-building and regime change. Moreover, he often tried to sound less hawkish than most of his political opponents during the election cycle (whether Republican or Democrat). In his foreign policy speech from April 2016, Trump said:
"I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must fight to win. I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary – and will only do so if we have a plan for victory. Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction 
....unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct....The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies."
Despite Trump's efforts to assure the voting public that he was opposed to many of America's recent wars, he has picked a National Security Advisor who seems to think the US is in for a war without end.

Second, Flynn seems to be a bona fide Islamophobe.  Politico recently quoted an unnamed "former senior intelligence official" saying that Flynn's "views on Islam are off the charts." How far off the charts?

The BBC again:
In February 2016, he [Flynn] tweeted "fear of Muslims is RATIONAL", while in July, he told the New York Post "the Islamic world is an epic failure" as he advocated his plan to beat radicalism. 
In August, he spoke at an event in Dallas, Texas, for an anti-Islamist group Act for America, saying that Islam "is a political ideology" and that it "definitely hides behind being a religion".
Perhaps worse, in that Dallas speech (video here), Flynn called Islam a "vicious cancer." Note, he said this about Islam, not radical Islam.

Islam is a religion of about 1.6 billion people on the planet. Wherever you are reading this, there are likely practicing Muslims in your town. Many famous athletes and celebrities are Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims currently serving in the US military. Members of Congress practice Islam.

I would also note that this kind of phrasing is inconsistent with what Trump himself has said about Islam. This is Trump in his ISIS speech in August 2016:
Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.
While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in Foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.
Our Administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices. of my first acts as President will be to establish a Commission on Radical Islam – which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.
Trump in his "Foreign Policy" speech in April 2016 claimed, "we’re going to be working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world, all of which are at risk from radical Islamic violence. We should work together with any nation in the region that is threatened by the rise of radical Islam."

After an unsteady start, George W. Bush was very careful not to describe the "war on terrorism" as a war on Islam. Famously, North Korea was one state listed in the "axis of evil." By contrast, in recent world history, Flynn's kind of loose talk linking a group of people to a disease or disease carrying insect has proven to be very dangerous. In the US, think of the pernicious red scare that led to blacklists of people labeled as "communists."

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has openly called for restarting the House Un-American Activities Committee.

That idea seems quite Un-American to me. However, it is the kind of idea fed by Flynn's loose talk about Islam.

**The National Security Advisor is a White House position that does not require Senate confirmation. Some presidents have leaned quite heavily on their National Security Advisor(s), while others have relied more on different personnel for policy advice and viewed this role as more managerial. Flynn campaigned for Trump and is often viewed as a close policy advisor.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

2016B OBFLB Champions

I've periodically posted draft results or season results from my two long-running fantasy baseball leagues. This is an update for one of those leagues.

Since 1991, I've owned the Louisville Sluggers in the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League (OBFLB), a 24 team online league that plays two seasons during each major league season. The second (half) season begins after the all star break and typically features 9 weeks of head-to-head competition by teams in three 8 team divisions. Everyone plays a round robin schedule, plus teams from the other divisions that are determined largely by first half performance with an eye toward equality. As it happens, one of the two teams I played during this out-of-division week was another divisional champion The Ballplayers in Arlington. My team lost that week.

Indeed, the Sluggers were certainly lucky to be in the playoffs. As measured by CBS's statistical Breakdown (universal head-to-head results), the Sluggers were the 7th best team in the league (only 8th prior to the playoffs). I tip my hat to Men of LA and Snoqualmie Spazmatics for having really good teams that failed to survive the short second half regular season.

The winners of the divisions and a single wild card team play against each other in the playoffs during the next to last week of the regular major league baseball season. Then, the winners of those head-to-head matchups play each other in the final week of the regular season to determine the World Series champion. The wild card team Theocracy (owned by a Cub fan, I believe) came from my division, so the Sluggers ended up beating all 3 of the playoff teams, including Theocracy in the final week of the regular season and a revenge rematch against TBiA in the first round of the playoffs.

In 2016B, the Louisville Sluggers ultimately won the championship against the Valley Dudes, a team managed by my friend Barry. I recruited him into the league long ago, but don't get the idea that this league is local. Generally, the owners are from across the US, though one team is operated from western Australia. I've only met a few of the owners face-to-face, but have known many of the owners online for 20+ years.

This was the Sluggers 8th World Series championship in a bit more than 50 (half) seasons of competition. No other team has more than 7 (Men of LA).

In this league, teams submit lineup cards to prioritize 9 hitters (at 8 defensive positions, plus DH), 5 starting pitchers (minimum 4), and 3 relief pitchers (minimum 2). Through the week, the teams compete in 10 categories, including batting average, home runs, stolen bases, plate appearances, runs produced average ((R+RBI-HR)/ABs), pitching wins, saves, innings pitched, ERA and WHIP. We award 2 points per victory, with each team receiving 1 point for a tie.

The Sluggers won the Series 12-6-2 (so 13-7). Here's the line score from CBS, our stats service:



The 2016B World Series was closer than the final 13-7 score looked. In the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, Adam Wainwright was working on a shutout and had put the Valley Dudes narrowly in front in ERA. Had the pitcher been able to hold that ERA lead and attain a pitching victory (the Cardinals easily won this game 10-4), the final World Series score would have been 10-10 and Dudes would have won because of the Breakdown tiebreaker. Valley Dudes were a better team through the season.

However, the Pirates lucked into a couple of baserunners with 2 outs and then Andrew McCutcheon got a huge RBI hit that cemented the ERA category for the Sluggers. Wainwright left the game before the Cards built a big lead and that sealed the deal.

Incidentally, Wainwright was not listed as a starter last week by the Dudes manager, but was forced into action when Tiger starting pitcher Matt Boyd was skipped in the rotation thanks to a rainout against Cleveland.

The World Series heroes for the Sluggers played mostly on offense. Joey Votto batted .419 in the Series and slugged 3 HRs. Rookie Byron Buxton hit 2 HRs with a .571 RP, completing his strong final Sept/Oct (9 HRs, .287 BA, with 1 SB. and .327 RP in 113 PA). Four other Sluggers hit a homer, including star 3B Nolan Arenado.

On the pitching side, youngsters Mike Foltynewicz and Blake Snell (in a start shortened by rain) combined with the bullpen to throw nearly half the team's innings for the week, allowing only 1 ER and a 0.77 WHIP. Chris Archer also had a good start and earned a much-needed victory.

Below, you can find my lineup card. I'm putting my mid-season retained players ("keepers") in bold red text and noting draft round or free agent acquisitions status for all other players. the draft is 28 rounds, but begins with round 8 as all teams ahve to keep at least 7 teams. I kept 10 players, so my draft started round 11.

C: Zunino SEA (round 22)
    Navarro TOR (round 24)

1B: Votto CIN
     Marte LAA (round 25)
     Gosselin ARI (round 27)

2B: Kipnis CLE
    Russell CHC
    Gosselin ARI

3B: Arenado COL
     Marte LAA
     Gosselin ARI
SS: Russell CHC
    Tulowitzki TOR
    Gosselin ARI

OF: Schebler CIN (free agent)
OF: Buxton MIN
OF: Santana MIL (round 23; released, reacquired as free agent)
    Benintendi BOS (round 11)
    Marte LAA
    Kim BAL  (round 15)
    Guyer CLE (round 19)
    Gosselin ARI

DH: Tulowitzki TOR
    Benintendi BOS
    Marte LAA
    Kim BAL
    Guyer CLE
    Gosselin ARI
    Navarro TOR

SP: Archer TB
SP: Smyly TB
SP: Snell TB (round 13)
SP: De Leon LAD (round 12)
SP: Foltynewicz ATL (round 18)
SP: Conley MIA (round 14)
SP: Dickey TOR (round 16)
SP: Andriese TB (round 20)
SP: Skaggs LAA  (round 21)
RP: F Rodriguez MIL
    Dyson TEX
    Feliz HOU (round 26)
    Law SF
    Conley MIA
    my SP, in order listed above

I released these draft picks during the season:

OF Rasmus HOU (round 17)
OF Taylor WAS (round 28)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Threat inflation in Russia

While America ponders and laments its 2016 presidential choices, I'm again sorting through old clippings torn from magazines. This snippet seems especially pertinent as it is from a profile of Vladimir Putin, published about a year ago in Time. As I've noted before, Putin's consolidation of power has depended at least in part upon fear appeals.

Donald Trump (and other conservatives and/or Republicans) have been praising Putin for a couple of years now -- and, arguably, forming new policy proposals that are oddly aligned with Russia's interests. For example, the Republicans platform went soft on Russian involvement in Ukraine and Trump often says NATO is obsolete.

Essentially, the Time story linked above notes that the bureaucratic structure Putin has created foments threat inflation:
Most of the top jobs in the security services, the government and the powerful state corporations went to the members of Putin’s St. Petersburg circle, which came to form the core of what Minchenko calls the Politburo 2.0. The structure of this body differs drastically from its Soviet incarnation. Whereas the old Communist Party bosses met regularly to decide the affairs of the state together, Putin keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet all at once. This helps prevent any groups from creating a coalition against him, and it also “makes Putin indispensable as the point of balance,” says Minchenko. “Without him the system doesn’t work, because everyone is connected through him personally.” 
But there are major drawbacks. As the rival factions compete for Putin’s attention, they tend to exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. The intelligence services, for instance, might overstate the threat from foreign spies, while the oil and gas tycoons might play up the danger of competitors in the energy market. When Putin meets separately with each of these factions, “he hears from all sides that there are threats everywhere,” says the political consultant Kirill Petrov, who has worked with Minchenko in mapping the elites. “It’s not a healthy atmosphere.”
The story's main point is that Putin is an autocrat, which makes him a strange figure for Americans to emulate:
One of the figures in Minchenko’s diagram, the senior counselor to Putin who spoke on condition of anonymity, concedes that this informal system of relationships breeds paranoia. But the system’s bigger flaw is its total dependence on just one man. “It is power without institutions,” says the adviser. “It means we have no solid ground beneath us.” The state is Putin, and Putin is the state.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Presidential politics goes nuclear

This "daisy ad" from 1964 is infamous, though it aired only once (but see also this ad for more context from that campaign cycle). I've showed this ad many times in my classes:

A super-PAC supporting Hillary Clinton is going to run the following ad in a number of swing states this election cycle -- Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

I'm not 100% sure that ad is all that effective. Read this piece and watch the accompanying videos to understand the context for this ad. People who have paying attention to the campaign for months (high information voters) already know this material, but those not paying attention (low information voters) won't get enough content from the new ad.

Will it resonate emotionally?

I'll close by quoting a (former?) Republican hero:

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
Ronald Reagan, 1984 State of the Union

H/T to Patrick Caldwell. 

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Trump on Iraq

Last night, as he repeatedly has, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed to Matt Lauer on national television that he was an opponent of the Iraq war prior to its start in March 2003:
“I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from '04, before that,” Trump told Matt Lauer during NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” Wednesday night, responding to a criticism Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made earlier in the evening that Trump was not being honest about his position.
On September 11, 2002, Trump was interviewed on Howard Stern's radio program. At about the 1:40 mark of the audio embedded in the video below, Stern asks him directly if he is in favor of invading Iraq. Trump said, "Yeah, I guess so. Uh, you know, I wish the first time it was done correctly."

As the Washington Post reported today, Trump also seemed to support the war when it was initially underway. He certainly wasn't hinting that it was going to be a long and costly disaster:
In an interview with Fox News one day after the March 2003 Iraq invasion, Trump praised the effort while talking about the war’s impact on Wall Street. 
“Well, I think Wall Street’s waiting to see what happens, but even before the fact they’re obviously taking it a little bit for granted, and it looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint, and I think this is really nothing compared to what you’re gonna see after the war is over,” Trump told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
This is the most revealing line in the WaPo story, addressing the media's coverage of this year's presidential election: "[Trump's] claim has been repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers, though Lauer did not press him on the issue."

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Friday, September 02, 2016

Summertime Blues

I didn't blog at all in August and I'm not sure that a full month has ever previously elapsed without at least one post.

July ended with great sadness. My mother-in-law, Donna Courtney died far too young. She was a remarkably loving and generous person, now constantly missed by her family and friends.

My wife and I traveled to Michigan in early August, partly for a brief vacation and partly to retrieve our youngest daughter, who had worked at camp at Interlochen through the summer.

Almost immediately after returning from Michigan, I made an unexpected trip to Tulsa as my mother had fallen and broken her arm. Days after that travel was completed, I helped move my oldest daughter to Chapel Hill, NC, where she began graduate school. I got back the evening of August 19, having spent 11 nights of the month away from home.

The University of Louisville kicked off the fall semester in mid-August and I've already been attending (or often leading) numerous meetings and teaching a graduate class.

That summary explains the lack of blogging.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The UofL Foundation President

University of Louisville President James Ramsey resigned this past week, though he offered to continue serving in that capacity through the end of the academic year (at the same generous level of compensation he had been receiving). The Board of Trustees declined to accept that offer and he was immediately replaced by an interim President, Interim Provost Neville Pinto -- a choice apparently mandated by the University's "Redbook".

The day after this occurred, Ramsey reported to work at Grawemeyer Hall as President of the University of Louisville Foundation. For those not paying close attention, it has largely been the UofL Foundation that has paid Ramsey millions of dollars annually over the past few years.

The Foundation's bylaws make clear how every member and officer of its Board of Directors is appointed. The University President is automatically a Director; thus, Pinto presumably replaces Ramsey as a voting member of the Foundation Board when it next meets in September. Some Foundation Board members serve because they are UofL Board members. The Foundation bylaws make clear that once a person is no longer serving UofL in these capacities, the person is no longer a voting director on the Foundation Board.

The President of the Foundation is a Board-elected one-year position that does not have to be filled by a director. The Foundation Board could end the relationship with Ramsey almost immediately, as reported by WDRB reporter Chris Otts:
Ramsey acknowledged Thursday that because he resigned from the university, the foundation board can terminate his employment with no financial consequences.  But he said he hopes to convince the foundation directors to keep him on.
Note going forward that it is very unusual for any American Foundation leaders to earn more than about $130,000 annually. Indeed, Foundation leaders who are paid even $190,000 are in the 90th percentile for the position. Also, the IRS looks askance at very high payments to salaries for non-profit leaders. From section 4 of that linked IRS publication on Governance:
A. Executive compensation. A charity may not pay more than reasonable compensation for services rendered. Although the Internal Revenue Code does not require charities to follow a particular process in determining the amount of compensation to pay, the compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and others in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the charity should be determined by persons who are knowledgeable in compensation matters and who have no financial interest in the determination. Organizations that file Form 990 will find that Part VI, Section B, Line 15 asks whether the process used to determine the compensation of an organization’s top management official and other officers and key employees included a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision. 
James Ramsey was very well compensated as a University President, but it is hard to see a case for continued generous compensation as a mere Foundation President.

Leadership Disarray

All of the administrative changes mentioned above are somewhat clouded by a Kentucky court-imposed injunction yesterday ruling that Governor Matt Bevin's newly constituted UofL Board (the one that accepted Ramsey's resignation earlier in the week) is NOT the University's Board any more. The Board that Bevin claims to have dissolved (as opposed to firing, which would have been illegal without a hearing for each trustee) is again THE UofL Board. Of course, it is short several members as it has been since late March when the Governor argued (persuasively) that the Board in place at the time violated state law because it had too little minority representation. The University apparently again has a Board in place that has refused to act on personnel issues (tenure and promotion cases, new tenure track hires) since late March because of its lack of minority representation.

Some members of the now reconstituted UofL Board served also on the Foundation, by the bylaws of that institution. They had already been dismissed, so the operational status of both entities is in disarray. The judge issuing the injunction did state that the ruling would not change actions Bevin's Board had taken, such as accepting Ramsey's resignation. However, Bevin's Board had not approved a proposed 5% tuition increase and the old Board had explicitly rejected that proposed increase back in early June.

The University is in the new fiscal year without a firm budget and clear notion of the cost of tuition. Classes start in four weeks. Without a tuition increase, planned faculty and staff pay raises could only be funded by deeper cuts in other University budgets -- or perhaps Foundation contributions. Many jobs will likely be eliminated if additional cuts are needed. The inability to operate is a disaster and Government Bevin could prolong this disaster indefinitely by failing to add members to the old Board. Based on his immediate reaction to the injunction ruling, Bevin's office plans to appeal the ruling.

Foundation Leadership and Accountability

The University of Louisville Foundation is an important supplemental source of University funding, particularly vital in a time of crisis. Should the Foundation retain James Ramsey as President in this time of need?

I blogged several months ago about the poor performance of the University's endowments . My spouse told me that my posting had been linked by friends and colleagues on Facebook -- and that some commenters there criticized elements of my argument. Some of the criticisms were certainly valid. After all, I compared University endowment performance to my personal investment performance, which has hinged on a "buy and hold" (and reinvest dividends) strategy that did not include withdrawals for spending.

The University needs asset growth in order to spend, but the overall endowment doesn't really need to grow as long as the investments are generating sufficient revenue to fund spending needs. The University needs to average 5.5% annual growth in order to fund endowed spending -- and then more than that to pay Foundation operating costs (including apparently millions of dollars in payments to top University leaders).

Note that President Ramsey and his supporters have often defended his performance as a fundraiser for the University, so a lack of growth in the overall size of the endowment either indicates that he has not really raised lots of new money or that the older investments have performed poorly.

As President, arguably, Ramsey had a leadership role for both tasks. Indeed, this is probably where I should have directed my criticism several months ago. The Foundation President seems like an appropriate person to hold accountable. According to the Foundation bylaws, the President:
...shall be the Chief Administrative Officer and General Manager of the Corporation.  He shall, in addition, perform such other and further duties and have such powers as are usually performed and possessed by similar officers of like corporations, whether stock or nonstock. The President is authorized to execute any instrument of writing for the Corporation and to act for it under any agency contract or agreement it may have with any corporate agent which at any time may be holding or administering any of its assets or endowment or trust funds; any such agent may assume that the President has authority to bind and act for this Corporation.
How has the Foundation/President performed managing its money -- or hiring the right managers to oversee Foundation funds?

I'll answer that question with an anecdote, but the story involves an endowment that is one of the largest in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Department of Political Science, which I have chaired since January 2012, includes the Center for Asian Democracy and an Aung Sun Suu Kyi endowed chair in Asian Democracy. The CAD and the chair are actually funded by two endowment accounts. One account was a late 1990s "bucks for brains" state-funded personnel line that was originally funded at $1 million or more. The other is a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Those grants and endowments date back to at least 2006. This is ambiguous because the "bucks for brains" account is older and may have previously been tied to a different endowed chair. As a result, when Political Science inherited the account in 2006, the endowment was worth about $1.5 million. The State Department monies arrived at Louisville in 2006 and were vested for a spending policy one year later.

The $5 million 2006 grant from the Department of State was worth only $4.113 million as of December 31, 2015. That's a key date because the University uses it to decide a spending policy for the following academic year. After a decade managing $5 million, the Foundation managed to lose (or spend) over 15% of its value.

Oh, and this wasn't simply because the endowment was created just before the Great Recession. As recently as December 31, 2013, the endowment was worth $5.066 million.

The DJIA closed at  16576.66 on December 31, 2013. On the same date in 2015, it closed at 17425.03. The stock market grew a bit more than 5% in that period, which is somewhat disappointing and obviously below the 5.5% annual return threshold needed to allow a full spending policy and preserve principal. However, the CAD endowment lost a substantial portion of its original principal, well beyond the spending policy.  Incidentally, the DJIA closed at 12463.15 in 2006, meaning the DJIA is up about 40% during the entire period of the CAD's existence. A well-managed account likely could have preserved almost all of the principal and achieved a sizeable chunk of a 5.5% annual spending policy. A well-performing investment might have managed to increase the size of the account and the annual spending policy.

Clearly, University of Louisville Foundation investments have not been especially well-managed over the decade in question. Is the President of that entity going to be held to account?

What are people tied to endowed personnel lines supposed to do going forward?

The CAD endowment returned insufficient funds this year to pay even the endowed chair salary. Last year, CAD additionally employed a staff member to manage programming, two postdoc researchers, and a graduate research assistant.

Again, who should be held responsible for a decade of poor performance?

Given that endowments were down in 2015, James Ramsey personal assets grew substantially more than the Foundation's assets. And that's just based on his payments from the Foundation.

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