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Archive for November, 2007

Ask This Scientician!

[ 12 ] November 25, 2007 |

Michael Medved to join the Discovery Institute. Why doesn’t he deserve the wingnut welfare? It’s not as if his scientific credentials are worse than most other creationist wankers, and he can’t be worse at evolutionary biology than he is at film criticism.

Speaking of which, I was going to make fun of Medved for claiming that Redacted “could be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” (Having seen Snake Eyes, I find it very hard to believe that it’s even the worst movie Brian DePalma has ever directed.) However, in defending his claim that the soldiers in Redacted “sound like the cast of Rent acting like roughnecks,” Owen Gleiberman cites this example of “cringingly false badass dialogue”:

”You’re so goddamn white you wouldn’t wear yourself after Labor Day!”

If I understand correctly that the picture is supposed to be going for gritty realism, I’m not sure that I can entirely rule out the veracity of Medved’s claim…


Tales of the Sea: The Orzel Incident, Part III

[ 0 ] November 25, 2007 |

Part I

Part II

In World War II, submarine duty proved among the most deadly lines of work. Roughly 28000 German sailors died on U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, from a total force of 40000. 3500 Americans died on submarines, the highest percentage of any service arm during the war. C. Kenneth Ruiz, an American sailor, volunteered for submarine duty after serving on the cruiser Vincennes and seeing his shipmates permanently disabled after the Battle of Savo Island; he reasoned that submarines left almost no wounded. Shortly before the end of the war the Imperial Japanese Navy took the dangers inherent in the silent service a step farther, deploying miniature suicide submarines designed around the Type 94 torpedo. Submarines of all navies accounted for the destruction of almost 5000 ships of over 20 million tonnes. These losses included three battleships and over a dozen aircraft carriers. Over a thousand submarines were lost in action.

Given these statistics, the chances that the story of a ship in the most deadly line of work from the country with the highest casualty rate of war would end well were pretty low.

Orzel returned to Rosyth on April 18, 1940. After a short rest she undertook another patrol, then received a brief refit. Resistance in Norway continued through April and May, with Polish and French troops recapturing Narvik from the Germans on May 28. German offensive operations began in earnest on May 10, however, and the ensuing disaster in France made the Allied position in Norway untenable. The last British troops would leave Norway on June 2, a day before the evacuation at Dunkirk.

On May 23, 1940, ORP Orzel left Rosyth for a patrol near the Danish Straits. A message radioed to Orzel on June 1 was not confirmed as received by the crew. Similar message sent over the next week received nothing but silence. On June 8, Orzel was described as missing in action. On June 11, her status was changed to Lost in Action. As there is no German record of her destruction, she most likely perished in a minefield. It’s possible that Orzel was destroyed in a British minefield that had been laid after she left for her last patrol. A new German minefield had also been laid in her area of patrol. Her final fate remains unknown, and the wreck has not been found. Given that the North Sea is littered with the wrecks of lost submarines, it’s unlikely that any final determination of her loss will ever be made.

Orzel’s sister, Sep, had also escaped the German invasion of Poland. She attacked a German ship without success, and was severely damaged by a counter-attack. Instead of making for Estonia, Sep pulled into a Swedish port, where she was interned for the remainder of the war. At the end of the war, Sep was turned over to the new Communist government of Poland, and used as a training vessel until scrapped in 1969.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means…

[ 0 ] November 25, 2007 |

Mark Halperin, trying to fill column space while saying nothing at all:

Case in point: Our two most recent presidents, both of whom I covered while they were governors seeking the White House. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are wildly talented politicians. Both claimed two presidential victories, in all four cases arguably as underdogs.

Uh… what? An incumbent President with a strong economy who never trailed in a meaningful poll was an underdog in 1996? And a wartime incumbent who also never trailed was an underdog in 2004? I don’t know if Halperin is confused about the word “underdog” or the word “arguably”, but there’s clearly something not quite right going on.

Halperin goes on to argue that Bush and Clinton suffer from tragic flaws, each undermined as Presidents by the qualities that made them strong campaigners. Original, that. On Clinton:

The fun-loving campaigner with big appetites and an undisciplined manner squandered a good deal of the majesty and power of the presidency, and undermined his effectiveness as a leader. What much of the country found endearing in a candidate was troubling in a president.

If by “much of the country” you mean “the beltway elite” then I’m with ya. But I don’t think that’s what you mean. I know we all know this, but it bears repeating; Bill Clinton was a remarkably popular President, and his term in office bears no meaningful resemblance to that of his successor, except in the minds of elite journalists. Clinton irritated the Village by getting a blowjob; Bush irritated the world by blowing up a country. Tragic flaws, indeed.

Pop had Mort; what do we have?

At Last

I promise this is the last turkey-related post, at least for this year. But I wanted to be sure to deliver on my promise of a turkey photo.

So, here’s the before (of the uncooked kosher organic beast):

…and here’s the after:

Not bad for my first time at the turkey helm, eh?

And now back to your regularly scheduled blogging about politics and feminism…

Worst Game Ever?

[ 14 ] November 24, 2007 |

UCLA has 38 yards on 33 plays. Their quarterback is 0-7 with an interception. And they lead the Ducks 6-0 at the half.

I’m glad this game isn’t on television, because I suspect it would ruin college football for me.

Lethal Weapon

[ 0 ] November 24, 2007 |

Sasha Undercover says that 300 people have died from the use of tasers in the U.S. this year. This is, however, not solely an American problem: a case where a Polish immigrant who died after being tasered was major news in Canada last week. It seems likely that although they’re presumably an alternative to using firearms tasers are much more likely to lead to deaths that one might think, and serious questions need to be asked about the frequency of their use.

Kentucky is the Shire?

[ 15 ] November 24, 2007 |

Who knew?

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk about Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way.

Odd that Kentucky would later define itself through success in a sport that hobbits are singularly maladapted to play

…although Matt Weiner makes the point that hobbits might make good jockeys. Not sure about that; the weight would be good, but I think jockeys need to be taller than hobbits. Wikipedia suggests that only Bandobras “Bullroarer” Took is known to have been capable of riding a horse.

Houston Nutt is a Lucky Moron

[ 26 ] November 23, 2007 |

Ace Rothstein:

The cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.

I’m glad that Arkansas won, but when you have a chance to beat a plainly superior opponent on the road with one play from the 3 yard line, you take it. It was criminal of Nutt not to go for the two point conversion after the first overtime touchdown. Stupidity didn’t pay off this time, but it should have.

…and obviously, he also has a stupid name. Why didn’t his parents just name him “Brazil”?


The Thanksgiving feast was a total success. I followed much of Alton Brown’s (and your) advice. Lots of photos taken of the delicious maple-glazed turkey, sourdough & porcini mushroom stuffing, roasted taters, etc….

…but I can’t find the damn cable for my digital camera!

So, in the interim, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Thanks for all the advice.

Hope it was a joyous and thoughtful day for all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 5 ] November 22, 2007 |

Back from Canada, but off to bucolic New England to celebrate your phoney-baloney version of Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I have to agree that while probably less destructive to political discourse Collins’s columns have even less content than Dowd’s…

Let’s Get Some Political Science 101 for the Slate Folks…

[ 0 ] November 22, 2007 |

While we’re on the topic of Slate contrarians, here’s Mickey reacting to the Korb/Katulis/Podesta op-ed:

When you write a sentence like:

the progress being made at the local level often undermines the stated goal of creating a unified, stable, democratic Iraq

you have to come up with, you know, an example. Maybe in the next sentence! Podesta et al. argue that Iraqi national reconciliation–and “constructive” intervention by regional powers–will only come when America withdraws. That may be true (though it seems tendentiously optimistic). But we can always withdraw. In the meantime, how does “progress at the local level,” including “declines in the overall level of violence,” actually hurt? Without that argument, the piece looks like positioning. …

Alright, let’s go slow and use small words, so that Mickey can understand. The central government is one among many armed, collective actors in Iraq. In most modern nation-states (and in Iraq prior to 2003) the central government is the most powerful armed actor; indeed, Weber’s defines the state as an entity that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory. Now, central governments don’t always have a complete monopoly, and they don’t hold that monopoly at all times, but at least the idea that the state should be the predominant armed actor in a given territorial space is pretty critical to how a modern-nation state functions. Indeed, it’s one of things that sets a modern-nation state apart from a feudal situation, in which multiple legitimate armed groups exist in society with a centralized, first among equals leader (the classic feudal monarchy), or a warlord society, in which multiple armed actors exist within a territory without necessarily agreeing on any unifying principle.

The problem with the strategy in Iraq (and it’s not the Surge; the tribal strategy precedes the Surge by about six months) is that we are both arming and legitimating non-state actors; in these conditions, it is very difficult for the central government to assert authority, and thus to do any of the things (organize for collective defense, collect taxes, provide services, etc.) that a modern nation-state does. Also, the tribes we’re enabling are among the most conservative, anti-democratic elements of Iraqi society. This is why so many people tend to think that the tribal strategy, whatever its merits in terms of a reduction of violence (and I think it does have merits on this score) is fundamentally at odds with the idea of a unified, democratic Iraq. And that too may be fine; the democratic Iraq idea gave up the ghost a while ago, anyway. But it’s best not to pretend that the tribal strategy is contributing to the goals that were set out four and a half years ago.

Saletan’s Finale

[ 0 ] November 21, 2007 |

And after all that, nothing. Saletan writes two columns purporting to demonstrate not simply that African-Americans are inherently intellectually inferior to whites, but that liberals who question this finding are anti-science. In other words, the science is so compelling that any argument against the racial inferiority hypothesis must be generated by political, rather than scientific, considerations.

And so, now that we have this finding, what are the implications for public policy? Surely, demonstrating the intellectual inferiority of Africans should have a significant impact of various public policy choices. Our foreign aid strategy should change, because sending money to Africa based on the assumption that Africans are capable of understanding complex concepts like “economics” is surely a waste. The implications for immigration are clear; more Asians and Europeans, fewer Africans. While Saletan suggests that race mixing can bring blacks up to white intellectual levels, it would be irresponsible not to consider that the opposite might happen; miscegenation, on average, is going to result in a child intellectually inferior to its white counterparts. Family assistance and affirmative action will need to be radically restructured, if not eliminated entirely.

What? Saletan doesn’t propose any of that? Why not? Really, if the science is as compelling as Saletan claims, it would be absurd not to use the findings to guide public policy. Yet, Saletan specifically discounts the idea of using this race science to guide policy. Again, why? It’s almost as if Saletan doesn’t really believe everything that he’s just argued. It’s almost as if his grasp on the science is so shaky that he has no confidence in the claims that he’s supporting. Indeed, it’s almost as if he wrote the columns solely as an exercise in angering liberals.

Yglesias points out the genuine strangeness of all this:

Saletan and my bloggy colleagues seem to have convinced themselves that there’s overwhelming opposition in public opinion to the view that whites are intrinsically smarter than blacks and also that there’s strong scientific consensus in favor of that hypothesis. As best I can tell, however, neither is true. The “black genes make you dumb” crowd is siding with widely-held popular prejudice against what most researchers believe.

Right; the idea that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites is hardly new to the American political scene, and there’s every reason to think that it’s still widely held in many corners. Indeed, it was widely held well before the latest round of shoddy race science convinced Saletan, and was used to justify any number of political and social arrangements designed to guarantee that African-Americans didn’t escape their “genetic” inheritance.

But then, most of those folks don’t read Slate. And you don’t get to keep your card as a contrarian journalist if you always agree with one side. Of course, you also don’t get to keep your contrarian journalist card if you come out for anti-miscegenation laws; it’s a delicate balance, but Saletan manages to pull it off. I would like to think that a few good social science methodology courses would impress upon Saletan and his ilk the difficulties associated with this kind of science; the trouble operationalizing the dependent variable, the dangers of drawing inferences in the presence of bad variables, and the virtual impossibility of excluding environmental variables from the process. I’d like to think that Saletan would at least be more cautious about the kinds of claims he’s making if he were familiar with some basic philosophy of science question, but I don’t know that it’s true.

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