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Archive for February, 2009

[ 0 ] February 20, 2009 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson


The Ghost of Narratives Past

[ 1 ] February 20, 2009 |

In the midst of discussing a classic ridiculous Clinton Derangement non-story — could Hillary Clinton possibly like the Beatles and the Stones? — Jamison Foser points us to this absolutely remarkable Jacob Wiesberg joint about the crucial issue of the iPods of political leaders from 2006. You will be shocked to know that — however cool if would be if someone would have pointed out that “Respect” is maybe the seventh-best song on I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You — the playlists of public officials consist of interchangeable bog-standard middlebrow airplay favorites.

Except, of course, that this trivia must somehow be slotted into existing political narratives. So Hillary Clinton’s playlist “suggests premeditation, if not actual poll-testing,” while “Radio Condi is a lot more fun than Radio Hillary” and — of course! — “Bush doesn’t worry about being politically correct or care what other people think of him.” (I mean, “My Sharona,” “Brown-Eyed Girl”… truly, the man was our Rebel-In-Chief.)

But wait — it gets much worse, or at least much more surreal. This being 2006, no such article could be written without reference to the conventional wisdom that losing the popular vote once in four elections had reduced the Democrats to a more-or-less permanent rump party. This may not seem terribly relevant to the article at hand, but:

[Pandora] can be a bit uncanny. One of its first recommendations on the Hillary station I created was “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do,” by Betty Wright, a feminist-minded ’70s soul artist. This was followed by Barbra Streisand’s rendition of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” a deeply unfortunate recording, but one somehow indicative of the present predicament of the Democratic Party.

If you have any idea how this could possibly be indicative of anything except that Pandora needs slightly better quality controls, please do not explain it to anyone.

Michael Steele’s lyrics are bottomless

[ 0 ] February 19, 2009 |

Awesome. I hope that Michael Steele will soon announce his plans for the GOP to “get jiggy with it.” Perhaps he might gain some traction for the party by urging young voters to “drop that zero and get with the hero.”

Dear Governor Jindal,

[ 0 ] February 19, 2009 |

Please, please, please reject federal stimulus funding; we’ll get to find out if someone who rejects federal money can get elected dogcatcher in Baton Rouge.

Yours truly,


Jindal is far too smart to actually reject the funding (like Alaska and so many other red states, Louisiana is utterly dependent on the federal government its leaders purport to despise), but I suspect he’ll pay a local political price even if the legislature overrides. What this nonsense reveals is a pretty straightforward list of the Republican governors who have Presidential ambition; any governor who supported the stimulus would come under severe attack during the 2012 primary.

Effort and Merit

[ 0 ] February 19, 2009 |


…the key is that these two statements are very different:

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

“Putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade” is different than saying “I feel that if I do all the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.” The latter isn’t really “entitlement”; it’s a description of reality at any major college campus. Most students, in most courses, will get Bs if they attend class, and do all the work. This is as it should be; it’s not as if a campus-wide B average is somehow vile and unnatural.

The Greenwood quote is different. Mere effort never merits a high grade; while I appreciate hard work, it has to result in actual achievement. Even if effort did merit high marks, grading “effort” is, in practice, impossible; how am I to know how hard student X worked on his or her paper? College isn’t third grade, where direct monitoring of student process is at least conceptually possible. I do appreciate the frustration of students who do a lot of work and receive a bad grade, but it’s not a problem for which there’s a satisfactory solution.

Poetic Justice as Fairness etc.

[ 0 ] February 19, 2009 |

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

….if laughing at the misfortune of Christopher Hitchens is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

They write letters

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

Brad DeLong:

Academic freedom is a powerful and important principle. But I do not believe it provides a shield for weathervanes. I do not believe it shields those whose work is not the grueling intellectual labor of the scholar and the scientist but instead hackwork that is crafted to be convenient and pleasing to their political master of the day.

I am not an international law professor. I am not a moral philosophy professor. I am just an economics professor. I am aware that my conclusions may be wrong. It is the fact that my conclusions may be wrong has led me to dither about this matter up till now.

But with the OPR report I see no choice: so I ask you, out of a concern for justice, a concern for humanity, and a concern for our reputation as a university, to dismiss Professor John Yoo from membership in our university.

The Glories Of American Veto Points

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

Although Krugman is of course right to blame a “fanatical, irrational minority” for the current crisis in California, it can’t be emphasized enough that what really matters is the incredibly stupid institutional rules that empower this minority: namely, the idiotic super-majority for tax increases and an initiative system that both created that supermajority requirement and provides incentives to vote for every tax cut while mandating certain kinds of spending because the issues are isolated. Fortunately, the federal level (while it has too many veto points) is not quite at this level yet, and at least the stupid filibuster rule doesn’t apply to budgets.

[X-Posted at TAPPED.]

Right Adopts Tactics That Stopped Iraq War From Happening

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

But I have to agree, if they’re going to stop the stimulus bill they’re going to need some big puppets. I would also suggest an Uncle Sam on stilts.

…oh, and I hope we see more of this highly effective line of protest:

Verrrrrry Scarrrry! [/Count Floyd]

A Bunch of Stuff Happened…

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

So, lot’s of interesting defense news; read Spencer on the Afghanistan buildup and David Axe on the F-22. If you read the latter, please compare and contrast Axe’s case for purchasing more F-22s with Bowden’s; the former dispenses with myths, while the latter reinforces them; the former has a handle on the economic and strategic tradeoffs, while the latter ignores them; and the former rejects panicky arguments about the dwindling air superiority “gap” while the latter uncritically accepts them. In short, the former knows what he’s talking about and the latter is content to write agitprop for Lockheed.

Off to the ISA conference for the day; will blog more on both of these questions later.

The single dumbest independent clause you’ll read all day

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

Golf claps all around to Amar Bhide:

The depressions and panics of the 19th century ended without any fiscal stimulus to speak of…

Right. And I suppose we could note that the Spanish influenza pandemic “ended without any major vaccination efforts to speak of.”

Forget the panics of 1819, 1837, and 1857. As everyone knows, the US — to say nothing of the rest of the industrialized world — was in one phase or another of a major depression in roughly half of the twenty-four years between 1873-1897. The contraction that began in October 1873, for example, lasted 65 consecutive months and had near-universally corrosive results. Labor unions were annihilated; the Republican party officially threw up its hands on the question of Reconstruction; mass unemployment immiserated the land, and by the end of it all, striking railroad workers from Baltimore to St. Louis were being fired upon by federal troops. The economic catastrophe of the 1870s intensified racial animosity toward Chinese workers on the West Coast, leading to the passage of one exclusionary law after another; the depression of the 1890s spurred on lynch mobs in the rural South; and all of them roused otherwise sane people to spastic fits of worry over the menace of the foreign-born. In the US, the downturns of the 1880s and 1890s helped rejuvenate the principles of manifest destiny, leading to grossly dishonest efforts, public and private, to secure resources and compliant markets in Asia and Latin America. And throughout industrialized Europe, the Long Depression lent greater urgency to the project of colonialism, whose bloody results — if initially unremarkable to all but their immediate victims — were perfectly evident to everyone else by the late summer of 1914.

But remember: a few public works programs, the eight-hour day, and unemployment insurance would have been too awful to comprehend.

A Final Note Against Temperance Society Moralism

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

While he’s wrong about the filibuster, I should note today that Brien Jackson (at 10:40 A.M.) is completely right about PEDs. As I’ve said before, I have no problem if a majority of players agree to have enforceable bans on substances because they believe the health risks are unacceptable and they don’t want a race to the bottom, or because they want other concessions in collective bargaining, or whatever. What I’m opposed to is 1)calling people who violated nominal but completely unenforced rules as “cheaters” and 2)engaging in empty moralism about how Athletic Purity has been violated because some particular chemical means of enhancing performance has been used.

To follow-up on Brien a bit, both variants of this moralism are plainly unserious arguments. If the argument is about health, well, if it was unacceptable to take any risks that might produce suboptimal health outcomes, you know what would be banned? Throwing baseballs overhand and hard a hundred times every five days. (We won’t even start on football.) Unless you support banning all professional sports altogether, to focus on the health risks of steroids in particular is ludicrously arbitrary. (And the fact that virtually nobody cares about steroid use in football — where the health effects are compounded — just underlies the point.)

But of course, this isn’t about health; this is about the Sanctity of the Record Book, and especially the records Back From When It Was A Game And the Players Proved Their Loyalty and Pride By Playing For A Fraction Of Their Market Value. But this also makes no sense. As Brien says, all records are contingent. If Hank Aaron had played for 15 years at Griffith Stadium, he wouldn’t have owned the home run record. If there hadn’t been two new bandboxes added to the league in 1961, Roger Maris probably wouldn’t have had a record to be broken by History’s Greatest Monster Except For Barry Bonds. If Greg Luzinksi had come up with the Rockies in 1994 who knows what records he would have set. Maybe Ty Cobb would have hit 900 homers if he had played in another era. And so on and so on. There’s no such thing as a statistic that purely reflects a player’s performance. In addition, people like to assert that steroids were the dominant factor in the increase in power numbers that started in the early 90s, but this is very, very questionable. There are a lot of other factors: smaller ballparks, much improved bats, aluminum bats in amateur ball teaching hitters to hit for power to the opposite field, Lasik surgery, improving training and nutrition, etc. etc. etc. My guess would be that steroids rank well down that list; certainly, it’s much easier to document the effect of ballparks on home run totals. But at any rate, all records are a product of their time, and Bonds’s records are no more and no less “legitimate” than Henry Aaron’s or Roger Maris’s (and Bonds, pre- or post- steroids, was a greater player than either.)

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