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Archive for August, 2010

And Would You Mind Bringing A Desk?

[ 27 ] August 23, 2010 |

This story, making the rounds on Twitter, is indeed remarkable:

When Emily Cooper headed off to first grade in Moody, Ala., last week, she was prepared with all the stuff on her elementary school’s must-bring list: two double rolls of paper towels, three packages of Clorox wipes, three boxes of baby wipes, two boxes of garbage bags, liquid soap, Kleenex and Ziplocs.

“The first time I saw it, my mouth hit the floor,” Emily’s mother, Kristin Cooper, said of the list, which also included perennials like glue sticks, scissors and crayons.

As Natasha Chart says, “Because nothing says ‘superpower’ like when your public schools can’t afford toilet paper.” And, alas, there’s plenty more of this kind of news.

‘Roid Outrage

[ 61 ] August 23, 2010 |

Given that this particular manifestation of the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs has resulted in another federal prosecution, this research by Eric Walker couldn’t be more essential. Joe Posnanski — whose discussion reminds us of why he’s not only the best mainstream sports journalist in America but one of the best journalists period — sums up the findings:

1. Walker contents steroids are not nearly as bad for responsible adults as people say and are significantly less dangerous than countless other things athletes do as a matter of course (he does say that steroids are extremely dangerous for adolescents).
2. Walker contends steroids do not help players hit more home runs.
3. Walker contends that other players are coerced to do MANY semi-dangerous and vaguely unnatural things to play high level sports … this is the price of playing sports at the highest level.
4. Walker contends kids absolutely do not take steroids because pro athletes do it.

As I’ve said before, rationalizations of the War on Steroids in professional sports based on health are transparently farcical. Essentially, I’ll take people who get hysterical about steroids because of the health effects seriously when they come out for banning tackle football, which has far more deleterious consequences on human health. (And this goes triple for journalists who worship the NFL in part because the owners reduced its union to cringing lickspittles — allowing the owners to keep more money is all about competitive balance doncha know.) If consenting adults are allowed to play football — and I think they should be, although they should be much better compensated — they sure as hell should be allowed to take steroids, and the extent to which steroid use is regulated should be between the league and the union.

But Walker has an even more valuable discussion about about the points raised by djw. Although steroid hysterics constantly issue confident proclamations on the subject, we simply have no idea what impact steroids had on the home run explosion (which, after all, started before steroid use seemed to become widespread) of the 90s. Even if we assume arguendo that steroids help power hitters, since pitchers used them to that tells us nothing about the net effects of steroids on offense, and it’s also impossible to disentangle steroid use from other important factors such as smaller ballparks and livelier baseballs. And as Walker notes, the evidence that steroids are a substantial asset to power hitters at all is in fact rather weak.

In short, the hysteria bout steroids is unjustifiable even by the standards of drug war hysterias, and the fact that it may keep players of the caliber of Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame for a while during a period in which supermajorities of the BBWAA consider Jim Rice a Hall of Famer is outrageous. At least I remain optimistic enough to think that this equilibrium won’t hold.

Sunday Night Linkage

[ 9 ] August 22, 2010 |

Apologies for slow blogging; the beginning of the semester and my ongoing efforts to kill the Air Force (book!) take precedence. Some links:

  • Derek Reveron on the growing military appreciation for human security concerns. I’d say that in the United States the Navy has taken the lead on this, perhaps because its greatest “victories” in the past few years have been disaster relief operations.
  • Chris Blattman and William Reno wonder where all the African revolutionaries have gone. This is to say, why was intra-state conflict in the 1960s and 1970s characterized primarily in ideological terms, while modern intra-state conflict is characterized in ethnic and resource terms?
  • Jeb Koogler on how Russia is consolidating its position in South Ossetia. While I’ve been consistently skeptical of claims about how the Georgians are brave little toasters standing on watch on the ramparts of liberty, Russian behavior in the dispute has hardly been characterized by principled altruism.
  • Amy Butler discusses NATO’s approach to missile defense. I’ll have more on this later, but to preview I think that the long-running debate about missile defense will become irrelevant in the medium term. Technologies are advancing on multiple fronts that make ballistic missile defense effectively inevitable, rendering the question “should we work on ballistic missile defense” moot.
  • Neil Sinhababu discusses the emerging thought on Winston Churchill. I’m not ashamed to say that I have a framed picture of Winston Churchill in my basement, while I would be ashamed to say that I had a picture of Stalin. This doesn’t mean that I fail to recognize Churchill’s crimes, rather that his admirable qualities are worthy of recognition.
  • Adam Elkus thinks about Starcraft and Napoleon.  The inability to delegate basic operational and tactical tasks is undoubtedly annoying, although I’d suggest that the narrative aspect of Starcraft and its kin also precludes grand strategic innovation.

Dispatches from Nerd Camp III

[ 1 ] August 22, 2010 |

Well, I’m back now, and most of what I learned about network analysis will not interest LGM readers, but I did manage to do a few cool things with my human security data while I was in Bloomington. Just in case anyone wants to see some pretty pictures and why I found them interesting for my new book project, you can click here to read about them at Duck of Minerva.

More on the Pentagon’s complicity in the Wikileaks affair, and tools to reduce senseless deaths like this one in the next few days.

I Wish I Could Stop Losing My Innocence

[ 6 ] August 22, 2010 |

It’s been a pretty tough year in terms of shocking revelations. I could just about survive finding out that a wealthy professional athlete has had extramarital relations. But now I found out that an NFL coach has used…profanity? In the genteel, sacrosanct confines of the locker room? Next you’re going to try to tell me that Dred Scott wasn’t the sole blemish on this country’s otherwise unbroken record of racial egalitarianism….

Addendum

[ 14 ] August 22, 2010 |

Shorter Andrew McCarthy: As Newt Gingrich pointed out, the exclusionary, authoritarian practices of Saudi Arabia provide a better model for religious tolerance and pluralism than the Constitution of the United States. We should do more to emulate the former.

also. Extra props for the video featuring the late, great Kirsty MacColl and her superb Tropical Brainstorm album. Firing that up on the iTunes was a lot more pleasant than thinking about Andy McCarthy…

Andy McCarthy hates being called what his words prove he is.

[ 34 ] August 21, 2010 |

This post plain confuses me. It opens with a lament:

Having worked for a very long time with moderate Muslims, I can tell you it’s disheartening to be called an Islamophobe.

Then demonstrates that that epithet, along with a few others, is well-deserved:

I have long argued that: (1) Islam is not a moderate doctrine; (2) Islamists who practice terror and are otherwise aggressive toward non-Muslims (and toward Muslims who disagree with them) are not twisting or perverting Islam; (3) this does not mean that the Islamist interpretation of Islam is the only possible viable interpretation; but (4) a concrete theology of “moderate Islam” does not exist (even though there are plenty of moderate Muslims) and therefore it will have to be created; and (5) because it will have to be non-literal and reformist, it will have a tough time competing with Islamist ideology which, however noxious it may be, has the advantage of being firmly rooted in Islamic scripture. Nevertheless, (6) Islamist ideology is anti-constitutional and anti-freedom in many of its core particulars, so that (7) if, instead of letting them pretend to be “moderates,” we force Islamists to defend their beliefs, we will marginalize them—at least in our society, which (8) will empower true moderate Muslim reformers and—maybe—give them the space they need to solidify a coherent, moderate Islam that embraces the West, and in particular the separation of secular public life from privately held religious beliefs.

If “Islam is not a moderate doctrine,” how is it that he has “worked for a very long time with moderate Muslims”?  How can McCarthy distinguish between “moderate Muslims” like his coworkers and those Muslims who merely “pretend to be ‘moderate’”?  Where does he believe these “moderate Muslims” come from?  Are they Amabo—secret Christians pretending to be Muslim—whose moderate views are the result of never reading the Koran or attending services at a mosque or keeping halal?  McCarthy attempts to dismiss such questions in a parenthetical of dubious explanatory power:

a concrete theology of ‘moderate Islam’ does not exist (even though there are plenty of moderate Muslims) and therefore it will have to be created[.]

Granting their existence in an aside is purely strategic—if he fails to do so, he will be disheartened again, so he grants their existence, then explains all the many ways in which people like them can never come to exist.

It’s the political equivalent of holding up a duck and beaver; explaining that no matter how much you coax them, they refuse to fuck; then astonishing the crowd by pulling a duck-billed platypus out of your hat.  You have no idea how that strange beast came to be, nor are you interested—all you want to do is prove that ducks never fuck beavers.  Which is an admirable goal, I suppose, if you want to tell the world that your lack of intellectual curiosity is matched in its profundity only by the pride you take in being ignorant.

The ultimate irony, of course, is his claim that this new moderate Islam “will have to be non-literal and reformist.”  McCarthy openly and unselfconsciously confesses that religious beliefs based on one-thousand-year-old books—or, for that matter, political beliefs based on two-hundred-year-old documents—might be obsolete, if not outright dangerous, when the people who possess them interpret their sacred texts literally.  His opposition to literalism as an interpretive mode is to be commended, or would be, if it extended to the Old Testament or the Constitution.  But neither of those texts are “anti-constitutional and anti-freedom,” at least not in the Platonic form in which they exist in the minds of people who have never read them.

I shouldn’t be surprised.

[ 4 ] August 21, 2010 |

But I am … surprised they chose to advertise it:

Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bad idea to get your news from people who have read the same number of books as my cats have this summer?

“This is nothing like it was in my room.”

[ 10 ] August 20, 2010 |

That I love The National should surprise no one, but that’s not why I’m being frivolous on a Friday night and linking to their recent performance of “Mr. November” at Lollapalooza. I link because of the incidental jollity contained within and created by this unspectacular performance of a weaker track off their last album. The performance is captured from the crowd by R. Todd Morason:


The first memorable moment occurs at the 1:29 mark, when lead singer Matt Berninger drunkenly staggers over and begins to serenade a young girl seated on the left stage terrace. As soon as he notices her, he cleans up the lyric “I won’t fuck you over, I’m Mr. November” for her delicate ears. Her mother snaps a picture and writes up the experience. Having two bits of demonstrable proof of so unlikely event means we are living in the future.

Berninger then ambles off the stage entirely and into the crowd (2:10), at which point Morason loses him. He turns his phone to the large screens flanking the stage in an attempt to find him but fails (2:25), then pans right to survey the crowd again only to discover Berninger’s about to run into him (2:33). The whole scene seems choreographed, right down to the crowd becoming a communal road crew and passing Berninger’s wire above their heads.*

What began as a slightly off-key performance of a mediocre song becomes the sort of spectacle we all wish every concert will be as the lights dim and the first note sounds.

*Videos like this make me think the shaky cam’s days as a hallmark of televisual realism are numbered. The autocorrection function in cheap new cameras steadies all hands to the point where, in ten years, people will wonder why they let cinematographers continue rolling while in the midst of epileptic fits.

To Know is To Hate?

[ 19 ] August 20, 2010 |

I’m on the road so off the grid not infrequently, but I’ve settled down for a couple days in time to see the new Economist / YouGov poll on attitudes towards the proposed Cordoba House, and while amusing, it doesn’t really surprise.

Some highlights: 14% of Americans believe that mosques should not be permitted anywhere in the United States.  A clear partisan divide exists over both self-reported understanding of, and tolerance for, Islam.  Republicans are far more likely to claim an understanding of Islam either somewhat or a great deal than Democrats: 58.5% of Republicans compared to only 48% of Democrats.  Of course, this self-professed understanding doesn’t lead to tolerance; where 25% of Democrats have a somewhat or very favorable view of Islam, only 8.3% of Republicans share the same outlook.

“No one” loves Charles Krauthammer.

[ 6 ] August 20, 2010 |

Krauthammer today:

No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so.

Poll conducted by Krauthammer’s employer:

Among those who think it is wrong for the group to build an Islamic center near ground zero, views split sharply over whether they have a right to build it there: 47 percent say yes they do, while 48 percent say they do not.

By “no one,” Krauthammer must mean “no one [outside of my core constituency].”

UPDATE: Thankfully, the South Park boys have weighed—wait, what do you mean this is in earnest?

UPDATE II: Silly me, I forgot South Park actually did do this already:

Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 19 ] August 20, 2010 |

I’ve been away all week without my children, so this week’s nugget of childish curiosity comes out of the vault:

“Mom, does Indian food come from India or from the Native Americans?”

Read more…

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