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Archive for January, 2012

Clown Show Day

[ 68 ] January 3, 2012 |

I wish everyone a happy Clown Show Day. The Iowa caucuses have as strong a predictive power for the Republican nomination as I do in the LGM bowl pool. Notable Iowa winners like Mike Huckabee and surprise competitors like Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan have gone on to have a huge impact on the nomination…. Yet we must take this event VERY SERIOUSLY and members of the media must spend months of their lives talking of nothing else.

As for me, I’m lending my support to noted rounder and 19th century pitching extraordinaire @OldHossRadbourn who is running on the platform:

I support guns, germs, and steel. These things made America great, and we must return to them to restore our grandeur. #VoteRadbourn

It’s hard to distill Republican ideology on foreign policy any purer. As someone who studies the past exclusively to learn how to better oppress people today, this is a candidate I can support!

Border Wall and Animals

[ 37 ] January 3, 2012 |

While the border wall does virtually nothing to halt human activity on the border and absolutely nothing to limit the drug trade, it does have massive negative impacts on many animals. Given the lack of environmental protection in Mexico, there are several species that may need to continue migrating across the border into the United States in order to survive. According to Defenders of Wildlife, these are the species negatively impacted by the border wall:

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
California brown pelican
California least tern
Chiricahua leopard frog
Desert tortoise
Elegant trogan
Flat-tailed horned lizard
Huachuca water umbel
Jaguar
Jaguarundi
Kearny’s Bluestar
Least Bell’s vireo
Lesser long-nosed bat
Light-footed clapper rail
Masked bobwhite quail
Mexican gray wolf
Mexican spotted owl
Ocelot
Sonoran chub
Sonoran pronghorn
Yellow billed cuckoo

It would speak highly of Americans if we didn’t let our racism get in the way of both hurting human beings and dooming other species. Sadly, no.

Via Ralph Maughan.

Museum Review: The New York Historical Society

[ 2 ] January 3, 2012 |

I was fortunate enough to visit the reopened New York Historical Society just before the holidays. It’s pretty impressive. I’ve visited twice before, once when the old building was partially open and once for a major exhibit during the building’s renovation with the exhibition housed offsite. They do a great job, there’s no question. I am consistently amazed at the artifacts the NYHS has. When I saw the New York during the Civil War exhibit, I was wondering how they managed to find so many mint condition artifacts, including a Lincoln-Hamlin campaign poster. Truly remarkable. The second exhibit I saw was on Latinos in New York before World War II which was also awesome because I knew next to nothing about that topic.

The main exhibit right now is slightly less successful than these two. “Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn” connects the American, French, and Haitian revolutions to build a transatlantic history, reflecting the current state of transnational scholarship and building important connections between American history and the rest of the world. That’s a great idea. As usual, the curators put together some pretty amazing artifacts. They brought the original Stamp Act from Britain for its first showing outside that nation. Written on parchment, it’s absolutely amazing. I just kind of stared at it for 5 minutes. To build up the Haitian part of the exhibit, they displayed some voodoo costumes, something I certainly had not seen before. The costumes might be from the early 20th century, but they get the point across.

But while still very cool, the exhibit kind of peters out after the American Revolution. The narrative gets a little bit lost between the different revolutions, even though the curators do a good job showing the economic and intellectual connectivity of these places (and in fact, the section at the beginning on the colonial Atlantic world is arguably the exhibit’s strength). Too many artifacts are old books. It’s kind of interesting to see a first edition of Common Sense but there’s only so many old books that are going to add much to the experience. The curators do a heroic job pulling together what they can for the Haitian part of the exhibit, but there’s just not a lot of material to work with given the very few documents that exist. The recently discovered only extant original copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence (discovered by a graduate student in history no less!) is cool, as is the painting of Haitian revolutionary Jean-Baptiste Belley with a, um, pronounced package clearly painted to express white Europe’s fears of black sexuality.

We were also rushed through the Haitian portion of the exhibit because of a special event on that floor. The staff did not tell us the exhibit was closing early even though we specifically told them that’s why we were visiting. Annoying.

The rest of the museum is also solid, mostly consisting of small exhibits. Highlights include the pistols used in the Hamilton-Burr duel and the displays of random artifacts outside exhibits; I always appreciate the open storage areas. The Brooklyn Museum also does a good job with this. I was particularly enamored with the giant wooden statue of a NYC fire chief from the 1850s; this expression of antebellum heroic masculinity in the urban context was powerful.

Less pleasing was the new movie about New York City’s history meant to introduce us to the topic. Made with massive amounts of money, the 20 minute film skims over the history way too fast, gets to 9/11 about 12 minutes in and follows with 5 minutes of New York narcissism about how great the city is. Given just how much as happened there and the fact that I don’t think tourists go to the New York Historical Society without being already pretty tuned into the city, it was annoying. 20 seconds spent on the Gilded Age versus following a cab around Times Square for 2 minutes. Blech.

My other criticism is fairly minor, but still significant I think. For as awesome as the NYHS collections are and for their very cool exhibits, I wish they realized history took place after 1865. There is at best lip service paid to anything after the Civil War. 1 or 2 of the very small exhibits cover the past 150 years. On October 5 it is opening a major exhibit on World War II in New York City, which will be a refreshing change. Still, as a late 19th and early 20th century, a period of time when New York was probably at its peak of importance in the United States, I get really frustrated to see the period almost totally unrepresented.

Nonetheless, I’d happily return to the museum once a year to see what kind of cool things they are presenting. It’s one of the best history museums in the United States and worth a visit, even for a not fully successful exhibit.

The Paul Problem

[ 254 ] January 3, 2012 |

I think a couple commenters have been persuasive that I was too charitable toward Ron Paul, as my closing line implies that he’s having a meaningful and positive impact on the debate. It would probably have been better just to say that he is indeed better than Obama on a handful of issues in addition to having hideously immoral positions on countless issues, because Paul’s impact probably isn’t positive. The first problem, as Kevin Drum notes, is that his handful of good positions are just false positives generated by an exceptionally pernicious and reactionary worldview:

Can we talk? Ron Paul is not a charming oddball with a few peculiar notions. He’s not merely “out of the mainstream.” Ron Paul is a full bore crank. In fact he’s practically the dictionary definition of a crank: a person who has a single obsessive, all-encompassing idea for how the world should work and is utterly blinded to the value of any competing ideas or competing interests.

This obsessive idea has, at various times in his career, led him to: denounce the Civil Rights Act because it infringed the free-market right of a monolithic white establishment to immiserate blacks; dabble in gold buggery and advocate the elimination of the Federal Reserve, apparently because the global economy worked so well back in the era before central banks; suggest that the border fence is being built to keep Americans from leaving the country; claim that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and should be dismantled; mount repeated warnings that hyperinflation is right around the corner; insist that global warming is a gigantic hoax; hint that maybe the CIA helped to coordinate the 9/11 attacks; oppose government-sponsored flu shots; and allege that the UN wants to confiscate our guns.

This isn’t the biography of a person with one or two unusual hobbyhorses. It’s not something you can pretend doesn’t matter. This is Grade A crankery, and all by itself it’s reason enough to want nothing to do with Ron Paul. But of course, that’s not all. As we’ve all known for the past four years, you can layer on top of this Paul’s now infamous newsletters, in which he condoned a political strategy consciously designed to appeal to the worst strains of American homophobia, racial paranoia, militia hucksterism, and new-world-order fear-mongering. And on top of that, you can layer on the fact that Paul is plainly lying about these newsletters and his role in them.

All of this might be acceptable if his presence might actually make opposition to the War on (some classes of people who use some) Drugs or anti-imperialism more common in American political discourse. But, of course, it will do no such thing. If you think either issue will play any role in the upcoming election, or that either candidate will pay a price for ignoring them, all I can say is “care to make it interesting?” Indeed, his constant neoconfederate arguments that federal power is inherently illegitimate — which Greenwald skated over in his tendentious-in-the-extreme comparison of the candidates, pretending that the differences between Obama and Paul on economics, civil rights, civil liberties protections against the state governments most likely to abuse them, and regulatory enforcement are marginal — is far more likely to affect political discourse than the handful of good positions he espouses.

This Is An Easy One

[ 22 ] January 3, 2012 |

Seriously, can this even be a debate?

Gordon Lightfoot’s sunglasses, in and of themselves, end the competition. Plus, the title is about political action rather than mush.

UPDATE! I also note that this video provides an invaluable historical document of the era in which pop and hockey player hairstyles converged.

Why give yourself two chances to win a game when you can have one?

[ 35 ] January 3, 2012 |

Ooooh, Andrew Luck might throw an interception! Don’t give the best player in college football a chance to win the game when you can depend on a freshman kicker not to shank a mid-range field goal.

Ugh.

Rose Bowl

[ 23 ] January 2, 2012 |

This.

Mark Richt may be the dumbest football coach in history

[ 44 ] January 2, 2012 |

Which is kind of like being the sleaziest lobbyist on K street.

Situation: Georgia needs a FG to win in OT, starting from the 25 first and ten. First down: two yard rush. Second down: QB centers the ball, losing three yards in the process. Third down: 43-yard FG attempt by a kicker who was 6-16 on kicks of 40 yards or more.

Update: And while I’m ranting, Meathead Bielema punts on fourth and five from the Oregon 37, because “field position” is so crucial in a game where it makes the difference between a 91-yard TD run and an 80-yarder.

Update #2: OK to be fair going for it on fourth and one from the OU 17 was the right move.

UPDATE [SL]:  Even though it devastates my once-decent chances of winning the LGM pool, part of me is still happy that this Hall of Fame-caliber example of irrationally playing not to lose cost his team the game.

The Inevtiability of Romney, An Ongoing Series

[ 90 ] January 2, 2012 |

Things are breaking especially well for Mittens, but it is indeed just a question of how long the media can pretend there’s a race, not whether there is a race. (I also, of course, agree with Ed Kilgore that his inevitability was not inevitable, but was a series of incredibly lucky breaks.)

Meanwhile, on the deeply puzzling question of why progressives prefer LBJ to Goldwater Obama to Paul, see Edroso, ABL, Barbara O’Brien, Tom Hilton, Tom Watson, Echidne and Steve M.

In Praise of Cheap Hooch

[ 55 ] January 2, 2012 |

Slate has a solid article on “why you should be drinking cheap wine”.  While I know my way around a bottle a bit better than the average person, I strongly support the core thesis of said article.  This dates back from my previous life as a brewer / beer judge / beer writer when I argued that the price/quality relationship in wine doesn’t even try to approximate a linear function.  The same is true of single malts for that matter; back when I built and maintained a collection (which is sadly down to a single unopened bottle of 1974 Ardbeg), I only broke $100 on a bottle once, and that was for a 1973 Longrow.  Yes, there’s really bad, dumpable wine available under $6 a bottle.  But there are also plenty of terrific wines down there as well.  The wine we served at our wedding, an Italian Pinot Grigio, is available at our local Trader Joes for five bucks, and it earned plaudits from those in attendance with superior knowledge and palates.

There are a couple statements in this article that I find contentious however.  To wit: “Granted, few Americans actually drink that much wine—annual consumption is around one bottle per month per capita . . .”  Seriously?  One bottle per month?  I guess my intake, even when limited to the several months I spend in the US per year, makes up for the lack of consumption of entire states.  Second:

In Europe, consumption is 3-to-6 times higher than in the United States. But only the most affluent would spend 11 euros to drink a bottle of wine at home on a Wednesday night. Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests. Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average.

Yet further evidence that the United Kingdom is not part of Europe.  Wine is vastly more affordable here in Oregon than England; the same was true when I lived in the Netherlands, where it was fairly easy to find solid value, unlike in the UK.  The best value I can find in Plymouth is a £3.15 bottle of Australian red (and white, I forget the varietals at the moment) sold by my local Tesco Metro (which has turned into the house wine at the Brockington Manor).  Prior to the opening of this Tesco last summer, the best value was whatever was on offer at the local Co-op, usually at £5.

That said, I instinctively go for value when drinking wine.  It’s easy, even on that outrageously expensive island where I spend the majority of my time, to find a solid wine at an affordable price.

h/t to my friend Karen Semyan.

Krugman on Debt

[ 44 ] January 2, 2012 |

There’s a lot that makes sense here.  Some of the high points:

It’s true that foreigners now hold large claims on the United States, including a fair amount of government debt. But every dollar’s worth of foreign claims on America is matched by 89 cents’ worth of U.S. claims on foreigners. And because foreigners tend to put their U.S. investments into safe, low-yield assets, America actually earns more from its assets abroad than it pays to foreign investors. If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed. Nor are we heading rapidly in that direction.

and of course

So yes, debt matters. But right now, other things matter more. We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrongheaded, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in the way.

Obviously, we’re not going to get there any time soon.

Historical Anti-Labor Quote of the Day

[ 4 ] January 2, 2012 |

“The earthquake and fire in San Francisco was a terrible blow, but the menace of tyrannical organized labor is a blight and curse from which the city is now staggering and reeling like a drunken man.”

The Timberman, July 1907.

Very classy. Note–The Timberman was the least anti-worker major timber industry journal.

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