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Archive for November, 2014

Wussy Goes Big Time

[ 58 ] November 30, 2014 |

It’s a bit hard to believe that Wussy was featured on CBS. But so they were, including an interview about how an acclaimed rock band can be acclaimed but make absolutely no money, meaning everyone has to work day jobs. Here’s the interview:

And here’s one of the songs they performed on CBS:

Go buy their albums


Silence is Dangerous

[ 42 ] November 30, 2014 |

I’ve been following Randi Harper on twitter for a couple weeks now because she created a blockbot that blocks many Gators; since then she’s become  something of a GG target. Recently she wrote about her experiences in tech, which is both heartrending and inspirational. This was too good to put in a links post; it deserves its own spotlight.

Trigger warning not so much for the post, but for the comments, which are…predictably awful. (Some of them are also awesome. Just read with caution.)

Thanks so much to Origami Isopod for the link.


[ 30 ] November 30, 2014 |

The EPA’s next step:

The Obama administration is expected to release on Wednesday a contentious and long-delayed environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.

The sweeping regulation, which would aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, would be the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama’s administration.

Ban the Puns!

[ 52 ] November 30, 2014 |

If we followed the Chinese model and banned puns on this blog, our comments would fall by 50 percent.

Republican War on Science

[ 74 ] November 30, 2014 |

Who else is excited for the upcoming full Republican frontal assault on the National Science Foundation for daring to research issues that don’t mesh with current Republican priorities?

It Was Truly a Great Pumpkin

[ 104 ] November 29, 2014 |

“GreatPumpkin” by Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I recently watched “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” for the first time in several years, and so this discussion had some resonance for me. Re-watching after a long period also made me more cognizant of the contrast between Halloween Linus and Christmas Linus. If you’ll recall, Linus emerges from the Christmas special as the voice of wisdom, if not authority. He lends intellectual and moral weight to the Christmas program through his reading of Luke 2:8-14, and supports Charlie Brown’s decision to acquire the most pathetic tree available. Although Peanuts deliberately eschews adults, Linus lends an adult presence, someone to ensure that things will turn out right.

This sense of wisdom and competence persists through much of the Halloween special; he uses his blanket to great effect as a tool, speaks with confidence and authority about the Great Pumpkin, and wins the support of at least one convert. Moreover, the other major characters come off either as horrible (Lucy), pathetic (Charlie Brown), or detached (Snoopy). Indeed, the Halloween special doesn’t work unless we have the wise Linus in mind.  The idea of the Great Pumpkin seems absurd and destined for failure, until we’re exposed to the confidence and sincerity of the little kind who lent his voice of authority to Christmas. When Linus begins to doubt, we begin to doubt, although even those cracks in his confidence are instructive. We’re not so committed to the realism of Peanuts world to reject the idea that, in this universe, there may be a Great Pumpkin, and we’re primed to suspect that Linus might well be his prophet.

And so it’s a bit of a surprise when the Great Pumpkin fails to arrive, and the conventional wisdom, which proved so wrong at Christmas, proves right at Halloween.  And it’s particularly crucial that at the end, Linus seems to have learned nothing from this failure. His response to the (fairly measured) comments of Charlie Brown is to double down, arguing that insufficient sincerity may have been shown this time, but next time the Great Pumpkin will surely appear, rewarding his followers etc. etc.  It’s perhaps the classic “if we simply cheer harder, the team will win,” giving us tools to interpret all the similar claims that we’ll encounter.  The episode ends with the little boy who gave weight and gravitas to the Christmas special descending into an unhinged rant.

There’s a lesson here, but I think it took me quite a long time to learn it properly.  One potential (if obvious) lesson is suspicion of wise men; the one who speaks with authority at Christmas is revealed as a crank at Halloween.  But this reading casts too much of a shadow on Christmas Linus, undercutting the entire spirit of the previous special. Maybe I just don’t have the temperament for revolution, but I don’t want the abnegation of authority; the Linus of the Christmas special offers something more than comfort.  His comments shed light on the logic of the gathering, and explain to the gathered what’s important about the occasion.

The lesson I’d rather take, I think, is that the wise can be cranks, given the opportunity, and that the same traits that make them wise can make them blind to their own crankery. This creates a new set of dilemmas, both for the wise and for those who would listen to them; the former must sort through an appropriate means of self-examination, while the latter must develop a healthy sense of skepticism, without allowing that sense to become too healthy.

I’ll grant that this is an essentially liberal reading, saving some role for paternalism and authority, while creating a division between appropriate and inappropriate degrees of resistance. Like I suggested, the idea of complete abnegation of authority feels to me like revolution, and leaves me untethered. But I think that there’s something psychologically true about the need for authority; most revolutionaries have their own Linus, and that Linus oft descends into unhinged rants, notwithstanding the wisdom of their commentary on Christmas.

Small Business Saturday!

[ 17 ] November 29, 2014 |

Hey, we’re a small business!  The easiest way to support us is either through the Donate button (although you guys have already been extravagantly generous this year, so no worries), or through buying our books on the far right sidebar.  Every purchase through Amazon (admittedly a giant, evil corporation) sends a little bit extra to the blog.  Ain’t capitalism grand? Here are the books, helpfully in list form:

Small! Nimble!

[ 21 ] November 29, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat compares American and Chinese efforts to escape the MIC (military-industrial complex):

Early last week, the Pentagon announced a new initiative designed to broaden the defense industrial pool by appealing to smaller, non-traditional firms.  This is hardly the first time that DoD has launched such an initiative; over the past decade and a half, the Pentagon has repeatedly made efforts to shift procurement dollars to firms not normally associated with defense technology. The DoD keeps trying to do this because it wants to capture some of the dynamism of the civilian tech economy, reduce costs for key technologies, and introduce additional competition to defense procurement. Rhetorically, proposing to “give the little guy a leg up” appeals to Congress and the media.

So why does the Pentagon keep having to launch these initiatives?  They often don’t work… What’s interesting about this latest appeal is that it appears to come alongside a similar appeal from the Chinese military.

Sand Creek

[ 26 ] November 29, 2014 |

On November 29, 1864, the Sand Creek Massacre took place, one of if not the worst and most disturbing massacre of Native Americans in the history of the United States. The Colorado militia, under the command of Col. John Chivington, an ardent abolitionist, attacked a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho in southeastern Colorado, killing around 200. We have discussed this event before here in conjunction with Ari Kelman’s book. Ned Blackhawk, one of the leading historians of Native America, notes the connections between the Civil War and the final crushing of indigenous peoples on the Plains.

Sand Creek, Bear River and the Long Walk remain important parts of the Civil War and of American history. But in our popular narrative, the Civil War obscures such campaigns against American Indians. In fact, the war made such violence possible: The paltry Union Army of 1858, before its wartime expansion, could not have attacked, let alone removed, the fortified Navajo communities in the Four Corners, while Southern secession gave a powerful impetus to expand American territory westward. Territorial leaders like Evans were given more resources and power to negotiate with, and fight against, powerful Western tribes like the Shoshone, Cheyenne, Lakota and Comanche. The violence of this time was fueled partly by the lust for power by civilian and military leaders desperate to obtain glory and wartime recognition.

Expansion continued after the war, powered by a revived American economy but also by a new spirit of national purpose, a sense that America, having suffered in the war, now had the right to conquer more peoples and territories.

The United States has yet to fully recognize the violent destruction wrought against indigenous peoples by the Civil War and the Union Army. Connor and Evans have cities, monuments and plaques in their honor, as well as two universities and even Colorado’s Mount Evans, home to the highest paved road in North America.

We have also talked about this recently in terms of Andrew Graybill’s new book on the Marias Massacre in 1870. The miitiarization and industrialization that the Civil War wrought were very easily turned against Native Americans. That doesn’t mean that without these things somehow the bison are not exterminated and Native resistance crushed eventually, but it wouldn’t have happened so rapidly and with such brutal force at that time. Moreover, it’s really important to think of the devastating conquering of indigenous people in the West as part and parcel of the larger Civil War. The brilliant tactics we rightly laud William Tecumseh Sherman for when used against slaveholders we can equally say were horrifying when used against Native Americans, in no small part because when racism was added to them, the murder of women and children was openly practiced by the military in the West when it was not in the South.

….See also this excellent piece on a man who discovered his ancestor was directly involved in the atrocities at Sand Creek.

“Rice did not lie”

[ 62 ] November 28, 2014 |

As appalling as Ray Rice’s underlying behavior was, this is clearly the correct decision.  Yes, if the NFL had a competently designed system of punishment, knocking a woman unconscious would not merit a significantly lower suspension than using recreational drugs.  Nonetheless, the NFL did not have such a system when Rice committed the offense (and, for that matter, doesn’t now, but anyway.)  The idea that Rice should retroactively receive a greater punishment than Goodell thinks a domestic offender should get in a standard announced after the fact because he “lied to Goodell” is absurd on its face.  And the absurdity is compounded by the fact that it’s vastly more likely that Goodell is lying than Rice is.

Obviously, Rice may never play an NFL game again; he was a replacement-level player at the NFL’s least important offensive skill position last year, and if his behavior means NFL GMs don’t want to gamble that he has something left in the tank I don’t have a problem with that.  But the Ravens should pay him what they owe him, and he shouldn’t be singled out for uniquely harsh discipline from the NFL.

BH: Comments!

[ 8 ] November 28, 2014 |

Robert Wright explains some of the finer points of Bloggingheads:

Death to America

[ 18 ] November 28, 2014 |

I wonder if Iran is accepting American entries to its Death to America festival:

As part of the campaign, Ouj also launched the “Death to America Grand Award” festival, sponsored by themselves and other similar organizations. The festival took place for the first time last year and gave away considerable cash prizes to its contestants. Now that the Vienna nuclear talks have ended inconclusively, the second festival is in the pipeline and billboards have gone up across the city to promote it.

According to reports, its sponsors also include Hezbollah Cyber, Saraj Cyberspace Organization, Tasnim news agency, Fars news agency and Nasr TV Network—all of which are affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards.

Winning contestants at the festival last year were awarded their prizes by the likes of Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, and Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayhan, the day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

According to Mohammad Hasani, the festival secretary, the event will start on December 7 and people taking part must incorporate themes such as, “Why death to America?” “America and Human rights” “America and Islamophobia” “America in the Embrace of World Zionism” “America and Nurturing Terrorism” and many more, into their artwork.

According to festival organizers, the “Death to America” Grand Prize will have a main competition for pictures, posters and cartoons and a side competition for documentaries, video clips, songs, articles, blogs, software and mobile apps. The winning prize in the main competition is $3,700, with a runner-up prize of $1,800 and a third prize of $750. While in the smaller competition, the first prize is $1,100, the second prize is $550 and the third prize is $260.

The festival’s finale will take place on February 11, 2015 on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Wouldn’t pictures of Black Friday be enough to win?

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