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Least Shocking Headline Ever

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

I open up the Cincinnati Enquirer homepage this morning and find this:

Drinking problematic at Miami

A lot of beer, a few too many shots, and Miami University students start making questionable decisions, school officials say – ones that have led to tragic consequences for some.

1. Other than Tom Wolfe, who is surprised at the news that college students drink to excess?

2. If you lived in Oxford, Ohio, what would you do on a Friday evening?


No Spoilers…

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

For my part, the BSG season premier didn’t disappoint. Not every series is gutsy enough to begin its season with… a Dean Stockwell sex scene.

Read Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber, who asks:

If the humans were originally us and the Cylons were Al Qaeda, how did the Cylons become America while we became the Iraqis?

Pretty Colors

[ 0 ] October 6, 2006 |

This is cool. Via Duss.

[ 0 ] October 6, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

…my veterinarian told me that Nelson was born without a tail; I had believed that he’d lost it at some point. So I started looking up info on the Manx. Apparently they keep growing until they hit five years old…


[ 0 ] October 5, 2006 |

Is the Russian Navy finally beginning to come out of its fifteen year hibernation? Admiral Kuznetsov, the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, will apparently rejoin the fleet by the end of the year. Admiral Nahkimov, a Kirov class nuclear battlecruiser, is scheduled to return to service next year after eight years laid up. By themselves, of course, these moves barely begin to staunch the bleeding that the Russian Navy has experienced since 1991, but they may nonetheless signal that the Kremlin has decided to make naval power a higher priority. The Russian Navy has begun to contribute in a small way to Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s effort to stop piracy, drug trafficking, and refugee trafficking in the Mediterranean.

In tangentially related news, the Tories apparently miss the Cold War. Speaking at a Conservative Party conference, shadow defence minister Liam Fox reportedly inveighed against unwariness:

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken recently “of having armed forces capable of fighting a global, regional and, if necessary, a few local conflicts”. The shadow minister said he had been “amazed” by how little coverage Russia’s new military build-up has received in the Western media. He said the country was spending 25% more on defence this year than last year and is testing new inter-continental ballistic missiles, and ordering new frigates for its navy, equipped with cruise missiles.

The Russians have also reportedly invested in two Syrian ports, he added. If they switch their Black Sea fleet there it would be their first Mediterranean base since the 1950s, said Dr Fox, who repeated his warning in a speech in the main conference hall at the Bournemouth conference centre.

For my part I would rather think about how the United States and the United Kingdom might make use of Russian military power in a cooperative fashion than about how Russian revanchism threatens the West. The relationship between Russia and the Western Allies need not be zero-sum, as Active Endeavour and similar proposals, like 1000 ship Navy, demonstrate.

Cross-posted at Tapped.


[ 0 ] October 3, 2006 |

The most vicious profanity imaginable cannot capture my hatred of Derek Jeter.

…&&*&^ &%%$ ##$@ %^&&*&( ^^&*##@ @#@#@$$ %$%^^&%# %$^$ $##@@!@ %%^$

Book Review: World War Z

[ 0 ] October 3, 2006 |

The common nerd enjoys yarns about alien invasions and zombie uprisings. The truly dedicated nerd, however, likes to pore over the details of the public policy response to such events. I have far more tolerance for Independence Day than anyone sensible person ought, largely because I find thinking about the aftermath of the attack an enjoyable intellectual exercise. With most urban areas and industry destroyed yet the population largely unharmed, the technical problems associated with food distribution, health care, and disaster assistance would have been staggering. Moreover, the destruction of most of the world’s infrastructure, combined with the abundance of battered alien technology lying about, creates a fascinating set of political problems. Frankly, I doubt that Bill Pullman’s administration would have the policy chops to handle these problems, but that’s really a question best left unpondered.

World War Z is Max Brooks’ follow up to the successful Zombie Survival Guide which detailed the strategies and tactics that individuals should use to identify and escape zombie uprisings. Max is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and has a remarkable comedic ear for questions of public policy. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is a Studs Terkel style retelling of the major events of a large zombie outbreak. The details of the outbreak are interesting but not particularly important; rather, what gives the book its strength is the plausibility (an odd word for a zombie novel) with which the tale unspins.

A zombie uprising represents a series of public policy problems that touch on virtually every role that the modern state plays. It is a health care crisis, a contagion control problem, a threat to social order and property, a threat to local police and legal institutions, and finally a problem of military capacity. Brooks traces the zombie uprising through all of these facets of state power, starting with the first outbreaks and the ineffective state responses. Institutions governing international trade and transit fail to contain the contagion. Social disruption in urban areas exacerbates the problem and overwhelms local authorities. Panic ensues, and public confidence in governmental institutions collapses. Military forces attempt to restore order, but lack the doctrinal and technical tools to solve the problem. Utter collapse and extermination threaten. Brooks describes most of these stages in realistic detail. I was especially impressed by his discussion of a military effort to destroy a zombie horde in Yonkers, New York. Anti-personnel weapons that rely on the destruction of part of the enemy’s body fail to seriously damage zombies. Tactics that concentrate on fire support, cover, and concealment are of no use whatsoever against a foe uninterested in its own survival. I spoke about this chapter with a seargeant in the Kentucky National Guard who had also read the book, and he said that he found the setup remarkably compelling; he had no doubts that officers would indeed order the men to dig in and construct useless field fortifications over the objections of the non-commissioned officers.

But, as we know from the movies, a zombie outbreak is an essentially soluble problem. Zombies are slow, dumb, and can be killed (Brooks holds to the traditional slow, mindless zombie, rather than the quick zombies of the new Dawn of the Dead or the learning zombies of George Romero). Local governmental authorities develop ways to detect infection and means for cordoning off and clearing certain safe areas. Brooks gives the most credit (both technical and political) to the Israelis, a decision that I found kind of interesting. He then gives an entirely reasonable account of how the major military organizations rethink their operations and restructure their tactics and procurement decisions based on the new threat. The zombies are eventually defeated, although they cannot be exterminated and the cost is extremely high.

Although I doubt I would ever be able to pull it off, I would love to do a policy simulation of a zombie uprising at my school. Brings new meaning to “thinking outside the box.” In any case, be sure to read the book even if you don’t have a zombie obsession. Brooks takes a very few missteps, but the narrative is solid throughout.

Mmm… bacon

[ 0 ] October 3, 2006 |

As we know, elementary chaos theory predicts that robots MUST rise and overthrow their masters. In such a world, teaching robots that humans taste like bacon, the most delicious of God’s foods, seems reckless:

The ability to discern good wine from bad, name the specific brand from a tiny sip and recommend a complementary cheese would seem to be about as human a skill as there is.
In Japan, robots are doing it.
Researchers at NEC System Technologies and Mie University have designed a robot that can taste — an electromechanical sommelier able to identify dozens of different wines, cheeses and hors d’oeuvres.


Some of the mistakes it makes would get a human sommelier fired — or worse.
When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.

Now we know why the Cylons hate us; we taste like bacon.

…scott reminds me of the importance of having robot insurance:

Via Defense Tech.

Yarg. Why Do I Keep Reading Slate?

[ 0 ] October 2, 2006 |

Anne Applebaum:

One 2004 poll found that more than half of the French, nearly half of the Germans, and a third of the British think the United States has overreacted to the terrorist threat.

Or, to put it differently: Neither the events of Sept. 11 nor any of the bombings that followed seem to have convinced Europeans that anything important has changed in the world. I only wish they were right.

Maybe they think this because France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have had to deal with domestic and international terrorism regularly for the last forty years (at least), and thus understand the events of September 11 to be horrific but hardly evidence of a fundamental change in world politics. It’s a debatable proposition, but from the European perspective it’s entirely defensible to argue that the only thing that changed on September 11 was that awful terrorism happened to the United States. Applebaum also writes:

That Germans don’t want to think about this is beyond dispute, too: More than 80 percent told pollsters that they don’t feel personally threatened by terrorism at all.

Yes, and given the chances that anyone from any Western country will die in a terrorist attack, this is an entirely reasonable position to have. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it’s the only position available to a sane individual; if I feel personally threatened by terrorism, then I must be downright terrified of random mugging, heart disease, second hand smoke, cancer, hurricanes, tornados, and most notably automobile accidents, all of which are more threatening to me by several orders of magnitude than terrorism.

Christ, I wonder how much worse Slate can get. Applebaum is conveying literally no new information in this article; how many times have we heard exactly the same thing from a conservative critic of the European response to terrorism?

Sir, We Must Not Allow a Contrarian Gap!!

[ 0 ] October 2, 2006 |

Coming hard upon the heels of Mickey Kaus’ unsuccessful effort to figure out a way in which the Democrats were responsible for the Foley incident (keep working, Mickey; I’m sure you’ll get there), John Dickerson manages to wrangle a way to excuse the Republican leadership while at the same time blaming Democrats (pre-emptively, to be sure) for stoking the fires of homophobia. In his column (There is a Way Democrats can go to Far), Dickerson writes:

The saga has too much political potential for them to allow that to happen. The narrative is far easier to understand than the Jack Abramoff scandal, and at least in the early rounds, the pressure has caused GOP leaders to point fingers at each other. But for this to become a brush fire may require courting homophobes to generate sustained and impenetrable outrage.

In other words, Democrats should back off of their attacks against a Party that embraces loathing of homosexuals for political gain because such attacks might be perceived as homophobic? I know that pre-emptive war is the big thing nowadays, but shouldn’t we wait until a single Democrat says something homophobic before we assail the party for “courting homophobes”?

This comes in the wake of Dickerson’s take on the Bob Woodward book, which might fairly be titled “Who does Woodward hurt more; Bush or America?” A passage:

As a policy matter, the book undermines Bush’s attempts to strengthen the national will for the long and drawn-out fight ahead. For the last year, the administration has been unsuccessfully trying to get the mix in the president’s public statements right: enough candor to show people Bush is aware of what’s really going on in Iraq but enough optimism to keep Americans behind the fight. “There is a clear distinction between having confidence in your strategy and that ultimate success is achievable while also recognizing it will be extremely difficult to get there,” says a senior White House official. “The president’s speeches during the last year have struck that balance. What was Churchill saying during the middle of the blitz—’have no fear, we’re losing and things won’t get better?’ Hell no; he was honest about the predicament, but confident that they would succeed. By no means am I saying the president is Churchillian, but there is a long history of war-time leaders being optimistic even during the darkest days.”

Dickerson’s been at Slate for over a year, but he’s only recently begun to annoy me. It seems that he’s decided that Slate doesn’t have enough Democrat-bashing contrarians. Always room for one more…

In Defense of a Beautiful Fantasy

[ 0 ] October 2, 2006 |

LGM Baseball Challenge 2006 is over, and it appears that, in spite of a strong effort, Dave Noon lacked the will, resolve, and moral certitude necessary to defeat the Kentucky Bearded Ducks. Of Loomis’ late season collapse the less said the better.

Second Half Final Standings:

1 Kentucky Bearded Ducks , R. Farley 3566
2 Axis of Evel Knievel , D. Noon 3422
3 Bolts from the Blue , R. Payne 3204
4 I Love Technology , E. Loomis 3198
5 The Stugotz , B. Petti 2974
6 Shangri-La Coelacanths , J. Daw 2934
7 green weinies , W. Bell 2909
8 GeorgeWCarpetbagger , P. McLeod 2901
9 titleixbaby , P. Smith 2894
10 Sector 7G Carbon Blobs , S. Meredith 2573
11 St. Louis Cardinals , D. Solzman 2539

Overall Final Standings:

1 Kentucky Bearded Ducks , R. Farley 7704
2 Axis of Evel Knievel , D. Noon 7433
3 I Love Technology , E. Loomis 7278
4 Bolts from the Blue , R. Payne 6989
5 titleixbaby , P. Smith 6816
6 The Stugotz , B. Petti 6499
7 green weinies , W. Bell 6460
8 Shangri-La Coelacanths , J. Daw 6429
9 Sector 7G Carbon Blobs , S. Meredith 5881
10 St. Louis Cardinals , D. Solzman 5672
11 GeorgeWCarpetbagger , P. McLeod 5180
12 Eephus, J. Schroeder 3457
13 Seattle Hemicats, M. Bruneau 3362
14 Moscow Rats, I. Gray 3315
15 deez nuts, m s 3153

It had slipped my mind, but I’ve wanted for a while to bring some attention to Patrick Jackson’s wonderful defense of fantasy baseball. Thought by many to represent a gruesome intersection of various forms of “geek” and “nerd”, fantasy baseball should be thought of as just as real as field baseball:

I first want to debunk the notion that fantasy baseball is somehow less “real” than on-the-field, Major League Baseball. This kind of opposition is ordinarily signaled by the use of the term “real baseball” to designate the endeavor in which guys like Mike Mussina and Albert Pujols and hundreds of other players, coaches, managers, and front office staffs are engaged in. Yes, that endeavor is manifestly “real” — there are stadiums, contracts, telecasts, a specialized portion of the media, and live bodies trying to accomplish difficult tasks in a relatively constrained environment of rules and resources. Oh, yes, and win-loss records — everyone involved is trying to improve theirs. So sure, this is all “real” in the sense that if I personally were to close my eyes and ignore it, it would still be there, a manifest social fact, an experienced reality for millions of other observers. But exactly the same thing can be said about fantasy baseball, too. While it may not be physically as difficult to perform well in a fantasy competition, it’s still a competitive, rule-governed environment — just as much of a game as that thing that the Yankees and the 29 other Major League clubs do 162 times a year in the regular season is a game. No more and no less “real.”

Right. Indeed, I would suggest that the fantasy baseball enthusiast has a more concrete relationship to the game than a traditional baseball fan. Whereas the typical Reds fan can whine about the stupidity of trading Austin Kearns for a bunch of middle relievers, the fantasy baseball owner has substantial control over the destiny of his or her squad. That is, unless he put in a waiver claim on Josh Beckett with the assumption that Beckett would manage an ERA under five, and then finds that he can neither trade Beckett at substantial discount nor assemble the fortitude necessary to waive the bastard. But that’s a story for another day. Read the post.

Monday Monkey Blogging

[ 0 ] October 2, 2006 |

Via FFB.

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