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Category: General

He Turned Two Completions into Fifty Touchdowns

[ 53 ] December 9, 2011 |

Tebow’s own competitors are bowing at his (no-doubt) pierced and sanctified feet:

Dansby, whose Dolphins were the first victims of Tebowmania, told Jim Rome today that he and other members of the team saw Godliness in Tebow’s stunning comeback from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

“Us losing to Tim Tebow the way we did, we seen it first hand,” Dansby said on Rome’s radio show. “Young man is blessed. Young man has a special anointing on him. And for God to show himself in that game the way He did, through the guy He did it through, it opened a lot of guys’ eyes on our team. And it brought a lot of guys closer to God, so like I said, everything happens for a reason. . . . My hat goes off to Tim. And God working through him like that, it opened up a lot of eyes. He’s a blessed young man and I wish him much success the rest of his career.”

Is it thus true that defeating Tebow is like defeating the Lord himself. Will the bearded man upstairs hold it against these players, banishing them to Hades if they dare sack his second Son? Will people in 2000 years talk about Ray Lewis like they do about Pontius Pilate? Is John Fox the holy father?

More to the point, would Christian players actually want to sign with Denver if Tebow remains the starter? Would Tebow’s Biblebeating help the Broncos attract better players? Strange times.

Who Cares If Vaughn Walker Wants to Get Married?

[ 52 ] December 8, 2011 |

It’s not surprising that it looks as if the 9th Circuit will reject the farcical argument that Judge Vaughn Walker (who ruled that the Proposition 8 violates the 14th Amendment) should recuse himself because he’s gay. But this line of argument concedes way too much:

But the 9th Circuit judges stressed there was no proof Walker had any intent to marry, with one, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, noting that he did not marry in the window of time when same-sex marriage was legal in the state — before Proposition 8 was approved by the voters.

This may be true, but it’s beside the point. So what if Walker did intend to get married? Are homeowners disqualified from hearing 4th Amendment cases? Are only judges who pledge never to speak or write in public allowed to rule on 1st Amendment cases? Do judges have to pledge never to buy equities before they hear a securities litigation case? (And, of course, the assumption that only gays and lesbians are affected by same-sex marriage bans is to concede in advance that they’re irrational.) The argument that Walker has to recuse himself is profoundly foolish and profoundly offensive, and the fact that it’s being made in open court is in itself a good argument that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to strict scrutiny.

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

[ 24 ] December 8, 2011 |

Charlie Weis? Srsly?

To refresh recollections, Weis, who had zero college coaching experience and no head coaching experience of any kind, got hired by Notre Dame on the basis of his ability to put together mediocre NFL offenses while burdened with Tom Brady as his quarterback. At ND he had a couple of good seasons with Ty Willingham’s players then proceeded to do a spectacular face plant on the field over the next three, while off it alienating everyone connected with the program with his tactlessness and arrogance — a combination which inspired ND to spend 2/3rds of the money in the world to get rid of him, after they had imprudently signed him to a ten-year extension seven games into his head coaching career.

After a one-year stint back in the NFL as KC’s offensive coordinator, he took the same position with Florida and proceeded to put together the 102nd best offense in Division I college football (out of 119 teams). This earned him a three million dollar per year contract with the hapless Jayhawks.

In short it would be difficult to come up with a worse hire if you were trying. Of course this is a school that fired a guy one year after he took a perennially hopeless program to the Orange Bowl, then turned around and fired his successor two years later while owing him six million dollars in buyout money.

Best Twitter line so far.

UPDATE [SL]: The analysis of Paul’s fellow UM alum Jon Chait remains definitive. Also, I’m pretty sure the Internet Constitution requires us to post this book cover:

UPDATE 2 [EL]: Bobby Bowden on the hiring of Weis: “You got to be kidding me. He’s going to be the head coach?”

Mitigating for 4 Degrees C and Planning for 2 Degrees C

[ 11 ] December 8, 2011 |

David Roberts with a sobering report on how our climate change plans are developed with the assumption of maximum economic growth, an impossible scenario if we want to do anything to halt the onslaught:

The vast bulk of the reductions available in the near-term are on the demand side. Of course this means driving efficiency as fast as possible while taking measures (like raising prices and setting standards) to avoid the rebound effect. But it also means (gasp!) conservation. Actually, “conservation” is too polite a word for it. It means shared sacrifice. Climate campaigners have sworn until they’re blue in the face that reducing emissions is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s true! But reducing emissions enough? Maybe not, at least not for the next little while.

This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: “the logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

Also, why does anything “sobering” make me want to drink?

Margaret Thatcher: A Pundit’s Fantasy

[ 57 ] December 8, 2011 |

I can see why the Times published this Thatcher hagiography–she is a pundit’s wet dream.

This version of Thatcher has everything Beltway pundits love–Strong leadership! Doing things! Reinforcing the privileges of the rich!

The idealized Thatcher is what pundits would get if they could combine their 2000s fantasy with John McCain with their 2010 fantasy with Paul Ryan.

I also love how fantasy Thatcher totally forgets about her horrid policies in Northern Ireland.

You Will Never Retire

[ 52 ] December 8, 2011 |

The most depressing local story in my time in Rhode Island is the state government move to slash pension for state workers. A bipartisan effort, led by Governor Lincoln Chaffee but with significant help from the majority of Democrats in the legislature, has decimated pensions. The retired will likely never see a cost of living increase in their lifetimes. A 66 year old who lives another 25 years will see his or her life spiral further into poverty every year. Like problems in the United States Postal Service, it’s hard to deny that pensions aren’t a real problem for Rhode Island’s budget, but the solutions created for both fall entirely upon working people. Slashing pensions doesn’t solve the long-term poverty problems that the pensions are intended to eliminate.

What’s happening in Rhode Island is the canary in the coal mine. While maybe we are seeing a slight move back to economic justice in this country, I simply assume I will never be able to retire. I may be forced out when I get too old, but who among you has the money to retire? Who sees 15, 20, 30 years down the road the money to retire? I sure don’t. Of course, by the time I am forced out, the nation will have had to reckon with baby boomer poverty as the masses all retire without savings and with significant consumer debt. So who knows what the system looks like in 2040. It might be gone entirely. Or maybe we have these problems solved. But Rhode Island is pointing us in the wrong direction. If this can happen in a state as pro-labor as Rhode Island, it can happen anywhere.

Progressives always talk about electing “more and better Democrats.” Well, that’s happened in Rhode Island. Democrats have 5 to 1 margin in the legislature. Chaffee is an old-school Republican who is now an independent, but it’s not like he controls what the legislature does. What have all these Democrats done? Become the only state in New England to pass a photo i.d. law for voting, decimated state worker pensions, and passed a law declaring that bondholders have the first right to state tax dollars. It makes one wonder whether there are Democrats out there who will, say, tax the wealthy before destroying the social safety net?

The future of Albert Pujols

[ 51 ] December 8, 2011 |

The Pujols signing is interesting in that it’s taking place in an era in which we have vastly more information about likely long-term player value than we had even a few years ago. There are a couple of complicating factors to analyzing the Angels’ decision. First, it’s unclear that Pujols will actually turn 32 next month. If he’s even a year or two older that changes the calculus significantly. Second, we live in an age of better baseball through chemistry, so older data about player aging patterns may not be completely applicable (this isn’t meant to imply anything about Phat Albert’s training regimen in particular).

Anyway, this kind of decision seems to me to illustrate something Taleb calls “the cemetery problem” in The Black Swan — the natural psychological tendency to pay more attention to more visible than less visible data. The idea is that there are lots of great baseball players who have had great seasons in their mid and even late 30s, so it’s reasonable to expect that the Angels will get six or seven outstanding seasons out of Pujols, and that the last three years or so of his contract (when even the most optimistic predictors will admit it’s unlikely he’ll be better than an average first baseman) can be thought of as a signing bonus the team had to pay in order to get all those future great seasons from him.

It’s true that various baseball superstars have had several great seasons between age 32 and 38. (Leaving aside Barry Bonds for obvious reasons 38 seems to be the outer limit). What’s much less obvious is that there are a far larger number of superstars who have had only one or two — or no — great seasons after age 31. We’re far more likely to pay attention the first group of seasons than the second group, because the second group is essentially a cemetery for the failure of former greatness.

Here’s a list from Win Shares that represents the overall percentage value of the greatest 250 or so players in baseball history by age. The players reach their maximum combined value (100%) at 26, and essentially maintain it through age 31, at which they still have 93% of their highest value. Then this happens:

32: 90%
33: 82%
34: 72%
35: 65%
36: 55%
37: 37%
38: 26%

Now starting at age 36 a significant number of the players in the cohort start falling out of the league altogether, which obviously affects the total percentage value in a strong way, but on the other hand there have been lots of truly great players who were completely finished at age 37, and there’s no guarantee that Pujols won’t be one of them.

I think it’s a terrible contract.

Black Memory and the Civil War

[ 77 ] December 8, 2011 |

If you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on why African-Americans avoid centering the Civil War in their history, why the Civil War is so associated with whites in public memory, and how he became fascinated by the conflict, you must do so. It’s outstanding. Coates savages the lost cause myth, bringing from its roots in the late 19th century through Ken Burns’ The Civil War:

The comfortable narrative haunts even the best mainstream presentations of the Civil War. Ken Burns’s eponymous and epic documentary on the war falsely claims that the slaveholder Robert E. Lee was personally against slavery. True, Lee once asserted in a letter that slavery was a “moral & political evil.” But in that same letter, he argued that there was no sense protesting the peculiar institution and that its demise should be left to “a wise Merciful Providence.” In the meantime, Lee was happy to continue, in Lincoln’s words, wringing his “bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”

Burns also takes as his narrator Shelby Foote, who once called Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave-trader and Klansman, “one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history,” and who presents the Civil War as a kind of big, tragic misunderstanding. “It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise,” said Foote, neglecting to mention the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-­Nebraska Act, and the fact that any further such compromise would have meant the continued enslavement of black people.

For that particular community, for my community, the message has long been clear: the Civil War is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative, for to speak as the slave would, to say that we are as happy for the Civil War as most Americans are for the Revolutionary War, is to rupture the narrative. Having been tendered such a conditional invitation, we have elected—as most sane people would—to decline.

You know, I like the Burns film from an artistic standpoint; it’s probably the best visual production of a particular kind of Civil War memory that loves battles and might admit that blacks are part of the story but still not central to it. But the problems of using a neo-Confederate apologist for Nathan Bedford Forrest are legion (and also are indicative of the conservatism at the heart of most Burns productions).

Coates goes on to make a convincing argument as to why African-Americans need to learn that the Civil War is THE central event in their history:

For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy. They were also a declaration of war.

Over the next two centuries, the vast majority of the country’s blacks were robbed of their labor and subjected to constant and capricious violence. They were raped and whipped at the pleasure of their owners. Their families lived under the threat of existential violence—in just the four decades before the Civil War, more than 2 million African American slaves were bought and sold. Slavery did not mean merely coerced labor, sexual assault, and torture, but the constant threat of having a portion, or the whole, of your family consigned to oblivion. In all regards, slavery was war on the black family.

African Americans understood they were at war, and reacted accordingly: run­ning away, rebelling violently, fleeing to the British, murdering slave-catchers, and—less spectacularly, though more significantly—refusing to work, breaking tools, bending a Christian God to their own interpretation, stealing back the fruits of their labor, and, in covert corners of their world, committing themselves to the illegal act of learning to read. Southern whites also understood they were in a state of war, and subsequently turned the ante­bellum South into a police state. In 1860, the majority of people living in South Carolina and Mississippi, and a significant minority of those living in the entire South, needed passes to travel the roads, and regularly endured the hounding of slave patrols.

It is thus predictable that when you delve into the thoughts of black people of that time, the Civil War appears in a different light. In her memoir of the war, the abolitionist Mary Livermore recalls her pre-war time with an Aunt Aggy, a house slave. Livermore saw Aggy’s mixed-race daughter brutally attacked by the patriarch of the home. In a private moment, the woman warned Liver­more that she could “hear the rumbling of the chariots” and that a day was coming when “white folks’ blood is running on the ground like a river.”

Although not a true Civil War scholar, I teach the Civil War course here at URI and have taught it at other schools. I am teaching it this spring. As a first-year faculty member, I don’t really know the demographics of what my class will look like, but I expect it will be very white. Part of that it the URI student body has a diversity problem. But part of it is that African-Americans traditionally avoid this course. This fall was a giant scramble as I spent a huge amount of time getting used to a new institution but the next time I teach the course, I am going to outreach to the African-American student groups on campus and suggest they take the class. I absolutely teach it as a story about slavery, with the ultimate freedom struggle on one hand and the hypocrisy of whites and the betrayal of that freedom in Reconstruction on the other.

I very much look forward to Coates book on the Civil War. I’ll be assigning his essay to my students in the last part of the course, where we look at memory. I will be curious to see what they think after 13 or 14 weeks of being beaten over the head with the slavery/treason in defense of slavery/freedom struggle/betrayal narrative.

Santorum Does the Impossible

[ 29 ] December 8, 2011 |

You know, part of me is tempted to feel a little sorry for little Ricky. While Republican frontrunner status has fluctuated between the barely literate and people on book tours as Uncle Kvetch says he can’t even get any froth going, let alone a bubble. He’s a down-the-line conservative! He can handle things! He’s smart! He wants respect! Then I read stuff like his argument that obesity rates prove we don’t need food stamps, and his attack on Hillary Clinton’s historic speech. And then I remember that, just as Rick Perry has amazingly proven that you can be too stupid to win a Republican nomination, Santorum has proven that it’s possible to be too much of a smarmy asshole to win the Republican nomination.

Recently In Funny At McSweeny’s

[ 12 ] December 8, 2011 |

Excerpts From Steamy Romance Novels for Parents of Young Children,” very good:

Their eyes met across a landscape of wooden blocks and small cars and plastic dinosaurs that really hurt if you stepped on them at night while getting a child a sippy cup of water. He searched her face for exhaustion, and found it.


While Elijah was off playing at a friend’s house, he trimmed the shrubs and she mulched the flowerbeds. Later, over glasses of wine, they agreed: It had been really fun.

An Open Letter to Friends and Family Regarding Inquiries About My Reproductive Plans,” even better:

Response time ranges from three seconds to never and is influenced by factors such as the volume of reproduction-related queries received, whether the inquiry is excessively irritating (see Content section above), and my mood. Please note that the tone of my response, if you receive one at all, may vary from genuinely introspective to deeply sarcastic.

Despite being legally deaf, I can hear these dog whistles.

[ 62 ] December 7, 2011 |


I just don’t know where I’m supposed to be running. I mean, I’m trying to understand the logic behind associating gays in the military with the War on Christmas, but am failing. Badly. Because it almost seems as if Perry approves of gays being in the military, and simply wishes Christian children were afforded the same rights.

The Plan B Disgrace

[ 108 ] December 7, 2011 |

Shame on Obama and Sebelius. This isn’t like the compromises on reproductive freedom in the ACA, which were necessary to appease fanatical anti-choicers who were in a position to blow up the legislation. This is an indefensible decision that wasn’t in any sense politically necessary, and indeed might be politically counterproductive. Appalling.

…more from Jamil Smith, Charlie, Vanessa Valenti, Kaili Joy Gray, Sarah Posner, Amanda Marcotte, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Tedra Osell (who alas returned to blogging at the “right” time.)

..and Carmon:

But there is no honest public-health reason to force teenage girls to see a doctor before accessing emergency contraception. There are only political ones. (The morning-after pill will still be available at pharmacies without a prescription for women over 17.)

So what happened? Although it’s hard to believe that conservative voters would be particularly swayed by the president’s capitulation on this front, teen sex has always had a special place in paternalistic and politicized approaches to public health. It doesn’t matter that teenagers can, and do, get pregnant (or contract sexually transmitted diseases) just like women over 17. They still have to be “protected” by parental-notification laws about abortion or from comprehensive, scientifically grounded information about sex. Politically speaking, teenagers aren’t exactly a powerful voting bloc — but their terrified parents are presumed to be.

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