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A Chinatown world

[ 3 ] July 12, 2010 |

Three apparently unrelated news stories:

(1) Several hundred fans with tickets to the Spain-Germany semi-final missed the game because FIFA contrived to allow the private jets of what in 18th century England was known as the Quality to land at their owners’ convenience.

(2) The government of South Africa will lose billions on the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives under the (extremely low) international poverty line.

(3) The Swiss government has decided not to extradite a child rapist and fugitive from justice with lots of influential friends.


Hail to the Conquistador!

[ 6 ] July 11, 2010 |

Some fabulous work from the LGM readership; two teams in the 99.9th percentile:

1 greller49 1A. Greller 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
1 tnpsc 1v. las vegas 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
3 I Sure Hope I Win This!D A Lempert 20 16 24 32 32 124 99.1
4 gj manateesb. junge 19 16 24 32 32 123 98.9
4 wang1870D. Sessoms 19 24 16 32 32 123 98.9
6 timeagan101 1T. Eagan 23 16 16 32 32 119 98.1
7 US CottagersD. Brennan 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
7 Jersey Burkers J. Theibault 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
9 wizardpeople 1D. Noon 19 16 16 32 32 115 96.9
10 Smarter Than YuoS. Fleury 21 20 16 16 32 105 94.5

A. Greller wins by virtue of having a closer “total goals scored” number. Excellent work. If Mr. or Ms. Greller would please contact me, prize delivery shall be arranged…

Oh, and congrats to Spain as well, I guess.

Book Review: The Last Days of Europe

[ 13 ] July 11, 2010 |

This is the fifth installment of an eight part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  2. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen
  3. The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich
  4. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe

In the past, the Patterson School has included some truly terrible books on its Summer Reading List. The most notably awful, to my recollection, was Parag Khanna’s Second World, a manifestly reprehensible pile of garbage that should have embarrassed its publisher. I suspect, however, that Walter Laqueuer’s The Last Days of Europe is even worse.

As a scholar, Laqueur has always been a bit all over the place. He wrote several books about central Europe in the 20th century, a volume about fascism, did some work on the Holocaust, and more recently has focused on terrorism and Middle Eastern politics. Unfortunately, in The Last Days of Europe he expresses no interest in any historical method beyond the cranky, unmeasured rant. Despite making wide ranging empirical claims (and basing his policy recommendations on those claims) he cites no actual evidence, and gives readers no clue as to where he mines the “data” that he purports to provide. Footnotes don’t necessarily indicate serious scholarship (see Ann Coulter), but their absence contra-indicates it.

Laqueur’s story is very simple. Europe, or at least the part of Europe inhabited by well-behaved white folks, is in terminal decline. In short order it will effectively be replaced by uncouth, poorly educated, thuggish Middle Easterners. These Middle Easterners hate the West for some reason with a burning hatred than knows no hateful hatey limits, except for those Middle Easterners who don’t hate the West and want to continue living there. Moreover, because Polite White People are unwilling to breed in sufficient numbers, these uncouthy surly “Muslims” (he regularly argues that European Muslims actually know nothing of their faith) will soon sap and impurify Europe’s bodily fluids. Moreover, the EU sucks, and European is both militarily weak and anti-American.

To be excruciatingly fair, Laqueur’s alarm about European demographics is in the neighborhood of elements of truth (for a much more sensible take, see here), and his contention that the EU is fatally disconnected from popular European preferences could be made to make sense by a much better author. The rest is a waste; it says far more about Laqueur’s particular prejudices, and the paranoia of the contemporary American right, than about Europe.

A sampling:

In Germany the sharp decline began with the Genera-tion of 1968 and the Frankfurt School, with its Critical Theory, which belittled the function of the family from both a social and an economic point of view. But the family declined also in other societies in which the year 1968 was not an important turning point.

Really? So the claim that the sharp demographic decline began with the Frankfurt School and its Critical Theory is demonstrably empirically false?
We also get more than a dose of what really irritates Walter Laqueur; surly, dark-skinned teenagers:

Muslim youth culture varies to a certain extent from country to country. Common to them is the street sports gear (hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, etc.) and the machismo; their body language expresses aggression. They want respect, though it is not clear how they think such respect is earned; perhaps it is based on the belief that “this street (quarter) is ours.” In France and the United Kingdom hip-hop culture plays a central role; the texts of their songs express strong violence, often sadism.

We learn that these thugs commit lots of crimes, and that European cities are now as unsafe as American (except for the murder rate, of course, which remains more than triple that of any country that Laqueur discusses).

Unfortunately, he feels the need to make comparisons between European muslims and African-Americans:

Socioeconomic factors have been blamed, and in this respect there have been interesting similarities to young black males in the United States: If only more jobs would be offered, it is often maintained, everything would change for the better. But many studies have shown that when such jobs were offered (as in the Clinton years in the United States), the takers were predominantly immigrants from Latin America and the Far East.

It’s hard to know where to start with this. It would have been nice if Laqueur had actually cited a study, rather than say “studies have shown,” but that’s really not the point; African-American unemployment at the beginning of the Clinton administration was 14.1%, and at the end was 7.3%. When the jobs were “offered” (and it’s unclear how exactly he thinks Clinton produced jobs), many of the takers appear to have been African-American. Either Laqueur doesn’t know this and doesn’t care, or he’s simply lying; I report, you decide.

This statement, and statements like it, are depressingly common in the book:

It was not just a case of rejecting France and its values but of hating French society and its institutions, as spokesman of the young generation repeatedly declared.

Really? How were these spokesman selected by the young generation? Were they representative? Were there other “spokesman” who made counter-claims? Maybe, maybe, and maybe, but I have no idea, because Laqueur doesn’t provide any citation to any spokesman saying anything about anything. Nevertheless, Laqueur knows that these swarthy young men with the hoodies and the hip hop HATE FRANCE AND ITS INSTITUTIONS AND ITS WELL BEHAVED WHITE PEOPLE.

On the danger of Angry Swarthy Turkish People in Germany:

According to German officials, their [the Islamists] number is not formidable- 3600 in Berlin- and it has not grown significantly over the years. But this refers to militants, professionals, or semiprofessionals, and seen from this perspective they are stronger than any other group. Milli Goerues, which has been categorized by German officials as “extremist,” has hundreds of groups based in its mosques. It aims (without mincing words) to replace the secular order in the country in which they live by an order based on the sharia, first in the regions in which Muslims are the majority, or a signficant minority, and subsequently in the areas in which their space has expanded.

Well, I guess we’re fortunate then that there are 5 million people in the Berlin metropolitan area; otherwise that 3600 number (not growing, by the way) would be cause for concern.

On European anti-terror laws:

In most European countries (as well as in the United States, Russia, and India), antiterrorist legislation was somewhat strengthened after 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in other countries. But even then the authorities were largely powerless to arrest of sentence suspected terrorists. If they did so, they were denounced as acting illegally by no only local human rights watch organizations, Amnesty International, and so on, but also European political institutions- usually with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Again, some citation of actual cases would have been helpful; I suspect that Amnesty has at some point complained about something that’s happened in Europe, but I certainly wouldn’t have the faintest idea what that was from reading Laqueur. More to the point, Laqueur’s contention about the insufficiency of anti-terrorist law enforcement in Europe is almost surreal. Every country that Laqueur mentions give vastly greater powers to its police apparatus than is enjoyed by their US counterparts; Patriot Act notwithstanding, the average Briton, German, and Frenchman is subject to considerably greater scrutiny than the average American. This is the legacy not only of the strong security states that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also of the anti-terror campaigns that the major European states waged in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Laqueur doesn’t bother to grapple with this, because he wants to describe weak anti-terror laws as a peculiarly European problem, with the namby pamby and the EU and the Amnesty and the welfare state et al.

And then he messes with political science:

There are more no-go zones in France than in Britain, and political scientists believe that France faces balkanization in the not too distant future.

Really? Which political scientists? Are there other political scientists who disagree? How would you characterize the argument? I dunno, I dunno, and I dunno, because Laqueur simply invokes the majesty of political science in support of his hypothesis that France is disintegrating, without telling us which political scientists he’s citing.

I could go on. He rambles nonsensically about the perilous weakness of the European military establishment, without mentioning that two of the top five, four of the top ten, and seven of the top twenty in defense spending belong to the EU. He rants about “pundits” and “think tanks” that keep arguing about European predominance, without citing precisely who makes these arguments, in what context, or with what caveats.

In a sane and just world, the editor, publisher, and author of this volume would be permanently excluded from polite society; to call this book pernicious, dishonest, ill-informed dreck is to do a disservice to genuine, quality dreck. Unfortunately, Laqueur suffers no sanction; the book exists in the alternate reality of right wing hackery, in which no argument can be so stupid, so poorly supported, and so dishonest to earn general reproach, as long as it expresses concern about the darkies and the welfare and the foreign policy weakness.

Netherlands v Spain

[ 3 ] July 11, 2010 |

19:30 (BST), 14:30 (EDT), 11:30 (PDT).

When I mentioned that an English ref is to officiate this match, I inexplicably failed to see the obvious connection: the last time Holland and (West) Germany met in a World Cup Final, 1974, was the last time an English ref officiated the match.

The Guardian has an excellent article on the state of the discipline regarding tactics.  In short, it looks as though we’re all going to be Barcelona clones . . . including the great Johan Cruyff.  Cruyff has always been something of a flake, and he does have mixed loyalties in this case, being both a Dutch and Barca legend, but can anybody imagine Sir Alex Ferguson supporting England over Scotland in a World Cup Final?

Most are predicting a Spanish victory.  While Spain is blessed with a sublime possession, passing game and creativity to spare, this article points out that the team is really predicated on a solid defence.  Spain conceded five goals in 20 qualification matches, and only two goals in their six World Cup matches.  It could be argued that this low rate of conceding goals is a direct function of their focus on possession: if the other guys don’t have the ball, it’s presumably a bit more difficult to score.  Furthermore, while I had considered Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil as my player of the tournament, this is rapidly being replaced with the Spanish Andrés Iniesta.

That said, I’m a partisan for this match.  I’m pulling for the Dutch.  Ga Oranje!

This Will End Badly…

[ 5 ] July 10, 2010 |

Kinda exciting. Wish the Reds could score a damn run so he doesn’t have to pitch 13 innings.

…C’mon guys.  1 run.

Sheehan asks whether it made sense to hit Wood in the eighth, given that the Reds are in a race.  First, Dusty has set a bad precedent by batting Mike Leake in crucial situations.  Second… just no.

…This would be a good time to be dramatic, Joey.

…Wood is obviously tiring.  Got hit hard last inning, but lucky.

… Yup.  Still, hell of a performance.  Tip of the cap to Travis Wood.

…They cannot seriously be considering letting him continue.  The last three hitters have crushed him.


[ 5 ] July 9, 2010 |

While pride prevents me from fully withdrawing my critique of Dusty Baker for letting Mike Leake hit last week while Scott Rolen sat on the bench, I will concede that Leake is rather on a hot streak with the bat.

That is all.

….oh, for crying out loud.

James Hudnall seems to have forgotten about the other 51 percent of the population.

[ 39 ] July 9, 2010 |

I get mail:

If this combination of two of your favorite topics doesn’t rouse you from your blogging doldrums, nothing will.

To which I replied:

My my.

Then I started writing this post, which is, as per the title, about James Hudnall’s remarkably unselfconscious rant about Wonder Woman. Hudnall’s not interested in her costume change, which was apparently a topic of no small interest while I had my head in the sand, and about which all I have to say is this: if you attended a meeting and were the only one there wearing a swimsuit, would you feel uncomfortable? Enough said. For Hudnall, though, the debate about her costume merely provides him an excuse to attack her character. Like many a spurned misogynist, he does so by accusing her, and by proxy all feminists, of misandry. He begins:

The problem with Wonder Woman isn’t her look. It’s her personality. She has never been a warm, appealing character. She comes from an island populated only by immortal Amazons who hate men. And men aren’t allowed to set foot on the island. This island of super-women send her to “the man’s world” where she brings the baggage of this sexist worldview.

You want to talk about baggage? Consider what Hudnall brings to the table: women who are not “warm” are also not “appealing.” The first question, obviously, is what does he mean by “warm”? The second, of course, is “appealing” to whom? That he failed to notice that his definition of “warmth” entails that she must be “appealing” to men like him is a remarkable, albeit typical among his lot, feat of argumentative blindness: women who possess characteristics that he finds unattractive hate all men because they fail to cater or conform to Hudnall’s needs.

In addition to his inability to distinguish the universal from the particular, he simply misunderstands the character. Wonder Woman does enjoy giving those who underestimate her because she’s a woman, be they thugs or comic villains, their comeuppance—a category that by extension includes readers like Hudnall, but more on that in a bit. But notice what Hudnall fails to: the comic universe is predicated on the logic of a vicarious enjoyment of comeuppance.

Consider this scene in The Dark Knight. The nifty camerawork helps ratchet up the tension on a formal level, but on a narrative one, the tension comes from the viewer knowing what the Joker doesn’t: the implications of having crashed Bruce Wayne’s fundraiser. The viewer anticipates the comeuppance, because the Joker underestimated Wayne on account of his being a wealthy playboy. Same thing works in any situation in which Clark Kent is threatened. It even girds works that demonstrate the limitations of the genre, as that last panel neatly illustrates.

In other words, despite being the motivating force behind the genre, the logic comeuppance only bothers Hudnall when men who underestimate women receive theirs.

I wonder why that is?

Read more…

Lazy Friday Blogging: Cliff Lee, Austerity Budgets, England in the WC Final

[ 6 ] July 9, 2010 |

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to this, and like Rob, I’m delighted — even though it’s a rare deal within the same division.  This seems to be a better deal than the mooted Yankees offering.  It’s only a shame that the M’s couldn’t put together a season that justified keeping Lee around all year.  He’s had an amazing year.

I wonder what the Miami Heat put forward as an alternative to the Rangers’ package?

I had been trying to cobble together a piece on the UK Coalition Government’s austerity budget, but found it all a bit too depressing.  The New York Times does a decent job of aggregating the grim, and they’re not impressed.  Oddly enough, the kids over at think 40% cuts are fantastic (in a good way).  I’m not sure if my daughter would agree, with I being ostensibly a public sector employee, and her police officer mother very much an employee of a department that is not ring fenced.  Yes, even the Conservatives admit it: Cameron is little more than a Thatcherite — with one small exception: Thatcher relied on the cops a hell of a lot to quell the concomitant riots that her policies ensued.

At least Labour are devouring one another rather than fielding a credible opposition, as David Miliband goes out on a limb and critiques Gordon Brown.  Only a year too late, mate; I’d link to my several posts on the subject, but the archives link under my name doesn’t seem to be functioning.

And, yes, the English have made the World Cup final.  The refereeing team, that is.


[ 7 ] July 9, 2010 |

Apparently, Cliff Lee not going to the World’s Greatest Manifestation of Evil. Particularly since the Yankee offer wasn’t overwhelming (if Montero could actually catch, maybe), this must be considered an unequivocal good.

The DOMA Invalidation

[ 7 ] July 9, 2010 |

Obviously, in the short term ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is an improvement in public policy.  Unfortunately, one of the arguments used in the rulings was a 10th Amendment argument that is both specious and dangerous, and I think it’s unlikely that the better argument will survive appeal either.

When the Evidence Confirms What You Always Kinda Knew…

[ 13 ] July 9, 2010 |

Huh. I guess I always suspected that Tony La Russa was evil:

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa on Tuesday said he’s a “supporter” of Arizona’s immigration law and welcomed local Tea Partiers who were inside the stadium to show Arizona solidarity — even though his team was facing off that night against the Diamondbacks.

La Russa, talking to reporters, addressed the subject because dozens of St. Louis Tea Party members were at Busch Stadium to demonstrate in support of the Arizona law.

The Cardinals manager, who attended Florida State University’s School of Law and is one of only five lawyers ever to manage a Major League Baseball team, said he thinks the Tea Partiers are “correct” on “a lot of things” and welcomed competing points of view into his team’s stadium.

“I’m actually a supporter of what Arizona’s doing. … The national government doesn’t fix your problem, and you’ve got a problem, they’ve got to take care of it themselves,” La Russa said.

Wonder what Albert Pujols thinks…

USS Olympia

[ 12 ] July 9, 2010 |

This is a depressing story:

The Olympia was a successful museum vessel, at least according to the numbers. More than 100,000 visitors annually paced the same decks where Dewey uttered the immortal fighting words, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

In 1996, the museum, flush from a six-year $15 million capital campaign, took control of the Olympia. The future looked bright. But now, 14 years later, the nearly broke museum is giving up the distressed vessel, claiming her maintenance poses an insurmountable fiscal challenge.

What has been steadily sinking the ship? Not disinterest. Instead, more modern American vices-greed, corruption, and civic disengagement-may have overpowered this monument to the strong, optimistic America of old.

As the Olympia sat deprived of basic maintenance, the Independence Seaport Museum’s chief, John S. Carter, enjoyed perks far above compensation provided at peer institutions. In 2004, his salary exceeded $350,000, and he lived rent-free in a $1.7 million executive mansion bought, maintained, remodeled, and even furnished with museum funds, according to news reports.

The criminal complaint against Carter claimed that by 2006, the museum had been billed more than $335,000 for work on the director’s Massachusetts home. While Carter charged the museum over $280,000 for personal purchases of jewelry, home electronics, designer clothing, and rare artwork, almost $200,000 dollars in maritime artifacts-including a rare print of Dewey-went missing.

Rather than support the Olympia, Carter defrauded the museum of more than $900,000 dollars in a scheme to restore and resell-for personal gain-several antique pleasure boats.

The museum faltered. Between 1999 and 2005, its endowment went from $48 million to a mere $7.7 million. Admission receipts tumbled by half. And all this time, the final arbiters of fiscal management, the museum board, did nothing.