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[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

David Axe and the folks at War is Boring have an ambitious journalistic project, and could use your assistance. If you have a chance, drop a quarter in the jar.


"We want to her to be a really powerful female character, you know, a role model for young women. What you got?"

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

“I think you’re gonna love her, sir. Check her out.”


“I like what I see there, Ferguson, but she doesn’t really seem powerful. She needs—”

“A more muscular physique?”

“Don’t talk crazy, Ferguson. She has to be sexy.”

“So you need her to be more powerful, but also still sexy?”

“Why don’t you give her one of those things?”

“What things?”

“You know … one of those things.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Sure you do. One of those things.”

“I think I feel you now. You mean like this?”


“Perfect! Still sexy, but now that she has a thing, she’s powerful too. Great work, Ferguson!”

Because, as we all know, female characters can’t be powerful unless they have a thing, as the good folks at Detective Comics took pains to remind us this month:


Unlike the other example above, her thing isn’t even a psychoanalytic surrogate for a thing and its thingly power. Her thing is shaped like a thing and is used for stabbing. I have nothing more to add but this: please stop publishing comics that make me think of Lacan.

(By the by, I’m still getting acclimated to posting here, so I didn’t realize that all my comic posts should appear here too. I learn something new every day.)

Not the One I Would Have Chosen, But…

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

This year I forgot to do a “put Rock on the Rock” post, so I’ll delegate to Neyer and Posnanski (a better idea in any case.) I would like to think that the induction of a Dick Williams-era Expo would have forestalled the need for another one, but…

Because said Expos were the team that made me love baseball, I’m certainly not upset that the Hawk got voted in. As Neyer says, by historical standards, he’s reasonably well-qualified (and was a better player than Jim Rice, inducted last year.) And I would also point out that, while his 1987 MVP was a joke, the Joe Carter-with-an-arm most people remember from Chicago wasn’t his peak form; at his best, he was a good centerfielder with OPS+s from 136 to 157, a genuinely great player, and if his knees had held up for 2-3 more years he’d be a pretty easy selection. The real issue, of course, is context — he clearly wasn’t as good as his teammate Raines, or Alan Trammel, or Barry Larkin. I’d also probably prefer Dale Murphy, who had fewer decent seasons to fill out his career but sustained his as-good-or-better peak for more years. So while I’m fine with Hawk being in, I probably wouldn’t vote for him and certainly think that there are more deserving candidates who have gotten a lot less support.

Needless to say, Alomar getting rejected is a travesty, but presumably that will be rectified next year. And while he didn’t get in Blyleven falling five votes short is probably good news on balance for his eventual (and richly deserved) enshrinement. I’d have liked to see Edgar get a better start but that’s not bad. He shouldn’t be ahead of Raines, who is moving in the right direction but too slowly. I’m not sure whether his 30% or Trammel’s 22% is the bigger outrage; both would be no-brainers in a rational world.

Labour Frets About Gordon Brown . . . Again, and Again, and . . .

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |
Preface: I’m lucky to be writing this, as my internet connectivity at our Oregon Estate (read: two bedroom apartment in a posh suburb) is dodgy. The better half upgraded a few weeks ago, the provider dropped the ball, we’ve been without since 31 December, and I’m nicking bandwidth on some nearby, highly unreliable, open wifi. Upgraded access is restored here on 11 January, which conveniently is the same day I brave the upgraded security regime to fly back to England for the new term.

This latest Labour hang wringing over the leadership (and electoral suitability) of Gordon Brown has taken another ham fisted turn, as covered by the New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, et al. (OK, I’m sure The Sun does cover it, but first we get to read about how Cheryl Cole lost her virginity at 15, Rachel Weisz is everybody’s favorite MILF, and Patrick Vieira is leaving Inter Milan for greener pastures, presumably Man City, but then it is The Sun).

I’ll make this short: this is stupid. Labour’s chance to ditch Brown, as I pointed out at the time, was this past June. An Alan Johnson leadership would have helped Labour, but now that Johnson instead opted to assume the cabinet portfolio of doom (i.e. the Home Office), he’s in a worse position to help Labour. With Labour slowly regaining traction in the polls over the past two months or so, such that a hung parliament is not out of the question (and third place behind the Lib Dems now seems unlikely), provoking a leadership contest four to five months before an election is lunacy on the scale of Michael Foot’s 1983 Labour manifesto. Stating it lightly, this does not help.
The best analysis, as is often the case, can be found at UK Polling Report. Yes, Brown is a clear drag on Labour, while Cameron is the opposite for the Tories. However, the opportunity costs involved in a leadership challenge and then election while the party ought to be busy writing its manifesto and campaigning on it in a unified (for Labour) manner are immense.
Labour had the chance to ditch the Right Honorable Dour Scot in June, and they didn’t. It’s too late now to do any good.

News, Good and Bad

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

Although there will be an inevitable rush among Beltway journalists to turn this into a “Democrats are dropping like flies!” narrative (see a classic example here), I endorse all of Matt’s analysis. Dorgan dropping out is very bad news, Dodd dropping out very good news. And on balance I’d rather have Connecticut than North Dakota, as Blumenthal will almost certainly be more progressive than Drogan. I also agree that “Dodd is actually exhibiting a ton of integrity—doing the right thing for his country, his party, and the progressive political movement.” I was getting very, very annoyed at Dodd for putting what should be a safe seat at risk, and I’m glad that he’s doing the right thing.

…more from Fernholz.

When the Shore is Out of Sight

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

Via James Joyner, I’m wondering whether this really characterizes a common experience in higher ed:

All course materials, including weekly presentations, must be submitted months in advance. This, I’m told, is not only to ensure that books are ordered and copyrights cleared, but also for the various documents to pass along the line of administrative staff whose job includes vetting them in order to be sure no rules have been violated, then uploading them in the appropriate format. Moreover, a syllabus, we are constantly reminded, is a binding legal document; once submitted, it must be followed to the letter. Omissions or inclusions would be legitimate grounds for student complaint.

While the focus is on online courses, many of the generalizations seem to be intended for all college teaching. Speaking for myself, I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced anything like this. The last time anyone in authority “vetted” anything about a syllabus of mine was probably the autumn of 2000, when I began teaching my independent courses. Is the passage of syllabi through layers of administrative staff something common? Moreover, while I’ve often heard the claim that a syllabus is a “binding legal document,” I’ve always found that it means much less than it implies. I appreciate that there are faculty who attach pages of legalese to their syllabi, but a) this has always been voluntary at any institution I’ve been affiliated, and b) it’s not that onerous a task once you have the legalese; you simply attach the same handout to every syllabus.

Gone, then, are the days when I could bring my class an article from that morning’s New York Times. Now, when I stumble on a story, book or film that would fit perfectly with the course I’m currently teaching, I feel depressed, not excited. I can mention it, sure, but I can’t “use” it in the class.

Really? You can’t bring a New York Times article to class and have the students read it? I find this… implausible. For one, including the reading of the New York Times as a class requirement in the syllabus is a remarkably easy way to cover many sins. Second, while I’ve heard many student complaints in my time that I’ve believed to be illegitimate, I don’t think I’ve ever heard something quite as stupid as “she made us read a New York Times article that wasn’t on the syllabus.” More importantly, I can’t imagine any administrator actually taking such a complaint seriously.

Nor can I reorient the course in mid-stream once I get to know the students; I can’t change a core text, for example, if I find they’ve all read it before; I can’t change the materials to meet student interests or help with difficulties, as I once did without a second thought.

Indeed, I suppose that a restrictive syllabus does make it mildly more difficult to completely restructure a course halfway through the semester, or to change out major texts that the students have, in many cases, already spent money on. I guess I’m unconvinced that either of these are bad things; one of the points of a good syllabus is to allow students to plan their semester, structure their time, and choose the most helpful course of study.

And so, while I guess that some frustration at “educrats” is merited, I’m not terribly compelled by any of the above complaints. Indeed, I’m sometimes inclined to think that faculty may be a touch too attached to some of the overly feudal aspects of their positions; it’s really not necessarily to the benefit of undergraduate students that faculty be given nearly complete freedom over how to structure their courses, especially when some of those courses are required. As we all are constantly reminded, teaching undergraduates is very rarely the reason that particular faculty are hired or retained, and I can’t fault elements of administration for believing that there are aspects of undergraduate teaching that should be monitored. Another way to say this is that while I think that there should be considerable deference to the faculty vision of how specific undergraduate courses should be constituted, this deference ought not be total. Finally, I’m still deeply skeptical of the ability of teaching evaluations to act as guides to good and bad teaching.

Having Good Comps

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

I think I liked Shattered Glass a lot more than Atrios did, and so perhaps I’m interpreting it more charitably, but I’m not sure that the film portrays Lane as a hero so much as it shows someone a bit in over is head and slow on the uptake finally doing the right thing. He looks good only because his predecessor was Michael Kelly, who was (partly, one suspects, precisely because of his indifference to truth) very popular among the staff. I like the fact that the movie makes a lot of this implicit — showing how much his writers adored him while leaving for you to figure out that his ineptitude allowed Glass to get away with it for a ridiculously long time — but if you think back on it Lane is sympathetic only to the extent that he dealt with a bad situation with a minimal amount of competence. But he was never the driving force behind exposing a story that (unlike some of Glass’s previous fabrications) was always rather transparently fabricated.

Dead Pool 2010

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

Sadly, my best showing in four years of Dead Pool competition was not enough to assure victory. Though matched with a friend from CSU-Long Beach for the most stiffs overall, I lost the tiebreaker, which favors the list with the lowest cumulative age; Swayze and Fawcett were easy enough picks to make, though my friend’s prescient selection of Michael Jackson — a real forehead-smacker with the benefit of hindsight — pretty much assured her of the top slot.

Here’s my 2009 list:

  1. Patrick Swayze [14 September, age 57]
  2. Vo Nguyen Giap
  3. Claude Levi-Strauss [3 November, age 100]
  4. Ariel Sharon
  5. Eunice Kennedy Shriver [11 August, age 88]
  6. Edward Kennedy [25 August, age 77]
  7. Miep Gies
  8. John Wooden
  9. Farrah Fawcett [25 June, age 62]
  10. Fidel Castro

And my starting lineup for 2010:

  1. David Hasselhoff
  2. Seve Ballasteros
  3. Robert Byrd
  4. Art Linkletter
  5. Gloria Stuart
  6. Fidel Castro
  7. Ariel Sharon
  8. John Wooden
  9. Ronnie Biggs
  10. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi

As always, there were hard choices to be made. I knocked Giap off my list list this year because I’ve determined that he’s simply never going to die. And while I might come to regret the omission of Gies as he she approaches his her 101st birthday in February, the Dead Pool — as with life itself, I suppose — is no place for regrets.

Ooh, Lasers…

[ 0 ] January 5, 2010 |

I think there’s a limit to the utility of this kind of argument, regarding a new laser-based air defense system:

This all sort of leaves me wondering what problem this technology is a solution to. For the past twenty years every conflict the U.S. military has been involved with has involved overwhelming American air superiority. Finding better ways to shoot down enemy aircraft hasn’t been high on the priority list. But by the same token, the very dominance of American air power means that this would be very useful for America’s adversaries. Nobody we’re realistically going to fight could possibly build up a squadron of fighters to go toe-to-toe with the Air Force, but plane-killing lasers could be very useful. Obviously Boeing isn’t working on this technology in hopes of selling it to the Taliban, but my sense is that we should be hoping that we see relatively little progress on this sort of thing in years to come.

There are a few ways to think about this. There’s some space between “we need to buy a fleet of F-22s in order to counter future unforeseeable threats” and “advances in air defense technology are worth the investment.” For one, there’s a difference between construction of a specific platform and development of capabilities that may or may not be put into mass production. In ten years, I could see myself opposing a proposal to purchase a large number of air defense lasers; right now, I think it would be kind of nice to have the capability to think about the question in ten years. That the national security environment isn’t terribly predictable shouldn’t be an excuse to build every imaginable weapon, but it’s nevertheless nice to have some flexibility.

Second, while Yglesias makes an interesting point regarding the idea that improvement in anti-aircraft technology represents a net loss for the United States, I don’t think his (underspecified in any case) conclusion follows. For one, other countries understand the basic relationship between power projection and air defense technology as well as we do, and are already working on more capable systems. There’s no “air defense arms spiral,” because air defense system do not, after all, fight each other. US strike capabilities already give Russia, China, India and others a strong incentive to pursue advanced air defense technology, and I doubt very much that US air defense will matter very much. Moreover, there’s little reason to believe that eschewing air defense technological development will slow foreign innovation, as they already have plenty of reason to pursue advanced capabilities. If anything, the spiral is generated by improvements in US strike capacity.

Third, while it’s unlikely that the United States will, in the foreseeable future, have to defend a target from a swarm of fighter-bombers, it’s not so unlikely that we’ll have to defend against unmanned drones or cruise missiles. The development of cheap and effective drones is much more destabilizing, I think, than innovative development of air defense technology. Drones and cruise missiles give air strike capability to countries that can’t hope to win air superiority, as the relatively low cost of the platforms means that high losses become acceptable.

This is to say, then, that developing advanced air defense technology does not a) commit us to the purchase of any particular weapons system, b) provide cause for an arms race, c) provide a solution to a problem that is highly unlikely to arise.

Have you ever gotten to class on the first day of the term and started teaching…

[ 0 ] January 5, 2010 |

…only to have some other professor come in five minutes later and inform you that you’re in the wrong room?


Please share your own humiliating first-day-of-class stories in the comments and bring a smile to the face of the hypothetical person this actually happened to.

Care to Make It Interesting?

[ 0 ] January 5, 2010 |

Shorter Col. Mustard: The fact that even the polling firm most favorable to the GOP has the Republican candidate trailing by about 10 points is excellent news…for Republicans!

Winger Myths Never Die

[ 1 ] January 5, 2010 |

Narratives about the estate tax really do represent one of the great con jobs of all time. The “double taxation” argument would irredeemably stupid even if it was true; if it’s impermissible for money to be taxed twice this would seem to rule out state sales taxes, and more to the point even if some estate income was subject to the income tax heirs certainly haven’t paid taxes on it. And then, of course, you have the “if Paris Hilton has to pay taxes on her unearned inheritance every family farm in America will totally go out of business!” routine