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The Tao of Boot Camp

[ 26 ] August 31, 2010 |

The Times led today with an expose of the US Army’s rehabilitated physical training system:

That familiar standby, the situp, is gone, or almost gone. Exercises that look like pilates or yoga routines are in. And the traditional bane of the new private, the long run, has been downgraded.

This is the Army’s new physical-training program, which has been rolled out this year at its five basic training posts that handle 145,000 recruits a year. Nearly a decade in the making, its official goal is to reduce injuries and better prepare soldiers for the rigors of combat in rough terrain like Afghanistan.

The rationale for the changes are the general levels of ill-fitness the Army sees in large percentages of new recruits. Youth raised on sugary sodas and saturated fat lack the bone density and endurance to safely train the old way. As I discussed last November when the DOD released its report “Too Fat to Fight,” this public health problem is also a national security problem and I concur with our generals that it ought to be solved by stronger federal intervention into – and funding for – healthy food in public schools.

What’s missed in the Times story, though, is the potential mental health benefits of physical training that includes yoga. Studies have shown that yoga reduces propensity for depression in general and specifically in the context of high-stress occupations. Given the increasing understanding of the emotional and behavioral health impacts of military service, incorporating a mindfulness-based exercise culture into boot camp may not only prevent muscle strain and bone injuries while in training, but also contribute to more balanced, well-disciplined, resilient recruits.

It’s not a pancea, since there are many factors that account for PTSD and the climbing rate of military suicides. But the benefits of yoga are already understood by those retroactively treating PTSD in veterans. In some cases, the military is going even farther.

There may also be broader effects within the military in socializing recruits to take seriously the mindfulness training that has until now been associated with women and hippies. Previously service-personnel who incorporated yoga training into their daily routine dealt with a trade-off between the positive health benefits and the stigma they experienced because of the view of yoga is “not masculine.” This has been changing modestly in recent years. Mainstreaming of yoga (or even yoga-like exercises) by the military as an institution will go even farther change that perception – and perhaps change military culture as well.

It would be interesting to see some studies exploring these potential effects as the military rolls out these changes.


“So Long, Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

[ 4 ] August 31, 2010 |

Tonight Obama will explain to the country what exactly it means that Operation Iraqi Freedom is “over.” War correspondent Richard Engel tried to do the same thing on the Colbert Report last week.

Via Tom Ricks, Col. Andrew Berdy explains why this is bunk.

Does anyone not think that the likelihood of continued combat operations is a reality? When casualties are taken by these “non-combat forces” will those casualties be characterized as “non-combat” as well? Does the public not understand that the secondary mission of our remaining forces is to be prepared to conduct combat operations either to defend themselves or to support Iraqi forces if requested? And when these train and assist “non-combat” units have to engage in, dare I say, combat operations, what will the Administration say then?

Ricks followed this up last week with a useful roundup re. what is going on in Iraq as the US “draws down.”

Here’s one answer. Ms. Liz Sly (great six-letter byline) of the Los Angeles Times reported that neighboring countries were sliding in to fill the vacuum being created by the partial U.S. withdrawal. “It is very dangerous,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told her. “It’s a zero-sum game for these countries. Everyone wants to knock down the other one’s policy.”

Iraqi-Americans are concerned. Also, let’s not forget what happens next for our veterans.

You’ll learn nothing at all from thems et al.

[ 52 ] August 30, 2010 |

Do you know what happens when you allow “scholars” like Jonah Goldberg to invent historical movements and monsters?  You end up with uncited statements of obvious provenance that mask sheer lunacy behind the rhetorical scrim of conventional wisdom:

[T]he principles that inspired the American founding were always viewed as universal principles, which applied to all of mankind. Curiously, it wasn’t until the introduction of Historicist and Darwinian philosophy (which gave birth to Progressivism) that some Americans began to argue otherwise.

I wrote a dissertation about popular adaptations of evolutionary theory during the Progressive Era and have long styled myself an historicist* and I have absolutely no idea what that second sentence could possibly mean.

Does its author, Joseph Philips, mean to argue that Darwinism—which was neither the only nor even the dominant evolutionary paradigm of the Progressive Era—gave birth to “Progressivism”?

Does he mean to argue that the New History movement—inaugurated in 1912 by James Harvey Robinson’s The New History and abetted by works like Charles Beards’ An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913)—gave birth to “Progressivism” fifteen years after it’d been born?

Or does he mean nothing at all—but learned from the likes of Goldberg et al.—that the best way to prevent people from criticizing the seriousness of an assertion is to pretend its “knowledge” so common as to be above reproach?

Care to place bets as to where I fall on this one?  I didn’t think so.

*Before someone objects: writing “an historicist” is too correct.

Sterling and Draper

[ 1 ] August 30, 2010 |

Just ahead of their time?

Mad Men: “Enforced intimacy” in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

[ 5 ] August 30, 2010 |

Thirty-six minutes into “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” a surprisingly intimate conversation between Don and Dr. Faye Miller takes an uncertain turn when the subject of analysis comes up:

“Why does everybody need to talk about everything?”

“I don’t know, but they do.”

Which reminded me of this exchange from Waiting for Godot:

“What do they say?”

“They talk about their lives.”

“To have lived is not enough for them.”

“They have to talk about it.”

I’ve elided who said what in both cases because it doesn’t matter: these are people who are talking about other people talking about their lives.  Their hypocrisy is a function of the scene itself.  Or is it?  Discussing a life, as Draper and Miller do, with relative strangers in a structured work environment doesn’t count as “talk[ing] about everything,” whereas going to a therapist, who is a relative stranger, and discussing a life with him or her in a structured therapeutic environment does.  The weight of the phrase, then, either falls on “talk” or “everything,” because the two of them are either not “talk[ing]” or they are, but not “about everything.”

Except they are, manifestly, doing both: they are in a kitchen-type-area discussing his divorce and his child learning how to masturbate and entering therapy.  Few items could be more “about everything” than those, and as if to press the point that they are “talk[ing]” about something significant, the camera pulls in tight for the final reverse shots:

Read more…

Mann Hunt

[ 8 ] August 30, 2010 |

Good to see that a state judge has quashed the efforts of all-purpose winger Ken Cuccinelli to sue the climate scientist Michael Mann for the crime of practicing science. Unfortunately, while Mann can win in the courts, as Brad Plumer notes Cuccinelli can’t really lose:

The odds seem pretty slim that his next subpoena will be the one that finally takes down the hockey stick, which means Mann will probably garner yet another headline noting that he’s outlasted his critics once again. But the point of Cuccinelli’s hunt isn’t to investigate the merits of Mann’s research—there are perfectly sound scientific channels for doing that. It’s to turn Mann (and, by association, the entire field of climatology) into a “controversial” figure whose work somehow must be suspect if there’s this much uproar about it.

Depressing, but true.

Next Week In SundayStyles

[ 8 ] August 30, 2010 |

A very sober-minded and even-handed 2000 word essay, complete with extensive scholarly references, about the possibility that using astrological charts can help you win at roulette.

Pre-emptively Caving to Obstructionism

[ 8 ] August 30, 2010 |

Obama’s approach to judicial nominations has, indeed, been very weak. The legislative situation is about to get a lot worse, so now is the time to get as many nominees confirmed as he can. And it’s not as if failing to fill vacancies is making it more likely that other major legislation will be passed or anything.

“You Think We’re Fools?”

[ 0 ] August 30, 2010 |
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tennessee No Evil
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Sweet Lou And Cooperstown

[ 29 ] August 29, 2010 |

When Lou Piniella announced that he was walking away from the Cubs before the end of the season, I saw Buster Olney assert on ESPNnews that Piniella was a Hall of Fame manager, which seems to be a pretty common sentiment. I may have too much of a stake in this, since my very first online writing gig was a guest column for Neyer in 1997 comparing the Mariners with the early 80s Expos, but I really don’t get it. Posnanski, as usual, I think gets it right:

OK, I’m going to probably tick off some people here … but I guess I should probably just say this. I kind of think Lou Piniella is overrated in every baseball way a man can be overrated. I mean, he’s a perfectly fine manager … but you would think the guy was Joe McCarthy by the way some people talk about him. He’s like 100 games over .500 in his career — and that 2001 Mariners team was 70 of those games. He won that awesome World Series in Cincinnati — fabulous there — and he managed Seattle to that cool 116 win season and playoff heartbreak, he managed Chicago to a couple of playoff heartbreaks … and that’s really about it. The Yankee years weren’t much, the Tampa Bay years were pretty disastrous, he leaves the Cubs a mess and before the season’s even out. I’m not saying he’s a bad manager — he’s good — but he doesn’t seem to me to be THAT good.

Let’s go through them one at a time:

Yankees: You could see evidence of his best quality as a manager: his ability with hitters. Not only did he get some great years out of his stars, but he got impressive production from some marginal talents like Dan Pasqua and Ron Hassey. On the other hand, you can see some of the flaws you’d see throughout his career — his impatience with pitchers and a consequent inability to turn good arms into pitchers, and some flailing around with roster spots that don’t have a clear good player attached. On balance, I think you’d have to consider the performance of these teams mildly disappointing; 1986 wasn’t bad, but it’s hard to explain why a team with as much front-line talent finished behind the Brewers in 1987. Sportswriters have largely given him a pass because the Yankee organization was so chaotic, and I accept that to a point — it wasn’t easy to make a commitment to a young player in that context. But I think the causal link goes both ways; Piniella never fully unlearned these bad habits.

Reds: Obviously, the 1990 season is at the core of his HOF case –taking a perennial underachiever to a world championship is the kind of accomplishment that defines a great manager, and let’s say that sweeping the heavily favored A’s makes up for an otherwise unimpressive postseason record. But there wasn’t much follow-up.

Mariners: Here’s where the case has to rise or fall. The 2001 season is the other core component of his HOF case. As I’ve argued before, it was actually a long-term disaster for the Mariners organization, because the strategy they used that off-season — refusing to sign a genuine superstar in his prime and giving the money instead to some veterans of modest accomplishment — is normally a disastrous one. But it worked, in part, because Bret Boone suddenly turned into Joe Gordon and Mark McLemore turned into Tony Phillips, and Piniella obviously deserves a lot of credit for that. And because of whatever combination of an extreme pitcher’s park, Bryan Price, and his mellowing he didn’t have the problems with thin pitching that have otherwise undermined his teams. Again, it would have been nice if it was backed up — the failure to win the division in 2003, in particular, doesn’t look great — but a huge year. 1995, too, is a Hall of Fame type year, taking a perennial underachiever to the playoffs and winning a round.

But here’s the problem: on balance, I think it’s clear that his Mariners teams underachieved. For a forthcoming post on the recent documentary about the 1994 Expos, I’ve been thinking about the best teams of the post-Big Red Machine era. I don’t think any of them — ’84 Tigers, ’86 Mets, late 80s A’s, ’98 Yankees — had the kind of front-line talent that Piniella’s Mariners did in the late 90s. You have three inner-circle Hall of Famers — one who may have the case for the greatest player ever when he retires, another who has a good case as one of the 4 or 5 best pitchers of all time — backed up by another Hall of Fame caliber hitter in Edgar and a fifth outstanding player in Buhner. In 1998, this was good enough to finish 11.5 games behind a Rangers team that had some terrific hitters but also had Rick Helling as its #1 starter. I agree with Bill James that only the Giants of the 60s have ever done less with more, and they faced much stiffer competition in the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers and Gibson/Brock/Boyer/ultimately Cepeda Cardinals. Piniella’s not the only reason — or perhaps even the primary reason — for this egregious underachievement, but there’s no way in hell that this represents Hall of Fame caliber managing.

Devil Rays: Obviously, he was the wrong manager for this job — working with young players, and especially young pitchers, has never been his strong suit — and he did nothing with a team that didn’t have a lot to work with in any case. The only other thing to add is that Piniella’s advocates make a big deal of his raw win total, but when evaluating that you have to take into account the roughly 200 wins here, which don’t constitute any actual value. Take those away, and he’s about even with the late Ralph Houk, who has two World Championships but doesn’t exactly have a long line of Hall of Fame advocates.

Cubs: A classic manager’s pattern here — improved the team considerably in his first two years, followed this up with one disappointing season and one catastrophe. This is the kind of thing a good manager does, but that’s it.

Another way of looking at it is that the clear Hall of Fame managers of this era are Cox, LaRussa and Torre, and Piniella’s record is vastly less impressive than any of them, especially the first two. I’ll bet Scioscia and Francona will have more impressive cvs when all is said and done too. Piniella is more like Jim Leyland, who I don’t see getting a lot of Hall of Fame support — and I’d vote for Leyland first. Dusty Baker may finish with a better record. I don’t see a Hall of Fame manager here.

Least. Convincing. Argument. Ever.

[ 76 ] August 28, 2010 |

Shorter Beverly Willett: New York should have kept its anachronistic divorce laws so that more women could go through the immensely painful, expensive, and futile attempt to maintain a marriage with a jerk who treats them horribly.

[Via Lindsay and AWB]

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[ 9 ] August 28, 2010 |