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[ 20 ] July 27, 2010 |


There are a number of things about Senator Jim Webb’s op-ed “The Myth of White Privilege” to dislike, starting with the fact that one of the awesome things about the existence of white privilege is that you can be part of a body like the U.S. Senate, which has a total number of zero elected black members, and write something titled “The Myth of White Privilege” without anyone batting an eyelash.


Really Undeserving Hall of Famers

[ 24 ] July 27, 2010 |

Bill Conlin’s article about undeserving Hall of Famers makes a lot of odd choices (if otherwise clearly qualified managers are to be excluded for using profanity, for example, the ranks are going to be pretty thin), considering the amount of low-hanging fruit out there. But it’s hard to get a better example of tendentious sportswriter logic than this:

We start with Adrian “Cap” Anson, whose “Get that n- off the field” order, directed at International League pitcher George Stovey in 1887, led to a league ban on black players the next day. The “Gentlemen’s Agreement” remained in force for 60 years. Anson played a variety of positions, most in the outfield. His 200 games at third base lead off the Least Deserving HOF nine plus manager.


He was a big man for his time, a strapping 230-pounder regarded as baseball’s first superstar. Anson’s 27-year career began in 1871. In 22 seasons as the leader — and later manager — of the Chicago White Stockings, his batting average was .334. But in 221 games at third, his fielding percentage was .813. Yeech! … How much influence did Anson have on his game? Mainly those five words directed toward two black men (Fleet Walker was also on the field) that put baseball equality on hold for 60 years.

Evaluating a player based on unadjusted 19th-century fielding percentages at his non-primary position is pretty much the definition using statistics for support, not illumination. But the bigger problem here, as Bill James discussed a while ago, is the strange narrative that Cap Anson is singlehandedly responsible for segregation in baseball, because he had…pretty much the same white supremacist opinions most white men of his generation did, including those who had substantially more power within baseball than he did. I have particular inclination to defend Anson, but making baseball Jim Crow about one person is actually a comforting illusion that lets way too many people of the hook. And the idea that this Anson’s only influence over the game is utterly absurd.

Joe Posnanski offers a much better candidate for Cooperstown removal:

Tom Yawkey. Longtime owner of the Boston Red Sox who somehow managed in 44 years of ownership to never win a World Series and to be the last team in baseball to field a black player. He was, according to his plaque, the first man to have his team fly by plane. So he had that going for him.

While baseball almost certainly would have been segregated if Cap Anson had been an ahead-of-his-time civil rights crusader, Tom Yawkey kept the Red Sox segregated well after most of baseball had moved on from the apartheid era, and was comfortable having open bigots run his team into the 60s. And while Anson was a player of great accomplishment aside from his appalling views on race, while Yawkey did lift the Red Sox out the class of franchises who didn’t even try to compete he was otherwise an owner of no particular distinction in addition to having racist views that were much less common to his time. As long as he has a plaque in Cooperstown we shouldn’t even be discussing Anson.

Plenty of Things About New England Are Worth Emulating, But…

[ 19 ] July 27, 2010 |

Unless the typical quality of coffee available in Arkansas is well below mediocre, or its citizens enjoy donuts that taste like deep-fried sawdust, I think they’re in for a disappointment…


New Look Brooksie

[ 19 ] July 26, 2010 |

David Brooks has changed something about his appearance…. can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe he got contacts?

H/t SN.

Defining Lynching Up. And White. And Rich.

[ 29 ] July 26, 2010 |

Oh, sure, as Paul as already noted today the American Spectator published a reprehensible article as part of the Sharrod smear campaign advancing the ludicrous claim that lynching isn’t lynching on its front page. However, in fairness it must be said that this publication has not always employed such a narrow definition. Indeed, as Steve and TS note, when powerful white Republican political figures are involved, the definition of “lynching” can be broadened to include “mild criticism.”

I remain puzzled that the Republican Party has not made inroads among African-American voters.


[ 90 ] July 26, 2010 |

It appears as if my wife and I are the only two people on the face of the planet who hated Inception.  She walked out about an hour and change into it—immediately before the tedious exposition that made the rest of the film thuddingly predictable—and I followed shortly thereafter.  Spoilers follow under the fold.

Read more…

My Crap For Your Manure

[ 24 ] July 26, 2010 |

Oh, goody:

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports , the Mets are talking to the Royals about a trade that could involve Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Jeff Francoeur, as well as Gil Meche, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jose Guillen.

I don’t know what the record is for “most useless players signed to inexplicably expensive contracts exchanged in one trade” is, but if it goes through this one would have to rank up there…

The Age Excuse

[ 28 ] July 26, 2010 |

By far the most common defense of the Kagan pick in our comments sections has been to cite her age. Indeed, several regulars have made the claim that Diane Wood’s age should obviously have eliminated her from consideration. I think this is utterly silly, and is a case in which conservatives are much more savvy than liberals. If you look at life expectancy charts, Wood can essentially expect to live as long as Sam Alito. Does anybody remember Republicans outraged about the Alito pick, urging Bush to pick somebody who didn’t have impeccable conservative credentials so that they could get someone a couple years younger? Neither do I, and in this case the Republicans are obviously right. Within a plausible range of options, the age of nominees isn’t that big of a factor. The key things limiting its importance are that 1)it’s most important that justices be replaced by someone with similar values and 2)there’s a modern norm that justices resign when they can be reappointed by someone congenial. Given these two things, within reason the age of nominees doesn’t make all that much difference. In the most common case, a judge simply resigns and allows a president to pick someone similar who can serve a lot longer.

And even in cases where judges leave under conditions not of their choosing, sometimes it doesn’t matter. Rehnquist passed away in office, but was replaced by a near-xerox anyway (and may have resigned had Bush not been a favorite to win re-election.) Brennan and Marshall were replaced by Republican appointees (one OK and one a very young reactionary), but this just proves that if you don’t win a lot of presidential elections it’s going to be hard to keep ideologically congenial people on the court; there was only a four-year window between 1973 and 1992 in which they could have resigned and been replaced by a Democratic appointee. Black and Douglas left immediately before passing away, but here again it would have been better if they had been a little older, resigned and were replaced by LBJ (especially Black, who got cranky and more conservative in his last decade.) Harlan left under similar circumstances, but since he was replaced by Rehnquist it’s hard to say that this didn’t work out well for the Republicans.

In addition, relative youth is only a significant advantage if it’s clear that a justice will be a reliable vote. Thomas’s youth worked out well for conservatives — but Souter’s didn’t. Since we have no idea whether Kagan will be a reliable vote or not, her relative youth is much less of an advantage. When you combine this with the fact that being ten years younger will only matter in the long-term under a very unusual set of circumstances, the idea that Kagan is a better pick that Wood because she’s younger becomes untenable. Age might matter all things being equal, but that’s not the case here.

What is wrong with these people?

[ 35 ] July 26, 2010 |


It’s hard to understand how this kind of thing gets published in a world that includes editors, higher cognitive function, and/or common decency.

My favorite bit from the comments, defending the author’s use of a definition of lynching that limits it to hangings:

“Regardless of the dictionary’s definition, English is considered the most nuanced of languages because each word has a specific, unique meaning giving context and emotion to any written or spoken idea or statement. I don’t need a dictionary to instruct me on the accepted meaning of the word ‘lynching.'”

See also Yglesias.

Leaked Documents Show Afghan War Is Bloody Uphill Battle.

[ 18 ] July 25, 2010 |

“The biggest intelligence leak in history” was released simultaneously earlier this evening by NYTimes, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. Courtesy of Wikileaks, of course.

My initial reaction just from browsing the headlines: Read more…

Sunday Book Review: Stones into Schools

[ 2 ] July 25, 2010 |

This is the sixth 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
  6. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools

Stones into Schools is Greg Mortenson’s follow-up to Three Cups of Tea, a book depicting his experience in southwest Asia building schools for girls.  In part because of his locale, Greg Mortenson’s efforts came to several US military spouse book clubs, which helped spread the argument to officers serving in Afghanistan.  The book continued to receive publicity (in part because of Mortenson’s speaking tours), and eventually led to Stones into Schools, a follow up volume.

You need to come to this book with certain expectation.  Although the subject matter is engaging, Mortensen is not a particularly sophisticated author.  Academics will find this interesting, but not very analytical; Mortensen starts with the assumption that women’s education will be transformative (a position that has some support in the academy) and doesn’t try to prove the argument or evaluate it in any very rigorous manner.  It would be wrong to say that Mortenson comes off as pompous, but there is a certain sense of self-importance, and the narrative is, of course, structured around the “white guy helps the primitives civilize themselves” idea.  All of this is forgiveable.  Mortenson has made an enormous sacrifice of his own time and money in order to help build schools in some of the world’s least accessible locations, and this has helped him produce a good book on development in southwest Asia.

Mortenson also includes some practical advice for non-governmental organizations.  In the wake of the Kashmir earthquake, for example, refugees received massive donations from the West, particularly the US.  Many of the donations included high end camping gear, which, while lovely, often caught fire when people tried to cook near it.  He also describes what can only be called the inefficiencies of frenzied disaster relief efforts.  I suspect that the response to the Haitian earthquake suffered from the same problems.

Mortenson has an instinct for negotiating local power structures.  He does a good job of identifying local power brokers, and isn’t bothered by the necessity to adapt to local cultures and decision-making practices.  His experiences indicate not only how difficult building relationship are in the area, but also how personalist.  One of Mortenson’s biggest deals nearly fails because of the illness and death of an important local powerbroker.  Indeed, Mortenson himself suffered a severe illness while traveling in Afghanistan, which was particularly troubling because many deals would have been imperiled by his death.

Mortenson is open about his failures.  Although most of his efforts at establishing schools have been successful, and few of his schools have been destroyed, he does detail several individual cases in which he failed to convince a family to send a young girl to school, or in which he was unable to bring together the resources needed to put a school in a particular area.  He also doesn’t describe the effort as likely to pay off in the short term.

In a couple of places, Mortenson discusses his relationship with the military.  Mortenson is impressed with the dedication of the US military, and at least its surface interest in humanitarian endeavor.  However, he’s skeptical of short term military success in Afghanistan.  This isn’t surprising, as his own work expects change on a much longer time frame. He also worried a lot about civilian casualties from air strikes.  However, Mortenson appears to have had good relationships with notable US military officers, including Mike Mullen.  Shortly before he was fired, Stanley McChrystal sent Mortenson a note, expressing the hope that Mortenson would continue his work even if McChrystal could not.

Mortenson’s book is both interesting and readable.  We don’t know yet whether Mortenson’s strategy will have any long term effect in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at least on the geopolitical scale.  We do know that peoples lives have been improved.  However, Mortenson’s perspective is particular; there are many questions of development and NGO operation that he can’t shed any light on.  This doesn’t make Stones to Schools less worthwhile to read, however.

Fatherhood IV: Getting to Know the Girls

[ 7 ] July 25, 2010 |

A friend of mine once told me that the experience of the first two weeks made him want to have more kids.  This seemed an absurd proposition, so I asked him to elaborate.  He argued that everything that the baby did in the first couple of weeks was something that she wouldn’t do again; then she’d change again in a couple of month, and then again a couple of months later, and so forth.  Thus, your experience with your child is really ephemeral, and once you get through it the only way to experience it again is to have another child.  That you experience those moments while stressed and sleep deprived makes them all the more difficult to hold on to.

Another friend characterized the same experience in a slightly different way.  He told me that when you reach what you feel is the absolute limit of your tolerance, something changes.  The baby starts to smile, or to roll over, or to crawl, or to babble, or whatever.  This new reality has its own problems (suddenly you can’t leave the baby on the sofa, and you have to put the remote where she can’t reach), but at least it’s novel, and the novelty lets you get through a few more months.

These ways of viewing parenthood aren’t mutually exclusive, but rather are different aspects of the same experience.  The former is backward looking and tinged with regret, while the latter is forward looking and characterized by a combination of suffering and mild optimism.  Both perspectives have held some value to me, although I think the latter has been a touch more important.  Notably, the guy who explained the former never ended up having any more children, while the latter had his second child a few months before Miriam and Elisha were born.  For our part, Elisha and Miriam represent the entirety of our contribution to global repopulation.  I already appreciate, however, the grandchild impulse; I’d love to be able to experience some of those early moments again, ESPECIALLY if I can just hand the little monsters over to their mom and dad once I tire of them.

Through my life I’ve found it very easy to fall into routine.  Indeed, I seek out routine, and almost make it a routine to vary up the routines I create for myself.  It’s been relatively easy for me to develop routines of taking care of the girls.  The problem comes with the transitions.  I resist, probably more than Davida, changing routines as the girls change.  Since the girls change almost continuously (allowing for some plateaus) this means that my routines always feel threatened.  Just when I have the proper number of feedings down, as well as my method of convincing Elisha to drink her entire bottle, we suddenly have to start feeding them solid food.  Dealing with a moving target makes figuring out how to structure the rest of my life more difficult; the spending of time with my wife, the completion of work, and so forth.

I’ve also found myself obsessed with comparison.  I stare at babies that are strolled past, and often ask the parents about ages, and so forth.  I have, on many occasions, discussed the physical characteristics of other people’s babies in public places.  “Your baby has such a huge head!  It’s, like, twice the size of Elisha’s head!” is something that I exclaimed to a couple that I didn’t know at a Dewey’s Pizza.  At a recent baseball game, I marveled openly at the size of a baby’s thighs.  Both Miriam and Elisha are small, and Elisha in particular has a very small head.  I suspect that people think I’m insulting their baby when I comment on how fat he is, or how big his head is, but of course nothing could be further from the truth; I’m actually impressed by the size of other people’s babies.  I also remember the first time I noticed that other babies were smaller and younger than Miriam and Elisha, a phenomenon that, although probably predictable, kind of blew mymind.

Thinking about change and comparison, of course, reinforces just how much the girls themselves have changed.  It is… amazing… how much a baby changes in its first year.  It goes from a smelly, screeching, sleepy thing into something that still smells, screeches, and sleeps, but that also moves and has a personality.  I try to avoid projection, but it still feels as if Miriam and Elisha are so different from one another in outlook and reaction to the world.  Miriam seems so absurdly earnest about everything that she does, from babbling to eating to watching TV, while Elisha appears to have an ironic, mischievous approach to babyhood.  I know that those terms don’t quite capture what’s going on in their heads, and again that there’s some risk of projection, but nevertheless they characterize my thinking about the girls.

I’ll confess that I felt an immediate emotional attachment to one of the girls, while with the other it took a couple of months.  I’ll never say which (I suspect Miriam and Elisha will be able to use Google or its successor in fifteen years, if they wish), but it simply isn’t true that there’s an automatic connection.  I always felt responsible for the well being of both of them, but from the start I liked one better.  That’s not really the case anymore, though; although my emotional connection with each of the girls is different, I nevertheless HAVE a connection that goes beyond feelings of paternal responsibility.  I also think it’s a positive that my relationships with the girls are distinct, even at this age; I want to believe that it reinforces a budding sense of individuality.