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Webelo-yal First Person Shooters

[ 16 ] April 30, 2010 |

Young Boy Scouts of America can now earn awards for sitting indoors and playing video games.

That’s right, the Cub Scouts–the junior 8 to 11 ages subset of the Boy Scouts of America–are adding a new “ability badge” to their arsenal of earnable merits for the Tiger, Cub, and Webelos troops. But here’s the catch: The awards aren’t for how many bonus lives you’ve earned, or stars you’ve collected–you have to do stuff like bone up on the ESRB’s rating system and be able to describe why it’s important.

I know what some of you are thinking. Just a trend-driven ploy to bolster recruitment, right? Maybe, but look at it this way: At least these kids get a look at the video games ratings system early on, and under the supervision of trained adults.

Good point: here’s the list of requirements, and they are a blend of wholesome values like media awareness, critical thinking and deference to parents. But what I was actually “thinking” when I read this was about Peter Singer‘s recent work on the relationship between video games and military recruitment, and Cynthia Enloe‘s work on the militarization of our civil society institutions through things as simple (and wholesome) as Campbell’s Soup.


“I’m Kind of a Big Deal”

[ 40 ] April 29, 2010 |

Is Anchorman really the most quoted comedy of the last decade? Seems plausible; alternative candidates?

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Unwarranted Presumptions of Rationality

[ 19 ] April 29, 2010 |

Were that this was true:

Add Mike Huckabee to the list of Republicans criticizing the Arizona law. As I keep saying, Huckabee is dangerous; he’s very conservative and not very well educated, but he’s smart and sane and has a conscience. Unlike Sarah Palin, he could wind up as President.

Certainly, if we were playing “death is not an option” I would much prefer Huckabee to Palin as president. The problem is, I’m not a Republican primary voter, and more to the point I’m not a major Republican businessman or fundraiser. It’s pretty clear from the 2008 primaries that the GOP’s money wing doesn’t want Huckabee, which ends his chances. While I see no reason why they would object to Palin, and hence if she chose to run in the primaries she could definitely win. And while she’s inept and unpopular enough to challenge political science evidence that candidates don’t really matter in presidential elections, any major party candidate can win under the right conditions. Be very afraid.

Aftermath of an Upset

[ 26 ] April 29, 2010 |

Well, unlike me, Olivier called it.

I’m certainly not saying that Ovechkin should be beyond criticism in the wake of his team blowing a 3-1 lead to a significantly superior team. On the other hand, it’s way too early to question whether his status within the game is justified, even leaving aside the fact that if you’re going to make anyone the goat it should be Green. It should also be remembered that at Ovechkin’s age Lemieux had played a grand total of 11 playoff games. (Orr did have two championships by age 23, although God knows he and his much greater supporting casts also lost a lot of series they should have won.) And while this loss was pretty bad, and despite the fact that Ovechkin doesn’t (to put it mildly) have any Messier, Kurri, Coffey, or Fuhr alongside him, he was never part of something like this:

And for reasons I can’t explain, this somehow seems less surprising seeing that the Canadiens are involved. While I suppose they’re the Yankees of hockey, while the Yankees are in the midst of yet another period of dominance comparable to the Ruth, McCarthy, and Stengel eras, the Habs haven’t had a great team since Dryden retired and Lafleur got prematurely old in 1980. For the next fifteen years or so, they were more like the 80s Dodgers — not every really that impressive, but somehow able to pull some pennants/deep playoff runs or championships out of their ass every once every few years.   The ’88 Dodgers are probably the weakest World Champion of my lifetime, and the ’86 Canadiens and ’93 Canadiens are the weakest NHL champions of my time (and also, as far as I’m concerned, settle the question of who the greatest non-Hasek goaltender of the last generation was.) And since Ronald Corey decided that to go Adam Bellow — putting two guys in the charge of the team, despite a completel lack of qualifications, solely because they were part of the last great team — they’ve been just another organization.   And yet…it’s somehow less surprising when the Habs do something like this. And using having someone do his best Roy imitation didn’t hurt…

When Exactly is Violence “Gratuitous”?

[ 20 ] April 29, 2010 |

Just a day after it was released earlier this week, the unnervingly violent anti-genocide music video, “Born Free,” was reportedly deleted by YouTube. Actually, as Wired has confirmed, it was only “buried” to make it much harder to find. But the video was simply posted on Vimeo and other sites, and the outrage over the “censorship” caused a viral response, such that the hit rate over the last few days has meant a version of it is again nearing the top of search lists on YouTube. In effect, the Internet has “routed around” this problem.

The rationale for burying the video in the first place was that it violated YouTube’s standards against gratuitous violence. Did it? Judge for yourself – but only click if you’re willing to be disturbed:

Bourne from Jason Wilson on Vimeo.

It’s violent, to be sure. But does YouTube’s gratuitous violence policy apply to portrayals in film or only to actual violence against actual persons? (Not sure by the look of their Community Guidelines.)

But more broadly, this begs the question of what “gratuitous” actually means and what reasonable standards might be applied in such a case. Is it “gratuitous” to portray the horror of political violence as part of a critique of such violence? I have never thought so; comfortingly shielding ourselves from images of violence is in fact one of the things that leads to an acceptance of or denial of violence. In fact, considering the other kind of clips from R-rated films you can find on YouTube, my guess is it’s the political message of the video that YouTube – and many people – actually find uncomfortable.

However what constitutes “gratuitousness” is, I suspect, an “I know it when I see it” sort of question, so I’ll pass the buck to readers.

Politics Isn’t A Cocktail Party

[ 1 ] April 29, 2010 |

One place where you’re particularly likely to see “but would he/she be fun to have a beer with?” standards applied is Supreme Court nomination hearings and the surrounding discourse. You may remember, for example, that Sam Alito’s baseball-watching and nice family were not only supposed to be relevant for reasons that remain unclear, but were supposed to be evidence that he couldn’t really be that conservative. In a rational world, such cases as Alito and that nice, moderate, beer drinkin’ brush clearin’ Bush/Cheney ticket would put the cocktail party and/or theater critic modes of analysis out of business, but…

EfFacing Privacy

[ 18 ] April 28, 2010 |

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Facebook Privacy Policy circa 2005:

No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

Facebook Privacy Policy circa 2006:

We understand you may not want everyone in the world to have the information you share on Facebook; that is why we give you control of your information. Our default privacy settings limit the information displayed in your profile to your school, your specified local area, and other reasonable community limitations that we tell you about.

Facebook Privacy Policy circa 2007:

Profile information you submit to Facebook will be available to users of Facebook who belong to at least one of the networks you allow to access the information through your privacy settings (e.g., school, geography, friends of friends). Your name, school name, and profile picture thumbnail will be available in search results across the Facebook network unless you alter your privacy settings.

Facebook Privacy Policy circa November 2009:

Facebook is designed to make it easy for you to share your information with anyone you want. You decide how much information you feel comfortable sharing on Facebook and you control how it is distributed through your privacy settings. You should review the default privacy settings and change them if necessary to reflect your preferences. You should also consider your settings whenever you share information. …

Information set to “everyone” is publicly available information, may be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), is subject to indexing by third party search engines, may be associated with you outside of Facebook (such as when you visit other sites on the internet), and may be imported and exported by us and others without privacy limitations. The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings.

Facebook Privacy Policy circa December 2009:

Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings. You can, however, limit the ability of others to find this information through search using your search privacy settings.

Current Facebook Privacy Policy, as of April 2010:

When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. … The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” … Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

Hat Tip to Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Ooh, Data!

[ 16 ] April 28, 2010 |

One of my colleagues at Patterson threw this together for a presentation to his Economic Statecraft class:

GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2005 international $)
1990 2008 Percent change, 1990-2008 Avg. Annual Pct. Chg, 1991-2008
Armenia 2,936 5,611 91.1% 3.7%
Azerbaijan 4,754 8,102 70.4% 3.0%
Belarus 6,434 11,333 76.1% 3.2%
Estonia 10,147 18,885 86.1% 3.5%
Georgia 5,398 4,526 -16.2% -1.0%
Kazakhstan 7,089 10,458 47.5% 2.2%
Kyrgyz Republic 2,505 2,023 -19.3% -1.2%
Latvia 9,464 14,639 54.7% 2.5%
Lithuania 11,879 16,399 38.0% 1.8%
Moldova 3,882 2,704 -30.3% -2.0%
Russian Federation 12,630 14,706 16.4% 0.8%
Tajikistan 3,064 1,761 -42.5% -3.0%
Turkmenistan 3,749 6,119 63.2% 2.8%
Ukraine 8,063 6,721 -16.6% -1.0%
Uzbekistan 2,002 2,455 22.6% 1.1%
Former Soviet Union 9,446 10,618 12.4% 0.7%
Poland 8,164 16,388 100.7% 3.9%
Romania 7,851 11,761 49.8% 2.3%
Hungary 12,394 18,040 45.6% 2.1%
Bulgaria 7,536 11,259 49.4% 2.3%
Mongolia 2,332 3,297 41.3% 1.9%

The data lead to questions:

This data suggests some countries are much better off than they were in 1990, some much worse off.

1. Do these numbers feel right to you, given your knowledge of home country, and neighboring countries?

2. Assuming the numbers are correct, do you have any hypotheses about why the results are so varied?


South Korea Examining Diplomatic Options

[ 4 ] April 28, 2010 |

South Korea is putting the onus on Moscow and Beijing to push forward with diplomatic action against North Korea:

South Korea will report the results of an ongoing investigation into the sinking of the Navy ship Cheonan to China and Russia and consult with them on the possibility of referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), a government source said Wednesday.

The move comes as investigators point to a North Korean torpedo attack as the likely cause of the deadly incident that claimed the lives of 46 sailors.

A funeral for the fallen seamen will be held at a naval base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, today, which has been designated a national day of mourning during which flags will be flown at half-mast.

In spite of North Korea’s isolation, there still are diplomatic options for punishing the North, including freezing or seizing North Korean financial assets and banning travel by North Korean officials. Focusing on Russia and China seems a very smart move by the South Koreans, both because of the influence that Moscow and Beijing might have over Pyongyang, and because the legitimacy of any multilateral action will be enhanced through coming from North Korea’s perceived supporters.

See also Julian Ku on the legality of a some options, including a potential blockade. Scott Snyder takes a look at the impact of the Cheonan Incident on South Korean domestic politics.

Do. Not. Want.

[ 7 ] April 28, 2010 |

It’s problematic enough that Elena Kagan seems to be considered the clear front-runner for a Supreme Court nomination. What’s worse is that she’s not the weakest candidate of the three names that most commonly show up on shortlists. That would be Merrick Garland:

Those prosecutorial experiences helped shape his approach to the law. While he is known as a centrist or a moderate liberal in most areas, his rulings suggest that he could be more of a center-right justice in matters of criminal law. His record has helped make him the potential nominee to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens who would stand perhaps the best chance of avoiding a partisan confirmation fight.


Still, he can be somewhat more sympathetic to prosecutors than are other Democratic appointees, interviews with such lawyers and a preliminary analysis by The New York Times of split decisions in criminal cases suggest.

For example, in cases in 2003 and 2007, the court divided on whether to suppress certain evidence on the grounds that police officers had obtained it as a result of an allegedly unconstitutional search. In both cases, another Democratic appointee sided with the defendant, while Judge Garland voted to allow prosecutors to use the evidence.

Garland, in other words, would be an unacceptable nominee for a Democratic president in any circumstances, let alone in the context of an about-to-disappear 59 Senate seats under Democratic control. Kagan is essentially a blank slate with a few disturbing signs in her record; Garland has an actual record on civil liberties that should remove him from consideration.

Or, to put it another way, Garland has earned the strong endorsement of Stuart “Sam Alito will be a reasonable moderate with no ideological agenda” Taylor. Enough said.

“Show me your [stiff upper lip]!”

[ 68 ] April 27, 2010 |

Via Christopher Shea comes news that will surprise no one I’ve talked to since returning to the States:

Irish drinkers lead the EU in the proportion of those drinking that have 3-4 drinks (35%) or 5-6 drinks (19%). As 5 or more drinks as the threshold for binge drinking, the Irish Times hails our success in binge drinking. But wait.  Binge drinking is 5 or more drinks. It’s true we lead Europe in the category of very precise binge drinking, i.e. 5 or 6.

But you have to look at all consumption over 5 drinks. For Ireland there’s another 5% who have 7-9, and 2% who have 10 or more. Total percentage of bingers: 19+5+2=26%.  For the UK: 12% have 5-6, and 6% have 7-9, 6% have 10 or more. So 12+6+6=24% are binge drinkers.

I spent more than a few evenings in London stunned stupid by the prodigious quantities of alcohol everyone around me was consuming.  I’m not simply talking about London toughs either, but professional men and women who stepped in the pub on their way home from work intent on crawling out of it seven hours later stained and debased.  If their infamous reserve is roughly equivalent to the Freudian superego, I would say that it performs its role quite admirably until the moment it inexplicably abdicates its responsibilities and allows the id to do what it will. 

And will it ever. 

The abuse that streams from their formerly stiff upper lips is more foul than anything this side of Deadwood.  That polite archeology student in the hipster sailor suit you were talking to ten minutes ago?  He no longer remembers who you are, but is damn sure you gave him mortal offense and insists on taking it outside before disappearing down the bar.  When he returns a moment later he promptly introduces himself.

Now I’m not unfamiliar with the levels of public intoxication and its attendant calls to violence I witnessed in England, but keep in mind that this is April and the Krewe of Bacchus is nowhere in sight.  When your nightly ritual resembles nothing so much as Mardi Gras, it might be time to consider cutting back on your cups.  Harsh criticism from a guest to be sure, but it’s not like I’m an evangelical teetotaler.  I end my days with a vodka-something or two (depending on how stressful being awake has been) and am in no position to lecture other people about the manner or amount they drink, which is mostly my point: when someone like me marvels at the manner and amount of drink a given people consume, something is seriously wrong with the world. 

Because when people in no position to criticize anyone are flabbergasted into embracing their own hypocrisy it means you have a problem.

John Calipari asks: Why do all these street agents keep paying my players?

[ 7 ] April 27, 2010 |

As Rob can attest, the poor guy has really bad luck with that stuff.

Now he has to deal with this.