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The Tudors

[ 13 ] July 8, 2010 |

So, we finally struggled through the final season of the Tudors.  It’s been clear for some time (say, early in season one) that this was not a series that deserved attention in the same family as the best of the HBO and Showtime series, but it’s remarkable how weakly the series ended.  Some thoughts:

  1. Whether because of the writing or because of Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s limitations as an actor, it became apparent by the end of the first season that Henry VIII as depicted in this series was just not a very interesting character.  Comparison with the Sopranos is instructive; we become aware in season six, through Dr. Melfi, that Tony isn’t really going to grow or change as a character in any productive way.  He was a sociopath in season one, and he was a sociopath in season six; the experience and analysis weren’t going to change that.  In Tudors, the deficiencies of the main character become clear pretty early on, and yet the series continues for another three years; unsurprisingly, when nothing of much interest can happen to the main character, the series gets fairly boring.  What we were watching, essentially, was the court of Saddam Hussein; that could be somewhat interesting, but the focus then needs to be on the interesting characters and machinations in that court.  This leads to the second point…
  2. With a few exceptions, the producers were unable to produce any useful supporting characters around Meyers.  Part of this was due to necessity, of course; there could be no Carmela in this series.  Nevertheless, the inability to make the supporting cast interesting is inexcusable.  There were exceptions; Sam Neill did a fine job as Cardinal Woolsey, James Frain did good work as Thomas Cromwell, Sarah Bolger was solid as Princess Mary, and Alan Van Sprang produced a lively Francis Bryan.  Unfortunately, the great bulk of sidekick time was handed to Henry Cavill’s Charles Brandon, who had an almost singular ability to say and do nothing of any interest at all.
  3. The Tudors had an absurd number of side characters and side plots that had no meaningful impact on the course of the overall storyline.  Several times during the series, the wife and I would watch a murder or seduction scene, then openly wonder who the characters were and why we should care what happened to them.  Payoffs for these incidental asides would be rare; who really cared about the saga of Reginald Pole?
  4. For some reason, the producers believed that signing big name actors then giving them nothing to do and failing to integrate them into the storyline was a great idea.  We get Peter O’Toole as the Pope for some reason, and Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk with three lines in an entire season, and Max Von Sydow as some guy who was somewhere for some reason that was utterly peripheral to the main story.  Producers should sign actors with some sense of what those actors are for; nobody watched the Tudors in order to see Peter O’Toole shamble about and make proclamations on a sound stage miles away from the rest of the cast.

I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to the Borgias, which is apparently by the same producers, and stars Jeremy Irons. I’d like to say that..


ISA: Polisci and Blogging

[ 5 ] July 7, 2010 |

Jeremy Young has an excellent post on blogging, peer review, and tenure/promotion decisions in the academy. The post is similar in focus to the presentation I delivered on the Carpenter-Drezner-Walt panel at the International Studies Association. The particularly interesting bits:

[Laurel Thatcher Ulrich suggested that] Blogging could be interpreted as service in the sense of contributing to the success of one’s department, in which case it could be considered for tenure purposes…

Blogging is never going to be scholarship; it’s not designed for that and we wouldn’t enjoy it if it were. That means we need to stop claiming that blog comments constitute peer review (as I did in 2008, and which Jonathan correctly criticized me for). They are some sort of review, but review of what? There’s no scholarly content on most history blogs that needs reviewing.

That leaves the category of service, as Ulrich pointed out in her response. But Weinstein, when I had this conversation with her, noted that service doesn’t actually get a lot of attention in tenure decisions. Good thing, too: you don’t want someone getting tenure who can’t teach or write or publish, just because they served on a number of committees. Blogging isn’t like serving on committees, though — its function is to connect historians with the general public in a way that most scholarly books, and all journal articles, fail to do. A really good history blogger, one who gets hundreds or thousands of hits a day, is like a really good writer of ephemera, or a really good public speaker. Their role in that capacity is to evangelize for the profession, not to serve the department or produce scholarship through their public pronouncements.

And therein lies the problem that I think we have to face if we want blogging taken seriously as a professional activity: none of the other activities I just described are viewed as professional activities either. There is no category in tenure review for “outreach;” there is no way for a mediocre scholar to achieve tenure because of superlative evangelizing for the profession. In a time of economic crisis for the humanities, when history departments are bleeding money because of lack of public interest in what they do, when academic historians are losing the Battle for the Bookshelves to their popular competitors, I think that’s a mistake. A superb blogger or lecturer or editorial writer can be just as valuable as a superb scholar, provided you don’t end up filling departments full of the former.

But this is the argument we have to make, and I think it’s a daunting one: that we want not just blogging, but all public outreach to be considered as a separate and important category for tenure. Realistically, we can’t sell blogging as tenurable without also selling op-eds and columns and talking head appearances and public lecture attendance. It’s either all or none, and the sooner we come to terms with that the better for all of us.

While I have every incentive to be bullish about the idea of blogs as scholarship, I have deep reservations about the possibility of developing any metrics for evaluating blogs as scholarship. The influence of a blog can be measured in three ways; traffic, links, and eyeball. Traffic simply isn’t a good proxy for scholarly value, as scholarly topics almost by nature don’t generate large audiences. A blog like LGM generates considerable traffic and, potentially, some scholarly value; however, it’s not clear that the traffic is at all associated with the scholarly posts. Long, well thought out posts that have scholarly value sometimes generate traffic, but I wouldn’t say that this is usually the case. Links suffer from many of the same problems as traffic, plus some additional issues. On the plus side, links may indicate “elite” approval of a blog more than traffic; this is based on the (almost certainly fallacious) presumption that actual bloggers who link with their actual blogs should somehow count for more than people who simply visit, or comment, or whatever. Even if we granted that assumption, it’s still difficult to derive a useful metric from total links. Older blogs have more links, whether people read them or not. In terms of aggregate data, it’s difficult to filter out the large variety of spam or dead blogs that would results from a search. Finally, stupidity is often rewarded with links; indeed, the relationship between links and stupidity is probably stronger than that between stupidity and traffic. I would feel genuinely terrible if somebody gave Don Douglas a job based on one of SEK’s delightful hack and slash jobs. Finally, there’s the eyeball test. The eyeball test consists of nothing more than evaluating a blog based on content and reception; compare this blog and, say, Crooked Timber, and it’s obvious from a fairly cursory examination that the latter has more scholarly value. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really amount to much of a metric, unless the department/school is just looking for an excuse to hire you.

As you can tell, I find all of these metrics insufficient. The situation is even more difficult at a group blog such as LGM, because of course it’s unclear who exactly is the source of the links and the traffic. To put it as bluntly as possible, I would reject anyone’s claim to have met a scholarly requirement through a blog such as LGM; it’s simply too difficult to develop a useful metric by which the blog can be evaluated as scholarship. Even to the extent that the blog acts as useful popularizers of academic ideas, it’s impossible to measure relevance in a way which could be supportive of tenure candidacy. I should hasten to add that this is not true of all blogs; many blogs that are affiliated with institutions have more rigorous editing and vetting procedures both for hiring and posting than self-regulated blogs such as LGM. When the day comes, for example, I may argue that my blogging at the American Prospect (for which I was hired, and at which my blogging was edited) does have some scholarly value; in this sense the editing and institutional affiliation stand in for or mimic peer review.

Service is a different matter. Blogging has the potential to significantly increase the visibility of a scholar, and consequently of a scholar’s department and school.  Not all attention is good attention, but in this context most is; the better a scholar is known, the more students seek her out, the more opportunities open up, and so forth.  Moreover, blogging opens up the potential for connection without a variety of individuals and institutions outside the academy.  While this is particularly valuable in my position at a policy school, I think that it has some utility even at standard political science programs.  As Stephen Walt has oft noted, there is considerable danger in the scholasticization of political science, or of any other discipline.  That said, contribution to the public sphere obviously also results in the throwing of sharp elbows.

This is not to say that blogging has had no significant career impact. I have roughly forty articles of various lengths in various publications, and almost all of them can be traced back to the blog in some form. Some of the ideas for these articles were developed out of blog posts; in other cases the blog served as a way of introducing my work to an editor. In yet other cases editors specifically sought me out after reading the blog. Moreover, being a blogger sometimes gets you invited to groovy events like an ISA bloggers panel or a panel on the future of the Air Force at the ACSC.  There have been some significant career pluses from entering the blogosphere.

It is unclear as of yet what effect this work will have on my tenure case, but I think it would be hard to argue that the impact will be negative, at least in the sense that the product itself will reflect poorly.  Whatever negative effect blogging and its associated product will have will be in the context of opportunity cost; an article for the American Prospect takes some time away from a potential peer review publication, and so forth.  But we shall see.

I should add, however, that I’m skeptical about the future of the blogosphere.  Laura McKenna wrote a fabulous post last year on the state of the blogosphere as of 2009 that’s worth revisiting.  The time at which a small band of loudmouthed graduate students could form a blog and get attention from the “A-Listers” is long gone; nobody clicks the links anymore, there are too many blogs, blogging has gone niche, and so forth.  What we did here at LGM would have turned out much differently if we’d started in 2003, just as it would have turned out differently if we’d started in 2005.  Mid-level, independent individual and even group blogs are becoming rarer, and less consequential in impact.  Any system of evaluation of scholarly and service impact depending on metrics developed during the glowing youth of the blogosphere will be obsolete for the scholars who start blogging tomorrow.   It would be mildly ironic but hardly surprising to see the academy adjust to blogosphere 2006 well after the norms that governed that system have died out.

Let’s Make This Happen…

[ 5 ] July 7, 2010 |

Cliff Lee would sure look pretty in a Reds uniform…

Another Originalism Problem

[ 13 ] July 7, 2010 |

John Elwood, with respect to the trend toward more recess appointments by the president, and especially the recent intrasession appointment of Donald Berwick:

It is certainly not without controversy, however; Attorney General Daugherty said in dicta in one opinion that an adjournment for “5 or even 10 days” would be too brief to constitute a recess for purposes of using the Recess Appointments Clause.  But the Executive Branch (unsurprisingly) has been walking away from the Daugherty opinion  pretty much ever since.  And that is to say nothing about the considerable academic writing on the subject, much of which has been critical of intrasession recess appointments.  See, e.g., Michael Rappaport, The Original Meaning of the Recess Appointments Clause, 52 UCLA L. Rev. 1487, 1487, 1562 (2005) (stating that “one-month recesses seem too short” but acknowledging that the “prevailing interpretation” of the Recess Appointments Clause “allows the President to make recess appointments . . . during intrasession recesses of ten days and perhaps of even shorter duration”).

Let’s leave aside some of the basic conceptual problems with originalism, and assume arguendo that the Recess Appointments Clause was not intended to give the president the power to make appointments during short recesses, and was also not intended to facilitate the type and quantity of recess appointments made by recent presidents of both parties. This still leaves us with a problem, in that the Constitution is not just a series of isolated clauses, but is in many respects a structural whole. We can’t evaluate the original understanding of the Recess Appointments Clause in isolation; rather, it has to be evaluated in tandem with the Advise and Consent Clause. And if you found that the Advise and Consent Clause was not originally understood as empowering Senate minorities to block large numbers of executive branch appointments for long periods of time — which you probably would — then you haven’t really resolved the constitutional question. The better alternative is to apply the language of the Constitution in light of how politics is actually practiced in 2010, rather than how some political elites expected politics to work in 1789.

On the merits, I think this is an easy question: the appointment of Berwick is justified. Using the recess appointment in response to increasing Senate obstructionism is perfectly reasonable, and indeed is probably an equilibrium that leaves too much power to Congress (given that recess appointments are of shorter duration.) And on the broader question, while I don’t like some of the power grabs that have been made by the executive branch in recent decades (including many that the Obama administration has continued or initiated), this represents a case where expanded executive power would be a good thing. Judicial appointments are a trickier question, but presidents should be able to fill executive branch positions in a timely manner, and a norm of deference to presidential appointments in those cases is appropriate. And I don’t see any good argument for reading the Constitution to require the president to unilaterally disarm as traditional norms are redefined.

Lessons Learned

[ 44 ] July 7, 2010 |

So, we have essentially completed the long-extended transition from Blogger to WordPress. Regular readers over the past few months know that this transition has not gone particularly well. In particular, we suffered severe problems with our server that substantially increased download times and often cut off traffic altogether. This has had a negative effect on our overall readership; we were down by about 50% at the nadir, although we have now recovered somewhat.  Some lessons learned:

1. Unless you are willing to embed/develop expertise within your own organization or pay substantially, going with the “more complex but more flexible” is NEVER a good idea.

We shifted to WordPress from Blogger for several reasons, including most importantly a functionally and aesthetically improved site. We also wanted to move from the blogspot address to our own URL, although we could have accomplished that without the move to WordPress. We hired an individual to manage the transition who seemed to have considerable skills, and who came at a discount. On his advice we went with Bluehost, an inexpensive provider, for our server needs.

We made the decision to push over before we’d worked out all the bugs, in part because we’d only have a full sense of the bugs after undergoing the full transition.  We called this the “Brigham Young” option.  In retrospect, there were certainly some issues that we could have better worked out, but the main problem (the inadequacy of Bluehost) was only revealed by directing the full traffic of the site to the new server.  Unfortunately, the “Brigham Young” strategy put additional pressure on our transition manger to do things that he wasn’t fully prepared to do.

It turned out that the individual we hired had considerable skills with WordPress, and managed to produce a very nice website.  He also managed to transition our feed over without incident, which was one of our most important requirements.  Unfortunately, his advice on the server turned out disastrously; Bluehost was unable to handle our traffic, and unwilling to give us straight answers on why the site was continuously failing.  We also had some problems transitioning over our archives and our comments.  We were not able to save our comments, and unfortunately the earliest archives were also lost, in the sense that we don’t have them in a format that facilitates importation into WordPress.  Our decision to push forward quickly proved problematic, because our transition manager was essentially learning on the job; the desire to avoid serious disruption ran counter to the necessity of learning how to do everything that the transition required.

As our server problems continued, another issue cropped up. Blogger has a very simple, easy to understand interface, even as it imposes some limits on the possible. It’s relatively easy to manage problems and make small changes. WordPress is more complicated; not radically so, but sufficient that it’s impenetrable to bloggers without any html skills. It turned out that even if we had a well designed site, it was difficult for us to manage the blog without assistance. This meant that problem-solving and minor changes came slow, if at all; we didn’t have time to develop the expertise inside the organization sufficient to make the site run smoothly. Similarly, we didn’t have the good sense to either a) note ahead of time that Bluehost would be insufficient, or b) figure out what we needed to do to solve the problem.

By early this month, we were left with a non-functional website, collapsing traffic, and no good sense of how to solve the problem. None of us had time to figure out how to make the site run without assistance. Finally, we decided to turn to the professionals.

2. The professionals know what they’re doing, but it’s hard to know when you need the professionals.

At the recommendation of several other bloggers, we turned to SunAnt, a company specializing in hosting and website design. They figured out our problem, gave us a series of options, and managed our transition to their servers. They are professionals, which of course means that they cost money; nevertheless, they returned our site to good working order with a minimum of fuss and muss.  The archives problem has turned out to be more intractable, as there appears to be no option other than direct reposting of the first eight months of the site.  We’ve have begun this process, although it is (unsurprisingly) going very slowly.  Had we gone with SunAnt from the beginning, we might well have paid more for the website design, but we also might have our full archives, and would likely not have lost so much of our traffic through server problems.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to evaluate the value of professional expertise without professional expertise.  We didn’t know enough to know what we needed, or to be able to correctly assess the risks and benefits of various approaches.  In retrospect, there are certainly other steps we could have taken that would have improved our knowledge of key issues and prevented the meltdown that eventually occurred.  For example, it was apparently no secret that Bluehost could have problems with a site of this size; a more careful evaluation would have revealed this and perhaps inclined us to a better set of options.  It should also be noted that our own lack of expertise made the situation more difficult for our first transition manager, since we often asked of him tasks that made no sense or that could not be accomplished in reasonable time.

3. Commenters lieare sometimes mistaken about their own preferences.

The number one complaint with the old site, by far, was about the JS-Kit comment system. Accordingly, we shifted to WordPress comments shortly after we moved over. In the immediate wake of this shift, comments crashed by on the order of about 75%. This can be partially explained by the server problems, but not wholly; many regular commenters who used the old system simply never returned after the shift.  None of this can quite recollect why we thought JS-Kit so terrible; it had some issues, but worked well on a number of other dimensions.  FJSKIT became a meme, but in retrospect it’s unclear that transitioning to the new system was worth it.  As I understand it, had we not shifted away from JS-Kit it would have been easier to retain many of the old comment threads, the loss of which we mourn as much as anyone.

And so that’s that.  We have a functioning website, and our traffic has recovered from roughly half of what it was before the transition to about 2/3rds.  For my own part, I can now be relatively certain that when I tweet or otherwise send out links to LGM posts those links will actually function.  The site looks nice, especially with the slightly redesigned header that Melissa at Shakes made for us.  We all wish, however, that the transition could have been accomplished with less difficulty and expense.  Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who’s still reading LGM for their patience during the process; despite a situation that was often intolerable, you stuck with us (or came back when the site worked).  You have our gratitude.

UPDATE: I should add that if anyone is continuing to have problems, please let us know. Someone in comments mentioned a problem with the feed, which I haven’t experienced; please give some details so that we can fix.

UPDATE II: I also would like to direct everyone to this fabulous comment, left by Jamie:

Re: the question of knowing when to seek professional help: that’s a topic near and dear to my heart, as I’ve been doing web development/administration since 1993. I don’t think you need these pointers, but for anyone else with a blog or other web app who is trying to decide between some combination of (a) a professional who bills like a lawyer (that would be someone like me, or I presume, SunAnt) (b) What’s-His-Face’s-Kid, What Knows From Computers, (c) do it yourself, (d) someone who sit between a and b, here are some tips…

Airpower, Terror, and Alienation

[ 11 ] July 6, 2010 |

Spencer, noting the recent research indicating that civilian deaths in Afghanistan generate hostility towards the United States:

Additionally, some in the military consider a preoccupation with civilian casualties to be a media-driven phenomenon. Last December, the Air Force’s intel chief, Lieutenant General David Deptula, told Danger Room’s Noah Shachtman that “there appears to be an almost complete lack of indication to support the conventional wisdom, popularized in the media, that air attacks have been provoking deep hostility toward the U.S. and the Kabul government.” Deptula was talking specifically about the air war, and the researchers found that only about six percent of civilian casualties caused by ISAF come through air strikes. (Of course, that’s after McChrystal and his predecessor, General David McKiernan, scaled back ISAF’s use of air strikes.) But after the study, Deptula might want to reconsider his contention that “there is little reason based on the admittedly limited data available in open source to expect that drastically reducing the civilian casualty issue would produce game changing results on the political battlefield.”

Noah, tweeting on same:

I know. “Civilian Casualties Create New Enemies” seems mega-obvious. But top Air Force officers actually disputed it.

Yes, shocking. Of course, in the twentieth century much airpower doctrine has been based on the premise that bombing could terrify subject populations into complaisance; it’s hardly an exaggeration to note that Arthur Harris’ strategic bombing campaign against Germany in World War II was designed to kill German civilians until the survivors decided to give up. Lemay’s campaign against Japan was based on a similar premise. The affinity of airpower to terror stretches back a touch farther than that, even. From a British Air Ministry Memorandum of June, 1921:

As an outcome of the war, countries such as Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Persia have increased the commitments of the Army, since in these law is to an abnormal extent dependent on the presence of adequate armed forces; in these countries it may be proved that the Air Service is capable of maintaining order at a small cost as compared with military occupation. If these “policing duties” can be successfully carried out by the utilisation of air power, the enlargement of the Air Force to meet greatly increased responsibilities must follow; it is in such work that the commitments of the Royal Air Force are likely to show their greatest present increase.

For a sense of what “maintaining order at a small cost” means, and of how long the argument about the effectiveness of airpower in COIN has been going on a British Army memo of February 1921:

There is general agreement that the moral effect of continued intensive air action on the inhabitants of towns and villages is great. The inhabitants, in order to avoid casualties, are obliged to leave their houses by day and seek cover from view in palm groves and orchards, returning to their houses only after dark. All business is thus suspended and the life of the community rendered intolerable. Night raids carried out in addition to raids by day naturally increase the moral effect.

In the case of nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, or in fact any tent dwellers, such effect cannot be hoped for. The difficulty of keeping track of their movements, or identifying changing targets, and of disentangling the camps of hostile from thos of friendly tribes with which they purposely mingle, renders continued intensive air action unlikely to be either effective or confined to the guilty.

Errors both in intelligence, and in identification of targets from intelligence, must inevitably be relatively frequent, unless the alternative of extreme caution is adopted, which involves the surrender of one of the greatest factors in the moral effect of aircraft, rapidity of action.

The effect of such errors is naturally exasperation, and, even in dealing with the guilty, the opinion expressed that the initial state of terror produced by intensive air action is followed by a sense of exasperation rather than of submission. This is largely due to the fact that in many cases, women and children and the infirm are apt to suffer equally with, or more than, fighting men. Hatred and a desire for revenge are likely to be engendered thereby…..

The general consensus of opinion is that is that in their present stage of development aeroplanes cannot be replied upon as the main weapon of an administration in its task of preserving law and order… Although the moral effect of intensive air action is great, it is transient, and the indiscriminate destruction of life and property which will inevitably result must tend to alienate the sympathies of the inhabitants from the administration.

The question, then, of the relative levels of terror and alienation generated by air attacks has been going on for a very long time. For institutional reasons, the Royal Air Force had every reason to minimize the latter and emphasize the former. Although circumstances have changed (few if any USAF officers make arguments about the positive utility of terror in savage wars), that the minimization of alienation remains an important institutional consideration for the Air Force is hardly surprising.

Shaving the Big Shaggy

[ 4 ] July 6, 2010 |

Dean Baker takes the shears to David Brooks before flaying him and turning his skin into a nice hat:

[Saith Brooks,] “The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years.”Hmmm, is that right? Seems to me that we have a very simple theory to explain the past two years. There was a huge bubble in housing that burst beginning in 2006. This led to a plunge in residential construction that cost the economy more than $500 billion in annual demand. In addition, the loss of $6 trillion in housing wealth, coupled with the loss of around $7 trillion in stock wealth, has cost the economy more than $500 billion in annual consumption demand. This is the result of the wealth effect on consumption, a phenomenon that economists have been writing about for close to a century. In addition, there was a bubble in non-residential real estate that collapsed about a year after the collapse of the housing bubble. This cost the economy about another $150 billion in demand. That gives a total loss in annual demand of around $1.2 trillion. All of this was completely predictable and predicted by at least some demand siders.

It was also easy to see that the stimulus approved by Congress was inadequate. Demand siders rely on something called “arithmetic” to reach this assessment. After pulling out the $80 billion fix to the alternative minimum tax, which had nothing to do with stimulus, and the $100 billion or so designated for later years, the stimulus provided for roughly $600 billion in spending and tax cuts over the years 2009 and 2010. This comes to $300 billion a year. Roughly half of the federal stimulus was offset by cutbacks and tax increases at the state and local level, leaving a net stimulus from the government sector of roughly $150 billion a year.

Demand siders did not believe that $150 billion in annual stimulus from the government could offset the contractionary impact of a reduction in annual spending by the private sector of $1.2 trillion ($1.2 trillion > $150 billion). That is how demand siders explained the failure of the stimulus to have much impact in reducing the unemployment rate. Perhaps this explanation is too complicated for Mr. Brooks (he repeatedly complains about the high IQs of the demand siders), but it actually seems fairly straightforward. If he wants to be honest, he could at least say that he doesn’t understand the demand siders’ explanation, rather than asserting that demand siders do not have an explanation.

At some point, philosophers will need to set aside their current work and describe several new species of logical fallacy sired by David Brooks. Meantime, it takes a very special kind of idiocy to proffer advice against “reckless” actions to folks who occupy political institutions that are barely capable of passing even the most innocuous correctives to the economic, ecological and foreign policy catastrophes of the past decade.

The Great One

[ 22 ] July 6, 2010 |

Really, really good story about Mariano Rivera.

Given the degraded quality of Honus Wagner’s competition, I think the choosing the best closer of all time is easier than any other position, especially if you place appropriate weight on Rivera’s insanely good postseason performance.   (Given the leverage of his typical outing, is he the most valuable postseason performer of all time?   It’s hard to argue with that.)    What’s especially interesting about Rivera is that his immortality — unlike that of Wagner, say, or Ruth or Mantle or Bonds or Pedro or Pujols — doesn’t rest on doing things that only a tiny handful of other players in history could do.    If you were to look at 1998, when Rivera had a slightly subpar (especially in the K/W data) but essentially typical season — the 233 ERA+ actually above his career average, 36 saves about right given that he missed a few games — there were plenty of distinct non-immortals having seasons about as good or better: Urbina, Hoffman, Wetteland, Nen, Jeff Shaw, Michael Jackson fer Chrissakes.  And then there were more pitchers — Beck, Wagner, Lightenberg — who were in the same general class if you account for how small samples can make the ERA fluctuate.   Given that, it would seem as if it there would be multiple Riveras, guys who who could sustain the performance of the typical Excellent Closer Year for as long as great position players have.    Maybe not Rivera, but at least guys who belong in the discussion.

But nobody does.     Among the few modern closers who have maintained anything like that level of performance for more than a decade — Lee Smith, Hoffman, Reardon and Franco and Myers if you’re feeling really charitable —  all have settled into a distinctly much lower level of quality even as they remained good enough to be decent closers.    While Rivera has not only sustained his excellence, he’s gotten better; barring a second half collapse, his three year performance from ages 38-40 will be the best of his career and significantly better than his age 28-30 seasons.     It’s genuinely remarkable, and if I’m still not not sure I understand it Traub’s article takes me about as close as I can.

Milbank v. Weigel

[ 5 ] July 6, 2010 |

Like Matt, I think that Carr has the Post dead to rights on its double standards. A couple additional points:

  • The analogy is pretty direct.   If I understand, the justification for firing Weigel was that you couldn’t expect Weigel to cover Matt Drudge if he wrote mean emails about him.   Milbank’s beat involves covering the White House, so it would seem that the same logic would apply in his case.
  • It should also be re-emphasized, as Carr says, that “none of the Post leadership suggested his actual work was anything less than rigorous or fair.”   Whereas one can actually find examples of Milbank’s sexist attitudes about Clinton affecting his actual work for the Post.    But, then, Milbank himself believes that media antipathy toward Clinton can simply for taken for granted.   It’s not like picking on poor defenseless Matt Drudge!
  • A central issue would indeed seem to be that Weigel just isn’t part of Beltway media culture, and I’m guessing that one of the biggest crimes that one can commit among the kind of people who send anonymous emails to Jeffrey Goldberg is to actually take politics seriously.    One can’t imagine Weigel acting like Milbank and asking politicans multiple questions about how they look in a swimsuit; in the culture of the Post, this is apparently a major negative.

The Future!

[ 9 ] July 5, 2010 |

So apparently yesterday (or apparently not, but whatever; details…) was the day that Doc selected for his trip to the future at the end of the first Back to the Future. The series did a reasonable enough job of prediction (although these predictions are for 2015, rather than 2010), but in retrospect I think it missed out on the central transformation to occur between 1985 and 2010, which is the complete revolution in relationship between technology and information.

The iPhone and its kin aren’t precisely cinematic, but they do as well as any other technology in representing this transformation. Having Marty or Doc carry an iPhone back to 1955 or 1985 wouldn’t be visually impressive, but it’s remarkable what the technology could do even removed from its context. With the proper apps, any smart phone could play the same role as the sports almanac that drove the plot in Back to the Future II, and could also provide sufficient information about any other set of historical events worth caring about. It’s game playing capabilities would exceed those of any other handheld in 1985, and this is to say nothing of its ability to hold thousands of songs, podcasts, and movies.

Then again, the iPhone in 1985 is also a curtailed device; Marty could neither call anyone nor take advantage of the iPhone’s ability to connect to the internet. Detached from its technological context, the iPhone is powerful, but crippled. The BTF series actually did a reasonably good job of depicting this in the third film, where the Delorean proved useless without refined gasoline. Nevertheless, I think that the relationship between the iPhone and its context is more complicated, and more difficult to explain, than that of the Delorean. The iPhone is an interesting enough device in isolation, but its true power is only evident when it is connected with the modern information infrastructure. That infrastructure is very difficult to conceptualize if you’re not living in it; you don’t necessarily perceive the power to command instant information until you have it and lose it. But then, I suppose that all revolutions are difficult to understand unless you live through them.

If Only…

[ 5 ] July 5, 2010 |

This seems optimistic:

As you may have heard, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is in the news again, and not in a good way, with reports of a speech he made in Connecticut referring to the war in Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing,” and warning of the futility of a “land war in Afghanistan.”

Whatever else they represent, Steele’s remarks have created a sudden and surprising fault line in the GOP over foreign policy at a time when that party has (following public opinion) focused its attention heavily on domestic issues, largely confining itself with attacks on the administration’s alleged weakness and fecklessness in dealing with other countries, while tolerating anti-Iraq-War heretics like Rand Paul…

We’ll soon see if Steele can survive, and if this event turns out to be a momentary embarrassment, or the beginning of a real debate among Republicans about the party’s foreign policy message going into 2010 and 2012.

I’ll be taking “momentary embarrassment.” Meanwhile, the DNC uses this opportunity to cover itself with glory. A couple of thoughts:

1. I can understand why the DNC folks felt that they could hit Steele with the “He hates the troops” bit after being on the receiving end of the same nonsense for eight years. Nevertheless, GOP displays of doubt on the issue of bottomless war support are unquestionably a good thing, and Michael Steele is much more important than either of the Pauls. Any anti-war sentiment in the GOP ought to be nurtured, even if it’s made in the context of an attack on a Democratic President.

2. While Steele will probably get crucified for this by the powers that be, I’m guessing that there’s a substantial portion of the GOP that agrees with him about Afghanistan. Part of the reason for the shift of attention from Afghanistan to Iraq was skepticism that US forces could do much long term good there. Just as the expectations for the war in Iraq did not include prolonged violent occupation, the idea that 100000+ troops would eventually be required in Afghanistan would have driven Donald Rumsfeld crazy. While Bill “Any War, Any Time” Kristol continues to hold the GOP conch on national security issues, there’ll be no debate about the sensibility of the maximalist hawk position. I suspect, however, that even within the elements of the GOP that care about national security there’s mounting skepticism about the neocon approach.

See also Clemons.

World Cup Challenge Standings

[ 2 ] July 5, 2010 |

Not that anyone cares anymore…

1 johnbparker1 1J. Parker 19 24 24 0 0 67 99.7
2 greller49 1A. Greller 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
2 bobby lenarduzzid. loveland 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
2 tnpsc 1v. las vegas 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
5 PALGOLAKp mac 21 20 24 0 0 65 99.4
6 NJLandfill1 1K. Hannigan 21 22 20 0 0 63 98.6
7 paul8462 1P. Inselmann 18 20 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 Eccentripity 1E. Cerevic 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 The HypnotoadD. Raskin 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 bourbon renewalh. hjklhljkh 22 24 16 0 0 62 97.9
7 Europa05 1m. allen 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9