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Lethal Weapon

[ 0 ] November 24, 2007 |

Sasha Undercover says that 300 people have died from the use of tasers in the U.S. this year. This is, however, not solely an American problem: a case where a Polish immigrant who died after being tasered was major news in Canada last week. It seems likely that although they’re presumably an alternative to using firearms tasers are much more likely to lead to deaths that one might think, and serious questions need to be asked about the frequency of their use.

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Kentucky is the Shire?

[ 15 ] November 24, 2007 |

Who knew?

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk about Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way.

Odd that Kentucky would later define itself through success in a sport that hobbits are singularly maladapted to play

…although Matt Weiner makes the point that hobbits might make good jockeys. Not sure about that; the weight would be good, but I think jockeys need to be taller than hobbits. Wikipedia suggests that only Bandobras “Bullroarer” Took is known to have been capable of riding a horse.

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Houston Nutt is a Lucky Moron

[ 26 ] November 23, 2007 |

Ace Rothstein:

The cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.

I’m glad that Arkansas won, but when you have a chance to beat a plainly superior opponent on the road with one play from the 3 yard line, you take it. It was criminal of Nutt not to go for the two point conversion after the first overtime touchdown. Stupidity didn’t pay off this time, but it should have.

…and obviously, he also has a stupid name. Why didn’t his parents just name him “Brazil”?

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[ 0 ] November 23, 2007 |

The Thanksgiving feast was a total success. I followed much of Alton Brown’s (and your) advice. Lots of photos taken of the delicious maple-glazed turkey, sourdough & porcini mushroom stuffing, roasted taters, etc….

…but I can’t find the damn cable for my digital camera!

So, in the interim, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Thanks for all the advice.

Hope it was a joyous and thoughtful day for all.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 5 ] November 22, 2007 |

Back from Canada, but off to bucolic New England to celebrate your phoney-baloney version of Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I have to agree that while probably less destructive to political discourse Collins’s columns have even less content than Dowd’s…

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Let’s Get Some Political Science 101 for the Slate Folks…

[ 0 ] November 22, 2007 |

While we’re on the topic of Slate contrarians, here’s Mickey reacting to the Korb/Katulis/Podesta op-ed:

When you write a sentence like:
the progress being made at the local level often undermines the stated goal of creating a unified, stable, democratic Iraq

you have to come up with, you know, an example. Maybe in the next sentence! Podesta et al. argue that Iraqi national reconciliation–and “constructive” intervention by regional powers–will only come when America withdraws. That may be true (though it seems tendentiously optimistic). But we can always withdraw. In the meantime, how does “progress at the local level,” including “declines in the overall level of violence,” actually hurt? Without that argument, the piece looks like positioning. …

Alright, let’s go slow and use small words, so that Mickey can understand. The central government is one among many armed, collective actors in Iraq. In most modern nation-states (and in Iraq prior to 2003) the central government is the most powerful armed actor; indeed, Weber’s defines the state as an entity that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory. Now, central governments don’t always have a complete monopoly, and they don’t hold that monopoly at all times, but at least the idea that the state should be the predominant armed actor in a given territorial space is pretty critical to how a modern-nation state functions. Indeed, it’s one of things that sets a modern-nation state apart from a feudal situation, in which multiple legitimate armed groups exist in society with a centralized, first among equals leader (the classic feudal monarchy), or a warlord society, in which multiple armed actors exist within a territory without necessarily agreeing on any unifying principle.

The problem with the strategy in Iraq (and it’s not the Surge; the tribal strategy precedes the Surge by about six months) is that we are both arming and legitimating non-state actors; in these conditions, it is very difficult for the central government to assert authority, and thus to do any of the things (organize for collective defense, collect taxes, provide services, etc.) that a modern nation-state does. Also, the tribes we’re enabling are among the most conservative, anti-democratic elements of Iraqi society. This is why so many people tend to think that the tribal strategy, whatever its merits in terms of a reduction of violence (and I think it does have merits on this score) is fundamentally at odds with the idea of a unified, democratic Iraq. And that too may be fine; the democratic Iraq idea gave up the ghost a while ago, anyway. But it’s best not to pretend that the tribal strategy is contributing to the goals that were set out four and a half years ago.

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Saletan’s Finale

[ 0 ] November 21, 2007 |

And after all that, nothing. Saletan writes two columns purporting to demonstrate not simply that African-Americans are inherently intellectually inferior to whites, but that liberals who question this finding are anti-science. In other words, the science is so compelling that any argument against the racial inferiority hypothesis must be generated by political, rather than scientific, considerations.

And so, now that we have this finding, what are the implications for public policy? Surely, demonstrating the intellectual inferiority of Africans should have a significant impact of various public policy choices. Our foreign aid strategy should change, because sending money to Africa based on the assumption that Africans are capable of understanding complex concepts like “economics” is surely a waste. The implications for immigration are clear; more Asians and Europeans, fewer Africans. While Saletan suggests that race mixing can bring blacks up to white intellectual levels, it would be irresponsible not to consider that the opposite might happen; miscegenation, on average, is going to result in a child intellectually inferior to its white counterparts. Family assistance and affirmative action will need to be radically restructured, if not eliminated entirely.

What? Saletan doesn’t propose any of that? Why not? Really, if the science is as compelling as Saletan claims, it would be absurd not to use the findings to guide public policy. Yet, Saletan specifically discounts the idea of using this race science to guide policy. Again, why? It’s almost as if Saletan doesn’t really believe everything that he’s just argued. It’s almost as if his grasp on the science is so shaky that he has no confidence in the claims that he’s supporting. Indeed, it’s almost as if he wrote the columns solely as an exercise in angering liberals.

Yglesias points out the genuine strangeness of all this:

Saletan and my bloggy colleagues seem to have convinced themselves that there’s overwhelming opposition in public opinion to the view that whites are intrinsically smarter than blacks and also that there’s strong scientific consensus in favor of that hypothesis. As best I can tell, however, neither is true. The “black genes make you dumb” crowd is siding with widely-held popular prejudice against what most researchers believe.

Right; the idea that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites is hardly new to the American political scene, and there’s every reason to think that it’s still widely held in many corners. Indeed, it was widely held well before the latest round of shoddy race science convinced Saletan, and was used to justify any number of political and social arrangements designed to guarantee that African-Americans didn’t escape their “genetic” inheritance.

But then, most of those folks don’t read Slate. And you don’t get to keep your card as a contrarian journalist if you always agree with one side. Of course, you also don’t get to keep your contrarian journalist card if you come out for anti-miscegenation laws; it’s a delicate balance, but Saletan manages to pull it off. I would like to think that a few good social science methodology courses would impress upon Saletan and his ilk the difficulties associated with this kind of science; the trouble operationalizing the dependent variable, the dangers of drawing inferences in the presence of bad variables, and the virtual impossibility of excluding environmental variables from the process. I’d like to think that Saletan would at least be more cautious about the kinds of claims he’s making if he were familiar with some basic philosophy of science question, but I don’t know that it’s true.

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Giving Thanks

[ 13 ] November 21, 2007 |

After scurrying around to file a document with a court before the holiday, I spent the afternoon attending to the last minute Thanksgiving food shopping. The greenmarket was truly impressive today — mushrooms, eggs, apples, turkeys, bison, root veggies . . . pretty much everything you could need for your holiday feast. After a crushingly busy few weeks, I was thankful to have an afternoon to just enjoy fall in the city. It’s just the first of many things for which I will give thanks tomorrow.

I’m taking tomorrow off to cook, overeat, and play scrabble with my parents and one of my brothers, but I’ll be back in action on Friday — hopefully, if I can get my dying digital camera to work — with pictures of the delicious turkey that you all helped me figure out how to cook.

Happy Turkey/Tofurkey day to all of you.

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[ 0 ] November 21, 2007 |

Gregg Easterbrook is, evidently, still alive and still writing, and he’s still a deranged lunatic. If you listen to right wing culture warriors, you know they are adept at concocting bizarre, brain-twisting accusations about the motives and character of popular entertainers who are also outspoken liberals. Easterbrook, in a brain fart in the midst of an interminable NFL column, may well have effortlessly outdone all of them:

You don’t have to be Dr. Freud to speculate that cinema stars, steeped in a Hollywood culture obsessed with personal power, subconsciously fantasize about actually being able to kill whomever they please.

Malkin? O’Reilly? The bar has been raised.

h/t The Poor Man.

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Global War on False Alarms, Strange Loners, and Juvenile Delinquents

[ 17 ] November 21, 2007 |

So these people are excited for some reason about this map, which claims to tracks “terrorism and suspicious activity” across the planet. For those who’ve forgotten that the world is a dangerous place,

[y]ou have to see it to believe it, and I really mean to believe it: The world is a very dangerous place.

There’s nothing I’ve ever experienced — short of actually experiencing war or terrorist incidents — that so brings the message home, literally, right to your computer, and so comprehensively, about the need to be vigilant.

Give thanks this Thanksgiving, and every day, and express the same wishes to your friends, that you’re not in those places abroad. But, also, note the incidents in the U.S.

Among the latest “events” that are supposed to have us scraping out our underpants:

This map would work well as a parody, but it appears to be quite serious. On the plus side of the ledger, it appears that non-state actors pose the greatest threat to civilization. If this hasn’t already been turned into the subject of a Glenn Beck special report, I’d start laying bets right about now.

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On Women in Public Life

[ 0 ] November 21, 2007 |

Yglesias reports on a survey that shows we are making progress.

This was the question asked in the survey: “Some people feel that women should have an equal role with men in running business, industry and government. Others feel that women’s place is in the home. Where would you place yourself on this scale or haven’t you thought much about this?”

I’ve got to disagree with Yglesias on this one. Sure, there’s been progress. But the fact that we’re still asking questions like this shows just how far we’ve got to go.

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The Second Amendment on Trial

[ 36 ] November 20, 2007 |

The Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal to the D.C. Circuit decision striking down D.C.’s handguns ban. I’ll have more discussion about this later, but to stimulate discussion in the interim I’ll say that 1)the most plausible interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, I think, confers an individual right to bear arms, although this is certainly not the only reasonable interpretation; 2)given this, D.C.’s draconian ban is (for better or worse) clearly unconstitutional, but 3)more reasonable gun control measures may be constitutional even if the right to bear arms is considered an individual right.

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