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Chip Kelly, SuperGenius

[ 63 ] March 15, 2015 |


I can understand why the Eagles gave Chip Kelly control over personnel if it was between that and losing him. And the first major trade he pulled off was good: dumping an extremely expensive running back who was mediocre last year and getting a very good linebacker (albeit one coming off a year lost to injury) is a terrific trade. And as someone who would rather see the Bills win than any other AFC team, it’s awesome to see them once again try to build an offense around a large financial or draft pick investment in the running game, because 1974 is bound to come back anytime now.

The problem is that the rest of Kelly’s moves could come right out of the playbook of any hapless Browns/Bills/Jaguars hack:

In all, Kelly is committing a lot of money to his running backs. Let’s assume that Mathews’s deal eats up about $4 million in cap space this year. Assuming that it has a roster bonus, Murray should come in at about $9 million. The Eagles already have Sproles on their cap at $4.1 million. Even if they cut Chris Polk, that means about $17 million in cap space is committed to running backs.

The only team that even comes close to the Eagles on running back spending would be the Vikings, who have $18 million committed to backs this season, but $15.4 million of that money belongs to Peterson, who is likely to be released or traded. Otherwise, nobody else is spending more than $10.9 million on running backs, which leaves the Eagles as an enormous outlier in terms of how they’re choosing to use their cap space.


Here’s the simplest way I can put this: Pretend, for a moment, that the Raiders or the Jaguars or the Browns made this exact same pair of moves. They would be the laughingstocks of the league, fools making the same stupid mistakes that bad franchises always make. The Eagles understandably aren’t being painted with that brush because Kelly has earned a certain level of credibility as a forward-thinking coach. With the moves Kelly has made this offseason, that credibility is on the line.

Kelly may very well make these signings work, but the Murray deal is a classic example of what bad teams do in free agency. Two years from now, we may very well look back at the past 72 hours in Eagles history as the moment when Kelly sealed his status as the next Bill Belichick. We also may look back at it as the time when Kelly sealed his fate.

This kind of investment in running backs in 2015 is really stupid. It would be bad even if the spending was on backs of proven durability as well as high performance, because the position just isn’t important enough to contemporary NFL offenses. But of course Matthews hasn’t been an elite RB since 2011 and can’t stay on the field, and while Murray is very good (although probably not as good as he looks running behind Dallas’s offensive line), has an extensive injury history and Garrett handled him like Billy Martin handled his starting pitchers in his one healthy year last year. Paying Murray a top-of-the-market contract after a 500-touch season is about as good a gamble as getting in on the subprime mortgage market in 2006.  These are two bad contracts that are much worse in tandem than either one would be individually.  And the contract Kelly offered Frank Gore was no prize either — let’s just say the organization that did land Gore thought that Trent Richardson was worth a 1st round pick.

And that’s just the beginning. As Barnwell says, paying a corner who looks perfectly solid playing across from Richard Sherman in Pete Carroll’s defense as if he’s Darrelle Revis is a bad investment. But at least Maxwell can play. If anything, I think Barnwell is underselling how atrocious the Bradford trade is. There are three rather obvious problems with the deal.

  • Bradford has an onerous contract.
  • Bradford can’t stay on the field.
  • Bradford has been dogshit on those increasingly rare occasions when he does make it onto the field. His career QBR of 40.7 would rank him 26th among NFL QBs last year, behind human replacement level Kyle Orton (42.6) and also behind luminaries such as Ryan Fitzpatrick (55.3) and and Brian Hoyer (43.1).

Now, yes, Bradford does figure to look better going from offenses run by the likes of Brian “talent sees the next generation and flees in terror” Schottenheimer and (Josh McDaniels – Bill Belichick) to an offense run by Kelly. Let’s generously say the difference is worth 20 points of QBR. This would land him…somewhere between Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles under Chip Kelly. The upside of the move, in other words, is that Kelly will get the same performance he was getting from much cheaper players he already had. And, of course, given Bradford’s history it’s likely that the Sanchize will end up taking a healthy share of the snaps this year anyway.  On this trade, perhaps the best analogy isn’t the Bills or Raiders but Tony Reagins. The Rams got rid of one of the worst contracts in the sport and landed a probably better player and a net improvement in draft position out of the deal (and probably would have been even better off taking the 1st rounder Kelly remarkably offered.)

Kelly’s reputation as an offensive supergenius actually does have some merit.  But the fact that he can make the Nick Foleses and even Mark Sanchezes of the world look competent is all the more reason not to massively overpay offensive talent (or “talent” as the case may be.)  It’s hard to imagine Kelly matching the level of success attained by his one-time college rivals Carroll and Harbaugh until he works with someone in charge of personnel who (unlike himself) has some idea what he’s doing.

Why Does Douthat Think the Poor Exist?

[ 242 ] March 15, 2015 |


You guessed it–too much sex!

That idea makes some people on the left angry. As they see it, it’s money and only money that Murray’s Fishtown and Putnam’s hometown lack and need. And it’s unchecked capitalism and Republican stinginess, not the sexual revolution, that has devastated working-class society over the last few decades. Fight poverty, redistribute wealth, and you’ll revive family and community — it’s as simple as that.

Actually, it’s not quite that simple Ross, but whatever. The sexual revolution is responsible for today’s poor! Why? Who knows! In Ross’ world, the fact that the poor have cable and cell phones is why they aren’t actually poor. They are lazy, shiftless, and too horny. In other words, Douthat is in many ways the prime columnist of the New Gilded Age, blaming the poor for their own poverty by taking an elitist, paternalistic, and strongly disapproving view of working class moral behavior. All they need is religion, sobriety, and to listen to their betters and Horatio Alger lives.

But only if their betters also live moral lives. Which they are not because of too much sex.

The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.

But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.

Sure, the “cultural revolution” (nice touch Ross) isn’t the only possible something else. In fact, it’s not even remotely connected to modern poverty. But let’s ignore that only possible part of the equation for me to shame people for sex, rich or poor. Meanwhile, let me go back to my mythologized vision of the 1950s that exists in only my brain.

Finally, what did Leonard Cohen do to deserve citation in this column?

The 16th Century

[ 42 ] March 14, 2015 |

Welp, this exists. From 1555.


I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is a Protestant attack upon nuns. Time period certainly fits. As much as I hesitate to ever link to Reddit, there are people here who do seem to know what they are talking about that at least suggest it’s a commentary on how much nuns want sex.

Bad Country Music (Please Do Not Let Loomis See this Post)

[ 103 ] March 14, 2015 |


Oh, hai, everybody! How’d you like some wingnut country this fine March weekend?

The sad thing is I think this guy actually has some talent, and he’s wasting it on this smarm.

In other news, this happened…

The “We” in U.S. History

[ 45 ] March 14, 2015 |


Elizabeth Yale has an interesting essay arguing that the real conservative outrage over the AP U.S. History standards is that AP is avoiding the “we” in history, not taking a stand that our past celebrates a glorious narrative of heroism and progress that defines “us” today. Of course, such narratives of “we” and “us” are automatically exclusionary and thus should be avoided since they inevitably imply a “you” and “them” that are not part of this grand historical narrative.

Yet, perhaps these questions don’t belong in a U.S. history classroom—or, at the very least, in that space, their answers should not be assumed. The AP framework seems to take this stance; this may be one of the reasons it so frustrates its critics. In its discussion of the early history of settlement, warfare, and colonial expansion in the territory that became the United States, the new framework resists saying “we.” On the religious roots of the American Revolution, it reads, “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty, while Enlightenment philosophers and ideas inspired many American political thinkers to emphasize individual talent over hereditary privilege.”

This is hardly neglect: evangelical fervor is right there, strengthening British colonists’ resolve when confronted with challenges to their liberties. But in speaking of “British colonists’ understandings of themselves,” the language also sets up a distance between us and them. They understood themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty; we can adopt that view if we wish, but we don’t have to take it on uncritically. The framework creates this measure of historical distance not only between us and early American Protestants, but between us and each of the many different kinds of colonial Americans it discusses—enslaved Africans, Indians, and colonists, traders, missionaries, and adventurers from France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. It presents colonial history as a diverse space inhabited by many different kinds of people, with many different kinds of aims. Students of a range of backgrounds might see themselves here—though the framework certainly doesn’t force them to.

How do we acknowledge and move forward from the sins of the past? The historical “we” in place, the distance between past and present falsely collapsed, we can only understand them as our own. Here is where the historical distance created by the AP U.S. framework, with its careful locutions, pays off. For, of course, in seeing that U.S. history has been shaped by racism, one may be lead to reflect upon our inheritance of that history, and how it plays out in daily life, in ways big and small, across the United States. Our history, properly told, should push students towards these kinds of reflections (though it won’t dictate their outcomes). But such thoughts may be particularly painful—too painful to confront—for those who look back on the “Founding Fathers,” and say, “Them. Those are my people. Those are our people.”

That so many of the conservative critics of AP U.S. History standards are also deeply invested in exclusionary politics of other types–including repealing the meaningful sections of the Voting Rights Act–suggests that “we” is just as contested when talking about 2015 as it is about 1775.

The White Supremacist Origin of Right to Work Laws

[ 14 ] March 14, 2015 |


Vance Muse is the founding father of the right to work movement. Not surprisingly, he was also a virulent racist, saying, among other things about unions:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Meanwhile, right to work gets rejected for this legislative session in West Virginia, but it probably won’t be much longer given the types of politicians West Virginians now vote into office. I feel terrible about the declining work freedoms in West Virginia, but at the same time, given how hard right and racist the state has gone, in a sense voters are going to get what they asked for, even if not in 2015.

Having A Cake…

[ 8 ] March 14, 2015 |
J-7I fighter at the Beijing Military Museum from above.jpg

“J-7I fighter at the Beijing Military Museum from above” by Max Smith  (Own photo). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat works through the implications of China’s efforts to build a modern IP bureaucracy:

Can China create an intellectual property system robust enough to support domestic technological innovation (on both the military and civilian side) while still maintaining its casual attitude toward the theft of foreign technology? The answer is almost certainly no.


[ 120 ] March 14, 2015 |


Should I be ecooptimistic?

Yet expressions of optimism have been popping up in various green quarters. In June Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone titled “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” hailing “surprising—even shocking—good news” about a shift toward a solar-powered future. “[I]t is now clear that we will ultimately prevail,” he declared. September’s climate march in New York exceeded expectations, attracting some 400,000 people and spurring pronouncements that a mass movement had finally arrived. Longtime New York Times environmental reporter (now blogger) Andy Revkin has also attracted attention for his relatively upbeat outlook. “We are going to do OK,” he told an audience of environmental science researchers last summer.

Of course, different optimisms have different sources and different implications. Gore’s is relatively narrow: it’s based on diffusion of a particular technology, and the triumph he predicts (while somewhat ambiguous) is presumably that human civilization will survive. A more expansive vision, coming from the left wing of the climate movement, is found in Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything. Her professed optimism derives, in a sense, from horror at the status quo, which she feels is becoming so intolerable for so many that we might actually do something about it. Klein proposes that the devastation of climate change can serve as a catalyst for a broader social justice movement that will deliver us to a world better than the one we now inhabit—less exploitative of the vulnerable of all species, human and otherwise.

But perhaps most provocative are the worldviews that ground their optimism in a reconsideration of our relationship to the natural world. A couple of emerging sub-movements share certain familiar green principles but challenge others. They highlight the value and the pitfalls of optimism for social movements generally, but also the unique challenges for environmentalism. And they raise questions about what it means to be an environmentalist when the environment is rapidly changing.

I have trouble buying into this. I do support redefining environmentalism into the world around us and not just the wilderness way out there. That’s an important transition in environmentalism that needs to take place. For as much as I respect Bill McKibben, I don’t accept his definition of the environment as “its separation from human society” since a) our own permeable bodies are all too interactive with the environment and thus get sick and die from our actions and b) we live in a materialistic society that brings processed, or second, nature into our homes through what we buy. However, a new environmentalism centering these issues is also different from simply redefining human behavior and impact on the environment to create a narrative that we are acting OK and we can go on more or less business as usual.

Of course, people always say that apocalyptic narratives of environmentalism don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Perhaps true. But pollyanna narratives of environmentalism also don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Reality is that nothing is going to change human behavior and we are going to go right to sending half the world’s species into extinction.

We are also now trying to date the anthropocene. Is the date when we start seeing meaningful human-caused and permanent environmental change 1610? 1775? 1945? 1964? None of these dates make sense to me. A far more meaningful date is 1492, for the European exploitation of the Americas will launch modern capitalism and the global free-for-all that defines modern society.

….Couple of points from comments.

1. There is a seeming misunderstanding of the pessimism of environmentalism. That pessimism, including on climate change, is not “there’s nothing that can be done.” It’s “we can do something, but it will have to be radical and right now we are doing nothing and there’s no reason to think that will change.” Those are very different things. There are tons of possible solutions. They may include the end of auto and plane travel. Even with the most classic case of environmental pessimism, that of Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb, the argument was not that we were necessarily destined to outgrow the planet’s carrying capacity but that we likely would since we wouldn’t make the necessary changes.

2. The whole idea of “environmental pessimism causes people to not do anything” is such conventional wisdom, yet I haven’t seen a single bit of scholarly or even really anecdotal evidence that it is true. I’d like to be enlightened if such evidence exists.

The Answer Is Always War: The Four Traits of Neoconservatism

[ 179 ] March 14, 2015 |

Wherever there’s a non-ally of the United States not being invaded by the United States, Fred Hiatt is there to find a crackpot to advocate that the problem of non-invasion be solved immediately:

Obama’s stance implies that we have no choice but to accept Iran’s best offer — whatever is, to use Rice’s term, “achievable” — because the alternative is unthinkable.

But should it be? What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal.

Such visionary regimes do not trade power for a mess of foreign goods.

Conveniently, the ridiculous-though-not-treasonous letter to Iran from most of the Republican Senate conference has allowed Chait to distill the 4 crucial characteristics of neoconservatism:

  •  “First, of course, is the wild confrontationalism, which in this case was directed not against Iran but against the Obama administration.”
  • “the letter was drafted and signed with maximum haste and a total contempt for planning or serious thought of any kind.
  • “the ploy has failed even by the standards of its own logic.
  • “And, then, finally, there is the stubborn refusal to concede the plan has backfired even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

The mere summary doesn’t do it justice — it’s all worth reading. Muravchik’s letter has already scored highly on points one and two…

…as if often the case, Fallows is excellent.

Saturday Creature Feature Links

[ 25 ] March 13, 2015 |
    • A new species of anomalocaridid has been discovered-it’s 480 million years old and 7-feet-long!
    • Would I link to a story simply so I’d have an excuse to post the “Mad Pooper” song from “Bob’s Burgers?” Yes No.
  • It’s not often I laugh out loud at something. It’s rarer still that I’ll nearly scare neighbors with my most obnoxious witch’s cackle…but this story about the –“it must be satire”– fanfiction “My Immortal” (a completely random Harry Potter/vampire mashup) had me laughing maniacally.
  • I’m finally–yes, really, this time–bidding adieu to the cancer on my life that is Gamergate. With this:
  • “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants” by Theamat

Foreign Entanglements: The Iran Deal

[ 2 ] March 13, 2015 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt and I discuss the Iran deal in context of the infamous letter:

St. Louis Strikes Again

[ 78 ] March 13, 2015 |


Among the many, many, many culinary achievements of St. Louis, we can now add what may be the nation’s first ranch dressing themed restaurant.

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