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Shut Up, Nick

[ 63 ] February 12, 2014 |

Well, this is certainly a way to solve the Ducks:

The NCAA committee recommended a rules change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, excluding the final two minutes of each half. So in effect, offenses won’t be allowed to snap the ball until the play clock reaches 29 seconds or less. If the offense snaps the ball before then, it would be penalized five yards for delay of game. Under current rules, defenses aren’t guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense subs first….

But some coaches, including Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, have criticized hurry-up offenses, arguing that they give offenses an unfair advantage and don’t allow them to adequately substitute defensive players.

“All you’re trying to do is get lined up [on defense],” Saban told in September. “You can’t play specialty third-down stuff. You can’t hardly scheme anything. The most important thing is to get the call so the guys can get lined up, and it’s got to be a simple call. The offense kind of knows what you’re doing.”

Why yes; that is, indeed, the point.

Two thoughts: First, no huddle offenses are, without question, a lot of fun to watch. This is especially true when they’re conducted by teams, like the Ducks, that are very good at them.  Outlawing them in order to please Nick Saban makes college football altogether less interesting.  Second, the best defenses in the Pac-12 have, to my utter chagrin, demonstrated that the Ducks (and teams like them) can, in fact, be stopped.  This is a solution in search of a problem.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and interracial families in America

[ 120 ] February 12, 2014 |

While at The Raw Story retreat last weekend in San Francisco, my colleague Arturo Garcia and I had a long conversation about the show that went something like this

Potentially the Greatest Museum Exhibit of All Time

[ 53 ] February 12, 2014 |

Now this is my kind of history:

What did Paris smell like in the mid-18th century? Try skunked red wine, wet cats, and gingivitis-tinged sputum, all bubbling in an open sewer on a record-setting summer’s day.

I can say this with some authority as I recently jammed my schnoz into “Paris 1738,” a scent that recreates the fetid odors of the olden city. France’s Christophe Laudamiel made the unusual odor as a tribute to the novel Perfume, whose murderous antihero was born in a fish market amid the stench of overflowing gutters and unwashed bodies. Now, thanks to a nose-tingling exhibit in downtown San Francisco, anybody can smell how the City of Love may have once reeked – and thank their lucky nostrils they live in an era with hot showers and shampoo.

“Urban Olfactory,” which runs until March 31 at SPUR, is a history lesson made entirely of smells: pine and cedar pulled from the imagined court of Louis XIV, spice-laden air over the Strait of Bosphorus in the Middle Ages, river water and hashish of modern-day Rotterdam. Those are the ones people might actually, you know, wear. There’s also the New Jersey Turnpike during a rainstorm, air pollution in San Francisco, and fresh manure in the French countryside. All these perfumes are presented in a line of lidded vitrines; visitors take a whiff of one, then go breathe into a glass of coffee beans to clear the nose.

Forget all the stupid presidents, high end fashions, deadly battles, or whatever people like in history. This my friends, is about as close to immersing yourself into the reality of the past as I’ve ever heard. I feel like traveling to San Francisco just to see it.

…I would fly out there if one of the exhibits includes the stench of rotting horses from the grotesque amount of horse deaths in 19th century American streets.


[ 176 ] February 12, 2014 |

No surprise here:

In yet another instance of science belatedly confirming what common sense has already told us, a new paper from researchers at three Canadian universities concludes that Internet trolls aren’t just mean — they’re sadists and psychopaths.

The paper, published last week in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, surveyed a group of several hundred on their Internet behaviors and personal traits. It found that trolling correlated with higher rates of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, a certain lack of scruples when it comes to deceiving or manipulating other people.

“… it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists,” the paper rules.

I used to try to convince people that there’s no way to conceive of a retort so clever, so devastating that the troll will actually throw in the towel, or feel bad about him/herself. By the time you hit the “reply” button, you’ve already lost the battle.  I don’t much bother with that anymore.

…although I’ll grant that the temptation to troll this thread is strong…

Post-Political Politics, #slatepitch Edition

[ 335 ] February 12, 2014 |

Tanner Colby has a strange Slate piece arguing that affirmative action doesn’t work. In fairness, he’s not exactly saying that it doesn’t work — “millions of people do well under affirmative action” — but rather that it’s not “an answer to economic discrimination and structural inequality.” This qualification has the advantage of being more accurate, but the disadvantage of countering an argument that for all intents and purposes nobody has ever made. Who thinks that affirmative action was a policy that could completely eliminate structural racial and economical inequalities, as opposed to something that could marginally alleviate them?

Inevitably, this leads to the most essential aspect of any centrist contrarian policy argument, the ol’ “proposed grand bargain that can’t be enforced with other parties that don’t exist”:

Right now, the Democratic party and the racial justice movement are sitting on a junk heap of racial preference programs that aren’t doing anyone much good, and they lack the substantive programs they need: a true, New Deal–style reformation that repairs the infrastructure of our cities, ends mass incarceration, provides access to early education and paid family leave and job training and other programs that put all of black America on more solid footing. Since Republicans seem to want affirmative action gone so badly, if it were me, I’d be out horse trading. Just as the Obama administration is letting Washington and Colorado opt out of federal marijuana prohibition, let state and local governments opt out of affirmative action mandates, but only in exchange for opting in on universal pre-K and other things that working families actually need.

Yes, what a great idea! While we’re at it, in exchange for eliminating affirmative action, we should also get a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, single payer, and a median Supreme Court justice who can’t be to the right of Pam Karlan.*

To state the obvious, the conservatives who want affirmative action gone so badly they’d embark on a massive jobs and education program in exchange for getting rid of it don’t exist. Any state government that would enact any of these policies could enact them while maintaining affirmative action. Considering liberal policies that might be more effective on net than affirmative action is an interesting parlor game, but in the context of American politics it’s no more than that. In the context of federal policy, the argument is as useless as the “we should oppose the ACA because policy x that has no chance of being enacted by the United States Congress is better” silliness. What you will actually get in exchange for eliminating affirmative action is “nothing.” Universal pre-K and jobs programs are good idea on their own merits, and they should be defended as such. But using them to attack affirmative action is silly and counterproductive. These kinds of hypothetical grand bargains aren’t how politics actually works.

*And as Sly notes in comments, arguing that we need more “New Deal style” economic programs to combat racial inequality represents a rather remarkable ignorance of history, which helps to make it clear why he thinks massively difficult policy changes can be enacted as a matter of simple “horse trading.”


[ 53 ] February 12, 2014 |

I had never read this 1985 Al Stump remembrance of Ty Cobb’s last days. This is pretty amazing stuff.

But hey, at the least the Hall of Fame is full of only the most upstanding characters, so thank god those modern cheaters doing nothing actually against baseball rules are being kept out of it.

A painful case

[ 234 ] February 12, 2014 |

Although Clarence Thomas is still only 65 — i.e., practically a youngster by the late Politburo-style demographics of the contemporary Supreme Court — he seems to be moving into the Abe Simpson period of what is likely to be (check out these SSA demographic tables) a 40-plus year tenure on the SCOTUS.

Yesterday he regaled an audience at a college in Florida with these sociological observations:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” Thomas said during a chapel service hosted by the nondenominational Christian university. “Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out.

“That’s a part of the deal,” he added.

Apparently it wasn’t until Thomas left his old Savannah home that he encountered real racism, at the hands of Northern liberal elites:

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated,” Thomas said. “The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

This is just sad. As Jon Chait points out:

Maybe the reason race came up so rarely was not that the racial situation was better in 1960s Georgia. Maybe the reason race came up rarely is that the racial situation in 1960s Georgia was extremely terrible.

For instance, for the first 14 years of Thomas’s life, Georgia had zero African-Americans in its state legislature. Majority-black Terrell had a total of five registered black voters — possibly because African-Americans were so satisfied with their treatment that they didn’t see any reason to vote, or possibly because civil-rights activists in Georgia tended to get assassinated.

I wish I could say it’s incomprehensible to me that an African American man who grew up in deep south in the 1950s and 1960s (Thomas was 16 when the Civil Rights Act was enacted) could talk about racism in this country as if it were primarily a matter of “slights” and “hurt feelings.” But unfortunately it’s all too comprehensible, in a world in which old men become parodies of the young men they once were, and in which we are taught from the earliest age to lick the hand that feeds us.

Note too the bottomless anti-intellectualism of this sort of social analysis by autobiographical anecdote. Let’s assume that Thomas actually did encounter more racism at Yale Law School, at the EEOC, before the Senate Judiciary Committee etc., than he did in Jim Crow Georgia. What relevance would this purported fact have to a discussion of the changing role of race in American life? Clarence Thomas has reached a point where he is making Ronald Reagan sound like Malcolm X. This sounds like hyperbole, but compare:

When I was your age, believe it or not, none of us knew that we even had a racial problem. When I graduated from college and became a radio sport announcer, broadcasting major league baseball, I didn’t have a Hank Aaron or a Willie Mays to talk about. The Spaulding Guide said baseball was a game for Caucasian gentlemen. Some of us then began editorializing and campaigning against this. Gradually we campaigned against all those other areas where the constitutional rights of a large segment of our citizenry were being denied. We have not finished the job. We still have a long way to go, but we have made more progress in a few years than we have made in more than a century.

Ronald Reagan, speech to the first Conservative Political Action Conference, January 25, 1974.

Disabled Workers

[ 11 ] February 12, 2014 |

Disabled workers operate in a complicated space within American labor. Many of them are capable of productive labor that helps make their lives better. Employers probably wouldn’t hire them without incentives and at least for some of them, the need for constant overseeing from case workers probably barely makes it worth the trouble. On the other hand, for some employers hiring these workers is just another way to wrest additional profit by paying subminimum wages. The catering companies like Aramark are notorious for this as a labor strategy in the kitchen of university dining halls. The Fair Labor Standards Act included a provision to pay subminimum wages to disabled workers, so there’s a long legal precedent here.

I’m glad President Obama has decided to include disabled workers in his executive order to raise minimum wages in future federal contracts. I do think the effect upon the disabled needs to be monitored, but there really isn’t a good reason not to pay these workers a minimum wage, especially given just how little money that actually is for these corporations.

Gender Equality in Humor

[ 111 ] February 12, 2014 |

I was watching a show a few months ago featuring an author who wrote a book about talking to boys. In her book she asked boys, essentially, “What’s important about being a boy?” Number 4 on the list–if I’m remembering correctly–was “being funny.” This author also wrote a book about talking to girls. I’d bet folding money “being funny” wasn’t number 4 on the girls’ list. In fact, I’d be surprised if it made the list at all.

I’ve gotten into flame wars before about the subject of women and humor. If you’d like me to die of a rage stroke please tell me that men are inherently funnier than women. No, wait, don’t do that: I have lots more mediocre jokes to tell on a somewhat well-known blog known primarily for covering politics and baseball.

Anyway, yada yada yada men and women are both funny. And I think they’re equally funny. But there’s probably never going to be the same quantity of funny women as there are men until we start valuing and encouraging funniness in women. Basically, we need to get “being funny” on our lists.

It’s something we don’t do now. We tell women they aren’t funny. We also tell them, “Hey, funny schmunny, lemme get a look at that AZZ.” So, girls tend not to grow up thinking “I want to make people laugh.” They grow up thinking “I want to attract people.” And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting be attractive. But I do think women are going to lag behind–ever so slightly–in the game of humor if they don’t start thinking about it almost as a competitive sport.

There’s also the matter of establishing yourself in the comedy world–it can be grueling. It’s not conducive to keeping marriages afloat and raising children. So for women (and women only, naturally), it often comes down to choosing between a career in comedy or having any sort of personal life. I watched a documentary about women in comedy and many of the comediennes said even dating was difficult. So until we have more egalitarian arrangements in our marriages and home lives, women will not have the voice in comedy that men have.

One thing I love about the internet is that so far as humor goes, it’s a decent equalizer. Yes, women are going to be harassed for being snarky and funny, but the bottom line is is that everyone can blog. So it’s heartening to me that some of the funniest voices on the internet are women’s. Perhaps being funny on the internet will translate to being funny everywhere someday.

Plus, Al Gore Is Jowly!

[ 34 ] February 12, 2014 |

Yes, wingnuts are still making the “how can there be global warming if there’s snow today nyuk nyuk nyuk” arguments:

If you needed proof that God has a wicked sense of humor, look no further than the timing for the next big global warming hearing from Senate Democrats. The hearing, entitled “Extreme Weather Events: The Costs Of Not Being Prepared,” is scheduled to take place at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 12.

Yes, yes She does. Anyway, I would have to agree that all of the zero people arguing that snow will cease to exist have been proven wrong.

The End of the Extortion

[ 136 ] February 12, 2014 |

Sargent’s analysis is exactly right:

So House Republican leaders are bowing to the inevitable and are going to allow a vote on a clean debt limit hike. In a statement moments ago, Nancy Pelosi said she’d provide Democratic votes to help it pass, which seems very likely.

The crucial point about this outcome, should it happen, is that it will be the direct result of the decision by Dems — in the last two debt limit fights — to refuse to negotiate with Republicans. That was a major course correction on Obama’s part in which he learned in office from failure. After getting badly burned in the 2011 debt limit showdown — which left us saddled with the austerity that continues to hold back the recovery — Obama recognized what many of his supporters were pleading with him for years to recognize: There was no way to enter into a conventional negotiation with House Republicans.

Obama played the last two rounds perfectly, but any praise has to be substantially mitigated by the fact that his bad choices in 2011 played a large role in creating the problem.

Are You Ready For Some Curling?

[ 45 ] February 11, 2014 |

A handy guide to the second-greatest sport at the winter Olympics.

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