Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quick Pop Culture Sunday Notes

Just a few scattered thoughts on a lazy Sunday morning:
  • Kathryn Bigelow won the Directors Guild prize for Hurt Locker!  We finally saw it last weekend, and I cannot remember a movie that made me feel more tense for as much of the film.  Just the most involving film of the past year.  Avatar was a tremendous production, but I got pulled out of the story--Blue Indians, Private Military Contractors with not only no compassion but no brains either, the Marine switching sides only to direct a frontal assault with inferior technology, etc.  So, I am pretty pleased that Bigelow won, even if one ignores that she is the first woman to win this award.  Bodes well for the Oscar.
  •  Finished re-watching Band of Brothers, which is the 10-part HBO miniseries focusing on a single company in the 101st Airborne from training in Georgia to preparing in England to D-Day to Operation Market Garden, Bastogne, and then on to the possible last redoubt of the Nazis in Austria.  I had seen it when it was first on and then caught some of the episodes when they were repeated over the years.  I recently read the book, so watching it from start to finish a second time was still really moving and educational.  I was better able to follow most of the characters better both because I had seen it before and because of the book.  Before, all of the dirty young men kind of looked the same and it took me several episodes to figure out who was who.  I borrowed the DVD collection from a friend and fellow security scholar, so I got to catch the extras.  I had seen the documentary "We Stand Alone Together" before, but the extras included some making of stuff, a video diary by Ron Livingston of the boot camp the actors had to go through (run by a former marine who ended up playing the Colonel that ran the regiment during the war), and a short news bite from HBO about the premiere they had--at the Utah Beach museum on an anniversary of D-Day with many of the surviving members of Easy Company.
    The whole series is just fantastic.  The production values, as the making of doc reveals, are just out of this world.  The actors are terrific. The source material is just amazing.  These guys went through the grinder.  It may be the case that other units faced tougher battles (like going through Italy), but these guys were involved in the biggest and most important events on the Western front.  It really should be required viewing, as it does a great job of capturing the American experience in the war.

    I am very much looking forward to The Pacific, which is "sequel," this time focusing on the Marines and the war against Japan.  Produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, as in the case of Band, but with a broader canvas, apparently.  Relying on more than just one book (plus heaps of interviews) and on one company, it will use several books (including one I have read--Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed) and on more than just one company.  Ironically enough, I will be in Australia when it debuts.  As the preview indicates, there will be more on the homefront, including American women who were entirely absent from Band of Brothers which lacked any real romantic subplots with only two short scenes indicating the fraternization that went in in Europe.

  • SNL was a mix.  Started off with an only mildly funny State of the Un it did not suck me in.  Indeed, I spent a lot of time during Avatar giggling at the obvious stuff that took me oion address that went on too long and then a horrible musical sketch (too much music trying to be funny) with Kristen Wiig overly emphasized (she was much better in Whip It! which we saw earlier in the evening).  But Jon Hamm was absolutely there to play ball, with a variety of sketches that involved shirtlessness.  Perhaps the SNL demo is skewing female and gay?  Anyhow, the best parts of the night were: Ham and Buble, a commercial for Hamm's new ham and champagne restaurant where he coerced the musical guest to participate; the Closet Organizer and the follow on to that at the end; and the Update, which had a great, great set of jokes about Obama's encounter with the House Republicans, comparing it to Indiana Jones shooting the guy with the big sword in Raiders.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mary Poppins and the Banking Industry

Mary Poppins has a classic scene, where the yelling of a kid sparks a run on the bank.  Not entirely unrealistic, given how lost our faith is in the banking industry.

But I don't know much about banks--good thing pieces like this can clarify.

Of course, Mary Poppins reminds us of the fragility of commitment: "Pie Crust Promise: Easily Made, Easily Broken."   Which suggests that we should be granting the banks nothing without strict oversight.

Friday, January 29, 2010

From Coast to Coast: Saideman on CA/A-Stan

I was on CBC Syndicated Radio today for five minute spots or so at seven radio stations from Cape Breton in the East to Victoria in the west.  It may be the closest I get to Thunder Bay (one of my all-time favorite names for a Canadian locale, along with Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, and Yellowknife). 

Anyhow, I was on to talk about Canada's role at the London Conference on Afghanistan and the implications of the CA military withdrawal in 2011.  What did I say?
  • That Canada was not playing a big role at this conference--that this was a British and American show.
  • That Canada's time at the adults' table at these kinds of conferences is likely to come to an end as it removes its military from Afghanistan and back to the kids' table, where Canada hung out during the Balkan wars [I know, as I helped to organize a QUINT dinner of the five major force contributors and policy planners for the Balkans--US, UK, France, Italy, Germany--there was no kids' table at that meeting].
  • That Canada's decision to pullout in 2011 was a political one: not based on a politico-military analysis of the situation in Afghanistan but the requirements of extending the parliamentary mandate beyond 2009.  Driven by the difficulties of a minority government facing three parties that were hostile to the mission (including one that started it--the Liberals--oops!).
  • That there has not really been a national conversation/debate about what to do in Afghanistan after 2011 as the Conservatives duck and cover
  • It didn't have to be all or nothing--that the CF could have left behind at least 300 troops at the Provincial Reconstruction Team [PRT] in Kandahar City to escort the civvies as they do their development/governance stuff.  That the CF could have left behind one or more Omelets [OMLTs--observer, mentor, liaison teams embedded in Afghan National Army units to train and facilite].  Instead, PM Harper has essentially said zero.
  • Which means that the civilians still in Kandahar are going to have to rely on other troops--Americans, most likely--to escort and protect them.  Which is fine since the CA and US forces have been working closely together. EXCEPT that the US priorities may not exactly match the CA ones, so the Canadian civvies may have to wait for a lift, rather than just riding out.
  • Canada has been doing counter-insurgency better than most contingents in A-stan as far as I can tell, and even better than some American units since US contingents vary quite widely in how much they implement the Petraeus playbook and the McChrystal strategy, so the exit of Canadian Forces is meaningful even though they will be replaced by Americans.
So, that is the jist of what I said seven times more or less.

One Last Late Night Post (or one of the last posts ....)

Jimmy Kimmel explains his appearance on the Leno show in reaction to Leno's story on Oprah.  Kimmel once again shows he knows the funny better than Leno these days:

Countdown to Lost [Spoilers, but dated ones]

Check out the video below---an amazing amalgamation of pieces of episodes all taking place just before the crash (well, the original crash that is). 

In just one early morning, popculturesavant has become a go-to blog for me on Lost.  I wonder if it does other stuff as well as Lost.  Another HT to WW for providing the link to this website with heaps of Lost analysis written in short (compared to Doc Jensen at EW), digestible bits.

Tick, tick, tick

A Rose By Any Other Name .... [updated]

I-pad, huh?  Well, the jokes are pretty easy to make.

[Thanks to Wendy W for the link]

As the NYT piece also suggests, this is not a laughing matter for those firms using iPad for their existing products, but this is not the first time Apple has done this.  The cool technology will almost certainly overwhelm those companies that use the name, although perhaps not in Europe since American companies tend to lose patent/copyright battles there.

Of course, the real question is what products will the iPad kill in the marketplace?  The iTouch, perhaps. Netbooks--cheap, limited laptops used mostly for email and internet--certainly.  Kindle and other e-book readers, probably.  It depends on whether the equivalent for iTunes for books has enough books.  That really is one of the big battles over the next few years--who gets enough books into the proprietary format to win the book reader wars.  Given the shortage of bookshelves in my house, this may not be trivial for me.

Apps!!!  Oh but the joy of apps will mean that the iPad will do quite well for those needing tech for tech's sake.  If I had some extra cash, I would certainly get an iPad so that I can app away.  Thus far, I have resisted the iPhone and the iTouch but not the iPods.  I think it might be ironic that I started using iPods as backup hard drives, but the limited memory of the iTouch and iPad deter me just a bit since I want my computer to have heaps of room.

Ah, and there is the challenge--are people willing to buy the iPad to be their computer and not just as a bigger iTouch/iPhone type device?  Touch typing on screens is not going to work for most people for any lengthy documents, so there is going to be a keyboard/dock to be added on, but my guess is that those add-ons will be difficult to drag onto planes, into cafes and the like. The iPad is likely to make a dent on the low end of the laptop market, but I think laptops are going to do fine in this competition.  I use a thinkpad precisely because I want to be able to type comfortably.  I do use base stations/docking stations at home and at school though to ease my usage (keyboards, bigger monitor, trackballs) so I can imagine someone getting an iPad and buying the additional stuff.  The difference again is that the iPad is not going to be easy to type on, whereas I can and do take my laptop on the road and still be productive as a researcher (typing in interview notes, for instance).

So, I want an iPad but will not get one unless a bucket of money drops in my direction.  I need a DVR, a second HDTV, blue ray, remote car starter, a new CD/radio/i-Pod player in my car, a new car, and other stuff more.  Of course, this raises an additional question--perhaps raised in a book I have not read yet (the Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook)--that we feel as if we do not have enough stuff (and we end up spending far more of our income on things that used to be free--television and now radio, etc) and are falling behind when we are clearly way ahead of the generation before us in terms of luxury.  And the technologies do change our spending.  I buy far more music now than I did a few years ago but in much smaller increments--one song at a $1 or so a shot via iTunes.  I could see the iPad working to increase spending--on apps (will the NYT app be a monthly fee or a one-timer?).

But that is for a rant on another day.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lost Post Du Jour? Jacob Bothers Me

If you have not watched the first five seasons of Lost but don't want to be spoiled, stop reading.  And start watching!

Defense Spending? Some Sanity Please

Fred Kaplan does a nice job of suggesting what should and should not be frozen.  The problem, of course, is that defense spending is an exemplar of pork, where Senators and Congress folk sees $$ here as patriotic jobs programs, rather than considering what is necessary for war-fighting in the 21st century.

It was hard enough to close military bases designed to combat the British threat or the Native American threat....

With the quadrennial review due out soon, we should see some fighting in DC, but SecDef Gates may still have the capital and the sense to make some good hard decisions.

Not a Good Month for Authors [updated]

J.D Salinger died yesterday, which means we now three different distinguished pantheon writers over the past week (Robert B. Parker and Erich Segal).  I never read Love Story by Segal, but read all of Parker's stuff.  I consider Parker my favorite author (replacing Alistair MacLean of Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra and many other WWII and cold war thrillers).  I consider Catcher in the Rye among my very favorite books, and certainly the high school required reading I enjoyed the most.  Like everyone else, I would have liked more stuff by Salinger (one reason why I love Parker and MacLean was the nearly endless supply), but Catcher is the Great American Novel. 

Good thing January is almost over.

Update:  And then Howard Zinn dies.  A different kind of author entirely, but another influential voice silenced.

Stunted Imagination? Oh, not just me

Best way to cure blog-block: video.  And video of the lack of creativity in TV news?  Perfect!  And British to show how universal this is?  Super-perfect!

Targeted Killings? Good or Bad

I am currently going through a virtual stack of Der Spiegel articles (virtual since I am accessing their wonderful online archive) on the German mission in Afghanistan.  The air strike on September 4th, 2009 was controversial for a variety of reasons, including the significant number of collateral damage.

However, I was struck by one of the key points of controversy--that the Colonel who ordered the strike sought to destroy the tanker trucks that could be a threat AND the insurgents near the truck.  This raised the question of whether Germany should engage in targeted killing.

The only thing I can think is: would you prefer un-targeted killing?  Random killing?  The phrasing is awkward, but the point here is that the Army officer sought to kill insurgents, and that is really the rub.  Should Germans be killing anybody in Afghanistan except in the most narrowly tailored definition of self-defense?  This has been a key point of difference between Germany and other folks operating in Afghanistan, as protecting the people of Afghanistan may mean different things to different people.  Going out and killing insurgents on your terms rather than fighting them on theirs would seem to be good military strategy, but it is not universally acceptable.

Of course, there is some confusion here, because the US drone attacks on individuals does approach assassination that is apparently banned by international law (a lawyer I am not).  But dropping bombs on a group of insurgents who are in the process of stealing fuel-laden trucks does not approach assassination as closely as drones over Pakistan, for instance.  So, again, it really comes down to whether violence is at all justified?  And yes, I am separating this from the air strike's real controversy--that there was significant collateral damage--in large part because the Germans did not have any troops near the event and were relying on an informant--violating McChrystal's intent.

Getting re-engaged into the details of this project is inspiring some posting--perhaps more to come.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Token Allies? What Counts as Sincere Contribution

I have been having a series of conversations with another scholar working on NATO and Afghanistan, and the topic of what is a real versus token contribution came up.  There are lots of different ways to think about this:
  • Size of the country's military contribution.*  The contingents by NATO members (other countries also contribute from Australia's robust 1,550 to Austria's 3) range from the US extreme of 46k to Greece at 15 soldiers/sailors/marines/whatevers.  The contributions tend to come in several sizes:
    • over 2k (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands [if one rounds up from 1950], Poland [ditto], UK, and the US); 
    • around 500-1k (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Norway, Romania);
    • between 100-300 (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia)
      • Portugal's contribution (105) is pretty small compared to its population.  New Zealand contributes  2.5 times more with half the population base.  Other European countries with similar population sizes give 2 to 5 times as much.
    • the really small (Greece with 15,  Iceland with 4, Luxembourg with 9, and Slovenia with 70).  
      • Greece really looks bad, given that it has a large population base and a significant military history.  Iceland and Luxembourg have populations that are smaller than Vermont, so they simply do have anything to give to the cause.  Slovenia is lame when compared to the other former Eastern bloc countries. As I put it in an email to the aforementioned political scientist, "What is a token contribution?  Less than one hundred.  If you are doing less than a Baltic country (155-175), you are lame." 
  • Where They Are Based/What They Are Willing to Do.**  Caveats take all forms but the easiest one to observe and the one that has obvious consequences are geographic ones.  Some forces are limited to a particular part of Afghanistan-within one NATO sector, within one city, or just one part of one city (the Belgians were limited to the airport early on).
    • South/East--where the danger is.  Most of the countries with contingents in these areas are more willing to do get in harm's way and end up being more useful to NATO commanders: Canada, Danes, Dutch, Romanians, Aussies, Brits, Americans, French, Poles.  New Zealand and Turkey have some forces in the East but in quieter districts, I think.
    • North/West/Kabul--safer but not safe.  Countries with other restrictions tend to hang out in places where these restrictions are less likely to come into play.  Italy, Spain, Croatia (don't know about its other restrictions, but based in RC-West), Germany, Norway, Sweden.
  • The Price Paid in Terms of Lives Lost.*** Bold indicates higher than average
    • The countries that stand out for paying a high price in terms of raw numbers are: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK and the US.  Only Canada, the UK and the US have lost more than one hundred soldiers to enemy action.
    • In terms of casualties relative to the size of the force,  Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, and Great Britain stand out. 
    • Operating in Afghanistan is dangerous no matter where a country is operating, and even one life lost is a serious price, but there is serious variation as well.  Some notably restrained countries (Germany, Spain) have paid serious prices despite reputations for letting others do the heavy lifting.  However, these numbers are a bit distorted since they are still so small (compared to an average day during World War II) that a single bus bombing can make a country appear to more active than it is.
    • And the cost here is dramatically underestimated as the number of severely wounded relative to lives lost is much higher than it once was due to improvements in medical technology, better personal armor, quick evacuations, and policies that reduce deaths (operating close to bases) that may not reduce injuries., No
 The second and third categories are obviously related.  There are also the monetary costs and the number of civilians deployed as well, but I am too lazy to seek out that data at the moment.  More importantly, the politics of the missions hang not money or civvies but on the number guys in uniform in harm's way.  I think one could reasonable combine these three categories to figure out those countries that are providing entirely token forces (Greece, Portugal, Slovenia, perhaps Italy and Belgium) to those that are a meaningful but limited contribution (Germany, Norway, Sweden) to those that are stunningly disproportionate (and politically dangerous) commitments (Australia, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Romania).  France has moved from Germany's category to the latter over the past couple of years.

Obviously, the mission is controversial and success is hardly assured.  But most of these stats are similar to what they were two years ago when the mission was not seen as being in trouble.  There are good reasons to not be there, but being a good ally is meaningful and requires a meaningful contribution.  No surprise that most of those NATO countries closest to NATO's traditional adversary (that would be Russia) are in the meaningful category and the more token contributions come from countries that are further away.  Still, I must be clear (as the Steve and Dave project asserts), most of the variation is not due to external threat but due to the domestic politics of countries--how institutions mediate public opinion and shape civil-military relations.

    *All size stats are from NATO's placemat which is updated on a regular basis.
    ** Geographic restrictions (and other limitations based on my work with David Auerswald)

    Ask the Reader: Linked In?

    I am steadily accumulating invites to linked in.  So, I am on there, but not clear for what purpose.  Isn't facebook, twitter, a blog and my normal webpage enough?  I guess this is a more professional kind of networking, but thus far, its six degrees of separation has not gotten me any closer to Kevin Bacon.

    Any thoughts from the readership?

    Crime in Canada? Yes, but Very Polite [Update]

    My daughter is headed downtown this morning as her school has a field trip to a courthouse to see a hearing.  My wife is a bit worried that the courthouse might be a dangerous place, but I assured her that Montreal criminals (and Canadian ones) are almost always quite polite.  A few examples:

    • Car-jacking is unheard of up here--car thieves are kind enough here to steal my car while I am at work, and the police/train system are kind enough not to install any security apparati in the commuter train parking lots.  
    • I drove past the scene of a double murder the other day on the way to my ultimate frisbee league.  Murder does not seem polite, but it was apparently a hitman killing two people, including another double-murderer.  While it did leave an unsightly car akew on a small embankment between the McDonalds and the road, no bystanders were hurt.  Such a considerate and accurate killer, apparently.
    • There have been something like twenty, yes, twenty, firebombings of cafes in Montreal since last summer.  This is apparently part of some competition between/within the mob--dueling protection rackets (not just a metaphor for rebel/government competition).  I could be wrong, but few, if anyone, has been hurt despite the significant number of molotov cocktails flying about.
    So, I imagined the following scenario at the hearing my kid is witnessing--to determine whether the accused is competent to stand trial for arson/murder:
    Accused: "If it would please the court, I would like to request an opportunity to act out"
    Judge: "What do you have in mind?"
    Accused: "I would like to punch one of the kid's witnessing this hearing."
    Judge: "Now now, perhaps later, let me consider that during the lunch break."
    Accused: "Thank you, sir."
    Criminals may be ugly (HT to Will Moore), but they seem to be quite polite here in Canada.

    Obviously, I am making fun of some serious stuff, but is that a crime? Hmmm, Canadian laws on speech are a bit less free than the US.  Never mind.

    Update: My daughter came back and was not punched by an civil or not so civil alleged arsonist/murderers.  However, she did report that most of the folks alleged to commit crimes do seem to have gel in their hair.  This seems like a dangerous practice for an arsonist, but it might be their best effort to overcome the ugly problem cited above.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Overtime Overblown

    Lots of the usual teeth gnashing after the game this weekend where the Vikings "didn't get a chance in overtime."  The basic complaint is that the team that wins the coin flip has a huge advantage, ultimately deciding the game, and that this is unfair. 

    First, the stats cited vary, but the winner of the coin flip does not always win the game on the first possession.  Indeed, the stat is something like 60% or so, which is not really that unfair.

    Second, defense is part of the game, and if you cannot stop the other team when the stakes are high, then too bad.

    Third, if you don't want to face the possibility of losing a game in overtime because of a coin flip, win in regulation!  The Vikings had their chance to win--but Favre unsurprisingly threw the game away with a foolish interception.  So, I don't pity the Vikings.  They could have won if they held until the ball then and/or in previous drives. 

    Is it fair that in some games, the ball's bounces happen to fair one team rather than the other?  Again, if you want to prevent that from happening, don't fumble, don't throw passes that are likely to be tipped, etc.

    If one wants to change overtime at all, it would seem to me that the best change would be to require a team to score by anything other than a single field goal.  Two field goals, a safety, a touchdown, but if you want the other side to have a decent shot at it, then just make it so that a field goal does not do the trick.  If a team gives up a TD, which does not happen on every drive, then they should lose.  But a field goal is a cheap way to score, although not this year with the random event of the field goal kickers blowing big kicks through out the league.

    Corporations are People, Too

    Or so says the US Supreme Court.  Sort of.  Here is a great slate piece, explaining the decision, how it relates to existing laws and previous decisions and such.

    I am not as exercised about this as other folks because I didn't think the existing regs had done that much to limit corporate influence.  I think much of the election spending law thus far has created new business for folks who are good at figuring out how to avoid them.  Plus I have been thinking that on a lot of issues, there will be corps on both sides.  Not on taxes so much but on health care reform, which pitches big insurance companies against many other major corporations that face increasing health care costs.

    The big conclusion of the piece is that this process is, to be political sciency, is endogenous.     The Supremes will find that their new members down the road will be facing more and more questions on electoral finance law than before, and the balance may very well tip back.

    Stephen King Causes Sleepless Night

    King cost me some sleep last night--not because I was terrified but because I was so engaged in his Under the Dome [UD], his latest novel.  I tried to go sleep much later than usual because I had hoped to reach the end.  And then leaving some 30 pages left out of 1050 (yes, King's book could stop some serious bullets) was probably the cause behind my subsequent sleeplessness.  So, I gave in around 3am, and snuck in the last part of the book.

    I don't read much Stephen King, although I have probably seen a good hunk of the movies inspired by his books, includind Carrie, Firestarter, Dead Zone, Stand by Me, Misery, Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile, 1408, and the Stand.  Not the Shining.... yet.  I have only read two of his books, Eyes of the Dragon and the Talisman.  I read the Talisman because I was looking for a long novel to read during my month in Sweden, I think.  I remember Eyes quite well as it was a terrific take on a classic tale--King's mage seizes power and the heir to the throne eventually and righteously restores the Kingdom.  I am not a big fan of horror, despite my love of Zombie stuff, in the written form, but am mildly ok with it in the movies (hence my seen some but not all of King's movies).

    I decided to read UD because it had an interesting premise and because it did not seem to be a horror novel (foolish me).  The premise is that a small town in Maine (where else for King?) is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious dome--air and water can pass through but only slightly.  People can talk to through it, wifi works, but not electricity and so forth.  So, this fits into my fiction wheelhouse with Lost, Deadwood, and the like--what happens when a group of people are without government?  Yes, my interest in International Relations leads to an interest in those places characterized by anarchy--an absence of hierarchy.  And as any IR scholar will tell you, the classic term applied is tragedy.

    What did I think of it?  See below, spoilers obviously lurk.

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Who Needs 60 Votes?

    Good piece at Slate discussing the so-called nuclear option--trying to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate or changing it so that the Republicans cannot stymie everything.  Check out the piece. 

    And yes, the Dems will not try anything like this because they are gutless twerps.  Office-seeking for mere office-seeking is, albeit a useful assumption for political scientists, a crappy way to govern, I am beginning to think.

    Lost Questions [Spoilers if you have not caught up] [updated slightly]

    As the new season of Lost approaches, the questions start to pile up.  EW asks to which mysteries folks most want answers.  Given that the show has been an endless mind@#$$, the question remains--will this last season answer more questions than it raise?  My guess is that it will be a close call.  That is, some mysteries will be revealed, while some long-standing questions will be ignored, yet additional questions will arise.  The first episode of the season will answer the first question--what was the effect of the big bomb at the end of last season? has a list of one hundred big questions (update: and for some suggested answers, see EW's Doc Jensen; and for some clues as to how committed the Lost guys are to answering every question, see here).  Here is a subset of their list--the ones most interesting to me and with some comments along the way:
    1. Who is Jacob?
    4. What's up with the Loophole Guy?
    These two questions are obviously tied together (as are the questions in between): this is not a longstanding mystery. Well, Jacob is, but not the other guy.  More than one direction to take here.  If this season does not answer any of the Jacob questions, loyal fans could consider this a FAIL to use the current hot word.

    9. Is Juliet dead?
    Depends on which time continuum we are in.

    11. Why would the other survivors follow Jack's crackpot plan anyway?
    12. Seriously, who says yes to blowing up the island to restart time anyway?
    Same question--they are stretching to hit 100 apparently.  Not going to be answered.  The show is going to be doing enough moving in time without exploring the "geez, these guys were kind of dumb or crazy?" question.

    13. If so, did time reset and keep the Oceanic 815 from crashing?
    Answered soon, me thinks.

    18. What's the deal with the four-toed statue?
    I think that was answered already, more or less by the Jacob and other dude's endless rivalry.

    23. Why does Dr. Pierre Chang use aliases?
    Dude's a pathological liar.

    24. What's the smoke monster?
    Has this already been answered?  Perhaps not to our satisfaction, but to that of the Lost writers?  Probably.

    25. Why does it have a taste for some people and not others?
    Not sure this is going to be answered.

    30. Why did the Oceanic Six have to go back?
    To push the plot forward.  Because Jacob wanted it or the other dude did?

    32. What's up with the blast door map?
    One of my favorite military phrases--Overcome By Events--OBE.  Not getting back to that.

    33. What happened to Claire?
    She died, but what happens now?

    34. Why did psychic Richard Malkin insist Claire raise Aaron?
    This is a first season mystery that should be answered, but they may not--either to mess with us or because it does not matter for the plots they developed after the first season.

    36. Who is Richard Alpert really, and why doesn't he age?
    More hints to be sure, but a real answer?  I am not sure.

    37. How or why does the island heal people?
    This gets to the really big question that they should answer--what is the Island?  If they don't, one could consider that to be a betrayal of the loyal watchers.

    39. What's the deal with Christian?
    Ditto.  The longest significant mysteries should be addressed.  I care less about Jacob than about the Island, less about the other dude and more about Smokey, etc.

    41. Who are Adam and Eve, the skeletons found in the caves?
    42. What did the black and white stones on their bodies mean?

    Re 41, 42--pick your battles.  These ain't them.

    43. Why did DHARMA and the Others allow Rousseau's distress signal to continue to be transmitted?
    Plot hole not to be answered..

    44. Are Hurley's numbers really cursed?

    No.  I think we will quickly see what life for him might be like, post-lottery but sans crash.

    45. Why is Walt special?
    Yes, he taught writers not to put into plots kids just about to puber, especially if there is time travel involved or if something that takes months in fictional time takes years in real time to shoot..

    54. How much did it suck that Libby was killed before Hurley could get lucky?
    We already know the answer--it sucked a lot.

    55. Where does the donkey wheel come from?
    Good one.

    59. How did Penelope know to look for a magnetic anomaly?
    Interesting plot hole unlikely to be explored, especially since she is busy with Flashforward.  (As is Charlie)

    62. Why did Jacob diss Ben by not communicating with him while he was leader?
    Good question since it led to Jake's downfall.

    66. Was the ship that Jacob and Loophole Guy see sailing the Black Rock?
    Yes, it was. Again, more list-fluffing to get it to 100.

    68. What happened to the crew?
    They died.  A while ago or become Others.  Or both.

    69. Why is the ship's log important to Charles Widmore?
    Boring.  To find the island.  Duh.

    70. What are Widmore's plans for the island?

    Ah, this is an important one.

    76. What happened to the people the Others kidnapped?
    Helsinki syndrome, baby.

    77. What's up with the whispers?
    This would be a good one--perhaps the time traveling voices of the castaways?

    82. What is Ilana's connection to Jacob?
    Ilana?  Oh, the new castaway.  Not sure they are going to exist or be relevant in the post-bomb world.  Much of this stuff may be OBE.

    87. Why did the supply drops continued after the Purge?
    Plot hole to be ignored.

    88. How do they find the island to make those drops?

    91. Why isn't the island done with Desmond yet?
    Scottish accents rock! There can be only one!

    95. What are the Rules?
    You cannot fight on holy ground. No talking about Fight Club.

    96. How did the death of Alex change the Rules?

    No murdering of relatives, now you can.  So, Ben tries to hit Penny and/or her kid.

    97. Will Sun and Jin ever get a chance to live happily ever after?
    98. Will any of the survivors get a chance to live happily ever after?
    Hmmm times seven.
    99. Will the smoke monster get a chance to live happily ever after?

    100. Will we be satisfied with the way Lost ends?
     We who?  Some will, some will not.  If Vegas were to set an over/under on this at fifty-five percent, I would bet the over.  If they set it at 65%, I would not bet.  If they set it at 80%, I would bet the under.

    Which of course leads to another blog post before Feb 2nd: what prop (proposition) bets should we set for the season?  For instance, for the Super Bowl, folks will bet on which player scores first, whether the first play is a pass or run, etc.  For another day.

    American Holiday Approaching

    The match for the Super Bowl is set.  I didn't have a dog in yesterday's battles since my favorite teams have been eliminated, even if I am a bit looser with the notion of favorite team than strict sports anti-bigamists. So, I rooted for the Saints for two reasons--Katrina and to be anti-Favre.  I have always thought Favre was over-rated because he threw more interceptions, including back-breaking, season-ending ones, than other lionized QB's.  I really didn't want to face two weeks more of Favre-hype.  This season, Favre was very un-Favre-like--very few interceptions.  So the wounded warrior revered to form at the end of the game. 

    Should I take some joy from his failure?   Well, yeah.  As a sports fan, you are inevitably going to root for the success of your team and hope that the other team fails.  The Social Identity Theorists have persuade me that it is inherent in us to feel better when our group does well and when the other does poorly.  So, it is not my fault--just human nature!  I didn't want Favre to get hurt, just fail spectacularly.  And he did.  I guess this sentiment is most aimed at the sports media, which overreacts to everything these days just like the rest of the media. 

    Jets-Colts?  I dislike both, but I guess I wanted the Colts to win so that we would have a more offensive Super Bowl.  And, of course, I prefer the Saints to win--anything good that could happen to New Orleans should happen.  The karma scales are hardly balanced at all.  Plus I am going to N.O. in a few weeks for the International Studies Association meeting, so it would be nice to arrive in a happy city.  Well, it is going to be Mardi Gras, so I guess the place will already be pretty happy.

    So, only one important question remains?  How many American commercials will sneak through into the Canadian feed?

    Love Meets the Internet

    Of course, the real mystery is not whose mad skillz are behind this, but ten years???  Spew and Mrs. Spew took six, but ten?  Did the making of this trailer take that long?

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Tweet, Tweet?

    I started twittering (@smsaideman) not that long ago--after I started blogging.  I have contrasted the various media before, but listening to the Reduced Shakespeare Company's podcast on tweating (@reduced) got me to thinking.  Why I am on twitter and what I am posting in 140 characters or less?

    For the first question, I am mostly a follower.  Folks use twitter like how they use facebook updates--to share links around the internet that are amusing/interesting/handy.  I have gotten more than a few blog ideas from the links people have posted.  I follow a random selection of people: people who follow me, authors (Bill Simmons, Chuck Klosterman), bloggers I know (Jacob Levy, Dan Drezner, Marc Lynch) and those I don't (Mike Lombardi) comic folk (Jeff Ross, Collegehumor, Stephen Colbert, The Onion, Rainn Wilson), friends, family, former students.
    Notably, I don't use twitter to follow the news directly nor do I follow any corporate types unless either Bill Simmons or Colbert count.  I follow about 45 or so folks, and have dropped a few people who tweat too much despite some enjoyable posts (Jason Whitlock, Michael Ian Black). 

    Who follows me? Family, friends, former students, colleagues, random people who have not seemed block-worthy.

    What do I tweet? Mostly responses to the tweets I follow.  Occasionally plugs to this here blog.  Posting links to interesting articles.  I can occasionally summon a pithy line that stands on its own, but not so much yet.  I guess I save my creativity for the blog.  I do find myself posting the same stuff in twitter as I put into my FB status box a fair amount of the time.  Thus far, tweeting remains a distant third behind the blog and facebook in terms of my attention and effort. 

    Any changes in your tweat-age since you started?

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    It's A Dog's Life

    Moscow’s strays sit somewhere between house pets and wolves, says Poyarkov, but are in the early stages of the shift from the domesticated back towards the wild. That said, there seems little chance of reversing this process. It is virtually impossible to domesticate a stray: many cannot stand being confined indoors. FT*

    Apparently, they develop into four types: guards, beggars, the semi-socialized and the wild.  They vary in terms of where they reside, how social they are with humans and other strays, and the strategies they tend to follow to survive.

    The strangest variant:
    There is one special sub-group of strays that stands apart from the rest: Moscow’s metro dogs. “The metro dog appeared for the simple reason that it was permitted to enter,” says Andrei Neuronov, an author and specialist in animal behaviour and psychology, who has worked with Vladimir Putin’s black female Labrador retriever, Connie (“a very nice pup”). “This began in the late 1980s during perestroika,” he says. “When more food appeared, people began to live better and feed strays.” The dogs started by riding on overground trams and buses, where supervisors were becoming increasingly thin on the ground.
    Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains.
    Only 20?  I would say that is quite a great many.

    The biologist studying the dogs concludes the piece with this apparently widely shared view:
    “I am not at all convinced that Moscow should be left without dogs. Given a correct relationship to dogs, they definitely do clean the city. They keep the population of rats down. Why should the city be a concrete desert? Why should we do away with strays who have always lived next to us?”
     This is very different than the attitude I encountered in Bucharest.  There they had large numbers of stray dogs, so many that this seemed to be the one focus of municipal administration--killing the wild dogs until Bridget Bardot protested..  She gained much enmity in Romania as a result of her stance to protect the dogs.  It may be the case that the Romanian dogs were less social and more threatening than the Muscovite mutts.  Seems like a case ripe for comparative analysis: the politics of stray dogs in systems under transition from Communism.  I am sure there is at least one dissertation in this, if not several.

    I guess it depends, in part, if you like your rats small (sans strays) or large but cuter (strays eating the rats).

    *HT to PF Trumbore

    All Good Things Must Come to An End

    And what I mean by good things are the past two weeks of late night sniping.  I only watched Conan over the past two weeks, as I prefer to be asleep or watching the Stewart/Colbert combo at that time of night.  But the fracas was highly entertaining.  I could get the Letterman clips via youtube, but had to watch Conan since we don't get Hulu up here.

    For two good takes on the Tonight Show battle, see Ian Michael Black for a broader perspective and this salon piece for a review of the last show.

    Finishing with Steve Carrell''s exit interview, Tom Hanks being the usual ultimate guest, and then Will Ferrell and friends with more cowbell was just the right way to go out.

    The good news is that I can get more sleep again.  Bad news is that I will have less blog material. Or is that good news?

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Academic Strangeness

    Tenure is a pretty strange institution, so any story about it is likely to confuse rather than clarify.

    Exhibit A: Professor at Ohio U has got a good record of teaching and research, gets a narrow but positive vote from his department and then is rejected at every level above the department.  The prof's reactions after the fact seem to justify the prof's rejection as he goes ape-sh!t.  The more you read, the more convinced you become that this guy is nuts.  However, there is no record of his dubious collegiality before the tenure decision where the majority saw his record as meeting Ohio University's standards.

    On the one hand, tenure means lifetime employment, so giving someone like this tenure means being tied to this guy for the rest of your careers.  And, depending on how the department runs, dysfunctional people can make a department an awful place to work.  So, denying tenure to a guy who seems likely to make life miserable for everyone might not be a bad idea.

    BUT how does one measure collegiality?

    “When you make [collegiality] an independent criteria, then it’s subject to all kinds of subjective, political or biased principles that really have no place in a tenure evaluation,” he said.
    Precisely, it was one of the criteria in my old job, and it seemed to be quite a dangerous clause.  It is hard enough to measure good teaching, good research and adequate service (see post a, b and c).  At least those can be documented, compared and evaluated, even if there are differences about what counts for how much.  But collegiality?  How much friendliness is required?  Or how much disruptiveness is ok? 

    With the stakes this high, caution ought be required.  That is, collegiality can be used by anyone with an agenda to vote against someone without much in the way of repercussions.  While one can still vote against someone just on their record of teaching/research/service because of ill-feelings, it seems to me that the collegiality clause gives someone carte blance to vote negatively regardless of the merits of the rest of the case. 

    There is no perfect solution to this and some difficult tradeoffs to face.  Despite the fact that I have encountered tenured folks at previous jobs who would fail miserably on the collegiality clause (and yes, one can hide one's nasty personality for six years so collegiality before tenure is not such a good predictor ...), I still think it should not be considered as part of the tenure process in departments that are sufficiently large that dysfunctional individuals can be ignored.  In very small departments, then collegiality might make more sense.

    When the Past Meets the Present: Canada's ID

    The Canadian Forces in Haiti are doing what comes naturally to them, so they are now referred to as the lumberjacks.

    Good enough reason to put this here:

    The Late Night War Comes to an End

    And Jimmy Kimmel is the apparent winner:

    More on Robert B. Parker

    The NYT had a good obit this week for Robert B. Parker, but more importantly, they linked it to an old interview that I had not seen.  And it is delightful.  I knew that Parker had used his life for his series, but the Joan/Susan parallels are more than I was expecting.  And Joan is a hoot!
    they first met at a birthday party when they were 3 and she hit him with a big gob of ice cream. They ran into each other again at the Colby College freshman dance, where Mr. Parker had grown into a wise-mouth greaser with a lit cigarette tucked behind his ear, very cool in those days. He was ''so loathsome,'' she recalled, she would circle the campus to avoid him. They have been married 40 years.
    And the Parker marriage was very much the inspiration for the Spenser/Susan relationship:
    Joan was explaining that their marriage had gone through a series of strains in the late 1970's: a period of separation reflected in ''The Widening Gyre'' (1983) and ''A Catskill Eagle'' (1985). They loved each other, but couldn't live together. Couldn't live apart either, it turned out. They found ''salvation,'' she said, in the big house with a separate staircase entrance and a third-floor apartment where she lives in her own independent fashion, including ordering out. They date regularly and spend weekends together in a 1697 farmhouse they restored in Concord, Mass.
    ''How can you talk and cook at the same time?'' she demanded, after he added lewd commentary. ''I can't do that.''
    ''Ah, but you can talk,'' he replied, adding, like Spenser, ''my sweet patootie.''
     ''Everybody always says, 'So you're Susan Silverman,' '' Joan was saying. ''I'm both flattered and horrified to be Susan Silverman. Sometimes I like her a lot. Sometimes I think she's so pretentious I want to slap her. She's loyal, she's intelligent. I like that. But vain, when she puts on lip gloss before seeing a patient. I hate that.''
     And then the article has some nice repartee between the two.  The good news is that there are somewhere between two and four manuscripts that may still see the light of day.  But he will be missed.  No doubt about it.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Another Reason To Get More Schoolin'

    Apparently, the past several years of women outnumbering men in college and beyond is causing some "operational sex ratio" disturbances in the force.*  Women are finding themselves successful in work but not so much in love as guys get scared off by women who have more education and more money.  Guys are stupid, apparently.
    Couple the education gap with the current economic "man-cession"—as many as 80% of the jobs lost in the recession were held by men—and the dilemma for single women becomes even worse. Today, more and more well-educated women have to ask themselves: Am I willing to "marry down."
    And this is the theme of the week.   On How I Met Your Mother, the successor to Seinfeld in the "Social Science lab as a TV show" category, there was a discussion of settlers and reachers.  That is, in everyone couple, one person is settling for someone who is not quite as worthy, and one person who is reaching a bit beyond their level.  So, my first thought was how many fights did this start across North America?  Who wants to be seen as settling?  As reaching? 

    Well, the WSJ article seems to suggest that guys wimp out and refuse to reach.  If they find themselves in a date with a woman with a better resume, they flee.  Now, guys flee for all kinds of reasons, but this seems just stupid to me.  Guys are going to have to get used to the possibility that their mates make more money and be more successful.  Women should play to the worst instincts in guys and remind them that they can supply them with the DVR's, i-phones, and other doodads that are candy to tech-loving men.  Or not.

    A more worrisome issue arises when men take advantage of their relative scarcity by making life miserable for would-be girlfriends. Why settle down when you are a guy and the supply of eligible women appears to be unlimited? The female students hate such a situation, which is one reason admissions offices end up accepting male applicants who are less academically qualified than their female counterparts. Their goal is to avoid the dreaded 60/40 gender imbalance on campus that everyone agrees is a threshold not to be crossed.
    I have noticed the imbalances at the college level, including at McGill.  A buyer's market, with guys being advantaged?  I guess relative balances are better, as too much of anything will create too much competition and then friction. 

    [You can download the entire episode from, but I cannot due to the magic wall between the US and Canada, but here is a promo for the episode--full of Amanda Peet but lacking in social theory]

    * HT to to Chris C., first year student at UCSD, my alma PhD mater for the WSJ link.

    Explainer Explains Just About Everything

    The Explainer column at Slate is just about the best column I read on a regular basis.  Not always good news, but always clear explanations of something that is puzzling. 

    So, today's is on amputations.  Lovely.  Well, the question is how to do deal with crushed limbs, and I had thought that the problem was more the limb's future and its possible infections. But no, the problem really is the crush syndrome, where the limp presents several big threats to the rest of the body, including dramatically altering blood pressure and sending toxins to the heart and kidneys. Just when you thought things could not be worse for Haiti, well, they can be.

    Your Friendly Neighbhood Taliban

    The Taliban organization has apparently been trying to improve its appeal to the Afghan people.  Mullah Omar put out a new code of conduct last spring focusing on minimizing civilian casualties, which in some ironic ways strongly parallels the Petraeus playbook.  This effort reflects both the strength and the weaknesses of the Taliban--that they have a greater presence throughout the country, but it is a presence of fear rather than support.

    I just read a piece on of my students that focuses on the different ways militias can appeal to domestic and international audiences, with marketing juxtaposed with coercion.  Seems like the Taliban have realized that pure coercion has its limits, too.

    So, how does the Taliban appeal to a people that they have been threatening and harming for more than a decade?  Ethnic appeals:

    The latest refrain of Taliban commanders, their Internet magazine and from surrogates is that the insurgency represents Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, who are portrayed as persecuted by the Afghan government. “Pashtuns are suffering everywhere; if you go and check the prisons, you won’t find any prisoners except Pashtuns; when you hear about bombings, it is Pashtuns’ homes that have been bombed,” said a Taliban commander from Kandahar Province who goes by the name Sangar Yar.
    While Pashtuns have been disproportionately affected by the Western military offensive, the insurgency is active predominantly in Pashtun areas where it is difficult to separate civilians and fighters.
    This suggests some pretty strict limits on how far the Taliban can go, given that the Pashtuns are the largest group, but largely based in the south.  And it also suggests some weakness, as Karzai is Pashtun, and if he were to become a bit more effective, then these ethnic appeals might not go that far.  Indeed, so far, the Pashtuns are far less coherent as an ethnic group than our theories usually postulate.  Tribal divisions within the Pashtuns, plus the tendency for folks to have short-term loyalties to broader affiliations (Afghanistan as a pick up basketball game [coined by Dexter Filkins]) undercut appeals to Pashtuns, although that identity does facilitate the cross-border support from Pashtuns in Pakistan.

    So, where do we stand now?

    At the moment, the dueling propaganda wars seem to have reached a stalemate.
    “People have no choices; they are in a dilemma,” said Abdul Rahman, a tribal elder and businessman in Kandahar. “In places where the Taliban are active, the people are compelled to support them, they are afraid of the Taliban. And, in those places where government has a presence, the people are supporting the government."

    Sounds like Stathis Kalyvas has found a new place for his approach to apply since his theory focuses not on organizations or ideologies but how the folks on the ground react simply to who is controlling the area or is it hotly contested.

    And this means that the surge might actually work, if everything else comes together.  If the government and ISAF can be present where the population largely resides--population-centric warfare--and be seen as relatively effective and relatively restrained (do no harm), then the Afghan people will lean to the government.  But the big if's are about what the government does, once it has a presence in a spot--does it steal and abuse the people?  Or does it make a bit of a difference in a positive direction?  There is only so much the guys with guns (the ISAF military effort) can do.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    The Future of the Newspaper

    The NYT is going to be costly next year--for those folks who read enough articles per month, they will have to pay get access.  Or not.  I think the Slate piece probably has it right--the Times needs to take advantage of the 40 million pairs of eyeballs it gets rather than shrink the set to only those who pay. 

    I would pay if the price was not too high.  How about you?  Invest in the NYT?  Alternative news source?  Or find ways to defeat the NYT wall?

    Cheesy Movie Quotes

    For a change of pace, here's a fun way to waste ten minutes* (but not entirely safe at work--and very inappropriate in a few key spots--no kids allowed):

    I lost track of how many Padme-Anakin romantic moments were included, but it does cause one to wonder what would have happened if just the romantic stuff in the prequels was fixed ....

    On the other hand, Batman seems to show up only when it is Clooney with his sidekick Chris O'Donnell.

    No surprise that Showgirls shows up a lot.  Or Arnold.  Or Nic Cage or Travolta. 

    Sam Jackson in Snakes on a Plane is just wrong--not cheesy at all plus it was by popular demand.
    And I really enjoyed the President's speech in Independence Day.
    I must say though some of these are less cheesy and more classic.  All in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

    Your favorites either omitted or included?

    Just remember, you can be my wingman, anytime!

    *  Does the link rather than embedding absolve me for the nastier quotes?

    Living La Vida Montreal

    This morning, I attended a talk by a Canadian colonel who had recently been second in command during a recent rotation in Afghanistan.  These are fairly regular events--that the Department of National Defence (yes, acronym is DND!) Public Relations folks organize talks, large and small, throughout the country to explain what has been going on and so forth. 

    The talk I attended was of the small kind--mostly military analysts and academic types.  The fun thing about today's talk was that it was almost entirely in French.  This made sense since most of the attendees were native Quebecers and were quite bilingual.  I usually consider myself the most unilingual person in town, but while I missed some of the subtleties, I caught most of the gist of the talk.  It was pretty much the standard "Whole of government" discussion, but I cannot get into the details since the talk was held under Chatham House rules. 

    I ended up focusing a bit less on the substance (since I was missing much of it) and more on the English expressions that snuck into the talk, like driving force.  I have noted previously that the standard term for the small units of outsider military folks embedded in Afghan battalions are known as Omelets, which refers to OMLT's--Observer, Mentor Liaison Teams.  And during my trip in Dec 07, I was most amused when officers would say that they need more Omelets in Afghanistan.  Well, what could be sillier?  Well, since the french for team is equipe, the French acronym for the same thing is ELMO, so "we need more ELMOs" is just about the silliest thing I can imagine a NATO official saying. 

    The real downside of the talk was its mostly canned slide variety.  Of course, I certainly missed heaps of nuance due to my French-lessness, but the most interesting pieces of information were in response to my question about coordination between the higher ups and the other players in the Kandahar area, which is increasingly complicated by increasingly larger (and varied) American presence. 

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    What The Tea-Baggers/Brown Voters Have Taught Me

    That American people, or enough of them anyway, can overreact at the drop of a hat.  During the history classes growing up, we were always reminded of the Palmer raids and red scares after World War I and McCarthyism during and after the Korean War.  Hysteria and fear driven by a real but distant and quite weak red menace. How could this happen?  The 20th century equivalent of witch hunts?

    For the past year, I have been hearing about socialism this and communism that.  Red herrings, indeed. But the efforts by opponents of health care reform to play upon these "ancient hatreds"/fears has worked--folks who would benefit from reform opposite it.  Well done.  And so now I can see how folks might overreact to the threat of real or semi-real communism if they get this upset over imaginary communism.

    So, is it more American to accuse other folks of being un-American?  Or is it more American to expect to see reason win out?   Give that we have had a House Un-American Activities Committee and that the previous administration was essentially on the record as seeing reality as an unnecessary obstacle during the planning process, I guess I would vote for the former.  And that makes me a bad Liberal since Liberals expect that with reason and good information, people will bargain and reach decent outcomes.

    PS  And I have also learned that the Democrats are often lousy campaigners--attacking Curt Schilling as a yankee?  Jeez.  Talk about clueless.

    Mysteries Lose a Big Heart

    Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series (and a few others), died yesterday.  His main character was clearly what Parker hoped that he himself would be: smart, passionate, loyal, romantic, loving, and irrepressible.  The TV series with Robert Urich did not do a bad job of capturing the books.
    I found Parker in college thanks to a loan from a friend.  I then gobbled up his previous books and then would have to wait each year for the new Spenser novel.  Over time, Parker decided that one book a year was too limiting, so he came up with two other series:
    • Jesse Stone, police chief in small town and an alcoholic on his last chance.  Tom Selleck plays Stone in a series of TV movies.
    • Sunny Randall, a female Spenser with a complicated romantic life.  Originally designed to produce material for Helen Hunt (for movies or TV, I forget).
    • a young adult series covering Spenser's early life.  The good news for me is that I have not read those books yet, so at least there will be a few new Parker novels for me.
    He also wrote westerns, including Appaloosa, which was recently made into a movie with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, a novel about a private eye protecting Jackie Robinson (Double Play), and he even dared to finish an incomplete Raymond Chandler novel: Poodle Springs.

    Why do I love Parker's books so much?
    1. The basic idea of a private eye who was too much of a smartass to stay in the police force certainly worked for me.  Also, each book usually started with one case becoming something else entirely.  And firing Spenser never seemed to work.  But that is just the criminal side.  
    2. I learned a bit of how to cook from these novels despite the fact that they are not culinary mysteries a la Diane Mott Davidson.  Spenser had an interesting relationship with a rival who then became, for want of a better term, his sidekick--Hawk.  Over the years, the novels accumulated a bunch of distinct recurring characters who each added heft to the stories. 
    3. Spenser appreciated women, like all good Gumshoes.  He ultimately became a one-woman man, but his books continued to notice the other women in the best tradition. 
    4. Parker's dialogue, no matter the context, crackled.  Each book was and is so much fun to read.  If you have not had the pleasure, do so.
    5. Parker, via Spenser, not only had a strong sense of himself, but how people should be.  What a man should be.  These books were, cheesy as they sometimes could be, pretty important to me as I was growing up. 
     It is perhaps ironic but ultimately quite perfect that the last Spenser he wrote (at least the last one published while he was alive--who knows how many manuscripts he had on his desk--where he died) was entitled The Professional.  Indeed.

    Dave Explains It All

    “I’m telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno relentlessly, mercilessly, simply for one reason: I’m really enjoying it.....It’s just fun!”
    Indeed, it is, Dave.  Indeed, it is.

    Senator Reid--Amateur Sociologist?

    Reid has perhaps gotten more play for his use of the word "negro" showing how old he is than for his remarks on skin color.  Or not, perhaps both, but the Daily Show last night featured the first more than the second.  Anyway, Reid was doing something unwise in politics--speaking the truth.  Sociologists have spent much effort seeking to understand not just race but the darkness of skin.  Shankar Vedantam posted a very clear op-ed today summarizing much of the work in this area: that light skin color leads to more favored outcomes than dark skin color.  Indeed, politicians understand this and run ads linking opponents to folks with darker skin color. 

    To be clear, this dynamic is not unique to America's race relations, as folks in India use skin-lightening products as well.  What this does show is that the politics of race can be far more complex than we often think.  I have always regretted not taking more sociology as an undergrad, and I have yet another reason to do so.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Amazing Algorithms

    I posted a few months ago on the joy of google's suggestions when you start to type in the box.  Turns out there is a big "bug"--typing "Islam is" gets you nada.  Zilch.  Zip.  Check out the story and consider google's 2010 trending. 

    Night Games

    For an excellent run-down of the history of late night shenanigans, see this slate piece that relies heavily on Bill Carter's book on the previous round of host-musical chairs.

    Original Sin

    Marc Lynch posts on the de-Baathification crisis in Iraq:
    The combination of improved security, the self-interest of a wide range of Iraqi groups and politicians, and the clear U.S. commitment to drawing down its military forces have generated some real positive progress but the unresolved institutional and political conflicts remain clearly evident
    The problem is how to get the Shiites to allow the Sunnis a chance to participate in the government.  This has been the challenge since Bremmer and the US disbanded the army and issued the first de-Baathification order.  The Sunni Awakening always raised the question of what happens when the Americans depart, and the Shia have been most reluctant to embrace their former adversaries.  Take a look at Marc's post--he is far more articulate (not to mention knowledgeable) about this issue.

    For me, it comes down to the basic hypothesis I have been pushing lately--that the question is not the absence of government, but the balance any government runs between deterring the potential bad guys while reassuring the rest of the population that the government is not going to be oppressive.  Which reminds me, in three years, will anyone be asking the loons on the right about Obama's supposed concentration camps?  Hmmm.  Never mind.

    Pat Roberson Does Some Good

    There is a voodoo doll of Pat on ebay, and the bidding is at $790!

    HT to Chip Gagnon

    Typecasting? Really? Really?

    So, a new study has confirmed once and again that profs tend to be more liberal than the populace:

    A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.
    The article then goes on to talk about nurses.  Um.  Ok.  That might be true for those gender-typed disciplines (physics).  But really the interesting approach would be to compare the social scientists and natural scientists inside and outside academia, as these folks seem to have made a choice of some sort.   Or had a choice made for them.

    Or not: "Intentional discrimination, one of the most frequent and volatile charges made by conservatives, turned out not to play a significant role."

    What does separate profs from others?
    Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.
     The advanced degree is, well, a requirement.  So, the question would be--what gets smuggled in with that correlation?  Why do some seek advanced degrees?  My guess, sans data, is that advanced degree probably does not tell us much.  However, it would be interesting to look just at the pool of advanced degrees and then see why some folks go one way (prof-ing) and everyone else goes another.
    Non-conservative religious theology and tolerance of controversial ideas go hand in hand--one must be willing, more or less, to follow the research.  And to relish in counter-intuitive findings since those are the ones that get the rewards most of the time.
    Income.  Ah!  Perhaps liberals are more likely to be profs because they value other stuff than just income?  It is clear that the income for profs, compared to others with similar levels of education, is lower, so some twisted gene must be responsible for academics seeking a career that pays less.  Perhaps liberals are actually more risk averse than conservatives so that they choose lifetime employment over higher average income but more career uncertainty.

    To really get at this, one might want to figure out what determines both political ideology and job choice.  What is someone a liberal or conservative?  My Americanist colleagues have read far more of this than I so they could provide a clue (help, lil' Steve?).  But that would seem to be the right way to proceed as there are many characteristics associated with ideology and not all of them might be relevant for career choice.

    There is probably something to this identity stuff:
    To Mr. Gross, accusations by conservatives of bias and student brainwashing are self-defeating. “The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia’s liberalism,” he said, “the more likely it’s going to remain a bastion of liberalism.”
     It may be the case that the academy is actually not so much liberal but more not conservative as conservatives have been avoiding it.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Finally, Applying Politics to Football

    Usually, folks take football metaphors (blitz, fourth down, hail mary pass, etc) and apply them to politics.  Mike Lombardi, former NFL exec and now superb analyst, reverses the analogy and brings in Gladwell to boot:
    I’ve heard from many people in and out of the league asking what Lane Kiffin has ever done to deserve three good jobs. One reader reminded me of the Warren Harding theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.” Gladwell illustrates this theory using the story of former President Warren Harding, whom many historians have claimed rose through the political ranks to assume the office of the president based largely on the power of his classically attractive "tall, dark, and handsome" physical appearance.
    With no discernable political skills, other than an impressive speaking voice, Harding shrunk from the responsibilities of his office and is now often identified as one of the worst presidents in history. Voters allowed their deep-seated prejudices about the connotations of physical attractiveness to make their decision. Is this what the officials at Oakland, the University of Tennessee and USC have done? Only time will tell if Kiffin is like Harding, but right now all signs point in that direction.
     Kiffin's career is yet another reason why I hate college sports.  Kids choose which school to go to based on which coach recruits most effectively and then they cannot transfer easily when that coach defects.  Kiffin was at Tennessee for all of one year.  The power imbalance in college sports is so much worse than pretty much any other place in sports since the kids are not guaranteed more than one year scholarship at a time.

    Graphic Xenophobia

    The NYT has a set of posters from across Europe depicting appeals to xenophobia.  Given that my recent book with Bill Ayres argues that xenophobia can be a positive force for peace, how squirmish does this make me feel?  A lot.

    A key argument of Kin or Country is that people are less likely to support irredentism (foreign policies aimed at reuniting lost territories inhabited by ethnic kin) if they do not want to share their country with "others" even if those others speak the same language.  If one imagines a successful irredentist campaign as producing a massive wave of immigration, then one can see why many folks might be less enthused.  So, we claim in the book that fear/intolerance of others may deter violence between countries. So, we suggest in the book that there may be a trade-off between international peace and domestic harmony.  Not that we should go around creating hate towards various groups, but that we should recognize that the effects may be more complex than usually considered.

    The problem here is that this form of xenophobia directed towards Muslims within is unlikely to create peace outside.  Creating policies that restrict the rights of Muslims to practice their religion or in some other way segregates and discriminates against them is only going to antagonize Muslims around the world.  At a time where Al Qaeda's popularity is severely diminished, the last thing we want to do is to reverse that trend.  Not only does such xenophobia not diminish inter-state violence (unlike the forms it takes in our book), but also the domestic dynamics are much more destructive as well.  Marginalizing Muslims at home seems to be the wrong way to go.

    The posters accompany an article that interviews one of the graphic artists behind the posters. 
    If what we do stirs up controversy, then we’ve already won the election,” he told me, a thought echoed when I met with Marc Bühlmann, a political scientist here. “All these right-wing populist parties have learned to get TV and newspapers to show these posters over and over with the excuse of asking, ‘Should we allow such images?’ ” Mr. Bühlmann said. “The aim in making the posters is to be as racist as possible, so then when critics complain, the populists can say elites don’t want ordinary people to know the truth. And the media fall for it every time.”
    Kind of reminds me of Cheney and Robertson.  If we could just learn to ignore the crackpots .....

    Or if some people were not so cynical:
    Mr. Segert knows why. A 46-year-old German (yes, an immigrant himself in Switzerland), he is the father of two adopted children from North Africa, although he declined to talk about his personal life. He was happy, on the other hand, to discuss work, which he volunteered he would gladly do for the Green Party or Social Democrats, if they hired him. “For me it’s an intellectual exercise,” he said, as if cynicism were a point of professional pride.
    I think I have to turn in my cynic badge.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Guys Left on the Shelf

    While there are many things one can say about the Haiti disaster, I just wanted to note that both the US and Canada have a few more units left on the shelf than I was expecting.  The Canadians are sending 1,000 troops and the US is sending a significant hunk of the 82nd airborne division.  Both forces are mighty stressed.  While they may not be able to fight yet another war someplace, it is good to know that there is some remaining capability to react to horrific events like this one. 

    Interactive Unemployment

    The NYT has a good interactive graphic that shows who is paying the price for the recession.  And the results are entirely unsurprising:
    • Education matters--better to be a college graduate than a high school grad, and better to be hs grad than not to graduate.
    • Race matters--better to be white than Hispanic, better to be Hispanic than African-American
    • Age matters--better to be old than not, and being young really sucks.

    With perhaps one exception: it is better to be a woman than a man.

    You can play with the combinations to see how you or a particular combo fit.  I am not surprised but disappointed nonetheless that the education breakdown does not include post-college degrees.  Of course, what I would really like to see is the political scientist unemployment rate when compared to other PhDs!

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Lessons from Fort Hood

    SecDef Gates presented the results of a review in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting.  It looks like a pretty sound effort.  I am not surprised by the first part of this quote, and very unsurprised by the second part.

    “Force protection programs are not properly focused on internal threats such as workplace violence and self-radicalization,” he said. “The problem is compounded in the absence of a clear understanding of what motivates a person to become radicalized and commit violent acts.
     I am not too sure social scientists have that down either. 

    Aside from the problem of not knowing how to predict or anticipate people who are becoming more radical, the larger problem is a consistent one--putting together different pieces of information so that patterns do emerge.  This is tricking for all intel--foreign and domestic--underwear bomber, radical military types, terrorist networks, etc.  The techno-mage that figures out how to do this right (and, yes, there are database programs) is going to be rich.  Data-mining only works if one can put the stuff together.

    The Devil Replies

    Dear Pat Robertson,
    I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.
    Best, Satan 

    and ht as always to lil' Steve for the facebook sharing

    Late Night Gets Interesting

    Losing sleep watching some of this stuff. But the willingness of various folks to be brutal on TV is just highly entertaining.

    See this for both a Jimmy Kimmel appearance on Leno's show that is funny and painful and for an interesting take on this stuff.

    And Bill Simmons tweeted this old NYT piece, where Leno blasts NBC in 1992 for treating him as Conan is being treated now.
    "NBC is like a guy with two girlfriends who doesn't know which one he's going to marry on Jan. 15," Mr. Leno said [in 1992]. "And the longer you wait, the madder they both get."
    "It's a tricky situation," Mr. Leno said [in 1992]. "Dave is truly a star and terrific, and this is a terrible position NBC is in. But fragging your own soldier doesn't make any sense to me."
    So, who is the soldier getting fragged here, Jay?

    Of course, Jay Leno is not the bad guy here. Ok, he sort of is, as he had decided to walk away and then changed his mind, starting this train wreck.  But the NBC bosses are the bigger bad guys because they saw a way to make some money for the network by transforming into a second class network--run Jay at 10pm and give up competing with the other networks (and screw the affiliates).  But why should TV execs be any different from banking or auto execs.

    Great power seems not to lead to great thinking.  Forget about great responsibility.