Archive for November, 2009

The Politico is a true Beltway institution, and emblematic of so much of what is sick with our journalism. Today, John Harris has a piece called “7 stories Obama doesn’t want told.” It’s about controlling the narratives and memes that constitute the image of Obama. Hmm, well that could be interesting. Maybe something about how Obama hasn’t come through in his promises regarding civil liberties, and how this undermines his claim to represent change? Or maybe something about how his recent decision to ramp up Afghanistan tells us something about his plans that undermines the antiwar credibility he rode to victory in the Democratic primaries. Let’s take a look…

That’s the Chicago Way

This is a storyline that’s likely taken root more firmly in Washington than around the country. The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols.

He’s a pushover

If you are going to be known as a fighter, you might as well reap the benefits. But some of the same insider circles that are starting to view Obama as a bully are also starting to whisper that he’s a patsy.

The fact that those are mutually exclusive doesn’t phase Harris one bit, I’m sure. Likewise, remember earlier this year, when Obama was deciding which Bush-era practices to continue or abandon in the wra on terror? We were simultaneously told that Obama was giving up the war and policies that made us safe, and thus will kill us all; AND Obama is actually continuing Bush’s policies, so it’s complete vindication, see! Both critiques were heard from the right.

Or, going back even further to the election, Obama (and Michelle) were both dangerous, angry blacks who hated America and wanted to kill whitey, and were also wine-sipping arugula-munching elitists. Because those two always go together.

That’s one thing about criticism of Obama that’s always been difficult for me to understand. People just can’t seem to settle on the best way to attack him, so they take a shotgun approach and hope that something will stick. But when you make subsequent critiques that are mutually exclusive, I’m pretty sure it’s not persuasive.

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they’ll take your freedom away from you.

Case in point: Switzerland’s minaret ban.

By a stunning 59% vote, the Swiss public has voted to ban all future minarets, thanks to a petition and direct democracy campaign by the local xenophobia party, the SVP.

What’s surprising, though, is how much this contradicts recent public polling, which showed narrow opposition to the ban 53-37.

My point, I suppose, is that voter enthusiasm matters. The people who came out and voted for this abomination of a law (why not ban church steeples? large crosses?) because they feel strongly enough about the issue. The rest of the Swiss probably don’t care enough to show up.

Back to America, then, where recent polling shows a huge enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.

We may laugh at the Tea Partyers and the Sarah Palin celebrity book tour extravaganza, but in the end, decisions are made by those who show up.

The wingnuts will show up, for sure. Will we?

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I submitted my paper today. Now I’m heading off to San Diego for the holiday weekend. And I honestly intend to get back to regularly blogging. I mean it.

In the meantime, Mark Halperin continues to be one of the biggest tools in the world.

TNC spits some truth, as usual.

To the surprise of no one, Albert Pujols joins some elite company, and I was totally ok with the Cy Young award going to Tim Lincecum.

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Life update

I’m getting closer to finishing the paper, and hopefully life will return to normal then. My adviser and I have decided to try to submit to Nature. In the meantime, the decision to give the NL Cy Young award to Tim Lincecum was the right decision. Though I would have gone Carpenter, then Lincecum, then Wainwright.

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I’ve listened to this about 100 times in the last few days.

Also worth reading for the musically inclined, here’s this analysis of the chord structures (or non-structures?) of “Single Ladies.”

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With the recent hubbub over the closing of Guantanamo Bay’s prison camp and the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, I found it increasingly weird that the United States had a big naval base in Cuba. After all, Cuba is a Communist country, with which we have limited diplomatic ties, as well as a country that almost launched a nuclear war on the United States. Also, we tried to kill Castro once or twice. The fact that the United States maintains its naval base there is, well, quite unusual. I knew about the United States’ long-standing relationship with the pre-Castro government since the Spanish-American War, but I was not aware of the base’s colorful history.

A useful timeline of the history is here, but the whole “possession is nine-tenths of the law” thing seems to play in pretty heavily in our continued operation of the base.

Weird things about the base:

Perhaps what’s strangest to me about Guantanamo is how it is somehow more acceptable to send detainees to a legally dubious naval base in a country that harbors one of the most vocally anti-American governments on Earth, rather than within the United States proper. It seems somehow fitting that the legally unsound military tribunals should have found a place in the most legally unsound of America’s foreign naval bases.

Beyond Guantanamo Bay’s prison camps, there’s a fair argument to be made that the whole base should be closed down. Despite the base’s utility in keeping refugees from various Caribbean nations, including Cuba itself, it serves a greater symbolic purpose as a symbol of old American imperialism from the banana republic era and the dubious legal decisions that the United States makes simply because of our military might. It might do us well to leave Gitmo for good.

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No matter what the sports pundits today say, Bill Belichick made the right call.

In the NFL, the average success rate of a 4th and short is 60%. That’s already decent odds. The Patriots, however, are usually even better.

4th down conversion rate by Patriots last 5 years (sort for year):

  • 08-09: 77.3%
  • 07-08: 71.4%
  • 06-07: 80.0%
  • 05-06: 76.5%
  • 04-05: 40.0%

That’s pretty darn good. Better than league average, as the Pats are in most things. My point is, if those are your odds, why not go for it? If you fail, you fail. But Peyton Manning is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt, and the Colts can make back a lot of ground awfully fast. Even with a decent punter, who averages 44 yards a punt, you’re not getting much more than you would have if you had gone for it, particularly with the risk of a short punt. Those 44 yards go in a hurry if you’re playing Peyton Manning.

In fact, with the probability of success, why not go for it on 4th down more often? Coaches rarely go for it, even though it makes sense most of the time, particularly near midfield, when punting it will probably get a decent runback with little yardage actually gained and possession voluntarily thrown away. (Maybe it has something to do with the barrage of criticism afterwards?)

Your defense has given up two quick-strike 2-minute drill touchdowns over the length of the field. Plus, did I mention you were playing Peyton Manning — the man born to run 2-minute drills? Did I mention that you screwed up your time-out use and have to get a first down here to keep the ball in your hands?

Strangely, if Belichick had not gone for it and punted, as is conventional for NFL coaches who want to avoid criticism, he would have probably still lost the game and avoided the firestorm of criticism. NFL coaches hate being criticized and their job security requires them to take fewer risks, even if the rewards make it worthwhile. The conventional play, even if it is hugely wrong and misguided and still leads to the exact same loss, is viewed with a shrug by fans and commentators alike.

I dislike Bill Belichick, but one of the things that makes him great is that unlike other coaches, he will probably not care about the criticism at all. I mean, the next time it’s 4th and 2 against a quick-scoring, methodical offensive team, will Belichick will do any differently? I doubt it.

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