Thursday, October 16, 2014

Things We YouTubed Today, October 16, 2014

Bloggingheads featuring Robert Farley and Tom Nichols talking about the changing culture of D.C. and the policy-making establishment.  That might not sound thrilling, but it was a good podcast. 






 That page links to this Ezra Klein piece about the rise of political science in media and policy circles in Washington.


I've been feeling vaguely pissed off at Leon Panetta, who just published a memoir where he dumps on President Obama for being soft and indecisive on Syria and other things.  Farley and Nichols conjecture that Panetta probably soured on the Obama White House the first time he was ignored in a meeting in favor of some 25-year-old with a PowerPoint.  Sounds believable. 

We're going to look back and realize that Obama's was the Moneyball Administration in some ways.  Barack was the Billy Beane figure, and people like Leon Panetta are the Art Howe figures.  (In other recent news, Billy Beane's Oakland Athletics have gone home without a pennant again this year.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Taking a hike

Courtesy of my cousin Caskie on Facebook: A list of Virginia's best hiking trails, crowdsourced.  Lord knows when I will get around to these, I still have a lot in North Carolina I want to do, but here is the 411.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things We Read Today, September 25, 2014

Michael Lewis stares into the abyss.   This is a glimpse into the psychology of those who willingly sell their souls in 2014.

The last few years, Silicon Valley has grown in its appeal to top Ivy League graduates.  But working for a tech start-up can't quite match the allure of the financial markets: "[E]ntrepreneurship doesn’t offer the sort of people who wind up at elite universities what a lot of them obviously crave: status certainty."

It's a mistake to believe your values can survive any ordeal you put them to.

People like to think they have a “character,” and that this character of theirs will endure, no matter the situation. It’s not really so. People are vulnerable to the incentives of their environment, and often the best a person can do, if he wants to behave in a certain manner, is to choose carefully the environment that will go to work on his character.

Remember, kids, it's a statistical reality that no one can really pick stocks.  No one beats the house.

To succeed in this environment you must believe, or at least pretend to believe, that you are an expert in matters where no expertise is possible. I’m not sure it’s any easier to be a total fraud on Wall Street than in any other occupation, but on Wall Street you will be paid a lot more to forget your uneasy feelings.

...
... the people who work inside the big Wall Street firms have no serious stake in the long-term fates of their firms. If the place blows up they can always do what they are doing at some other firm -- so long as they have maintained their stature in their market. The quickest way to lose that stature is to alienate the other people in it. When you see others in your market doing stuff at the expense of the broader society, your first reaction, at least early in your career, might be to call them out, but your considered reaction will be to keep mum about it. And when you see people making money in your market off some broken piece of internal machinery -- say, gameable ratings companies, or riggable stock exchanges, or manipulable benchmarks -- you will feel pressure not to fix the problem, but to exploit it.

Addendum, or a reminder to myself: Dave McKenna did a piece at Deadspin about prep-school lacrosse players willingly being held back in school for a year to gain a competitive advantage in their sport. All because of Malcolm Gladwell. One factoid from the Duke lacrosse controversy from a few years back is that the majority of Duke lacrosse players, literally 70% or so, will go on to jobs on Wall Street. I think the trade-off here is, the family pays an extra $30,000 or so in prep-school tuition, to gain a place in top-flight NCAA lacrosse, which is a golden ticket to becoming one of Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cool Data Viz of the Day: U.S. Immigration, Foreign and Internal, State by State, Snice 1900

This is the kind of thing that tempts me to break down and get a New York Times subscription.  The Disunion blog is another one.

A Football Fan's Dilemma: Things We Read Today, 8/15/2014



Once again I say, I love Brian Phillips.  Grantland publishes a good deal of crap, but Brian Phillips, Charlie Pierce, and Bryan Curtis make up for a lot. 

With the World Cup having occupied a lot of my attention this summer, I have been trying for weeks to finish a post about soccer.  One thing I wanted to say is that soccer players have become my heroes, my avatars of manhood, the badasses whose bravery and grace under duress I thrill to.  Clint Dempsey playing with a broken nose, guys having a bloody gash glued up by the physio and then re-entering the game -- they are to me what Emmitt Smith is to Brian Phillips and his father in the piece. 

I guess having a zone where I can admire "men being men" is important to me.  Football used to serve that function: (See: Kellen Winslow, 1981 playoffs.)  But the brutality of football has gotten to be more than I can take.  The "spectacle of acrobatic violence, an endless war between shiny cartoon armies" -- I don't believe in it anymore.

Phillips starts in on the Ray Rice spousal-abuse debacle, and the peculiar kind of PR morass that the NFL keeps finding itself in:

...It has to do, I think, with the NFL’s curious, quasi-self-appointed role as the safe zone of troubled American masculinity — or, more broadly, as a kind of wildlife refuge for endangered privilege. You could glimpse the character of this role throughout the Michael Sam story, in which a background of frank homophobia was barely kept hidden by the curtain of celebration. You could see still more of it in the controversy over the Redskins name, in which the real question, for the term’s indignant defenders, has never been “Is this word acceptable?” The real question has been “Why wouldn’t this word be acceptable in football, where we’re supposed to be able to do things like this?”

....

Internet comments defending Rice and the NFL are — well, many of them are genuinely and chillingly misogynistic, but I think more of them are primarily concerned with protecting football from mainstream cultural norms: Don’t take this away too.


I love the common thread he finds among Ray Rice, Michael Sam, and the Washington football team nickname.

The title of Phillips's article, "Tough Talk," reminds me of my overarching theory about Republican foreign policy: tough talk is all Republicans are good at, and at some some strange juncture the tough talk takes on a life of its own, regardless of its objectives or any reasonable cost/benefit calculus.  This problem can bleed over into domestic public policy too.  (See: the police in Ferguson, Missouri.)

The piece concludes:

What I really want is to save football, a game that I love, from the men who think it should work like this. I want to dispel the illusion; I want that hypertrophied caricature of male prerogative to have no place in American life.


Me too; but I believe it's an illusion to think that football can be saved on these terms.  Phillips doesn't even mention the issue of concussions, which is easily the toughest challenge Roger Goodell faces.  To me, the answer is to eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon.  But football won't be football anymore if that happens.  The players know that's true; in fact, one of the thorniest aspects of the concussion debate is that the players love the danger of the sport, are not ready to trade away the immediate thrill for their own long-term health.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Things We Read Today, August 7, 2014

I'd never heard of Jacob Bacharach until today, when I came across his Bloggingheads video made with Will Wilkinson.  It spurred me to spend my Amazon gift card on his novel (along with the new Rick Perlstein) and to check out his website.  The guy is a hell of a good writer.

In my recent absence from the blog there have been two big news events in world politics.  One was the shoot-down of a commercial airliner over Ukraine, and I worked up a high dudgeon over that one.  (What would you have if you took this country's scummiest Tea Party elements, egged them on officially, and gave them state-of-the-art military hardware?  You'd have the pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.) 

The other has been the escalation of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and I have lacked the courage of my convictions on that one.  It's a sign of their bankrupt position that so many supporters of Israel view their mission as a PR battle; that being said, they're doing well in the PR battle.  Even an Israeli liberal like Amos Oz is speaking in favor of the campaign to eliminate Hamas.  And it's discouraging to see just how many U.S. fora where criticism of Israel is still beyond the pale.

In this blog post, Jacob Bacharach writes in part from his perspective as an American Jew who has felt his childhood faith become tangled up with the political program of Zionism.  He knows whereof he speaks, and he has harsh words of criticism:

The terrible truth is that Israel was infected from the moment of its birth with the European evils whose virulent, 20th-centurty apotheoses necessitated, in the minds of so many, the creation of Israel in the first place, and we Jews, through Israel, have become a sick reflection of our own historic persecutors. I am not even speaking of the still unique evil of Nazism, although in the more extreme eructations of Israeli hard-liners, you do hear the debased language of racial purity and superiority. I am thinking of the old, durable, seemingly ineradicable traditions of pogrom, persecution, expropriation, and colonization. The Israelis possess the imperial arsenal of a modern Western nation-state, which camouflages the essentially primitive, pre-modern nature of their policy toward the Palestinians. The state of Israel is behaving like a village mob. Palestinian tunnels are the poisoned well. The Israelis are killing and lighting fires. “We will drive them out!” Where will they go? How will they escape? “They will have to figure it out, the devils!” But you forced them into the ghetto in the first place. “Yes, and they should be happy for what they have!” The US stands by like a distant monarch, its silence and occasional provision of more kindling a kind of majestic assent.

It would be comforting to say simply: I wash my hands of all of you. But we have accepted a state made of our religion, and that state is behaving abominably, unforgivably. It is a shame that we will not erase in a hundred years.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Rogue's Gallery, 7/8/2014

I'm not sure of the process whereby a Legacy.com obituary becomes a meme.  But I am always on the lookout for a good portrait of a preacher-scoundrel.  Hat tip to my friend Joel for linking this on Facebook. 



Here is a choice selection:



What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into. He was a poor man's rhetorician who beguiled certain woman into buying into his promises and dreams. This latter view is lent some support by the fact that he was a United Church minister who passionately improvised sermons for congregations in Quesnel, Barkerville, Bella Bella, Greenwood, Nipawin, Sask. and Kelowna. It is impossible to say whether or not George was actually religious. Anyway, God's name rarely came up when George was flush. 

[...]


While George did not live well by some people's lights, it should be universally accepted that he did die well. In hospital, two days beforehand, he said he'd finished with the medical procedures he had been avidly seeking for the past few years; he said he was 'checking out'. He was completely calm and committed to the decision. The next day, we brought in some beer, toasted his life with him, drank with him, and helped him to make several thoughtful good-bye phone calls. He reminisced a bit and gave us a few unhelpful instructions. He died without pain the next evening, from a slow gastric bleed, with his wits about him and a light heart.

Turns out, his timing was impeccable: the next day we found out that he had been racking up ominous bank and credit card debts. Clearly, those supplemental incomes were about to dry up. In earlier years, George would sometimes slip out of a town after he had accumulated local debts and after the relevant woman's purse had been snapped shut. But of late, he was in no condition to skip town. And women just don't see old men on scooters as the stuff of their dreams - they see them as impending burdens. Perhaps George felt cornered. Perhaps he thought that, under his present circumstances, dying was the only way out. Whatever the story, no one can deny that George made his final exit with style and grace.


 
What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into. He was a poor man's rhetorician who beguiled certain woman into buying into his promises and dreams. This latter view is lent some support by the fact that he was a United Church minister who passionately improvised sermons for congregations in Quesnel, Barkerville, Bella Bella, Greenwood, Nipawin, Sask. and Kelowna. It is impossible to say whether or not George was actually religious. Anyway, God's name rarely came up when George was flush. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?pid=171625687#sthash.ArXl3z8d.dpuf
What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into. He was a poor man's rhetorician who beguiled certain woman into buying into his promises and dreams. This latter view is lent some support by the fact that he was a United Church minister who passionately improvised sermons for congregations in Quesnel, Barkerville, Bella Bella, Greenwood, Nipawin, Sask. and Kelowna. It is impossible to say whether or not George was actually religious. Anyway, God's name rarely came up when George was flush. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?pid=171625687#sthash.ArXl3z8d.dpuf
What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into. He was a poor man's rhetorician who beguiled certain woman into buying into his promises and dreams. This latter view is lent some support by the fact that he was a United Church minister who passionately improvised sermons for congregations in Quesnel, Barkerville, Bella Bella, Greenwood, Nipawin, Sask. and Kelowna. It is impossible to say whether or not George was actually religious. Anyway, God's name rarely came up when George was flush. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?pid=171625687#sthash.ArXl3z8d.dpuf

Monday, June 30, 2014

Things We Read Today, 6/30/2014

Historian Carolyn Dupont, writing about Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964, and the response of the Methodist and Southern Baptist responses to events at that place and time.

Via Slacktivist, which I may need to add to the blogroll here.

Three Chords and... a Hack Syndicated Columnist

Dave Barry opines that "Gloria" by Van Morrison is the best song ever written. 

I kind of agree with this basic thesis.  The movement of my whole 40-odd years as a pop music fan has been toward the side of punchy simplicity instead of virtuosity.  I had settled on Creedence Clearwater Revival's five or six biggest hits as the highwater mark.  But I can see the case for "Gloria."  I do love that song.

But I am uncomfortable anytime I am in the same camp with Dave Barry. 

Also: It is unbecoming of Dave Barry to advocate for the "Simple Is Better" aesthetic.  It seems a rationalization on behalf of all simple-minded humor writers, who rely on moves such as the CAPITAL LETTERS method of selling a joke. (see link for an example)

So in conclusion, "Gloria" may have been the greatest song ever written until Dave Barry said so. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Immensely Thoughtful Yet Appropriate Love

Sam Wells in Christian Century.  The defining job of a minister is to say the right thing at the right time.  That certainly includes remembering people's names; a lot of pastors are intentional and methodical about remembering names.  Of course, no human being can live up to this expectation every time, and this piece is about failing to live up to it.

Traveling back to a church he previously served, to preach a funeral sermon, Sam is greeted by a former member who clearly remembers him warmly.  And he blanks on her name.  I am going to block-quote a big chunk because it may retreat behind CC's paywall:

. . . But the damage is done. The lie is exposed. I’m all surface and no depth, the pastor who can put on a show but deep down doesn’t care enough to remember, who made her feel special but when she was no longer useful moved on elsewhere, who could talk but didn’t walk. Maybe God, in the end, was like that too.

This is the banality of clergy failure—that we put ourselves between people and God. That we tacitly assume God is distant, remote, occupied, distracted, and so we, to compensate, must be present, intense, hearty, and inspiring. We must be more human than God. God can’t possibly remember this woman’s name, her complex story of not having and then having children and their complex story. So we invest deeply in her, utterly professionally, of course, and her melting heart, her trust, her signs of faith and hope—these are the medals of our ministry. Our people need us, need us badly, because only through our sacrificial and immensely thoughtful yet appropriate love can they possibly glimpse a God who seems reluctant to be made known in any explicit and tangible way.

[...]

Of course we’re not up to it. We forget her husband was going in for a scan and we should have inquired how it went. We neglect to ask her to read at the carol service. We get talking to someone else after the worship service, and she drifts away disconsolate to her car. But all these things are forgiven. And we know that they’re healthy ways of indicating she shouldn’t overinvest in us, because it’s not really about us, it’s about Christ and Christ’s body, the church. In fact, we shouldn’t be standing between her and God in the first place. God can look after that part without our unique contribution. The pastor’s job is not so much in front of the people as behind them, ushering them like sheep into a place where they may encounter God together. It’s not about being more interesting than God. Cyprian never said, “Outside the pastor there is no salvation.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Things We Read Today, 6/18/2014

I wonder if this is a record for longest time lapse between posts. Anyway. Here are a couple of articles I wanted to bookmark.

This TNR piece by John Judis touches on American history, the New Left and its discontents, and an academic career gone seriously awry. Suggested by Rick Perlstein on Facebook.

A novel jumping off the life of Jonathan Edwards? Count me in! Suggested by Faith & Leadership's daily roundup of links. I thought I was getting a discussion of the New Calvinism in America, which this article is concerned with only indirectly, but the novel and novelist sound intriguing.