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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wonder why they'd say that?

New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, August 2013:
“The last seven months have been a nightmare. Probably the worst time of my life, for sure....I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”
University of Louisville President James Ramsey, May 2015:
"All I have is my integrity … and I can't let people attack my credibility," Ramsey said bitterly at a special meeting of the board that he called. "Nobody stood up for me so I am standing up for myself."

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Highlands Beer Festival 2015



Saturday about 5:30 pm, I walked a couple of blocks with a friend to the Highlands Beer Festival in the parking lot of a local mall. I attended the festival once before with a neighbor, but that event was inside the same mall and attracted a much smaller crowd. It's good to see growing interest in craft beer in Louisville.

It cost $5 to get inside the fenced area, beer tickets were $1 each, and those tickets purchased a 2 ounce sample of any beer (overwhelmingly poured from bottles, not taps). Towards the end of the event (7 pm), some vendor representatives were not very worried about collecting tickets. They just wanted to get rid of their open beer.

I like hoppy ales (especially IPAs), so I mostly sampled those kinds of beers. I think the best beer I tried was Road Warrior (9% abv, 80 ibu) by Green Flash, though I also really liked the Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (8% abv, 102 ibu). This is more evidence confirming that my tastebuds really like west coast IPAs.

Unfortunately, those high abv levels will likely preclude my purchasing those beers, so I will actually be looking for a local beer I tasted at the festival -- Sterling 1863 session IPA (4.5% abv, 64 ibu).

In the end I tried a dozen different beers, but a couple of those were not even full samples as my friend and I split a couple of them (generally if they were really good).



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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Riot hyperbole in history

If you are disturbed by the discussion of what is happening in Baltimore tonight, then I offer some context.

My junior year in college, 1981-1982, my debate colleague and I advocated for fairly strict limits on police use of deadly force. Among the advantages we claimed was reduction in the risk of urban riots, which historically are often triggered by police violence.

Because we were 20 years old and every argument needed to involve significant threats, we used to reference portions of this quote in virtually every affirmative debate. It is from Louis H. Masotti, et al A Time to Burn?, 1969, p. x-xi:
To a very great extent, riots are a cry of utter despair, pleading for someone to hear and respond. Yet our response has been more talk, more unfulfilled promises, more tokenism, and recently, more suppression. And while we are talking, the disillusionment and frustration of the ghetto is accelerating at a frightening pace. The civil rights efforts of the past decade and the continual bombardment of the mass media have heightened the consciousness and raised the expectations of the Negro far beyond the level of our response. Those who say that riots have nothing to do with the civil rights movement are either engaging in enormous self-delusion or are attempting to protect the good name of a phase of the movement which is more palatable to themselves and the American public. They are blind to a long history of social revolutions which have often begun as broad-based nonviolent efforts to change institutionalized injustices, only to merge as violent social revolutions when more moderate efforts failed. As a minority of slightly more than ten per cent of the population, Negroes stand little chance of winning in a violent confrontation. But before the militant leaders push the Negro community beyond the point of no return, we must do some sober thinking about the consequences of such a confrontation. American society itself would be the ultimate loser. We would become the captives of fear and hate of a magnitude that would make Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa seem like meccas for civil libertarians. Such a confrontation would make a mockery of the American Revolution and the entire history of our experiment in democracy. But even this might be a relatively minor consequence. In a mood of rage and hate, the balance of power in this nation might very well shift into the reckless hands of those who would disrupt the precarious balance of peace between the nuclear powers and plunge the whole world into nuclear holocaust.
Update: here's a review of Masotti et al from Edward B. McLean in The Review of Politics, 1970. It is not kind:
"A Time to Burn?...is not a very good book and is already quite dated. The summers of 1968 and 1969 have not supported the assumption that the 1967 summer riots were a prelude to continuing and expanding violence in the Negro areas....Although the authors insist that theirs is a scholarly work, it is far more in the vein of commentary literature....as an effective and relevant examination of the problems of race in the country in 1960 and 1970, it has little value....Serious questions can be raised about the balance and seriousness of the evidence which is the basis of the book and the support for the authors' contention that" the U.S. is a country "on the verge of a race war, and very possibly on the brink of self-destruction." 
The book was coauthored by four colleagues from the Civil Violence Research Center at Case Western Reserve University. The coauthors are Kenneth Seminatore, Jeffrey K. Hadden, and Jerome R. Corsi. That last name is probably the most familiar as he is a well-known backer of Obama conspiracy theories.



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Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Bolts from the Blue

For the 27th consecutive year, I'm competing in the Hardy House fantasy baseball league. Our auction draft was held four Saturdays ago, March 28, in Louisville. Two owners participated by phone, including a "new" returning owner. We will all miss a long-time participant who left the league (at least for now). After the auction, the group had some pub grub and watched the Elite Eight basketball game between Arizona and Wisconsin. Then we walked up the street to a terrific local brew pub and watched Notre Dame-Kentucky. The Friday night before the draft, many of us ate pizza and even more drank a beer at the nearby Holy Grale of brews. Oh, and we watched the Louisville-North Carolina State game. 

As a reminder: the league has 12 teams and uses American League players exclusively to accumulate statistics in various hitting and pitching categories. For 22 years, we tabulated results in the traditional 8 categories (HR, RBI, SBs, Batting Average, Wins, Saves, Earned Run Average and ratio/Walks-plus-Hits per Inning Pitched), but in the hot stove period prior to the 2011 season we voted to dump BA in favor of On Base Average. Also, we added runs scored (R) for hitters and strikeouts (K) for pitchers.

My 2014 team finished second for the third straight season, this time only 1.5 points behind the championship squad (People's Choice). Last year's Bolts from the Blue squad led the league in ERA and WHIP and finished in the top three in all categories other than OBA (6th) and saves (7th). With one more HR and two more steals, the Bolts would have tied for first. The top team also picked up a couple of points that it could have lost with a slightly weaker performance in September. It was a very close pennant chase. 

I always mention another roster quirk now in its eighth year: we use 10 man pitching staffs, but only 4 outfielders -- one fewer than the "normal" roto squad. We were probably among the first leagues to accept the fact that this distribution of players better reflects roster management decisions that real major league baseball teams have made over the past 20 years. 

As usual, we allowed the purchase of any player on an American League 40 man roster. After the auction, only players on 25 man active rosters or the major league Disabled List (DL) can be obtained. We now allow teams to retain ownership of players sent packing to the National League -- but only for the remainer of the current season. The league uses a salary cap, but it expires after the trade deadline. This means contending teams can spend their free agent cash in September. Because we drafted in March, some positional battle results were unknown and some rookies-to-be were not yet on 40 man rosters and were thus ineligible for purchase. 

The 2015 Bolts from the Blue (5 retained players in blue):

C Alex Avila (DET) $8
C Jorge Alfaro (TEX) $1 (minors)
1B Eric Hosmer (KC) $23
2B Omar Infante (KC) $1
3B Evan Longoria (TB) $28
SS Xander Bogaerts (BOS) $16
MI Brett Lawrie (OAK) $15
CR Ryan Rua (TEX) $1
OF Alex Gordon (KC) $27
OF Leonys Martin  (TEX) $24
OF Rusney Castillo (BOS) $23 (minors)
OF Oswaldo Arcia (MIN) $10 
DH David Ortiz (BOS) $22

Hitting $199 (up $17 from last season, which was probably too much)

P Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) $25
P Jake Odorizzi (TB) $5
P Kris Medlen (KC) $4 (DL)
P Jesse Chavez (OAK) $2
P Hector Santiago (LAA) $1

P Brad Boxberger (TB) $4
P Wade Davis (KC) $5
P Junichi Tazawa (BOS) $5
P Charlie Furbush (SEA) $1
P Grant Balfour (TB) $1 

Pitching $53 ($25 less than last year, likely too little)

One team had more than $20 cash left at the end of the auction and another had $9, which meant inflation was a bit lower than it might have been. The total unspent by the league was $46, which is a lot, but not nearly as much as last year. The Bolts unfortunately had $8 left this year, but cash saved to purchase some specific players proved to be insufficient in the late rounds of the auction. Because of mismatched positional needs in the endgame, a few players were purchased then at what I viewed as bargain prices (Infante and Rua). 

The Bolts were also hurt by the fact that I could not retain relatively inexpensive starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who worked for the New York Yankees last year after a mid-season trade, but now pitches in the NL in LA. He would have cost $6 if he had remained in the AL. Additionally, I decided not to retain close to market-priced OF Adam Eaton at $17 and pitcher Chris Sale at $32. I didn't want to foreclose OF options and was worried about Sale's injuries. These players ended up selling for $20 and $35, respectively. It probably would have been better to retain Eaton and forego Castillo. 

Once again, I did not purchase any relief pitchers with a strong lock on a closer job. To compensate for this, I bought pitchers with good strikeout rates on teams with old or iffy guys in front of them (BOS and SEA). I did not intend to buy Balfour, he reflects the danger of throwing out someone for $1 that might not garner any additional bids. Various online sources were listing him as the favorite for the Rays closer job and I thought someone at the table would bid $2 and fill a pitching slot. It didn't happen and that hurt me in the endgame. I had other pitchers to buy, but could not because of the lack of roster space.

Actually, my team has its share of young and/or iffy guys. Medlen is returning from his second Tommy John surgery. Alfaro is in double A. Castillo is beginning the year at Pawtucket and I obviously overspent on him. Rua is an untested rookie and has been injured. Going forward, he will not qualify at CR in the Hardy House until he plays first or third 3 times this season. 

As usual, I bought several players from the KC Royals (5), the hometown-favorite team of my youth and surprisingly the defending AL champions. Hosmer had a slow start last year, but hit fairly well prior to his injury last summer and had a big post-season. Gordon has been a solid hitter for many seasons now. I've got very mixed feelings about Infante, but he was really cheap in the end. Davis is now widely recognized as a first-rate setup man who could close on a team without Greg Holland. Medlen has no history as a Royal, but his NL stats were fantastic.

Gordon was on my 2014 team and I bought him again for the same salary he would have cost as a retained player. 

In addition to those 5 Royals, I have players from about half of the AL teams, including 4 Red Sox, 4 Rays, 3 Rangers, 2 Mariners, 2 A's, plus 1 Tiger, an Angel and a Twin. 

To replace initially injured or minor league players Alfaro, Castillo, and Medlen on my active roster, I bought C Carlos Corporan (TEX) and OF Daniel Nava (BOS) for $1 each, plus P Zach MacAllister (CLE) for $7.  I also nabbed 2B Micah Johnson (CHX) for $7 during the second week because the team needs speed and Lawrie can play CR for the injured Rua. The Bolts are going to need a quality starting pitcher or two to replace the now-injured Iwakuma (lat). 

You can find posts about the 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013;and 2014 auctions elsewhere on this blog.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Free" Enterprise

The University of Louisville recently announced it had received millions of dollars of contributions from Papa John's head John Schnatter and the Koch Brothers to fund a "free enterprise center" in the Business School on campus. Apparently, the contract gives the donors somewhat unusual leverage over the personnel hired by their funds and the content of new academic programming.

English Professor Martin Kich of Wright State discussed the gift and voiced a major criticism that is often associated with the terms. First, however, he quotes a University official:
“’The [UofL Economics] department is in the process of hiring a new full-time faculty member but is struggling to get enough funding, faculty and class offerings to keep pace with student demand,’ said university spokesman Mark Hebert. 
“Hebert said the department focuses on applied microeconomics, which includes statistics and econometrics instruction needed for health, industrial organization, labor and environmental studies. ‘The department would like to expand all of these areas if funding and faculty were to become available,’ he said.” 
What this spokesperson is actually saying is that the ideological slant of the department is up for auction. Since it is very clear that the Koch gifts are not going to fund “labor and environmental studies,” in the absence of competing gifts from progressive donors, one can only conclude the Koch views on labor and environmental issues will dominate, if not go completely unchallenged.
Personally, I find it interesting that the Koch brothers and Schnatter could end up funding free market critics of the practices that help make them rich. While the Koch brothers are famous for their libertarian and anti-government policy positions, they frequently use their corporate lobbying clout to win lucrative government contracts -- mostly involving the Department of Defense. Roughly 80% of their DoD contracts do not involve competitive bids. Their timber and cattle ranching interests take advantage of cheap government leasing rights that are famously priced well below market rates. Their oil and related energy businesses seek to benefit from government seizure of private land under eminent domain. Though the Koch brothers have apparently argued against them in DC, their corporations have apparently accepted $1 billion for ethanol subsidies.

Schnatter too fairly directly benefits from government subsidies. After all, Papa John's Pizza is a food business and agricultural subsidies of pork, grain and dairy products help him keep costs artificially low. That means he personally profits from tremendous government spending that has very little to do with the free market.

One of my earliest blog posts from December 2003 quoted a letter from over 100 economists arguing that "government subsidies of irrigation, logging, livestock grazing and mining prop up activities that could not survive in efficient market conditions." The result is often subsidized environmental destruction. Government leasing needs to be priced at market rates, preferably involving full environmental costs.

Ann Hagedorn in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect emphasized the economic costs of government outsourcing of security functions to private business:
Blackwater went into the annals of government contracting as one of the great disgraces of privatization. A staff report prepared for the Oversight Committee found that Blackwater billed the government $1,222 per day per guard, “equivalent to $445,000 per year; over six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier.” Reeling from scandals, Blackwater later reorganized and changed its name to Xe, and then again to Academi, which is now part of a holding company called Constellis.
Hagedon's article appears as part of a special report, "What the Free Market Can't Do." See this and this, for example.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 NCAA Tournament

I filled out a number of brackets this year, most forecasting the University of Kentucky to win the men's college national basketball championship. Unfortunately, I think that was and is the safest prediction.

Here are my only two entries in (different) pools that return cash from my friends and/or colleagues. I entered some other national competitions with microscopic chances of winning money from large prize pools. My chances in those pools is now essentially zero and was never very high. I did pick against Kentucky in some of those. Typically, I picked Arizona over UK since they are viewed as the nation's second best team.

This entry features Arizona in the Final Four. Also, I had West Virginia beating Maryland and Michigan State beating Virginia. I inaccurately had Louisville losing to Northern Iowa, so I clearly was betting against the ACC here:



Entry 2 has Arizona in the Final Four, as well as Oklahoma. I accurately forecast Wichita State defeating Kansas in this bracket as well. Once again, I had too little faith in Louisville:



Simply click on those brackets for larger images.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Break Dog Blogging

These photos were taken in nearby Tyler Park on Saturday, March 7:



Paddy was wearing a jacket, but the 9" snow Louisville received on March 4-5 was already melting.

This photo was taken basically in the same spot, one week later on Saturday, March 14, just before University of Louisville's spring break began Monday the 16th:


Incidentally, the temperature on the 15th was in the mid-70s.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Greenhouse Gas Regulations

A little over a week ago, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed piece arguing that state governments should not write standards for implementing new EPA regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. McConnell notes almost in passing that these regulations are "probably illegal," even though the regulations seem pretty clearly to be authorized (if not required) by the Supreme Court in a 2007 ruling. Essentially, the Bush administration tried to ignore greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but their position was inconsistent with the law. The case dealt with vehicle emissions, but power plants are obviously an even bigger source of the gases.

In December 2009, the EPA Administrator found:
...that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) — in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
The parts in bold effectively require the EPA to act to regulate greenhouse gases, which makes McConnell's argument fairly silly. Here's what is likely to happen if states follow McConnell's advice:
Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program and a former senior counselor to President Obama, said that option would be worse for states than simply preparing and submitting their own plans. 
“It would put states at a huge disadvantage if they choose not to file a plan,” she said. “It gives E.P.A. the option of implementing their own plan themselves, but the E.P.A. may not have the best plan for each state. States should be designing these plans themselves.” 
Historically, states that have refused to submit compliance plans for E.P.A. rules have been forced to follow standards crafted by the department’s officials in Washington. Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a longtime opponent of the department’s pollution regulations, for instance, refused to submit state-level plans for compliance to other rules. In the end, Texas businesses were eventually forced to comply with the federally imposed plan.
In any case, the McConnell story got me to thinking about the Obama administration's legacy on climate change. About 18 months ago, Time columnist Michael Grunwald wrote the following in a piece about the Keystone pipeline:
Imagine if President Obama had promised in his long-awaited climate speech in June to launch the first 45 renewable-electricity projects ever built on federal land, enough to power 4.4 million homes. Imagine that he also pledged to slash the government’s carbon emissions by 15%, jack up vehicle-efficiency standards enough to eliminate an entire year’s worth of U.S. emissions by 2025 and enact appliance-efficiency standards that would save enough electricity to power every single-family home for two years. 
Then imagine if he vowed to spark a clean-energy revolution with unprecedented investments in wind, solar and geothermal power; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; green research; and much more.
Here's the punch line he offered:
It would have confirmed the suspicions of many Republicans who have trashed him as an eco-radical. It would have delighted many environmentalists who have trashed him as an AWOL commander in the war on global warming. 
It also would have been weird, because Obama already did all those things in his first term. He has probably done more to reduce emissions than anyone else in history, but his critics on the right and the left haven’t noticed.
Long after Grunwald's piece appeared, in November 2014, Obama pledged that the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas emissions "26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025." I realize that those numbers represent aspiration rather than action, but much of the reduction is going to come from policies already set in place.


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Friday, March 06, 2015

Academics and Athletes

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced its All-Academic team this week in men's basketball. The standards for inclusion certainly sound impressive enough:
To be eligible for consideration, a student-athlete must have earned a 3.0 grade point average for the previous semester and maintained a 3.0 cumulative average during his academic career.
The ACC men's team includes 21 student-athletes and they are all identified in the press release. In a 15 team league, that means that each school should have placed 1.4 players on the unit if the academic talent is evenly distributed. Then again, talent is often concentrated on the best teams -- that certainly happens with the all-conference teams selected based on athletic performance on the court.

What caught my eye in this story was the unusual concentration of academic talent on one team. One-third of the team members, seven players, are on the University of Louisville roster: "Earning the honor for the Cardinals are Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell, Anton Gill, Mangok Mathiang, Chinanu Onuaku, Terry Rozier and Quentin Snider."

Is this a point of pride or concern? I've never had any of the named student athletes in class, so I know nothing about them and am not commenting about them in any way. In fact, in my years at Louisville, I've never had a basketball player in class. Moreover, coach Rick Pitino has occasionally praised the intelligence of some of these players. Maybe this is a genuine point of pride.

However, I've been a faculty member at Louisville since 1991. Over the years, I've heard the numbers and can confirm that the kind of grade inflation mentioned in this local report is endemic. Look at slide 19 of this PowerPoint for some real data. The graphic demonstrates that about 60% of students at the university had a GPA of 3.0 or higher in the 2011-2012 academic year. In contrast, only about 40% had a GPA of less than 3.0. A couple of thousand students had a 0 to 1.24 GPA, which realistically means they flunked out of school and would not bring the overall GPA down in the long haul. Generally, the best students stay in school and graduate.

If the average student at an institution has a GPA over 3.0, then is the ACC really recognizing academic achievement?

Interestingly, five of the seven named players are listed as Communications majors, one is Sports Administration, and the other is undeclared.

Does this mean anything? I don't know, but if I were a reporter, I can think of one topic I'd like to discuss with athletic administrators. Actually, it's not even a new concern.

I realize questions about distance education might lead to completely reasonable answers. After all, I was a double major in college and Communication Studies was one of them. More than 30 years ago, prior to the onset of distance education, several of my classes were populated by top-level debaters and athletes, including Lynette Woodard and Bucky Scribner. Debaters, who were sent out to speak weekend after weekend, were interested in communication for obvious reasons. I suspect the athletes had good reasons for their choice as well.


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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Netanyahu with a Comic Bulls-eye

On Tuesday night, The Daily Show directed its attention to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his speech to Congress. The program is simply terrific at revealing hypocrisy, inconsistency, and hyperbole. In this case, the focus was on Iran and its alleged threat to Israel and the rest of the region. As a side benefit, there is some reminiscing about the buildup to the Iraq war:


Jon Stewart is an American institution and I'm going to miss him when he departs the award-winning program.


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars for 2014 Films

oscars academy awards The Academy Award ceremonies are tonight and my wife and I have been using some of our leisure time these past few weeks to view nominated films and acting performances. Regular readers may recall that I saw only two of the films nominated for best picture during the 2014 calendar year. Until 2015, I didn't see many of the nominated acting performances either.

In any case, based on my post-nomination efforts to see most of the contenders, I'm going to rank-order the films and acting performances. Obviously, this is my completely subjective perspective -- and not an ideal way to think about art. Plus, I can only rank the performances I watched. That is a big limit since I failed to see one of the Oscar-nominated Best Picture nominees and I've yet to see many of the acting performances.

Keep in mind that these are not my predictions about winners in each category. Go to the Hollywood Stock Exchange if you want predictions based upon betting markets. Spoiler Alert: Birdman is the favorite for Best Picture, though supporting actor J.K. Simmons seems to be the biggest favorite in any of the major categories.

Note: Last year, if I recall correctly, Netflix had 4 of the 5 top documentaries available to stream prior to the Oscars. However, this year, their own film Virunga is nominated and that is the only one available on the service.

Note 2: Films and performances shaded in yellow below will indicate additions/edits after the Oscars (and the original blog posting).

Best picture

Boyhood
Selma **
Birdman **
The Imitation Game **
Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel **
American Sniper


Comment: Selma is a very powerful film, but so is Boyhood in a completely different way. Some of the writing could have been a bit sharper in Selma, but the acting was first-rate. I liked Birdman, but did not find it to be as compelling as those two other films. Ida, nominated as a foreign film, is a better movie than most of the films on this list.

Frankly, I do not see the appeal of American Sniper. Bradley Cooper did a fine job as Chris Kyle, but the film failed to reveal the FUBAR nature of the Iraq war from 2003 to 2009. Kyle's four tours during this period are noted, but without the dates or other context. There are only vague hints of the changing US tactics and public justifications for the war. Anyone learning about the war from this film might think the entire conflict was about confronting the evil of AQI, even though AQI did not exist before the US invasion. As in The Hurt Locker, the main character is quite competent at his specific job. However, that film did a fine job revealing the problematic nature of the Iraq war through the character study. American Sniper really didn't. The best Clint Eastwood war film remains Letters from Iwo Jima.

Best director

Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Alejandro G Inarritu (Birdman)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum  (The Imitation Game)

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Best actor in a Leading Role

Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

Comment: Where is David Oyelowo? He would be my winner.

Best actress in a Leading Role

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) **
Reese Witherspoon (Wild) **
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)

Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Best Documentary Feature

Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof and Charlie Siskel)
Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara)

CitizenFour (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky)
Last Days in Vietnam (Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester)
The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier)

Comment: Finding Vivian Maier is on my DVR and CitizenFour premieres Monday February 23 on HBO. I'll know more about this category very soon.

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida

Leviathan
Tangerines
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

Comment: Ida is the overwhelming favorite and a very potent film, but I also look forward to seeing Wild Tales based on the buzz.


** I saw these films in the theater.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

The French Minister (Quai d’Orsay)



The University of Louisville is currently in the midst of its annual French Film Festival. Unfortunately, two screenings of the film I've been most wanting to see, The French Minister (Quai d’Orsay), were canceled last night because of bad weather. The entire University was closed for extreme cold. Yesterday's 5 pm screening was supposed to be followed by a discussion with French professor Matthieu Dalle, and I'm hoping that will occur today at the 2 pm screening.

Here's the film's synopsis from IMDB:
Alexandre Taillard de Vorms is tall and impressive, a man with style, attractive to women. He also happens to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the land of enlightenment: France. With his silver mane and tanned, athletic body, he stalks the world stage, from the floor of the United Nations in New York to the powder keg of Oubanga. There, he calls on the powerful and invokes the mighty to bring peace, to calm the trigger-happy, and to cement his aura of Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-waiting. Alexandre Taillard de Vorms is a force to be reckoned with, waging his own war backed up by the holy trinity of diplomatic concepts: legitimacy, lucidity and efficacy. He takes on American neo-cons, corrupt Russians and money-grabbing Chinese. Perhaps the world doesn't deserve France's magnanimousness, but his art would be wasted if just restricted to home turf. Enter the young Arthur Vlaminck, graduate of the elite National School of Administration, who is hired as head of "language" at the foreign ministry. In other words, he is to write the minister's speeches. But he also has to learn to deal with the sensibilities of the boss and his entourage, and find his way between the private secretary and the special advisers who stalk the corridors of the Quai d'Orsay - the ministry's home - where stress, ambition and dirty dealing are the daily currency. But just as he thinks he can influence the fate of the world, everything seems threatened by the inertia of the technocrats.
Update February 22: The film reminded me in structure of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Basically, the film devoted about half of the narrative to the farcical politics of the French Foreign Ministry and half to the speechwriter’s domestic situation (where important political issues were also revealed in a personal manner). Both films generally ended happily for the ordinary people featured in the stories. No actor in the film played two roles, but the speechwriter literally provided the words for the Foreign Minister's closing address (and in previous speeches).

The parallel to Chaplin's classic film are not perfect. The Foreign Minister character was played for laughs throughout the film, but he was not a power-mad dictator. He was imagined as a slightly foolish political bureaucrat with intellectual interests. Indeed, the Minister's basic three talking points from the first meeting with the speechwriter were reflected in the final speech. I think the filmmaker could be suggesting that these key principles were so obvious and basic that even a fool could identify them right away -- the need for responsibility, unity, and efficacy. Somehow, the neocons and Bush managed to miss these elemental truths as they planned the Iraq war.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fear and Technology

In my graduate course, we've been talking a good deal about the role fear plays in international politics. Though war is on the decline and the risks of dying of terrorism are tiny for most North Americans, public policymakers continually invoke fears about other states or terrorist groups to promote preferred policies and to justify unnecessarily high levels of defense spending.

In the February 2 edition of The Nation, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow discusses the role of information technology in fomenting fear. Basically, there's always bad news somewhere and our connectivity makes it possible to know about it:
We don’t have less time than ever; on the contrary, life expectancy has steadily increased. What we have, at this latest point so far in human history, is more of so much else—more people, more books, more cultural products of every kind, in addition to the staggering volume of online content. We feel ever more acutely the mismatch between available time and all the possible ways we could spend it. Population growth has overlooked effects: even if Steven Pinker is right that per capita violence has declined, something horrible is always happening to someone, and thanks to our ICTs [information and communications technologies], we’re going to hear about it in “real time.” This fosters a sense of relentless drama, of the world spiraling out of control, and chronic low-grade anxiety. 
...Too much of life is spent in the same essential way: clicking and typing and scrolling, liking and tweeting, assimilating the latest horrors from the news.



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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Dylan v. Haggard


Bob DylanMerle Haggard 6478


Friday night, Bob Dylan delivered a half hour speech at the MusiCares Person of the Year event. He used much of his time to thank some other artists and performers, though he made news with some criticism of others:
"Merle Haggard didn't even think much of my songs. I know he didn't. He didn't say that to me, but I know way back when he didn't. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. 
"Together Again, that's Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard? If you had to have somebody's blessing, you can figure it out."
Merle Haggard responded to this apparent slight with grace (see this tweet):
"I've admired your songs since 1964," the 77-year-old singer of country classics like Branded Man and I'm a Lonesome Fugitive said on his Facebook page Saturday. Haggard added that he and Willie Nelson have cut Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's All Right for an upcoming album.
Moreover, in October 2013, Haggard told an interviewer that he was doing a tribute album to Dylan. He was asked "Q: What draws you to Bob Dylan's music?"
Haggard: I've always been drawn to his music, since when he first came out in 1964. I was just beginning my career as well at that time. But I've come to find out that he's a been a Merle Haggard fan and he was watching what I was doing while I was watching what he was doing. I've always thought he was one of the better writers that I've been fortunate enough to be alive at the same time with.
My friend and neighbor Michael Young, the host of WFPK's "Roots n' Boots" radio show, is one of the world's biggest Haggard fans and his reaction was stronger than Haggard's. After all, as his bio says, Mike "firmly believes Merle Haggard is the greatest songwriter of our generation, and he’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table and shout it." Tonight, Mike played a number of Haggard songs on his program for "no special reason," though he laughed after saying that. His Facebook feed offers an explanation: "Tempted to play nothing but Merle Haggard today in light of Dylan's dis of the Hag, but I don't think I could get away with that. How about 5 Haggard songs that are better than anything Dylan ever wrote?"

I'm thinking this entire dust-up is just Dylan's sense of humor on display.

In 1986, in Interview magazine, Dylan was asked to list "Clubs I belong to." One of his 6 answers was "Merle Haggard Fan Club."

And this is from Haggard's bio on the Rolling Stone website: "Merle Haggard has always been as deep as it gets," said Bob Dylan. "Totally himself. Herculean. He definitely transcends the country genre."


Actually, that quote is taken from a long 2009 piece by Jason Fine quoted in full in this tweet:
"Merle Haggard has always been as deep as deep gets," says Bob Dylan. "Totally himself. Herculean. Even too big for Mount Rushmore. No superficiality about him whatsoever. He definitely transcends the country genre. If Merle had been around Sun Studio in Memphis in the Fifties, Sam Phillips would have turned him into a rock & roll star, one of the best. I'm sorta glad he didn't do it, though, because then he'd be on the oldies circuit singing his rock  roll hits instead of becoming the Merle Haggard we all know and love."
In 2005, Dylan asked Haggard to tour with him. Incidentally, this is what Haggard told  Billboard in an interview about that tour:
Q: How did this tour with Bob Dylan come about? 
A: I had my itinerary set to do some light touring in the spring and ease my way through the year, and Bob Dylan calls and wants me to tour America with him. And he's not just talking about once and awhile, it's 40 out of the next 60 days. But it's Bob Dylan, and Bob Dylan's the Einstein of music. He calls and wants you to be on his show and your name is Merle Haggard, you're honored. 
Q: I've heard that most people who tour with Dylan don't get a chance to talk to him, but I imagine he'll talk to you at some point. 
A: I don't know. I've rubbed shoulders with him before and he just sorta grunts.
Maybe Dylan was just making some news and selling some records for both geezers?

Flickr photo credits: Nesster (Haggard) and F. Antolín Hernández (Dylan)

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday dog blogging

My youngest daughter took this picture earlier this month.

The word she uttered to get them to pose? Treat.



That's Robey on the left and Paddy on the right.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

SABR Day

Chris Burke
Photo credit: TJ Perreira on Flickr. 
Today was SABR Day 2015, an annual Saturday in January event featuring local SABR chapter meetings across the United States. I attended the one in Louisville at 10 this morning.

The guest speaker was former major league player Chris Burke, who delivered a worthwhile presentation.  I especially appreciated the fact that he answered our questions fairly directly, even when they involved controversial subjects such as steroid use in baseball.  Burke grew up in Louisville, played his college baseball at Tennessee (All-American SS on the runner-up College World Series finalist team) and then had a fairly significant role on a Houston Astros team that made the World Series in 2005. In the NLDS that season, he hit the series winning home run in the 18th inning of game 4.

After Burke finished and departed, I gave a presentation: "Can Small Market Teams Compete? Revisited." That link takes you to my PowerPoint. As the title suggests, this was a much updated version of a talk I gave to the same local SABR chapter in April 2000.

My 2000 presentation focused on the Oakland A's, much as Michael Lewis did in his 2003 book Moneyball. However, today's talk focused on the 2014 Kansas City Royals, the first small market team to make the World Series since Cleveland did it in 1997. For my talk, I defined the smallest handful of cities as small market: Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Oakland shares the Bay area with San Francisco, but is often viewed as small market.

While the A's of 15 years ago emphasized on-base percentage, college pitchers, and "Ken Phelps All Stars" (such as Geronimo Berroa and Matt Stairs), the 2014 Royals apparently identified new market inefficiencies: multiple hard-throwing short relievers, terrific outfield defense, fly-ball pitch-to-contact starters, and an all-star quality catcher.

Dr. Rodger Payne


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Friday, January 16, 2015

New Look

Readers probably noticed the new banner and other minor blog updates -- the former made fairly easily thanks to Picmonkey. Once again, the photos are courtesy of government websites, so should not involve any copyright issues:



The last update occurred in 2010. 


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Samantha Power in Louisville

I attended this talk by Samantha Power on Monday at the University of Louisville:


I'm not sure UN Ambassador Power said anything really new about American foreign policy, but news reports tended to emphasize two points -- her call for bipartisan foreign policy and her argument against new Congressionally-imposed sanctions on Iran.

If you were not paying close attention, her arguments about the value of economic sanctions seemed to be inconsistent. She criticized the economic embargo against Cuba, claiming that after more than 50 years of failure, the Obama administrations simply wants the U.S. to try a new approach. Yet, at the same time, she praised the success of economic sanctions against Burma (a pet issue of host Senator Mitch McConnell) and other recent sanctions against Iran.

Power argued that unilateral sanctions on Cuba had failed, while collective sanctions on Iran had succeeded. She didn't really talk about this distinction vis-a-vis Burma, but I know the EU also sanctioned Myanmar (Burma). On Cuba:
Even though the Castro regime has been repressing the Cuban people for decades, it is America that has been seen as Goliath picking a fight with David. I’ve seen this first-hand at the United Nations. Last October, for the 23rd year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Out of the UN’s 193 member-states, we were only one of two that voted to defend the embargo.
As for Iran, Power argued that the international sanctions regime is largely responsible for bringing Iran to the bargaining table, where it seems willing to limit its ability to produce nuclear weapons. However, new sanctions would backfire, undermining the collective sanctions that she claimed are "exponentially more effective than bilateral sanctions alone."
If we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves. We go from a position of collective strength to a position of individual weakness.
All of these points were framed around a theme of bipartisanship. Power repeatedly emphasized that Republicans and Democrats in Washington fundamentally agreed about the goals of American foreign policy, even as they disagreed about the means to achieve them:
But what is often lost in the coverage of these debates is the fact that they’re disputes about means, not ends; about tactics, not objectives; about how America can tackle complex global challenges, and not whether we ought to try. As Thomas Jefferson once put it, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
In the introductory remarks, University of Louisville President James Ramsey introduced a visiting Army War College Fellow who is auditing my graduate IR seminar this spring.


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