Thursday, September 30, 2010

cyberbullying from Michigan state attorney's office

This is insane: an assistant attorney general in Michigan is in the middle of a massive cyberbullying/stalking campaign against the student body president of the University of Michigan because the kid is gay.

He's protested outside the kid's house. He leaves comments all over the kid's blog, and harasses his friends. He keeps a blog about the kid and shows pictures of him with rainbow flags with swastikas in the middle.

And he's an Assistant Attorney General of the state of Michigan.

Gliese 530g, where the "g" stands for Goldilocks

Astronomers at UC-Santa Cruz find a habitable planet. It orbits a dwarf star in the Libra constellation.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

food stamp Cadillacs

A look at what you can actually buy with current ($4.50/day/person) and soon-to-be-cut food stamps. Doesn't look much like living high on the hog to me.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Speaking of Saturday's game, best wishes to Spartan coach Mark Dantonio on a speedy recovery. He was admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack just a few minutes after making one of the ballsiest calls I've ever seen in college football, a field goal fake from the wrong side of the 30 yard line in overtime after ND had already gone and scored its own FG.

That takes some serious cajones, coach.

we only lose because the refs make us

Here is one will likely end up being the inaugural post of the series "what Kelly said". Yeah, maybe there should have been a delay of game penalty on the fake field goal attempt. It doesn't matter, though, because in any game there are going to be occasional bad calls. If the defense had properly covered Gantt the play clock wouldn't be an issue. If the Irish had played better than Michigan State during regulation, that play would never have happened in the first place.

The fact is that the Irish were not robbed. Michigan State played as well or better than Notre Dame, with more total yards and fewer turnovers. They won that game.

We're at an uncomfortable moment in this season because ND was played to a stalemate by a middling Big 10 team while at full strength (unlike last game when we gave Michigan a free half to pull ahead). If you had asked Irish fans at the beginning of the season if they expected the team to be about that good, a middling Big 10 team, a potentially dangerous opponent for most outfits but not really competitive with the league's elite, they probably would have agreed. Confirmation of your team's mediocrity still hurts, though, no matter how accurately you predicted it.

I think the most common prediction I heard a month ago was 8-4 on the season. I think we're able to establish ND's relative strength with the last game, though, and with USC, Stanford, Pitt, Utah, and Boston College still on the docket, escaping with only 4 losses would be miraculous. Barring significant progress in the secondary and running game, I'm ready to predict a 5-7 season, picking up one of these tough ones (we shouldn't be favored in any of them) but dropping another to one of the patsies.

It's ok, though. I said at the end of last season that ND should land a great coach and give him time, because building a great team often means making systemic changes to the current one. Weis' teams were highly talented but overwrought, underconditioned, weak on fundamentals (tackling in space, anyone?), and lacking in confidence. It takes time to remedy those issues, especially the last one.

I know it sounds corny and fanboyish, but I have confidence in Brian Kelly in the long run.

Friday, September 17, 2010

overthinking it

Marc Ambinder:
Why did Democrats take a beating for passing a health care bill that was very similar in form to what Republican intellectuals had been urging for more than a decade? Because the Tea Party, conservative independents and Republicans have moved the political center to the right--marginally on a 0 to 100 scale, but enough to tip the scale away from Democrats. The electoral environment favors economic libertarians, and the Tea Party movement (or the conservative movement) has organized itself in such a way that really excites conservatives, while liberals, at a disadvantage ideologically (in the sense that conservatism has always been more organized and less diverse) cannot, as they did in 2008, build a tent around a larger coalition.

Holy hodgepodge of tendentious analogies, Batman!

The answer to why Democrats took a beating on HCR is actually quite simple. It's the same reason, in fact, that they took a beating on the stimulus and the bailouts.

They didn't listen to their base: liberals.

Liberals, not unions or minorities or women, are the engine of Democratic PR and campaign operations. They are the ones who send in letters to the editor and mount demonstrations and write on their shitty little blogs like this one. They're the ones who talk on cable news shows and fund commercials and 527s. They're the ones who get excited about politics and talk to their family and friends and argue Democratic policies and win converts.

Liberals by and large feel somewhere between disappointed and betrayed by the Obama Administration, and find their Senate delegation and its leader hopelessly gunshy. Despite Jonathan Chait et al.'s insistence that Barack Obama is "the most effective liberal president in at least four decades," it does not escape liberals that their president and massive, filibuster-proof majorities in Congress have so far given them Mitt Romney's health care plan, George W. Bush's tax cuts and bank bailouts, and were last seen working on Ronald Reagan's environmental regulation system. They are in general agreement that Barack Obama and Harry Reid gave away the store on health care with the public option. They worry that Obama screwed any liberal that will ever want to talk economics again by pushing a doomed stimulus plan that was less than half the size it needed to be, and nearly half of which was composed of inefficient tax cuts rather than public projects that keep people employed, giving the appearance of a Keynesian response but not enough oomph to sustain the recovery. They are sore that he wrote blank checks for Wall Street after its irresponsibility and craven behavior nearly destroyed the economy, but had no solution for putting people to work. They are outraged that he never fought for cramdown, and that his only attempt to deal with the housing market (HAMP) turned out to be not just unhelpful but downright predatory, cajoling people into staying in their homes just long enough for their lenders to squeeze a little more blood from their stones before evicting them anyway. And they are horrified by the Administration's war on whistleblowers, embrace of indefinite detentions, and decision to co-opt all of President Bush's illegal "war powers" rather than restore the Rule of Law.

And when they had the temerity to say something, the White House Press Secretary openly mocked them on national television. Mocked them, after all those hours and doors and phone calls and personal checks. Is there any other voting bloc in the country, any at all, that is ever openly derided by their own politicians?

Now we're a month and a half from the midterms and Democrats are wondering why they have no support, no volunteers, no campaign donations, and no one is applauding their policies on TV. It's a hell of a lot harder to motivate your base when they give you everything, and then two years later all you can say is, "at least I'm not the other guy, right?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010


To quote a current internet fad, I'm so old I remember when "anti-colonialism" was part of the American consensus.

I am amazed and horrified at this place where we have found ourselves, where Americans are so "white hot" with racist rage and existential anxiety that we have these kinds of attacks being launched at the president on a seemingly daily basis by people who are proffered as "thoughtful conservatives" by the press, and these are the more benign mutterings of the white right. Sizable groups of influential people are openly arguing that Muslims should not be allowed to build mosques in the United States and do not deserve First Amendment protections, and Patriot Day has become essentially an anti-Muslim holiday. And the demonstrations and even arson at mosques all over the country, my God! One side of the political spectrum has openly embraced ethnic discrimination.

Friday, September 10, 2010

learning something ugly about yourself

Over the last several days, I've been processing an event from earlier in the week. I should preface by saying that I've always thought myself fairly enlightened on matters of race compared with many white people (of course, I suppose all white people probably believe that). Unlike a great many whites I know, I don't live in denial of my own latent racist tendencies, or of the benefits I have personally derived from white privilege. I live in a mixed neighborhood, and by choice. I'm politically left on matters of race, from affirmative action to prison reform and the War on Drugs. For a white person, I think I'm pretty well read in terms of African American literature.

So to the matter at hand: on Tuesday I was surfing the intarwebs, and I came across a series of Harvard tests on implicit associations and preferences. Just for kicks, I decided to take the race one. After about 5 minutes, the results were in.

According to the test, I have a "strong" preference for white faces over black, stronger than most white respondents.

What does that mean? Does it mean I'm more racist than most people? At first I thought, "well, I went to pretty segregated schools for the most part, and there aren't a ton of black people in my profession, so maybe it's just that I don't have as much experience with black people as others." That isn't true, though, nor is it relevant. It means exactly what it looks like: I associate white faces with good qualities and black faces with bad more than most white respondents. Are my southern upbringing and, shall we say, "racially insensitive" parents to blame? Maybe, but does it matter?

What do I do with that? People on all sides of the political and racial spectrum deride "white guilt," but shouldn't I feel guilty about this? Shouldn't I feel convicted, to borrow a less ambiguous term from theology? I suppose "should" doesn't really matter. I do.

Perhaps I could counteract this subconscious malady of mine by interacting with more African Americans. How would I do that, though? I know hardly any black people these days aside from a few of my neighbors, with whom I have little or nothing in common and who all have busy family lives. I don't work closely with any, and I could probably count on one hand the number of black people who even work in my giant academic library. There are none in my wider circle of friends or in their circles. I don't share the religious tastes of most African Americans, so church is out of the question. The only obvious place I can go to socialize with black people is the bar down the street, which I've made a point to avoid because a) drinking at bars is expensive, and b) it allows smoking inside, which makes me smell like an ashtray and entices me to smoke.

It appears I've run aground against a persistent spatial segregation in America. Even when I want to hang out with black people, there are few places where our lives intersect. We have constructed separate societies for ourselves that inhibit not only necessity for interaction, but opportunity for it.

Some months ago I asked a friend of mine what it was like growing up in the segregated South (he was a kid in Tenessee in the late 50's-early 60's). What he said was that in the Tennessee he grew up in he hardly knew black people existed. Segregation wasn't about making black people use crappy water fountains or giving white people the good bus seats; it was about moving black people away so whites didn't have to interact with them. It was about not living near them, or being in the same stores and restaurants as them, or standing in line with them or sitting next to them or going to school with them.

Here I am, 50 years removed from Jim Crow in a part of the country that was never officially segregated, and suddenly I'm finding that description of 1950's Tennessee alarmingly familiar. I'm also feeling like I just saw those test results all over again.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

everything you know about learning is wrong

Fascinating. Part of the reason I like this article, admittedly, is it validates my long-held theory that all this "what type of learner are you?" stuff I keep encountering in my classes is pop psychology bulls**t:
Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Almost zero.

More difficult to deal with is the revelation that mixing up studying venues, rather than using the same spot every day, improves retention. I did a fair bit of this in college, taking study sessions wherever I could get them because of an unpredictable social life and work schedule, but for many students this is going to be a problem due to the importance of establishing routines to maintain discipline. People often set up a particular place and time to study because studying sucks, and things that suck are easier to keep doing once you've established a routine. Furthermore, even in college people tend to regiment their other daily activities pretty tightly, so there will be a tendency to want to do that with studying as well. We are creatures of habit.

pictures of home

I was surfing some of my Red Raider blogs this morning when I came across this picture of a dirt road somewhere in Texas. It looks very much like the area around the Caprock, about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Lubbock, but it could pass for most of the state.

I think I stared at this picture for 5 minutes, overwhelmed by nostalgia.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Netflix: the little engine that could

James Ledbetter at Slate asks why it's perennially underestimated by so many tech writers:
How nasty and wrong have the critics been? In 2005, Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, called Netflix "a worthless piece of crap with really nice people running it." Today, that worthless piece of crap has a market capitalization of $6.4 billion. In early 2007, when Netflix first announced its plans to allow subscribers to stream videos instantly—rather than wait for DVDs to arrive in the mail—esteemed tech journalist Om Malik predicted that this move would "soon be relegated to the dustbin of failed ideas." Netflix has more than doubled its subscriber base since then, and today nearly two-thirds of them use Netflix's streaming video service.
What is it about Netflix that causes critics to misread it so badly? Call it the innovator's paradox: Netflix forged an identity by building a simple business—DVD delivery by mail—that had never been done before. The very fact that this DVD-by-mail idea connected so deeply with consumers led many observers to think that was all that Netflix could or would ever do. Instead, the DVD delivery service—while still vital to Netflix's revenue—looks more like the Trojan horse of a much wider strategy designed to change how Americans watch filmed entertainment.

I find this subject fascinating as a Netflix devotee. I think the reason for Netflix's continued survival is actually pretty simple: they cultivate an almost militantly loyal fanbase. They're similar to Apple, Trader Joe's, and Costco that way. It's about brand loyalty.

They managed that by developing quality products, attention to detail, fundamentals, blah blah blah, but what binds these four companies together in particular is poached a ton of people from another company whose own customers hate them. Thus Apple gave people a way out of patronizing Microsoft, Trader Joe's has Whole Foods, and Costco has Wal Mart. Netflix, for their part, had movie rental stores in general and the loathsome Blockbuster Video in particular. Among Netflix users I knew, there was a palpable sense of foreboding when Blockbuster introduced its own mail order viewing service, because we were worried it would be better than Netflix. Not excited or curious, but worried!

That strength of brand loyalty benefits Netflix immeasurably. Many of its customers (myself included) have no interest in finding better movie services even though some may well exist. I don't investigate Redbox or any of the other interlopers fully knowing that one might be better suited or cheaper for me. I tell my friends about Netflix. I post on my crappy little blog about Netflix. And so on.

American Taliban

It's the new book by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos fame. From what I can tell, the thesis of the book is: their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.


A number of liberal voices have taken issue with Kos' book, arguing that it's an intellectual analog to the odious Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. I myself haven't read the book and don't plan to read the book; I read my share of polemics during the Bush years, and I'm done with it.

I want to point out this post on the subject from Ta-Nehisi Coates, though. Coates et al. are right: there are substantive differences between the American Right and the Taliban, those differences being pretty much everything the Taliban does that make them our enemies. Even if they reflect similar values, believing that women will be sluts if we allow them birth control is a far cry from believing that women will be sluts if we don't throw acid in their faces. Believing that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry is hardly the same as believing that gays should be executed. And of course, the Christian Right pretty rarely engages in violence in furtherance of its cause.

That being said, though, there is a grain of truth here, and that's where I'm not sure if this book does its greatest service or disservice. I can't help but think that the reason Kos is taken so much flak for this comparison is his decision to use "jihadists" instead of "Islamic fundamentalists." The two are often conflated, but they're different in the same way that (to break my own rule and use an analogy) Christian fundamentalists and abortion clinic bombers are different. Just because there are Christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics, it doesn't mean that Christian fundamentalists as a rule want to bomb clinics or agree with bombing clinics. For all the right wing bluster about "the left" being in bed with Islamists, the group in America with the most in common with Islamic fundamentalists is undeniably Christian fundamentalists.

The difference between our fundies and their fundies is one of degree rather than one of quality. So yes, the Christian Right does not believe gays should be executed, but they do believe that they are undeserving of the full rights of straight people. They may not force their women to wear hijabs or burqas, but they do believe in patriarchy, teaching their daughters that a woman's place is in the home and that the husband is the king of the household. They may not want Sharia law, but they do want more religion in our laws. They share very similar views of "decadent" liberals and atheists. They both approve of the use of torture. They agree that Iraq and Afghanistan are battles in the great clash of Christianity vs. Islam. They both agree that we should go to war over Israel.

Does Kos' book "move the Overton window" allowing for discussion of these similarities in respectable circles, or does it delegitimize any and all comparisons by association in the same way that Dan Rather's false documents rendered any discussion of Bush's special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard verboten? I'd like to see the former, but I fear the latter.


That's the number of total yards Hawaii racked up against USC last night. Hawaii.

Know hope.