Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 12, 2014

Two Years

Brooklyn Museum - The Voice in the Desert (La voix dans le désert) - James Tissot - overall

Today marks two years since we started this blog.

I don’t post as often as I would like, but on the whole it has been a positive experience.

Since I started blogging here, I post fewer items on Facebook. My friends and relatives are probably grateful that I no longer clutter their newsfeeds with quite as much esoterica.

What have I learned? Lots, I’m certain. One item: some of my most viewed (and most popular) posts are those that are largely link collections and quotes of other people’s writing. As for posts that are principally my own writing, on the other hand – well…

Also, I get much more interest in, and feedback on, posts dealing with science fiction or Game of Thrones compared to posts dealing with Supreme Court precedents or strategies for appellate arguments. I know: huge surprise.

Have a good weekend, y’all.

Image Credit: James Tissot, The Voice in the Desert, circa 1890. Watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. Source: Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 11, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Albrecht Dürer 108

Albrecht Dürer, Lobster [sic], 1495.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

- Sen. John McCain
December 9, 2014

(H/T: Burt Likko.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 10, 2014

Assorted Links for Wednesday

1. Well, that’s not so good: “More problems for bees: we’ve wiped out their favorite plants”: “scientists concluded that loss of preferred host plants is one of the main factors responsible for wild bee decline…”

2. Alex Tabarrok on Facebook vs. Apple as business models: “Facebook doesn’t charge its customers so relative to Apple it has a greater interest in increasing the number of customers even if that means degrading the quality. As a result, Facebook has more users than Apple but no one loves Facebook. Facebook is broadcast television and Apple is HBO.”

3. Bad Advice from Pinterest. (H/T: Ann Althouse.)

4. Dahlia Lithwick on briefing the Supreme Court about rap music.

5. Noah Smith: Five Reasons Japan Could Not Have Won WWII.

6. Derek Lowe on regional variation in Iranian cuisine (with parallels to Southern cooking): “it seems that Iranian food is one of those cuisines that varies so much from region to region (and household to household) that it’s hard to put up a recipe without causing a fight of some sort. The closest situation to that in America is with barbecue – what one part of the country considers the pinnacle of the art would be rated as the next thing to cannibalism somewhere else. And so it is with Iranians. Common phrases include ‘Oh, well, so-and-so doesn’t know how to cook (Dish X) the right way’, or ‘They don’t know how to make any decent (insert whole swath of cuisine) in (insert Iranian city or region), anyway’. Add in some ‘Well, you used to be able to get good (type of food), but you can’t any more’, and I can see how my Southern upbringing blends with my wife’s Iranian one pretty smoothly.”

7. Dwight Eisenhower’s eggnog recipe. You’re welcome. (H/T: Erik Loomis, LGM.)

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | December 10, 2014

This Season’s College Football Bowl Selections…

…on the whole are OK but in a few specific instances leave me disappointed.

Duke is going all the way to El Paso to play Arizona State. How am I supposed to get excited about that?

Tennessee is playing Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly the Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville, Florida. Meh.

On the bright side, Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Liberty Bowl, Memphis) and Georgia vs. Louisville (Belk Bowl, Charlotte) could be fun to watch.

Notre Dame and LSU are playing in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Both of those teams have been pretty bad this year (compared to their typical performances), so there could be a certain perverse fascination in watching two bad teams go at each other.

The Orange Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech) should be good. Likewise the Cotton Bowl (Michigan State vs. Baylor). Arizona is going to devour Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Meanwhile, for some time, I have been in favor of an eight-team playoff, but this post by Andrew Sharp has almost convinced me that a four-team playoff is better. (“Eight teams would make the regular season less dramatic and the playoff too watered down and random. Even six teams would be overkill. But four is perfect. Four guarantees that a couple of deserving teams will get screwed in the end, and in the meantime, that only makes things more dramatic. Four is why I’ve spent the last eight Saturdays obsessing over college football.”)

I might have different feelings if I were a TCU or Baylor fan.

(Speaking of which: the clear course ahead for the Big 12 is to invite two more teams into the conference and have a conference championship game. BYU, Colorado State, and North Dakota State seem like schools that might be receptive to an offer; any two of them would be logical additions to bring the Big 12 back up to, um, twelve schools.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 9, 2014

Tuesday Art Blogging: Blue Horses

Marc, Franz - Blue Horse I - Google Art Project

Franz Marc, Blue Horse I, 1911.

Marc was born in Munich in 1880. In his twenties, he spent time studying in Paris, where he developed a “strong affinity” for the work of Vincent van Gogh (Wikipedia’s words).

Franz Marc 029a

Franz Marc, The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913.

Marc enlisted in the German Army as a cavalryman in 1914. Two years later, during the Battle of Verdun, a shell splinter struck him in the head, killing him instantly. He was 36.

In the comments to this post, Anderson draws our attention to Eric Carle’s The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, which looks like it might make a good Christmas gift for preschoolers.

Franz Marc 005

Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horses, 1911.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 9, 2014

The Torture Report

The Executive Summary of the Report on CIA Torture, commissioned by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is here (PDF, 525 pages).

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald have both been live-blogging reactions to the report’s contents throughout the day.

At Reason, Scott Shackford has some highlights. So does Tim Cushing at TechDirt (and see also this post).

Dan Froomkin has a list of caveats to bear in mind while reading the Report (e.g., the CIA redacted portions; the investigation “was extremely narrow in its focus”; torture “was hardly limited to the CIA”; etc.).

Meanwhile, Dan Drezner skewers the argument that releasing this report endangers US forces in the field or American national security more broadly.

Writing at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison echoes Drezner and makes some additional good points. (H/T: Thus Blogged Anderson.)

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | December 6, 2014

Saint Nicholas


December 6 is traditionally the feast day, in the Western churches, of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | December 6, 2014

College Football and Bowl Speculation

1. Living in Knoxville, I am surrounded by a fair amount of SEC bias, most especially during college football season. So, I thought it was worth noting that, last Saturday, four SEC teams played four ACC teams, and in all four games, the ACC team won (i.e., Clemson beat South Carolina, Florida State beat Florida, Louisville beat Kentucky, and Georgia Tech beat Georgia).

2. Andrea Adelson: “ACC delivers message to SEC”:

There is fact. And there is spin. And there are those who want to discredit facts with spin.

Fact: The ACC went 4-0 against the SEC on Saturday, the first time in 14 years it swept its conference rivals.

Spin: But it was against the miserable SEC East.

Fact: The ACC has more wins against Power 5 teams in 2014 than any other Power 5 conference, including four against teams ranked in the top 10 when they played.

Spin: But five of those wins came against teams with six or fewer wins.

Fact: Florida State has won 28 straight games.

Spin: But just look at the Seminoles. They have played too many close games to be the No. 1 team in the country.

Fact: The ACC has 11 bowl-eligible teams for the second straight season.

Spin: That just shows parity is alive and well in the ACC! You know what is truly impressive? Having 12 bowl-eligible teams, just like the SEC.

No other Power 5 conference is held to such a ridiculous double standard.

Please do read in full.

3. For an opposing viewpoint, see Eric Murtaugh, “SEC Bias: Why the Southeastern Conference Earns More Hype than Other Leagues.” (“Earns” seems like a pretty strong and loaded term in this context, imho.)

4. Explaining why undefeated Florida State is ranked at #4 (emphasis added):

Dropping Florida State to No. 4 means a semifinal in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against No. 1 Alabama. That is the dream matchup everybody wanted to end last season, a delicious pairing between mentor Nick Saban and mentee Jimbo Fisher.

Even if the committee decided to credit Florida State for winning all its games and place the Noles at No. 1 — WHAT A CONCEPT! — there is no way the committee could explain dropping Alabama to No. 4 without looking more foolish than it already does. Florida State playing so many ugly games gives the committee the perfect excuse to drop Florida State to No. 4 and set up the semifinal matchup everybody wants.

Interest would be off the charts. Ratings would be off the charts. Ticket sales would be greatly helped, as both fan bases can get to New Orleans without flying.

And the winner would guarantee that ratings for the national championship game would be off the charts no matter the opponent. Because both Alabama and Florida State move the needle as Darth Vader-like teams everybody outside their respective fan bases wants to lose.

Certainly a 2 vs. 3 matchup between Oregon and Florida State would be appealing, but not nearly as much. …

5. Nate Silver: 7 Teams Competing For 4 Positions.

6. Matt Hinton: Yes, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota Is That Good. (IMHO, Oregon’s fast-tempo offense could give Alabama problems; Alabama’s defense is not at its best if they can’t make substitutions).

7. SEC’s best college football memes.

8. If I had my druthers, Duke (9-3) would be playing Tennessee (6-6) in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 30.

A Music City Bowl with Tennessee vs. Louisville (9-3) would also be a fun game to watch.

But I hear that the Liberty Bowl (in Memphis) really wants to pick Tennessee. That could be cool, especially if it meant a Tennessee vs. West Virginia game.

I’m not excited about the prospect of Duke going back to the Belk Bowl (Duke went to that bowl in 2012).

For some ACC bowl projections, see this Patrick Stevens post. See also here. (H/T for the second link: Jared Shanker, ESPN.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 5, 2014

Book Reviews

1. At Howl at Pluto, LFC reviews The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It, by David A. Bell:

The intensification of warfare during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period reflected, Bell maintains, a change in the prevailing “culture of war,” from one that assumed war was an unexceptional, normal phenomenon to one that viewed war in apocalyptic terms: “A vision of war as utterly exceptional — as a final, cleansing paroxysm of violence — did not simply precede the total war of 1792-1815. It helped, decisively, to bring it about” (p.316). He argues that a mindset that demonizes enemies and presents conflicts in stark good-vs.-evil terms continues to affect the way Western societies prosecute wars. Clearly this argument is influenced, perhaps overly influenced, by the rhetoric of the G.W. Bush administration, during which The First Total War was written. Bell refers to Carl Schmitt a few times, and those who see the “war on terror” as a “Schmittian moment” will find support for their position here. The book’s value, however, lies perhaps not so much in its main thesis as in the wide range that it covers, from works of philosophy to poems and paintings to rhetoric to battles and strategy, and in its effort to draw connections among these.

2. In the Literary Review, John Gray reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy:

In his two-volume blockbuster Fukuyama is looking for an overall pattern in history that, while leaving room for human choice, normally eventuates in democratic government. In The Origins of Political Order (2011), a 600-page door-stopper, he pursued his quest from pre-human primate hierarchies up to the French Revolution. Now we have another 600-page opus, which takes the story up to the present time. There are no surprises in this concluding volume: while it may now be in some difficulties and its ultimate triumph is not predetermined, liberal democracy continues to be the universal destination of humankind. ‘The study of “development”,’ he writes, is ‘not just an endless catalog of personalities, events, conflicts, and policies. It necessarily centers around the process by which political institutions emerge, evolve, and eventually decay.’

The telltale word here, and throughout the two volumes, is ‘evolve’. For Fukuyama, as for many other modern thinkers, today and in the past, political development is an evolutionary process. What drives this process is never specified; if there is a social equivalent of the natural selection of genetic mutations, we learn no more about its workings from Fukuyama than we did from Karl Marx or Herbert Spencer, who produced similar speculations in the 19th century. It is never explained why political evolution should have any particular end state, nor why the process should involve the convergence of institutions. As it operates among species, evolution shows no such tendency. Drift and diversity, punctuated by extinction, are the normal state of affairs. Why should evolution in society – if there is such a thing – be any different?

The answer, of course, is that Fukuyama takes for granted that the end point of political development is the system of government he prefers. As he puts it here and in the previous volume, the problem that most of the world faces is ‘getting to Denmark’ – where ‘Denmark’ means not the actual country but ‘an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption’. He sees many of the humanitarian and military interventions of Western governments as bungling attempts to promote this imaginary society: ‘The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealized places like “Denmark,” but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring this about.’ Oddly, Fukuyama omits Iraq from his list of Western failures. The reason for all of these fiascos, however, is clear: ‘We don’t understand how Denmark itself came to be Denmark and therefore don’t comprehend the complexity and difficulty of political development.’

(H/T: Morgan Meis, 3 Quarks Daily.)

3. At First Things, Kate Havard reviews Redeeming “The Prince”: The Meaning of Machiavelli’s Masterpiece, by Maurizio Viroli:

Viroli says that the most important chapter in The Prince is the last, “Exhortation to Seize Italy and to Free Her From the Barbarians.” Here, Machiavelli calls for a leader to rise up against foreign oppressors to create an Italy whole and free. This is the project of the Prince, Viroli argues, and it is a project so beautiful that any means are appropriate to secure it.

This is an audacious claim because the Exhortation is usually regarded as the worst and least interesting chapter in the book. For those who love Machiavelli for his cynicism, the fervor, patriotism, and piety in the Exhortation is puzzling. Was Machiavelli forced to include it? Was he merely shilling for a job? Is this some kind of trick? Is somebody being esoteric?

Viroli says no. When a book is as spare and carefully constructed as The Prince, it is unwise to dismiss any of it as superfluous. It’s especially unwise to dismiss its final chapter as meaningless, because, of course, this is the book where Machiavelli advises all men to “look to the end” for ultimate guidance.

(H/T: Andrew Sullivan.)

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