Thursday, May 24, 2012

Geek News: Senator Ron Wyden Slams Cybersecurity Legislation Proposals For Eroding Trust & Privacy

We killed SOPA/PIPA, but now there's CISPA with its assault on privacy.  Check out what Senator Wyden (D-Oregon) has to say: "CISPA is an example of what not to do."  Again: Privacy should be the default, not the exception.  Remember this?

Nerd Journal: Off to See the Fam!

I probably won't be posting much for the next week or so.  I'm off to see the family, yay!  The Minerva Mob and I intend on eating until we explode.  Soundtrack goodness after the fold:

Nerd News: the Quebec Student Protests

The New York Times has an op-ed about tuition hikes and student strikes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perhaps This Would Be Less Hilarrible If We Consider It "Stereotype-Busting"

You know that stereotype of Canadians being sweet, polite Boy Scouts?  Never mind.

Seriously, you almost have to be impressed by the sheer lunatic bad behavior of it all.  As the snarky headline says: "Two Canadian Youth Lacrosse Teams Had The Most Insane Sports Fight Ever: Complete with bare-knuckle boxing, spearing, flipping off parents in the crowd, fighting referees, and both benches clearing."

Way to go, Coquitlam Adanacs (I have no idea what that even means) and Nanaimo Timbermen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nerdworld Soundtrack: Back to the 70s

I'll never get tired of watching the 2000 high school football flick Remember the Titans.  I'll review it properly for you sometime (short version: Denzel - nuff said), but for tonight I'll just say that I have it on while I'm working because it has a fabulous soundtrack.  The flick is set in 1971, and it chooses its music accordingly.  Right now the Hollies are singing "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)."  Man, people had awesome music before I was alive!  And now that I'm here I get ... Justin Bieber.

LOL: Definitely Not Vegan

The HHS Mandate, the Catholic Lawsuit, and "We're All Catholics Now"

Here are a few more thoughts about the massive slate of 12 lawsuits filed yesterday by 43 Catholic institutions including the University of Notre Dame. Blurbs:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nerd News: University of Notre Dame Joins Catholic Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

Here is some context.  Here is Notre Dame's legal complaint.  Here is a statement from the university president, Fr. John Jenkins:
Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about:  it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services.  Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.  As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.  And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.  We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings. We have engaged in conversations to find a resolution that respects the consciences of all and we will continue to do so. 
This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.  For if we concede that the Government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions.  For if one Presidential Administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another Administration will do the same for another very different set of policies, each time invoking some concept of popular will or the public good, with the result these religious organizations become mere tools for the exercise of government power, morally subservient to the state, and not free from its infringements.  If that happens, it will be the end of genuinely religious organizations in all but name.

Quote of the Day from Euroland: "The Greeks seem to have no understanding of the seriousness of their predicament."

Tragedy morphs into farce.  

Niall Ferguson on "London's Last Waltz."


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Disgustingly Cute Waterfowl Babies

It's raining men ducklings!

Quirky Asia Files: Meet Japan's First Police Cat

Has law enforcement ever been so disgustingly cute?  Look at his tiny uniform!

Press Freedom and Foreign Correspondents in China

A few thoughts (ultimate source here). It's a battle about controlling the public narrative.  Call it "media wars," and they're happening right now (here's one example). You'd have to be a fool to believe the stuff put out by Xinhua and outfits like that, but there are lots of fools.  On a related note, I've blogged before about academics trying to do research in China and being persecuted, bullied, and blacklisted

Chen Guangcheng Arrives in the US

Welcome!  Chen will now go to NYU.  I'm counting this one as a win, though there are of course still concerns about his relatives who remain in China.  On a related note: in a time when there's constant America-bashing on all sides by all kinds of people, the nonstop depiction of the US as the bad guy, I note that the entire Chen affair should clarify some points, including (a) the cruel repression of the Chinese government underneath all its glittering charm offensives, and (b) the fact that despite all the foreign policy pratfalls by US leadership, now as before (and, I hope, always) dissidents fleeing from oppression come to America (remember Fang Lizhi?).  I'm cynical about almost everything these days, but this fact coming with my Sunday morning sunshine and coffee made my non-existent heart swell.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thoughts on Israel's Image Problems

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal that attributes Israel's now-tattered reputation to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.  This piece in Foreign Policy disagrees and instead offers these other possible factors:
But I just don't buy the argument that Israel's image has eroded principally because of a dedicated campaign to delegitimize it. 
Three other factors drive Israel's very bad PR: the realities of nation-building, the image of the asymmetry of power, and Israel's own actions, which, like those of so many other countries, value short-term tactics over long-term strategy.
What do you think?  Oh, and the FP bit also gives us our quotation of the day:
Israeli founding father David Ben Gurion reflected the mood and mindset perfectly: It doesn't matter what the goyim say; what matters is what the Jews do. 
It's as true now as then as ever.

Nerd News: Students Suspended for Post-It Note Prank

Oh, come on!  Humorless killjoys get the "dirtbag" AND "dipstick du jour" tags.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DVD Movie Review: "Blue Valentine" (2010)

Heartbreak Hotel.

In this unflinching, often painful, frequently grimy study of a once-hopeful love now gone off the rails, Michelle Williams turns in a performance that won her an Oscar nomination, but it's Ryan Gosling who will ultimately break your heart.

Thoughts on Obama's Foreign Policy

Interesting.  Syria, Iran, Russia, Libya, the Arab Spring, the Arab-Israeli conflict, China ...

Rock On: Afghan Stone Carvers Defy the Taliban

Back to the Bamiyan valley (aka the scene of the crime).  Here's a great quote:
"During this course we realised we had much more ability for working with stone than we could have imagined, and we understood we can do so much more," said Jawed Mohammadi, a 20-year-old history student at the university, who used the week to chisel out a human face. "The buddhas were destroyed, but maybe we can build them again."
More of this, please.

God Help Us All - Tom Friedman's Trying to Talk About Higher Education

That is all I have to say.

New French President Hollande's Term Begins with a Bang


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thoughts on North Carolina: "How to win a culture war and lose a generation"

Here is a pretty darn sensible blog post about the recent uproar about North Carolina's voting to amend its state constitution.  Here's a piece of it:
Despite the fact that the North Carolina law already holds that marriage in the eyes of state is only between a man and a woman, an amendment was put on the ballot to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. The initiative doesn’t appear to change anything on a practical level, (though some are saying it may have unintended negative consequences on heterosexual relationships), but seems to serve primarily as an ideological statement. 
... an expensive, destructive, and impractical ideological statement.  
... it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.  
So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? 
Besides, I don't like the idea of tampering with constitutions, period.  Also a side effect of culture wars: everybody comes out looking and feeling worse, and everybody comes out more radicalized in one direction or the other - and this makes everything even worse than they were in the beginning.

Wrigley Field Delenda Est?

Check out this amusing/provocative piece.

Thanks, Captain Obvious: Iran's Stalling for Time

So just who didn't know this?  The New York Times seems to be breathlessly reporting something everybody knows:
 As Iran starts a critical round of talks over its nuclear program, its negotiating team may be less interested in reaching a comprehensive settlement than in buying time and establishing the legitimacy of its enrichment program, Iranian officials and analysts said. 
That is because though Iran finds itself under increased financial pressure from tightening sanctions, officials here argue that their fundamental approach has essentially worked. In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept. 
Well, duh.

Monday, May 14, 2012

This! Is! Madness!

This! Is! Maple Bacon Fudge!

Mark Steyn Considers Geert Wilders and the Dutch

Steyn is always fascinating.  As for Wilders, whatever else he is, he's also a lightning rod. Death threats are not okay, no matter what sort of person he might be.  As for Steyn's piece, this is how it begins:
When I was asked to write a foreword to Geert Wilders’ new book, my first reaction, to be honest, was to pass. Mr. Wilders lives under 24/7 armed guard because significant numbers of motivated people wish to kill him, and it seemed to me, as someone who’s attracted more than enough homicidal attention over the years, that sharing space in these pages was likely to lead to an uptick in my own death threats. Who needs it? Why not just plead too crowded a schedule and suggest the author try elsewhere? I would imagine Geert Wilders gets quite a lot of this. 
And then I took a stroll in the woods, and felt vaguely ashamed at the ease with which I was willing to hand a small victory to his enemies. 

Nerd Analysis: Niall Ferguson & Europe's Economic Mess


Euro Notes: That Single Currency Is Doomed?

I had my doubts about this entire enterprise, because - as you recall - Milton Friedman predicted that the euro wouldn't survive its first recession.  Of course, perhaps the idea itself of forcing all those nations into a single currency was "an incredibly stupid idea in the first place."  In a nutshell, just look at Greece and Germany.

Worst. Prom Photos. Ever.

Oh, dear.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Here's a charming Mother's Day greeting from Hugh Jackman on the set of the new film Les Misérables:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rant: Childless Unmarried Monster, Part Deux

Oh, yeah, "unmarried."  So now I might not only be a childless unmarried monster, but I might be that because I simply suck at planning!   That's even worse than being a childless unmarried monster because I'm a selfish careerist b*tch.  Thanks a lot, Jezebel:
Still, there is a difference between choosing to be childless and just waking up realizing it's happening to you. Some women know, for sure: I don't want children. Other women work, love, live, only to discover that they've crossed an unmarked border into new territory, where everything looks exactly the same, only now you're that woman who never had kids.
That's just great! Negligent barrenness.  My unused uterus isn't bearing anything aside from witness against me now.  Let me post this too while I'm at it:

Nerd News: Drezner's Weekly Picks

They're all worth a look.

Ave Atque Vale: Vidal Sassoon

I knew him as the London-born celebrity hairstylist who made people look utterly stunning (see some glorious examples), but I had no idea that he fought in Israel's war of independence and later set up an academic center for the study of anti-Semitism at Hebrew University (website here). Sassoon died in LA on May 9 at age 84.  Hail and farewell, sir.

 (OK, I confess that now I have a sudden urge to watch You Don't Mess with the Zohan.  Am I a bad person?  Probably.)

Israeli Political Unity, Iran, and Echoes of 1967

It's a huge coalition and national consensus. Krauthammer thinks it echoes 1967:
By creating the largest coalition in nearly three decades, Netanyahu is establishing the political premise for a preemptive strike, should it come to that. The new government commands an astonishing 94 Knesset seats out of 120, described by one Israeli columnist as a “hundred tons of solid concrete.” 
The wall-to-wall coalition demonstrates Israel’s political readiness to attack, if necessary. (Its military readiness is not in doubt.) 
... Those counseling Israeli submission, resignation, or just endless patience can no longer dismiss Israel’s tough stance as the work of irredeemable right-wingers. Not with a government now representing 78 percent of the country.  
Netanyahu forfeited September elections that would have given him four more years in power. He chose instead to form a national coalition that guarantees 18 months of stability — 18 months during which, if the world does not act to stop Iran, Israel will. 
And it will not be the work of one man, one party, or one ideological faction. As in 1967, it will be the work of a nation.
Does he have a point?  Here are other related thoughts and more thoughts.  So apparently Bibi is no longer quite "the loneliest man in the world"?  He did recently express impatience (and, perhaps more piquantly, skepticism) about current Iranian sanctions.  There's this from a while back (2009); I said then that I thought Netanyahu wasn't kidding, and I'm more convinced of that now than ever.  Remember his words about Iran during his spectacular address to Congress last spring: "The nightmare of nuclear terrorism ... if we don't stop it, it's coming" and, crucially, "Israel always reserves the right to defend itself."  Consider this too: Other regional players, even if they're opposed to Israel in general, are not exactly rushing to Iran's side either?  Still, here's one sobering post-strike scenario.  Argue, then, about whether the potential price of action is less horrifying than the actual price of inaction.

(You'll also notice that I'm not really going to talk about the possible "October Surprise" side effects of an Israeli strike.  This is really about Israel and Iran, not American campaign-year politics.  Things of importance do happen in the world that are not primarily about the increasingly facepalm-worthy Obama and Romney campaigns and their silly PR memes-du-jour.  Our leadership class is a joke.  Will someone school these clowns, please?)

Ridiculous: UK Poll Reveals Qualities of "the Perfect Guy"

I have no idea just how this British survey of some women was conducted and all, but it doesn't matter.  I can already tell you that the results are ludicrous. Look at this: "86% say they want a man who is sensitive, calls his mother regularly and cries during films."  Oh, please. I don't know about you, but I don't want some touchy, prissy mama's boy who likes The Notebook.

Oh, and I just love this comment left on the story:
This is ridiculous. As someone else stated, if there were a "perfect woman" poll (which there probably will be), women all over the world would be [FURIOUS]. Such a waste of time ... why did I read this article?

Hilariously Hateful: Let's Shred "Twilight"

The lovely La Parisienne and I are tickled by these two microblogs:
The first blog gloriously teaches good writing by highlighting bad writing and explaining why it's bad.  And Meyer's writing is so, so bad.

The second one is especially funny because La Parisienne had noted long ago that Pattison stated in interviews that he hates the character that he plays - the utterly creepy Edward Cullen, undead sparkles and all.  Even since then, she and I have liked the actor more.  The blog painstakingly collects every disparaging remark he's made about the franchise.  It really does seem as if the entire experience has driven him slightly mad.  It is, though, hilarious: "If Edward wasn't a fictional character and you met him in reality, he'd be one of those guys that'd be an axe murderer."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fun Video: the Hunt for Pikachu

Friday Fun: Pancake Art

Delightful and delicious!

Professor Bernard Lewis's Memoir and Valediction

Do read this and this.  Lewis is a giant.  Here's a bit of it:
Bernard Lewis beckons to us as if from the mists of legend. A poet-scholar, linguist, observer and sometime participant in the great events of the Middle East for seven decades, the London-born scholar belongs more to the world of T.E. Lawrence than to ours. At 95, his prose is translucent and his recollection luminous. 
But Notes on a Century—his personal and professional memoir—makes for sad reading, for two reasons. The first is that we will not find another like Bernard Lewis; it is a valedictory essay not just for a remarkable man but for an epoch. No university today could train a poet capable of extracting the red thread of history from the obscure orthography of official archives, or a historian-diplomat who knows the songs of a dozen peoples in their own dialects. ... The second, even sadder reason is the disappointment of Lewis’ hope for what he calls the “heirs of an old and great civilization.” 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Sino-American Relations

By Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Here's a bit of them:
It is easy to look at China's military modernization and interpret it as a dagger placed against the throat of the U.S. and its allies.  It's worth remembering, however, that China currently spends more money on internal security than defense.  Their actual capabilities in the anti-access/anti-denial area are... let's say a bit exaggerated (though growing).  Sure, Beijing wants to expand its sphere of influence -- it's a rising great power -- but it sees its greatest threats as internal rather than external. 

Nerd News: *Sigh*

Sure, that's academic freedom and room for debate - let's shut up everyone we don't like.  Let's just admit there are politically correct sacred cows about which we refuse to have an honest discussion. I do use "we" in a very loose sense of "self-identifying academics."  People like that make every denizen of Nerdworld look bad.  More here.

Focus, Please

This election season will be -- indeed IS -- full of distractions and red herrings.  FOCUS, PLEASE.  It's the economy, stupid!  

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Movie Trailer: "Gangster Squad"

Official movie website here:

As I told Alessandra, I am all kinds of excited.  I love crime dramas.  I love period pieces.  I love shootouts.  I love Los Angeles and vintage 1940s fashion.  And I love Ryan Gosling.  This flick has all these elements. It's as if the universe reached down and gave me a gift to get me through final exams!  As for the movie itself as period crime action story, I'm hoping for something as good as 1987's brilliant Untouchables.  Besides, it has a fantastic cast of some serious names.  I'll spare you my latest half-despairing, half-admiring statement of how Gosling seems intent on doing everything imaginable to break me down and drag me back into relapse every time I think I might have a chance to get over this embarrassing schoolgirl crush.  Period crime drama action now too, Gosling?  Really?  Really?

UPDATE: The Cine-Sib approves of the trailer and is pumped to see the movie itself.  He pointedly said that he hopes it'll be better than 2009's Public Enemies -- that is, that it'll be the great film that he thought Public Enemies should have been but wasn't.  I concur.  Ohpleasepleaseplease, may Gangster Squad be the awesome cinematic love child of L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables!

Forgotten History: Taiwan in the 1950s

A cool collection of photos from a vanished world.

Nerd News: Wondering About the Future of the Traditional University

Some people are wondering about extinction.  Really?  

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

News You Can Use: Yummiest Instant Ramen Bowls

Because students would starve without these things.

Chen Guangcheng and the CCP: the Aftermath

Professor Minxin Pei, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, has some thoughts.  I give you a piece of his analysis:
The apparent agreement between Beijing and Washington to allow Chen to go to the United States as a visiting scholar in the very near future may have put an end to this heart-wrenching episode for now, but the fallout from this event, both for Chinese diplomacy and the ruling Communist Party’s ability to maintain control in an increasingly volatile political environment, will be significant and lasting. 
On the diplomatic front, the relative flexibility demonstrated by Beijing in handling this crisis has definitely prevented an even more damaging outcome.  The all-important U.S.-China relationship was spared another body blow. 
Yet, Beijing should find no cause for cheer. The damage done to the Chinese government’s image abroad is incalculable. For almost a week, the world was riveted by the unfolding drama of Chen’s escape. People all over the world cared about Chen’s wellbeing because he was a powerful symbol for courage and social justice. This couldn’t be good news for Chinese leaders, now seen as complicit in Chen’s mistreatment by thugs hired by local government officials. China may have invested tens of billions of dollars, including extravaganzas like the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, to boost its international standing. All it takes to undo such “soft power” offensives is one lonely blind man who dared to show to the rest of the world the cruelty and repressiveness of the current Chinese political system.
Read the whole thing.

Chinese Radio Stations Flood Southern Taiwan with Propaganda

Via View from Taiwan, a look - or listen - at the airwaves of southern Taiwan.  Shout right back.

Friday, May 04, 2012

First Impressions: "Avengers" - the Genre Achieves True Glory

We want you to go see Avengers!

I'll write up a full review later, but my first impression on seeing this much-anticipated film is simply:
  • (a) This could be the perfect comic book superhero movie.  I'm trying to find some obvious flaw, but I can't.  This flick is the straight A student of superhero movies!
  • (b) Joss Whedon is no mere mortal ... and I am gladly his adoring minion. Joss, we're not worthy!
MM grades Avengers A+.  It is everything she dared to hope it could be - and more.  As good as Iron Man was, as good as Captain America was, you now realize they were indeed only the preludes to the splendor of the Avengers project now in its flower.  Full of action, humor, heart, and memorable personalities in its radiant ensemble cast, Avengers is brilliant storytelling all around that surprises and delights with its emotionally deft, often witty writing and overall triumphant virtuosity.  It's glorious.  It's a talent bomb that raises the bar and elevates the entire genre to empyrean heights even as it brilliantly highlights the humanity of these heroes.  You will become emotionally invested, and the story achieves greatness because of it.  RUN TO THE CINEMA.  RIGHT NOW.  (And stay past the credits.)  

A particular note of praise: Mark Ruffalo finally gives us the fantastic Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk that we've been wanting and that Eric Bana and even Edward Norton could not quite deliver.  Oh, and for La Parisienne: cue up the AC/DC, hon, because our Tony Stark is back and better than ever (and almost steals the movie as he delivers some of the best lines in the script, such as the hilariously deadpanned "Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster").

Chen Guangcheng Updated

Read this.  UPDATE: The Insta-Prof calls it all a "debacle."  

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Public Service Announcement: the "Avengers" Premiere

"Avengers" will premiere in the US at midnight.  It also has 92% on RottenTomatoes!  *stampedes to the cinema*

"High Noon in Beijing": Some Thoughts

A few thoughts, including this:
That within a few months a leading Chinese official and a leading dissident should both have turned in extremis to American diplomats should, by the way, make Americans everywhere stand a little taller. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Quote of the Day: A Law Prof Ponders the Megaupload Prosecution

The whole analysis is worth a look, but here's the notable quotable bit:
"The resulting prosecution is a depressing display of abuse of government authority."
The government overreaches.  Shocker!   In other news, water is wet, night is dark, fire is hot, and ice is cold.  Bonus quote: "The government has also been shockingly cavalier about the collateral consequences of its prosecution on the marketplace." 

Nerd Journal: End of Semester = End of Sanity

Just giving you a heads-up, gentle reader.  This round of exams/papers/projects is going to be nasty!

Consider Today "Victims of Communism Day"

Volokh has the right idea.  While we're at it, spare a thought for the current victims in North Korean gulags (see this) and Chinese prisons. I've recommended this book on the subject.