Blogging again

I started this blog when I was writing my dissertation in 2006. At the time, I wasn’t on social media, but I found that I was emailing a group of friends and family frequently with links to articles I was reading. Eventually, I thought I would save them the spam and just start writing a blog. I blogged somewhat frequently for a year and a half here at this site. And then I went on the job market and had a lot of pressure to finish the dissertation. The blog fell into the background, I got a job, joined Facebook, and suddenly felt like I had a new platform for sharing articles and thoughts.

In the meantime, I started blogging off and on for an online magazine, called Elephant Journal. That was a fun time. I had a much larger platform and began to use Twitter to converse with people in environmentalism/yoga/buddhism circles. But this was only tangentially related to my interests and my energy returned to Facebook.

Unfortunately, I realized much too late how Facebook was a terrible platform for developing and sharing ideas. Not only did I find myself in heated political debates with close friends — which was sometimes illuminating, but mostly frustrating — but Facebook makes it almost impossible to retain any virtual memory of what you’ve posted and how your thoughts have developed over time. They have no archive of old posts that isn’t cluttered with “activities.” The search tool is miserable. And, so, even those more interesting and illuminating conversations are lost to the ether. More importantly, Facebook is draining — of both time and energy.

Recently, I have become engaged in the Open Education community, reactivated my Twitter account, and started thinking about blogging again. The final straw was a month or so ago when I wanted to comment about something on Twitter. It required far more than 280 characters, so I started a tweetstorm. But then I wanted to edit and rearrange my tweets. By the time I posted the thread, it was missing tweets and the formatting was all off. I tried again. Failed. Tried a third time … and then I gave up. I realized it was the length of thought that required a blog post.

Coming back to the blog I see all of these old posts from 2006 and 2007. But what’s nice about them is I hear my voice and I read my thoughts. There are times in the intervening years when I would have benefitted from reminding myself of those thoughts. There are some good posts here and I stand by them. It will be interesting to see where this goes, but I think I’m writing this time more for me and for chronicling my thoughts than anything else. A little lesson: the blog format remains as a viable form. It’s useful in ways that other platforms just aren’t. So, I’m back. I may even keep it up this time.

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Dear Baseball Gods: I’m not gloating

Look, the entire season I say nothing. I prayed diligently and quietly throughout the entire “drought” of .500 ball while the Yankees became the hottest team in the American League.

But Beckett just pitched a complete game shutout, saw only 31 batters on the night, 4 hits, no walks on 108 pitches! A thing of beauty must be recognized. Surely the baseball gods understand that.

Elite Colleges and Affirmative Action

Following up on some of my previous affirmative-action posts, I found this op-ed in the Boston Globe particularly interesting. The op-ed centers around some new research of the most highly selective Universities in the US. What they find is that roughly %15 of white students at these Universities fall below the institution’s minimum admissions standards. Contrary to the story propagated most recently by the Supreme Court, white students who fall below the minimum standards are twice as likely to be admitted to these Universities than their minority counterparts.

This evidence clearly discredits the myth of the over-qualified white student who is denied acceptance to the most selective Universities because of racial quotas. What it demonstrates is that the much older system of affirmative action, namely, the good ol’ boys network, is still the most powerful system of disenfranchisement at elite colleges.

Of course, this kind of empirically driven argument seems incapable of convincing staunch conservatives, who find Justice Robert’s pithy logic–“the best way to end discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”–more compelling.

Spam like weeds

Sorry, been gone for a while. When I checked in today, I found that a spammer had infiltrated akismet and left a bunch of porn links in my comments. I block all comments with four or more links, but this spammer had left 15 comments, each with one link in them. And all of the comments appeared under an article I had written on the Sophia Copola movie Marie Antoinette. Interesting. Anyone have any ideas about how to filter these? I am reluctant to blacklist any “real” words (by which I mean words that make sense) or any IP address.

Anyway, feels like weeding the garden. Good to see that there’s still some life in there, I guess.

The Tour

Haven’t been blogging for a while, but it’s ironic that the most recent post was on doping in professional sports because the final day of the Tour de France offers a good time for reflection on just these issues.

It is hard for me to decide which of the eliminations from the Tour were most troubling, but there are five prominent exits that were especially painful to watch: the elimination of the entire Astana and Cofidis teams (can anyone tell me why T-Mobile wasn’t forced to exit?); Alexandre Vinokourov; Michael Rasmussen; Dave Zabriske (the American time-trial champion who did not make the cut at the end of stage 8, a day when Vinokourov’s acceleration split the peloton and recorded one of the fastest average speeds ever in the tour); and Denis Menchov (the team leader of Rabobank who abandoned the day after Rasmussen’s firing).

But I have to think that this is ultimately good for cycling. Major competitors are speaking out against doping in the sport. Rabobank’s firing Rasmussen was courageous and demonstrates one way forward. Tom Boonen (who looks to have wrapped up the green jersey competition) has expressed the right sentiment when he says that he is proud to be finishing with the guys in the peloton and that “cheaters need to leave the sport.” It is really hard to argue that the top three riders do not deserve to be on the podium. They are separated by the slimmest margin in history (:31) and have a huge gap to the fourth rider (nearly 7:00). And the top-ten is a ‘who’s who’ of recent tour history.

Besides, I just love the sport of cycling and especially the grand tours that are at the pinnacle of it. Cycling is not only a test against oneself, but a test against other athletes in teams. The former is demonstrated in the time trials of the first and (for the general classification competition) effectively the last days of the race, both of which are often decisive in determining the overall winner. The latter plays itself out in both the tactics of the mountains that dominate the king of the mountain competition and the tactics of the bunch sprints and breakaways that lend glory to a rider or advance his standing in the points competition. When a guy is leading one of these competitions, he gets to wear a jersey so everyone on the race course can clearly identify the leader on the road. And these classifications really demonstrate the versatility of the sport, highlighting differences in capability. Ultimately, it’s both a political contest and solitary one.

I like to watch this kind of competition and I hope that it stays around for a long time.

Doping and Professional Athletics

This is an issue that I have thought about for a long time. When I was a developing swimmer, I remember the clean-up in the IOC over doping in swimming and other Olympic sports. Now the fruits of baseball’s inglorious rise to prominence in the late ’90’s are coming to term: Sammy Sosa passed the 600 home runs mark and Barry Bonds is closing in quickly on Hank Aaron’s record. However, I had not crystallized an opinion on this one until Boston’s sports guru Dan Shaughnessy recently wrote an article that prompted my thinking.

Sports columnists are paid good money to state opinions and stir up discussion. What is more, Shaughnessy was in good company when he roundly criticized Bonds as a “cheater” and someone unworthy of the all-time home run crown: Bonds received a horrid reception at Fenway, so far he has gotten a split decision in press coverage and an icy response from Commish Selig and even the great Aaron. And Shaughnessy has a way with words. The first paragraph reads:

Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, Barry Bonds — No. 25 in your program, No. 2 on the all-time home run list, and a Big Zero in the hearts of those who love baseball and its most cherished records.

The “moral” stand on this issue and the romanticism of a earlier time that comes with it are compelling and tough to criticize without looking like a libertine or a relativist. But I think this is the wrong way to go; this is the wrong stand to take. Shaughnessy is tentatively aware of the weakness of his own argument, inserting this admission at the end of a list of the many sins of baseball’s doped-up era:

And those of us in the press box celebrated the home run chase of ’98 without challenging its authenticity.

Despite the fact that Shaughnessy is forced to append such an admission to the end of a harangue of Bond’s moral right to the home run crown, he does not see the implications of his own thinking. What he says is that, in effect, the steroids issue is systemic, it arose because of the complacency of the sport’s oversight bodies and the capability of science, technology and money to determine athletic competition. This is the present state of affairs. Although only anecdoctal, I believe that doping was and is pervasive is some sports. I have heard that an acquaintance of mine who achieved a measure of success in professional cycling on the fringes of the Europeans circuit has said that at a certain level “everyone was doping.” A more universal story, perhaps, is told in one of Oliver Stonde’s better films, Any Given Sunday. At least as Stone tells the story, every measure of medical technology is routinely imposed on athletes in order to increase performance. This state of affairs lends to his depiction of the locker room as a cross between triage and manufacturing. Once he sets this scene, it is no great leap from the routine sorts of medical intervention (cortisone, pain killers, etc.) to banned substances.

There is no argument about whether or not we should stringently test professional and competitive amateur athletes and we should strive to eradicate the doping infrastructure from athletics. The problem is that when we make Barry Bonds the icon of our disapproval with the current state of affairs in professional sports, we are, in effect, punishing the most exemplary player of a certain era as a token of our disapproval of that era. Even though Big Pappi got himself in a bit of trouble for his generous appraisal of Bonds, I think he had it right when he said that no amount of steroids can give you a pure left-handed swing like Bonds’ (and Pappi is one who could judge). Barry Bonds has always been a pure hitter. How many home runs belong to steroids and how many came from his natural talent is a subject for academic debate. But why boo the guy who just happened to be the best at what a lot of guys were doing and what a lot of other guys were happy not to know too much about?

Why Republicans should not go ga-ga over Fred Thompson

I understand why many Republicans welcome the possible entry of Fred Thompson into the Republican primary race. But I think that this is backward looking rather than forward thinking.

Thompson represents a classical conservative platform in the person of a Washington outsider who could play the role of a believable, assertive and straight-talking statesman and who would undoubtedly surround himself with the elite conservative ideologues of the Republican party. Sound familiar? Yes, it is just this nostalgia for the glory days of Ronald Regan that convinced so many well-meaning people to continue to support George Bush long after it became evident that he was an ineffective leader caught in an ideological time-warp. Bush is the “outsider” who surrounded himself with the most inside of insiders and en masse they have blindly relentlessly pursued a misguided ideological agenda both at home and abroad.

David Brooks has recently made a strong case for why Republicans should get over their nostalgia for the era of Reagan. The logic is quite simple: the agenda of the day consists of immigration reform, global warming, social security and health care. Solutions to these problems are going to require some large-scale governmental measures and the old mantra of deregulation, lower taxes and smaller government is an insufficient answer. Furthermore, if Iraq has shown us anything it ought to have shown us that the cold-war rhetoric of good vs. evil and the free vs. those who hate freedom is shortsighted and dangerous. The war on terror, if there really is one (to borrow a phrase of Jacque Derrida’s), is not a war we can win militarily. The irony is that Bush may understand the need for a real change in Republican ideology domestically (remember “compassionate conservatism”), but he has become so clouded by the haze of 9/11 that he has lost all momentum in that direction.