Monday, October 31, 2005

Rosa Parks, Historical Complexity, and Timing Outrage

Juan Williams and Ellen Goodman address Rosa Parks' death and how her story was too often reduced to a comfortable and simplistic fable during her lifetime. The Williams piece is especially strong. Goodman is a bit defensively shrill, such as her response to Al Sharpton's gracious praise of Parks as "someone who 'changed American life, having never held public office, having no political ambition, just her quiet dignity and courage'.":
Is this how we praise women? As unambitious, accidental heroines?

I don't know, Ellen, is THIS how we honor the memory of our heroines? By making the story about our own outrage over something frankly not that outrageous? My God, I'd even say that on the whole, Sharpton was -- gasp -- right! There is plenty of reason still to be indignant over gender inequality in America. I'm not certain Goodman's piece captures it especially well or in the best context.

It must be hell being a featured columnist for one of the most respected newspapers in America.

Friday, October 28, 2005

San Antonio Bound

I'm off to San Antonio for the weekend, but I am sure you are in good hands with the rest of the dcat crew. My car has a sudden issue I cannot fix it until Tuesday so I will be heading to SA in a colleague's SUV that will make me feel cool even as it gets 13 miles to the gallon and I may as well just grind up American trops in lieu of gas. But on the plus side I get to take my first long trip with my XM satellite radio and I get barbacoa and tamales on Sunday morning, so it all evens out.

The Fisher DeBarry Case

"It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me they run extremely well." These are the words that U.S. Air Force academy football coach Fisher DeBerry said in remarks broadcast Tuesday night by Denver television station KWGN. Given that his comments were about race, and may have been courting a stereotype, I suppose we should not be surprised that he is in hot water. I hope that my civil rights/anti-apartheid historian/liberal credentials are enough that what I am about to say does not get me in hot water, but Air Force should not punish DeBerry, who, beyond being a very successful coach (which is not all that important), also did not really say anything wrong.

Now don’t take me the wrong way – I would not place DeBerry as the most eloquent spokesman on race in America. But look at what he said – from his years of coaching football, in general black kids run well. There are white ids and others who run well, but black kids run well. Now I do take issue with the implied inclusion that “all “ black kids run well. They do not, of course, and I am sure DeBerry knows this.

Let me illustrate my argument by way of two anecdotes, both related to my own years as a track athlete in college, one of which may not make me look all that great, so I will tell it first:

I competed in events that Fisher DeBerry might associate with black success: The jumps, especially the long and the triple jump. Williams had a very good track team, and one of the great things about track and field is that you get to find out exactly where you are in the global hierarchy. In addition to being very numbers driven, if you are good enough at a lower level you will qualify for bigger meets. Williams is a division III school, but we routinely competed against DI schools. I was a good enough jumper to compete against the big boys, but I was well aware of where I fit into the overall world of track and field. In any case, when I would get to bigger meets where I may have known fewer of the athletes, or if I competed away from New England, say in the South, I would look around and scout out the competition. When I was trying to size up the competition, when I was looking at strangers wearing university of Miami or Florida State or Christopher Newport or whatever other jerseys, I would tend to focus more on the black jumpers than the white guys. I am not proud of it, but I am also not ashamed. And I certainly would not say that it was an illogical conclusion to draw. I would guess that I have a batter grasp on track and field than most of my readers, but even acknowledging that, I think I am on pretty firm ground to ask anyone who would criticize me the following question: Name five truly great white American long jumpers in the last ten years. Twenty years. Now the irony, as I discovered many times, is that there were times when I should have been watching out for the big white guy from Western Carolina or Albany State or the University of Miami (at the biggest meet I ever competed in, the Florida Relays in 1993, I got beaten out for third place by a Miami (Florida) guy on his last triple jump who was, if it is possible, paler than I am. There were even times when those guys maybe should have been looking out for me, as I ended up winning.

Anecdote #2: When my fellow jumper and teammate “Boogie” (His name was Stuart, but we called him Stu, and then it became “Boogie” after the Led Zeppelin song “Boogie With Stu”) would get to the really big meet, the DI/All New England meet, say, we’d always joke as we watched the early rounds of the sprints about the white guys and how they had better enjoy their time, because they would be watching the finals. Boogie was also a sprinter. He was also black. And lo and behold, once the finals of the 60 or 100 rolled around at the All New England meet or the Florida State relays or nationals, the finals were overwhelmingly African American. We were always joking, but the joke, like many jokes, had an element of truth to it.

I have no idea why this is so. There are certainly fast white guys. And Asian guys. And Hispanics. And most people, black, white, Asian, and Hispanic, are slow, cannot jump, cannot lift things and so forth – when you are looking at college athletes you are already talking about a genetically exceptional subset, so drawing widespread racial differences from the whole population seems foolish. But I will double down my bet on the long jumpers. I’ll grant you Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic Champion in the 400. I’ll even give you the Greek 200 runner who won in 2000 (and who failed a piss test in 2004 . . .) And I will remind you exactly what DeBarry said about white athletes: “That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run.” And then I will ask a simple question related to the one I asked earlier: Howe many white medalists have their been in the Olympics and World Championships in the 100, 200, and 400 since 1968? That is 10 Olympics, times three events, times three medals in each event. I’m not much at math, but that is 90 possible medals. Even keeping in mind that the United States, the world’s most dominant sprint nation for most of that period, boycotted the 1980 Olympics, is there anyone out there who wants to bet that thirty (33%) of those medals went to athletes who were not black? Anyone want to bet on whether or not twenty (22%) did? Anyone for 15 (17%)? Now does anyone really want to make anysuch bets on American track and field teams during that same time period, which is the more relevant frame of comparison? I did not think so.

Now let’s bring it back o football. Jason Sehorn made some waves for the very fact that he was a decent white starting cornerback in the NFL. And in some attempts to explain why that was so, there was one compelling argument made: That one factor is that coaches simply steer black athletes toward certain positions and white athletes toward others so that irrespective of actual abilities, black kids in integrated high schools will play corner, their white teammate safety. That makes at least some sense.

But whatever the case, can anyone honestly say that however anecdotal, and however clumsily stated, Fisher DeBarry was actually wrong? And can his desire to recruit more black athletes to the Air Force Academy actually be something we want to condemn? Especially when DeBarry’s black players have rallied around him? It would seem patently unfair to punish him for his comments. There is lots of very real, very serious, very disturbing racism out there. There are coaches who certainly are racists. But it would be absurd to punish Fisher DeBerry for the current reality of the nature of the sprinting and jumping events and the skill positions in the NFL (and anyone who has been to a college track meet knows that these two things are fungible).

Karimov and the BBC II

Uzbekistan has again popped up in the UK news. Following President Karimov's claims last month that the BBC and other foreign media were plotting against him and supporting terrorism, the local World Service station has decided to withdraw. The BBC cannot guarantee the safety of its employees after a sustained campaign of harrassment and intimidation by local officials.

In case anyone had forgotten why it was we don't like Karimov's regime (ie. Jack Straw), our former ambassador to the beleaguered country, Craig Murray, wrote this piece for the independent. Murray has been repeating this line for some time now, since before he lost his position after a ruinous smear campaign on his character. Though it appears the Uzbeks have decided to no longer supply us with 'intellingence', it seems certain that the broken, mumbled confessions of torture victims around the world are still eagerly attended by our leaders.

I await an expression of support from the Foreign Office for our brutalised journalists.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tom: "Dear Diary"

Tom has a brilliant, touching post on memories (and diaries) over on Big Tent Extra. It's a must read.

The (Other) Sox Are Champs

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox for ending an 88 year run of futility. I only know of one reader who is a White Sox fan, Chris Pettit, and to his eternal credit he is not one of those bandwagon guys temporarily switching his loyalties from the North Side.

The White Sox have an interesting history. Unlike the Red Sox they do not have a tremendous legacy of success that ended in them just falling short. There is not a lot of heartbreak. And the ChiSox are only the second most popular baseball team in their own city. listening to the announcers' calls, the baseball Tonight and Sortscenter guys, and reading the coverage, this year simply did not match the national story that was the Red Sox (then again, that comeback against the Yankees really helped make the Sox a great story in 2004).

Despite the uniqueness of the matchup, and the fact that Chicago and Houston are the third and fourth largest cities in the US, this World Series had record lows for viewership. I am sure this is made all the worse by the fact that the series ended in a sweep. On that front, however, this was the least lopsided sweep I have ever seen. last year, when THE Sox beat the Cards, they took the lead from the outset, never relinquished it, and at no time did it seem like they were in jeopardy of so much as losing a game. This year Houston had its chances but just could not pull any of those games out.

In any case, the White Sox were the best team and they proved as much when it counted. I miss baseball when it is gone, but it has the Hot Stove League, the best offseason of any sport. We have the free agent market, the pending MVP votes, and in the next few days the veins in my neck might pop out if the Red Sox do not sign Theo Epstein to a long-term deal.

Unintended Consequences: Harriet Miers Edition

Those liberals who are rubbing their hands in glee over the withdrawal of Herriet Miers probably ought to be a lot more circumspect. This is a victory for competence, to be sure, but only by happenstance. The real winners here are those on the Christian conservative right. My prediction: Bush is going to appoint a doctrinaire but highly qualified conservative now. Oddly, if no indictments come down today, this might go down as one of the unexpectedly victorious days for this teflon presidency, the day when he starts to turn the corner. If indictments do come down, it might end up the opposite -- the day the edifice crumbled. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Has nation-building ever actually worked? Not usually.

I happen to disagree with some of the implications of the following article and believe that nation-building can indeed be effective and needs to be given more attention by academics and practitioners, and more international (read-American) legitimacy. Furthermore, in situations like Afghanistan, I am not really sure what the alternative to nation-building is, other than leaving the nation to descend into anarchy and blooshed. Simply because it has not worked when done unilaterally and hald-heartedly does not mean that it cannot work multilaterally and with sufficient dedication and resources.

Nevertheless, the following article, "Deconstructing Nation Building" by Dr. James L. Payne, which systematically shows that nation-building tends not to work by analyzing the 51 cases of "genuine" nation-building that the author identifies (his methodology is certainly open to debate) is well worth a serious look by anyone interested in the subject.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

  • "To see how nation building in general works out, I have compiled a list of all the cases since 1850 in which the United States and Great Britain employed military forces in a foreign land to cultivate democracy. I included only those cases where ground troops were deployed and clearly intervened in local politics. I have left aside the cases involving lesser types of involvement such as sending aid or military advisors or limited peacekeeping efforts or simply having military bases in the country."


  • "The nation-building idea has a critical, generally overlooked, gap: who knows how to do it? Pundits and presidents talk about nation building as if it were a settled technology, like building bridges or removing gall bladders. Huge amounts of government and foundation money have been poured into the topic of democracy building, and academics and bureaucrats have produced reams of verbose commentary. But still there is no concrete, useable body of knowledge. "


  • "Nation building by military force is not a coherent, defensible policy. It is based on no theory, it has no proven technique or methodology, and there are no experts who know how to do it. The record shows that it usually fails, and even when it appears to succeed, the positive result owes more to historical evolution and local political culture than anything nation builders might have done. "

For more on this important issue, I would recommend Marina Ottaway's list of some common myths about nation-building from her article in Foreign Policy. For a more practical analysis of nation-building in recent times (including a discussion on Afghanistan and Iraq), you can check out former Ambassador James Dobbins' piece from the New York Jewish Times (and no, that is not just a crude pun on the New York Times). Here is an excerpt from Dobbins' piece:

  • "Nation-building has been a growth industry since the end of the Cold War. The United Nations, NATO, the United States and more recently the European Union have all become engaged in missions that employ armed force in post-conflict environments with the objective of supporting a political transformation, that is to say democratisation. Not every recent military expedition fits this description, but nation-building, peace-building or stabilisation operations, depending on one’s preferred terminology, have become the dominant paradigm for the use of armed force in the post-Cold War world.
  • Since 1989, the frequency, scale, scope and duration of these nation-building missions have steadily risen. During the Cold War the United States mounted a new military intervention, on average, once a decade. The United Nations launched a new peacekeeping operation, on average, once every four years. Since 1989, the frequency of US-led interventions is approaching one every other year. New UN peacekeeping missions are being launched, on average, about once every six months.
  • The cumulative effect of all this activity has been measurably beneficial. Over the past decade the number of civil conflicts underway around the world has been halved and the annual death toll from such conflicts reduced still further. Contrary to the popular impression, the world has become a less violent place since the end of the Cold War. Armed force has proved an essential component of multinational action to prevent societies emerging from conflict from returning to it. Peacekeeping has proved itself the most cost-effective instrument available to the international community in such circumstances, the only one with high levels of success. Economic assistance can reinforce the effects of peacekeeping in a post-conflict society, but in the absence of externally provided military stabilisation, most countries emerging from conflict will return to it within a few years, no matter how much economic aid, advice and other forms of support they receive. "

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New Deal = "Affirmative Action for Whites"?

I have been intending to post this piece by Columbia historian and political scientist Ira Katznelson for a while. i just received my copy of Katznelson's new book, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America, and while I have skimmed it, I am still looking forward to reading it. At its essence is a provocative argument that also informs this op-ed, which is about Katrina and some observers' responses that we need a new New Deal to address America's racial and class inequalities. The gist of Katznelson's argument:
It was during the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman that such great progressive policies as Social Security, protective labor laws and the GI Bill were adopted. But with them came something else that was quite destructive for the nation: what I have called "affirmative action for whites." During Jim Crow's last hurrah in the 1930s and 1940s, when southern members of Congress controlled the gateways to legislation, policy decisions dealing with welfare, work and war either excluded the vast majority of African Americans or treated them differently from others.

Between 1945 and 1955, the federal government transferred more than $100 billion to support retirement programs and fashion opportunities for job skills, education, homeownership and small-business formation. Together, these domestic programs dramatically reshaped the country's social structure by creating a modern, well-schooled, homeowning middle class. At no other time in American history had so much money and so many resources been targeted at the generation completing its education, entering the workforce and forming families.

But most blacks were left out of all this. Southern members of Congress used occupational exclusions and took advantage of American federalism to ensure that national policies would not disturb their region's racial order. Farmworkers and maids, the jobs held by most blacks in the South, were denied Social Security pensions and access to labor unions. Benefits for veterans were administered locally. The GI Bill adapted to "the southern way of life" by accommodating itself to segregation in higher education, to the job ceilings that local officials imposed on returning black soldiers and to a general unwillingness to offer loans to blacks even when such loans were insured by the federal government. Of the 3,229 GI Bill-guaranteed loans for homes, businesses and farms made in 1947 in Mississippi, for example, only two were offered to black veterans.

My impressionistic response is that this is an argument that should make us reconsider our concept of Affirmative Action more than the New Deal. We all knew the limitations of the New Deal when it came to race among many other things. certainly Katznelson's argument will not be startling to those familiar with harvard Sitkoff's, Pat Sullivan's, or John Egerton's work on race in the New Deal era, even though it seems that Katznelson's focus might bring some more critical focus to our ideas of what the New Deal meant. But where this might be an especially useful will be in confronting affirmative action, especially when people argue that the government should not be in the business of ameliorating past wrongs. if we can trace some of those wrongs not to the Governor's mansion in Jackson of the State House in Montgomery, we might suddenly have to address some harsh truths.

In any case, as I say, this is based on a skimming of the book and on the op-ed piece. I might change my tune when I read the whole book, but the argument about affirmative action for whites strikes me as a powerful one.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (Is Your God)

One of the puzzlements of the age is how the proponents of "intelligent design" jumped the queue and established their view as a viable scientific alternative to biological evolution for America's classrooms. My experience with Darwin involved one history of science course at Williams, the theme of which was evolution. I am thus reasonably well aware of the competing challenges to Darwin, and the questions left unanswered. Yet in an entire semester of work my sophomore year, when I was feverishly trying to fill my science requirements and yet avoid actual science, in a course devoted to a healthy skepticism of doctrinaire Darwinian theory, never once did Intelligent Design come into play. And for good reason: Why should it? What is its scientific basis? It seems like a cute end-run around the wall of separation, but I sure as hell don't want future generations to be learning it alongside biology in their high schools. (And don't get me started about nimrods who go around saying "but evolution is just a theory!" apparently utterly ignorant of the differences between scientific theory and, say, Diane Chambers' theory of picking winning football teams by which mascot is better.)

In any case, you can imagine my amusement when I came across the Flying Spaghetti Monster, thanks to my colleague Roland Spickermann. Here is an excerpt from this brilliant theological treatise:

I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I’m sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.

And here's the thing: Why not? If we can accept that we must teach something alongside evolution (rather than take the much less inane approach of teaching about the controversies within biological science regarding evolutionary processes) and that the something of which we speak must be tied to some concept of intelligent design, then why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster? From a scientific vantage point it makes just as much sense, and while the theology might be out there, let us keep in mind that most ardent fundamentalists are usually willing to consign Catholics, who believe in Christ, to hell, so "out there" among the intelligent design crowd might not be too far out at all.

I'd like to posit that sanity should prevail, and that none of this nonsense ought to get past the first level of scrutiny. But if that is the case, why are we yet again fighting the Scopes case?

Rosa Parks, Rest in Peace

I was saddened to read this morning that Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks passed away yesterday. The NAACP activist (the mythology always has preferred to depict her as simply a humble seamstress) who helped kick off the post-Brown wave of the Civil Rights Movement has continued to stand as a representative of a time when black Americans and their courageous white allies stood up against a white supremacist system the very existence of which meant that America had fallen far short of its creed. May she rest in peace and never be forgotten.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Another GREAT O'Reilly moment

CALLER: But the point that I want to make today is, you've been talking a lot about far-left smearing websites. I actually went to one of those websites a couple of days ago. They have your audio, they have your video. And I'm kind of surprised that you're still challenging them on their material. So why don't you invite them, like Media Matters, to your show and debate the issues?

O'REILLY: OK. Number one, [caller], you're a dishonest person. Because you're not a big fan of mine. You're not anything, OK? What you are is one of these little Kool-Aid-drinking, left-wing idiots who calls up and under the guise of "Hey, you know, Bill, I like you, I listen to The Factor" -- yeah, yeah, yeah. You're a liar. You want me to legitimize a website that is 100 percent dishonest, that takes things out of context, that feeds them to fanatical people like Macarena Hernandez, which is where she got her garbage. You want me to put them on and legitimize them. All right? Give them notoriety and all of that. See, look, I know your game. You're a weasel, and you're in with other weasels. You're exactly where you should be. Those people will never, ever -- I don't deal with dishonest people. Don't call here again.

Sounds even funnier listening to it!

Red Sox Diary

As if we needed further evidence that they will let anyone publish a book, Bleeding Red: A Red Sox Fan's Diary of the 2004 Season, has officially been released. For reasons beyond my understanding, it is not yet up on Amazon (I'll shamelessly self-promote when it is), but it is available (in mistitled form, with no cover image yet posted -- these are clearly all intended as reminders of my place in the hierarchy) at Barnes and Noble, here. If you are interested in seeing the publicity material (with the cover image, a picture of yours truly, and blurbs from one Charles Alexander as well as from Saturday Night Live's Red Sox fan and Kerry impersonator Seth Meyers) go here, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click on the thumbnail cover image.

Thanks to all of you for following along, for your support, and for your patience. Now what are you waiting for? Go buy the book (or wait until it is paired with Sportsguy Bill Simmons' book in the next week on Amazon).

Ethan Brooks Watch

My buddy Ethan was signed by the Cowboys last weekend, which is pretty cool, as whether I like it or not, I get all of their games. After the Jets inexplicably let him go this summer, he was unsure as to how things would go. It was a weird situation for him, because his stock was most likely to rise only after someone suffered an injury. When Flozell Adams tore up his knee a couple of weeks ago, that opened a door for Ethan. Even though he was only signed last Monday, he was active and in uniform yesterday, as Bill Parcells twice raved about Ethan's retention of the Cowboys' scheme (there's that Williams education at work!). He is listed as the swing tackle, the backup for both the starting right and left tackles. I saw him on the sidelines yesterday, but do not believe that he got into the game in that punch to the gut loss to the Seahawks.

For those of you who would like to read a bit more about Ethan, I would strongly suggest John Feinstein's newest book, Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL, which provides a fascinating look at a season of the Baltimore Ravens (yes, Billick is the most shameless self-promoter in the history of professional sports -- roll over Bill Veeck, tell Charlie Finley the news). Ethan gets seven pages of his own plus many references throughout the book, and he emerges as a truly good guy. This also is the most honest he has ever been about his wife's tragedy. My guess is that getting the treatment from Feinstein is the rough equivalent of having Halberstam, Turkel, or McCullough feature you prominently -- they are not the best at what they do, but they are damned good and might be the most popular.

Congrats to Ethan, who is now only five hours from me, a blink of an eye in Texas terms! I'm eyeing that November 20th game at Texas Stadium against the Lions. Maybe I'll even get a #70 jersey if they sell them. (My rule is that I wear no pro gear other than for the Boston teams except for the teams on which Ethan plays -- so I have the Falcons hat he wore on the sideline of his first NFL game, I have a Rams hat, etc.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Worth a look

A very short, but interesting article. I post it here for consumption without comment:

A History of Violence How did the Palestinians descend into barbarism? by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt:

"Consider a statistic: In the first nine months of 2005 more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians than by Israelis--219 to 218, according to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Interior, although the former figure is probably in truth much higher. In the Gaza Strip, the departure of Israeli troops and settlers has brought anarchy, not freedom. Members of Hamas routinely fight gun battles with members of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas's ruling political party. Just as often, the killing takes place between clans, or hamullas. So-called collaborators are put to the gun by street mobs, their "guilt" sometimes nothing more than being the object of a neighbor's spite. Palestinian social outsiders are also at mortal risk: Honor killings of "loose" women are common, as is the torture and murder of homosexuals."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hidden Poll Taxes

This editorial in Wednesday's New York Times about voting rights in Georgia reminded me of a lot of things. It reminded me that we cannot be sanguine about America's hard earned victories in the struggle for racial justice. it reminded me that we still have a way to go when it comes to economic justice. But, oddly enough, first and foremost it reminded me of New Hampshire. Specifically, it reminded me of my hometown.

The editorial discusses how a federal judge blocked a Georgia law that would have required voters to obtain particular forms of identification that in many cases would have cost them money from taking effect. the judge's rationale was that any time voting is tied to paying fees it becomes tantamount to a poll tax. I agree with this decision, even though some nitwits will make the argument that getting a license or other voter identification card is not that onerous. I do not believe that Georgia officials were trying to push forward a racist platform in the guise of tightening up voter identification requirements, although the outcome clearly would have been most burdensome on black and poor voters. The point is not how burdensome it is or is not to get an identification card. the burden comes with tying the right to vote with having to pay money to do so. Only people who have been poor understand that $20 truly can be enough to prevent someone from doing something, in this case getting the necessary documentation for engaging in what is supposed to be qa fundamental right of citizenship.

So what does all of this have to do with Newport, New Hampshire? Every time I have been back home and wanted to vote whether in person or most often as an absentee, (as I maintained my New Hampshire citizenship for a host of reasons in grad school even when I was in Charlotte, Ohio, South Africa, or DC-- Live Free or Die, baby!) I had to make sure I had paid my "Town Tax" before I could receive my ballot. I always thought there was something askew about that requirement, as it directly linked a local tax with my ability to cast a vote. As far as I know, Newport still does this. And I do not believe that Newport, New Hampshire and the state of Georgia are the only places that have linked voting with paying some sort of duty to the municipality, county, or state. The town tax was, as I recall, relatively small, something like $10. But for someone who is unemployed, or for an underemployed single mother, or for a graduate student, or for those unfortunate masses for whom voting is something they will do as long as it is not burdensome, a $10 or $20 cost might tip the scales against this rudimentary component of citizenship. And as long as such provisions skew against the poor, and thus in places like Georgia, against minorities, we need a zero-tolerance policy. Now more than ever we should recognize what a precious right the franchise is, and we should be encouraging more Americans to exercise suffrage as we push for liberal democracies in the rest of the world.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dennis Ross and a Spin on the PLO-as-ANC Meme

In this morning's Times Dennis Ross, President Clinton's former envoy to the Middle East has a useful op-ed piece addressing the incomparably stupid Palestinians-as-ANC argument of which so many simpletons seem enamored. My favorite excerpt:

Why raise the South African comparison today? Because Palestinians respect the South African model but are not learning from it. For all of Arafat's comparisons to the African National Congress, it did not have an ideology of violence: although the congress attacked the military and economic underpinnings of apartheid, it forswore attacks on civilians and generally expelled those members who violated that policy.

In contrast, no Palestine Liberation Organization member has ever been drummed out for violence against Israelis. As the price of joining the Oslo process, Arafat renounced terrorism, but he never delegitimized it; he never called those who carried out terrorist acts against Israeli enemies of the Palestinian cause.

But more than just identifying a problem, Ross provides some direction for the Palesinians, and it seems like sage advice, albeit of such broad foundation as to be of limited applicability. Rather than just make a false analogy (the photonegative of PLO-as-ANC is of course Israel-as-Apartheid South Africa), Ross argues, why not instead look at the emulated situation -- the ANC's struggle against the apartheid state -- and try to draw something constructive from the example?:

I know from my conversations with members of South Africa's government in Pretoria this summer that they are interested in playing a role - an interest that they have signaled in several venues, including meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials. Now is perhaps the time for a visit to Ramallah by Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, to share his country's experience and its lessons for the Palestinians.

No one can question whether South Africans struggled. No one can doubt the moral authority of their words. And no one can more forcefully offer a successful and nonviolent pathway to national liberation and a government of basic decency.

While it all seems obvious, this is a useful twist to the argument. More than that, however, it also gives an indication of South Africa's potential global role. African nations do not always have to be the recipients of foreign policy. South Africa is in a good position actually to conduct a constructive foreign program. Why assume that it must be limited to Africa? Of course some within South Africa will have to drop their almost knee-jerk antipathy to Israel, but there is no reason why South Africa should not be able to provide a model and mentor for the Palestinians without falling into the sinkhole of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or anti-Semitic drivel.

(And as long as we are dealing with Africa, the Times also has an editorial today about Mugabe. There is little substantively new here, but we still need to be reminded every so often.)

Larry Joe Bird's Powers

So, let's say that you are convicted of a major crime. And let's say that the prosecution and your own lawyers seem to have settled on a thirty year prison term. And let's say that you are a huge fan of one Larry Joe Bird. What is the only logical course of action? To ask for 33 years instead, of course. After all, according to our protagonist, Eric James Torpy, if you're going to go down, you may as well do it in Larry Bird's jersey. Wiser words have never been spoken. I guess.

(Hoist a mug to the silent dcatter, Holmesy, for this one.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

John Stewart and Bill O'Reilly: What a contrast!

The other night on The Daily Show, Bill O’Reilly showed up to yet again express his outrage at France. At once point calling Stewart a “pinhead” and urging him to “read a book” when Stewart dared to question the logic of boycotting a nation for doing nothing more than refusing to support our war with Iraq.

This is not the first time the two men have interacted. In 2004, Stewart appeared on the O’Reilly Factor and the two men had the following exchange:

O'REILLY: You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary.

O'REILLY: But it is. It's true. I mean, you've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night, OK, and they can vote.


O'REILLY: You can't stop them.

STEWART: Yeah, I just don't know how motivated they would be, these stoned slackers.

O'REILLY: Yeah, it just depends if they have to go out that day.

STEWART: What am I, a Cheech and Chong movie? Stoned slackers?

O'REILLY: Come on, you do the research, you know the research on your program.

STEWART: No, we don't.

O'REILLY: Eighty-seven percent are intoxicated when they watch it. You didn't see that?

Since that visit, of course, someone has been doing some research, and this is what they found:

The AP reported in 2004 that “viewers of Jon Stewart’s show are more likely to have completed four years of college than people who watch 'The O’Reilly Factor,' according to Nielsen Media Research.”

And that’s not all! “On top of that, "Daily Show" viewers know more about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch television news, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.”

I happen to dislike O’Reilly… nothing personal, mind you, simply a diastase for the continuous barrage of lies and bias that spews out of his mouth every night tends to vex me.

While O’Reilly relies on bullying and deception to make his point, Stewart relies on humor and occasionally, as when he appeared on CNN’s Crossfire to tell them how they are "hurting the country" through their senseless “gotcha!” punditry, some bluntness (NOTE: Crossfire was canceled shortly after Stewart's appearance).

A review of a review of Norman Finkelstein's, Beyond Chutzpah

As I am no longer posting at History News Network over a difference of opinion with the editors, I thought I would post my thoughts on a recent book review here. The review in question is by Neve Gordon and the book is Norman Finkelstein's, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Before I say anything, I should note that I have never read either Finkelstein's book, nor the book it is responding too, Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Thus my comments are relying on the review and various interviews and debates between the two men.

It should also be known that from what I have read, Finkelstein clearly has a political agenda in his writings, and is certainly no friend to the Jews, calling Holocaust Eli Wiesel, for example, a “wimp,” a “a ridiculous character,” and the “resident clown of the Holocaust circus,” and calling for solidarity with the terrorist group Hezbollah (and indeed those comments represent only some of the most mild that he has made). Based on what I have read from him, I think the label of anti-Semite is appropriate but NOT simply because he criticizes Israel. In any event, none of this has anything to do with the validity of his book, and so I will move on to the review.

One of the central claims Finkelstein makes against Dershowitz is that he has plagerized material from Joan Peter’s controvercial book, From Time Immemorial. On this, Gordon claims,

“After a careful examination of the documents Finkelstein presents in Beyond Chutzpah, it is difficult not to infer that the Harvard professor did indeed pass off someone else's information as his own.”

Apparently, not so difficult for Professor Charles Fried, the former Solicitor General and a Professor of Law at Harvard. He called the charge “stupid, unfair and ridiculous… from a biased accuser.” The distinguished chief-librarian at Harvard Law School reached the same conclusions, as did an inquiry by Harvard after the charge gained momentum. So why does Finkelstein and Gordon accuse Dershowitz of plagerism? Apparently, Dershowitz read Peters’ book, and used some of her references. When he cited those references in his own book, he cited the original sources where Finkelstein claims that he should have cited Peters.

As James O. Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth concluded after reviewing the Finkelstein charge: “I do not understand [Finkelstein’s] charge of plagiarism against Alan Dershowitz. There is no claim that Dershowitz used the words of others without attribution. When he uses the words of others, he quotes them properly and generally cites them to the original sources (Mark Twain, Palestine Royal Commission, etc.) [Finkelstein’s] complaint is that instead he should have cited them to the secondary source, in which Dershowitz may have come upon them.” In point of fact, the Chicago Manual of Style supports Dershowitz’s method, as does virtually every researcher that I have ever come in contact with.

(NOTE: By Finkelstein and Gordon’s standards, I have just plagerized Mr. Dershowitz for attributing the above quotes to their authors rather than to this website where I got them).

I commend Gordon for at least disgreeing with Finkelstein’s claim that the actions of some Jews is the cause of anti-Semitism.

Gordon goes on to say that “Academically, the section discussing Israel's human rights record raises serious questions about intellectual honesty and the ideological bias of our cultural institutions, since it reveals how a prominent professor holding an endowed chair at a leading university can publish a book whose major claims are false.”

Clearly, Gordon believes that Finkelstein makes the stronger argument and on this particular issue, I am inclined to agree with Finkelstein’s claim that certain human rights violations were commited over Dershowitz’s rather hard-to-believe categorical claim that “There is no evidence that Israeli soldiers deliberately killed even a single civilian.” Does Dershowitz simply ignore all of the evidence to the contrary? Gordon and Finkelstein implies that he does, but in fact, based on a debate between the two authors (during which Finkelstein actually implies that Dershowitz didn’t even write the book), Dershowitz makes clear that he does not ignore the record, he simply disagrees with it.

“We have a reasonable dispute about that,” Dershowitz says in the debate. “What Israel does and what Israel did until 1999 was what the United States is now doing on Guantanamo Bay. That is they put people in uncomfortable "shabach" positions, they put hoods over their head, often foul smelling hoods, they play loud music, there's a cover story in the Atlantic Monthly this month which talks about rough interrogation techniques. It describes what the United States is doing and it says that Israel used to do that, some possibility it continues to do it. That's simply not the kind of torture that international law prohibits.” As to whether or not Israeli soldiers have deliberately shot civilians, Dershowitz claims that this issue is dealt with in his book.

Gordon concludes his review with the following:
“On the other hand, the heated response to his book is just another example of how the literature discussing the new anti-Semitism delegitimizes those who expose Israel's egregious violations of international law.”

Frankly, I get a little tired of hearing this straw-man argument made every time someone challenges anti-Israel views. I do not recall Dershowitz, or the ADL, or virtually ANY other prominent wtiter or organization EVER claim that criticiszing Israel is anti-Semetic in ANY WAY, and yet every time I hear some anti-Israel diatribe, it almost inevitably includes cries of victimhood and lamenting all of the accusations NO ONE makes about them. The problem is that most people who are genuinely anti-Semetic are also anti-Israel, but the claim of anti-Semitism is not made simply BECAUSE people criticize Israel. In any event, this is a discusson for another post.

What struck me about the book review was not the conclusion that Finkelstein’s conclusions were better supported than Dershowitz or more thoroughly researched, but the fact that it determines Finkelstein as “right” and Dershowitz as “wrong” despite the apparent ambiguity in the evidence.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New Bern

I'm back from New Bern in beautiful eastern North Carolina. Being there reminded me, inter alia, how much I miss things like trees. And water. It was a nice weekend, though I am buried now. Ana caught the bouquet (and to seal whatever fates supposedly come from such silliness, I somehow ended up with the garter).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Sports Guy, Then

. . . but before I go, the Sportsguy passed through his alma mater, Holy Cross, on his book tour this week, and in his honor they reprinted one of his columns from his senior year in March of 1992. It has his trademark style even then, if it is a bit rough.

Wedding Crasher, New Bern Style

Another weekend must mean another wedding (I have three in a five week span, starting with last week's "What happens in Scranton stays in Scranton" Thunderfest). I will thus be gone, this time to New Bern, North Carolina, but dcat will, as ever, be in capable hands. This time I am going with the girlfriend (actually, it's her friend's wedding), and my only hope is that no one gets hurt when she uses every ounce of her 105 pounds o' fury to get to that bouquet.

How the Miers Nomination exposes conservative hypocracy

FindLaw's Edward Lazarus writes today that "If nothing else, the conservative infighting over Miers has revealed that the most conservatives do not believe their own hokum about judicial neutrality, any more than liberals do. In truth, they think that personal values are crucially important to judging, and that liberal and conservative judges alike inject these values into their decision-making. "

He concludes by nothing that "the debate among conservatives over Miers's nomination exposes a longstanding intellectual deceit in their professed allegiance to "strict constructionist" judges. At the same time, it offers an opportunity -- at Miers's hearing -- to treat the public to a candid discussion of how judges actually do their jobs, in place of the mythologized version of judging that emerged during the Roberts hearings."

And now for something completely different

Since the Dcat homepage promices a one-stop shop for “Pop Culture,” among other things, I decided to bear my soul here and reveal what I watch on TV and why

(NOTE: I really don't have time to watch anything since my comprehensive exams are next week, but then again, I really don't have time to post blogs either now, do I?):

  1. The West Wing:
    Quite simply, my favorite TV show ever! It has managed to combine serious political issues with interesting characters and competent acting in a way that is entertaining. Recently, the creators have decided to shift the attention of the show away from the setting and characters that I have come to love and towards a new set of players running for president. Of course, Martin Sheen and company are still part of the show and sometimes even constitute the main plot of the episode, but it is clear that the campaign between Congressman Santos (D-TX) and Senator Vinick (R-CA) is the main element now. The creators took a big risk changing the primary format of the show like this and it paid off. Both candidates are likeable and the energy of the campaign season provides wonderful opportunities to make connections to reality (in last weeks episode, Vinick created a small scandal by promising a prominent religious leader that he would appoint pro-life judges and Santos recently justified voting against CAFTA by saying that he did vote for it… before he voted against it).

    Criticism: Not much. I have never been truly disappointed with an episode. If you are a conservative however, you might take note of the fact that the only way the writers could make a likeable Republican candidate was by making him a pro-choice, anti-religion moderate. This is a pity, as the show could have used this opportunity to portray a Republican as conservative as Santos is liberal and yet still caring and pragmatic, rather than refuse to even try.
  2. Lost:
    Season One got me hooked, and I recently rented much of it at Blockbuster so my wife could enjoy it with me. Extremely character driven, but enough mystery about survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island that kept me guessing from week to week. The first season was a perfect combination of individual character flashbacks and island drama which included monsters the audience does not see, a French woman who has been living there since her own crash 16 years ago, and a (group?) of “others” on the island who torment the survivors, and then kidnap one character in last years finale.

    So far season two seems… anti-climactic. Having exhausted most of the main characters reason for being on the plane last year, this season seems to move at a snails pace, promising much in the preview, but offering few answers. Last season’s primary mystery was a hatch that no one could open. When we finally get into the hatch this season, the results were disappointing. Although the past few episodes leaves more questions than answers, they are not the same type of questions, nor do they have the same emotional draw as last season. Still a great show however, and the depth of the characters more than compensates for any momentary slowness in the plot.
  3. Smallville:
    In an article in Slate last week, Matt Feeney goes to great lengths to define a “guilty pleasure” and proceeds to confess his own guilty pleasure films (which, for him, include such Shakespearian dramas as Wild Things, and Cruel Intentions).

    Well, this is my guilty pleasure. As a huge Superman fan, I watched with eagerness this show about a young Clark Kent growing up in Kansas with superhuman abilities. The first three seasons were truly entertaining, as Clark slowly starts to develop more and more abilities (X-ray powers, eye lasers, super-hearing) and developing a friendship with a young Lex Luthor. It was cheesy, yes, but fun. Last season however, the show unquestionably “jumped the shark," as they say.

    The plots were implausible, even by Smallville standards, the dialogue almost unbearable, the characters behaved so inconsistently and out of character, and the creators decided to add the character of Lois Lane, seemingly, because she was hot. As a result, it is difficult not to find almost all of the main characters obnoxious. The sole exception being actor Michael Rosenbaum’s character of Lex Luthor who, despite the abysmal writing, manages to remain compelling.

    Sometimes, I think the only reason I stay loyal is to read the truly superb episode reviews by Neal Bailey, whose reviews often combine humor and philosophy to intelligent critiques.

    In short, it is my guilty pleasure.
  4. Other than that, I have seen a few episodes of Commander in Chief. Once you get passed the cheesy, holier-than-though writing, and suspend disbelief enough to actually swallow the idea of a misogynistic Republican candidate picking a politically inexperienced female Independent as a running mate, only to die and have the nation’s first Independent President choose a Democratic Vice President, it can be entertaining. The only problem with the show is that it’s characters often resemble little more than caricatures, reinforcing this idea that a political novice that just wants to do good despite alienating BOTH major political parties can still stand up to career politicians (who are almost universally portrayed as evil, epitomized by Donald Sutherland’s character as the Republican Speaker of the House who, pissed that the new prez didn’t resign and let him lead, has vowed to bring her down. All that’s missing from the character is his Darth Vader voice and a mustache to twirl).

The Flooding in New Hampshire

It does not reach the levels of Katrina or Rita, and no taciturn Granite Stater would suggest that it does. But the recent rains and flooding in New Hampshire are nonetheless an enormous tragedy. The northeast most often has to deal with Mother Nature's wrath in the form of epic snow storms. And oftentimes the many feet of winter accumulation lead to flooding in the spring, but this is clearly different.

The little town of Alstead was hit worst, but my own hometown of Newport to the north (which is neither new nor is it a port, inasmuch as the Sugar River is not navigable, unless you count floating down it on inner tubes in the summer) took its share of damage. My uncles bought the local golf course a couple of years back by taking a huge risk and a leap of faith. Much of the back nine runs along the Sugar River, and it has been largely destroyed. My Dad's house is adjacent to the golf course, and seems to have avoided the worst of it, as it is located on high land. Downtown was pretty much shut down, with some parts re-opening just today. Fortunately everyone appears to be ok, but for those of you who pray, the folks up there could well use it. For those of you who don't, a few kind thoughts might have the same effect.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Africa Watch

It is not hard to find bad news about Africa. The nightmare in the Sudan, rapacious corruption in Zimbabwe, the utter chaos in the Congo River Basin, the list goes on depressingly. In this week’s New Republic Austin Merrill chronicles the latest carnage in Cote d’Ivoire. In yesterday’s New York Times Nicholas Kristof informs readers of the plight in what he boldly (but perhaps accurately – how can we ever really know?) calls “the most wretched country in the world,” Niger.

Of course while Africa burns, America and most of the rest of the globe fiddles. Today’s Times reveals yet another case of Congressional inaction in the face of African suffering.

Meanwhile some Africans continue to hope for a better tomorrow, however long the odds. In war ravaged Liberia, a former soccer star and national legend, George Weah, is running for the Presidency and is expected to win yesterday’s elections. Liberians queued by the thousands, and experts predict that Weah, the former world footballer of the year and star for Chelsea and AC Milan, will emerge victorious and that perhaps he can lead the nation, the closest America has ever had to an African colony, into a democratic future despite the bloody, blighted past Liberians have known.

I sincerely hope so. But I am skeptical. One need look no further than this review essay in the latest issue of The Nation, which addresses three important recent books, none more significant than Martin Meredith’s magisterial The Fate of Africa. One can take issue with some of the conclusions – I do – but it is clear that the majority of Africans are still in for a long, hard walk to freedom, peace, and justice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The hypocrisy of Dennis Prager

Today, the website RealClearPolitics featured an editorial by radio host and author Dennis Prager attacking that amorphous thing conservatives love to call “the left.” Although nothing new, this particular article was particularly hypocritical in its list of the most recent things the left has done to “hurt America.”

And here they are:

  • The first example involved the ACLU, which has threatened Southwest Airlines with a lawsuit. Southwest ordered a passenger off a flight after she refused to cover her T-shirt on which was printed an expletive -- "Fu--ers" -- referring to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I have previously noted in this column the widespread approval of foul language on the Left… To most Americans, the huge increase in public cursing is a sign of a deteriorating civilization; to the Left it is a sign of a freer, less hypocritical one.

I personally do not support the ACLU, even if at times it adopts a position identical to my own. The contention that foul language is somehow monopolized by “the left” is almost too ridiculous to even counter. Where was Prager when Dick Cheney, the Vice-President of the United States, told a US Senator and ranking member Judiciary Committee to “fuck yourself”? "I felt better after I said it," Cheney later told Fox News Channel, with a grin.

Of course, this is nothing new. “During the 2000 campaign, Bush pointed out a New York Times reporter to Cheney and said, without knowing the microphone was picking it up, “major-league ass-hole.” Cheney's response: “Big Time.”

In a previous article, Prager forgives this since “The difference between using an expletive when you think no one can hear you and when you want the world to hear you should be obvious to everyone.”

“Then there was that famous Talk magazine interview of Bush by Tucker Carlson in 1999, in which the future president repeatedly used the F-word.”

The point? People tend to swear. It is a nasty habit, and one that I am more than guilty for doing. To make this a partisan issue by suggesting that it is a problem by “the left” however, is, frankly, pretty fucked up!

  • The second example was a federal judge appointed by former President Bill Clinton ordering the Defense Department to release all remaining photos of prisoner abuse by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison. Though it is certain that the only effect of the photos will be to further endanger Americans at home and abroad and increase the danger to American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and though there is absolutely no need for the public to see these photos, the judge ordered their release.

Was Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein right to order the photos released? That is a discussion worthy of legal and political debate. However, to dismiss the decision as an example of “the left” hurting America is baseless. Hellerstein was not appointed to the position because he was buddies with Clinton, or happened to be his personal lawyer (wink, wink). He received his L.L.B. from Columbia Law School, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review, and served in the Judge Advocate Corps of the U.S. Army from 1959-1960. In other words, he was qualified for the position.

Furthermore, Prager pretends that there was no legal justification for the decision when in fact Hellerstein acknowledged the dilemma but said that terrorists “do not need pretexts for their barbarism” and that suppressing the pictures would amount to submitting to blackmail.

In any event, here is a radical left-wing idea: Why not express outrage at the perpetrators of the crime, and the organizational structure that seems to facilitate its continuance, rather than the messenger that brings it to light?

  • A third example is the Left's libel of Bill Bennett.

I have already discussed this issue in a previous post, but suffice to say, contrary to popular conservative accusations, there was no libel. Liberals understood exactly what Bennett meant, understood the context, and still rightly exposed his statement as racist.

"Our Democracy Has Been Hollowed Out" by Al Gore

This article about the rise in TV media and its corrosive effect on America's tradition of being a "marketplace of ideas" is a bit long, but really worth the read, if for no other reason than the author, Al Gore, could have/should have been the President of the United States!! Enjoy.

An Excerpt:

  • The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories.

    And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

    For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in the world. And that too seems strange to me.

    Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media, the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up."

    The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")

    In fact, one of the few things that Red state and Blue state America agree on is that they don't trust the news media anymore.

Juan Cole on GW's Speech

The following is a section-by-section critique of President Bush’s speech by Juan Cole. He ends the piece with a personal message for the president:

  • “Mr. Bush, I don't recognize the world you paint. I find your speech a form of sheer propaganda, having almost no relationship to reality. And I am very, very worried that you will allow to happen to the Oil Gulf what you allowed to happen to New Orleans. After watching you for five years I have become convinced that you don't have the slightest idea what you are doing in Iraq, that you are just reacting and playing it by ear. You can't do that, George. This Iraq thing is extremely complex. It needs serious, concerted thought by high-powered people, not just your cronies and yes-men and ideologues of various stripes (from Right to far-Right). You might just need the help of Iran and Syria to get Iraq right. Did you ever think of that? Iraq is the biggest policy failure in US history so far. You need to get a handle on it, the way you do on tax cuts for the billionaires (you've been very effective in making your rich friends richer). Otherwise all that extra treasure you've thrown to your tuxedoed "base" is going to go right down the tubes, drowned in a world of $20 a gallon gasoline.”

The piece really is an excellent repudiation of Bush’s speech and puts to shame my own endorsement of it just a week ago. I stand my view of the speech that I made then, and still believe that this was one of the best he has ever given on the nature of Islamic terrorism and should have come long ago. Nevertheless, Cole’s review is scathing and compelling., and worth a read.

Of course, there is a great deal that I disagree with coming from Mr. Cole, both with regards to Iraq as well as other foreign policy issues, perhaps most importantly his belief that the US should withdraw all armed forced from Iraq immediately (compelling though his arguments are). Nevertheless, his insights into the conflict are informative more often than not.

Monday, October 10, 2005

2005 Red Sox, RIP

Thank God the (wonderful, debauched) wedding festivities this weekend kept me from obsessing over the Red Sox (well, beyond receiving calls every ten minutes from friends updating me on the game during the rehearsal and dinner). A shocking number of you have emailed and called in the past few days to ask how I am doing. I appreciate that. I'm fine. The reality of being on the receiving end of a sweep is that it removes all illusions. Chicago was the better team when you have to be the better team, and there was no heartbreak involved in the way that we lost.

One of the vexing aspects of the Sox winning is that two ridiculous ideas emerged, neither of which make any sense whatsoever. One was that Sox fans would not know what to do with ourselves once the team won it all. The other was that Sox fans somehow should feel happy and content and that our outsized passion was no longer warranted. These are both stupid arguments posited by people whose connection to being a serious sports fan almost has to be tangential. As far as the first issue goes, all we ever wanted as fans was to see them win, and then to deal with it. And we dealt with it as I knew we would -- with the same level of passion, but maybe just a little less dread. As for the second point, why would Red Sox fans suddenly have to become content with just one championship? Why is it that we always hear about how Yankees fans expect their team to win? Why the hell should any successful team, which by any measure the Red Sox have always been, not have fans that want to win? Why should fans who pay the most for home tickets, who have the greatest presence at away games, who buy more books and dvd’s and hats and jerseys and crap for their team than just about anyone not expect the ownership and the team to produce every year?

This ties into another argument I have been making for some time: These two ideas presupposed something so obviously false that one ought not to have to mention it, but here goes: Red Sox fans did not exist in some hermetically sealed vacuum of almost but not quite. Red Sox fans are, almost universally, also Celtics and Patriots and Bruins fans. For those who need the quick history lesson, the Celtics are the most successful franchise in the history of basketball. The Patriots are the reigning dynasty in the NFL and are the most successful NFL franchise in the salary cap era. The Bruins are in a prolonged drought, but fans of a certain era can remember when they won Stanley Cup championships. So this idea that Red Sox fans had no idea of success was only valid in a world in which sporting loyalties across sports are not fungible. Cleveland fans across the board have no experienced a championship since 1964. Seattle fans since, well, ever. Philly fans since 1983. Boston fans have not been in that boat.

One person, a Yankee fan whom I know only peripherally (a brother of a friend and grad school colleague who is also a Yankees fan) sent an email to me and a handful of other baseball fans in which he posted a picture of a broom with a caption along the lines of "The Curse is Back." What a jackass. Unless his argument is that the Sox are cursed because they are not capable of winning every year, he is exactly the sort of knuckle-dragging dimwit who has come to represent Yankee fandom.

In any case, it's football season now, so how have those Giants and Jets been doing these last few years? I've lost track.

(Much of this whole rant is a slightly more visceral version of the epilogue to the Red Sox book, which is, I understand, available on Barnes & Noble's website, albeit without the cover picture yet, but is not yet on Amazon -- I'll provide links when I make an official announcement within a few days.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

He really doesn’t get it, does he?

Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett made a lot of noise recently when he made the following comment on his radio show:

“All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up…

I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.”

After being called on this unquestionable racist statement, Bennett simply did not understand the nature of the objection. He thought that it was because people were accusing him of advocating abortion, which is obviously was not.

THEN, he blamed the controversy on the fact that it was liberals, not he, who was racist, and their overreaction was due to the fact that the comment “hit too close to what they believe, not what I believe.”

Finally, just today, he blamed the media for misrepresenting what he had actually said.

Of course, what Bennett (and apparently those close to him) do not realize is that there was no misunderstanding his remark and it had nothing to do with abortion, but the explicit belief that blacks cause crime, in that reducing the number of black people would reduce the amount of crime committed.

This is what upsets people such as Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), who wrote in his weblog:

“But what they [right-wing critics] miss is not the abortion "hypothetical" -- as absurd and tasteless as that is -- but Bennett's suggestion that African Americans are synonymous with crime. It is a text book case of stereotyping and racism, and cannot be explained away.”

But try he does. Bennett’s statement is racist in intent, and his refusal to simply apologizes or suggest he spoke before thinking is typical of conservatives of late who blame any and all problems on the media or on liberals. How sad.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

What a GREAT idea!

A new website called is having a contest to see who can come up with the best new idea.

According to their website, a panel of judges will select the top 21 ideas. “The winner receives a grand prize of $100,000 and our commitment to work to make the idea a reality. The two runners-up take home $50,000. All 21 ideas will be featured in a book to be published in 2006.”

From healthcare to Social Security, from immigration to education, this site offers people a great opportunity to express their ideas of how government can work better. I urge anyone who has some new or innovative idea to put their time and effort into exploring the practical suggestions for implementing them!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Irish immigration the same as slavery?!?

Apparently, Bill O’Reilly thinks that the migration of Irish immigrants to the United States in the 19th century is actually equivalent to the slave trade!

He was TRYING to argue that the fact that blacks were once slaves and had nothing does not mean that they cannot make it and succeed in this country. This is a legitimate point of argument, but he decided to do this by comparing the slave-trade to Irish immigration. Say wha?

According to Media Matters, O’Reilly was responding to a caller who was arguing that the reason the prison population is disproportionately black is because of slavery. “If you take someone's language, someone's history, and someone's culture,” the caller said, “and then you just release them out into the world, you think they're going to be successful as a people?”

O’Reilly responded with the following:

“My people came from County Cavan in Ireland. All right? And the British Crown marched in there with their henchman, Oliver Cromwell, and they seized all of my ancestors' lands, everything. And they threw them into slavery, pretty much indentured servitude on the land. And then the land collapsed, all right? And everybody was starving in Ireland. They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing. Nothing. And succeeded, succeeded. As did Italians, as did -- and I'll submit to you, African-Americans are succeeding as well. So all of these things can be overcome I think.”

O’Reilly may be right that “all of these things can be overcome,” but his comparison is simply ignorant. Africans did not “have” to leave their country, they were kidnapped, stolen, what have you, and taken by force to the US by way of an infamous middle passage that can only be described as one of the worst conditions ever endured by the human race.

The Irish, by contrast, as with the Italians, the Jews, and every other group in American history (save Native Americans, of course) came to this country of their own free will, often escaping terrible conditions in their own country, as O’Reilly correctly alludes to. Freeing a country because of a famine and being dragged out by force are hardly analogous, especially since the condition of immigrants in America were, by and large, immeasurably superior and more hopefully than they ever could have been in their native lands. Not so with slaves, who would have remained in Africa had they been given any choice in the matter.

Furthermore, while discrimination against the Irish was pervasive and explicit in this country, it is by no means analogous to the black condition in America. Certainly, blacks were still being lynched, beaten, legally discriminated against, disenfranchised, and segregated well after the Irish had seen the worst of their prejudice. It is unbecoming and unhelpful to try and argue over who had it worse between two discriminated groups, but clearly any objective reading of history should reveal that if such an argument did exist, there could be no real question over the answer.

O’Reilly’s comparison reveals a level of ignorance towards American history in general, and towards the black experience in America in particular, that truly is unfortunate given his tremendous influence among certain circles. Knowing that this is how he views American history provides a deep insight into how he reaches some of his conclusions.

Where was this speech 4 years ago?!?

I must say, I found Bush’s speech today to be a welcome change from the normal drivel that is commonly put in his partisan speeches. According to Bush, the goals of Islamic extremists are threefold:

  1. “First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and stand in the way of their ambitions.”
  2. “Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments.”
  3. “Third, the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.”

He went on to speak openly about how these organizations rely on “the suffering and frustration of others. The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution.”

For the most part, the speech was really the first one in which the president actually offered an honest, even if simplistic, justification for the war on terror, and identification of the enemies in that war. By identifying their objectives rather than simply lamenting their evil-ness and leaving it at that, Bush has belatedly set up a framework for understanding the conflict that we are currently in.

Of course, the only falter in this otherwise competent address regarded Iraq:

  • “Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq… I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway.”

This is a straw-man argument since no one claims that the Iraq war created Islamic fundamentalism. The contention that many (including myself) HAVE made is that the conflict has strengthened terrorist groups by distracting our military from virtually every other area of the world, hindering our ability to respond to other threats adequately, and perhaps most directly, by creating an environment of heightened hatred and suspicion of the US which only fuels recruitment for terrorist organizations. Even our own CIA has acknowledged how the conflict in Iraq currently supports terrorist operations by providing “terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills.”

  • “We didn't ask for this global struggle, but we're answering history's call with confidence, and a comprehensive strategy. Defeating a broad and adaptive network requires patience, constant pressure, and strong partners in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and beyond. Working with these partners, we're disrupting militant conspiracies, destroying their ability to make war, and working to give millions in a troubled region of the world a hopeful alternative to resentment and violence.”

It is almost too obvious to point out, but where was this cooperative spirit in the lead-up to the Iraq war? Conservatives and Republicans did not just disagree with our allies, we openly mocked and insulted them, dismissing international opposition as being the result of selfish or naive intentions.

However, to give credit where credit is due, the following statement by Bush is really the first time that I have heard him defend his opposition to withdrawing the troops coherently rather than with simple platitudes about freedom and letting the terrorists win:

“Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources? Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence.”

All in all, an excellent speech! I applaud its intelligence, and its frankness. The only problem, of course, is that it is too late, and does not seem to conform to the policies we are seeing out of this White House. Nevertheless, judged by itself, I only wish it was not delivered sooner.

(You can read a transcript of the entire speech here).

Chris Cillizza's bias Washington Post Blog

The Washington Post has a blog in its “political” section called “The Fix” by Chris Cillizza. The title of today’s enrty was “Dean Pops Off,” and it referred to an interview Howard Dean gave last night on MSNBC’s Hardball, during which according to Cillizza, “he launched a few of the rhetorical rockets that he became infamous for during his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.”

I decided to suspend my immediate “what-did-he-say-now” reaction and actually read the transcript provided by Cillizza of what Dean actually said. What I read was a reasonable discussion that included some traditional partisan nitpicking but relative even-handedness.

Here is how Cillizza described part of the interview:

“Asked whether executive privilege should govern President Bush's nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Dean resorted to a phrase that will ring familiar to any 8th grade boy.

“I think with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, you can't play, you know, hide the salami, or whatever it's called," Dean explained.”

Pretty childish of Dean, huh? But wait! Here is the actual portion of the interview dealing with the Miers nomination:

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the president can claim executive privilege?

DEAN: Well, certainly the president can claim executive privilege. But in the this case, I think with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, you can't play, you know, hide the salami, or whatever it's called. He's got to go out there and say something about this woman who's going to a 20 or 30-year appointment, a 20 or 30-year appointment to influence America. We deserve to know something about her.

I must confess, I have no idea what Dean was referring to with his salami reference, but it seems pretty tame stuff. When asked by Matthews if this was an example of cronyism, Dean replied with the following: “I wouldn't go that far. We don't know Ms. Miers. I've always believed people ought to begin with the benefit of the doubt.” Hardly the ravings of an out-of-control demagogue, particularly when he goes on to suggest that he doesn’t care if she is pro-life as long as she will uphold the law.

Cillizza then described the discussion of the Plame leak in the following way: "Dean went on to suggest that he did not find it "very credible" that Vice President Dick Cheney was totally unaware of the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the media in 2003, adding: "The M.O. of the Bush administration is to discredit your opponents and attack them personally rather than attack them for their position."

What Cillizza neglected to mention was that Dean’s observation was arguably accurate. From Richard Clark to Paul O’Neil (and those are just former allies), the Republicans in general and certainly this administration does engage in exactly what Dean suggests. I am not suggesting that Democrats do not use the same tactics (that is a discussion for another time) but they certainly take the heart for it when they do, heat which is called “rhetorical rockets” by Cillizza when a Democrat says it.

Under the “comments” section of the blog, I am happy to note that others have commented on the unfair characterization of Dean’s interview. I just wanted to do the same here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Thunderstick Welcomes Mrs. Thunderstick

Many of you know my boy Rob, the Thunderstick, from the Red Sox Diaries. Well, early tomorrow morning I will jump on a plane bound for Houston to jump on a plane bound for Cleveland to jump on a plane bound for the greater Scranton-Wilkes Barre area to be in Rob's wedding. A good time will be had by all. Until I wake up about three hours after the reception dies down to reverse my course.

Hold down the fort, fellas.

Oh -- and Go Red Sox!!!

Andrew McCarthy On Racial Profiling

Andrew McCarthy (the lawyer and writer and senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and not, I assume, the brat packer who played Kevin Dolenz in St. Elmo's Fire) has written a piece about racial profiling at The National Review Online. He also quoted an excerpt on FDD's blog:
Do you think Americans are threatened by Islamic terrorism? If we are, don’t you think that in trying to prevent Islamic terrorism it is proper for the police to consider whether someone is actually Islamic? If so, what exactly are you condemning when you condemn “profiling”?

Here is my response to him, which I left in his comments section at the blog:

Andrew --
This seems like a reasonable assertion at first, until one thinks of two points:

The overwhelming majority of Islamists are not terrorists. This is not a minor point -- it is at the heart of American civil rights that you do not target a minority group as a whole based on the actions of a few. In this case a few that amounts to, what, .00001% of all American Muslims?

But let's say that we are not concerned with the niceties of civil rights law. Then there is the other problem:

I'll gladly trade you racial profiling at, say, airports only if you will grant me racial profiling of white men in all federal buildings. Why? Because the second largest terrorist attack in United States' history was undertaken by white men in Oklahoma City, and their intentions all along were to do far more than attack that one building -- some, indeed, are still operating, waiting to kill innocents every bit as much as Jihadists. Selective racial profiling against some terrorists seems inefficient. It seems racist. It seems dumb.

But again, I'll give you all Muslims if you'll give me all white men. We won't be any safer, but it can allow the folks over at NRO to think they are clever and reasonable. [Note: I included this last sentence before I realized that McCarthy was not citing someone else's argument but rather this was his own piece.]

But let me take my point further. Perhaps the largest sustained, if not in any real way coordinated, campaign of terrorism in the United States was the lynching of black men for crimes real and most often perceived from the late-19th century well into the twentieth. Today, as far as internal threats go, a whole array of white supremacist and anti-government types still function with malice aforethought (Think Eric Rudolph). So if racial profiling is good for the goose, etc. But of course it would be irredeemably dumb (not to mention utterly ineffective and inefficient) to target all white men who enter federal buildings or attend major sporting events. It would not make us any safer. And of course it would never happen. But why do such inefficiencies and ineffective solutions not give conservatives pause when they posit them for minorities? Forget the loathesome racial ramifications. There is no indication that such an approach will work.

Now do not get me wrong -- if, say, we have intelligence indicating that a Muslim male might be targeting a major east coast airline on November 8, sure, it makes sense to heighten security for airports. That would not necessarily be racial profiling any more than it would be racial profiling to stop a black man in the immediate wake of a crime that witnesses identify as being carried out by a black man. But blind trageting of groups, or targeting based on intelligence so broad as to be useless (and remember, this administration averred that intelligence that indicated that terrorists were looking to hijack airplanes and fly them into large buildings was not actionable -- they set the bar, folks, not me) would be not only counterproductive in the war on terrorism, but would subvert many of the very values that make us better than the very real bad guys.

Incompetence and racism -- this cannot possibly be a significant part of the plan to make us safer. Can it?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


During President Bush’s press conference earlier, one question stuck out for me. The question was whether or not Bush was still a conservative. Bush’s answer: “I'm still a conservative, proudly so, proudly so.”

“Proudly so.” Bush’s statement, unsurprising and certainly not new, highlights what anyone who follows politics has known for decades: the total and unequivocal defeat of conservatism’s counterpart, liberalism. While Bush may feel comfortable calling himself a conservative, his predecessor took no such pride in calling himself a “liberal,” preferring instead as a “centrist” or the increasingly popular “progressive." Gore and Kerry avoided the label like the plague, preferring the overused excuse of how they don’t like labels (how convenient for them).

The death of liberalism (the term, that is to say) can probably be traced back to the late 1960’s, and the subsequent association between “liberals” and the radical counter-culture of that time. Rhetorically however, the causes of its decline rest on two complementing developments:

1) The Republican’s successful campaign to discredit the label, and
2) The Democrat’s acquiescence to this onslaught

According to one Republican media firm, throwing around the term "liberal" can work to the GOP's advantage. “Labeling someone a 'liberal' can be a very effective method of positioning and pushing them out of the mainstream.”

They go on to note that “Democrats are terrified of the labeling” and so are the media. “Reporters sort of agree with Democrats that 'liberal' is a dirty word,” says Rich Noyes, research director for the Media Research Center, “so they get very defensive when the word 'liberal' is used.” He added that four years ago, reporters were quick to point out Cheney's conservative record, while the major networks now seem "disinterested" in talking about Edwards' policy stance and ideology and more concerned with talking about his "cosmetics" and "political abilities" — things that are essentially not that important for serving as vice president.

"I think if Democrats keep flinching and running away from the term 'liberal' — even when it applies — they help make it an undesirable label," Noyes continued.

This creates an obvious problem for the political party most associated with the term. While the word “conservative” connotes values, religion, family, and defense for many people, the word “liberal” connotes feminism, gay-rights, abortion, and socialism.

For Democrats then, there are only three options: Find another word to describe themselves, give up the idea of a unifying theme or phrase, or try and revive the sunken reputation of liberalism. My suggestion? Clinton’s double-victory notwithstanding, I don’t believe hiding from the term works as an effective strategy. While one could certainly argue that Gore actually got more votes than Bush without it and Kerry came damn close, I would argue that by avoiding the term, Democrats surrender a valuable rhetorical tool as well as aid in the impression that they stand for nothing.

With the advent of liberal talk radio and the rise in several young stars who are willing to redefine the label of “liberal,” I believe the time is ripe for a comeback. I know I am not alone in thinking this. George Cloony recently confessed how much it “infuriates” him that liberal has become a dirty word. “It blows my mind," he says, "because [unlike conservatives] we don't have to put the word 'compassionate' in front of it to say we actually give a s—t about people. I'm going to keep saying 'liberal' as loud as I can and as often as I can."

I’m with ya, George! That makes two… who’s with us?!?

Bush as Trumanesque?

William J. Stuntz makes a fascinating argument over at TNR online in which he compares President Bush with Harry Truman. His focus is on appointments, and at points he makes a compelling case. I would not take the analogy too far, however. truman could be willful. This entire administration, however, is characterized by its arrogance. there is a difference, and it manifests itself in an array of ways.

In any case, as I wrote yesterday, we do not know much about Miers' beliefs. But what we are beginning to see more and more of is that she simply is not qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. Place Roberts' resume next to Miers' and the contrast is stark. I did not want the democrats to go after Roberts because whatever else, he was utterly qualified. But with Miers this is simply not the case. Even if she is more liberal (or at least moderate) than what the President might have up his sleeve as an alternate, Miers would be an embarrassment, and democrats need to start beating the competence drum now. The fact that many on the right seem to hate this nomination should not provide solace to liberals. This appointment is cronyism of the rankest sort. Forget about parsing a paper trail to divine what she feels about various litmus test issues. On a pure test of merit, Miers does not belong. For once the Democrats need to make competence the issue.

Monday, October 03, 2005

L'Shana Tova!

I just wanted to wish everyone at Dcat a happy Rosh Hashanah!!

For those of you unfamiliar with this Jewish holiday, it is considered to be a solemn time during which Jews reflect on the past year, and seek reconciliation with anyone we may have wronged during the course of the year. After 10 days of self-reflection (called Teshuvah), the holiday of Yom Kippur is celebrated, the holiest day of the year, when people atone for sins committed against God.

In other words, in seeking forgiveness and repentance, Rosh Hashanah is a reminder that our fellow man here on earth comes first before we can atone to God.

For more about this holiday, this article by Rabbi Moshe Lazerus offers a pretty good overview.