Monday, July 31, 2006

On Chorizo (And Heckling Students)

Over at The Cyber Hacienda Jaime gets his revenge by "heckling" a student's evaluations and he also provides commentary on the new Chorizo sausage at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The sausage race is one of history's great ballpark diversions.

Three New Sports Blogs

My friend and colleague Brian let me in on three new sports sites. Highly, highly recommended -- in fact two rate in my top ten already. In reverse order of preference:

Deadspin is a sort of general sports blog from a former editor at The Sporting News.

If you are a college football fan, you should be reading EDSBS, "Everey Day Should Be Saturday." It is Florida-heavy, but definitely worthwhile.

But above all, the best baseball blog I have seen in a long while (especially since Sons of Sam Horn increasingly hides behind varous walls -- I cannot believe that they still have not given me a full membership at that freaking site) is the incredibly smart, insightful, witty, and when necessary, acerbic Fire Joe Morgan. This tends to run toward the stat-nerdy, but is unquestionably great. Here is just a sample -- defending ARod no less -- of these guys just eviscerating the sort of dumb commentary they see embodied in Joe Morgan. But this is aimed at their actual favorite target, HatGuy, who writes for MSNBC.

I love sports.

Coyne Kicks a Coulter

Over at The New Republic online, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, kicks the piss out of Ann Coulter. It is a glorious thing to behold.

Here is the first paragraph:

H.L. Mencken once responded to a question asked by many of his readers: "If you find so much that is unworthy of reverence in the United States, then why do you live here?" His answer was, "Why do men go to zoos?" Sadly, Mencken is not here to ogle the newest creature in the American Zoo: the Bleached Flamingo, otherwise known as Ann Coulter. This beast draws crowds by its frequent, raucous calls, eerily resembling a human voice, and its unearthly appearance, scrawny and pallid. (Wikipedia notes that "a white or pale flamingo ... is usually unhealthy or suffering from a lack of food.") The etiolated Coulter issued a piercing squawk this spring with her now-notorious book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Its thesis, harebrained even by her standards, is that liberals are an atheistic lot who have devised a substitute religion, replete with the sacraments of abortion, feminism, coddling of criminals, and--you guessed it--bestiality. Liberals also have their god, who, like Coulter's, is bearded and imposing. He is none other than Charles Darwin. But the left-wing god is malevolent, for Coulter sees Darwin as the root cause of every ill afflicting our society, not to mention being responsible for the historical atrocities of Hitler and Stalin.

This is the sort of thing that makes my day. Enjoy!

The Congo Vote (Update)

Millions of Congolese voted yesterday, hopeful that this exercise in democracy will not prove futile, and that a change will bring an end to war and chaos. Results will not be known for a month, but the favorite to win the first democratic Congolese election in nearly half a century is current President Joseph Kabila, which begs the question of what sort of change will follow. Perhaps the presupposition is that a free and hopefully fair election will grant Kabila both legitimacy and a mandate to act for the greater good. We can hope, anyway.

Another Fascism Analogy

Producer, writer, and director Aaron Russo (perhaps most famous for "Trading Places") has released a new documentary: "America: From Freedom to Fascism." His target? Income taxes and the federal reserve. It should come as no surprise that his foundations are based on misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies. A filmmaker turned ideologue wrong on the facts yet harsh with the assertions. I'm shocked. Shocked!

The Real Consequences of Bigotry

Anti-gay bigotry is noxious enough when it stands between loving couples being able to be married or enjoy the fruits of some form of legal sanction, whether in the form of civil unions or other legal protections. But such bigotry is doing incalculable harm in far more tangible areas.

Take for example the wars we fight. There is not a serious observer of Islamic terrorism who does not argue that one of the key factors in winning against this relentless foe is to increase our Arabic speakers in the intelligence, military, and dimplonatic communities. The need for more speakers (and more language specialists generally) has become a truism, such an obviious assertion that we ought not to have to spend any time discussion it and move straight toward implementation. Andrew Sullivan shows how the US military has now dismissed 55 speakers of Arabic for being gay, and in the latest case, the military did not even bother with it's loathsome "don't ask, don't tell policy," but rather simply dismissed decorated former Sergeant Bleu Copas, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and was a member of the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division, based on anonymous emails. Sullivan also reveals that being a member of a community theatre might be enough to cast aspersions on his or her sexuality, leading a reader to respond:

Just making sure I've got this straight:
Involvement in community theater is enough to not just disqualify, but actually remove someone from military service, while a "moral waiver" allows a high-school dropout with a criminal record to enlist in the military days after his last arrest.

No wonder Sullivan is moved to ask: "We really aren't serious about winning this war, are we?"

Such bigotry is not only harming the fight against terrorism either. The struggle to combat AIDS in Africa is every bit as vital to win as the battles against terrorism. And yet Catholic Relief Services has denied a priest a mission to Lesotho, the tiny, landlocked, mountainous southern African nation, because he is gay. Lesotho has been ravaged by AIDS. My brother is part of the CRS staff in Lesotho, and I am so proud to say that within an hour of when this news came down in his office in Maseru, he resigned. Apparently the fight against AIDS is another that the forces of bigotry are willing to sacrifice.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hezbollah: Our Enemy Too

In the Sunday Boston Globe Jeff Jacoby reminds us that "Hezbollah is Our Enemy Too.
Here is a sample:
For years Osama bin Laden had preached that it was ``the duty of Muslims to confront, fight, and kill" Americans. His adherents had responded by blowing up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and slamming a boat laden with explosives into the USS Cole. Yet most Americans paid no attention to Al Qaeda and its threats -- until 3,000 people lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Has nothing been learned from that experience?

Hezbollah's barbaric assault on Israel -- kidnapping soldiers who weren't engaged in hostilities, firing waves of missiles into cities and towns, packing rockets with ball bearings designed to maximize suffering by shredding human flesh -- is part and parcel of the radical Islamist jihad against the free world. Nothing to do with the United States? It has everything to do with the United States. Hezbollah hates Americans at least as implacably as Al Qaeda does, and rarely misses an opportunity to say so.

Read the whole thing. I'm usually not a huge Jacoby fan, but on this question he gets it right more than he gets it wrong.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Credentials Gap

Last year Dewey James, a pseudonymous writer in the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article, "My Credentials Gap," that hit really close to home and that I suspect will resonate with more than a few of my readers. I'll let "Dr. James" get his point across:

So, am I prepared to prosper on the tenure-track market for historians this year? Let's go over the CV:

*Doctorate in hand? Check.

*Excellent teaching evaluations? Check. University teaching award? Check.

*Other awards, including a national fellowship? Check.

*Publications in reputable, peer-reviewed journals? Check.

*Book contract with a well-regarded scholarly press? Check.

*Currently holding a visiting position at a good university? Check.

And let's not forget one important factor that the CV does not reveal:

*Generally nice guy who gets along well with people and interviews well? Check.

I should be golden on the job market, right? Can search committees honestly expect a whole lot more from a 2004 Ph.D.?

Oh yes.

The problem is that my CV has one gaping, glaring, career-hampering hole, one that can't easily be patched over.

My Ph.D., you see, is from, well, let's call it AMU: Average Midwestern University. You know, a big state university from the agricultural heartland, the sort of place that Ivy Leaguers might teach at, but would never actually earn a Ph.D. from.

When it comes to attracting job offers, Ivy League credentials beat AMU credentials most every time, despite whatever else might be on the CV. A recent study from the American Historical Association demonstrates that the "top" programs admit graduate students from a very narrow range of mostly private institutions, and hire from a similarly narrow pool. All of which is bad news for those of us from AMU's.

I too received my PhD at "AMU," although if anyone bothers to look beyond the university name they would discover that the program was anything but average, and my referees compare with anyone coming from the Ivies. Yet I know that most job committees at the elite instutions don't look beyond the university name. Don't we alll know of a hiring situation in which a job went to a recent Ivy League or cohort university graduate whose promise may have been boundless, but whose record was still lacking, the presupposition being that while Person X had not yet published and had no teaching record, surely in coming from the University of Self Importance, they must be good? In fact, AMU sometimes doesn't do its graduates or those of its own cohorts any favor by making these exact same decisions -- again, I know my AMU has. Sometimes these hires work out. Oftentimes, however, they do not. I'd be willing to bet that graduates from AMU work out just as well as those with the more glimmering background.

The tendency not to look beyond the surface is not unique to hiring decisons within the profession, either. Hiring committees, tenure committees, and anyone looking at your vita will ask the question "where did she publish?" Rather than say, "was what she published any good?" This is understandable -- short of reading the article, the "which journal is it in" shorthand seems to make a certain amount of sense. But there are several problems with this approach. The first, of course, is that many of the big name journals carry a prestige out of all proportion with the quality of what is within its pages. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I cannot remember the last article in the American Historical Review that I even cared to read; I'd have to go a lot further back to find one that I thought was any good after I did read it. In short, the AHR may be the most visible journal. Publishing it it may confer something upon the writer. But that does not necessarily mean that an article in the AHR is any better than an article in a much smaller journal. Given that we are all under pressure to publish, that the big journals take forever to provide feedback that may well not be positive, and given that the low-hanging fruit offered by smaller journals both in terms of acceptance and time to publication may hold a great deal of appeal for junior faculty facing yearly review and tenure deadlines, there are obvious reasons why someone might take the smaller journal route. Dismissing an article that may well have been able to get into a bigger or "better" journal -- if only we were allowed to shop our work to multiple places -- seems both unfair and reveals a remarkable obtuseness about the nature of academic publishing these days.

In making hiring decisions, granting fellowships or any of the other myriad reasons for looking at someone's vita, we need to do better than to lazily ask "where did they get their PhD?" and, to a lesser degree, "Where did they publish?" The former question is especially noxious because it presupposes that the best work always comes from a small number of programs and that those programs are nearly infallible in their admissions decisions, decisions most often made based on the performance of 22-year-olds.

Back to Dr. James:

But in the name game -- the "glance quickly at the conference badge to see whether this person is worth talking to" academic culture -- I'm at a decided disadvantage, even against those candidates who can't match my teaching and research credentials. People in the humanities may like to pretend that it's the quality of scholarship that matters, but the open secret is that the prestige accorded to one's doctoral institution counts for a great deal.

In some ways this whole hiring process is irrational. At its worst, it reminds me of what I hated about high school: It's the cool kids reproducing their privileged social status. It's not that I don't recognize that Ivy Leaguers are nearly always very good; it's just that many of us from other institutions are very good as well.

The job market isn't easy on anybody, but the dearth of tenure-track positions means hiring committees rely even more heavily these days on status credentialing. With so few positions available, hiring committees are under great pressure not to make a bad hire; after all, the dean might very well give the next space to a different department if the process doesn't go well. And search committees can imagine themselves explaining, "Hey, he was from Harvard -- who knew it wouldn't work out?" But they cringe at trying to rationalize to administrators why they would take someone from AMU in the first place.

There are lots of great people coming out of good AMU's every year. If only various committees would get their heads out of the clouds, bother to read and weigh the entire vita on its own merits, and realize as much.

The Congo Election

The South African Mail & Guardian has solid coverage of tomorrow's elections in the Congo and the run-up to them. Coverage includes articles on how "Hope and fear dominate" in the DRC on the eve of voting, on election-related violence, and even deaths in recent days, and on Thabo Mbeki's belief that "Turning the DRC around is vital for Africa."

I want to be optimistic, I really do. But I cannot help but believe that the army will continue to be a problem, that those in power will want to maintain power, that the appeal of kleptocracy will overwhelm the desire for democracy, and that in many parts of the vast country, especially the eastern regions, chaos will prevail. But for the next few days, I will hold onto hope.

The DOJ and Race

Apropos of what I wrote last week regarding the Bush administration's cronyism regarding the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, Derrick Jackson has a blistering column in today's Boston Globe. There are problems when nine of the nineteen lawyers the administration has hired since 2003, ostensibly to address civil rights violations, gained their experience by opposing civil rights litigation or legislation.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Run, Cyril, Run!

I've often wondered why Cyril Ramaphosa chose to leave South African politics so quickly after 1994. After all, it is not overstatement to assert that Ramaphosa may have been the single most vital figure in the negotiated transition from National Party to ANC rule. He managed to develop a personal relationship based on trust and goodwill with Roelf Meyer, the young moderate Nat politician that the two relied upon when things seemed to get bogged down. Nonetheless, Ramaphosa went on the become a poster child for BEE, Black Economic Empowerment, as his savvy, contacts, charisma, and intelligence have made him into an overwhelming business success story.

Now there are rumors that Ramaphosa is positioning himself to be Thabo Mbeki's successor, a position long assumed to be Jacob Zuma's for the taking before his various legal and ethical imbroglios. But in an odd twist that will be utterly alien to American readers, who are so accustomed to trial balloons and wiggle-room denials from our politicians that even those denials manage to raise someone's stock (ask Al Gore, barack Obama, and Condi Rice), some in South Africa, and especially in the Ramaphosa camp, see allegations that he might be running as evidence of a conspiracy against him. Odder still, those conspiracy theories might have legs, as the whole context carries with it a strange smell.

Of course, on the flip side, oom Krisjan Lemmer points out that flattery has been afoot. To wit:

A visit to Cyril’s entry [hyperlink added - dcat] turned up a curious final paragraph: “Many people in South Africa, both prominent voices and ordinary citizens, view Ramaphosa as the next president of the country. He is seen as an intelligent, well educated man with the skills necessary to lead the country into cementing its young vibrant democracy.” Intriguingly, this little flourish of objective biography was added a fortnight ago. Lemmer doesn’t need to remind readers that Wikipedia is compiled from readers’ submissions; and he can only assume that when “prominent voices and ordinary citizens” aren’t daydreaming about Cyril, they’re online.

Whatever the political machinations, Ramphosa's possible entry back into ANC politics would make for a decisive moment. Ramaphosa has the bona fides from the struggle, the support of the rank and file, the portfolio for the economic community, the negotiating savvy from the transition, and the respect of seemingly everyone. If I were to make a prediction, and I will, it is that Cyril Ramaphosa will be South Africa's third post-Apartheid president.

The Congo

On Sunday the Democratic Republic of Congo is supposed to hold an election. This is not a small matter. This most troubled of African countries has not had a legitimate election in four decades and during that entire time period the barely-functioning country has served as the apodictic example of kleptocracy, anarchy, and chaos as governing strategy. The bulk of this epoch was spent under Mobutu Sese Seku, the American-supported thief who oversaw a domain of murder and disruption in this vast Central African country.

If one wants to look for a starting point for Congo's plight, American Cold War policies would make a good starting point. But as with any argument that begins with the disruptions of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and clientelism, matters quickly move beyond that. Mobutu continued his rapaciousness well after the Cold War, and thus his use to a string of American administrations, expired, and his successor-by-force Laurent Kabila was no better and by most measures oversaw a more overtly thuggish regime. His death-by-coup eventually led to the succession of his son, Joseph. Perhaps Sunday will end this era of strife and chaos. The wars in the Congo have cost, directly and indirectly, some 3.5 million lives, more than any other conflist or set of conflists since World War II (though this is contested territory -- depending on the accounting, one might stake these dubious honors for Sudan).

In today's New York Times Adrian Hartley looks at the Congo, taking aim at a troubled country's most troubled region, the chaotic, wild and seemingly uncontrollable east, where an April massacre shed slight on the destructiveness of Congo's military, the ineffectualness and even complicity of UN peacekeepers in the area, and the isolation that means that the uncontrollable east (dys)functions without the world having a clue. the subtext? veteran Africa hand hartley has a hard time believing that these elections, welcome as they may be, will provide any sort of panacea for Congo and its weary, blood-soaked people.

Biden on Diplomacy in the Middle East

If you want to see why many of us see Joe Biden as a potentially formidable Democratic contender for the 2008 nomination, this op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe provides at leasta glimpse. He advocates diplomacy in the Middle East while still casting the balms firmly where it belongs, on Hezbollah, and gives an indication of what such a solution, bolstered by troops, might look like. One can quibble with the mechanics, but no one can doubt that Biden knows what he is talking about.

I'm not certain Biden can win the nomination. Between fund-raising, a skeptical left-wing of the party, and some of the issues that Chris Cilizza discusses (see also my post below), Biden has an uphill climb, but he is one of my top four choices right now and were he to be able to wrest the party's nomination he would make for a strong national candidate.

Political Crack

If you are a political junkie, you really need to be reading Chris Cilizza's The Fix at the Washington Post. The Post is hands down, bar none, the best newspaper in the United States for national-level American politics, and Cilizza's coverage is like an elixir for political nerds -- a perfect combination of juicy tidbits, gossip, speculation, fact and analysis. Today he looks at "the next five" in each party. Regularly he updates a list of the top five contenders for 2008 in each party; today he lists 6-10 in each with his reasoning. Recently he has had the case for and against Barack Obama running and much, much more -- and each of his entries often contains within it its own world, so if you read the full Obama section, you'll also get a for and against list of several other fence sitters. You won't always agree with Cilizza and his seemingly inexhaustible rolodex of informers. But this is what the merging of the so-called "old"and "new" media is supposed to be all about.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Greatest. T-Shirt. Evah.

It simply says: "Jeter Drinks Wine Coolers."

Pop Culture Grab Bag

There is lots on the pop culture radar these days. Rather than write an "In The Changer" or "On the Bedside Table" feature, I want to comment on a few different things that have caught my fancy of late.

Book: Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go: Yes, this is the book that I raved about after having read 70 pages a few weeks back, but I finished it, and it matched all of my expectations. Gorgeous, haunting, lyrical, devastating, brilliant, wonderful. Other adjectives. It may be impossible to write a rave review in capsule form without seeming like you are writing a blurb, but my impression a few weeks ago stands: This is my favorite work of fiction since Ian McEwen's Atonement, and if you have not read Atonement, then shame on you. Please, please, please go buy this book. A+

CD: John Cougar Mellencamp: Scarecrow: John Cougar Mellencamp (Or John Mellencamp; or John Cougar. He's the Mary Decker Pierce Slaney of the music world) is a poor man's Tom Petty, who himself is a poor man's Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. And this is not to damn with faint praise. Would that most musicians were just two steps removed from that pantheon, or one step from Petty. Mellencamp broke onto the scene with a little ditty about Jack & Diane (who were two American kids doin' the best they could) on his album American Fool. Scarecrow was, I believe, his second album, and to my mind it is superior to the first. I actually just want to discuss the title track, but my quick take on the album is that the first half is really strong, showing Mellencamp's populist bent within the framework of a rootsy rock feel. By the second half there are too many songs with what Tootle would aptly call "distractingly bad lyrics," but of 1980s album of a certain stripe (again, see Petty, Tom for other reasonable successes) this one holds up reasonably well.

But I want mostly to discuss the title song, because it is one of the few slices of pop culture that cuts so close to home it always has a powerful effect on me. My parents divorced when I was young, and within a few years, my Dad had taken to running the family farm. The early and mid 1980s were not a good time to be a family farmer in America, and especially perhaps not in the inhospitable climate of northern New England. Operating from my grandparents' land, with the quintessential new England farmhouse (the oldest house in Newport), dad milked cows (we'd have the occasional pig or turkey, I recall a brief foray with chickens, and in both the early and later years horses). We never got above, I'd guess, 80 or so head, and economies of scale being that they were, that was never enough. As an admission, I hated the farm, or at least I hated working on the farm. If I was not playing a sport or participating in another extracurricular in the afternoon I had chores to do -- they were not onerous, or at least were as not onerous as digging through a foot of accumulated cow shit over several hundred square feet can be, but I was a preteen and early teen during these years. Some days dad would come and pick me up from school with the shit truck, as we called it, which as you might guess always thrilled me to no end. When it was time to harvest corn or to cut the fields for hay, we had to be out there. Cows don't take holidays and they don't sleep in, so Christmas morning or New year's Eve or on my birthday, if I was there, I was up, lugging buckets of milk to the machines or shovelling or spreading sawdust or gathering feed or this that or the other. This lasted for a few years, years more precarious then even now I probably am aware.

Soon enough Dad simply could not do it any more. There was a usurious buyout program for farmers by this time. I was about 14 or 15, still young enough and dumb enough to be a bit embarassed by the fact that yes, I owned a pair of boots specifically for wading through cow excreta, and my dad had a shit truck that might show up to pick me up from practice, but old enough and smart enough to know under the surface the value of certain things.

I was in New York, staying with my uncle and aunt and cousins on Long Island (and as I think about it this may have been intentional) the summer that they came to take it all away. They auctioned off the equipment. They herded the cows ("The girls") into the trucks (for slaughter? For someone else to milk? I never knew.). I've heard that my Dad, a hardscrabble New England farmer, carpenter, do-anything type, the kind of man with Popeye forearms and ropey limbs that for all of my time in gyms I could never replicate, a man with a shovel and hammer and hay bale musculature, stood in the field and bawled like a baby that day.

So Mellencamp's "Scarecrow," about the loss of a family farm hits me hard, even now:

Scarecrow on a wooden cross blackbird in the barn
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
I grew up like my daddy did my grandpa cleared this land
When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
This land fed a nation this land made me proud
And son Im just sorry theres no legacy for you now
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow

The crops we grew last summer werent enough to pay the loans
Couldnt buy the seed to plant this spring and the farmers bank foreclosed
Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land
He said John its just my job and I hope you understand
Hey calling it your job ol hoss sure dont make it right
But if you want me to Ill say a prayer for your soul tonight
And grandmas on the front porch swing with a Bible in her hand
Sometimes I hear her singing take me to the promised land
When you take away a mans dignity he cant work his fields and cows

Therell be blood on the scarecrow blood on the plow
Blood on the scarecrow blood on the plow

Well theres ninety-seven crosses planted in the courthouse yard
Ninety-seven families who lost ninety-seven farms
I think about my grandpa and my neighbors and my name
And some nights I feel like dyin like that scarecrow in the rain

Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
This land fed a nation this land made me proud
And son Im just sorry theyre just memories for you now
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow

Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
This land fed a nation this land made me so proud
And son Im just sorry theyre just memories for you now
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow

Really hard. CD: B+ Eponymous song: A+

Movie: The Aristocrats: All of which naturally leads to one of the most unlikely movie hits of recent years. This documentary is about a joke that is legendary among comics, though you may or may not have ever heard it. It is a joke that is all about the telling. I can tell the beginning and the punch line here. Remember, they key is that each teller makes the joke his or her own.

A man walks into a talent agent and says to the man behind the desk, with his cigar clenched tight between his teeth, I have an act for you. the man behind the desk says ""Oh yeah? Tell me about it." . . . The punchline goes: "Wow. That's quite an act. What do you call it?" (Proudly) "The Aristocrats." In between, the telling recounts the most lewd, scatological, incest-laden, pornographic details imaginable. It really is up to the teller to make it his own. (I've worked up what I think is a pretty formidable telling of it myself.) The documentary is about the joke. It has dozens of comedians talking about, telling, the joke, giving their versions, making it as raunchy as possible. Trust me when I say that there has never been a more profane movie ever produced. Let's just say that the C word features prominently, and in the midst of the fisting and Dirty Sanchezes and Strawberry Shortcakes and Rusty Trombones and other grotesque carnality -- if you are at work, or if a spouse regularly shares your computer, you may not want to Google any of those terms; trust me -- one hardly notices. They discuss variations on the joke, angles one can take, philosophies. One of the remarkable aspect is the meta-humor component, the idea of the importance of the act of telling. Another is that you gain a newfound appreciation for some comedians -- Bob Saget is unreal in his appearances, if you can believe that. Ditto Drew Carey. Sarah Silverman has an absurdist take that is astounding. Gilbert Godfried became a legend as the result of a telling of the joke at the Hugh Hefner Roast (trust me, it did not make Comedy Central) in the wake of 9/11. And it goes on and on. This is not everyone's cup of tea. Even for those of you for whom it proves to be your cup of tea there will be moments that you will find spectacularly unfunny and disturbing. I have about as high a threshold as one can for this sort of thing, and there were moments when I was almost aghast. But if you are the type of person (Tom) who can see your way through this sort of thing, there are moments of sublime brilliance here that are unsurpassed. Just please, send the kids to bed. And I would not suggest watching this with a spouse, significant other or, for the love of God, an adult relative. B+

Television: The Contender: It's hokey. It's overwrought. Sugar Ray Leonard is a hoot. But this show about sixteen men who have dreams of being professional boxers is the only reality show on television that deserves that appelation. I enjoyed the version last year on NBC with Stallone and Leonard. Stallone is listed as executive producer this season and has not yet made an on-camera appearance, but if you even remotely like boxing, or if reality shows are your thing, my guess is that you will not turn the channel. I believe it airs originally on Tuesday nights on ESPN -- which is its only logical home, and thus will allow it to do much better than it did on the Peacock. Plus, any one of these guys would pound the crap out of the jokers on "Survivor." B+

Oh, and you really should be watching Entourage.

Fantasy Football

As usual, the good folks at Big Tent are hosting the Big Tent Fantasy Football League. Since DCAT is loosely affiliated with Big Tent, our readers, if they act quickly enough, may just get a slot. Spaces are filling up fast -- he opened the league yesterday and already half of the slots are filled-- so go here for details.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dukakis and Mondale: In Praise of Competence, Honesty, and Responsibility

Over at Big Tent, Tom encourages us to read this latest offering from Jonah Goldberg. Now some will quibble with Goldberg on some of his points, such as when he avers that the war on terror and Bush's "heroic Supreme Court picks" will be the President's greatest legacy. Really? "Heroic"? Have we devalued heroism to the point where picking a couple of conservative white guys -- after, of course, picking a spectacularly unqualified conservative white woman -- for the Supreme Court is heroic? I'll give Goldberg a pass for placing the Iraq debacle -- for what else can even its supporters call it now -- in the framework of the "war on terror," a dubious proposition at the outset. At least he is not comparing liberals to Hitler, fascists, or totalitarians, and indeed in his way is praising Michael Dukakis, kind of, sort of.

But here is another issue for which the hapless Democrats of 1980s presidential candidacies deserve some credit, though Goldberg would lose his job (and probably his intellectual mooring) for acknowledging as much: Admitting that there are times when tax hikes are necessary. Some of you may remember, or at least have read about, the 1984 campaign in which Walter Mondale acknowledged outright that as president he would have to raise taxes. Mondale maintained that President Reagan knew this to be true, and that the President, if re-elected would raise taxes, but that he, Mondale, was at least honest about it. For this bit of truth telling Mondale was pilloried, and while it was not the sole cause (there are never sole causes in election wins and losses, never mind in wipeouts like that Mondale endured) it was a huge factor in his defeat in the fall. Americans did not want to hear it. But guess what? It was true -- Reagan did raise taxes. It was also the right and honest thing to say: raising taxes was both necessary and responsible.

I may have presented this issue here before, but there are four fundamental approaches to taxation. While intended as tainting by labeling by conservatives, my argument takes at face value that one of these four approaches finds expression in the Republican j'accuse "tax and spend liberals." one of the four fundamental approaches to taxation is, to be honest, to raise tax revenues and in so doing to use those revenues to pay for government's expenditures. Far from being an accusation, isn't this what we expect from ourselves? Isn't this what those of you who are parents teach your children? In order to buy something, you need the money for it. Of what I argue are the four approaches, "tax and spend," despite it's status as an epithet, is both the most reasonable and the most responsible approach. As we have seen in American history, we are going to spend. We might quibble about how, and on what, and in what proportion, but we are going to spend.

The second of the four approaches, the one that conservatives present as their alternative, would be "don't tax and don't spend." This modus operendi (which to some, alas, is a modus vivendi) is responsible in theory. The corollary to the lesson we tell our children is that you cannot buy things if you do not have money. Perfectly respectable. But in the American political context? Unworkable. Because as I just argued, we do spend. And in fact the two presidential paragons of reduced taxation in the last quarter century spent like freshmen with a new credit card. Furthermore, in many contexts, not spending is simply irresponsible. Liberals argue as much about cutting social welfare programs. Many liberals and conservatives argue the same about military and foreign policy. In most cases they are right on both counts. So while as a theory "don't tax, don't spend" might have a certain resopnance, it is at best pie in the sky, and at worst irresponsible. Grover Norquist might see himself as a standard-bearer for straight-talking realism. In fact he is nothing more than a mouthpiece for unworkable theory. He is like most postmodernists, but his ideas are even more absurdly impractical and useless.

Then there are the other two approaches, which presumably we can dispense with quickly, because they are both irresponsible and unworkable: "tax and don't spend," and "don't tax but spend." Either option would be silly, both politically suicidal and fiscally reckless. Neither has a serious champion philosophically. The problem is that the latter, by far the most reckless and irresponsible, the most morally vacuous and dangerous, is the precise option carried out in reality by this administration and attempted by those who supported -- pick your name -- "Reaganomics," "Voodoo economics," "supply side economics," or whetever it is that President Bush believes. But at some point there must be a reckoning. The Clinton administration spent much of its tenure cleaning up the mess of the Reagan years (helped out by the first Bush administration, which foundered on the shoals of its "read my lips: no new taxes!" pledge, a political death that must to this day inspire Mondale to paroxysms of giggles) only to have Bush the Younger decide that cutting taxes and massively increasing spending was the path to take.

So by all means, let us praise competence, something that even conservatives are beginning to admit en masse is missing from this administration. But let us also celebrate honesty and responsibility -- two other attributes not exactly flowering in the executive branch these days. There is no sense in romanticizing Mondale and Dukakis, but it is at least worth pointing out that rather than being caricatures, they were men who came close to the top ranks of American political life, and they had their merits, competence, honesty, and responsibility among them. Who would have thought that the Democratic Party nominees of 1984 and 1988 would look so good in comparison to what we have today?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Worth a Thousand Words

This seems about right:

Hat Tip to Judith Klinghoffer.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Poland, Jews, and Israel

My apologies for taking so long to post, I know I have been negligent, but I thought I would share this fascinating book review from the New York Times about the new book, “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz” by Jan T. Gross.

The book tells of “how surviving Polish Jews, having escaped the fate of 90 percent of their community — three million people — returned to their homeland to be vilified, terrorized and, in some 1,500 instances, murdered, sometimes in ways as bestial as anything the Nazis had devised.”

Here is an excerpt from the book review:

“With the war over, and to tumultuous applause, a thousand delegates of the Polish Peasants Party actually passed a resolution thanking Hitler for annihilating Polish Jewry and urging that those he’d missed be expelled. Indeed, the mopping up soon began. Returning to their villages and towns, Jews were routinely greeted with remarks like “So, ____? You are still alive.” Their efforts to retrieve property were futile — and, sometimes, fatal. Some Jews met their end on trains — not cattle cars this time, but passenger trains, from which they were thrown off. If the trains weren’t moving fast enough, they were beaten to death.”

“Fear” is a much broader book than Gross’ previous book, “Neighbors,” which focused solely on an episode in 1941 in which Polish inhabitants of the town of Jedwabne brutally clubbed, burned and dismembered the town's 1,600 Jews, killing all but seven. Since then, a government commission in Poland determined that not only did Gross get the story right in the book, but that many other cities had done precisely the same thing.

The connection between the events in Europe after WWII and contemporary politics is obvious, and made even more explicit in the documentary, The Long Way Home (1997). Contrary to the image some have of an army of British-backed Jews invading Palestine in the post-war period with a D-Day landing, the bulk of the people who resettled in Palestine were starving refugees who had no where else to go. The only law any of them ever broke was the sporadic violation of Britain’s ban on immigration to Palestine, passed to appease anxious Arabs who resented the presence of nationalistic Jews on soil that was once Muslim. It was not a colonial enterprise by any sensible definition of the word, nor could it justifiably be called immoral, since the land these Jews settled in was legally purchased and communally maintained.

Of course, the anti-Semitism expressed by the Poles after WWII, and by the Arabs after the spread of Zionism exists today of course, in the veiled form of anti-Zionism or anti-Israel sentiment. This link, expressed in Diana Muir’s article, “Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism: The Link” on the History News Network was actually analyzed by Edward H. Kaplan of Yale, and Charles A. Small of Southern Connecticut State University. In their paper “Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe,” Kaplan and Small ask whether individuals expressing strong anti-Israel sentiments are more likely than the general population to also support old-style anti-Semitic slurs. As Muir summarizes,

The correlation was almost perfect. In a survey of 5,000 Europeans in ten countries, people who believed that the Israeli soldiers “intentionally target Palestinian civilians,” and that “Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israeli civilians” are justified, also believed that “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” “Jews have a lot of irritating faults,” and “Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want.”

Please allow me to preempt attacks on this view by stipulating the following obvious claim: Criticizing Israeli policy, Israeli leaders, Israeli military practices, and scrutinizing Israeli society or culture is perfectly legitimate and universally accepted, just as any country may be scrutinized. Holding Israel to impossibly high standards while comparing every Israeli action to the most heinous crimes and regimes in human history, by contract, is neither legitimate nor helpful, particularly while ignoring any human rights violations committed against Israelis by its neighbors. Just as it would be racist to target only Africa or the Middle East for special condemnation while all others are victims of their bestial wrath, so too is it anti-Semitic to target the only Jewish state in the world to repeated condemnations that defy any sense of fairness, logic, or accuracy. One thing is clear however: such criticisms leveled against Israel today would be perfectly understood and agreed upon by the Poles of 1940’s.

Soccer News

On Saturday South African premier league team Kaiser Chiefs (from which the British rock band got its name) defeated Manchester United 4-3 on penalty kicks after the teams fought to a 0-0 draw to win the inaugural Vodacom Cup in Soweto. The tournament involved the Chiefs, the Orlando Pirates (another South African premier league team -- Chiefs and Pirates are the two most historic franchises in South African soccer and are the country's biggest sporting rivalry), and Man U and in the buildup produced one of the great television ads of all time, though I can find the South African commercial nowhere on the web. I've no idea how many of ManU's starters played, but in any case this is a huge victory for South African soccer and a marvelous defeat for those who hate Man U, which should be all of you.

Wicked Pissah

New Hampshire's hold on the first in the nation primary is growing increasingly tenuous, at least as far as the Democratic Party is concerned. I am pretty mixed about this. As a New Hampshire native and still semi-jingoist, I believe that tradition ought to matter, that the particular style of retail politics that the New Hampshire primary imposes on candidates is good for democracy, and that New Hampshire stepped up to the plate long ago when it was not a particular honor to be first but rather a duty and when in any case candidates were chosen by the parties rather than in any meaningful way by the public. Why now should the Granite State be shoved to the side, or at least diminished, in the candidate selection process?

At the same time, New Hampshire is not exactly representative of our great democracy. The state is about 99% white. Ethnically, socially, geographically the state is not as diverse as the presidential selection process warrants. New Hampshire may be the most libertarian-inclined state in the country and so having its citzens choose the candidates for each party's nomination seems to have a warping effect sometimes. I understand all of these points intellectually, even if my heart and sense of loyalty indicate that New hampshire deserves to maintain some status, however honorific, in the primary season.

But here is what I do not want to see happen: A move toward early, frontloaded superprimaries in which the party's choice happens quickly without voters being able to see candidates be hardened by a selection process. I do not want to see retail politics, the politics of the spaghetti supper and pancake breakfast and candidates trudging through the snow and gingerly walking on the ice and giving speeches in high school gymnasiums, give way to the saturation of blanket television ads and speeches in giant auditoriums delivered to the voter only via television, if then.

New Hampshire still has a role to play. Rather than place Nevada's caucus between that of Iowa and the primary in the North Country, why not leave things as they are, but, as they plan, bring South Carolina's primary closer on the heels of New Hampshire's and have Nevada be that week as well, preserving New Hampshire's role, at least symbolically, but allowing candidates to make South Carolina or Nevada more significant as well, thus increasing diversity of voices?

Proportionality and Blame

Over at the L.A. Times Jonathan Chait takes on what he rightly argues is the "silly" assertion that Israel is using disproportionate force in waging its attacks against Hezbollah and its protectors in Lebanon. I argued something similar last week, but without a comparable platform. Alan Dershowitz, meanwhile, wisely encourages us to Dershowitz"Blame the Terrorists, Not Israel," in the Boston Globe, and Marty Peretz augments and cites Dershowitz while illustrating how it is clear that Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations crave not only the death of Israeli civilians, but of their own as well. The deaths of their own innocents is all part of the plan. In other words, these organizations of death rely on Israel's capacity to retaliate.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cronyism and Civil Rights

According to today's New York Times, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is an outpost of cronyism for the Bush administration. Although accusations of this presidency filling the bureaucratic ranks with hacks is nothing new, the fact that the administration sees civil rights as an arena in which to reward political loyalty is especially alarming. (Moreso than making Homeland Security a virtual hackocracy? No. But we have all known for a long time now that the administration is less concerned with homeland security than with using homeland security as a cudgel with which to pummel its opposition.)

The Times piece asserts:

The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees.

But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers.

For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

I have never subscribed to Kanye West's argument that President Bush does not care about black people. I also find the argument that the Republican Party is racist not to be compelling. (The Democrats, let's keep in mind, were the party of white supremacy for more than a century even as it eventually also emerged as the home of racial progressivism in the last half or so of that century.) But it is clear that even if most Republicans are not racist, the GOP has a race problem, and that revelations such as the ones in the Times surely do not help the party's image with regard to race. Some issues should be above politics. Unfortunately this administration does not see things that way, and its astigmatism does irrevocable damage to the country.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

And Millions of Men Cross their Legs and Cringe

On the plus side, let it be said that when Latvian men lose a bet, they follow through on it. Egads.

Friday, July 21, 2006

On James Garfield

If you are interested you can read some of my thoughts on President James Garfield through a capsule review of a new biography on our twentieth president (and Williams alumnus) over at Ephblog.

I knew that Wesleyan had to be good for something other than to serve as the safety school and sports cannon fodder of the Little Three. (I kid because I love!) A while back the Boston Globe ran a feature on Adam Gomolin, a recent Wesleyan grad who, fed up with the nature of political debate, began a new forum, "Beyond Partisan," which claims the following mission statement:
In the era of globalization, American policy resounds beyond American borders.

However, partisanship divides our Union; it stifles the discussion of our concerns; it betrays the voice of our people.

We must commit ourselves to the non-partisan resolution of issues and to the steady confrontation of American challenges.

We must face the imperatives of our present with a deliberation that is candid, selfless and free.

We must return American politics to the common concerns of the American people.

This is a welcome addition, which proves that even guys who cannot get into Williams have something to contribute!

Days of Race

Yesterday was a pretty big day for race relations in America. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to extend the Voting Rights Act for another twenty-five years by a vote of 98-0. This follows the House doing the same last week by a 390-33 margin, helped no doubt by the compelling arguments of civil rights veteran and Democratic Georgia Congressman John Lewis:
“I gave blood,” Mr. Lewis said, his voice rising, as he stood alongside photographs of the clash. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives.”

“Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance,” he added. “The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.”

In the House there was some vocal but ineffectual resistance from conservative Republicans.

So too yesterday, President Bush finally deigned to speak before the NAACP. I doubt the speech did much to build much hope among an African American community with which he has earned deep distrust, but at least he managed to clear the space in his schedule for the first time in his tenure in the Oval Office.

Pressuring Mugabe

According to the Mail & Guardian the United States has issued a statement from its embassy in Harare welcoming former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa's mediation in Zimbabwe's crisis. However, The US is only interested in Mkapa's involvement if it will not be a charade. Mkapa's intervention will only be useful if he is able to convince President Robert Mugabe to accept responsibility for his country's crisis and to encourage Mugabe to accept "sweeping political and economic reforms necessary to rescue Zimbabwe from its problems."

One can already envision Mugabe's response. He will condemn the United States as imperialists. He will point out America's involvemnent in Iraq as evidence, and will likely gibe the Bush administration for how swimmingly that intervention is going (a sort of ripple effect of the incompetence emanating from the White House, Foggy Bottom, and the Pentagon). He will stand firm and likely will vocalize his own conditions. Mkapa's intervention, like the rumors of Kofi Annan's before it will likely founder.

Mugabe is a madman. Any pressure that we, or especially the South Africans, can apply is welcome, but the reality is that Mugabe is highly unlikely to yield to outside pressure. Still, it is good that the American government is tired of the tomfoolery and that we only want to support actions that will lead to progress in battered Zimbabwe. At this point there is no sense expecting a cogent or sane or humane answer from the man many southern Africans call "Crazy Bob."

Incompetence and "Terrorist Batting Averages"

In today's Boston Globe James Bovard opines about "The Terrorist 'Batting Average'." Bovard gets at the heart of my criticisms of this administration. While I have ideological concerns galore about almost everything President Bush does (his absurdist take on stem cells being just the most recent example) my main concern with the Bush Administration is its utter incompetence at, well, at almost everything, but especially with regard to a terrorism policy that has proven laughably threadbare for all of the tough rhetoric.

As Bovard concludes:

False accusations will not keep America safe. Simply because a government official suspects someone of wrongdoing proves nothing. The US government can devise a system to judge alleged terrorists without disgracing itself in the process.

The administrtation has a policy of fear-mongering and demogoguery. That might play well to the base, but in case the administration has not noticed, the base appears to be shrinking. The days are long gone when cynically invoking 9-11 will pass for viable policy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Israel and Its Discontents

Israel rains bombs on Lebanon. Calls come from Israel's putative friends calling for restraint. Calls come from Israel's enemies calling the IDF murderers.

Change the targets of Israel's response and this is the dynamic that has pervaded Middle East politics for decades. Israel responds to attacks against it and then is branded as problematic or worse because Israel is stronger than its enemies. And so it goes.

It might be worth pointing out that Hezbollah has been operating from southern Lebanon for years now, and that it is true that the Lebanese are to a large extent hostage to their own weakness. Hezbollah receives its support from Iran and especially from Syria, the country that really ought to be seen as the enforcing rod of any axis of evil that may exist. Most in Lebanon would as soon rid themselves of the Hezbollah problem. They wish Hezbollah would disappear. But my high school football coach had a phrase that he periodically invoked whenever someone whinged about this or that: "Wish in one hand and shit in the other, and guess which one will fill up faster?" Israel cannot respond to Lebanon's champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Israel has to respond to the realities on the ground. The realities on the ground are that Hezbollah, based in southern Lebanon, has lobbed bombs into Israel, including the port city of Haifa, and has kidnapped Israel's soldiers. Israel has a responsibility to its people and a right to respond. That Israel is stronger than its enemies is of no moment.

This is one of the more vexing aspects of Israel's relationships with its neighbors and in particular with the Palestinians. Israel is the stronger force. Thus when attacked, the odds are that the response will be overwhelming. So it is a fools errand to point out that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Israelis kill and wound more than do those who instigate the attacks. Now I suppose fools have to run errands too, but this reality does not change the facts on the ground. If you throw a punch at someone stronger than you, don't be surprised when you get the snot kicked out of you. And don't then run to the principal and claim that you were bullied: You threw the first punch. That you couldn't back it up is probably something you should have thought through beforehand. Unfortunately, school principals, like Israel's critics, only see the blood; they rarely see what caused the bloodshed.

Those who are calling for Israel's restraint are not without virtue. Too often Israel reacts in ways that only hurts its cause. In the Gaza Strip and occasionally in the West Bank Israel's actions frequently appear indescriminate, arbitrary, and for all of the force applied, even ineffectual. Israel has more than its share of civil rights problems. But Israel's critics seem to forget the virtual state of siege under which Israel has lived since its inception. Just two decades after the Shoah, Israel was inclined to take seriously calls to drive it into the sea, as happened in 1967, accompanied by the amassing of enemy troops on its borders. Israel responded, as was its right, and in so doing overwhelmed those who were prepared to vocalize their desire to eradicate Israel but were impotent to follow through. In six days Israel won the war effectively declared against it. The price in blood and treasure? Gaza and the West Bank, inter alia. Palestinain territories? Not quite. In May of 1967 Gaza was part of Egypt. West Bank was part of Jordan. Jordan and Egypt were two of the powers who had lined their troops in hopes of pushing the Jews into the Mediteranean. Neither had, up until that point, been engaged in discussions of ceding thier lands for the Palestinian State that only after Gaza and West Bank had been lost in the most humiliating of fashions. (Six days! Driven into the sea indeed.)

Since then, many individuals and many bodies, both supporters and enemies of Israel, have called for withdrawal from territories. Just how much withdrawal there would be was up for debate. Meanwhile successive Israeli governments made the decision to install settlements in the territories, settlement that inevitably was seen as provocative, settlements that many of Israel's supporters, myself included, have thought were a bad idea. Which is why many of us have cheered the removal of settlements in Gaza and wish for the same in the West Bank. Israel won these territories in a war declared against it, but nonetheless, having the right to do something does not always make it right, and beyond that, for Israel's own peace, it must concede territories won. But of course now, when Israel has done precisely what it had been scolded to do for years, Israel is accused of acting "unilaterally," as if there was a viable multilateral partner.

Furthermore, supporting Israel does not mean opposing a Palestinian state, even if Israel's neighbors never saw fit to move toward establishing such a state, except in their grim and murderous dreams of imposing such a state on the skeletal remains of the Jews they hoped to destroy. I have long supported a two-state solution. Overwhelmingly those hopes have foundered on the shoals of Palestinian intransigence. Or need we remind readers of the Oslo agreements? At one point the Palestinians could have had more than 95% of the territories. The exchange? To forswear slaughtering Israel's children. Yassir Arafat (and right-wing Israelis) chose slaughter. Eventually Ariel Sharon chose provocation. And soon enough Palestinians chose to murder thousands of Jews because a member of the Israeli government visited Temple Mount. Someone was saying something about proportionality? Please.

(As a side note, remind me of why Oslo II passed in Israel despite the opposition of a majority of Jews in the Knesset? Ahh, yes, because of the Arab members of that body. Please tell me of a neighboring state that allows Jews the same representation. Wait, that bar is set impossibly high -- please tell me of a neighboring state that allows Arabs comparable seats at the table in a representative democracy. I admit, my thumb is on the scale -- there isn't such a state! Yet Israel is the target of so much wrath. Peculiar.)

And so here we are, defenders of Israel, most of us with a record criticizing Israel while supporting it, and criticizing it in ways that would simply not be allowed were we to ask for the same right to criticize, say, the Syrian government in Syria. (Of course with an Israeli stamp on my passport, I would not even be allowed into Syria.) People who clearly have no grasp on Israel's politics call all of us "Likudniks," as if Labour governments had not for decades supported the fundamental principle of Israel to exist as a secular, liberal, Jewish state free of being driven to the sea. It's an odd thing from which to hope to be free. But this is the state of politics in the Middle East. The country that fears being eradicated by enemies who have proclaimed loudly and frequently precisely that exact goal is told it must act with restraint in the face of wars declared against it. This is the stuff of absurdist farce, were the consequences not so very real.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Double Whammy!

So, until yesterday no Sox pitcher had spun a 1-0 win at Fenway since a guy named Pedro did so against San Diego in 2004, a year that turned out ok. Suddenly, the Sox have won two 1-0 games in a row after today's win with Beckett and Pepelbon on the mound. There had not been consecutive 1-0 games at Fenway since August 1990. The Sox had not won back-to-back 1-0 games at home since 1930. I'm a bit worried about the bats, but I think there is reason to have faith in the pitching.

Young Guns

On a night when Jason Varitek brought me back to my childhood by breaking New Hampshire native Carlton Fisk's Red Sox record for games caught, the real story was the youth movement on the mound. Granted, it came against the Royals, but rookie Jonathan Lester pitched eight innings last night and gave up just one hit, an ineffectual bleeder, to run his record to 5-0, and wunderkind closer Jonathan Papelbon mowed them down in the 9th for another save (ho hum) in a rare 1-0 Sox win at Fenway.

Everyone wonders how the Yankees have been doing it with the injuries that they have had. But the Red Sox have gone through most of this season without two of their projected five starters, Matt Clement and David Wells, and now it looks as if ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is going to hit the shelf for a spell with a bad back. I suppose we all knew that a race would develop and that the Yankees would at some point surge. I still like the chances of the Sox, but on top of playing well, the Yanks are starting to get the calls. In the sweltering heat of July, it looks like a pennant race is beginning to kick into full gear. The youth movement is looking more and more vital as the summer wears on and the trade deadline approaches.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh Yeah? Well Your Cat Looks Like Hitler!

We at DCAT, and our brothers in arms over at Big Tent, have been very clear that Hitler analogies are bad and wrong. However, Cats That Look Like Hitler (Or "Kitlers")? Brilliant.

I wish I had found this on my own, but must credit the good folks at Entertainment Weekly.

50 Albums that Changed Music

During one of the spirited arguments that punctuates High Fidelity, by way of insult Barry asks Rob, the book/movie's protagonist, "Why would someone who hates music own a record store?" I could not help but think of this query when perusing The Observer's list of the "50 Albums that Changed Music."

Kraftwerk #3 of all time? The Spice Girls in the Top 20? "Nevermind" only 47th? The list probably has most of the right albums, but their sense of ordering is bizarre and capricious. How can people who hate music make such a list? I am perplexed. And annoyed.

Hat Tip to the Thunderstick.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Today marks Nelson Mandela's 88th Birthday. The great man basically retired from public life in 2004, though he is still somewhat active with his foundation and he manages to meet visiting dignitaries understandably eager for an audience with Madiba.

Al Gore, Animated

I had no idea that Al Gore's daughter, Kristin, was a comedy writer whose credits include the brilliant and underappreciated Futurama. She is at least partially responsible for this clever trailer, starring an animated Gore and Futurama's crass, self-important robot anti-hero Bender, for An Inconvenient Truth. Gore continues to deny any desire to run in 2008, which of course puts him at the very top of the viability chart in US politics. A dream scenario might be a brokered convention in which Gore is effectively drafted, but it seems almost impossible in this day and age for a party to host a convention without a candidate firmly in the bag.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Incoherence Watch

While it is only July, I feel pretty confident in awarding this T. R. Fehrenbach column as the most incoherent piece of writing (professional division) in 2006. I first read it in yesterday's Express-News in San Antonio and I had to revisit it today online to ensure that I had not imagined this train wreck in some bizarrely topical stream-of-consciousness dream. What nudges it from the ridiculous to the sublime is the topic: He writes to condemn ineptness! It is flabbergasting in its, well, in its ineptness. I'll check with Alanis Morrisette (like Stuart Scott, I try to keep my references at least six years old), but I think this qualifies as irony.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wedding Planning

I'm in San Antonio now. If the planning does not kill me (or if Ana doesn't) we are still on track for June of next year. I will get back to some of your comments (yes, Dr. Aima, this means yours) and to regular posting as soon as possible, but quite likely not prior to Monday.

Here is what I am learning: The wedding industry is one finely oiled machine wholly geared toward taking advantage of a couple being madly in love enough to run their damned gantlet. The up-front costs are enormous, the hidden costs are galling, and there is a subtext that implies that not spending on those extras indicates a lack of devotion (what, you fools are going to provide your own centerpieces? Enjoy divorce court!). The things I most want (the opportunity for my friends to descend on this city and have one hell of a good time) are of course the most expensive (open bar, anyone?) with the possible exception of the things I do not want but with which I may well be stuck (in an age in which everyone there will have digital cameras, please explain to me why I should spend several hundred dollars on a wedding photographer). The fact that we are paying for this whole shebang ourselves is the biggest impediment, though it is liberating in the sense that we don't have to appease as many people as if someone else was footing the bill -- or if several parties were. That said, if a rich old widower wants to marry either of our moms, I'll send you addresses along with a signed contract(Pick your preferred address -- San Antonio or the Daytona Beach area -- and I want recent income tax returns) so that you can start courting.

So I keep repeating the mantra: "As long as she's happy . . . aslongasshe'shappy. . . aslongas . . ." and figure that it will all work out. I might end up advising some of you to bring a bottle of premium liquor with you. In fact, I might well allow anyone in who has with them a bottle of said liquor, invitation or not -- please don't tell Ana I said that.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sox Watch

Today's Globe has two good pieces on the Sox. In one, Bob Ryan is one of the few who gets it when it comes to Manny. It's a tradeoff: the occasional Manny Moment in exchange for the sublime gifts he brings to the plate. Only a moron or a sanctimonious fool would not take that trade. In the other, Gordon Edes argues that the Sox are in "great shape" as we head out of the All Star break and into the early stages of the pennant race.

There is ample cause for optimism to emanate from Yawkey way out into the farthest reaches of Red Sox Nation. The team is in first place in the AL East, comfortably in position to continue to be so for the near future. They have the best defense in their history and the best in the league. The starting pitching is holding up despite some key injuries and the fact that the Sox showed up at JV practice last month at Cambridge Rindge and Latin to find a fifth starter. Some young arms have come through big time -- Papelbon, obviously, but also the heavily touted Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, and Manny Delcarmen. On the offensive side of the ball, if we do not quite have the juggernaut that carried us through the past few seasons, we still have one of the very best in the league, and whenever you have one of the greatest 3-4 tandems of all time in Manny and Big Papi (I'll entertain Gherig-Ruth, but other than that will take on all comers) runs are going to flow. recent history also suggests that we are the best home team in baseball and we get a huge percantage of the next month's games in Fenway.

So, what, heading into the trade deadline, would I like to see the front office acquire? Like every team in the game, the Sox could use another starting pitcher. The key, however, is not to ger dragged into a bidding war with the Yankees, Blue Jays or anyone else. I would encourage them to strike quickly -- the closer the 31st is, the higher prices will go. Better to make a firm offer with a short deadline now then to wait until the last minute and overpay. There have been whispers about Dontrelle Willis, but that would be both expensive and in any case unlikely as long as Florida is looking frisky both for this year but more importantly for the near future. There have been rumors about Bobby Abreu and a few others. This is one year, however, when standing pat might be the best move of all. We trade from a relative position of strength this year, which we all hope Theo does not squander -- and the best way to make sure he doesn't is for the guys to play well.

How far can this team go? It seems like everyone is touting both the White Sox and the Tigers. The experts think that the Sox will win the division, but then when talking about World Series contenders they forget all about Boston. The White Sox are surely a strong team, and as defending champs warrant the pole position. The Tigers are another matter. The Sox manhandled them in their one series meeting. The Tigers are very young with a lot of pitchers who have never thrown a lot of innings (Verlander) or have faded on those occasions when they have (Kenny Rogers, come on down!). Both Central teams have a spectacular record, largely because they play in what must be one of the most disappointing divisions in all of baseball -- the Indians have underachieved, the Twins have both underachieved and mismanaged personnel, and the Royals are just lucky that we do not have relegation like European soccer leagues (an eventuality I would welcome with open arms, by the way). The Red Sox, meanwhile, face the Yankees and threatening Blue Jays, a Tampa team that by all accounts is better than they ever have been, and the Orioles who are, as always it seems, mediocre but still would be fighting for third place in the Central. Furthermore, the Red Sox are a perennial contender and as such are prepared to go deep into October. Everyone else can pencil in the White Sox or the Tigers, but I am pretty pleased with our options as they stand. With Schilling and Beckett and the ever-reliable Wakefield, with Lester having three months to get himself in the Fenway mindset, with Papelbon and the others trotting from the pen (Rudy Seanez aside), and with Manny and especially Papi, the greatest clutch hitter of this generation, always just around the corner, and with able guys like Loretta and a rejuvenated Lowell and Kevin Youkilis as the sort of guys who are always essential to a championship team, why not?

It's traditionally atypical for Red Sox fans to be this optimistic, but I suppose that is the one thing 2004 did change: We know it can be done, that collapsing is not inevitable. We fans are as intense as ever, still swear at the television and lament the slightest lapses, but we are not sitting and waiting for catastrophe. We just want them to win, desperately, but now at least we know that they can.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Title IX and Fairness

First off, let me preface the comments to come by asserting that Title IX has been a marvelous boon for women's college sports. It is hard to believe that three decades ago women had few opportunities on the playing fields -- varsity sports were limited, the quality of facilities and equipment laughable, and the perceptions of women athletes shameful. Colleges and universities actively discriminated against women who wanted to play. As a direct result of Title IX millions of little girls have been able to dream of growing up to be Lisa Leslie or Mia Hamm or Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

But Title IX has had many deleterious effects as well, for in the process of doing the right thing -- opening up access to women -- those in charge of the enforcement of Title IX have done the wrong thing -- namely to make access to college sports a zero-sum game in which for women to benefit, men must lose. John Tierney has an insightful column on Title IX hidden behind the New York Times' monumentally stupid firewall. Here is a taste:

Suppose you’re the head of a school whose students belong to two ethnic groups, the Alphas and the Betas. The Alphas get better grades and are more likely to graduate. They dominate the school newspaper and yearbook, the band and the choir, the debate team and the drama club — virtually all extracurricular activities except for sports.

How much time would you spend worrying about the shortage of Alpha jocks?

Not much — unless, of course, the Alphas were women, the Betas were men, and you were being sued for not complying with Title IX. Then you would be desperately trying to end this outrageous discrimination.

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?

Yes, some women are dedicated athletes, and they should be encouraged with every opportunity. But a lot of others have better things to do, like study or work on other extracurricular activities that will be more useful to their careers. For decades, athletic directors have been creating women’s sports teams and dangling scholarships and hoping to match the men’s numbers, but they’ve learned that not even the Department of Education can eradicate gender differences.

At the University of Maryland, the women’s lacrosse team won national championships year after year but still had a hard time getting 40 players to turn out for the team. The men’s team had no such trouble, because guys were more than willing to warm the bench even if they weren’t getting a scholarship, but the coach had to cut the extra ones to maintain the gender balance. The school satisfied Title IX, but to no one’s benefit.

On or off campus, men play more team sports and watch more team sports. Besides enjoying the testosterone rushes, they have a better chance of glory — and of impressing the opposite sex. Thirty-four years after Title IX, most women’s games still attract sparse audiences. Both sexes would still rather watch men play games, especially football.

It is not sexist, it is not retrograde, it is not misogynistic, and it is not wrong to state a series of simple facts: Men on average like sports more than women; men are more passionate on the whole about sports than women; men play sports more and more intensely than women. The purpose of Title IX was to create opportunity for women athletes, and it has done so. However it has also inadvertantly but undeniably served to limit opportunities for men at all levels of college sports. It is time to reconsider the proportionality approach to college athletics and to both acknowledge that men are more interested in sports and that women are no longer limited in their opportunities on college campuses. Title IX was about fairness. Fairness has been achieved and in the process it has created a new level of unfairness for young men who just want to play. As Tierney concludes:
I’m not suggesting that sports are a panacea for male education problems. Men are lagging behind women on campus for lots of reasons: less motivation and self-control, poorer academic skills. No matter what happens with Title IX, women will deservedly continue to outnumber men on campus and dominate the honor rolls.

But because they’re now so dominant, they don’t need special federal protection in the one area that men excel. This playing field doesn’t need to be leveled.

Title IX has worked. In some form it must be maintained. But not in its current form, and not with its current shortsighted manifestations.

They're At It Again

This, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is worth quoting in full:
The newly "reformed" United Nations Human Rights Council held its first session from June 19-30, 2006. The Council failed to adopt a single statement for the victims of gross atrocities in Darfur. The Council passed only one country-specific resolution. Can you guess which country was specified?

Of course you can. The U.N. Human Rights Council placed the human rights violations of Israel on the agenda for the next session: Resolution A/HRC/1/L.15 (June 29, 2006). In Freedom House's annual rankings, on a scale of 1 as most free and 7 as least free, Israel received a ranking of 1 for political rights, and 2 for civil liberties, and was characterized as "free" on the freedom rating scale. By contrast, the sponsors of this resolution, with their respective scoring, included: Cuba (7-7-not free), Iran (6-6-not free), Libya (7-7-not free), and Syria (7-7-not free).

Additionally, on July 5, upon the request of the "Arab Group," the Council convened its first-ever special session to address "the human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory caused by the recent Israeli military operations against Palestinian civilians."

At the end of the special session, the Council passed a resolution by a vote of 29-11-5, which dispatched a fact-finding mission to the area, expressed grave concern at the human rights violations caused by the Israeli "occupation," including the current extensive Israeli military operations, and demanded that Israel "abide scrupulously by the provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights law."

The resolution makes no mention of other violations of human rights laws, such as the rockets Palestinian militants have been firing into Israeli cities or the incursion into sovereign Israeli territory by Palestinian militants for the express purpose of killing and/or abducting Israeli soldiers -- the acts which precipitated this most recent outbreak of hostilities.

In other words, the reformed Human Rights Council is acting exactly as did the unreformed UN Human Rights Commission. Anne Bayefsky, editor of writes that "over a 40-year period, 30 percent of the resolutions [from the Commission] condemning human rights violations by specific states were directed at Israel."

She adds that organizations such as Human Rights Watch turn a blind eye to this anti-Israeli discrimination (as they often shrug at human rights violations against Americans; a column I wrote on this theme is here).

Human Rights Watch expressed "concern" about the renewed Israel-bashing but concluded "the first session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council was largely successful in laying a foundation for its future work."

Bayevsky adds: "The original mission of the U.N. was rooted in the legacy of the Holocaust, the shield of 'never again,' and the lance of human-rights protection. We are witnesses to the hijacking of the Organization to serve the purveyors of bigotry and hate. Continuing to pay for the travesty should no longer be an option."

More and more an international body that gives all nation states equal voice is proving to be a fallacy. I am by most any stretch a liberal internationalist. But that said, my internationalism privileges certain nations. Liberal democracies warrant our attention and support more than authoritarian regimes. A willful group of totalitarian states continues to hijack the UN with its obsession on Israel at the expense of promoting real change and embracing serious human rights reform. The U.N.'s fecklessness on these points is so depressing precisely because there is such need for it to be able to do its job. Whatever Israel's flaws, the focus of the United Nations on it as a whipping boy is transcendentally absurd.

Beijing's Disappearing Hutong

Today's NYT has an article about how Beijing's hutong, the vibrant alleyway communities so central to city life over the centuries, are in danger from the massive building projects tied to the 2008 Olympics. I wrote a bit about the hutong last month when I was in Beijing. It seems from all that I saw that the Olympics are merely going to exacerbate a problem that was happening anyway -- the hutong were fast disappearing as the result of the city's almost unfathomable growth. Still, for all that the Olympics will bring to Beijing, the acceleration of such a lively and emblematic world is tragic.

Amazon Book Watching

Katha Pollit has a piece that cuts a little bit close to home in today's New York Times. She tells the story of how a bad review coupled with a judiciously spent $250 saw her Amazom sales numbers rise dramatically. I never bought my own book, but I have had days when my numbers rose significantly after what I am sure were just a couple of purchases. Of course Pollit saw her numbers rise into the rarefied air of the top 10,000. Bleeding Red has never risen above 20,000, though it got close. I have not looked in a couple of months, but last I checked, my sales rankings were at an all-time low in the 800,000's. Such is life in the world of small potatoes.


Let's just suffice it to say that this is not a report Red Sox fans wanted to read over our cereal this morning.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I'm back in West Texas, which is both as hot and as flat as a griddle. It was another long day of travel, the second marathon day in the last four, made all the worse by the fact that after we got in last night I only had three hours before I needed to be up and on my way to the bus station. I got in and caught my flight in just the nick of time.

It's good to be back, though I have piles of work ahead of me, not to mention a trip to San Antonio for wedding planning. I hope to be in the office for a long day of work tomorrow and will be back to regular blogging as soon as I dig my way out of this pile that has accumulated over the last five or six weeks.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I Came To Oxford and All I Got Was This Stupid Hangover

The Armitage Shanks reunion tour kicked off at The Duke pub last night, where we watched Zinedane Zidane lose his temper and Italy, which if not for its perfidy would not have tied the US and thus would have been knocked out in the first round, win the World Cup. While the whole crew could not make it out, City Counsellor, future parliamentarian, and master of all things chav, Patrick (and his snazzy cream-hued suit), met Roger and me at the King's Arms and we headed down to the High Street and the Duke to meet Ginger, Moose, Johnny, and eventually City Counsellor and DCAT member Richard Huzzey. In our little sphere was the nexus of LibDem power in Oxfordshire.

We drank a lot of ale. On the way home I got some of Oxford's world famous kebab. After more than 40 hours of being awake I finally got to crash out. Rumor has it that we will make a secret appearance at the Lamb and Flag this evening. Then in the middle of the night I will steal off for the bus station to get to Heathrow by 6 tomorrow morning for my return to the States.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


A long wait in the airport followed by a long flight followed by a ridiculously long wait in passport control followed by a long walk to store luggage in the proper terminal so as not to have to haul it around resulted ultimately in the familiar bus ride from London to Oxford where I immediately was brought back to last summer. I'm staying with RoJo, our fellow DCAT stalwart, at his parents' place just outside of the centre (note adaptable spelling) of town. He came up from Brighton just for the occasion. It's a rainy day here in the United Kingdom and my guess is that we will just chill for a bit before heading up the pub for reunions and good times and my first experience with Engand's new pub hours.

I'm completely torn as to tonight's game. More and more I think France's veteran's are going to overcome Italy's youth. It should be fun to watch it amidst passionate (and embittered) England fans.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Into the Shark Tank

We made good time on the overwhelmingly uphill trip from Durban to Johannesburg today. The topography changes dramatically -- from lowveld to highveld, from green, lush valleys to stark brown farmland punctuated by dramatic rock outcroppings. And the transition from Durban to Joburg is a remarkable one as well, with the latter spreading outward from ocean and bay toward the Midlands and with Joburg a dense, sprawling urban mass jutting from the middle of the landscape.

Yesterday afternoon I realized that the Sharks, Durban's professional rugby team and entry into the Currie Cup, South Africa's largest and most important domestic league, were playing the Pumas, who travelled down from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. We decided to head along. ABSA Stadium is not far from the northern beaches and like all major stadia looms like a haven of dreams, all the more wondrous when lit up at night. For a sports fan a stadium on game day is one of mankind's great natural wonders. The Shareks have been down on their luck in recent years, but a decade ago dominated both domestic rugby and the selections for the Springboks. Heading into last night's game they had won both of their games and hoped to continue their early run of success.

The Shark tank was only half full last night. The size and scale of a typical professional sporting arena -- though it would be a bit small for a major college or NFL team -- ABSA also has all of the advertising and marketing of its American or British peers, albeit maybe a bit behind the times -- their cheerleaders (American cultural imperialism 1, Local is Lekker 0) were tucked ina distant part of the stadium and given little room to breathe or dance. This is fine for those of us who are not huge fans of cheerleaders, who tend just to get in the way of the game, but it still is not the smartest way to draw attention to them.

The game was entertaining but sloppy. The Sharks were content to play a typical South African style by using superior strentgh and size to out scrummage and run over the opposition. Given a choice to swing the ball out to the wings or pass it in to a centre or one of the inside power guys, they always went inside. The Sharks should have won by 50, but their own sloppy play killed them. In the second half they dominated even more than in the first, but managed to score but one try to give them a comfortable 34-16 victory.

There is much to say about race and rugby and transformation, and I am working on an article in which I am trying to say some of it. It plays a role in the upper levels of rugby, but change has come slowly in a culture that once represented paradigmatic white (and Afrikaner) supremacy. It was good to see that Natal's Man of the Match (The club is still known officially as the Natal Sharks, but in what is evidently a compromise, they represent the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union) was African. He scored two tries and played a stunner of a game.

It had been a while since I had seen world class rugby live, and it was my second time seeing the Sharks, though my first at ABSA. My next goal is to see an international test match, and maybe even to be at a World Cup, though the next one takes place next summer, when my guess is that won't be an option in light of the wedding and honeymoon plans.
Now honest and truly when next you hear from me I'll be in England. Cheers!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Up the Coast

British Rob and I took a trip up the North Coast today, heading first to Groutville and the Luthuli Museum, some 76 km north of Durban, and then back down to Umhlazi Rocks for a bit of lunch and a short hike along the beach. It's my last day here in Durban. Tomorrow I'll be up early and Rob and I will point the car back toward the highveld. I fly out of Joburg at 9:30 tomorrow night, with the next stop being London and Oxford.

The Luthuli Museum honors Chief Albert Luthuli, the Zulu hero of the anti-Apartheid struggle and 1960 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The museum consists of a visitor and education center, the house in which he lived his entire life, and not far away his church and grave. Luthuli is a vital and fascinating figure in South African history, and his home and museum, while somewhat off the beaten path, is an understated testament to his greatness. It only opened in 2004 and is still growing into what it will be, but already is worth a stop on anyone's itinerary.

At the end of our private guided tour, we were shown a (long) dvd of Luthuli's life that had some amazing, unexpected and very rare footage from the antiapartheid struggle, including footage I had never seen from the 1957 bus boycott in Alexandra that makes up such a vital part of my next book project. This trip has been useful to me in providing a springboard to starting writing as well as to helping me to solidify my grasp on certain aspects of the struggle in the 1940s and 1950s.

The sun is setting on this latest visit to South Africa. Every time I leave I am more and more committed to a quick return, though with wedding planning and a subsequent honeymoon almost certain not to take us here, it is unlikely I'll get back anytime soon. This realization makes me a little sad, but also appreciative that I have been able to spend so much time here in the last eight months.

In the UK, the Armitage Shanks reunite for what should be worthy of a segment of its own on the inevitable Behind the Music episode, and several among us will be rooting for the cheese eating surrender monkeys in the game on Sunday. Rumor has it that England also has pubs and in those pubs they sell a fine assortment of ales, bitters and stouts. I will report what I see.