Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Inside The Mind of Zimbabwe

Calling Robert Mugabe "the only pan-Africanist who hates Africans," Norway-based Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove takes a look "inside the mind of a dictator" at the Mail & Guardian. This is one of the best short pieces on Zimbabwe's self-proclaimed "President for life" that you are likely to see. Read the whole thing. Read Christopher Dube's analysis of Mugabe as being "alone, unloved, and snubbed" as well.

Meanwhile Namibia "rolls out the red carpet for Mugabe." I hope this is for the purpose of persuading the old despot, who just turned 83, to step down into a cushioned exile, but it seems as if President Pohamba plans to welcome Mugabe as a legitimate partner. Perhaps behind the folderol, the respect for Mugabe's liberation hero past, will be serious quiet diplomacy. This is Pohamba's first serious test as a regional leader. The easy road to take will be the one of accomodation. The tougher road, but the one that promises the greatest historical reward, will be to help facilitate the end of Mugabe's reign. Let us hope that the red carpet represents protocol, a plush walkway to Mugabe's retirement.

The Departed as a Boston Movie

The Boston Globe editorial page argues that The Departed deserved the Oscar for Best Picture (it certainly did) but that the South Boston depicted therein is not reflective of reality. Interestingly, the Globe reserved some plaudits for Good Will Hunting's depiction of the city. The Departed and Good Will . . . are two of my favorite Boston feature films of recent years, along with Mystic River.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Southern Africa's 'Invisible' Entrepreneurs"

BBC News has a photo gallery on South Africa's "'Invisible' Entrepeneurs," the traders who cross borders throughout the region to engage in the full array of the informal economy. The Africans, disproportionately women, live on the fringes of society, on the fringes of the economy, and on the very fringes of respectability in the countries they enter as visitors. These individuals are ubiquitous at border crossings, chaotic at the best of times, and yet the region's ecomomy relies on this trade while at the same time rarely recognizing their importance or facilitating their transitions.

Hat Tip to Robert Nolan of the Foreign Policy Association, who sent me the link.

Neville Curtis, 1947-2007

Long-time anti-apartheid activist and former president of the National Union of South African Students has passed away at his home in Australia. During Curtis' tenure he helped transform NUSAS into a formidable political organization during a relatively quiescent time for black politics in the interregnum between the Sharpeville-Rivonia years and the Soweto Uprising. Hamba Kahle, Neville Curtis.

Iraq: Who's Winning, Who's Won?

Foreign Policy has a special feature on who is winning in Iraq. They provide a list of ten, with Iran at the top. Some of the individual articles are subscriber only, but you get a pretty good sense of the whole from what you can access. Suffice it to say, the United States does not slip into the top ten.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mugabe's Grip Slipping?

As of late dcat has speculated that Robert Mugabe's once unshakeable grip on power in Zimbabwe might be slipping. Now, as if to augment my case, Brian Raftopoulos, head of the Africa programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, argues that circumstances might be changing in Zim and that the changes might finally tear Mugabe's grip loose.:
The Zimbabwean crisis has reached the point where a number of factors are combining to introduce a new political dynamic into the current situation. These include the confluence of drastic economic decline, growing internal dissent within the ruling party, a renewed wave of labour and civic activism and the continued isolation of the regime by Western countries.

Like most Big Men in Africa, Mugabe has access to resources, he has an inner circle that buttresses him, and he has the capacity to wield patronage, at least for the time being. He is wily and is nothing if not savvy in the ways of self-presevration and demonizing his opponents. That said, when the winds of history shift they do so dramatically, and even the most ruthless of dictators have capsized when the waters got choppy as a result.

(The article comes from the increasingly courageous Zimbabwe Independent.)

NESCAC Champs!

On Saturday a very young and inexperienced Williams men's basketball team defeated our archrivals, Amherst, who also happened to be 25-1 and ranked #3 in the country, in the NESCAC title game. The victory gives the Ephs another berth in the national tournament. Go Ephs!

Go to d3hoops for all of the tournament info.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Israel, Apartheid, and Lawyerly Fools (Or: Pettitfoggery)

About once every couple of months I receive an email from a long-time antagonist and reader of my work, Chris Pettit. He used to have a significant presence in the comment boards over at Rebunk, but does not often grace us with his presence at dcat. Our loss is, well, actually we're talking all gain.

This morning the pattern repeated itself. It is always the same thing -- Chris sends along an article, and adds a little blurb basically telling me I am wrong about just about everything largely because I am not an international lawyer, which Chris is, as he'll happily tell you like a two-year-old prattling on in the only five words she knows.

But rather than describe, why not just use the evidence before me. (Note: If you send me an email that consists pretty much of ad hominem attacks geared toward me, and if that is the first email I open when I get up in the morning, my rule is that your email is fair game for public airing.)

He sent me the text to this story. The essentials are that the respected South African legal scholar John Dugard who is also the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories has compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa. I disagree, and will go into much greater detail below.

But here is what Chris added, exactly as it appeared in my inbox:

would love to see you try and spin know who Dugard is...and I was one of his students...we both know he is one of the preeminent international legal minds in the world..even if you don't listen to my valid critiques you have to accept his as coming from an expert in a field you have no authority in...isn't it about time you came in from the cold?

Ahh, yes. Note the arrogance! The self importance! The name dropping! The syntax! Naturally I responded. Here is what I wrote:
Chris --
I know well who John Dugard is. And respect him very much. But when you say that I have "no authority in" the field in question, what are you talking about? I have a PhD in history, and this is a historical question. I have written extensively about South African history and I have written enough about Israel to have a pretty good sense of the realities on the ground. I have as much "authority" as Dugard does inasmuch as we both know, or ought to know, that "argument by authority" is one of the basic logical fallacies they teach you in any logic class.

You are exhibit A for why people hate lawyers. Out of the blue you email me a provocative and, yes, in its way worthwhile article, and then use your self-asserted authority to tell me, a professional historian, that a lawyer has more standing on a historical analogy than I do, indeed that I have no authority at all on this issue. The world is not a courtroom, Chris. And you are not its prosecutor. And even the most well respected legal minds can be wrong, especially when they overstep their boundaries.

I'll gladly debate this issue with you, with John Dugard, with Jimmy Carter and with anyone else who tosses out the Israel-as-Apartheid analogy. I'll gladly do it publicly. I'll gladly grant historians equal validity with lawyers on this question (I'd privilege historians, except I prefer to keep my onanism behind closed doors. Try it sometime.). But you are not into honest debate. You would rather snipe from the corners, hectoring those who disagree with you by hiding behind the judicial robes of your mentors and in the logical fallacies that allow you to assert supremacy where you have not earned it. I make no claims to authority on this matter. I make claims to have an argument that I feel comfortable defending. The very fact that Dugard wants to engage in international prosecution of Israel proves what I have argued all along: That those who toss out the Israel-as-Apartheid analogy do so not to shed light, but as an accusation. It is an argument loaded from the outset, and it is an argument I reject.

Now on to the content of the article. I'll parse paragraph by paragraph. I will place the article in quotation marks and will precede my comments with ***:

"A UN human rights investigator has likened Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa and says there should be "serious consideration" over bringing the occupation to the international court of justice."

*** So as I said, this is not an attempt at inquiry. This human rights investigator represents a body with a long and distinct history of siding against Israel. And he comes as a law professor advocating prosecution. He has an agenda. That is fine. But let's not pretend that it makes him a disinterested broker seeking truth.

"The report by John Dugard, a South African law professor who is the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, represents some of the most forceful criticism yet of Israel's 40-year occupation."

** I assume we are talking less forceful than, say, Nasser's assertion that the Arabs were going to drive the Jews to the sea prior to the Six Day War and less forceful than Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist? Hamas wields a bit of power in the current Palestinian configuration by the way. But yes, the criticism coming from Dugard is forceful. And he does come to criticize. He also is a law professor, which, as we've learned from Chris Pettit, is the highest form of life, with international law professors at the top of the food chain.

"Prof Dugard said although Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes, "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." His comments are in an advance version of a report on the UN Human Rights Council's website ahead of its session next month."

*** How kind of him to pause to recognize that Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes. Next: John Dugard acknowledges that water is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. But don't you believe it until he brings that truth. In any case, note that word "resemble." If I may play litcrit theorist for a moment, what does it signify? OK, enough litcrit jargon. In this context "resemble" is a sloppy word used sloppily. Lots of things resemble others. Kansas resembles Colorado. Peter Gammons resembles Andrew Jackson. Kiwis resemble muddy golf balls. But only a fool would travel to Kansas for a ski weekend. Only a fool would want Andrew Jackson's opinion on Curt Schilling's contract status. And only a fool would try to use a sandwedge on a kiwi. I'm no lawyer, but the burden of proof might require something a bit stronger than a resemblance proferred by someone arguing that the resemblance warrants prosecution.

"After describing the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army, he said: 'Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report.'"

** Here's the thing. Dugard's entire argument hinges on the following words: "Can it seriously be denied . . .". Everything that follows his attempt to bully through language requires that one buy the assertion that there is only one serious side of this argument. In fact the "racial group" argument tends to fall flat on its face because, and here is the kicker: Jews are not a race. Well, other than for those who want to see them eradicated. And I'm not certain whether Palestinians qualify as a race in any meaningful way. Furthermore, yes, it can be seriously doubted that this is merely a racial matter in light of the well more than one thousand dead Israeli civilians from suicide bombers coming from the territories since the September 2000 declaration of the second intifada. Ignoring the political realities on the ground makes me, well, question your seriousness. We'll ignore the horribly turgid final sentence in that last paragraph. Actually I change my mind -- that is a horribly turgid final sentence in that last paragraph.

"He dismissed Israel's argument that the sole purpose of the vast concrete and steel West Bank barrier is for security. 'It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers,' he said."

*** Well, he dismissed the argument. That's it then. Discussion over. Oh, hold on -- we still have those dead Israelis. Vexing, they. Because the timing -- the chronology, the sequences of events (though though I'm no authority, no lawyer, on such things) matters. And in that sequence of events we have many years of Israeli governments pushing for, negotiating for, peace. We also have many years of Israeli governments trying the iron fist approach. All of this antedated the building of the Wall. So to assert that the wall has no relation to security is to claim that there are no security issues for Israelis to worry about. Let me tell you about a wonderful beach front bar in Tel Aviv called Mike's Place . . .

"Gaza remained under occupation despite the withdrawal of settlers in 2005. 'In effect, following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza became a sealed-off, imprisoned and occupied territory,' he said."

*** More lawyerly verbiage: "In effect." Beyond the disputable nature of the assertion, let us keep in mind more of the realities on the ground -- Hamas is in charge in Gaza. Hamas has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. In the intervening months since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza (for which Israel was criticized for acting "unilaterally," just as they were criticized for staying in the territories. No win.) missiles have regularly come across the Gaza border aimed at Israeli citizens in Israel. These missiles did not have as their intended target Israelis in Gaza. Nor have suicide bombers from Gaza had as their targets Israeli settlers. They have had as their targets people living in Israel proper, which even the UN continues to recognize, at least for the time being, even if Hamas will not. Maybe, just maybe Dugard's prosecutorial zeal makes him look at the issue with a jaundiced eye. A lawyer selectively use evidence? I'm aghast too. But this is what it has come to. I guess we'll never be innocent again.

"Prof Dugard said his mandate was solely to report on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and he described as a violation of international humanitarian law the firing of rockets by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel. 'Such actions cannot be condoned and clearly constitute a war crime,' he said. 'Nevertheless, Israel's response has been grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate and resulted in the commission of multiple war crimes.'"

*** Finally. At least he recognizes the "war crimes" of the Palestinians. Yet I'm not so certain that Israel's response has been "disproportionate" and I believe this is an area in which honest people can engage in honest debate. But on this issue John Dugard, like Chris Pettit, is not an honest broker. Putting on a prosecutor's robes does not make one an impartial observer -- it does quite the opposite. Favoring some evidence over others is a lawyer's job, to be sure. But knowing as much, I think we are entitled to question whether or not we should privilege lawyers on such matters.

The article I have excerpted is, in its entirety, what Chris sent me, which allowed him to assert that I have no "authority" on such matters. But what I am seeking is not authority. Authority may be the least interesting facet of all of this. Instead I seek something far more important. I seek truth. Among the many differences is that I understand my own fallibility. I also don't cower behind someone else's reputation, which blinds me to their problematic assertions, and I don't claim "authority" where I have none and where "authority" is not at all the issue.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dennis Johnson, RIP

Dennis Johnson, one of the overlooked great players of the 1980s and a vital cog in the Celtics teams of the 1980s died of a heart attack today while coaching the Celts' Development League team. Sportsguy's tribute sums up much of what I feel. Like Simmons, I'll forever remember him taking Bird's pass off of his steal from Isiah and making that famous clinching layup in game 5 of the conference finals in 1987 with Johnny Most's gravelly voice as the backdrop.

Mortality really hits home when sports stars from your teens pass away. Red Aurbach, cigar clenched between his teeth, will probably be the first to meet him with open arms in that great sports Valhalla up above.

Slaying the SAT Dragon

My friend, college classmate, and fellow member of the a cappella group Fair Game (I am now largely emeritus, since they are in DC and I am in Texas) features prominently in this story on NPR. Ned runs Prep Matters, a test prep company that does incredible business among the anxiety-ridden student populace of the Washington area. He is ambivalent about the test in so many ways and he is deeply committed to his students. he has written a book, Conquering the SAT that helps students defeat anxiety and develop strategies that work. If you know anyone preparing to take that noxious test anytime soon, Ned's book would make a great gift.

Oh, That Age-Old Story Again

Hey, who hasn't had it happen to them? A guy's watching porn with the volume up, a neighbor believes something untoward is going on with a victimized woman, and the neighbor takes action, sword in hand. (But check out the eyes of the neighbor. Not a man who ought to be allowed to own medieval weaponry.)

Hat Tip to The Plank.

Africa Quick Hits

In Africa news, Ugandans (rightfully) laud Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Idi Amin though they would have preferred a less sympathetic rendering at times in the movie.

Meanwhile in bad news for the Springboks, star hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has suffered a knee injury that might put his World Cup prospects in jeopardy. Ralepelle is the first black player to serve as a Springbok captain, a position he may be in a position to fill at the Cup later this year if he can recover in time. But what at first appeared to be cartilage damage now may be a torn ACL.

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe yet another wave of crackdowns against peaceful protest have led Tom Casey, a deputy spokesman at the State Department, to condemn Mugabe's broken regime. Increasingly I see the endgame near for Mugabe in Zim. The question is not whether, but how things will happen, though mugabe has shown that he is nothing if not resilient.

Giddy Man-Love at dcat

Big Papi has arrived at camp in Fort Myers. I'm getting seriously charged up for the season. Not keep a daily diary charged (not quite, anyway) but charged nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And In Leavenworth, Kansas, A Lone Tear Rolls Down a Cheek

I just got my Sports Illustrated for this week and one of the first things I read is that Steve Rushin is moving on. As a direct result of my skills at using the internets, I have been able to find a few details here and here. Tom will be very, very disappointed.

Mugabe's Desert Exit Strategy?

It seems that everyone but Robert Mugabe knows that Mugabe needs to go. Is it possible that he would consider stepping down and entering retirement (some are saying exile) in Namibia? That is the speculation in the Cape Times today. Former Namibian President Sam Nujoma continued to support Mugabe even as Zimbabwe descended into chaos. Nujoma's successor, Hifikepunye Pohamba, is not in Mugabe's pocket, but perhaps he understands that providing a soft landing for the megalomaniacal Zimbabwean would be for the best for the region as a whole. As Mugabe becomes increasingly isolated, seeking a way out before he finds that even his absolute control is not so absolute might become a priority for him. Perhaps Namibia can help accelerate that process during Mugabe's state visit this week.

XM and Sirius Merge

I received an email last night telling me something that the Thunderstick and I had long suspected would happen: XM and Sirus are merging, assuming the FCC approves. As a huge fan of satellite radio, I naturally worry what this will do to the consumer -- will I have to buy new equipment? Will my subscriber fees go up? At the same time, I cannot help but be pleased with what will inevitably be expanded options -- I will now get all NFL games in addition to the MLB package, wonderful news inasmuch as I will be able to listen to all the Pats games and listen when, say, I am driving back from San Antonio on a Sunday afternoon. The FCC will have some serious anti-trust questions to address, and the technological issues might be more difficult to reconcile than the principals think, but as one of the major players in the deal argued yesterday, the idea of only one satellite station may have been inevitable anyway. At least with this merger, one of them won't collapse.

Beatdown at Big Tent

Over at Big Tent Tom smacks Sportsguy so hard the Karate Kid has started to weep. Good times.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blowing my mind

Court Rejects $79.5 Million Tobacco Ruling Check out how the votes lined up: "Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, joined with Breyer.

Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens and Clarence Thomas. Ginsburg said Tuesday's ruling made punitive damages law even more confusing."

The Lesotho Election

In what observers have called a "free and fair election," it appears that Lesotho's ruling party, the Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD), has fended off a challenge from former foreign minister Tom Thabane's newly formed opposition party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC). The election proved to be something of a landslide for the LCD despite forecasts to the contrary:
With votes counted in most of the country's 80 constituencies, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's LCD party had won 58 seats while Mr Thabane's ABC trailed in second place with 17 seats, a spokesman for the electoral commission told the BBC News website. [In addition to the] 80 directly elected MPs, another 40 seats are allocated to parties under the proportional representation system to make up the country's 120-seat parliament.

Assertions that the election was clean do not make it so, of course, but with the outcome as overwhelming as it appears to have been, there is little room to dispute the results. Lesotho's economy is a mess and the country is ravaged by AIDS. Lesotho's biggest draw for tourism -- its mountainous terrain -- also makes its other economic options limited. Surely many of the country's limitations are not the fault of the government, but it comes as at least a bit of a surprise that the challengers were unable to mobilize more support from the electorate.

More Love For Friday Night Lights

The Los Angeles Times has a nice piece on the great but underwatched show Friday Night Lights, which is easily the best new drama on tv this season, and which I have pimped extensively here and here. You should definitely be watching on Wednesday nights. You won't be disappointed.

Hat tip to Jaime.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You Stay Classy, Mr. President!

Andrew Sullivan reports via a review in Haaretz of Uri Dan's book Ariel Sharon: An Intimite Portrait, a rather unedifying anecdote about our president.
Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

dcat is no pollyanna. Far from it. Lord knows I know the business end of profanity, which I think has a perfectly acceptable and indeed necessary place in the language. And it is pretty easy to work up fake outrage when presidents are caught spewing profanity, telling off-color jokes, or generally acting like the world is their locker room. But this seems to cross a host of lines, as evidenced by Sharon's reluctance even to repeat the tale. At best it is unseemly. And for many of us it reaffirms the impression that Bush is unsuited for his position.

Africa Updates

Some updates follow on stories about which I have recently written: On Guinea's state of siege, the slowly emerging Lesotho vote count, chaos in eastern Chad, China as a dubious patron of Africa, and always more and more on Zimbabwe.

Mbeki's Pragmatism

Over at the Mail & Guardian Vicki Robinson provides a nuts and bolts assessment of Thabo Mbeki's "practical call to action," as she labels his State of the Union speech.

Vic Falls and Zimbabwe

IOL reports that Victoria Falls is experiencing an upsurge even on the more populous (and easier to access) Zimbabwe side. Zim is, of course, still a nightmare. And it appears that the Falls represent a bubble of serenity amidst the chaos (Mugabe and his cronies need that hard currency, after all).

I am finding it hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since I was last at the Falls. I have a picture in my office in which I am at the front of a white water raft hurtling down the Zambezi River and some of the harshest rapids in the world, all sinew and youth and adventure. Zimbabwe was different then too, though signs of the impending nightmare already had begun to manifest. I'd love to go back someday, but would prefer to hold off until things change in Mugabe's madman's paradise.

An American Review of Books?

Over at TNR online (which is now an "Open Discussion" among several members of Open University) friend and mentor of dcat, and regular contributor to Open U., Jeffrey Herf has called for the establishment of an "American Review of Books." Herf, as always, presents a sharp and persuasive case. Perhaps my favorite form of writing can be the well written review essay. If it is feasible to create a new review of books in the United States I would be all for it.

Vote For [Insert Historian's Name Here]!

Over at The New Republic online the award-winning historian Steven Hahn makes the case for historians as college presidents and praises Harvard's recent selection of Drew Gilpin Faust to lead the World's Greatest University. Money argument:
Historians can be as arrogant and tone-deaf as any people who claim intellectual authority, but the nature of their work disposes them to be otherwise. Although historians pose large questions, they are skeptical of easy answers. Although they like to bring order out of apparent chaos, they quickly recognize the complexity of human undertakings. Although they seek to recover something of the past, they soon discover how much digging that requires. They come to learn that historical writing and historical experience involve conflicting perspectives and that they need to confront viewpoints different than their own. Historians have to be prepared to follow unexpected leads and uncharted paths. And they must develop skills (and patience) to hear and understand what their subjects are trying to tell them. It is all a very humbling process.

Somewhat self serving (on both Hahn's part and mine)? Sure. But not necessarily untrue for being so. The piece also serves as something of a Valentine to a premiere historian, which Faust richly deserves.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chaos in Conakry

The small West African nation of Guinea is beset by violence and controversy. Violence has escalated in recent weeks as the government has sicced the army on civilians. Africa Focus has the story. (See also here.)

Cleveland Sports Update

Over at Cleveland '64 Tom assesses the state of Cleveland sports. Let's say that he is generally pessimistic about the Browns and Indians (and the Manny for three prospects trade he cites as being on the table never really got past the rumor stages) and I'd say way too optimistic about the Cavaliers.

Good News For An Old Friend

An injustice has been rectified in my hometown. This man, the most successful football coach in Newport High School history, was one of my teachers and served as an assistant coach for a couple of my football teams. Several of us wrote letters and provided other forms of support. Small towns sometimes produce an abundance of small minds, but in this case, enough people with their senses intact managed to do the right thing.

A Kissing Suzy Kolber Best Of List: Simmons and Easterbrook Beware

Over at the brilliant sports blog Kissing Suzy Kolber (Warning: KSK offers no analysis, but lots of the funny, and ample profanity) one of their bloggers, Big Daddy Drew (BDD), offers a "Clip Show," or a best-of links list that is almost guaranteed to get you to wet your pants. The two best are his absolute eviscerations of what he calls Gregg Easterbrook's "Tuesday Morning Pretentious Douchebaggery" and of Sportsguy.

At some point this year Easterbrook really lost it for me, and this guy pretty much nails why. As for Simmons, well, also like BDD, I once absolutely loved Sportsguy's work but increasingly I find him more miss than hit. In any case, if you go through that whole list of BDD's greatest hits you are almost bound to spit liquid on your keyboard through your nose or else wet yourself. Oh -- and that last assertion was intended as a selling point.

Hat Tip to Brian.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lesotho Goes To The Polls

Voters in the tiny southern African Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho have gone to the polls in what will be a closely contested election. Former foreign minister Tom Thabane represents a new party, the All Besotho Congress, which poses a serious challenge to the nine-year reign of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Lesotho Congress for Democracy. Mosisili has demanded a third term to tackle dire poverty. Lesotho is both one of Africa's poorest countries as well as one of its most AIDS-ravaged.

In 1998 election tumult provided the justification for South African troops to enter Lesotho (along with support from Botswana's military). It is unlikely that the South Africans will follow suit this time around, but this election's results may not be known for some time, and with each passing day the possibility for violence will accelerate.

Tagging Samuel

The Patriots have placed the franchise player tag on potential free-agent cornerback Asante Samuel. This is the sort of move that sometimes angers young players who know that being franchised is at best a mixed bag -- it shows that the team wants to keep him and more than likely to give him a substantial raise, but at the same time it limits his ability to go on the open market and receive a serious jackpot. The two sides will continue to negotiate and hopefully the talks will lead to a long-term deal that makes both sides happy.

The Road From New Hampshire to Somalia

The Boston Globe has the perplexing story of a New Hampshire native who converted to Islam, embraced fundamentalism, and last week in a Houston court was charged with participating in terrorist activities in Somalia. He is the first US citizen to face such accusations.

Friday, February 16, 2007

When Comedians Attack

I have to admit it: I've never found Carlos Mencia to be all that funny. And my friend Jaime concurred after he went to see Mencia and walked out after discovering that he is not only not that funny, but he also may be a racist. Well, on top of that, apparently he is a joke thief. And now there are crazy goings on between Mencia (who apparently was born neither Mexican nor "Carlos Mencia") and Joe Rogan, who throws down hard over at his blog.

The joke theft aspect is to me the worst part, and Rogan does a pretty good job of explaining why. As a writer I fully understand his sentiments -- it is hard to imagine what it would feel like to be the victim of plagiarism, and as he points out, Mencia has a reputation for stealing from people who have not yet achieved enough fame or pull to protect themselves, which would be like being a junior faculty member and having a Bancroft Prize winner co-opt some of your work.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

The Moving Vans

The cliche is complete. The media has amply chronicled the comings and goings of the moving vans from Boston to Fort Myers. Sring training is upon us. Dice-K has given his initial press conference to the expected fanfare and media throngs. (My favorite line came when he was asked what his first pitch would be:
"I would love to pitch a fastball, that will be my first ball," Matsuzaka said, before adding with a smile creasing his face, "I would like my first batter, if he is listening, please try not to hit the ball."

Matsuzaka might just have given an opposing batter his best chance of the season. I'm almost giddy.

South African Cricket Answers the Race Question

One of the myriad arenas in which South Africa has had to reconcile its apartheid past with its multi-racial present is in the realm of sport. Though under normal circumstances sports represent the ultimate meritocracy, for so long African athletes had no chance to compete or develop at the highest levels that some form of affirmative action program was necessary and just. As the Proteas head to the West Indies for the cricket World Cup, a competition for which South Africans are optimistic, SAPA reports that the program is showing progress to the point where targets for nonwhite playersd will no longer be necessary in the near future. The Proteas have seen the emergence of a legitimate black star in the form of bowler Makhaya Ntini and the leadership at Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem genuinely pleased with the program's progress.
Commenting on the announcement on Thursday of the 15-man squad selected for the ICC Cricket World Cup, Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Gerald Majola said he believed the spadework had been done.

“The restructuring of competitions, the fast-tracking of certain black players, are starting to show dividends, and we are now beginning to concentrate on quality rather than numbers,” said Majola. “There are enough players coming into the pool, and so I am comfortable that the system is achieving what we set out to achieve.“I’m happy to hear from the selectors that they did not have any difficulty achieving the target, and I’m also happy to hear that the players who missed out on selection included some black players. We never put pressure on the selectors, and although they had the option to approach the board and say they could not meet the target, they did not find this necessary.” Majola said there was no intention to raise the target for the World Cup in 2011.

“We review our targets annually, and the ultimate is to go for merit selection. I believe we are very close to that. I think at the end of this season, the board will meet again, and review our targets and decide whether it is necessary to continue with the target.”

Sport provides a pretty solid cultural thermometer in South Africa. There is still ample racism within the sporting community, but the case of South African cricket also shows that there are signs of progress.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Next Attack?

At The Washington Monthly Stephen Flynn speculates about a possible target for a terrorist attack: Oil refineries. As with so many such speculative scenarios Flynn's is at times fantastical and certainly worst-case, but at the same time his pice reveals one of the real weaknesses with our anti-terrorism approach: We are in so many ways fighting the last war, as it were. Because of 9/11 Americans are willing to sacrifice all sorts of convenience prior to getting on an airlane despite the fact that the next major attempt at an attack is unlikely to come from the hijacking of planes. Ports, oil refineries, subways, stadia and arenas -- these are still vulnerable targets, and yet authorities seem to have responded modestly if at all to bolster security in meaningful ways at such venues.

The Price of Bigotry

Over at TNR online Jonathan Cohn has a story about the very real impact of anti-gay marriage legislation in Michigan. Among other things the anti-gay bigots have made the conscious decision not to allow people to choose who represents them in health care decisions, who gets to inherit their life possessions, and who has their power of attorney, not to mention denying partnership benefits. Some might argue that these are unforeseen circumstances, but for too many this was precisely the desired outcome. Of course Tim Hardaway's recent comments about gays does not exactly inspire hope about the pace of progress on this issue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Putin: the louse that roared


Alabama's Bald Eagle Population Booming

Why Not Me?

Al Franken Enters Minnesota Senate Race

I wonder if people will dig up his book "Why Not Me?" and read the stuff about how much he hates the "sp." I thought it was funny, but he did refer to voters as SP, or "stupid people."

Of Course

Bush: Iran Supplying Weapons in Iraq

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Best Offseason News

Surely the best news in a pretty great offseason for the Red Sox is that Jonathan Lester is in Fort Myers after his apparent recovery from anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer. Baseball is secondary in this process, but he appears erady to jump back on the mound and continue his progress as one of Boston's young guns.

Herf and Markovits on Anti-Semitism

Friend and mentor of dcat, the respected historian Jeffrey Herf, has an important piece that he has written along with the comparativist German Studies scholar Andrei S. Markovits at The New Republic online. In it they take issue with John Judis' downgrading of what constitutes anti-semitism. Here is the concluding paragraph:
Israel's critics in this country have the freedom to say what they wish, including the freedom to exaggerate vastly the power of Jews and the Israel lobby. We who criticize some of their views also have the freedom and obligation to explain why we think such arguments are false, dangerous, and bear comparisons to older anti-Semitic traditions. In a period in which Iran's president threatens to wipe Israel off the face of this earth and Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda seek its destruction as well, a weakening of American support for Israel would be a catastrophe of the first order not only for Israel, but for its supporters in this country. It would also be both a strategic blunder and moral debacle from the perspective of U.S. national security in the conventional sense of that term.
But do read the whole thing.

Barack Obama 1 -- John Howard 0

In a comment of almost comically inane proportions (comical were it not almost certain to be among the most prominent conservative memes of 2008; undoubtedly inane) Australian Prime Minister John Howard has declared that Iraq's terrorists should "be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats" in 2008. It's peculiar that we are supposed to concern ourselves with the wants and desires of terrorists only when it is politically convenient for one side to do so, but that is of no moment. Obama had a pretty damned good response, in which he showed not only an ability to punch back, but to do so with a smile:
In Iowa on Sunday, Obama responded by saying he was flattered that one of Bush's close allies had chosen to single him out for attack. He challenged Howard, noting that the United States has nearly 140,000 troops in Iraq, compared with 1,400 Australian troops. "So if he is ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq," Obama said.

Game, Set, Match for Obama.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Jackassery Unmasked

This week's New York Times Book Review assesses an offering on manhood in America by a dude named Charlie LeDuff. LeDuff was on The Colert report the other night and struck me as a Grade-A jackass. Self important and trying way too hard, so obviously convinced that he is the coolest kid in the class but too much of a wanker to realize he is the only one who places him in that category, he annoyed in every way possible. I am pleased to see that the reviewer, Allison Glock, confirms my first impressions. The unfortunate thing is that were he not so inclined to make himself the star of the show, it appears that a good book might have emerged. Then again, were he not inclined to make himself the star of the show, he might have never stumbled upon the conceit to begin with.

Al Qaeda in South Africa?

Reuters reports an alarming development. Some US counterterrorism officials, including those responsible for following the money trail at the Treasury Department, are concerned anough about mosque preacher Farhad Docrat and his dentist cousin Junaid that they have placed the two men on its list of suspected al Qaeda supporters and will freeze their assets. The two men are based in Laudium, an unprepossessing community outside of Pretoria.

South African Muslims do not tend to have reputations for radicalism, and what radicalism there is stems from the anti-apartheid years when the demand was for more liberalism and democracy, a far cry from what radical Islamists demand. Nonetheless, what we see in this case, independent of what ultimately comes of the charges, is that one of al Qaeda's pernicious strengths, one of the aspects that makes the organizaton especially difficuly to combat, is that it is fungible. The organization does not know and barely recognizes national borders. I've long argued that all of Africa is potentially fertile ground for radical Islam. South Africa is unlikely to become a major safe haven for Islamic radicals, to be sure, but this news shows that no place is entirely safe either.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

You Just Can't Trust 'Em

A Russian man has filed for divorce from his wife after the devastating discovery that she has been feeding him pumpkins in his pies rather than the apparently more desireable courgettes that she had brazenly led him to believe that he was eating. My favorite bit is that she had been engaging in this nefarious bait and switch for six months, and though he has been cherishing the pies, he argued, "She knows I absolutely hate pumpkins and she lied to me for months about it just because the pumpkins were cheap."

Hatred is a fickle, and, for stretches of up to half-a-year, elusive thing, dear reader.

Following up his unassailable pumpkin-loathing argument with another glittering display of logical mastery, he concluded, "What else has she been lying about? What man could trust a woman who fed him pumpkins for half a year?"


Friday, February 09, 2007

San Antonio Bound

I am off to San Antonio for the weekend for wedding planning and a Monday night UTPB game in Austin. Will be back Tuesday and posting may be scarce until then. Have a great weekend.

Dear Valentine: Be Mine. Oh, And About That Debt

This week demonstrators delivered more than 10,000 Valentine's Day cards to the US treasury department asking the United States to "have a heart" and cancel that long-beleaguered country's debts. Liberia is the country with the closest historical relationship to the United states, and even the normally Grinch-like International Monetary Fund is concerned with Liberia's debt burden. Africa Focus has several relevant stories here and you can see dcat's coverage of Liberia here. I believe that some form of debt relief or forgiveness is essential to African development. That relief can be coupled with sticks as well as carrots, but it is an issue that needs to continue to gain traction among policymakers.

The State of the South African Union

Last night Thabo Mbeki gave his much anticipated State of the Union Address (here is the text, courtesy of IOL). It was a rainy night in Cape Town, but Mbeki's address, which had been the source of much speculation and not a little concern, went off largely without a hitch. The President, who has been criticized across a whole cross-section of society for a host of sins real and imagined despite favorable ratings of as much as 70% from South Africans, acquitted himself well. Pundits and critics wondered whether Mbeki would elide the pervasive crime issue. He did not. As expected from a politician with formal training in economics, Mbeki also addressed the country's economic growth. One would never know from the sometimes shrill and always pessimistic tenor of some of Mbeki's critics, but South Africa has actually experienced almost 100 straight months of economic growth, which, though oftentimes modest, still ought to be the envy of almost every country on earth.

Crime is a dire matter. AIDS continues to haunt the country and the region. Poverty and other legacies of apartheid will continue to vex South Africa's leaders for the foreseeable future. And yet I still maintain a profound sense of optimism, even if that optimism is not blind.

Thabo Mbeki is a fascinating figure if for no other reason than that he is not Nelson Mandela. South Africa has gone through a successful transition from apartheid to resistance leadership. Though Mbeki was every bit a resistance figure himself, albeit in exile in England and thus without the romance attached to Mandela's "Robben Island University" cohort, in many ways he is the country's first post-resistance leader. Mandela's brilliant move to serve just one term, instantly bequesting unto his nation yet another gift, a rejection of the Big Man that has so terrorized much of the rest of the continent, proved a dual-edged sword for Mbeki. For Mbeki is not a God among men.

Mbeki reminds me a bit of Harry S. Truman in some small (and merely suggestive) ways. While not the humble, plain-spoken sort that Truman was, and while he operates in a vastly different context of history and his nation's political development, Mbeki nonetheless shares one thing in common with the man from Missouri: Both operate(d) under a shadow. FDR's shadow, as William Leuchtenburg and Alonzo Hamby have both so ably shown, was so overwhelming that it provided the prevailing paradigm under which American politicians operated for half a century. Mandela's shadow might prove to be even more lasting. Shadows of Gods tend to be. One wonders if, also like Truman, Mbeki will be more appreciated by historians than he is by many of the intelligentsia today. Certainly Mbeki is more popular than Truman was throughout most of his tenure, but at the same time, South African politics are dramatically different than those under which Truman operated in the 1940s. Nonetheless, both men were almost destined to look smaller than their predecessor. Truman emerged to become a significant historical figure in his own right. Might Mbeki end up playing a similar historical role?

Hmmm, In The Shadow of Madiba has a nice ring to it, does it not? I think I have a future book project.

Dominican Dreams

At The Boston Globe Amalie Benjamin has a fantastic feature on Dominican baseball and specifically about the Red Sox' Dominican Academy. Benjamin reminds us of the almost desperate dream that Dominican kids have of making it in professional baseball while showing us some of the inner workings of baseball far beneath the gleaming surface of the stadia up at the almost unimaginably impossible atmosphere of the show.

The Black Stars Shine

Paul Doyle of The Guardian's Sportsblog has a fantastic piece on the Ghana-Nigeria "Derby" in which the Ghanians pasted the Super Eagles, who have held firm control over the rivalry in recent years. This is one of the great rivalries in African soccer and, as Doyle compellingly argues, in the world. And now the world should keep an eye out for the Black Stars, who host the African Cup of Nations next year and which will be looking to make noise in the World Cup in South Africa where all African teams will have de facto home status, especially if Bafana Bafana falter.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ngugi's Africanism

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, one of the most respected of all African novelists and an ardent advocate of pan-Africanism, recently gave a series of lectures at the University of Nairobi, the institution from which he was fired after he was detained by the government under Jomo Kenyatta's regime in 1977. Ngugi has been an ardent advocate of the use of African languages, and has practiced what he has preached, choosing to write only in Gikuyu, the natibve language of his Kikuyu people, rather than English. Kenyan journalist and writer Rasna Warah has the story in the Mail & Guardian.

Six Nations

Although it does not quite reach the rarefied air of the Tri-Nations competition, which pits the national rugby teams of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia against one another annually, the Six Nations competition has begun. The six nations in the Six Nations are England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy, and France. The Guardian has some solid coverage for your edification.

China's African Dreams and The Potential Downsides

Over at the Foreign Policy Association Robert Nolan has a piece titled "China's African Dreams," which gives another viewpoint on this increasingly significant issue. Meanwhile the Mail & Guardian speculates that Chinese Aid to Africa may do more harm than good.

Likeability v. Electability

Over at The Fix, Chris Cilizza parses the polls again. This time he makes some significant differentiations between likeability and electability -- differences that admittedly are not especially scientific and surely will fluctuate in the months to come. He reduces his key conclusion as follows:
So what does all of this data really mean? We're simplifying here, but it seems to suggest that the "head" of Democratic voters is with Clinton while the "heart" is on Obama's side. Voters like Obama better but believe Clinton is the stronger candidate due to her deeper -- and broader -- resume.

The fact that there seem to be several strong candidates but no overwhelming ones on the Democratic side lead me to wonder if this might not be the election that sees the party to enter the Democratic National Convention undecided. In two of my classes this semester I lecture quite a bit about American politics. Recently I have discussed some of the many times in American history when going into the conventions the parties had no idea who their nominee would be. Indeed, that was once the function of the conventions -- to nominate rather than to anoint.

The political system has changed immensely in the last century and especially the last four decades. One candidate has always managed to gain early momentum and within just a few weeks has sewn up the nomination for good. Yet what would happen if several well funded candidates with strong but not overwhelming appeal and with some regional strengths. Imagine if the Democrats head into Denver with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards carrying significant numbers of delegates bit with none of them close enough to the number needed to carry the nomination. It may seem implausible, but from the vantage point of a year before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the Democrats might be on a collision course with the most interesting nominating convention (at least inside the hall) since the Progressive Era.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

China, Railroads, Roads, and Africa

One of the issues that has captured my attention since my trip to China this past summer, and subsequent travel to Africa, is the role that Asia's behemoth is increasingly staking across the continent. I have written about the issue here, here, here, and here. In The New Republic Michael Currie Schaffer has an article exploring China's newfound interest in building railroads in Africa. His article is actually more a fascinating slice of travel writing than an especially astute geopolitical observation -- he is long on description and short on argument -- but his observations provide another example of how China has targeted Africa for development.

A Silver Lining

I am not quite as sure about rooting for one of my teams to fail for the greater good as is Sportsguy, and I loathe some of his neologisms, like "fantanking," but Thunderstick sent me a little tidbit that made me smile. The last three teams that lost fifteen straight in a season ended up with Dwight Howard, Lebron and Yao. The Celtics just lost their team-nadir fifteenth straight last night. When we sleep, perchance to dream, Celtics fans have thoughts of Greg Oden or Kevin Durant dancing through our heads. But memories of 1997 and losing Tim Duncan turn the dream into a nightmare.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl XLI

I'm heading out to watch the Super Bowl in just a few minutes. I must admit, my interest in this game is at an all-time low. Surely that is due in huge part to the letdown over the Pats not being involved, but there are other factors as well. Nonetheless, I will put forth a tentative pick for the game.

It's rare that the team with both the best defense and the best running game would be an underdog, especially inasmuch as they are playing an opponent that has a history of choking in big games. It is especially rare for that team to be a 7 point underdog. Nonetheless, these are the circumstances the Bears will face as they take the field in Miami today. And naturally, taking a cue from the Patriots of recent years, the Bears are playing that disrespect element up just as much as possible. The question is, will it matter?

My head says no. My head says that Peyton Manning has climbed the mountain, that he has too many weapons, and that he will have so many weapons at his disposal that he will neutralize the aggressiveness of the Bears' D. Furthermore, the Bears got pasted whenever they ran up against even middle-shelf AFC competition. There is a reason why Vegas has given the game a relatively wide line, right? Surely, the smart line of thinking goes, the Colts are going to win, but the question is by how much.

Then there is my gut. My gut may not be smart, but it is intuitive. And my gut says that the Colts have crested, the Bears will come out gnashing their teeth, and Peytom Manning will find a way to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. The supposedly rejuvenated Colts D were a huge part of why the Pats scored 34 points in the AFC championship, and the Bears come forward with a two-headed thunder and more thunder running combo that will wear the Colts down. Of course the Bears have Rex Grossman, but while Grossman is no superstar, it is my firm belief that he can manage a game well enough to keep the Bears in the contest. Grossman does not need to be perfect, and knowing as much should allow him to be good.

So the question becomes the Adam Vinatieri factor: Not what sort of difference the greatest kicker of all time will make, so much as whether or not the game will come down to his pressure-tempered right leg. As Patriots fan I really do not want to think of that prospect. But on this question my head and my guts are working in tandem. My head says that the odds of Vinatieri having yet another shot at a Super Bowl winning kick are too improbable. And my guts say that the Bears are going to keep in just out of range in the end.

Maybe it's wishful thinking. maybe it is post-AFC Championship sour grapes. Maybe it is just the matter of me wanting to be contrarian. Whatever the motivation, I see it ending Bears 34-Colts 30.

Dan Savage TKO's Mary Cheney

Over at The Stranger, a Seattle alternative newspaper, Dan Savage kicks the poo out of Mary Cheney's hypocrisy. Lessons: When you make yourself a public figure you don't get to pick and choose when and how you are public If your lifestyle is one that your very powerful family spends its public life excoriating in others, expect there to be blowback.

Dick Cheney has tried to claim some sort of filial immunity on the matter of his public-figure daughter's sexuality. And he has tried to paint Democrats who raise the issue -- and who support gay rights! -- as somehow crossing some line. It actually is an astounding level of chutzpah inasmuch as this latter tactic has actually worked -- remember the mock outrage on the part of conservatives, especially pundits, when Kerry raised Chaney's naked grandstanding in 2004.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Defending the Big Box

In December's Atlantic Monthly Virginia Postrel has an absolutely brilliant argument "In Praise of Chain Stores." I have tried to find one perfect representative paragraph that sums up her argument and makes it more enticing for you to read, but it seems as if every paragraph is better than the last. If forced to choose one to give you a flavor of her argument, I would choose the following:
Stores don’t give places their character. Terrain and weather and culture do. Familiar retailers may take some of the discovery out of travel—to the consternation of journalists looking for obvious local color—but by holding some of the commercial background constant, chains make it easier to discern the real differences that define a place: the way, for instance, that people in Chandler come out to enjoy the summer twilight, when the sky glows purple and the dry air cools.

Now I do not find chain stores to provide an unmitigated benefit, but I somewhat tire of arguments hearkening to a romantic era of bustling downtowns in which Mom and Pop served the greater good with their wholly unique, homegrown stores. In a rather astringent critique of an article on Starbucks and music a little while back, I argued as much in reference to Starbucks' alleged nefariousness:
This is a clever conceit, albeit not the most original one -- we are seeing the Wal Marticization of coffee shops, a sort of Starbucksification of the country (and some might say the world, though apparently having not left New York, Hajdu might not know that one can find Starbucks in Hong Kong and England and many points in between). And no one can doubt that Starbucks has done a hell of a job of becoming ubiquitous in American cities. Though one also has to wonder about the peculiar jolt in coffee consumption that has arisen concomitant with the rise of Starbucks. Has Starbucks in fact fueled demand? And many of us live nowhere near New York. In fact, for all of New York's size, most of us don't live there, and so the question becomes, has Starbucks replaced little Mom and Pop coffee shops all over the country, or has it merely brought coffee shops to places where, in the Starbucks cafe format, they simply never existed? I cannot help but wonder if Starbucks has not in many places created demand rather than destroy a subculture. Not that Hajdu asks such questions -- such curiousity would not much help his burgeoning thesis.

The reality is that for the vast number of Americans in flyover country, and outside of a select number of metropolitan areas that might produce a (romanticized and overstated?) sui generis homegrown culture, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, many of these box stores have increased access to goods and products by a thousandfold. More Americans can access more books, cd's, and electronic goods than ever before. And not just mainstream fare. If you want a book, and it is in print, or if you have heard of an obscure band and want their cd, the odds are better than good that Barnes & Noble or Best Buy will have them or, if you don't want to do the internet shoping on your own, they can make sure you get what you want. I love Postrel's argument that "stores don't give places their character." It is an important argument from a wonderful and thought provoking piece.

Now if you'll excuse me, the fiancee and I are going to deal with wedding registration at Target (bourgies though we are, we find it nice that we can register at a place that is both affordable and accessible for the proles) and I think I might be in the mood for a caramel macchiato. Gauche, I know, but we rubes gotta get by too.

Friday, February 02, 2007


I am remarkably blase about this year's Super Bowl. But I'd like to hear one even vaguely justifiable reason for Sportsguy's picks column today to spend 90% of its time discussing Anna Kournikova. Basically, he ran into her the other night in a bar in Miami, and so this well-compensated journalist sent to Miami with an undoubtedly enourmous expense account to give us a feel for the game spends the bulk of his time writing about a women's tennis player who peaked years ago? He even actually tells a vaguely creepy story about his former intern playing high school tennis in Massachusetts. Then he swerves in order to tell us that he went to a Heat-Cavs basketball game (and to drop a cheap shot or two on LeBron's lap -- which may or may not be valid, but which certainly added to our trip down Nonsequiter Lane) Un-fucking-believable. And keep in mind -- this guy is in Miami and is supposed to be helping us give a damn about the Super Bowl.

This is the sports journalism equivalent of hearing a 15-year old tell his favorite masturbation story. From when he was thirteen.

In the pantheon of I don't give a fuck journalism, this is in the top 5 (See -- I can mail it in like Sportsguy too.)

Stephen's Got A Brand New Bag (Of Music)

Steve's got some new music. I have four of these cd's and a couple of others were on my list, and now most of them probably will be. Oh -- and big surprise that he would buy an album called "Eisenhower," eh?

Honoring the Friendship Nine

The Rock Hill (South Carolina) Herald has the story of Rock Hill's long overdue decision to erect a memorial to the friendship Nine, a group of students at what was then Friendship Junior College who began the sit-in movement in Rock Hill, which is about 25 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina and is increasingly taking on the shape of a suburb, or at least an exurb, of the Queen City.

One of the most significant aspects of the movement in Rock Hill is that it introduced, or at least marked the beginning of the establishment of a policy of "jail no bail" in which civil rights activists who found themselves under arrest would refuse bail in hopes of filling up the jails and stretching the system to its breaking point. The friendship Nine (who grew to number far, far more) feature prominently in one of the chapters of my freedom Ride manuscipt and in an article I had published last year. I am pleased to see them finally getting some public recognnition for their work.

Mugabe and the Europeans

The European Union has, rightly and largely successfully, managed to isolate Robert Mugabe and his reptilian support staff by maintaining travel sanctions against them. And yet for reasons that baffle the imagination, both France and Portugal are considering circumventing the prohibitions by using loopholes to invite Mugabe or his aides to summit meetings. What could they possibly be thinking? There has been lip service to fears that if Mugabe is not invited other African countries would boycott the meetings, but is this really that big of a concern? Inviting Mugabe to participate in any international meeting would be a mockery. Let's hope that the former colonial masters, both of which did so much to destabilize the continent, step back and reconsider if they are in fact leaning toward inviting Mugabe to participate in any sort of meeting that won't end with Zimbabwe's Big Man stepping down from office.

Oh No! Yeay!

Ralph Luker just assured me hundreds of hours that I will be able to call "working" but that will in fact involve me perusing 561 front pages from 56 countries courtesy of the Newseum online. The actual Newseum, which used to be in Arlington, Virginia, in Rosslyn, just across the Key Bridge from Georgetown, will re-open in its new location on Pennsylvania Avenue this fall.

(Hat Tip to Ralph at Cliopatria)

Ryszard Kapuscinski

The brilliant Polish reporter and travel writer Ryszard Kapuscinski recently passed. As a sort of homage The New Yorker has published his remembrance of his first trip abroad.

Kapuscinsky grew up and became a writer in Communist Poland during the Stalinist era. This informed so much of what he wrote. I have become familiar with his work over the years because he wrote a great deal about Africa. Perhaps because of his eastern European roots, or perhaps because of the peculiarities of translation Kapuscinsky's writing has its own unique rhythm, simultaneously staid and lyrical. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to go and purchase one of his books or collections. He wrote during a time of tremendous change and he was able to document and observe so much of the transforming world and in so many ways his work serves as a model of reportage.

Update: Today's New York Times has an appreciation from Verlyn Klinkenborg on Kapuscinski's life and work.


You all know that dcat appreciates a no-holds-barred takedown. Over at The New Republic James Wolcott puts the smack down on The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik. To give you a taste, here is the first paragraph:
I sometimes wonder if Adam Gopnik was put on this earth to annoy. If so, mission accomplished. Mind you, he finds himself in fine company in my illustrious literary perp walk. Francine Prose, with her pinched perceptions and humorless hauteur--every time she brings out a new book (she is depressingly diligent), I find myself grumbling, "Her again?" I've never gotten the point of Paul Auster and his swami mystique and probably never shall, unless I move to Brooklyn and achieve phosphorescence. Walter Kirn, what a hustler. But no tactician of letters has shown a greater knack for worming his way into our hearts whether we want him there or not than Adam Gopnik, the art-world observer, former Paris correspondent for The New Yorker (out of whose dispatches was spun the bestselling Paris to the Moon), and the magazine's resident tone-poet of post-9/11 Manhattan, drizzling pixie dust across a cityscape that no longer bears the hearty flavor of "smoked mozzarella," as he notoriously described the downtown death smell. It isn't that Gopnik is ungifted or imperceptive, or a slickster trickster like his colleague Malcolm Gladwell, who markets marketing. He is avidly talented and spongily absorbent, an earnest little eager beaver whose twitchy aura of neediness makes him hard to dislike until the preciosity simply becomes too much.

I like the gratuitous slap at Prose, Kirn, and Gladwell -- innocent bystanders at a drive by. Anyway, consider this some friday entertainment.

Update: Wow -- two hours after I posted what is above (possibly one hour assuming their timestamp is east coast time), Jonathan Chait published almost the exact same post over at The Plank. he used the same excerpt of the same first paragraph. He refers to a "machine gunning of innocent bystanders" in the same way that I do. Obviously since The Plank is referring to an article on the magazine's website I do not for one second assume that Chair even saw my piece, but it is eerie that the post is so identical to mine. Simultaneity is weird. Or great minds think alike. Or Chait is plagiarizing me. (That last one was a joke).

Ted Johnson's Post-NFL Troubles

The Boston Globe has the increasingly alarming story of former Patriots star linebacker Ted Johnson who was forced to retire from the Pats because of post-concussion syndrome and who's life has pretty uch gone to hell since then. Even most Pats fans had no idea about Johnson's situation. This is a somewhat damning expose of the culture of professional football.

(Today's Globe also has Dan Shaughnessy's story of a techy interview he had with Curt Schilling. Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report.)

Affirmative Action and the ANC

The Cape Argus (via IOL) reports that a draft ANC document for the upcoming ANC conference in December is set to announce that the party is prepared to see the end of official affirmative action policies in the future.:
Although the party does not moot a sunset clause for the policy, it does acknowledge in its draft strategy and tactics document that the need for affirmative action "will decline in the same measure as all centres of power and influence become broadly representative of the country's demographics".

Of course just when that will happen is anyone's guess. We have not achieved such a goal in the United States after four decades and I still support affirmative action here because I do not even vaguely see the sort of progress that would lead to the end of afirmative policies of hiring or school admissions.

Yet it is telling that South Africans are already cognizant of this debate. The huge difference is demographic, of course. The "African" population (in which I count Indians/Asians and Coloureds as well) is the vast majority in a country in which the government is now overwhelmingly African. As a consequence, despite the fact that apartheid was still so recent and so rigidly oppressive, the rapid transformation into a democratic government means that the majority no longer holds power in ways that it continues to do so in the United States.

Still, the end of the need for affirmative action will likely be a long time in coming in South Africa. And this is fine -- I see no sense in hastily dismantling a policy that is so necessary and has accomplished so much good in a country still limping from apartheid injuries.

Dear Diary

Tom has a new diary post up. There he cites a WSJ Opinion Journal article as evidence that Clarence Thomas is his own man. I find the argument underwhelming to say the least. He also cites Jeffrey Rosen's recent article-cum-interview with Justice John Roberts, which is great, and argues that Roberts is staggeringly smart and could be one of the great chief justices. While I think it is seriously premature to come to any such conclusions on the latter point, Roberts is staggeringly smart. But almost all Supreme Court justices are staggeringly smart. Scalia may be a gasbag, but he is brilliant. I have been able to spend time in small groups in person with Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, and both are insanely intelligent. I have done so on three occasions with David Souter who is, hands down, the smartest person I have ever encountered. Intelligence is usually (though not always) the coin of the realm for Supreme Court justices.

He also amusingly pillories Nickelback simply by quoting the lyrics of one of their songs in full. Though there was a song of theirs in the last year or two that I thought was pretty good and had a great video. But their earnest frat rock certainly warrants mockery, and Tom is up to the challenge.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hamba Kahle, Ma Tambo

Adelaide Frances Tambo, the widow of former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo, died on Wednesday night. She was 77. A heroine of the movement in her own right, Ma Tambo, as she was affectionately known, began working for the African National Congress as a courier in 1944 and devoted her entire adult life to the struggle against apartheid and the creation of a democratic society. Her M&G obituary can be found here.

Another of South Africa's Greatest Generation has fallen. Hamba kahle, Ma Tambo. Go well.

Facing Darkness

It's a question I am asked often enough that I have given it a lot of thought. How do you deal with these sorts of grim issues on a daily basis? I work on issues of race and racism in the United States and South Africa and on global terrorism. Heck, one of my PhD fields was Modern Europe with an emphasis on Germany in the 20th Century. It is not cheery stuff. Today I have already spent time and energy on a 1985 massacre in South Africa, the rise of apartheid after World War II and the state of Jim Crow in the 1940s. And that does not count teaching or blogging. I thought about this question after reading Guy Burger's Mail & Guardian article on two new books by South African journalists dealing with the darkness within men. The two books are Publish and Be Damned, by Chris Steyn-Barlow, whose work I do not know, and Dances with Devils by Jacques Pauw, whose work on apartheid's killers I very much do. Neither book is likely to be available in the United States any time soon, if at all, so I'll have to track them down through back channels or else the next time I am in South Africa. Pauw has spent a lot of time in recent years writing about apartheid killer Eugene de Kock, about whom I have also written a great deal.

I think the best way to phrase how I deal with what could be grim and depressing material is to keep in mind that in the end Jim Crow and apartheid succumbed. The good guys won, even if the process was oftentimes tragic. Global terrorism is a bit trickier, as this is a topic I deal with in medias res, but I think my understanding of other worlds in which terrorism and violence reigned helps me to develop a sense of clarity when dealing with ongoing atrocities. Plus, as a sort of palette cleanser, I write about sports.

Boston Terrorized By Cartoons?

We live in a weird world. Yesterday Boston was thrown into tumult by a cartoon ad campaign gone awry. Basically, the cartoon network tried to advertise some of its Adult Swim fare all over the city yesterday, and the effects that were used were bizarre to the point of scaring some people into believing it was some sort of terrorist plot. Globalization being what it is, I first read about the story through a story from a South African news service. But today's Boston Globe not only had an extensive story, it also provided an analysis of how this incident exposed a generation gap in the US and also an editorial about how the city was "paralyzed by a gimmick."

My initial response is simply to pass this off as one of those stories -- a confluence of poor execution, clashing cultures, and all that. But another reality is how we are all so much more attuned, if only selectively so, to terrorism. If a plane goes down our first thougth will be of 9/11. Odd bleeps and bloops emanating from a pecuilar cartoon character in an unexpected place? Terrorism. This makes a certain amount of sense. But when the story turns out to be far more benign, it makes me wonder if we have not created for ourselves a noise-to-signal ratio that only complicates things. And of course the politicization of terror has both cheapened and oversensitized us to the point of an almost universal societal confusion over what terrorism is and as importantly, what it is not.

The Senate to Presidency Myth Debunked

With so many members of the Senate set to run for the presidency in 2008, Robert Geilfuss challenges the conventional wisdom that says that Senators cannot win. Instead, he argues over at TNR online,
it's far too early to write off the Senate's contenders. In fact, doomsday prophecies for senator-candidates rely on a totally false reading of electoral history. The truth is that senators are no more or less likely to win a general election than anybody else.

People too often confuse causality with correlation. As Geilfuss argues, compellingly I believe:
Effective politicians do not have a standard biography. They can come from any kind of background. So please, spare McCain, Clinton, and Obama the same tired line about no senator winning the White House since John F. Kennedy. Senators don't have trouble wining the presidency because they are senators; they have trouble because they're human.