Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year Wishes

8 things that I hope to see happen in 2008 (tagged by koplobpobajob via Iain Dale) not necessarily in any particular order:

1) The addition of a little dcat progeny (and no, this is not a subtle attempt to make an announcement).
2) The publication of my Freedom Ride book. This should happen in the fall. I hope.
3) 19-0, Celtic Pride in June, a Sox repeat.
4) Tenure.
5) A Democratic victory in November (preferably Obama, but I have not 100% committed).
6) Resolution to crises in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Somalia.
7) An alternative to Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki in the South African succession struggle. (Cyril Ramaphosa, are you listening?)
8) The chance to return to South Africa.

And as an added bonus: A happy, prosperous New Year to all of my readers.

Reactionary Security Policy

Patrick Smith at Jetlagged, a New York Times travel blog, eviscerates our absurd airport security system. Anyone who flies regularly knows just how reactionary our response to the threat of terrorism has been. And anyone who cares to remember knows how the airlines lined up to suckle at the teat of government largesse while the debris was still settling at Ground Zero and the Pentagon, despite the fact that those same airlines were both responsible for the lax security that prevailed and that they had always aggressively resisted encroachment on their ability to conduct their own security as they saw fit. The airlines and the attendant airport apparatus failed. So naturally they wanted to get paid for what they lost as the result of their own malfeasance when air traffic was shut down. I am always astounded by how this little pas de deux got buried amidst everything surrounding 9/11.

I Love the 80s

On a night when the Lakers wore the sorts of short shorts that Larry Legend and Magic once donned, the C's plastered the Lakers 110-91. It was like the 1980s all over again. The Celtics are relevant. Hell, the C's are dominant. And so this game in LA mattered too. As G-Rob, who sent that link, wrote me today:
Boston LA was the greatest rivalry in the 80s. My life seemed to hinge on their match-ups throughout the year.

He's right, of course. It is hard to remember, but there was a time when C's-Lakers was the biggest rivalry in sports. It was much bigger than Sox-Yanks in the 1980s when neither baseball team was good at the same time. (If the C's relevance is hazy it might be even harder for most of you to believe that Bruins-Canadiens was a monster rivalry as well. By the way -- The B's were supposed to be awful this year, and as of right now are one of the top five teams in the East.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Racism in the North Country

I was always perplexed by the racism that I saw and heard in my home town in New Hampshire. People trafficked in the most appalling stereotypes about blacks despite the fact that almost no one in Newport could even plausibly say that he or she knew any black people. If one wants to see racism as a function of ignorance and unfamiliarity, most of northern New England would be the place to go. Of course there are other wellsprings for racism as well, but that which springs from ignorance born of unfamiliarity, the most literal kind of ignorance, is among the most truculent. I was reminded of these experiences from those years while reading this story in The New York Times about death threats levied against anyone who dared attend NAACP meetings in Bangor, Maine. Not surprisingly, Maine is apparently the whitest state in the country. And this example shows that the racism of unfamiliarity can carry with it every bit of the malice of any other form of racism. Keep this example in mind also when someone next tries to tell you that America is over its racist past, or that blacks just need to get over it, or any of the other cliches that some people reflexively blurt out in order to avoid scrutinizing a country that has come a long way but that still has a long way yet to travel.

Greatest. Cover. Ever.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame?

Will 2008 be the year that Big Jim Ed Rice receives the call from Cooperstown telling him he has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Rice was my favorite player growing up, and so I really hope so. And Dan Shaughnessy thinks it is going to happen this time around. I know all of the arguments against -- his prime was too short, he missed by just a few on a couple of the magic numbers -- but the gods of your childhood will always be gods, and I think that he also has a compelling case for admission, especially with voters looking with fresh eyes at the most feared power hitter of his era in the wake of the steroids scandal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wearin O' the Green

The Sacramento Bee has a great article on the Celtics in which the writer, Sam Amick, shows how the C's current success will always be measured in terms of the franchise's unmatched history of greatness but also provides a mindset into how the franchise is working its way back into Boston fans' hearts. Thanks to g-rob, one of the kingpins of the dcat west coast reader mafia, for the tip.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho Ho Ho!!

Merry Christmas everybody! I hope Santa was as good to those of you who celebrate this holiday as he was to me. Here is one of several gifts that brightened my morning (not surprisingtly, perhaps, there was a strong Sox-Pats theme to many of my presents):

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Omagh Revisited

I hope this won't be my last post before Christmas, but I do want to say a few words about the news that Sean Hoey, the only person to have been accused and brought to trial for Northern Ireland's 1998 Omagh Bombing, has been acquitted of charges related to the Omagh bombing and many other terrorist activities. The Real IRA's August 1998 attack in a busy market center of nationalist Omagh was the single most brutal terrorist attack during the entire period of Northern Ireland's Troubles. It also lingers as the last major attack and the one that caused the Real IRA to announce a cessation of violence. The most disquieting aspect of the acquittal is the fact that it was necessitated by incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the authorities, particularly the police. Not at all surprisingly, the public response has been outrage at those officials who effectively assured that the victims of Omagh and their families will never see justice done.

The fact that the peace in Northern Ireland has held for nearly a decade is too easy to take for granted. Not too long ago the Troubles seemed every bit as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet the fear is that Unionists, and particularly the paramilitaries that claim to speak and act for the unionist community, will use the acquittal as a pretense to re-engage in their own terror campaigns. When people discuss terrorism in Northern Ireland, they tend to think in terms of the Irish Republican Army and Nationalist violence. But the reality is that in Northern Ireland Unionist paramilitaries operated independent of the formidable power of the state, which itself stacked the decks against both the Nationalists and the Catholic minority.There is no doubting that the IRA was a ruthless, thuggish organization. One need look no further than Omagh to realize as much. But the IRA did not operate in a vacuum, and it was not alone in perpetuating Troubles that I hope we will continue to reference in the past tense despite the recent reminder of how that past is not so distant.

Merry Christmas!

Although I may post in the next few days, you may well not read, so I want to wish all of my readers, regular, casual, and those who just stumble upon this site a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Bounteous New Year. I'll be in San Antonio for the next few days, then back here with some family visitors, and then back to San Antonio, and finally off to Washington, DC. Have a wonderful time with family and friends, and thank you so much for reading. Check back in when you can.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

South African Politics and the ANC: Self Indulgence Alert

The African National Congress just completed its national conference in Polokwane at wich it nominated Jacob Zuma to be the party president, paving the way for him to succeed Thabo Mbeki as South Africa's president in 2009. Zuma has been a lightning rod for controversy over the last few years and his rivalry with Mbeki had grown increasingly acrimonious over the course of 2007. Today comes the news that ther National Prosecuting Authority has enough evidence to pursue corruption charges against Zuma. Suffice it to say that this changes the political dynamic, though in what ways it is almost impossible to know. I've been following events closely at the South Africa Blog.

Green, Black, and White

JA Adande has a great column on the Celtics in which he debunks the myth that the C's somehow represent a historically racially retrograde team. The reality is that the Celtics set the standard for racial integration in the NBA. I've been working on a book proposal on sport and society in the United States since the Civil War and one of the chapters is going to try to address the reputations and realities of two cities with fascinating histories of race relations, Cleveland and Boston, in which sports played a vital role (for good and for ill) in racial transformation (and white reaction).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Literary Forays

A few bits and pieces on literature and public intellectuals have cauight my eye in recent days. here's a rundown for your reading pleasure. After poring through them I feel a bit guilty about not providing some deep thoughts and well-constructed insights, but sometimes it's ok to let the work speak for itself.

At The New Republic Christopher Benfey reviews two vital Library of America collections of Edmund Wilson's work. Benfey describes Wilson as "a marmoreal figure, a sort of jowly Supreme Court justice of the literary imagination" in this long and often insightful review essay. The Library of America has been for a long time now creating an indispensible, well, library of American writers and their works with far-ranging tastes and interests. These two volumes fit perfectly into the LOA mission.

At the Chronicle Review historian Michal Kazin wrestles with living in the shadow of a towering figure in American intellectual life. I am far more familiar with the work of the father than the son, so the whole thing seems a bit dynastic for my decidedly not to-the-menner-born background, but Kazin treats his subject, which is in some ways himself, with honety and verve and in so doing tells us something about the changing nature of the American life of the mind in the past half century and more.

In the most recent New York Times Sunday Book Review Gil Troy reviews (Williams alum) Edward Larson's new book on the 1800 election, A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign. The review and the book now have me thinking about an op-ed I might write comparing the 1800 election to a more current affair.

Finally, for those of you into lists (and the untilately false but reassuring hierarchy and order they provide) the Sunday Book review has also provided lists of 100 Notable Books of the Year and the ten best books of 2007. I'd be interested to hear your choices for 2007's best books given that I am voting for just such an honor in the next few weeks and would like to be reminded of some of the good stuff, from all genres, that came out in 2007.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Jonah Goldberg

It's almost impossible to state just how fatuous, intellectually irresponsible and dishonest Jonah Goldberg's new book, Liberal Fascism looks like it is going to be. I've written about this book before and had quite the contre temps with Goldberg via email, who chided me for judging a book I had not read, even though my objection was with the title, which I had read, with the publisher's press materials, which I had read, and with the picture on the cover, which depicted the iconic liberal smiley-face with a Hitler moustache, which even a fucking retard could quite clearly read. (He also tried to get all historical on me, snidely mentioning that much of his intellectual foundation came from a book that in his snide words I "really ought to read," Alonzo Hamby's For the Survival of Democracy. One: Hamby's book does not even vaguely provide intellectual cover for him. Two: I was Hamby's research assistant on that book for more than two years. My name features in the acknowledgments and everything. So maybe, Jonah, you "really ought to read" Hmaby's book as well. Had you actually done so you might not have descended quite so far down the slippery slope of fucktardery.)

Well, Goldberg's book, which was supposed to appear a year-and-a-half ago, might be on its way. It seems that he has not tempered his argument all that much despite the delay. Here is the excerpt from his book jacket that has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere:

The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.
Now I have my issues with education majors and the very idea of most education departments teaching anything but early childhood ed. But this is so offensively, muddle-headedly, noxiously, stupidly insane that it boggles the imagination. Goldberg is of a type with lots of guys who have climbed the ranks of America's intellectual journals, right and left: He's smart but nowhere near as smart as he has come to conclude that he is. He's been given a lot but believes that those gifts are nothing more than a function of merit. And he is so used to a culture of shouting that in a situation where he is supposed simply to speak -- I'm speaking metaphorically about the responsibility serious people take when writing a book -- that he screams incoherently. I've long been unimpressed with Goldberg is my point.

If you want to see a sample of what other blogging critics have said about Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, I'd recommend starting with Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias, where you can get a sample of the screen captures of the dust jacket ( and see that not only female -- I've no idea why it is just female -- education majors, but also the Democratic Party, The New York Times, and Ivy League professors all fit into his "friendly fascist" category) and a link to more captures from Sadly, No. TNR's Jason Zengerle weighs in at The Plank here, citing Kieren at Crooked Timber, who helpfully points out that one cannot receive an education degree from Swarthmore. Jonah Goldberg sloppy with facts? now I've seen everything! I cannot wait to see who crawls up to defend Goldberg, who in this case really is beyond defense.

Ten Stories You Missed

Foreign Policy has a list of the top ten stories you missed in 2007. Naturally I'd like to point out that we almost always "miss" stories on Africa, and as if to prove my point, notice the paucity of Africa-related stories on this list of what you missed in 2007. That's, like, irony or something.

Self Indulgence Alert

If you scroll down and look to the right you'll see that I have substantially expanded the links to my various op-ed and other pieces, though there are a few that I am having a remarkably difficult time tracking down. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Waterboarding = Torture

Let's say it all together, kids: "waterboarding is torture." Justify it if you want. Present your 1% doctrine arguments, discuss necessary evils, present your case for the ugliness of war. I'll tell you why I think you are wrong. But don't dismiss the reality: Waterboarding is torture. (So is sleep deprivation and a host of other stuff, by the way.)

I Was Right! (Neener Neener Neener Edition)

I find it amusing how writers have been tripping all over themselves to tell us how maybe Houston's decision to pick Mario Williams #1 wasn't so much of a mistake after all. Some of us have been saying as much
for more than a year. Here is what I wrote in October 2006, and with the exception of some ill-advised overrating of David Carr, I think it stands:
Could announcers and the so-called experts please stop asserting in their most outraged tones that the Houston Texans made an atrocious decision by choosing Mario Williams over Reggie Bush? It is far too early to draw such a conclusion, some of us are frankly tired of hearing about Reggie Bush's, let's say "whelming" (as in: neither under- nor over-) numbers, which always seem padded with (again "whelming") kickoff return numbers, and it is hardly certain that Bush is going to set the league on fire. Meanwhile, Mario Williams plays a position where it is difficult to make an immediate impact, and in case you have not noticed, Williams actually gets quite a few double teams because the interior defenders for Houston are not threats -- not exactly the treatment accorded to a bust. Maybe offensive coordinators around the league know something the headset-jocks don't. Here is my prediction: If anything, teams will regret not having taken Matt Leinart and Vince Young more than they will regret not taking Reggie Bush, and since Houston has David Carr, who lo and behold is better than anyone thought now that he is not viewing the game from his earhole while lying on his back, they were not really in the market for picking either of the quarterbacks. Enough is enough -- if Houston made the mistake, let's wait for the electrifying (it is mandated in Bush's contract that his slurpers use the word "electric" or some derivation thereof whenever they speak of him) Reggie Bush to have more than a couple of good third-down-back-type-games before we make that judgment. And if Mario Williams is in the league for ten years and Bush blows out his acl on Sunday against Baltimore after Ray Lewis uses him to show his Baltimore teammates how he learned origami in the offseason, let's not pretend that such things cannot be taken into account: Fast but small guys get hurt all the time, and these things can be predicted. Ten years of a speed rushing defensive end is better than three years of a show pony.

I'm just sayin', is all. What is a revelation to the Peter Kings of this world is to many fans simply a function of realizing that people's opinions the day after the draft are pretty much worthless. And so venting outrage on draft day is pretty silly for even ardent fans, never mind for journalists who ought to know better.

Dreams of Travel

Christmas is just over the horizon, and so most of us are looking inward, preparing to enjoy time with kith and kin, home and hearth. But before long most of the country will be deeply immersed in deep, whited-out winter and our inner armchair traveler will be itching to dream of getting away from it all. that might be the time to pull out "The 53 Places to Go in 2008" from last Sunday's New York Times Sunday travel section.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pats Fans Await Your Outrage

From FanNation via New York's Newsday:
According to league sources familiar with the situation, the Jets were caught using a videotaping device during a game in Foxborough last season that resulted in the removal of a Jets employee. After Gillette Stadium officials saw him using the recorder early in the game, he was told to stop and leave the area. He had been filming from the mezzanine level between the scoreboard and a decorative lighthouse in an end zone. The camera was not confiscated by the Patriots or stadium security. Tuesday night the Jets admitted that they did videotape the game and their employee was confronted, but said they had permission from the Patriots to film from that location.

Huh. Maybe that will change the narrative a little bit. The Jets were caught videotaping the Patriots BEFORE the Patriots were caught videotaping the Jets. I find that interesting. And I fully expect this story to get the same amount of play that the Pats videotaping the Jets did in the first quarter of a 7-7 game that the Pats won 34-14, after which they reeled off 12 more victories. OK, actually I don't.

By the way, if the Pats reach 15-0 (maybe even irrespective of whether they go 19-0), don't the 1972 Dolphins automatically warrant an asterisk? It seems like we always want to privilege past performances over present and are quick to resort to the asterisk for modern sporting feats. Well, the Dolphins did not play a 16-game schedule. (They also did not beat anybody, but that's an entirely different matter.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Brady and Moss Season For the Ages

With the seasons Tom Brady and Randy Moss are having for the Patriots, The Boston Globe got to wondering (in picture gallery form): Where do their seasons fit in the pantheon of Boston sports? Enjoy this glorious tour through Boston sports lore. All of the usual suspects (Big Papi, Pedro, Yaz, Jim Rice, Teddy Ballgame, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and many others) appear.

The Algeria Attacks

This morning's bombings in Algeria could tell us many things, if we chose to listen to them. But I fear we'll only hear them partially, and through partisan ears at that. Assuming that al Qaeda is responsible for the bombings (a conclusion that does not seem unreasonable) we should be reminded that this we face a fanatical foe determined to wreak havoc across the globe against liberal democracy and those sympathetic with liberal democracies, and even those illiberal states that do not cater to al Qaeda's particular form of extremist Islamic tyranny.

We'll hear that narrative in the days to come, as well we should. But what I imagine we will not hear is that an attack such as this one in Algeria really ought to remind us that when the Bush administration proclaims success in the Global War on Terror (or whatever barbarous neologism they're spinning these days -- I follow these things and I'm not even sure. Are we still rolling with "The Long War," an indeterminate construction that seems befitting of the Bush years?) it seems apparent that they want to elide the "global" aspect of things. For while it is true that there have been no attacks on American soil since 2001 there had not been a whole lot of attacks on American soil prior to 9/11. (The Bush Administration has somehow spun being in office during the worst terrorist attack in American history into a model of stewardship which is brilliant, albeit in an Orwellian way.) But there have been attacks across the globe, many against our allies (The atrocities in Spain and England) and innumerable attacks in Iraq that may show many things, but not that we've crushed terrorism. And while too many have been willing to overlook the clear improvements from the recent surge, many others seem bound and determined to try to freeze this moment in amber, to take on a whiggish approach in which today's improvement represents inevitable improvement and in which they ignore the fact that the United States is sort of responsible for what has gone on in Iraq for ill as well as for good -- and there are representatives of both.

Today's attacks in Algeria represent the dangers we face but also the dangers we have not eradicated. They represent the evil men can do but also the slippery nature of our political dialogue. They represent the triumph of terror over hope, but somehow also the triumph of hope over reality.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Radiohead: Pay If You Please

There is a pretty good case to be made that Radiohead is the reigning "Greatest Band in the World." For people who share that belief, this feature on Thom Yorke and company in today's New York Times is welcome. I want to run into them at The Rose and Crown, which is apparently their preferred pub in Oxford. (I suppose I'm now fit for mockery from "real fans" who probably knew that little bit of trivia even though I've been an ardent Radiohead fan for a decade or so now.)

Radiohead currently is the talk of the music biz because of their bold approach to their newest album, In Rainbows, which is available on a pay what you want basis by download here. Because of the reticence of the guys in the band and the innovative nature of their endeavor we may never know exactly how successful this approach has been for them financially, but I think it shows how fans truly are willing to pay a fair price for music they love. It is in its way remarkable to think that a large number of people who could have gotten In Rainbows for free anted up the lucre. I paid 5 pounds for it, which comes out to right about what one might expect to pay for a reasonably priced (which is to say significantly overpriced) cd.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The GOP Horse Race: Indecision or Reflection?

Boston-area GOP political analyst Todd Domke analyzes the Republican race in an attempt to figure out the apparently unprecedented indecision on the part of party voters. Implicit in Domke's otherwise astute assessment is a belief that such "indecision" is somehow bad. On the other hand, one can argue with some confidence that it might be good for American politics for the nomination process not to be wrapped up by President's Day.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

South Africa Year in Review

Over at the South Africa Blog I have created a year in review page at the request of my editor. It is lengthy, but I hope you'll take the time to read it. There is a section of predictions for 2008, so you'll inevitably be able to mock me in a year.

Herf on German Silence and Ahmadinejad

dcat friend and mentor Jeff Herf has a piece at TNR in which he asks why Germans have not been more vocal in decrying Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his fascist leanings. As usual Herf is smart and insightful and informs his commentary with a wide range of ideas and readings.

Most Walkable Cities

The Brookings Institution has ranked America's most walkable cities. The top five are Washington, DC, Boston (some Bostonians are miffed about coming in second to DC), San Francisco, Denver, and Portland, Oregon. I'm pretty ecumenical about the DC-Boston walkability debate. They are two of my favorites cities in which to walk,and as with just about any sort of ranking like this one, it's all pretty capricious so that the difference between, say, number one and number 5 seems pretty meaningless.

A History of Histories

"Historiography" is one of those needlessly daunting words that historians use both fully cognizant of its meaning and utterly unaware of how offputting it is to those who don't have the profession's union card and know the secret handshakes. And yet historiography is little more than the direction of arguments, ideas and evidence. It is the history of the history, as it were, in which ideas have developed, pissing matches played out, new information shared. When I was getting my MA one of my professors, who has become a friend, (and who at the time was about the age that I am now) explained how he once hated historiography, but how by that point in his career it had taken ahold of him and he found it fascinating. That's sort of how I feel. An element of the discipline with which I once had an uncomfortable relationship has been the source of to of my recent scholarly articles (one forthcoming) and the very idea of historiography has heavily informed two other recent articles.

I was thus interested to see Michael Binyon's review of British historian John Burrow's apparently impressive new book A History of Histories. In Binyon's words:

John Burrow's A History of Histories is itself an exemplar of how history should be written. Witty, scholarly and, above all, fair, it relates, in chronological order, the lives, learning and influence of the greatest historians, from Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius to Herbert Butterfield, G.M. Trevelyan and Arnold Toynbee.

[. . .]
Burrow is absorbingly informative. He knows his subject and he knows how to tell it to those who have heard of, but never read, Sallust, Jean Froissart, David Hume, Leopold von Ranke or Henry Adams. He tells us a bit about each man (there are almost no women historians), sets out the political framework and summarises the writer's argument, style and intention. It brings to mind Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, and the result is just as happy. Burrow comments with enormous authority on a historian's pedigree, judgment and influence.

Although the book does not appear to cover modern historians (or American historiography, never mind Africa) especially well, this appears to be a wonderful book for, say, a graduate seminar in historiography, methods, or the historian's craft.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Culture of Books and Reviewing

Over at The New Republic James Walcott reviews Gail Pool's new book Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America. This probably seems like one of those discussions that only effete snobs and pointy-headed intellectuals care about. And maybe it is. But effete snobs and pointy-headed intellectuals are not always wrong and more often than those who castigate them would like to believe, are quite often right. I don't think that it creates a mythologized or idealized past to argue that there was once a more vibrant culture of books and book reviewing in the United States and that now as much as ever there are the means and mechanisms to have such a culture again but that there seems not to be the will and the desire.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mmmmmmm, Donuts!

MSN has America's top 10 donut shops (via Bret Stetka, a donut- obsessive who serves his country by maintaining The Blognut, which devotes coverage to "all donuts, all the time."). Mmmmm, donuts! Texas gets an entry but on the whole I find that the Lone Star State does not get the art of the pastry with the hole in it. Let us know your favorite donut stops. (Or weigh in on the eternal Krispy Kreme v. Dunkin' Donuts debate. I love fresh Krispy Kreme glazed, but pound for pound, donut for donut, this native New Englander is going to keep with his regional loyalties and back Dunkin' Donuts.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Greatest Indie Rock Albums Ever

Blender has a list of the 100 greatest indie rock albums ever. This should start a few arguments. I agree with the top three, but would place them in a different order. (The Replacements' Let It Be is the greatest album ever. I won's entertain any arguments that say otherwise!) Start here with albums 100-91 and follow the countdown in increments of ten.

G-Rob Enters the Big Tent

The guys at Big Tent have made the wise decision to add G-Rob, longtime reader of both Big Tent and dcat, one of their own. He has been busily adding his byline to their little slice of the blogosphere.