Thursday, March 29, 2007

Derek Does Dallas

I posted a lot yesterday because I am leaving for a workshop in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex today. I'm not certain when I'll be back because plans are a bit up in the air. I also do not know if I will have computer access while I am gone.

In any case, if I am not back, enjoy Opening Day. Sox open up in Kansas City.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Definitely Want A Moat

Let's hope that this is true.

Buy This Book, Chap

An old high school friend, Matt Guenette, with whom I have reconnected in the last year or so, has published his first book of poetry, A Hush For Something Endless, with Ropewalk Press. (You can see details about Matt's chapbook, the press's first, if you scroll down the page.)

Matt provides some details about the press and a trip he took down to the University of Southern Indiana, where Riverwalk is based, over at his blog Seize the Means. Now go on, go buy A Hush For Something Endless. The starving poet thing is not, after all, something they like.

The Zimbabwe Situation: SADC Responds

In an unprecedented move the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a sort of League of Nations for 14 southern African countries, has called an emergency summit to deal with the crisis in Zimbabwe. You can see much more on this developing situation at the Foreign Policy association South Africa Blog.

Cricket: Semi-Live

The Cricket World Cup is into their Elite Eight phase. As I type this Sri Lanka is batting against South Africa. The Guardian is providing virtually live over-by-over coverage, pretty much live blogging. Sri Lanka is currently at 162-5.

Here is Andy Bull's preview for the match:

It's time to pick a side, to decide how you like your cricket. Here's the choice: on the one hand you've got the brutal, bullying and clinically efficient South Africans. They're all muscular fast bowlers and straight-batted big-hitters, staring you down or knocking you out of the way. Or, you've got the Lankans: a craftier team, with more guile and more joy about their game, they may irritate you with their incessant on-field enthusiasm, but they'll charm you too. Brawns or brain folks?

The thing is this match dosn't have an underdog. These two teams have played each other 44 times, and won 21 each. In World Cups they've met three times, won one each and had one tie. On neutral venues? 8 times, four wins each. For all that, they couldn't be more different.

Statistics aside - I never was much of a one for stats - there is a lot of bad blood between these two teams. South Africa cost the Sri Lankan cricket board $12m last year when they pulled out of a three-match series in Colombo because of the security threat. South Africa themselves will still be scarred by Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara's stand of 624, a record in first-class cricket, set just last year.

South Africa is almost inarguably the greatest side never to have won a World Cup and this year provides perhaps their best opportunity yet.

You can also check out what could be an exhilerating finish as the West Indies pursue Australia's run total of 323 here.

Update: What a peculiar match so far. Sri Lanka was rolling, with a national one-day record after 6 wickets, and then in their last overs they gave up 4 wickets on 8 balls, finishing at 209. South Africa is on to bat after the break and after scoring one run, give up a wicket themselves. South Africa needs a reachable (assuming they protect their wickets a little better than they have at the beginning of their time in the stump) 210 to win. As of right now they are 5-1 and need 203 from 47 overs.

Update Part Deux: Holy boerewors! In one of the truly great finishes, South Africa barely ekes out a 210-9 to win by the slimmest of margins. Epic. South Africa shows it can close out a tight game and Sri Lanka shows that after putting up 209 it can almost hold off one of the best teams in the world.

Matsuzaka Watch

Over at Sports Illustrated online, Tom Verducci has a piece and an interview with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese uberstar and international man of mystery who will either bring the Red Sox back to the promised land or else will provide yet another example of hype preceding reality. I vote for the former, please.

Parody Watch

I really did not intend to produce two posts in a row tied to The Plank. I really did not. But they have had the "This American Life--Can You Out 'Ira Glass' Me Challenge" going on and they have a winner. Let's just put it this way -- it involves Mexican immigrant children, dulce de leche, Catholic school, and masturbation. Comic gold, in other words.

Here are all three finalists.

Of Hipsters and Hypernovas

The New York Times has the scoop on an Iranian rock band, Hypernova, just tryin' to make it big with all of the cross-cultural issues that raises. They've got the look -- think of the Strokes but, you know, Iranian. They've got the studied coolness. The question that remains is whether they have the songs. Welcome to the jungle, fellas.

Actually, it's easy to be cynical or snide about this sort of thing, especially when it is pretty clear that the guys in Hypernova have had more access to the United States than most Iranians and when they have adopted the too cool for school pose of every other unsigned rock band that is able to score a gig on the Lower East Side. But the reality is that we certainly want to see a lot more Iranian guys picking up guitars or sitting at word processors (what, you think writers sit down by candlelight with a quill and ink?) or jonesing for Starbucks while dreaming about becoming rock stars or writers than the alternatives. Say what you want about cultural imperialism. Give every potential suicide bomber in Tehran's suburbs a week in New York and every kid in new York a week in Tehran's suburbs and we're converting a lot more of theirs than they ever could of ours. And I say this as someone who has traveled this globe of ours a lot and is deeply committed to cultural immersion, to not seeming like another American abroad.

Hat Tip to Keelin McDonell at The Plank.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Illegal Downloading, the RIAA, and College Campuses

According to a report (which I cannot find online) in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the recording Industry association of America (RIAA) is planning a crackdown on illegal file sharers. The RIAA recently sent out letters to campuses with the IP addresses of computers from those campuses that have been traced to the most extensive illegal sharing. The universities were to give the letters to the students tied to those IP addresses or else face lawsuits. The letters to the students, meanwhile, ask for a settlement payment of $3000 to be paid within a few weeks or else they RIAA will sue for the asserted value of each illegal downloading or file sharing.

The campus that has the most extensive violations? Ohio University. The rest of the top five are Purdue, the University of Nebraska, the University of Tennessee, and the University of South Carolina. (Full disclosure: I did my PhD at Ohio and was a fellow at USC's Institute of Southern Studies for a year, though I actually only spent a couple of weeks in residence.)

I am, frankly, torn about the RIAA approach. On the one hand, it seems monumentally dumb to alienate the single largest and most important music-consuming demographic. This approach seems heavy-handed. It smacks of bullying. It also reveals just how far behind the technological curve the RIAA is.

At the same time, we live in a post-Napster age. No one can reasonably assert, especially if they are a college student, that they are not aweare of the difference between illegal and legal file-sharing and downloading. Some of the users being targeted have downloaded thousands of songs.

It would be nice if the RIAA chose lenience. Scare these kids and make sure they are aware that they only get a pass because of the largesse of the RIAA but that in exchange, from here on out their campus will have to ensure that any targeted student's usage will be strictly monitored. Intellectual property matters, and its theft -- whether through plagiarism or illegal downloading -- is not a victimless crime. At the same time, kids have been making mix tapes and trading bootlegs for ages, and those practices, far from proving detrimental to the music industry, has actually almost universally fueled consumption, album sales, and concert attendance. In a lot of ways, file sharing and downloading simply takes the place of listening to wretchedly restrictive homogenized radio formats where a virtual payola system dominates. Make sure these kids share music the right way, but keep in mind that alienating your loyalist constituency is a dumb business practice.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Love, Redemption, and Soccer

The Boston Globe has a powerful story about a soccer field in Rwanda. Here are the first two paragraphs, but read the whole thing:
In Kingston on Boston's South Shore, the Jonathan Rizzo Soccer Field with its bright lights and bleachers is a fitting memorial to the young man who loved the game and played on his hometown teams. In a barren refugee camp in Rwanda, seven time zones away, there's another Jonathan Rizzo Soccer Field. There are no lights or bleachers, but there's a clear space carved out of a mountain ridge, plus equipment and uniforms for the children, many of whom don't own a pair of shoes.

The field in Kingston was built by contractors with a grant from a foundation in Jonathan's name. The field in Rwanda was built by Nick Rizzo, who picked the spot and helped clear the land as a tribute to his older brother, who was murdered in July 2001. Nick recently spent six months working in the dirt-poor country, leaving Harvard University for a clogged refugee camp.

This is a touching tribute to love and redemption. If you have a brother and you are reading this at work you might have to tell your coworkers that it has gotten a bit dusty in your office or that your allergies are acting up.

Happy birthday, Marcus.

(Crossposted at the FPA South Africa Blog and at Ephblog.)

Self-Indulgence Alert: More On The FPA Blogs

The Foreign Policy Association blogs are officially up and running and all of us have begun posting a lot of really good stuff. You can get a look at the "Master Blog," which provides periodic updates of recent posts here. But I would strongly recommend that you go to the individual topic blogs for in-depth and up-to-date coverage. As you know, I am handling South Africa/Africa. But you should check out the others as well:

Gregory Johnson is handling The Middle East.
Bill Hewitt has Climate Change under control, in a manner of speaking.
Rohini Gupta covers issues related to Mexico.
Richard Basas and Cathryn Cluver are on the Migration front.
Daniel Graebner tries to bring some sense to War Crimes.
Bonnie Boyd is on the Central Asia beat.
And last, though certainly not least, Cassandra Clifford will be covering Childrens Issues.

Please visit all of these blogs early and often.

Play It Again . . .

Somehow I missed it, but back in February Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden, a Williams alum, reported on the glorious NESCAC Championship Game, which Williams won in epic fashion.

I should note that this year Amherst joined Williams as the only DIII team from the Northeast Region to win the national championship. Congrats to the Lord Jeffs. Maybe it will provide some solace for us winning the Director's Cup for the best overall athletic program in the country. Again. (We have won every one that has been offered but one.) And being rated the best liberal arts college in the country. Again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gore v. Inhofe Turns Into A Cage Match

Yesterday Al Gore testified on the dangers of global warming on Capitol Hill before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The most anticipated clash was that between Gore and Oklahoma's James Inhofe, the committee's ranking Republican, former chair, and longtime vocal critic of the very idea of climate change. Bradford Plumer was there and has an account over at The New Republic online.

In short, Gore seems to have acquitted himself well. But the biggest moments of tension came not between Inhofe and Gore, though they had their moments, but rather between Inhofe and current chair, California's Barbara Boxer. Bradford gives some examples:

During the questioning period, Inhofe asked Gore about his own personal energy use--a fevered right-wing meme that, of course, has no actual bearing on climate-change policy. When Gore calmly tried to point out that his family purchases non-carbon green energy, Inhofe cut him off. Bad move. Boxer retorted, "How can you ask a question and not give him a minute to answer?" A short while later, after Inhofe brought up a recent New York Times hatchet job that criticized Gore's documentary (the piece has been dissected here and here), he declared that he didn't want to hear Gore's answer, since it would take too long. "You can submit it in writing," he added with a sneer. Boxer, like a mother losing her patience, barked, "Would you agree to let the vice president answer your questions?" When Inhofe sputtered in protest, Boxer waved her chairman's gavel in front of his face: "No, you're not making the rules. You used to when you had this. But elections have consequences!" The room erupted in cheers. A red-faced Inhofe slumped back in his chair. Bernie Sanders had his head in his hands, laughing hysterically.

Good for Boxer. But also, on the whole, good for Gore. It looks more and more as if Gore is certainly not running in 2008, and that he has not been playing coy all along. Buthe may well play a significant role in a future democratic administration.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Political Dialogue and the Coulterish Turn

Over at TNR Rick Perlstein has a piece on the conservative tendency to smear Democrats through codes about race, gender, and sexuality. Certainly conservatives are not alone in using slimy rhetoric, but right now they seem to have perfected the Coulteresque capacity to cross lines and then feign innocence. And to think, we have a long way to go before November 2008.

The New New Republic and its Customers: Whining Alert!

As my regular readers well know, I am a loyal reader of the venerable New Republic. TNR has been relentlessly promoting its new restructuring in which the magazine is going to be thicker, more in-depth, and printed on higher quality paper. It will now come every other week, as opposed to weekly. But it's thicker!

I am fine with a restructuring, and if a bigger and better magazine comes less frequently I may actually get through the whole thing more regularly.

But here's the thing. TNR is converting its subscribers over to the new subscription not by giving us the same number of magazines, but rather by cutting our magazines in half because -- I kid you not -- the new magazine is twice as thick!

I wrote the following in the comments of one of the many posts over at The Plank pimping the new, improved TNR:

To be fair, those of us who subscribe really have the right to wonder if we are not being sold a bill of goods. We subscribed for X number of magazines, and now will get .5X under the argument that the magazine will be "thicker." Yet I did not subscribe for fatness, I subscribed with the understanding that my magazine would arrive at a certain frequency. And I don't want to call some number and unsubscribe. I paid for a product -- my options should not be to get that product at half the frequency I paid for or to end my subscription. The honorable thing to do would be to measure subscribers based not on girth (Suggested new TNR promo line: "Girth: Not just for penises anymore!") but rather on what we paid for: suck it up and give us the number of issues left on our subscription, and hit us up at the new rate/frequency for renewal. Is that really so unreasonable? After all, I subscribed based on incessant assertions of value above the newstand rate based on that newsstand frequency. Why should I have to assume that the product will be better just because you say it will?

Of course I received no response.

But here is the kicker. I finally received my new issue. (TNR tends to come very late relative to when it posts things online and unlike almost all magazines, it arrives after the issue date printed on the front.) It certainly is of higher quality. But it also comes in at 64 pages. That's four pages short of twice as long as the old issues. Not a significant number, perhaps, but it will add up to sixteen pages a month. It seems preplexing to me that TNR would nickel and dime those who are, by definition, its most loyal customers. I'd welcome a response, though I know I won't get one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Africa Stuff

I've been busy over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa blog, where I have recently written about the Zimbabwe Meltdown, The New York Times' special Africa Travel section this past weekend, Thabo Mbeki and the links between crime and racism, and Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance, and National Politics. Enjoy.

NRO In The Hizzy!!!

I cannot access the original article because I am not a subscriber, but apparently Rich Lowry at The National Review has an article concluding that the Bush administration has an "incompetency problem." Rumor is that they also predict that the Red Sox will win the 2004 World Series, that "Google" is bound to be successful, and that Gigli might not be a hit with critics or the public. It's prescient stuff, and timely too! And, just for the record, I fully agree with them -- "New Coke" is a gamble that might turn into a national joke!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Incoherence Watch/Idiocy Alert

As a service to dcat's readers, could someone please try to explain what the fuck David Ehrenstein is talking about in this absolute mess of an article in the L.A. Times? Ehrenstein's execrable "Obama the 'Magic Negro'" has to be in the running for worst column of the year. I honestly cannot even tell if it is racist or not, or if he likes Barack Obama. The Times' tagline for Ehrenstein says that he "writes about Hollywood and politics." I sure hope he is better at the Hollywood side, where he can also do the least damage.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

In The Changer: Killer "B" Edition

Here is another installment of my semi-regular feature, "In the changer," in which I review some of the things to which I have been listening. My motivation for writing now is that this past weekend in Albuquerque I went to a couple of different shows at The Launchpad, a great Downtown music venue. On Friday night I saw several hip hop bands, the names of which I never caught. On Saturday night I got to see a reunion show from the original lineup of Sebadoh, which was spectacular. I got to hang out with Jason Lowenstein and Lou Barlow for a bit after the show (Lowenstein was really cool, Barlow standoffish. In any case, Barlow's 2005 solo album is among this large batch of albums by artists whose names start with "B."

Banyan: Live At Perkins' Palace Banyan is one of many projects of former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, whose solo project, Ball-Hog or Tugboat? I quite liked several years back. I got this album by accident -- I ordered a different album, this one came in its stead, and the place from which I ordered it told me to keep this and sent me the cd I had actually wanted. In any case, Banyan is an instrumental group and this album sounds like soundtrack music for a crime caper film. But instrumental music can grow tedious, and this does. Sometimes I suspect that the movie is not a very good one. The album has its moments, but you are better off checking out the back catalogue of the Minutemen or the aforementioned Ball-Hog . . ., which brought together more than a dozen giants of indie, post-punk, and the puink scene of the mid-1990s. Grade: C+

Lou Barlow: EMOH This may have been my favorite album of 2005. EMOH (yes, "Home," backward) is an acoustic album that gets better with each time I listen to it. The unquestionable highlight is a brilliant version of 1980s heavy metal stalwarts RATT's "Round 'n' Round," which Barlow reinterprets as a suble, smart relationship song. EMOH captures a talented artist who has hit full maturity and who is comfortable with his soundcraft. A

Beck: Guero Beck has become the sort of workmanlike artist who is easy to overlook. In a relatively brief period of time he went from being the lovable funky weirdo to an alt-rock elder statesman. Guero represents another solid performance by the onetime Loser. But where it is solid, it is not especially memorable, which is another tendency his maturing albums have shown. B+

The Belles: Idle Acres I kept trying to figure out what other band this Lawrence, Kansas lo-fi duo evoked. The harmonies are beautiful, the fact that these guys are a twosome makes the arrangements spare, and their lo-fi ethos rings clear. So it came as a bit of a shock to me that the band that kept coming back to mind was Toad the Wet Sprocket. For some this might be a dealbreaker, but the reality is that like Toad, The Belles rely on a certain level of unabashed pop prettiness for their forward momentum, and Idle Acres has it in abundance. A-

Belle and Sebastian: The Life PursuitThis might be this Glasgow group's most fully realized album. The Life Pursuit has all of the hallmarks of Belle and Sebastian -- lush chords, pretty melodies, sing-songy lyrics, clever imagery -- but they stretch themselves musically more than they have on previous efforts. If you are a fan of Belle and Sebastian, you'll like this album, if you don't, this may be a good place to start. A-

Bloc Party: Silent Alarm I got this one from dcat's own RoJo, and wouldn't you know it, Bloc Party made it big saoon after. They just released their second album to much more fanfare than the first, but so far I like Silent Alarm better. The lead singer's voice takes some time to get used to but the drummer has jackhammer forearms and the guitarist anchors the band. B+

James Blunt: Back To Bedlam "You're Beautiful" is already destined to be one of those somgs that play at the end of high school dances because most high school students are too fundametally stupid to grasp the fact that this is a song in which boy decidedly does not get girl. Then again, that sounds like most high school dances. Blunt produces pretty, falsetto-laced pop music with accessible hooks. There are worse things for a pop star to do. B

Bowling For Soup: A Hangover You Don't Deserve There is a fine line between clever and annoying, and this Texas foursome generally ends up on the right side with this collection of songs that oftentimes try to evoke the lighter side of relationships, school, fashion, and reminiscence. "1985" is one of those songs that probably evoked a great deal of recognition among us thirty-somethings and "Ohio (Come Back to Texas)" was a variation on a theme familiar to anybody who has dealt with long-dstance relationships. It is tough to imagine these guys making a career out of this sort of thing, but their wit is endearing more than cloying. B

BR549: Dog Days I love these guys. They are at the alt-end of the y'allternative movement that broke with the No Depression scene of the mid-1990s. They produce bluegrass-inflected country that, for lack of a better word, rocks. A

Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake It's Morning Rule one of producing an album ought to be that you do not annoy the listening audience in the first minute. This one starts out with Nebraskan indie it-boy Conor Oberst telling some largely uninteresting story leading in to the first song. Why would anyone listening to this album want to listen to that damned anecdote for a minute-and-a-half every single time around? In any case, I've never quite gotten the Oberst/Bright Eyes phenomenon, but I want to. The album picks up after the dubious production decision at the beginning, but I'm not yet fully on the bandwagon yet. B

Paul Brill: New Pagan Love Song This is one of those albums that I bought based on one song I kept hearing on my two favorite internet indie stations. And what a fantastis cong it is. "Weekday Bender" grabbed me by the scruff of the neck with all of the characteristics for which I am a sucker: A gorgeous melody, smart, plaintive lyrics, and simple production. The rest of the album does not really hold up, but his potential is clear, and I just read somewhere that he has a new album that is on the way, so I'm going to hold out hope that there is more "Weekday Bender" in him. B (But an A for that one song.

Dave Brubeck: The Essential Dave Brubeck Like most people, the only song I knew with any certainty was Dave Brubeck's is "Take Five." And yet "Take Five," the most essential song in the Dave Brubeck catalogue, is not on The Essential Dave Brubeck, which is peppered with old standards of which you have heard but about which you also would probably prefer to hear in their original incarnations. If I'm going to hear Duke Ellington, I'll go to the source. Give the people what they want, Dave, before deciding what they need. C+

Built To Spill: You In Reverse This is probably their best album from first track to last even though purists who were there from the beginning will tell you otherwise. Then again, everything they have ever done is great, so maybe I'm making distinctions without a difference. Doug Martsch is, in any case, part of a wave of indie rock geniuses that began to crest in the mid-90s and against all logic broke free of indie obscurity. And like all of them (Examples: Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie) Built to Spill defies convention by making accessible pop that still stays true to the ethos that made its rise improbable to begin with. There are a lot worse things that could be said about a band in this topsy-turvy world of ours. A

Thursday, March 15, 2007

That Left Turn At Albuquerque

I'm about to leave town again for a conference in Albuquerque where I am giving a paper and serving as discussant on a panel. I'll likely be out of internet range during that time, but I'll be back by Sunday. Have a great weekend transfixing on the basketball games. In the meantime, I've posted a few things over at the Foreign Policy Association South Africa blog.

The Ides Of March: Madness!

The tournament is here. All the chatter gives way to Cinderella going to the dance, the top seeds showing their stuff, and four days that will eviscerate brackets across the land. Here is what my main bracket (Like everyone, I play different brackets in different competitions) looks like:

The Sweet 16:
Florida v. Maryland: Maryland will be feisty, but Florida is too talented.
Oregon v. Wisconsin: Oregon can shoot, but Wisconsin is tough and will have the best player on the court in Alando Tucker.
Kansas v. Southern Illinois: I really like SIU, and their team D is spectacular, but let's be serious. Kansas will run them out of the gym, but even if they can't, they will out-strong the Salukis.
Duke v. UCLA: I know everyone thinks Duke is going out early. Don't kid yourselves, Duke haters -- Duke may not be what they have been, but they will make it this far. Then they will lose to a UCLA team that got more rest than it wanted after their early loss to Cal in the Pac 10 tournament.
UNC-Chapel Hill v. Texas: The Tar Heels play a lot of good freshmen. Texas plays the best freshman. UNC-CH is soft. They are going to lose this one and it will not be that close.
Washington State v. Boston College: Hey, most of this will probably be wrong anyway, so I may as well be loyal. But I also think that if BC can pull it all together, they can play better than people realize. Dudley will have a monster game, especially down the stretch, even if he does look like Webster stricken by giantism.
Ohio State v. Virginia: I hate Ohio State. And I had a too-brief affiliation with UVA for a few months in 2004, so I want to tell you that Wahoo magic is about to bloom. But Oden will be too much, Virginia too little.
Texas A&M v. Nevada: In a good year for Texas college hoops (Texas Tech, North Texas and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi all made the big ho-down as well) A&M will be the second in the Elite 8, though Nevada is going to put up a fight.

Elite Eight:
Florida v. Wisconsin (Midwest Regional Final): I want to pick Wisconsin. But once Butch went down so too did their realistic national title hopes. they will punch Florida in the mouth, but the defending champs will prove to be too deep and too talented.
Kansas v. UCLA (West Regional Final): This will be the best game of all of the regional finals. Kansas is really, really good. UCLA is only really good. That one "really" will make the difference.
Texas v. BC (East Regional Final): I am loyal. But I am not a fool. Texas will pummel BC, but a Boston audience will get to see Kevin Durant and dream of him resplendant in green. Now if only Paul Pierce would get a five week "stomach virus" because he has chosen a hell of a bad time to prove that he is one of the ten best players in the NBA.
Ohio State v. Texas A&M (South Regional Final): Is it absurd that I am going to have three Big 12 teams in the Final Four? Probably. i tend to avoid cliches that people invoke to pick the national champion, but I'm going to pull one out now: When in doubt, look at the guards. I really like Conley for Ohio State, largely because his dad was a world class long and triple jumper back in the day. But Acie Law III is spectacular, he has enormous huevos, and he will take this game over in the last tem ninutes. Oden's going to be great, but the story in this one will be how Ohio State fought the Law (and Law won).

The Final Four:
Florida v Kansas: I have said all year that Florida would not repeat this year. They are a good team, but I just think that Kansas is better. Kansas has great balance and can play any sort of game. This could be a fantastic matchup, but Kansas will pull it off.
Texas v. Texas A&M: OK, so this matchup is farfetched. But this state will go absolutely insane if it comes to pass. My friend Brian will probably explode with his man-love for the Longhorns and his loathing of everything Aggie. A&M has the almost embarrassing coaching advantage with Gillespie over barnes in a walkover. But the Longhorns will have almost everything else, including, again, Kevin Durant, who will go for 30-15. Texas wins.

The National Championship:
Texas v. Kansas: These two teams have played two of the best college basketball games in 2007. In the Big 12 championship the Horns ran out of steam after three games in three days and could not forestall a Kansas comeback victory in overtime. There will be plenty of rest in between games this time around. The national title will reside deep in the heart of Texas for the next year.

Or none of this may come to pass. That is what makes March so glorious.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bolo Ties and Politics (Public and Domestic)

Mary Ann Akers, WaPo's "Sleuth" has the scoop on how the bolo tie might become Bill Richardson's secret weapon in the 2008 race. My guess is that Richardson will be a very short-timer once he gets trounced in New Hampshire and Iowa, but I'm a fan of the bolo tie, I like Richardson, and since I have been forbidden to have the freshly-named official New Mexico state neckwear be part of the groomsmen's getup at the San Antonio Nuptial Soiree I find bolo ties to be like the apple in the garden of Eden. So consider this a protest post.

The Foreign Policy Association Blog

The Foreign Policy Blogs masterblog, a consolidation of posts from the various blogs hosted by the Foreign Policy Association, is now live. As I announced last week, I am responsible for the South Africa blog, though I will post on a whole array of Africa-related issues.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

David Sedaris and The Not So Funny Truth

Over at The New Republic Alex Heard, editorial director of Outside magazine, has a pretty thorough expose of David Sedaris' "nonfiction" essays. I have always been a big fan of Sedaris' work and so was naturally disappointed to see that much of his work barely resembles nonfiction at all.

What somewhat separates this discovery from those of, say, James Frey's work, is that Sedaris has always admitted punching up his stories because he is, above all, a humorist. Nonetheless, it also serves as a reminder of one fact that too easily gets overlooked in these sorts of discussions: Writing good nonfiction is hard. Figuring out what happened and how, relying on the evidence before you, fealty to the facts -- these things make nonfiction, to my mind, far more difficult than fiction, and thus when pulled off well, more compelling. Fiction requires a tremendous imagination. Nonfiction requires something greater -- tremendous precision and a willingness of a writer to give himself to reality. Imagination plays a role in the best nonfiction as well, but that imagination must serve the larger good of truth, something that can be far more difficult to piece together than most people realize.

I suspect that because of his ouvre, and because he never denied making up elements of his work to improve the stories, Sedaris will emerge from whatever stink this stirs up cleaner than Frey. (Though as I recall, Frey returned to the bestseller list as a result of his unseemly kerfuffle.) But I wish that even more than writers, who oftentimes do not categorize their work, editors and publishers would do their due diligence and not try to wedge work into the nonfiction pile if it does not belong there. I would be happy to see "creative nonfiction" become a designation if we need a compromise. But calling something "nonfiction" really ought to mean something fairly specific even if that label does not need to be limiting.

Monday, March 12, 2007

TNR's March Madness Blog

The New Republic has a basketball blog in time for March Madness. There is a lot of gasbaggery mixed with pretension going on over there, but it's probably worth a view.

This might be one of the most balanced brackets we have seen in some time. As for the bubble teams, it is hard to work up too much outrage. Syracuse and Drexel would seem to have the strongest cases, and I have to wonder why stanford got in, but I think the selection committee has done better than at any time in the past few years even if a few potential bubble teams from midmajors played their way in and made things a bit easier.

My only early advice: Don't go all chalk. In other words, don't pencil in all of the one and two seeds. At the same time, and more importantly, don't get too clever by half either. There usually is a reason why a team is an 8 seed. For every Arizona in '97 or Villanova in '85 or NC State in '83 there are a million brackets ruined by someone thinking that they have a ten seed that is going to shock the world. You are much wiser looking for this year's version of the 2006 Florida team than for this year's George Mason. The reality is that picking an upset and being wrong runs you the risk of having that pick haunt you for the rest of the tournament. Your belief that Virginia Commonwealth is going to the Elite Eight is the reason why Sally in accounting is going to beat you soundly by picking teams she has heard of, going with high seeds most of the time, and having her upset team last for one round before they run into a team that has those pretty uniforms that also happens to be a three seed.

The idea of a play-in tournament for the last four slots still stands as the Greatest. Idea. Ever.

That Starbucks Book

If you've been into a Starbucks lately, you've undoubtedly seen Ishmael Beah's haunting new book about his experience as a child soldier, A Long Way Gone. Starbucks is prominently featuring the book, which has been selling well largely due to this partnership, in all of its outlets. It is in many ways a brave and refreshing choice, especially since Starbucks' first effort at promoting one book was the last offering from the almost comically insipid Mitch Albom. The New York Times expains the partnership between the ubiquitous coffee chain and Beah's bestseller. (You can see also here for a quick primer on Beah's writing.)

Why Giuliani Shouldn't Win

Over at Talking Points Memo Cafe Jim Sleeper has a provocative argument why Rudy Giuliani might not make a very good president. The argument is a bit too diffuse to sum up easily, but Sleeper looks past the easy reasons why he might not be able to win the nomination. I'm not certain he's right, but Sleeper at least adds another perspective to the discussion.

Friday, March 09, 2007

San Antonio to Albuquerque

It's spring break here in the Permian Basin, and I'm hitting the road. I'll be in San Antonio for a few days and then Albuquerque for a conference. I'll blog as I can, but it might be thin for a while.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

38 Pitches

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling now has a blog.

A Wonderful, Magical Refrigerator

A beer tossing fridge? As the Thunderstick says, thank God for this kid. He says it with more than a hint of pride, for this young genius is, like Thunderstick, a Duke alum.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bruscino Blogs

Tom has a new diary entry. The last half is certifiably brilliant.

Favorite Airports

The Washington Post's Travel Blog discusses favorite airports. this is a tough list because airports can be pretty grim places to be stuck for a long time, especially if money is tight, and because they tend to take on a certain level of saminess. But I'll give it a go:

Atlanta (Largely because I have a good friend and former college teammate who runs a business there, but also because it is huge but almost always manageable).
Houston (As opposed to Dallas-Fort Worth, which is a nightmare. Houston has great food options, including a fantastic barbecue place)
Minneapolis-St. Paul (When I lived in Minnesota I had a very serious girlfriend I had left back in Washington, DC so I spent a lot of time in the Minneapolis airport.)
Kennedy (Largely because being at Kennedy so often means going somewhere great.)
Logan (Everything about Logan is a nightmare, but arriving there means I've landed someplace I want to be. Plus I can buy Dunkin' Donuts and The Boston Globe within minutes of landing.)
Washington National (Security is a hassle, but I like DCA and it has that greatest of benefits: Location, location, location.)

Amsterdam (Lots of cool stuff to do and places to rest.)
Hong Kong (Stylish and comfortable and efficient.)
Johannesburg (Another nightmare that does not belong on any list, except that it has personal meaning because when I hit Joburg I am again in a place I want to be.)
Heathrow (See Kennedy, above.)
Cape Town (Unlike Joburg, the Cape Town airport is almost absurdly manageable and intimate. Plus it is in Cape Town.)

Feel free to add your own favorites or least favorites in the comments.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Greatest. Idea. Ever.

Last March I presented the greatest idea ever. Seriously. Here is how I presented it on March 14, 2006:
In a world where new ideas are rare, the Thunderstick and I have just come up with a dandy: We believe that the teams tonight [in reference to the play-in game that determines the last team into the field] are getting screwed by the system, that there ought to be room for both of them to be in the Dance and that a team such as Air Force probably could yield to Monmouth or Hampton. But better yet, why not have a play-in game between bubble teams? After all, the brunt of the aftermath of Selection Sunday involves discussing who should have gotten in and who should not have. Why not have teams battle it out for those slots? Why not have all of the #13 seeds be up for grabs? Take four bubble teams from major conferences, four from mid-majors and let them face off. You could pit Missouri State v. South Carolina, Air Force v. Michigan, George Mason v. Cincinnati, and Texas A&M v. Hofstra. Who could possibly oppose this idea? It would effectively start things off on the Tuesday before the tournament, and the intensity of these games would be unreal. Such a system would also alleviate the age old "Majors or Mid Majors?" argument that we engage in every year, and the result would be more March Madness.

So naturally the Thunderstick and I have been discussing our epochal contribution to mankind. And here is what he wrote to me today:
Checking out ESPN, in the latest Bracketology, the last four teams in were Purdue, Illinois, Old Dominion and Missouri State. The last four out were Kansas State, West Virginia, UMass and Drexel. How great would be on Tuesday night if instead of getting the play-in game that right now is projected to be Arkansas State vs. Mississippi Valley State, we got to see Purdue vs Drexel, Illinois vs UMass, ODU vs West Viriginia and Kansas State vs. Missouri State? I think I'd watch every one of those games.

I'm telling you -- this is better than Euclidean geometry, the microchip, the Marshall Plan, and even the footlong chili cheese dog all rolled into one. As I said last year, "Someone call Dickie V and Miles Brand. This idea is too good not to happen."

Self-Indulgence Alert!: Great Decisions Edition

I have some news I am pleased to share, if you will indulge me. I have recently been named a blogger and writer for the Foreign Policy Association. My blog will be one of several separate but linked blogs covering areas including Central Asia, Children's issues, Climate Change, Mexico, The Middle East, Migration, War Crimes, and my area, South Africa. You can access the blog here. I have already added a blogroll of lots of South Africa-related links, many of which I do not have on my own blogroll at dcat, and I posted for the first time just a little while ago.

What will this mean for dcat? Hopefully nothing. Well, nothing except that my South African blogging will take place over there, though I will let you know when I write there so that you can go and read it. Otherwise I'll continue to write here daily or thereabouts.

I do hope that you will follow the Great Decisions series closely and that you find time to read my blog on South Africa in addition to my writing at dcat.

We're So Money

In an article on measuring how much college students learn US News & World Report had the following to say:
The state of Texas also requires its public colleges to release more data. In a recent report, the state announced that the tiny University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa far outperformed the larger UT campuses in El Paso and Dallas on the Collegiate Learning Assessment. What's more, Permian Basin also had a greater percentage of students either employed or enrolled in a graduate program within a year after graduation for every year between 2001 and 2004, when compared with its counterparts in El Paso and Dallas.

This follows on the heels of Newsweek showing that they really, really like us as well.

I have nothing to add.

Well, ok, maybe one thing. In the summer after my first year at UTPB one senior historian who does not hold an academic position (but who does have a blog) and with whom I had a rather heated argument over email decided to take a shot at my university. He wrote "I would rather not have a job than teach at that little third-rate institution." Wish granted: he still does not hold an academic position. My "little third-rate institution," however, seems to be doing quite nicely.

Monday, March 05, 2007

South Africa Rugby Watch

Currently South African sides are dominating the Super 14, the competition between the major professional provincial rugby clubs in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia (SANZAR). With the World Cup just months away, the showing of the potential Springboks gives South Africa coach Jake White reasons to smile. Fortunes change in world rugby faster and more unexpectedly than in just about any other sport, but as of right now Amobokkobokko look like a smart pick to hoist the Ellis Cup in Paris even if the All Blacks will still go in as favorites, as they always should prior to major international competition.

U.S. Intellectual History Blog

There is a new blog devoted to United States intellectual history that looks promising. According to the email I just received from H-Pol:
The U.S. Intellectual History blog originated with a post on the listserv H-Ideas in January of 2007. In his message, Tim Lacy noted the lack of any formal space devoted solely to the study of ideas and arguments in their specifically American context, and solicited volunteers to help build such institutions. A diverse collection of scholars responded, and "U.S. Intellectual History" represents the group's first attempt to establish an infrastructure for this vibrant academic concentration. The editors of the weblog post news and information, short essays, book reviews and provocative conversation-starting questions, all in the area of U.S. intellectual history.

The blog will also contain book reviews, relevant links, and will likely be a useful location for gathering information on intellectual history in the US.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pats Offseason Through a Belichickean Lens

Today's Boston Sunday Globe has a lengthy feature-cum-interview of Bill Belichick that gives some rare insight into the Patriots' coach and savant. The piece gives a little bit of insight to everything from the Coach's allegeedly boorish behavior at times in 2006-2007 to his tenure with the Browns, some perspective on his personal life (about as much as outsiders are likely to get from this notoriously private man, anyway), and the relatively disappointing season just passed. In the words of former Globe sportswriter Michael Holley, "I don't think people would say Bill Belichick is a great man. He's a great coach. He's an interesting man."

In a related note, the Patriots offseason has started about as well as any fan could reasonably hope. In the past couple of days New England has come to an agreement with former Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas, one of the gems in this year's free agent group. Ron Borges provides a cautionary note. The Pats have also come to agreements with Kyle Brady and Sammy Morris). Here is hoping that a premiere wide receiver and a cover corner follow. Put me on record as believing that the Pats' system would be able to handle Randy Moss but I also would be pleased to see a Joe Horn, Darrell Jackson or Dante Stallworth on board as well.

One of the problams that I thought the Pats had all last year was that despite a clear lack of depth in some areas the team remained well under the salary cap. This offseason the Patriots appear set to rectify that oversight. There is lots of time yet to go and a little something known as the draft to endure, but so far so good this offseason. That hideous AFC Championship game loss will stick in a lot of craws over the course of the next ten months, which is as it should be. Anyone who counts New England out will do so at their peril. Which is not to say that lots of the experts won't be too clever by half and go out in the preseason and talk about the Pats' era being done and decide that a Bills-Cardinals Super Bowl is in the offing.

Update: By the way, this marks my 1000th post at dcat. I have no idea what that means. It is probably a testament to my opinionated nature, or to having too much free time, or to wanting to avoid working, or to an overdeveloped sense of my own importance, or maybe, just maybe, to the fact that when you separate the faint signal from the considerable noise, I occasionally have something to say that might be worth someone's while. Probably a combination of these factors. here's to the next thousand posts and to thjose of you who have been here from just about the beginning.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

In the Changer: A Is For . . .

In the last three months I have been downloading all of my cd's into my iTunes. I received an iPod Nano for Christmas, which forced me to go through my album collection and cull about 8 gigs worth of music, which, it turned out, made up an infinitesimal percentage of my collection. So now I have decided to get everything downloaded, the whole collection, onto iTunes and eventually get an iPod that will hold the whole thing while appreciating my uber-nano that has my absolute favorite stuff on it. So far I am at the L's and am about 7000 songs in. (To get a sense of how anal I am when it comes to my music -- and to see how you compare -- I organize my collection alphabetically by artist and then within artist I organize chronologically by release date. I suppose I must have toilet trained to the soundtrack of my Mom's poorly organized skipping records and malfunctioning eight-tracks or something.)

At the same time I have been listening to an ever growing mass of new or newish cds that I had not fully made it through in the last year or so. This means that even more than normal I have been pretty well absorbed in music around the clock these days. Herewith a return to my semi-regular feature, "In the Changer" in which I provide capsule reviews of what is in that immense stack of new stuff. The piles have grown so unwieldy that I will present each entry alphabetically (knowing that as time passes I'll get new cd's from the early part of the ABC's that I'll slip in. I'm something of a fetishist with my music collection, but I'm not going to sacrifice foolish consistency to miss the chance to make smartass observations, draw insightful conclusions, drop annoying references, or even come up with the occasional savvy observation about a new cd.)

Let's start with the "A's":

American Football: American Football I got this one from Tootle in an October trip to Atlanta. Imagine, if you can, Pinback meeting The Sea and Cake meeting The Western Keys. That is to say, imagine three very good indie bands that you may well not know. American Football is a pretty good synthesis of these three bands. Shimmery guitars, lyrics that are somewhat oblique but not annoyingly so, and a midtempo attack. It's good. Definitely worth your while. So, by the way, are Pinback, The Western Keys, and The Sea and Cake. Grade: B+.

Appendix Out: Daylight Saving Another one from Tootle from that same trip. (I promise, this is mere coincidence.) Imagine, if you can, American Music Club meeting Mazzy Star meeting Cosigner and you'll have a starting point. (I also promise that this will be the last time I play the "imagine x + y + z = this band" game in this installment.) I don't like American Music Club and Mazzy Star to anywhere near the degree of the other bands in the previous entry. Naturally I love Cosigner because they are wicked awesome. In any case, I actively disliked this album upon first listen, which is why I have an ardent policy of multiple listens before I pass judgment on an album. This one grew on me into a solid B.

Archers of Loaf: Icky Metal This was a replacement purchase. Somewhere between Beijing and Johannesburg and Oxford and Odessa I lost my copy of this cd last summer and I needed a new copy. I became a big fan of these guys when I lived in Charlotte in the mid-90s and saw them once there and a couple of times in their home base of Chapel Hill. Although the album as a whole does not always cohere fully, it has one of my favorite songs of all time, "Web in Front," (an A+) and combines enough great songs with an undeniable personal nostalgia factor to earn it an A-.

Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am That's What I Am Not These Sheffield (UK) boys put out this wry, self aware album that looks into the nightclub, going out every night, hipster culture from an interesting vantage point: Critical, but well aware that their observations come from firmly within that culture. Some people will probably say that they sound like a lot of other bands. Maybe. But I might argue that the Arctic Monkeys are the best embodiment of their breed. Or at least that this catchy album is worth a B+.

Arrested Development: 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of . . . Arrested Development's patchouli doused hip hop crystallized in my mind as being better than it actually is with repeated listens over the transom of about fifteen years. There are some unquestionable highs. "People Everyday," "Mr. Wendel," and "U" are spectacular. But some of the message has not aged all that well. Still, I wish there were more hip hop artists expanding from the status quo today. Sometimes it seems as if The Roots are the only guys making this sort of effort. That's more than likely not true, but whatever is out there has not captured a slice of the zitgeist in the same way that Arrested Development did in the early nineties. B+

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hamby on Schlesinger

Alonzo Hamby weighs in on the life, career, and death of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. over at POTUS. Hamby has done more to shape my intellectual and scholarly development than any other individual. This sensitive and smart reflection should give you a pretty good sense of why I so admire him and his work.

Afrikaner Spookstories

The Mail & Guardian has a weird, creepy, and disturbing story involving the "Boere Nostradamus," prophecies of Nelson Mandela's death, right-wing Afrikaner race war fantasies, email hoaxes and assassination attempts. This bizarreness follows closely on the heels of new revelations of right wing organizations Boeremag and Suidlanders, both of which continue to wave the white supremacist flag.

2008 Faceoff in Selma

Barack Obama is the current "It Boy" of American politics. Hillary Clinton is the presumed frontrunner down whose neck Obama is breathing. Bill Clinton is arguably the most celebrated president in the black community since Lincoln. All three will be at a commemoration of the seminal 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march in Selma, Alabama this weekend. Hillary is playing this one nicely. Bill Clinton will manage to awe the crowd while giving the event the solemn respect it warrants. Hillary will be able to bask in his reflected glory. For Obama, this will represent something of a coming out party in the Deep South.

The 2008 Democratic nomination race is turning into one of the best in more than a generation. Serious, powerhouse candidates coupled with a compelling political backdrop makes for what should be a heck of a race once the primary season comes.

I still maintain that 2008 represents the best chance we have seen in a long time for the Democratic Party fight to carry through to the convention. Imagine if the race is still undecided on Super Tuesday and the voters split between, say, Hillary and Obama with a surprising John Edwards stealing enough delegates away to give the convention some drama (and Edwards much leverage).

Recent history makes such a scenario seem improbable, but that does not make that history deterministic. Strong candidates with enough money and enough of an unyielding constituency makes for a potential extra innings affair. If you are a political junkie, the very thought is sweet ambrosia. For the rest of you it probably sounds like a freaking nightmare.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Arthur Schlesinger. Jr., RIP

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. passed away last night. He was 89 years old and one of the most significant of all American historians. Yesterday and this morning I used A Thousand Days for an article I am writing and I wondered when the second volume of his memoirs might see publication. I hope I do not come across as selfish or insensitive when I say that I hope that he had finished that volume before his passing.