Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bissinger On Kerry Wood

H.G. Bissinger, of Friday Night Lights fame, has turned his attention toward the Cubs' hard throwing and hard luck Kerry Wood in the latest issue of the New York Times' fine quarterly sports magazine, Play.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Sox Continue to Roll

The fraudulent idea of the Curse of the Bambino no longer sells books, and curmudgeonliness does not sell papers among the denizens of Red Sox Nation these days, so Dan Shaughnessy continues to be upbeat about the Olde Towne Team:
Josh Beckett is back, a 4-2 winner over the Tribe last night. The Red Sox have won five in a row, lead the Yankees by 14 1/2 games, and own the best record in baseball. And the reeling Yanks are afraid to pitch Roger Clemens in Fenway Park this weekend.

Could life be any better?

We suddenly have a San Diego weather mass over our region. The tunnels are open again and you can get where you are going in no time. The Patriots have a chance to go 16-0 and it feels like we all might win the lottery. Next thing you know, some dietician will discover that hot fudge sundaes cause you to lose weight. You'll be able to drink water from the Charles, all college tuition will be free, and the Celtics will experience good luck.

These are heady days over on Yawkey Way, and the return of Beckett is just one more brick in the wall of wonder that is the 2007 Red Sox season.

And why not? After last night's win over an Indians squad that will be in the running into September and maybe beyond the Sox are poised for another sweep. Jon Lester is coming back, and as Shaughnessy implies, the guy who was supposed to take the Yankees over the top appears to be ducking us. In case you are curious, the Red Sox' Magic Number is 98.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Guardian's Sport Blog has an annotated list of England's Six Best Football Performances since they last hoisted the World Cup way back in 1966. In typical self-flegellating England fashion, one of the matches that makes the cut did not even end in an England victory. The comments prove as edifying, contentious, and entertaining as the list that inspired them.

You Don't Say?

I have to admit, I did not even realize that there was any doubt, but some of the victims of the January 1972 "Bloody Sunday" shootings were innocent, according to someone who was at the time a captain with a parachute regiment of the British Army and who was on the scene in Derry that day. The fact that the revelation comes from a General, Sir Mike Jackson, is probably what makes the story important, but it really just gives official imprimatur to what we already know.

Hat Tip to HNN.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Another week, another successful Red Sox run, another (largely) angst-free week of our regular weekly feature, "Dirty Water," in which the Thunderstick and I discuss the week just passed in Red Sox Nation. I'll let thunderstick go first, as usual:

Thunderstick: Not to go all Sportsguy on you but three weeks ago when I was in Vegas, I sat down at a blackjack table on the first night I was out there with $300, my bankroll for the night. And after kind of grinding for a bit, I caught one of those 20-25 hand runs where you win 18-20 hands including all your double downs and splits. After that run that lasted maybe 30 minutes, I was sitting up about $700. I pulled back my original $300 as well as $200 in winnings and put it in my pocket to fund a chunk of the gambling the next two nights I would be out there. The other $500, I played loose and fast with trying to really win big for the rest of the night knowing that even if I lost it I had had a good night on the tables and could go to bed happy.

Those 20-25 hand runs are the kinds of runs that get people hooked (and in some cases addicted) to gambling. They are the ones where you know you are getting good cards on most of the hands, but even if you don't, you know you are going to pull it out anyway. That's what I feel like watching the Sox right now. I sit down and I just know they are going to win most nights. A lot of those nights, it's like getting a 20 right off the bat and knowing that unless something freaky happens you are going to win that hand. Some of those nights (like the third game against Texas) they fall behind and are a run or two down in the late innings, but they pull it out--like having a 16 against a 10 and you are long odds to win, but you know when you hit you are going to get a 4 or a 5 and you do. And even when you have a setback and lose a couple hands, or you lose 2 of 3 to the Yanks, you know the next set of games or hands will give you that cash back and start winning again--which is what that Texas series for the Sox and the Yanks series against the Angels felt like this weekend. The Sox are in the midst of one of those streaks that just makes the rest of the season fun. They are now like I was when I was up $700. I put my original money away, plus some winnings and had fun knowing the only way I was going to bed upset that night was if I lost the winnings and then went into what I had put away and lost that as well. The Sox have an 11 game lead, 13.5 over NY. As long as something akin to me pulling out the money I put away and losing it doesn't happen (like a rash of injuries to key players or poor management decisions), the rest of this season should be a lot of fun.

It might be boring to a lot of people reading this, but for us Sox fans, there's nothing better than writing this and basically saying "yep, more of the same, not sure what to comment on this week." The Sox are just playing really, really, really well. And to make things even more fun, the Yanks are playing really, really, really bad. Even this week, the Yanks fans can take one last run at glory by basking in the hullaballoo of Clemens coming back and what that might mean. Do I think Clemens will make that big a difference? I think he'll help, but I think the Yanks are too far gone at this point. But if I was a Yankee fan, knowing how bad things have been so far, I'd take this week as an oasis to allow myself to think "maybe Clemens comes back and goes the rest of the season and has a 2.00 ERA and wins 95% of his games and this inspires the team and they step up and play better and make an incredible run to the playoffs". Why not--it's baseball, you have to cling to hope. But while the media is covering that and Yanks fans are thinking about it, we Sox fans see Beckett coming back (one of the leaders for the Cy Young when he got hurt a couple weeks ago) and we can now see Timlin's and Lester's return on the immediate horizon. So while the Yanks get Clemens, we'll get back one of the top 5 pitchers in the AL, a key late-inning reliever and a 5th starter. I'll take the latter group of players over Clemens (Also note that in the 22 days since Clemens said he was coming back to the Yanks not for the money, but because it was the most likely place for him to win another title, the Yanks have gone from 5.5 to 13.5 back. Bravo on the judgment Clemens--maybe you should have waited another couple weeks to decide).

Meanwhile the Sox roll on. Two more with Cleveland after a nice win last night (I really like that Cleveland team--there are tough outs up and down the lineup and the pen looks great--their starter wasn't great last night, but they have other that are). Three with NY with a chance to put the last stake in their hearts. Then 7 out west against Oakland and ‘Zona. Not the easiest schedule, but several more chances to send messages which the Sox have done almost every time out this year when given the opportunity. I'm really feeling like it'll be a fun rest of the season now!

dcat: You know, as much as I try just to enjoy this -- and trust me, I'm enjoying this immensely -- the Brave New World of Sox fandom after 2004 is still unsettling for me. I'll admit it -- in the back of my mind right now is the nightmare that was 1978. I was seven years old, and that season was the crucible in which my Sox experience was forged. We all know the details, so I'll spare a rehashing of them, but it was as a seven-year-old in the throes of first love with the Sox that I grew to realize that no lead is entirely safe.

You are a couple of years younger than I am, and in 1978 I believe you had just moved to New England, so while you inherited 1978 you never lived it, and as we discussed in an email last week, that makes you largely free of that particular anxiety. Nonetheless, it is still unsettling for me to see us with a lead this big that continues to grow and to know that we are not even at full health, that Manny has just now started to mash, and that we have not seen JD Drew even come close to approaching the career means toward which we have to assume he will gravitate. Jonathan Lester would be a potential #3 starter on almost every team in the league. Mike Timlin has been a vital bridge to the closer spot over the last few years. Beckett could still be the pick the start the All Star Game. In sum, this is a team that, frighteningly enough for the rest of the league, could actually improve.

Like you, I really think this is a good Indians team. In fact at the beginning of the season I though two teams were going to break out -- the Indians and the Brewers, and so far that seems to be happening. Last night the Indians started to rally in the 9th off of Pap, and had a great chance to win that ballgame when Sizemore, Blake, and Hafner (had he stayed healthy Hafner would have been my MVP last season) came to the plate with guys on second and third. Papelbon reached back, however, and shut them down. That is a team that has serious postseason aspirations, and at least for one night we held them off. Who knows what the rest of this series holds, of course, but the reality is that we just keep beating good teams. May was supposed to be one of our two toughest months, and we have made mincemeat of it. Even against lesser opponents in the next month or two we may not keep up this pace, but right now it feels good to be a Red Sox fan.

As for the Yankees, well, the Clemens investment does not look like a great one. We almost gave them hope last week by losing that series to them in the Bronx, but we get them again this weekend with what could well be a chance to make the Roger Clemens return the most highly anticipated anti-climax in sports history. As you metioned to me a couple of nights back, how the hell do you bring Clemens in as the savior with that contract and then hold him off until after the Red Sox series? From this vantage point on the horizon, that looks an awful lot like a white flag that I see waving.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

San Antonio News

I'm in San Antonio for another weekend. A couple of stories caught my eye in this morning's San Antonio Express-News:

The first involves a federal discrimination suit. While the court did not agree that Richard O. Cook had been fired because he had filed a discrimination suit against the Texas Human Rights Commission. But these details, from Jaime Castillo's column in the Metro section this morning, are alarming and Castillo's conclusions spot-on:

This is no time to question the jurors. They heard all the testimony. They judged the statements and the body language of the accused and the accuser over several days of trial.

But a piece of evidence introduced in the case speaks to how woefully inept we are as a country at having honest discussions about race, ethnicity and discrimination.

During the trial, Cook testified about finding a "Mexican Application for Employment" on his desk shortly after he filed the complaint with the human rights commission.

"It is not nessesary (sic) to attach photo since you all look alike," the application begins.

Under the space reserved for a person's address, it states: "If living in car, give make, model and license #."

The choices under estimated income include, "welfare," "unemployment" and "theft."

Skipping to near the bottom, the application asks: "How many children do you have?"

There are spaces reserved to "1st wife," "2nd wife," "best friend's wife" and "neighbor's daughter."

The capper is the blank left for the applicant to "sign your name as it appears on your tattoo."

Now, there are those who will argue that this is funny between friends. But put yourself in Cook's shoes.

He's a Mexican Iraqi working in a Hill Country sheriff's office where only four out of the agency's 41 employees are Hispanic.

Although he attempts to ignore it, throwing away the application doesn't do any good.

Cook testified that he was given a second copy by a fellow deputy who said he took it off the bulletin board at the Gillespie County law enforcement building, which houses the sheriff's office, the Fredericksburg Police Department, some state troopers and a local game warden.

The response to Cook's allegations, even before a trial could be held, is the way too many so-called "minority" issues are greeted today: with sneering.

To my mind, this case is not about whether or not Cook has a sense of humor. In some contexts some might find it funny. But in the context of a job that sort of behavior is unacceptable. In the workplace people have the right not to share someone else's sens eof humor, especially when the joke is about the ethnicity of the target. Most Mexican Americans i know might be able to laugh at the faux application. Few would find it funny if it were placed on their desk (not once, but twice) when they were applying for a job.

The second story represents an equally problematic decision by Texas authorities. For a decade students from Texas high schools who graduated in the top 10% of their classes have been guaranteed admissions to UT-Austin or Texas A&M at College Station. republican lawmakers are trying to repeal that law and in so doing to restrict access to the best state universities. Who will lose in this scenario? Studnts from poor districts and disproportionately minorities. Who will gain? Students from affluent districts and disproportionately whites:

The House Mexican American Legislative Caucus notes the law has resulted in 170 high schools in 71 counties being able to send students to one of the state's two flagship campuses — UT-Austin and Texas A&M-College Station — for the first time.

But the law created a backlash in wealthier suburban communities with highly competitive schools. Parents say their children instead are attending universities outside Texas.

The policy was put into place in order to get away from a policy of race-based admissions that Republicans, of course, opposed. Now the state GOP shamefully wants to scuttle that compromise. There is no excuse for enacting such a policy that will only serve to restrict access for those who most need it. And we are not talking about opening up the admissions floodgates -- we are talking about kids who have excelled at their own public high schools. The solons in Austin, however, have decided to privilege affluent and overwhelmingly white suburbanites over the rest of the state. So much for fairness and standards.

At the South Africa Blog

Over at the South Africa Blog I have written a long post about South African rugby, which is dealing with a bizarre selection controversy in the run-up to this year's World Cup. I also have posts on Africa and Climate Change, Oil and Governance in West Africa, Jerry Falwell and South Africa, and much more.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Srikeouts For Troops

Loyal reader Greg provides a link we should celebrate: "Soldiers find comfort in Zito's program: Those injured during war benefit from Strikeouts for Troops." It is far too easy to be cynical about something like this. I am going to choose not to be -- cynicism in this case almost always benefits everyone but the soldiers who deserve better than I believe they are receiving. It's not their fault if they happen to root for a team from the northwest. Or at least it is not entirely their fault.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who says John Edwards doesn't get it?

Me, I guess. Wow. I was shocked when I read this:

Edwards: Move Past 'War on Terror'
"NEW YORK (AP) - Democrat John Edwards Wednesday repudiated the notion that there is a "global war on terror," calling it an ideological doctrine advanced by the Bush administration that has strained American military resources and emboldened terrorists.

In a defense policy speech he planned to deliver at the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards called the war on terror a "bumper sticker" slogan Bush had used to justify everything from abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the invasion of Iraq.

"We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq military that is mission focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes," Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery. "By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set—that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam." "

Defending Tim Wakefield

Over at Fire Joe Morgan Ken Tremendous kicks the bejesus out of an inane anti-Tim Wakefield screed from Newsday's Wallace Matthews.

Insert String of Expletives Here

@!$#!$#^%^%#$!!!! Seriously -- (*^^&%*&)((*^*^%$#@!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dear Diary . . .

Over at his Diary Blog Tom has a fantastic post that wades far and wide, with discussion of the nature of American busy-ness both real and contrived, some useful reminders about civil rights and a challenge to some enterprising historian willing to look closely at Cleveland's overlooked contributions to racial equality (as an aside, I'm working on a project that will have chapter in which Lary Doby figures prominently), and an absolute obliteration of yet another sloppy Benjamin Schwarz review in The Atlantic Monthly.

Celtic Pride and the Lottery

Let's just say that most Celtics fans are a little bit anxious about tonight's draft lottery. They have approximately a 39% chance to draw a top 2 slot in the draft, which will garner them either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Anything else? Not so good. Hopefully the ghost of Red Auerbach (via C's representative and Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn) will compensate for these vexing visions of Tim Duncan dancing through my brain.

Dan Shaughnessy: Optimist (?!)

Last night's Sox loss to the Yanks in the Bronx was a desultory affair, but Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe is still uncharacteristically optimistic that the Sox are going to run away with the AL East. Too many years of being forged in the crucible of being a Sox fan prevents me from such blithe positivity, and if the Yanks pull another one out tonight the old panic may start to flutter, but the Curly Headed Boyfriend has a point -- historically this sort of lead holds up, and the parallels with 1978 simply are not applicable. Still, I hope the Sox can jump out to an early lead for Tavarez tonight. No sense worrying us needlessly, after all.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

I'm back from San Antonio and am watching the Sox-Yanks game. In that spirit, here is this week's edition of Dirty Water, a conversation with Friend of dcat, The Thunderstick:

Thunderstick: Well we stand on yet another Monday morning after a great week of baseball for the Sox, taking 3 of 4 from Detroit, one of the top AL contenders, and then winning 2 of 3 from Atlanta despite starting two minor league call ups and having to face Smoltz and Glavine. The lead has been extended to 10.5 games and with the exception of Beckett's finger, all seems to be well in the Nation.

Two points this week that I think speak to why this team is in the position they are in. First, the bench and role players have just been huge. Getting contributions from Manny, Ortiz, Pap and Schill was a given to have this team be good. But to be a great team, you need guys like Lugo, Cora, Coco, Okajima, Wily Mo, Hinske and the rest of those guys to come up big when they need it. Even in a blowout loss the other night, we at least saw some of the bottom of the bullpen guys take it for the team, get through the game and not force us to use up the more important relievers. Special teams always get contributions from these kind of guys at crucial points and we're getting them.

Second, we always talk about how imporant it is to win series during the year. Well at this point, the Sox have played 15 series on the year and they've won 12, tied one and lost two. That's just remarkable. This team has really taken the one game at a time approach to heart and you haven't seen a lot of those letdown games that you get after big wins or big series. I think that's why we are winning almost every series we play.

So the question remains as to how this fast start plays out. Is it like 1995 where this team is off to the races now and will never really be threatened all year? Or is it like 2001 or 2002 (I can't remember which) when they started out like 40-17 and then played .500 ball the rest of the way and missed the playoffs? I tend to think it's the former. With the pitching on this team, I just can't see many long stretches of merely .500 ball being played by this team. Additionally, it doesn't look like we've got a powerful Yanks team to contend with. But if the Yanks are going to make a move, you gotta figure it needs to happen in these next three weeks. This series, they get their top 3--Mussina, Pettite and Wang against the Sox 1 or 2 (depending on how you look at it--I think Beckett is the 1), in Schilling and the 4 and 5 in Tavarez and Waker. If you are the Yanks, you really don't get it set up much better than that and you get it in the toilet bowl that is Yankee Stadium. In a couple weeks in Boston, they'll likely have Clemens for the game. If you are the Yanks (and thank god you are not), you have to take 4 of these 6 games. 3-3 means you are still 10.5 games back and losing 4 of 6 might signal the end of at least any hopes of the AL East. This is going to be a tough Sox team to make up 10.5 games on, much less 12.5. So here's hoping Waker gets things rolling tonight and we can start putting the final nail in the Yanks coffin in the next three days.

dcat: It does not matter what the standings say, what the records are, what day of the week it is, or what time of the year -- Sox-Yanks is always huge. I know in our solipsism we tend to annoy the rest of the world with this rivalry, and there are other great rivalries in the sport. At the same time, though, none of those rivalries has had both participants be so good for so long with each game thus meaning so much as these two teams. Here we are in mid-May, and as you say, the Yanks pretty much need to be in, if not desperation mode, at least in a late-season mindset. If they do not improve what they have right now, Clemens simply will not make that much of a difference -- something we have asserted might be the case anyway.

Despite our lead, despite the early-season mismatch in the rivalry, I find myself hating giving up that bomb to A-Rod and at the same time falling behind early. I hate missing opportunities to score because as much as we seem to have put these guys in the rearview mirror, we both know that this Yankees team has had the lead against us in almost every game. At the same time, all the pressure is on them. The Yanks have, as you say, just about the best pitching combination they could possibly hope for in the next three games. It may not be enough. Jeter just committed an error and the Sox have loaded the bases. Have I said how much I love this rivalry? (Youks strikes out, with a little help from an ump's generous call on strike two. Have I said how much I hate the Yankees?)

Friday, May 18, 2007

San Antonio Bound

I am off to San Antonio for the weekend. I will write if possible, but do not be surprised if posting is light.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In The Changer: C Notes

It's been a while since I've written my semi-regular feature, "In the Changer," in which I assess cd's that have been in heavy rotation. At some point, once I have finished downloading all of my cd's I may forego the seeming anachronism of reviewing whole albums. But for now, I'll proudly remain something of a dinosaur. This edition is brought to you by the letter "C."

Cat Power: The Greatest: Do you remember Mazzy Star? They were a 90s band that relied on slow, lush sonics and a lugubrious lead singer. To most minds, Hope Sandoval was Mazzy Star. Well, my ears tell me that Cat Power is to Mazzy Star as Chan Marshall is to Hope Sandoval. But better. The momentum comes less from what qualifies as uptempo than from the internal impetus that derives from the lead singer. This is mood music for the moody. B+

Ray Charles: The Best of Ray Charles - The Atlantic Years: We all know from the Jamie Fox biopic that Ray Charles was bad motherfucker. Listening to these recordings reminds me of the fluidity of music at a certain point in the last century in which what emerged was not quite rock, though it rocked; not quite blues, but definitely bluesy; not quite soul, though damn, it was soulful; and not really jazz, although without jazz it would not exist. Charles' music represents both an intersection of and in some ways a rejection of the pigionholes of genre. His piano riffs and his voice pour out effortlessly and his lyrics represent a constant come on. Jamie Fox's mimicry, however brilliant, could not quite capture Ray Charles in all of his complexity because Ray Charles was sui generis, and thus fundamentally uncapturable. A-

Coldplay: X&Y: Gather a bunch of rock snobs together and mention Coldplay. Nothing will divide the room more quickly. The hipper the snob the more disdainful they will be about Chris Martin's band. The disdain is more the stuff of reaction than substance, a sort of tautological mishmash that ends up amounting to the fact that they hate Coldplay because they hate Coldplay. Me? I love Coldplay. Not top-five band of all time type-love, but love nonetheless. Maybe it's my sympathy toward Britpop. Maybe it is the fact that I am a sucker for a gripping melody in the midst of rock's sturm and drang. Maybe it's their ability to mix the plaintive with the propulsive. Or maybe I'm just not that hip. (Though I think I'm still sort of cool. Is that a distinction without a difference?) X&Y does not quite hit the highs of its predecessors, which is no insult in light of the transcendant heights those albums attained. I loved 2000's Parachute from the outset, but its place in my musical biography was assured on a long drive from Washington, DC to the Deep South for a research trip during January 2001. The old beater that I rented had only a cassette player, and I copied my cd of Parachutes to go along with a shoebox of tapes. I was in the midst of what would prove to be a tangled break-up with my live-in girlfriend and that tape pretty much carried me to the grimly sublime melancholy state that we all enter when a breakup is pending. 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head lacks the autobiographical element and had to rely merely on being a nearly perfect pop rock album. X&Y (I'm leaving out a discussion of their 2003 live album) is in its way less showy, quieter, takes longer to absorb. Martin's obscurantist lyrics are front and center with his piano just behind, but as always the guitars cascade and soar and crash, the melodies collide with the bass and drums, and for an hour or so I can forget that CMart and Gwyneth named their kid "Apple." I'm not hip, I guess, but I also do not buy the Coldplay backlash. A-

Jim Croce: Classic Hits: Jim Croce wrote two types of songs. He wrote catchy, white-boy blues numbers redolent of rockabilly about roller derby queens and bad men, the baddest man in the whole damned town-type bad, don't pull on Superman's Cape, don't piss in the wind bad, except they are not that bad once you peel away the layers (or once they hustle people strange to them or mess with the wife of a jealous man). His is a world of lowlifes and hustlers and working class heroes who toil in car washes and race stock cars and shoot pool. Jim Croce also wrote ballads. The sorts of ballads that would make a man like Bad (Bad) Leroy Brown or Jim (with whom you don't mess around) regret their missteps and their lost loves. Some of these ballads are very good -- "Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)" and "Time in a Bottle" probably have worn the treacle best over time -- and some of them are not so enduring. Realistically, Jim Croce, who died too young in a plane crash, probably did not write twenty great songs, but a man who can teach life lessons this good, and so many of 'em such catchy, entertaining sumbitches, well, I'll cut him some slack. B+

Crooked Fingers: Dignity and Shame: Eric Bachmann is nearly a decade into his career with Crooked Fingers, which is, for all intents and purposes, his solo project with side players. The former frontman for the late, great Archers of Loaf has parlayed his raspy voice and jangly guitar into quite a second act, F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding. He has a capacious gift for melody, and as close readers have probably gleaned, I am a sucker for melody amidst the maelstrom, but maelstrom there must be. This might be the most complete Crooked Fingers album, which is more of a compliment than it probably seems, possibly because Bachmann gives himself over to his collaborators more than ever before and he embraces an abundance of styles that might seem dilettantish in less capable hands, but that instead show an artist increasingly comfortable in his skin. A beautiful indie-pop duet with Lara Meyerratken on "Call to Love" is one of many highlights on the album that shows a wizened indie-rock veteran spreading his wings. A-

The Cure: Acoustic Hits: OK. I'll admit it -- when it comes to the Cure I am one of those guys who draws the line in the sand and says that they were better back when. I'd say that you can use Disintegration as a pretty good demarcation point. After that I'm not sure if I think Robert Smith and company lost it a bit or I simply stopped paying attention or perhaps those two concepts are inextricably bound to one another. Whatever it is, the 80s were the Cure's golden era, and this remarkably lively acoustic overview (At the risk of record company wrath, a friend of dcat made this for me, and I believe it is one disc of two, with the other disc being the regular versions of these songs, so don't go to Amazon and try to find an album by this title) of their career shows why their old stuff is so remarkably good, and why Smith's angstful lyrics cauterized a generation of wounded proto-goths who probably got lots of wholly unironic nookie listening to "Let's Go to Bed." But the acoustic treatment also shows that maybe there is more to the new stuff than I thought. Nah. On second thought, go get their back catalogue, and feel free to stop with Disintegration. B+

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Thunderstick: Another good week in Red Sox Nation topped off with a thrilling, unexpected comeback, although we see what might be the first problematic injury of the season with Beckett. While a cut finger isn't something to really fret about long term (surely I'd be much more concerned if he had shoulder stiffness) it might cause him to miss a start and given how he's been pitching, we don't like to see that.

Two topics of interest today for you dcat--first, yesterday's comeback. Sure it was against an O's team that just isn't that good and it was helped by two O's miscues, but anytime you come back from 5-0 down in the 9th to win, it's usually an indication of a special team. Not necessarily a great team, but one that has that "never-say-die" mentality that is needed to win a championship. I don't have any statistical evidence to back this up, but it seems like the teams that make that run deep into the playoffs are those that win games decided by 1-2 runs and teams that have some large number of comeback wins. Certainly the second of these can be applied to the Sox as they've come back many times this year to win games. Sunday was just the most extreme example, but it's something we'd already learned from this team and something we hope will continue all year.

Second, the next 10 days and the remainder of the month could be an important checkmark in the season. We noted a couple weeks ago that other than August, May looks like the toughest month on the Sox schedule. We are in the midst of 16 straight days without a day off and while we as fans love when the team plays every day, we also know the value that the players place on the offdays. So far, the Sox are 5-1 in this 16-game stretch, but those wins came against a Toronto team that has been ravaged by injuries and a Baltimore team that just isn't good. Tonight starts up 10 straight against Detroit, Atlanta and the Yanks again. We sent a message to Minny a couple weeks ago taking 2 of 3 and only losing a game 2-1 in which the Sox started Tavarez and the Twins started Santana. So I'd love to send a message to Detroit (and Cleveland who we see shortly after this 16 game stretch) by going 3-1 against them to tell them that while the AL Central may be a lot deeper than the AL East, the best team doesn't reside there. Similarly I'd like to send the same message to Atlanta in case we see them come October.

Finally, we get the Yanks again. Now one might argue that with the Yanks being 8 games out and tied with Baltimore it should mean that if I'm not going to call the O's series a big series, I shouldn't call the Yanks series one since the teams are about equal. But we all know what maintaining an 8 game lead and then going 2-1 against NY would mean. It's been a while for Yanks fans since they've been in this boat, but as a Sox fan who has watched Boston chase NY for the last 10 years during the regular season, I can assure you that there is that time during the season when you just realize that you aren't going to win the AL East. It may only be halfway through the season when there are still a lot of games left, but you know it when it comes. I've seen it many times the past 10 years. Doesn't change the fact that as a fan you think to yourself "that's OK, we can still get the wild card and in a seven game series in the playoffs, the regular season is meaningless" and all that is true, but it's just not the same. I don't think holding on to an 8 game lead until that series and then going 2-1 puts Yanks fans in that mood quite yet, but it gets them one step closer to experiencing it, so it's a big series because every step the Sox can take to that point is big and every step the Yanks take back to make it look like it'll be a dogfight all summer is big.

dcat: I'll be honest with you -- I am having a hard time maintaining my perspective right now. Every sign points to this being not just a good or even very good Red Sox team. The pitching, the lucky breaks, the opportunistic hitting, the production from almost every guy on the roster, and don't forget the pitching: All point to what could be a historically good season.

I'm listening to the Sox-Detroit game that was close for a while but that has turned into a laugher. Dice-K is out to try to polish off a complete game (take that, Jim Leyland, you cantankerous Old School ass) and to give us a great win to start off a four-game series that should be a true test. May was supposed to be our rockiest month, and yet we have done nothing but improve and stretch out the lead so far. Our starting staff has done so much to save the bullpen that we oftentimes have to go out of the way to find ways to get innings to Paps. (The Sox just won with Dice-K tossing the first complete game of the year for the Sox -- he did not walk anybody.

I especially agree with you on the Yankees. Let me try to explain my views by way of a cultish pop culture analogy. For whatever reason, Zombie movies have been a popular theme at Hacienda Dcat (Perhaps because Friend of Dcat Jaime is living with us for the summer before he moves to Arizona, and he and Ana are huge fans of those types of movies). If Zombie movies have taught us anything (and they have) it is that the seemingly undead are resilient. They do not die easily and just when you think you are safe, another stiff-legged, moaning, vacant, living dead comes to try to chomp on your throat. Suffice it to say that the Yankees are just that sort of evil, hard-to-kill entity. That gutteral, barely animated presence we will continue to feel will be Joe Torre and his army of ghoulish, foul-smelling killing machines. The only solution is to keep blasting away.

[For whetever reason, I feel the need to pause right now to plug "Shaun of the Dead," which I am ashamed to say that I had not seen until this past weekend. Funny, violent, ironic -- definitely check it out. Furthermore, Jaime is out of town, but we have just received 28 Days Later from Netflix on his request so that we can watch it (or he and Ana can see it again) before we go to see 28 Weeks Later as soon as possible.]

If I know the Red Sox, they will hit us in a the stomach at some point -- it is hard to imagine any team sustaining this level of excellence for the duration. They are playing so well right now that losses seem like aberrations. Perhaps this Beckett avulsion will fester into one of his full-fledged blister situations and will put him on the DL. Maybe a few of the bottom-of-the-order guys will come back down to earth. Maybe the next part of the schedule will prove to bring us back into line with our Pythagorean projection [it's a Sabrmetric thing -- it involves a formula of runs scored and runs allowed that proves to be a fairly reliable predictor of wins -- it looks something like this: {Projected Wins = (r ^ 1.83) / ( (r ^ 1.83) + (ra ^ 1.83)) x 162} Just trust me on this.] Or maybe, just maybe, we really are in the midst of a special season. As we always seem to say, the next week should be telling.

Aussies Lead the Way

Over at the FPA's South Africa Blog I have some commentary on Australia taking the lead in pushing for change in Zimbabwe. Let's hope that other countries, including the United States, follow suit.

Suck They Do, My Son

Glorious: Yankeessuckgear.

And this almost brought a tear to my eye:

That's just good parentin' shining through.

Hat Tip to Officer Tarango. Continue to protect and serve, sir.

Transparency, Anonymity, and the Internets

At The Washington Post Tom Grubisich, a former writer and editor for that newspaper who now writes about "grass roots journalism" for Online Journalism Review, tackles the vexing issue of anonymity on the internet:
These days we want "transparency" in all institutions, even private ones. There's one massive exception -- the Internet. It is, we are told, a giant town hall. Indeed, it has millions of people speaking out in millions of online forums. But most of them are wearing the equivalent of paper bags over their heads. We know them only by their Internet "handles" -- gotalife, runningwithscissors, stoptheplanet and myriad other inventive names.

Imagine going to a meeting about school overcrowding in your community. Everybody at the meeting is wearing nametags. You approach a cluster of people where one man is loudly complaining about waste in school spending. "Get rid of the bureaucrats, and then you'll have money to expand the school," he says, shaking his finger at the surrounding faces.

You notice his nametag -- "anticrat424." Between his sentences, you interject, "Excuse me, who are you?"

He gives you a narrowing look. "Taking names, huh? Going to sic the superintendent's police on me? Hah!"

In any community in America, if Mr. anticrat424 refused to identify himself, he would be ignored and frozen out of the civic problem-solving process. But on the Internet, Mr. anticrat424 is continually elevated to the podium, where he can have his angriest thoughts amplified through cyberspace as often as he wishes. He can call people the vilest names and that hate-mongering, too, will be amplified for all the world to see.

There is, of course, no easy solution to this issue. dcat's policy is fairly simple -- you can remain anonymous without hassle as long as you are civil. Once you broach lines, or even if you maintain basic levels of civility but seem like a jerk, your anonymity will become part of the equation. I do not want to discourage discussion or people using clever handles --"dcat" is not my real name, for example, but my real identity is not something I have kept hidden, and it should not take anyone more than a few seconds to find out that my name is Derek Catsam, and since I'm the ony one with that name, all of the salient facts -- and I do not really want to spend my time on asshole patrol. My standard has always been the same -- would you say it to someone at a bar? Sometimes I have crossed that line, but at least I have done so under my own name. But usually, I'd have said it at the bar. I may sometimes be a turd, but let it be known that I am not a gutless turd. So I have that going for me. Which is nice.

Hat Tip to Robert, my editor at the Foreign Policy Association.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Is The Middle East Irrelevant?

Is the Middle East more irrelevant than the role it currently plays in our geostrategic approach? Philip E. Auerswald argues as much in the latest issue of the American Interest (subscriber only to access the full article, I'm afraid). This strikes me as a fairly clever bit of counterintuitive thinking as well as an exercise in contrarianism. Nonetheless, the article is at least worth reading. The latest issue is on newstands now, so it is probably worth picking up if this sort of thing interests you. And it should.

Northern Ireland, Peace, and the South African Example

There is probably no better major newspaper in America when it comes to the issue of Northern Ireland than The Boston Globe. That probably should come as no surprise given Boston's affinity for and association with the Irish. The Globe's editorial this past week on the ongoing transitions in Northern Ireland, in which the lion has laid down with the lamb, or at least Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party have gotten the provincial legislature off the ground at Stormont, is perceptive. Here is the money excerpt:
Milestones toward peace in Northern Ireland seem to arrive every six months, but until now they have not produced the breakthrough that would bring tranquility to the six counties. This time, however, the amity between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party seemed genuine as they re-started the provincial government Tuesday. If these old adversaries can get along with no more than the usual friction among coalition partners, the conflict really is over.

Some might raise eyebrows over where the Globe gives credit:
Credit for reconciling the extreme wing of Irish nationalism to nonviolent politics goes to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, his chief lieutenant and deputy first minister in the provincial government. They were among the leaders of the Irish Republican Army (Adams denies this but few believe him), and they realized more than two decades ago that the IRA could not win the war against unionism and Britain.

Despite its potentially controversial implications, this last point is worth emphasizing: The IRA could not win the war, a war, against the British. But I am reminded of the circumstances in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s when most observers were well aware that the ANC could not win a war against the South African Defense Forces, the South African Police, and the other elements of the security apparatus. But there was a flip side to that coin: Neither could the South Africans completely crush the opposition movement. And so stasis led to change. Similarly in Northern Ireland, the British were never going to be able to crush entirely the IRA and its affiliated allies. And so stasis led to change. The analogy is not perfect of course -- historical analogies rarely are -- and yet its broad contours ring true. It will be easy to be warily cynical about the peace process in Northern Ireland, and yet if ever a time existed for optimism, however cautious, to trump pessimism, this seems to be it.

Randy Moss and the Patriots

Patriots fans are thrilled with the offseason our team has had, and justiofiably so. But Ron Borges sounds a cautionary note about Randy Moss, as is his wont.

The gist of the article is that we might well be getting the petulant, half-committed Moss of the last two or three years, and not the guy who was a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer a few years ago. There is little new or surprising in the interpretation, but Borges does a pretty good job of getting some inside insights.

I think the simplest way to conceive things, however, is that the Patriots, from management, to Belichick and the coaching staff, and especially down to the players simply will not put up with the bullshit that Moss can shovel. The first time he tries to pull a TO on Brady I can forecast ten guys grinding him into the turf and Belichick cracking down on Moss when all is said and done.

I hate seeing New England fans get too cocky about the offseason, but one thing for sure is true: New England ain't Oakland, nor is it Minnesota. If Moss cannot get it done physically anymore, we and he will have to adjust. But if the problem is one of attitude, that will be smacked out of him by the first week of camp.

Baseball Disparity in the New York Times?

Want a sense of the baseball hierarchy in New York?

The New York Times has a baseball blog, "Bats," that they update fairly regularly. As of this morning the Mets have one of the five best records in baseball. They are in second place behind a resurgent Braves team. The Mets are exciting. They are certainly the best baseball team in New York right now. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been playing better of late than they had through April, going 6-4 in their last ten games. But they are still a game below .500. And they are, depending on if you are a glass empty or glass full type (and on which side of the fence you sit with regards to the Yankees) tied for the 15th best or 15th worst record in the league. Up to this point in the still-young season they pretty much epitomize mediocrity. That mediocrity may well not last, and given that lineup and their bad luck so far with health I suspect that it will not.

Despite the disparity in on-field performance for the two New York baseball teams, the writers for "Bats" have fifteen posts currently on the front page. Ten are on the Yankees. Four cover the Mets. And one is a general baseball post. What do you think that says about the baseball culture at the Times

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Colon v. Wang: Headline Writer's Dream Confrontation

As the folks at Fire Joe Morgan argue, "It's Early... but the contest is over. This is the absolute best headline of 2007: Royals To Get A Taste Of Angels' Colon. Sort of hard to disagree, though as I pointed out yesterday, we may at least need to acknowledge that "Yankees Wang Hit Hard by Rangers" is going to get some votes.

Let's face it -- both Wang and Colon represent the low-hanging fruit for headline writers. And I say "Amen" to that.

South Africa Blog

Over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog I have been tackling a host of issues, including the possibility of a sporting boycott against Zimbabwe, Bill Clinton's foundation helping to provide generic drugs to AIDS victims in Africa, the US Africa Command, Helen Zille's ascension to the top spot in the opposition Democratic Alliance, and much more.

Tom's Diary

Over at Tom's Diary he has a nice series of photos plus he makes reference to a pretty good dcat discussion going on down below that you might have missed.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Juvenile Titters From Headline of the Week

The official Yankee fan of dcat (Though my friend KO'C also qualifies), Holmes, wrote the following email to me this afternoon: "Call me immature, but this is making me laugh my arse off:" "Yankees' Wang hit hard by Rangers"

Amen, brother.

Sir Charles Speaks

Charles Barkley might be the most larger-than-life figure in sports. He is outspoken and smart and in many ways courageous. He is the linchpin for TNT's fabulous NBA studio show. And he has long talked about running for political office, most likely governor of Alabama. Over at TNR, Isaac Chotiner has a riveting interview with Sir Charles that shows some of the reasons why he is so compelling. But the interview also reveals why he may not be the ideal candidate. His emphasis on class divisions certainly will raise some eyebrows -- he may well be right, but gaining traction on such issues will be difficult. He also has things to say about race in America that will probably lose him support from the Jackson-Sharpton axis -- not that doing so is a bad thing. In all, it's fascinating stuff.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson and the Search For Untruth

It has been apparent for some time that Victor Davis Hanson's ultimate goal is to be the rootinest, tootinest, toughest hombre ever to sit before a word processor. The short, direct sentences! The Hemingwayesque phrasing! The muscular assertions! Don't support the war? You are an effete lefty pussy. Probably a liar as well. You wouldn't last one minute at the OK Corral that is the Hoover Institute's Palo Alto, where men like their whiskey straight, their six-shooters drawn fast, and their women swooning.

Unfortunately, there is an almost direct inverse relationship between Hanson's Landisesque testosterone infusion over the last five years and his fatuousness. His latest article is a case in point. So it's time for a long overdue dcat parsing. Let's see how well Hanson holds up to scrutiny. I'll place Hanson's words in quotation marks and will precede mine with *** . And away we go:

"'This war is lost,' Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid recently proclaimed.

That pessimism about Iraq is now widely shared by his Democratic colleagues. But many of these converted doves aren't being quite honest about why they've radically changed their views of the war."

*** An accusation of dishonesty is pretty ballsy from someone who has already framed the discussion so dishonestly, isn't it? Who among the candidates of whom he speaks qualifies as a dove? A dove would oppose most or all wars. So Hanson has a pretty immense burden -- it is incumbent upon him to prove dishonesty, and also to prove that opposing a bungled Iraq War qualifies as "dovish." I'll trust that he will do so.

"Most of the serious Democratic presidential candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, and former Sen. Jonathan Edwards -- once voted, along with Reid, to authorize the war. Sen. Barack Obama didn't. But, then, he wasn't in the Senate at the time."

*** This is fine as far as it goes. But surely a historian is not going to ignore that things change over time. He is not going to pretend that the last four-plus years never happened. Is he?

"Now these former supporters of Iraq find themselves under assault by a Democratic base that demands apologies. Only Edwards has said he is sorry for his vote of support.

But if the Democratic Party is now almost uniformly anti-war, it is also understandable why it can't field a single major presidential candidate who was in Congress when it counted and tried to stop the invasion."

*** Yup. That's precisely what he is going to do. I'll give him credit for cajones not only for making such a brazenly intellectually dishonest argument, but for doing so seconds after framing the issue as one of fundamental dishonesty on the part of the Democratic candidates. When you write like the Marlboro Man you can pooh pooh niceties such as intellectual integrity. That shit's for vegans and stay-at-home dads.

"After all, responsible Democrats in national office had been convinced by Bill Clinton for eight years and then George W. Bush for two that Saddam's Iraq was both a conventional and terrorist threat to the United States and its regional allies."

*** And "responsible Republicans" cried foul every single time Clinton used even a hint of force against Saddam Hussein throughout the 1990s. And Saddam Hussein was neither the only nor was he the most significant threat in the post-9/11 world. So Hanson is raising a glib red herring. (And Hussein would not have been a threat had George W. Bush removed him from power when ther opportunity was before him, but that would not fit the partisan trope, so we'll ignore it.)

"Most in Congress accepted that Saddam was a genocidal mass murderer. They knew he used his petrodollars to acquire dangerous weapons. And they felt his savagery was intolerable in a post-9/11 world. There was no debate that Saddam gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers or offered sanctuary to terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal. And few Democrats questioned whether the al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was in Kurdistan."

*** Absolutely. No one denied that then. No one denies it now. Which is why its assertion here and now means fuckall. That Saddam was a potential threat did not mean that we had to go to war in March of 2003, and it did not mean that we had to handle that war incompetently at every point, and it does not mean that we have to line up behind incompetence now. I frankly believe we need to stay in Iraq now, but to imply that not following this administration's chosen course is to coddle Hussein is about as brazenly dishonest as an argument can get.

"In other words, Democrats, like most others, wanted Saddam taken out for a variety of reasons beyond fears of WMD. Moreover, it was the Clinton-appointed CIA director George Tenet who supplied both Democrats and Republicans in Congress with much of the intelligence they would later cite in deciding to attack Saddam."

*** And it was the Bush administration that manipulated intelligence and heard only what they wanted to hear while ignoring countervailing information. George Tenet does not have the power to declare war. Only in a partisan screed would Tenet's appointment by Clinton be necessary to invoke.

"When both congressional Democrats and Republicans cast their votes to go along with President Bush, they even crafted 23 formal causes for war. So far only the writ concerning the fear of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has in hindsight proven false."

*** Fair enough. But of those 23 a good number were predicated on the threat Saddam posed then based on WMD's and such. The Democrats were dumb to endorse what amounted to a blank check. And we've been over this before -- in the hierarchy of reasons the administration put forward, WMD's were first, second, and third among equals. To conflate these all as being of equal value is absurd.

"But we no longer hear much about these various reasons why the Democrats understandably supported the removal of Saddam Hussein. Instead, they now most often plead they were hoodwinked by sneaky warmongering neocons or sexed-up partisan intelligence reports."

*** "They" do? Who, exactly? Let's see some evidence that a single one of the Democratic candidates have this simplistic a stance. Hanson is brilliant at creating straw men, knocking them down, and then claiming some sort of heroic victory. Straw men, after all, do not fight back. It's a simple question, really: Does Hanson think that absent the WMD claims the Democrats would have voted to go to war with Iraq? Is there evidence for this counterfactual? It is a shame that the pre-war intelligence got mucked up as badly as it did, but given that the Democrats were not in power in either Congress or the executive, Hanson's argument sounds remarkebly like passing the buck.

"There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, especially in matters as serious as war -- but the public at least deserves a sincere explanation for this radical about-face."

*** Hanson is being ironic, right? He's winking at us through the smoky prose? He must be. Because surely he is not making an argument about being honest to the American people and aiming it at Democrats. Is he?

"So why not come clean about their changes of heart?"

*** Once again -- an assertion absent evidence to make a fairly brazen accusation.

"Many Democrats apparently think that claiming they were victimized by Bush and the neocons is more palatable than confessing to their own demoralization with the news from the front."

*** Wait a second: did you not lead off your article -- this one, the one we are all so enjoying, the one that is providing so much insight and entertainment, the one with the swagger and panache that makes weak men cower, with the following lines?: "'This war is lost,' Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid recently proclaimed.
That pessimism about Iraq is now widely shared by his Democratic colleagues." Why, yes, you did. So what you seem to mean by Democrats being unwilling to confess to their own demoralization actually is "The Democrats are so clear about their demoralization that I am going to lead my article off with what I believe is a telling quotation about that demoralization." My version is not as testeronalicious, I know, but it is honest and -- wait for this one -- fair.

"Others may fear that admitting publicly that a disheartened America should not or cannot finish a conflict would send a dangerous message to our enemies. So while these Democrats accuse President Bush of being hardheaded and unwavering on Iraq, they are still afraid that their own mea culpas would send an equally dangerous message of inconsistency abroad."

*** You are predicating this all on an argument you concocted in the mean streets of Palo Alto: that the Democrats actually want to apologize but are too dishonest to do so. And yet Occam's Razor might lead us to another conclusion: that knowing what they knew and when they knew it, they authorized the president to use force. They now believe, based on four years of incompetence, that it was a mistake. You want them to come shamefaced before you based on nothing other than a fantasy you have concocted that will fit in nicely with your views of Democrats. It's cute and clever and all, but it ignores a recent history that tells us a lot more than this paper-thin scenario you have created out of whole cloth.

"Democrats need to admit the truth: that removing a dangerous Saddam Hussein and promoting democracy in his place seemed a good idea to them in 2003-4 when the cost appeared tolerable. Now, in 2007, with over 3,000 American lives lost in Iraq, they feel differently."

*** This is the most reasonable thing you have written thus far, which is why it does not follow from everything else in the article. And it is still pretty inane. There is more to any anti-war argument, even the worst of them -- and there are lots of bad ones -- than "3000 American lives lost in Iraq." The reductionist cant is getting to be too much. I hope the article is almost finished.

"In other words, Democrats could argue that somewhere along the line -- whether it was after Fallujah or the start of sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence -- they either lost confidence in the United States' very ability to stabilize Iraq, or felt that even if we could, it was no longer worth the tab in American blood and treasure."
*** Yes, because these are the only options. Nothing to do with mishandling of the war. Nothing to do with torture. And of course Democrats do in fact make both arguments that you claim they are unwilling to make. But they do so in a way more sophisticated than your simplistic approach allows, so reduce away! No complexity! Complexity is for the tofu and birkenstocks crowd. No surrender!

"That confession could, of course, be nuanced with exculpatory arguments about the mistakes made by those in the Bush administration, such as: 'Our necessary war that I voted for to remove Saddam worked; your optional one to stay on to promote democracy didn't.'"

*** If you're wondering if he just created words to put in the mouths of the Democrats to make the Democrats look bad and the Republicans to look good, he did. Clever!

"Such an explanation of turnabout would be transparent and invite a public discussion. And it would certainly be more legitimate that the current protestations of 'the neo-cons made me do it.'"

*** It's sort of embarassing to have to tell a respected senior professor this, especially one with such a visible platform in the punditocracy, but quotation marks actually have a purpose. When you create a quotation that no one actually has said, and when you ascribe it to people who think differently from you, that is intellectually dishonest. It is sloppy. No one in the Democratic Party has ever uttered those words. Again, the irony would be staggering given the theme of the argument, but hairy-chested Old Spice men such as Victor Davis Hanson sneer at irony -- that shit is for metrosexual English professors.

"With America still engaged in a tough war, that kind of excuse-making just doesn't cut it."

*** Leave it to Hanson and his ilk to remind us that we are in a war. I still have no idea what excuse-making he is referring to, as he has asserted but not shown as much, but I am glad he closed with such a vibrant example of the Hanson style.

There are arguments for and against the war, there are arguments for and against the surge, there are arguments for and against troop withdrawal. Hanson manages to make absolutely zero of these arguments in this piece. Intellectual honesty really is not a sign of weakness. It's too bad that too many folks on both sides of the debate have not picked up on this reality.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baseball's 50 Most Valuable Players?

Over at Nate Silver of the incomparable Baseball Prospectus (which has brought us, among other things, the projection system known as PECOTA) has a lengthy piece that might arouse some debate. His premise is simple: "If you were starting a team from scratch, which players would you build around?" The list goes from 50 to 1. Enjoy. (My own issues? Lots of them. I know BP's stock in trade is projection of young players, but there are an awful lot of young guys on this list who have accomplished bupkes, many rated in the top 10 or 20. There are others who are very early on in what might be fine careers who similarly get placed far too high. He overrates David Wright, for example. CC Sabathia too. And whither Manny?)

More Misc.

Three recent New York Times articles have caught my attention:
Fifty years after the Little Rock integration crisis shrouded the city in infamy that it has never entirely cast aside, the city is again dealing with political divisions in which race plays a role. But the divisions are not quite along the lines of what you might suspect.

Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, current director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute and the author of Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack, jumps out of his phone booth (get it? Heh.) in time to help try to rescue us from a future terrorist attack. The recommendations range from the commonsensical to the insightful, but it is always worth keeping these sorts of suggestions on the table. The threat is still out there, and if we can depoliticize the terrorism question, maybe we can even implement some of his ideas.

Finally, Colum McCann, a professor of creative writing at Hunter College and Dublin native uses personal experience to urge measured optimism about the recent advances in the always ongoing Northern Ireland peace process. Still, the Troubles once seemed every bit as intractable as the conflicts in the Middle East. There certainly is room for hope, but in geopolitics, hope must always be guarded.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!

Apparently I am the Goddess Sekhemet.

Which God or Goddess are you like?
Your Result: Goddess Sekhemet

You are Sekhemet. You are loving and caring, but when need be, you are fierce and protective. You love the color red and you are no vegetarian. Your feirce nature makes you somewhat like a rebel, but you like it that way. Congratulations!! You are Goddess!!

You are your own God or Goddess
Goddess Bast
God Zeus
The Christian God
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Make Your Own Quiz

I find that odd.


A handful of quick hits while I try to catch up on life:

Over at Open University Casey Blake addresses Barack Obama's recent invocation of Reinhold Neibuhr (much to the delight of David Brooks) and shows why Obama's usage of the author of, inter alia, Moral Man and Immoral Society is both refreshing and problematic. Neibuhr played such an interesting role as an intellectual model to the Civil Rights Movement that it is always nice to see him discussed in the public sphere.

Over at Cliopatria Tim Burke presents a spirited defense against on of the silly tropes that conservatives love to invoke about African independence. Burke's argument is a bit roundabout, but is smart and provides an example of why people who know about Africa need to talk about it in the public sphere.

Also at Cliopatria, Rebecca Anne Goetz argues that the AHA's policies on gender tokenism are stupid.

At TNR Jonathan Chait is curious as to why Republicans get the, to quote Carla Tortelli, screaming thigh sweats over tough-talkers.

And, with a Hat Tip to Ralph at Clio (obviously you may just want to go over and see what's been going on at Cliopatria these days), I'd like to provide you with David Noon's "Conservative Sob Stories," a spirited takedown of the Mark Moyer's (or at least of some of those who have claimed to be his defenders') claims that he has gone unhired because he is conservative. I believe in intellectual and political diversity in the academy and I buy into the idea that one way that such diversification might happen would be to return military, diplomatic, and political history to their rightful place at the table. But there is no bigger line of bullshit than when someone tells you they were rejected for a job because of their politics. Now they may well have been rejected for that reason -- but the person so rejected has no idea if that is the case. Because if you are a historian working in the 20th century, no matter your subfields, you competed against anywhere between 75 and 500 people for that one job slot. And no search committee that has ever rejected me or that I have sat on that rejected others has given any indication of why I or others did not receive the job. And yet these assertions are presented as fact because there are conservatives who are willing to accept such accusations in order to bolster larger arguments about a supposedly leftist academy bent on shoving their politics down people's throats. (Funny how conservatives do not want us to probe deeply into the politics of engineering or business professors.)

The reality is that politics rank way down the line of things almost any search committee even has time to consider and on the two occasions in my own admittedly limited experience on the search committee side of the table when anything even approaching someone's politics came up, in the first case a senior professor said "let's not even go there. It's none of our business." In the other case we looked to defend a potentially conservative candidate who was our first choice (and who ultimately never ended up at the job). And these cases happened at two different schools with very different cultures. I'm not naive enough to say that the politicization of search committees never happens, but I will assert that it is one of these snuff fantasies that conservatives have about the academy that are out of all proportion to reality.

The Mountains, The Mountains, We Greet Them With a Song!

Every year at Williams there was that guy who had graduated the year before but who stuck around Williamstown doing God knows what. They were not quite pathetic, but they also weren't not pathetic, if you know what I mean. After I graduated I went backa few times, but I was always wary of returning too often. I did not want to be that guy, or his close relative, the guy who came back every weekend.

And yet Williams and Williamstown continues to possess a strong hold on its alums, and once a few years have passed and none of the current students were there when you were there, the appeal to move back becomes too strong. A piece in this past weekend's travel section tells of the drawing power of Williamstown and how many second home owners there are in town, and what a high percentage of those are Williams alums. The prices sound a bit ghastly, but who knows? I could certainly see myself wanting to have a little place to visit for a few weeks at a time not far from where Route 2 intersects Spring Street.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Here is this week's edition of Dirty Water. The big news is certainly the return of Roger Clemens to New York, but before that, the Sox played a few games.

Thunderstick: Alright--another week into the season and the big news this week doesn't focus on the Sox, but on Clemens’ return to the Yanks which I guess we should address, but first, a quick nod to the Sox this week as they had two against Oakland, 1 with Seattle and then 3 in Minnesota and went 4-2 on this stretch. As we've always said, you take 2 of 3 from the lousy teams, split with the good teams and you'll win 92-95 games and be in position to get to the playoffs. The Sox are 20-10, so they are taking 2 of 3 from everyone right now, so I don't think there's a lot be upset with. DiceK has had some control problems and Drew is slumping and that's about all I see. Even Tavarez is keeping us in games against Cy Young winners. We catch a break this week as we have three more with Toronto, but won't see Halladay or a third time and won't see Burnett as well, so we should be able to take 2 of 3 here. However tomorrow does start a stretch of 16 straight days with games and while the middle 10 are at home, there is also a 10 game stretch against Detroit, Atlanta and the Yanks. May is the second toughest month for the Sox and this is the toughest stretch of May and it's often 2 week periods like this where seasons can turn, so even though the Sox are 20-10 right now, I'm looking for them to get through this at 30-16 by the time it is done and to somehow go 10-6 over this stretch.

As for Clemens, well, he's still a tool. That said, look, I can't say the Yanks made a bad move here. If the Sox wanted to pony up the cash for him and he wanted to come back, I'd be all for that too. I do think he'll help the Yanks out and help them out a lot. But I think anyone who thinks that Clemens is going to anchor that rotation as a #1 guy is fooling themselves. People forget that when he left the Yanks, he just wasn't that frightening anymore. Now, he's gone to the NL for three years and put up great numbers against the NL and especially the NL Central but does anyone think he's putting up a 2.50 ERA in the AL? I'd be willing to bet good money that Clemens's ERA is over 4.50 at the end of the year. Is it an upgrade of Igawa or Karstens or Wright or whoever is pitching in the 4 or 5 hole for the Yanks? Absolutely, just as I'd have been happy to slot him in at 4 or 5 ahead of either or both of Taverez and Wakefield with the Sox (although Waker is mounting his own early Cy Young campaign right now). But at the same time, the #1 guy needs to be able to stop slides and I don't know if I feel 100% in a Clemens that is going to turn, what, 45 this year, doing that. So he's an upgrade but in no way am I afraid of him as a Sox fan. Let's put it this way--in 2003, when the Sox were 5 outs and a Grady Little blunder away from beating the Yanks and going to the world series, the four man rotation NY brought out for that playoff series was Pettite, Mussina, Clemens and Wells. They got by the Sox and Pedro, Lowe and Wakefield and then got dismantled by Beckett in the Series and then when it was over, all we heard about was how the Yanks rotation had gotten too old and they needed to get younger and that as good as these guys had been, they just weren't that formidable anymore. If the Yanks make the playoffs this year, their rotation will likely be Mussina, Pettite, Clemens and Wang, with three of those guys now 4 years older than when the Yanks had decided they were too old and not that formidable anymore.

One other note about Clemens: I thought Red Sox fans were great to him in 2003. After all the booing and hard feelings towards him for going to the Yanks, when he pitched for the last time in the regular season, the Sox fans gave him a rousing ovation when he was done as if to say "look, we get it, we understand what you did, we didn't like it but now that it's over we appreciate your career and what you did in Boston." It was really a great moment. But now that he's come back four years later, I hope he doesn't expect the same kind of send off at the end of the year whenever the last start in Fenway might be. He had his going away party and he better not whine about how much he loved his time in Boston and all that when he gets booed from the first time he steps on the rubber in Fenway until his final walkoff the field this year whenever it may be. Now he's just a Yankee who we want to see fail (although we want to see him fail more than other Yankees).

dcat: There is a fine line between sour grapes and rational thought. Would it have been nice to have added Clemens to our rotation? Sure. But right now, over which of our guys can we be guaranteed that he would be an upgrade? Given a regular slot and a predictable schedule Tavarez has been better than we ever could have imagined. Wakefield has been consistently great. Schilling has been Schilling. Dice-K has struggled a bit with his control and with that one bad inning every outing but no serious person would trade him for Clemens even for this season. Beckett has to be the early frontrunner to start the All Star Game.

Meanwhile, in the season when Roger turns 45, returns to the American League East (where everybody can actually hit a baseball), is trying to pull it all off in another unorthodox fashion with all of the attention and pressure that will be on him, and with all of that within the context of the fact that the Yankees are seriously struggling? Well, color me sleptical that the success of the Red Sox 2007 season is going to hitch on that right arm of his. I'm going to assert that the Red Sox will be able to wait for things to shake out and if they need anything as the trade deadline approaches in July they will be well positioned to do so.

The Sox had a good week. As you say, they went 4-2 and won the series they should have won. I'm a bit perplexed by their early week performances this season, to be honest -- I jsut went through the schedule, and so far they are 2-5 on Mondays and Tuesdays and, oddly, 2-3 on Saturdays, and are 16-2 the other days of the week, a trend that I assume means nothing, but that still is perplexing. It's as if they expend so much energy to win these series, and given their saturday performances they have to win on Sunday to take any given series, that there is a letdown either after an off day or on Mondays. Again, there is probably nothing to this, but I also know that neither of us would be surprised to see them come out flat against Toronto tomorrow.

In all, it's good to be a Red Sox fan right now. The Yankees have begun to rebound a bit, and I fully expect the dynamic in the east to begin to take its form by the end of the month, and I expect that the Yankees will be in that mix. But I'll tell you, not only am I not afraid of Clemens, I cannot wait for the first time we face him in a game of any consequence, which, of course, describes every Sox-Yanks clash as long as both teams are in the hunt.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The New Yorker on Manny

Last week's New Yorker had a fantastic article on Manny Ramirez. Ben McGrath addresses Manny's quirks in the context of a richer portrait than you are ever likely to get from the majority of Boston sportswriters who are content to dabble in cliche and cheap shots. This is a must-read for Sox fans and really for anyone who loves sports. Plus Manny hit two bombs last night to lift the Sox to a win over the Mariners.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Self Indulgence Alert: FPA Article: "South Africa's Regional Superpower Dilemma"

The Foreign Policy Association has just published my first "Great Decisions Analysis," an article titled "South Africa's Regional Superpower Dilemma." Enjoy!

Do They Speak French?: A Guest Editorial

One of the finest students I have ever had in class took my terrorism course this semester. His name is Steve Dunkley and he is a non-traditional student. Not only is he more mature (in both senses of the word) than most of my students, he also is British, which made him doubly exotic to the mass of my students. After the semester ended, he shared something that he wrote in a communications course that he hoped would see the light of day. I am thus sharing his witty, smart, and telling piece with dcat's readers. Enjoy.
Do They Speak French?
Shortly after starting a new job, my beautifully modulated English accent attracted this question, “My Grandmother has promised me a trip to England if I graduate this year, do they speak French there?” More than a little confused I reconciled this by thinking, “Hey, this was an aberrant brain fry, no danger of a widespread misapprehension.” Sadly, just one day later a gentleman in his mid twenties remarked on my accent, “Man”, he said with a wistful look, “I’d love to go to England, but don’t they speak French there?” “Pardonez moi, je veux fixin’ to get out of here,” I muttered as I fled home to my Maison (Chez Limey) in Midland, Texas, nowhere near the rest of the world.

Let’s get one thing very clear: I love Americans and America; after all I married one and I have no regrets at all about moving to Texas after my wife and I lived and worked in England for the first six years of our marriage.

There is however no mistaking, once I start talking, that I am not from “these parts”. For two years I have been telling everybody that I am from Jackson, Mississippi, but after this caused a choking seizure to a Big Spring resident on a Southwest flight from Dallas I have been more selective in my victims. Just recently I have been telling people that I am in the United States doing TV commercials for Geiko, “Let’s not delve into the private life, love”.

There is a more serious side to this piece and that reflects a desire to want to see Americans and America become more familiar with what really goes on in the rest of the world. Sorry guys but many of you appear to have no idea what goes on outside of the United States and those that do have ideas – well many of your ideas are kind of, well –wrong!

Here are some prime examples but first let me tell you that many of these remarks came from both educated and professional people – all were sincere questions or observations.

“What do you mean you don’t have Republican and Democratic parties in England?”

“68 Euros, What’s that in real money?”

From a United States guest who stayed with us in England. “Do the people that live here have refrigerators and washing machines?”

From an El Paso CPA, “I noticed that Mexicans have a different culture to Americans, are you guys pretty much the same as us?”

Observed in a small town in England when a United States tourist wanted to buy a newspaper using a twenty dollar bill, “Don’t you people respect the United States dollar?” – imagine offering a British pound at the 7-11 in Small Town, Texas.

A visitor from Chicago overheard at the historic Windsor castle which is close by Heathrow Airport, “Why did they build the castle so close the airport, it’s so noisy?”

“Who’s your President, is it still Winston Churchill?”

Heard on the Dave Ramsey Show: “America has the best electoral system in the world; no other country in the world has elections so fair”.

From a local newspaper editorial “…No country in the world accepts the change of leadership as well as Americans because it’s the people that make those changes.”

Take it from me that there are many other countries in the world whose people are rightfully proud of their country. There are dozens of other countries that are highly sophisticated, with a thoroughly educated population and technologically advanced infrastructures. Few of these countries have elections decided by politically motivated judges in Florida – Whoops, just kidding!

Why is it that the most economically advanced country in the world has a population that is largely unfamiliar with the rest of the world? First and foremost it is education, American schoolchildren are just not taught about other countries, not their beliefs and aspirations, not their cultures, not their religion and not their economies. When America played Ghana in last year’s Soccer World Cup, I was shocked to find how many people had no idea where Ghana was located. No, it is not in the Caribbean. Most well-educated Europeans, Scandinavians, Australians and Asians can discourse knowledgeably about other nations and cultures.

A close, second reason is media. International news is largely ignored in provincial newspapers unless it directly involves the United States or has some anecdotal or humorous element. Worse still, almost all foreign news is “ethnically rewritten” by the news agencies so that American readers will be able to relate to it. As an exercise in supercilious condescension this “dumbing-down” is surely an insult to the intelligence of this nation. The policy infers that the people of the United States are genetically incapable of understanding anything unless it’s related to Uncle Sam and apple pie. All types of media indulge in this practice. Just as an unimportant example I saw a report about a controversial incident in the world of cricket a few months back. I can’t recall the network but very little of the controversy was discussed. In fact most of the effort was directed at poking fun at cricket in general and comparing it unfavorably to baseball. The point here is that the controversy (which was the story) was glossed over and the piece ethnically rewritten to reinforce the baseball culture of the United States. Anyone who wanted to hear more details of the issue in question would have been disappointed.

By the way, how come it’s called the World Series when only teams from America participate?

Does any of this really matter? Well the cricket and the baseball issue does not matter in the slightest but in a society that is irretrievably part of the “Global Village” the serious issues matter very much.

Unless the people and government of the United States gain more knowledge of the rest of the world and generate some sensitivity and understanding about other nations, peoples and religions, the tension so much in evidence today can only get worse. Is the Land of the Free any freer than the land of the Swedes or the French or the British? Are the electoral processes in Australasia, Canada and Europe less honest than that of the United States? If America is the best country in the world, does that mean that all other countries are inferior? If you can answer yes to all these questions – “there’s your sign”.

At a university course here in Texas the media communication instructor said that all writing for media should be composed at an 8th grade level. I thought that was pretty insulting until I heard that press releases for media publication should be written at 6th grade level – then I began to laugh. Does that mean when one form of media talks to another form of media they spell out the letters in play-dough and alphabet spaghetti or draw pictures on a board?

What is my point? I have absolutely no idea other than I feel that the education system and many media institutions are guilty of a genuine disservice to the American people. The World does not consist of The United States and those poor people that live in other places. The World is a rich tapestry of sophisticated cultures, aspiring peoples and unmitigated screwballs – sound familiar? The vast majority of this planet’s populations do not wake up in the morning worried about what the people of the USA are thinking or doing and neither do they routinely think that America or Americans are superior to them.

As a final thought, a fellow returning student said to me last year, “I know America is the best country in the world for the same reasons I know the Baptist Church is the best way to worship.” I guess I can’t argue with logic like that. And by the way they built Windsor Castle near to the airport so that the nice American tourists wouldn’t have too far to travel.

Book Banning in Burlingame

Longtime reader Greg sends in a story about the latest controversy surrounding the use of South African writer Mark Mathabane's memoir Kaffir Boy in a middle school classroom at Burlingame Intermediate School. Mathabane's book has aroused controversy before, most notably based on parental objections to a brief hint at boys willing to peform sexual acts on older men in order to feed themselves. This passage, hardly at the center of a book about growing up black in apartheid South Africa in the 1970s, recently caused the superintendent of Northern California's Burlingame School District to abruptly withdraw the book from an 8th grade class after a parent complained about the supposedly offending passage. To his credit, Burlingame Intermediate School principal Ted Barone reacted by inviting Mathabane, who now lives in Oregon, to speak to his school, and many local parents were disquieted by the fact that Superintendent Sonny Da Marto unilaterally caved in to censorship.

Children, especially tweens and early teens, are smarter and more capable of handling sensitive issues than most adults would ever give them credit for. The acts of sodomy that Mathabane implies are nowhere near as offensive as the conditions that created the desperation to carry out those acts to begin with. Aaprtheid is the affront in this situation, and yet I would hope that we will never reach a point where we begin banning and censoring books because we fear that the historical situations they depict might make kids uncomfortable. education, at least in part, should be about shifting comfort zones and exposing people to reality in a generally open and questioning environment.