Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Ryan Adams and Wilco

Two of my favorite music artists, Wilco and Ryan Adams (with his band the Cardinals) have released new albums in the past few weeks and are now touring. Both played in Boston in the last few days and both received nice reviews in the Boston Globe. Go buy both albums.

Here is the review of Wilco, touring behind Sky Blue Sky, and here is the Ryan Adams performance review. Adams released Easy Tiger on Tuesday and after three listens I think I am very fond indeed of the newly sober Adams, onetime bete noir of the y'alterantive scene. Adams was the front man for one of my very favorite bands of all time, Whiskeytown, and today I was thinking that his career might well trace the path of the leader, Paul Westerberg, of my favorite band of all time, The Replacements: Brilliant, volatile (Adams far more so than Westerberg) and chemically fueled singer and lead songwriter of seminal (and criminally underappreciated) band goes solo after band's breakup, eventually tempers a dissolute lifestyle, and goes on to long and successful (if criminally underappreciated) career as rock balladeer-sage. There are worse fates. Adams has entered Westerberg territory for me in another way -- if he releases it, I'm buying it right away.

Incidentally, Jeff Tweedy's career trajectory shares some similarities with that of Adams and Westerberg as well, but rather than go solo after the breakup of his epochal band, Uncle Tupelo, he helped form Wilco; his longtime partner in crime with Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar, formed Son Volt, also adamned good band, though not as acclaimed as Wilco. I cannot currently envision a scenario in which I would not buy a new Wilco or Son Volt album almost instantly as well.

The South Africa Blog

As with at dcat, things have been (I hope understandably) slow at the FPA South Africa Blog, but as I feel a professional responsibility to my work there I at least tried to keep things updated as regularly as was feasible while I was away. As a result there are lots of links and relatively little commentary from the last month. Nonetheless, if you are interested in Africa I would encourage you to check out my recent work there.

New Bloggy Goodness

I'm adding two more blogs to the dcat blogroll. I try to be reasonably stingy with the 'roll, but there is so much good stuff out there, and if I like something I figure I may as well share it -- I know I appreciate those who link me.

I have to admit that although he has been a phenomenon in the blogging community for some time now, I have been slow to come around to Matthew Yglesias. That is not any fault of his work but rather is a reflection on the idea of so many blogs, so little time. But everybody who is anybody seems to like and respect Yglesias and I am now ready to add him to the regular rotation. I'm sure he's honored.

I also just discovered Angry Bear, which bills itself as offering "slightly left of center economic commentary on news, politics, and the economy." The three contributors have PhD's in the dismal science, but we won't hold that against them.

The Bob Ryan Blog

Bob Ryan, doyen of The Boston Globe's sports writers (and arguably the best sportswriter active today) now has a blog. Consider yourself dcat blogrolled, Mr. Ryan.

Tom (and dcat) On Productivity

Tom has a new post over at his Diary Blog. I especially like this, as it reflects my own views:
The truth is that lack of productivity, any kind of productivity, begets lack of productivity. Blogging, diary writing, attempts at op-eds, book reviewing, short and long article writing, book submitting, lesson writing, building things, playing with the kids, taking loved ones on dates, taking care of the house and lawn, and so on, are all productivity. For me, anyway, engaging in blogging, diary writing, attempts at op-eds, book reviewing, short and long article writing, book submitting, lesson writing, building things, playing with the kids, taking loved ones on dates, taking care of the house and lawn, and so on, does not make me less productive, but rather kicks me into high gear. One leads to the other. And every successfully completed little project that gets a little feedback, makes me want to finish another one, and another one, and another one. And at the end of it all, there is something to show for it--a body of work that is, at very least, a catalogue of a time in my life and what I thought of issues big and small, personal and professional.

Dean and chair-types tend to think that any time spent devoted to X automatically takes away from Y. That if only you were to focus on that one big project all would be fine. But I am not hard wired to work that way. Were I to strip away blogging and op-ed writing and book reviews, were I to read nothing but that directly related to The Big Project of the Day/Week/Month/Year, were I to shift from ruthlessly multitasking on several projects at once, I would slip into ennui. I would not be more productive, but rather I'd be paralyzed by my inability to take the Calvinistic road to productivity. Like Tom, I find that the little accomplishments eventually add up, that writing a good blog post inevitably fuels getting a paragraph or two written on "real" work. I'm lucky in that I do not need absolute focus and hours to devote to getting, say, a chapter done. Give me fifteen minutes and I can get a paragraph written that will probably pretty closely resemble its final product with that first draft. But don't make the mistake of thinking that I can simply multiply that fifteen minutes times four or eight or sixteen, or that had I not spent the time I have spent this evening blogging I would otherwise have been pounding away on a long-overdue book chapter. (And, by the way -- no one recognizes more than I do, or Tom does, what is and is not overdue; we work how we work, which does not make us unaware of lingering deadlines.) Sometimes I do take the hour or the two hours or the day to write and craft and hone and think. But that occurs organically and not as the result of simply sitting at a desk as the clock ticks.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Celtics' Draft and Trade

This is an edited and expanded version of an email I sent to the Thunderstick about the C's draft day, which consisted primarily of a blockbuster trade of the #5 pick, Delonte West, and Wally Sczerbiak to Seattle for Ray Allen (He Got Game) and the Sonics' second round pick:

I am not absolutely averse to everything we did. And I am not 100% on board. That's ambivalent and unsexy, but there is nothing more annoying than when the experts fume and fulminate immediately after either the NBA or NFL draft. We actually have no idea what the outcome of all of this will be. Everyone should take a deep breath and admit that this is all guesswork.

On the negative side: The reality is that simply acquiring Ray Allen is not a long-term fix. As several sportswriters have pointed out, shooting guards tend to start their decline at 32 or so, (Allen's 31) and it can be a pretty quick slide. But something I have not seen anyone write but that is equally important is that outside of the four guys chosen at the top of the draft -- guys we had no shot at from the 5 slot, obviously, there are going to be anywhere from 2-5 superstars who will emerge. At least one will probably end up as being better than one of the ballyhooed top 2 of Oden and Durant. And likely one of those future stars will come from a list of guys the Celtics considered in the lead-up to yesterday. In other words, we will be dealing with a "we could have had him" situation that won't have anything to do with ping-pong balls or coke habits.

On the plus side: Allen improves us right away. This should placate Paul Pierce if we can find a way to have them play together --- and Pierce's unselfishness in recent years coupled with the fact that Allen is a 2 and Pierce a 3 means that they ought to be able to share the court. Plus, as both have had injury issues in recent years, one guy can carry the load if the other cannot. Pierce-Allen-Jefferson is pretty formidable, especially in the enervated East. And the reality is that we do not need to get younger. We need to get better. There was no way a draft choice, no matter how good he ends up being, was going to help us enough for next year, and in the meantime Pierce's prime is fading. If all works out well, we now have a shot at winning in the east while the young guys grow. In 2-3 years when Allen is on his way out, we should have a nucleus of guys ready to take over -- Jefferson, Allen, Gomes, Rondo etc. Are we ready for an NBA title? No. But who in the East is? And it has been 21 years and counting, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's see what happens when we are healthy. Let's see what happens with a mix of vets and young guys who are growing.

And also, let's not forget that it appears that we may have won the second round. Gabe Pruitt is a good player with lots of promise and a steal in the second round, especially if he does not have to come in right away and fill it up. And I love-love-love the Big Baby (Glen Davis) pick and cannot believe he was available at 35. Keep in mind he carried LSU toward the Final Four two years ago. It was not his fault that team stunk last year. And he will be under no burden to score or star next year or anytime soon. His role will be to rebound. To play D. To get some putback points. To free Jefferson up from double teams down low. (And to avoid takeout menus and all-you-can-eat buffets). I think he is going to be one of the big sleepers in this draft, not as a Baby Shaq but as a Baby Barkley.

The Celtics will be much-improved in a horribly weak conference next year. The pieces are in place both for some moderate short-term success as well as for a transition that should bear fruit in the long range. I do not see that elusive 17th title banner hanging from the rafters anytime soon. But I do see the playoffs from here. Ainge and Doc have their imprint stamped on this team. Let's assess it all a year from now, and as importantly, two years from now. No need either to pop champagne or the gnash teeth right now.

Race, Schools, and the Supreme Court

There has been a great deal of worthwhile commentary on the Supreme Court's recent, and to my mind unfortunate, decisions in two recent cases involving race and public schooling, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1, et al. and Meredith, Crystal (next friend for McDonald, Joshua) v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education, et al.
Since I'm not quite ready to engage in full-bore commentary (or to bore you with full commentary) you should go read verious assessments by Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, Stuart Taylor at Newsweek in an online-only commentary, Juan Williams at The New York Times (See also Times articles by Linda Greenhouse and Tamar Lewin as well as the Paper of Record's editorial), Derrick Z. Jackson at The Boston Globe, (See also the Globe's editorial), Mary Dudziak at "Legal History Blog," Jim Castagnera at History News Network (originally from the News of Delaware County),and Ralph Luker (who was a signatory to an amicus brief from sixty historians and from whom I cribbed the links to the reports on the cases) both here and here. (Naturally there has also been some stuff with which I adamantly disagree, such as this.)

Lunch With Strangers

Over at The New Republic Micheal Kinsley has an amusing account of a lunch he never had with President Reagan. My favorite element of the piece is his description of the "Washington Read" whereby one flips to the index to see if one earned mention in any given book. The writer's equivalent is to comb a book's bibliography (or, more ponderously, the notes) to see one's own work mentioned. Such solipsim simultaneously represents both incredible high self-regard and equally incredible insecurity. And I'll admit that I'm guilty with both psychological motivations undoubtedly at work.

Back in San Antonio

We are back in San Antonio. As you might guess, there is lots to do to get back to something resembling normalcy, and we do not head back to Odessa for another few days, but I hope to be back in the swing of things by next week.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Presidential Speeches Past and Proposed

At Washington Monthly they are thinking a lot about presidential speeches. Paul Glastris, the magazine's editor in chief, once helped write speeches for President Clinton and in his Editor's Note this month he discusses the art and practice of presidential speechwriting. This is by way of setting up famed former aide and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen, and the speech he wants the next Democratic nominee to give.

More Veep Fun

Following up on last week's latest entry in the mind-boggling audacity of Dick Cheney come two worthwhile pieces from The New Republic online. The first is Eric Rauchway's comparison of Aaaron Burr and Cheney for the dubious title of "most dangerous Vice President ever." Second comes Michael Currie Schaffer's argument for defunding the office of the Vice President, something that began as a publicity stunt but that based on Cheney's own other-side-of-the-looking-glass worldview takes on a certain logic.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Events A Sports Fan Must Experience

Here is another list for you to debate and mull: At ESPN's Page 2 Jim Caple has 101 things all sports fans must experience before they die. I was shocked to realize that I have only experienced about ten percent, though another handful are fairly low-hanging fruit. (He also includes ten things to avoid with a list-topper sure to generate controversy.)

The Beckhams and the British-US Sporting Divide

Jeremy Campbell of The Guardian's Sportsblog argues that the move of David Beckham and his family to LA and the MLS' Galaxy represents another turning point in the love-hate relationship between England and the United States. There is certainly too much provincialism on both sides when it comes to sporting cultures and nationalism, although I find the noxious tenor that American sportswriters and commentators, people who ought to make it a professional imperative to know better, take toward British and global sports to be particularly noisome.

Back in the USA

We are back in Seattle after winding our way down the inner passage on the Canadian coast, driving down the length of Vancouver Island, and exploring lovely Victoria. From there we crossed on another ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, and wound our way down through the Oly,pic Peninsula. I/we (the particulars are still in negotiations) will catch the last two games of the Sox-Mariners series now that we are back in Seattle.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You've Got To Be F@(&ing Kidding Me Watch

Courtesy of Truthout via ABC News' blog Blotter: According to a letter from California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman and a statement from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Waxman chairs:
The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

Give Cheney credit for adhering to the tenets of the Big Lie. The damage from this administration will be decades in the undoing.

Whining Conservatives

Michael Currie Schaffer has a nifty article at The New Republic online about our new age of Republican crybabies. This has been one of my favorite hobbyhorses: Conservatives love to talk tough and self-fellate over what hardboiled realists they are. Until things go awry for them. Then they open up the spigots with a blast of whining so shrill one feels the need to swaddle the crystal in bubble wrap.

A New Way Of Looking at The US Economy in the World

The map exchanges states for the country with the GDP that most closely matches it. For more explanation see here. This comes from a great blog called Strange Maps. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

AFI's Top 100 Movies

The American Film Institute has revisited its rankings of the top 100 films of all time from ten years ago, and here is the new list. I imagine we all have quibbles with this one. The AFI overrates some movies -- Some Like It Hot a top 25 movie of all time? The Godfather: Part II only 32nd? It seems to rate a few of the classic silents too high out of tribute more than actual watchability. And at the risk of alienating a certain type of person -- Star Wars is one of the most important movies of all time, but one of the thirteen best of all time? No way. They also overrate Gone With the Wind, but everyone always seems to, and I have always found that these lists almost reflexively rank Citizen Kane and Casablanca in the top three without much dissent.

These sorts of lists exist to create arguments. And to get people to buy dvd's. Which will work: The wife and I (first time I've ever written that) have planned to watch the top 100 in the next year.

By the way, the Best Years of Our Lives is one of the five greatest movies ever produced.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Prince Rupert in a Can

After a seven-hour drive through the Yellowhead Parkway, which captures what I would guess most people imagine when they think of Alaska and its environs -- unspoiled wilderness, snowcapped mountains with long rivulets of waterfalls, pristine rivers, and crisp air -- we arrived in Prince Rupert yesterday evening. It looks like plans have changed -- ferries are more sporadic than we had been led to believe, and recent woes with the local ferries have tempered the frequency even more, so we are probably not going to make it up to Ketchikan, Alaska and beyond, and instead are eventually going to take a long ferry ride down to Vancouver Island and make our way from the northern to the southern tip toward Victoria. Either way, we will be in Prince Rupert for three days. Our hotel room looks out over the bay, the town is a quaint little seaside village, and I am relieved not to be driving for five, six, or seven hours for at least another few days.

Thanks to many of you for advice both in the comments and via email. Forgive me for not responding to each personally or in a timely manner, but I imagine you understand.

Monday, June 18, 2007

From Sea to Sky

Yesterday we left Vancouver via the Sea-to-Sky Highway, which took us to Central British Columbia and a tiny little stopping off point, Cache Creek. The drive was slow and winding and at times treacherous, but also gorgeous. The route goes from Vancouver and its port setting through the mountains, including Whistler, where the nordic events in the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held (Vancouver is hosting the rest of the events). Whistler Village was ersatz and pricey, nowhere near as organic or characterful as Lake Placid, to be sure. We stopped a lot to take in various views and to take pictures, and the whole 250-or-so kilometer journey took more than six hours. BC is spectacular, sparsely populated, and vast.

Today we will travel due north to Prince George, where we'll spend another night before heading due west toward Prince Ruppert and, hopefully, our debarkation point for Southeastern Alaska.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Larry Whiteside, RIP

Longtime Boston Globe baseball scribe Larry Whiteside passed away yesterday. He was 69. Dan Shaughnessy has a touching tribute to a first-rate baseball beat-man who also was a vital influence for a generation of African American sportswriters. I grew up reading Larry Whiteside's work on the Red Sox during the Golden Age of the Globe sports section when it was so far and away the best in America that there was no viable second place. Just off the top of my head I can recall that the paper had Whiteside, Peter Gammons, Nick Cafardo, Dan Shaughnessy when he had his fastball, Will McDonough, Ron Borges, Peter May, Jackie MacMullen, Bob Ryan, Bud Collins, Kevin Paul DuPont, Leigh Montville, Joe Giuliotti, Ray Fitzgerald, and Clif Keane writing regularly. I'm sure I'm missing several others who had national reputations. Some of them still write for the Globe, but I'm not sure that any American newspaper will ever be able to have that sort of staff again. Whiteside came from another era. He will be sorely missed.

Friday, June 15, 2007


We are now in Vancouver, Canada's third largest city and a pretty spectacular setting all in all. Crossing the border took more than two hours, as cars lined up for hundreds of metres (dcat is culturally adaptable!) to pass through the poorly-staffed border crossing, which takes place in the midst of a spectacular park. So far we've walked. A lot. We are staying quite a lot further from downtown than we expected, though the area we are in still is in Vancouver and is in a really funky neighborhood with great restaurants and lots of boutiques, coffee shops, and the like. Tomorrow there is a street fair near here, and tonight I am toying with going to the first (of two -- take heed, NFL) exhibition games of the British Columbia Lions, Vancouver's entry in the Canadian Football League.

In the meantime, The New York Times Book Review has a blog, "Paper Cuts," that Dwight Garner keeps. Given that I am a bit batty about good Reviews of Books and that I always look forward to the Times' in particular, I thought some of you might enjoy this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Impressions of the Emerald City

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest. We are on day three of the honeymoon and I have a little bit of down time after a wonderful dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant (Pan Africa Market, I believe) not far from the Pike Place Market. A few impressions:

Seattle is a booming city with a picturesque backdrop. It is, as you all know, the home ground for Microsoft, Starbucks, and numerous other multinational coporations. As a result, Seattle is expensive. It is geared toward affluence and toward the tourism that the region's success has drawn. And yet with the affluence comes a vexing flipside -- those who have not experienced the boom are increasingly visible. And as with other cities in the region, the relatively laid-back attitude toward the homeless and other visibly poor has led to what seems to me to be a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, the liberal attitude toward the homeless is refreshing inasmuch as it reveals a city tolerant of its underclass. At the same time, at the risk of sounding harsh, the city's attitude sometimes is not in keeping with reality. It is one thing to keep the parks free for everyone, including buskers, beggars, and just plain bums. It is quite another to allow an atmosphere in which harassment and vague threats prevail. And of course just typing this makes me feel a bit guilty -- after all, the system created the homeless, and so when the system fails, shouldn't I feel a bit more compassionate toward them? I think I am compassionate. I think I have the "right" politics toeward homelessness and poverty. But I'm not certain that compassion ought to extend so far that I have to feel malingered over when I eat lunch with Ana at a table by the park. I damned well know that if I don't choose to give money to someone in his twenties who otherwise appears able-bodied I should not feel that I might have to throw down right then and there. In one of the most visible public spaces near the Pike Place Market, a must-see for anyone either visiting or interested in fresh fruits and vegetables and seafood, the question of the uncomfortable relationship between the haves, the have-nots, and the ne'er do wells has come to the fore. There are no easy solutions. But the default probably should not be allowing a tone of harassment of generally sympathetic folks to rule the day.

Otherwise, all has been great. Seattle is a pretty walkable city -- thankfully, as parking is a nightmare -- with lots to do. I wonder if the weather would get me down. We left San Antonio with temps approaching triple digits and the humidity soaring and landed in a city comfortable in the mid-60s, which feels just plaijn chilly at times -- but I think I could see myself living in a place like this. There is lots to do. There are professional sports teams (indeed we will spend our last three days of the trip back here in Seattle when the Red Sox just happen to be out here and I cannot wait to catch three games in Safeco, which is located just across the street from the Seahawks' stadium). There is a serious culture of reading and the mind -- we've spent most of our time here browsing in various bookstores and complicating the baggage situation on the way back by buying far too many books, if such a thing is possible. There are sterling restaurants and cultural options galore. And there is a booming music scene, albeit one far less vibrant than the region's early-mid 90s heyday.

This last part brings me back to the haves-have nots dynamic. It has become clear to me in just a few days that the rise of grunge was more than just fashion concomitant with music merging to capture the zeitgeist. Grunge was also a response to the culture of affluence. Kurt Cobain and hundreds like him, both successful and not at all successful musicians, came to Seattle and probably saw themselves rebelling against the image of the Emerald City that had come to dominate perceptions of the region. The skeezy guys hanging around in every corner and alleyway surely share more in common with the grunge ethos than someone like me does in any meaningful way regardless of the role that mjusic scene played in my own life as a music fan. Being here makes it clear to what grunge existed in relation and how it fit in to a larger Seattle-Olympia-Tacoma culture.

Oh, and it goes without saying that there are a freaking lot of coffee shops here. More as I can make the space . . .

Sunday, June 10, 2007


dcat is now married. We are off for our honeymoon in the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia and possibly Alaska, starting tomorrow. As you can imagine, blogging will be light for the next three weeks. Have a great month, and I hope you'll check in periodically and will return full bore in July.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Sports Pages

A couple of sports-related items caught my eye today that I thought worth sharing.:

Lord knows I've been critical of Sportsguy when I thought he needed it. But the criticism largely comes from the fact that Sportsguy really has made an enormous contribution to the way we understand sports journalism. And when he is on, he can be great. Well, in his latest piece for ESPN: The Magazine he reminds us of that greatness. The article's premise actually comes from one he fully acknowledges borrowing from someone else, but he articulates it well by using Celtics great John Havlicek, almost inarguably the most overlooked top 15 or 20 player in NBA history. He argues that we are too quick to devalue past stars when we elevate the new generation's sporting heroes. I would categorize this as a must-read.

I also should note that I enjoyed Sortsguy's latest blog entry. I think this sort of approach plays to his strengths -- brief commentary on several topics plus some reader emails and lots of links. I think the one thing that I have concluded about Sportsguy is that I have the most issues with him the more self-indulgent he gets. When he plays to lots of his srengths in small doses it is more palatable than reading 5000 words worth of reader emails and responses because after a certain amount of time the forced jokes and the emailers trying to write just like Sportsguy gets annoying. This blog entry had just the right balance, and I would encourage him to keep the blog going after basketball season.

Meanwhile Thunderstick sent me Joe Lemire's recent column on former Red Sox fan favorite, Rich Garces, known around Red Sox Nation as "El Guapo." Guapo is making a comeback and is currently pitching for the Nashua Pride in my home state, New Hampshire. Thunderstick lives in Nashua, and writes, "I am determined to find out where Guapo lives and to run into him at a Nashua bar." Oddly, stalking becomes the Thunderstick. I would go so far as to say that El Guapo is one of the ten most popular Red Sox non-stars in the team's history.

Finally, belated props to the Cavaliers. I know that Tom is going insane (and I presume the same of Donny Baseball, except he manages to maintain some shred of dignity in his comportment) and he happens to be arriving tomorrow in San Antonio for the big dcat wedding, and his arrival coincides with game one of the NBA Finals here in the River City. Suffice it to say that we are navigating all options to be at the AT&T Arena tomorrow night. Spurs supporters are pretty good fans, though, and so we will have to shell out some coin for the privilege.

But like Meatloaf (who sucks), Tom would do anything for love, and so when the announcers mention something about a scuffle in the upper deck involving a frothing Cavaliers fan and two dozen ordinarily slow-to-anger Spurs fans after a borderline call against the Cavaliers, that'll likely be us. Good times. And Spurs fans: No hitting the face. Because on Saturday I'm gonna get married on top of a mountain, and there's going to be flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs. And we will dance till the sun rises. And then our children will form a family band. And we will tour the countryside.

And you're all invited. (Please don't tell Ana I invited you all.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bad Arguments

In today's Foundation for the Defense of Democracies News & Notes Cliff May wrote something that did not sit well with me:
BAD NEWS IS NO NEWS? FDD's Andy McCarthy notes that The New York Times reported on the plot at JFK airport on page 37 on Sunday. He notes:

Page One, meanwhile, features such cutting-edge news as: "In a New India, An Old Industry Buoys Peasants" (about brick making), "After Sanctions, Doctors Get Drug Company Pay," and, of course, "Fingers That Keep the Most Treasured Violins Fit." Good to see the Upper West Side still has its finger on America's pulse.

First off, the Sunday New York Times, especially the front section, is oftentimes planned well in advance of the Sunday it is to appear. Criticizing almost any major national newspaper for its Sunday edition not having a lot of hard news on the front page is kind of, well, ignorant. Or willfully dishonest. You choose. And never mind the conceit of deciding to pick on other news stories, as if India's economy isn't something of a big deal, as if medical ethics are something not to be worried about and as if every newspaper in the country has not, at some point or other (read: almost every day) included soft news on its front page. No, I'm instead going to emphasize a story that the Times did cover the next day: "Paperws Portray Plot as More Talk Than Action." Uh oh -- maybe not so good for self-righteous knee-jerk blatherers. And these lines are not going to help:
But the criminal complaint filed by the federal authorities against the four defendants in the case — one of them, Abdel Nur, remained at large yesterday — suggests a less than mature terror plan, a proposed effort longer on evil intent than on operational capability.

(Ms. Mauskopf noted in her news release that the “public was never at risk” and told reporters that law enforcement “had stopped this plot long before it ever had a chance to be carried out.”)

At its heart was a 63-year-old retired airport cargo worker, Russell M. Defreitas, who the complaint says talked of his dreams of inflicting massive harm, but who appeared to possess little money, uncertain training and no known background in planning a terror attack.

“Capability low, intent very high,” a law enforcement official said of the suspects.

So what we have is a group of people and one in particular with self-important ideas about what they might accomplish were money, logitics, time and expertise not barriers. Scary, but maybe not gnashing our teeth, j'accuse against the "mainstream media" scary.

This leads us back to Andrew McCarthy's blistering but largely nonsensical screed at National Review Online. In fact, let's look at McCarthy's column a bit more closely. I'll block quote his words and then will respond.

War is about breaking the enemy’s will. Having laid bare the sorry state of our brains and our guts, jihadists are now zeroing in on the will’s final piece: our hearts.

I'd love to say that I hope that the rest of the article is not this execrably written. But of course I absolutely hope the rest of the piece is this execrably written. What fun would it be otherwise?

That is the central lesson to be gleaned from Saturday’s news that four Muslim men have been charged with plotting to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, and with it much of Queens.

Really? That's not the lesson I draw, and presumably I'm on McCarthy's side, at least broadly speaking. (This is the time for full disclosure -- McCarthy is the director of the Center of Law & Terrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. I was a faculty fellow with FDD in 2003 and have continued to maintain informal ties with the organization since.

We now learn that for radical Islamists, lovers of death, the heart is the jihad’s most coveted prize. Tear it out, and you get to kill not once but twice. So says 63-year-old ringleader, Russell Defreitas, whose nom de guerre is, of course, Mohammed.

I'm a little bit worried that he is taking this heart metaphor too literally. He then quotes Defreitas:
Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to do to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow!... They love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man…. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you can kill the man twice.

Jihadists are bad. There is no doubting that, which is why few sane people doubt it.
Defreitas, er, Mohammed is a naturalized United States citizen. He is another splash in that gorgeous mosaic of American Islam — the one over whose purportedly seamless assimilation the mainstream media was cooing just a few days ago, putting smiley-face spin on an alarming Rasmussen poll.

The courteous thing to do would have been to have explained why that Rasmussen poll was so alarming and why the "mainstream media" was so wrong. I, for example, would like to see if "seamless assimilation" is McCarthy's phrase or if it is the media's. I have my suspicions. I guess I'll never know. I was able to track this down, but it does not argue what McCarthy says it argues. Again -- the courtesy of letting us know what you are talking about would be appreciated. Thanks.

Alas, Defreitas/Mohammed turns out to be the part of the story the press dutifully buried in paragraph 19: He is that nettlesome one of every four American Muslim males who thinks mass-homicide strikes against civilians, like the one he and his cell were scheming, are a perfectly sensible way to settle grievances.

Wait -- every media outlet that produces printed words "buried" the story in paragraph 19? Is this hyperbole? Is there a specific story to which he is referring? Plus, why the word "nettlesome"? unless someone has used that word you appear to be placing it in the mouths of others. That seems dishonest. And since the USA Today story I just liunked discusses the one in four figure, and since the USA Today is nothing if not meainstream, and since no reasonable person believes that suicide bombing is a "perfectly sensible way to settle grievances," who exactly is the target of the ire dripping from this paragraph? (Note: I've no idea if ire drips. It might ooze. Or fester. I'm unclear of its viscosity.)

Does this mean he never really assimilated during his long journey from Guyana to treason against the adopted country he so abhors? Not hardly. For that one in four Muslim males turns out to be in pretty much the same place as one of every two members of the United States Congress — already tacking toward two of every three as we look ahead to September. All are content to let Islamist savagery carry the day.

Three questions: 1) Did he really just use the phrase "Not hardly" in an article in a major American intellectual journal? (That question is rhetorical -- the answer is yes.) 2) Did he really just compare the one in four Muslim males who embrace terrorism to half and approaching two-thirds of Congress? (It's rhetorical -- the answer is, yes, he did. That's pretty fucking bold.) 3) Did anyone else have to read that paragraph three times to get any sense of what he was trying to say? (See my opening salvo re: execrable writing).

Militant Islam, you see, is mustered in Iraq, where al Qaeda — the inspiration for Defreitas and his cohorts — has called America out. Like Defreitas & Co., Osama bin Laden and his ranks see themselves in a world war between the United States and a vision of Islam shared by tens of millions. (Think one-in-four, writ large). Iraq, they have decided, is their frontline, though very far from their only line. Everywhere, America is their target. Everywhere, terror — the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children — is their weapon of choice.

Well, first, militant Islam is not only, exclusively, or even largely mustered in Iraq. A sign of this? The subject of your freaking article. He apparently is "mustered" in the United States. Osama bin Laden? Not in Iraq. Otherwise this is cut-rate Victor Davis Hanson hypermasculine prose determined to tell us what a bad ass the writer is when he's not sitting behind a keyboard. (You may recall that I sometimes have issues with Hanson as well.)

For the new Democratic Congress and its growing wake of jittery Republicans, that turns out to be a choice worth living with. Oh yes, they’ll sputter about how barbaric and unsavory it all is. But, like those one in four Muslim males, they’re prepared to let terror rule the day. That’s the plan: Al Qaeda blows up things and people; we leave, grumbling all the way home about civil wars and intractable hatreds between the Religion of Peace’s murderous sects; and al Qaeda triumphs … with bin Laden reminding his acolytes: See, I told you, they’re a paper tiger — make it bloody for them and we win.

I'd love to be able to focus on the substance of the argument, which is pretty shoddy. But the writing just keeps distracting me. His first line of the paragraph says that Democrats and some Republicans are living with a choice. What is the choice? Where has he indicated that these people are looking at two options and weighing them? Where the hell is the NRO editorial staff? Meanwhile, this conservative tactic is beginning to piss me off -- agree with every single element of their argument or else you are not only wrong, you are "prepared to let terror rule the day." It's odd how McCarthy and his ilk are prepared to let Osama dictate our policy when it is convenient for them. It also fascinates me how more and more Americans are beginning to question some of our policies in Iraq and elsewhere and yet the logical conclusion that some of our Ultimate Fighting Champions of the Keyboards can draw is that all of those people are willing to coddle terrorists.

Naturally, we’ll tell ourselves they’re not winning at all. They want Iraq? Let ‘em have it. Just like — when they killed enough of us — we let ’em have Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Who, after all, needs these hellholes?

The Lebanon-Somalia argument has some merit, I suppose. But unlike those situations, we have stuck it out in Iraq for quite a long time -- a lot longer than in either Somalia or Lebanon. Longer than we were involved in World War II or Korea. So while in the general contours the analogy might make some sense, it really is fairly poorly applied in this case. Plus, does leaving Iraq really mean that we would be giving up waging war or otherwise containing Jihadists, terrorists, what have you? It seems pretty daft to place the world in these categories in which remaining in Iraq to the bitter end is the only gauge of seriousness.

Except … militant Islam doesn’t just want the hellholes. It wants everything. It will take the hellholes. For now. But don’t think for a second they’ll be appeased.

True for what it's worth. But since when does leaving Iraq mean that we are going to let them storm Jones Beach, or goosestep down Newbury Street, or roll tanks down Rodeo Drive? And what of the reasons for Iraq's chaos? In what possible way has this administration earned our trust in him to the point that we ought to blindly follow his policies?

The appetite grows as it feeds. Jihadists won’t stop until they break our will. Give them Somalia and they want the World Trade Center. Give them Iraq and they want JFK … and Fort Dix. They’re coming for us, they’re only too delighted to tell us they’re coming for us, and still we’re stunned when their insatiable hatred draws a bead smack in the middle of our shrinking comfort zone — this time, where a thousand flights move 125,000 people every single day.

First off, turn off the automatic cliche generator for a few minutes, will ya? Second, what on earth is the parallel between Somalia and the World Trade Center? Third, what is this idiocy that if we leave Iraq we are ready to yield JFK or Fort Dix? (And how little respect do you have for the troops at Fort Dix to think they would lose it? Why do conservatives hate our troops?) Would it kill you to stop making dumb arguments? Are you being paid by the dumb argument? If so, the day this article appeared was a profitable one, sir.

It wasn’t merely on the flights and the unlucky infidels that Defreitas and his confederates set their sights. The complaint filed by the government explains that the “brothers” wanted to do “something bigger than the World Trade Center.” Defreitas had worked at JFK. He knew its ins and outs. He wasn’t interested in the passenger terminals — that would be child’s play. He homed in on the fuel tanks and pipelines, thousands upon thousands of flammable gallons. Enough to outdo September 11. Enough to decimate the economy. Enough to make of Queens what Ahmadinejad vows to make of Israel … and, eventually, America.

Yes, scary that. But, as the Times article I linked to above indicates, almost surely unworkable even on a smaller scale than his mildest delusions imagined. Whatever happened to realistic assessment of threats with the understanding that wasting resources for pie in the sky ideas takes them from actual threats? Why has the conservative insurgency chosen to run headlong from competence?

Defreitas and his fellow jihadists, most haling from Guyana but with ties to Trinidad’s ruthless Jama’at al Muslimeen (the Muslim Group), wanted to do their part in what they unflinchingly called “the war for Islam.” They wanted to kill JFK, and kill us. A second time.

Yes. And they had virtually no chance of succeeding. None. And they have been caught. So how, exactly, is this an object lesson for remaining in Iraq? My head is in actual physical pain from the illogic.

They know there’s a war out there. Not just Iraq or Afghanistan, but Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb — jihadists versus civilization. Global. For us to win, it will not be enough to stabilize Baghdad, sow democracy and empower moderates. It’s about breaking the enemy’s will, as they are working feverishly to break ours.

Poorly written, but fine as par as boilerplate goes. Nothing we don't know, of course. And at least in this paragraph he's not implying that those who disagree with him are akin to Jihadists. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

Thanks to excellent police work, this time they were stopped. But there will be a next time, and another. The jihadists know what’s at stake. Do we?

Yes, in fact, I think we do. And I think that honest debate and discussion, and not demonizing those who disagree with your foreign policy prescriptions, might be the best way to continue to protect America and our allies. Your piece, however, is not an example of honest debate. And seriously -- it is very poorly written.

Irish Sport, Irish-American Identity

The Boston Globe Magazine has a fascinating article on the (fading) role of Irish sports in Boston's Irish and Irish-American communities.
Twenty-five years before ground was broken on Fenway Park, in 1886, the first Gaelic football match was played on Boston Common. Since its founding in 1884, the Boston Northeast Gaelic Athletic Association has done more than organize these matches. It has nourished and spread Irish culture and political viewpoints and provided a critical economic and social safety net to new Irish immigrants. “On a psychological level, it has been hugely significant, particularly for those of a rural background coming to a heaving, busy metropolis,” says Paul Darby, a senior lecturer in the School of Sports Studies at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Darby, who’s working on a book about the Gaelic Athletic Association in the United States and Canada, came to Boston in the late 1990s as a guest player for the Boston-based Armagh-Notre Dame club and experienced the phenomenon firsthand. “It’s tremendously reassuring to find a group of like-minded people playing games you would have played back home. In a way, it feels like coming home.”

Not surprisingly, the GAA in Boston and other US cities depends almost exclusively on Irish-born players to fill its rosters. But today, the flow of Irish immigration to the United States is ebbing. According to the Irish government, nearly 14,000 people, most returning Irish emigrants, moved from the United States to Ireland between 2000 and 2005. The Irish-born population in this country dropped by 18 percent, to 128,000, between 2000 and 2004, according to US Census figures. The Boston GAA, the largest member league outside Ireland with 22 clubs, has seen an even more precipitous decline. The league has lost nearly 700 players, or 35 percent of its membership, since 1999.

Gaelic sports are fascinating. Having spent enough time in Ireland to develop a basic familiarity with hurling and Gaelic football I like the idea of this sort of cultural transferral coming across to Boston and other irish-influenced cities. But it should not be surprising that these games have only a tenuous hold on American communities. In many parts of Ireland they do not even reign as they once did.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

dcat: I figure I'll start us off this week. Obviously it was a pretty lousy weekend as we lost two of three to the Yanks and we did so in the sort of way that might send them launching off on one of their patented 19 of 21 tears. That Abreu catch in the 8th reminded me a bit of Lou Piniella's "look what I found" play on Remy in 1978 when lou just reached his hand out and caught a ball on the bounce that by a;ll rights ought to have gone for extra bases since Piniella lost it in the sun. Then the A-Rod home run last night was a crusher, and when we got up in the bottom of the ninth and Papi could not get that ball to carry into the bullpen, well, it was just that sort of loss. You shake off that sort of loss to Kansas City or Minnesota. But that is the one team to whom you don't want to hand games.

Still, how can we not feel pretty good, all in all? Let's face it -- this was as bad a week as we've had this season, despite winning the series against Cleveland, largely because of last night's game. This team, like the 2004 group, seems to have a lot of character. I fully expect them to come out tonight, even with only four hours of sleep, and be ready to pound some chardonnay-sipping west coast teams.

Thunderstick: Well before we start backing up to the ledge, talking about 1978, I think we need to take a deep breath and get a grip on ourselves. This is really the first disappointing Monday since probably after the first week of the season that we are writing this journal entry. It was a tough series loss this weekend to the Yanks and while we all are starting to wonder if we have sparked the Yanks and they'll start playing well from here on out and overtake us like they've done the last 10+ summers. But it's important to remember that we've still got 10 game lead in the division and 12.5 over the Yanks.

As for the Sox, I think they have to be almost happy to head out west. This past weekend, as well as some of these other Yankee series this year, we saw pitchers on both sides, some of whom are having very good years, put up some mediocre to poor numbers. I think there has to be some degree familiarity leading to this. I think Schill and Wakefield have each started three times against the Yanks in the first 54 games of the year. They are both familiar with each other's bullpens at this point. The hitters on both sides are too good to not adjust when they see these guys so often. So now we don't see the Yanks until August and September and the Sox can roll out west and see some teams they don't see often (most notably some NL teams that the Sox have bashed on the last few years).

We're at the 1/3 point of the season now and these are things we know--the rotation is solid, the bullpen is solid and the lineup is solid. I mean really what else is there to say? Most of the questions we've had have been answered with a resounding yes. Will Schill get some of his older form back? Will Beckett show marked improvement in his second year in the AL? Will DiceK be able to adjust to the majors? Will Pap be as good as last year? Will Tek look younger than he did last year? Can Lowell play more like he did the first two months last year? Can we get some offense from someone like Dusty Pedroia? Can Tavarez be a serviceable #5? Do we have enough arms to get from the starters to Pap? All affirmatives to these questions.

The concerns--Lugo in the leadoff spot as he just isn’t' getting on enough. Drew in the 5 as he's been lousy so far. Waker as the #4--great start, lousy lately. You usually get 6 great weeks of Waker, 6 lousy weeks and 3 months of decent pitching. We saw 4 great weeks. We are now around 4 lousy weeks. I'll take 4 months of decent pitching, but I'm concerned he's going to give us 2-3 lousy months still, not 2-3 more lousy weeks. So there are concerns, but as Theo is always fond of saying, you have 1/3 of the season to figure out what you have, 1/3 of the season to fix it and 1/3 of the season to play. I think we know what we have. Let's see what the Sox do to fix it.

And to lift our spirits after the Yanks season, it's important to point out that the lead over NY is still 12.5. We only have 6 games left with them. Most likely someone will win 4 of 6 or we'll split that. Let's say NY takes 4 of 6--that means that in the other 100 games left, the Yanks need to make up 10.5 games. No small task considering the Sox have yet to even start their 18 games with TB. In fact the Sox have 61 games left with teams under .500 other than the Yanks. We always say that if the Sox can win 2 of 3 from the lousy teams and go .500 against everyone else, they'll make the playoffs. I think a conservative record projection for the 100 games left not against NY would be about 57-43, so given that, the Yanks would have to go 67-33 over the last 4 months to catch us. So I think we can see how monumental their task is to dig out of their hole. Could they do it? Sure. But I don't think what we saw this weekend is enough to instill angst amongst the nation yet.

Was Durbin Right? (2007 Edition)

Most of you may remember the imbroglio in the summer of 2005 when Senator Richard Durbin criticized American torture policies and suggested that if you were to hear some of the interrogation techniques carried out against detainees you might be able to mistake them with Soviet gulags or Nazi Germany. Durbin caused more than a bit of a storm as conservatives rushed to see who could condemn him the most harshly.

I wrote something of a defense of Durbin, or at least a call for more intellectually honest debate at the late, great Rebunk. (I was not alone.)

Well, it must be a bit uncomfortable for some of the conservatives who reserved their harshest vitriol for liberals who defended Durbin, or at least asked for an honest rendering of what Durbin had said and within what context. Of course now we know from the yeoman's work of Andrew Sullivan that the very idea of "enhanced interrogation" bears more than a passing resemblance, indeed shares its euphemistic name, with the German "Verschärfte Vernehmung" introduced by -- you guessed it -- the Gestapo.

And now the Sunday New York Times reveals that the administration's approved interrogation techniques were in large part adopted from -- wait for it -- Stalin's Soviet Union.

I, for one, look forward to the apologia from the smug commentariat.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Most Overrated NFL Player Ever?

Some time ago Tom and I were on the phone and we got into a discussion about overrated professional athletes in history. After poring over page after page of statistics neither one of us could quite understand why Bill Walton is as highly rated as he was. A good player? Absolutely. At times (when he was healthy) a great player? Probably. And maybe you can even say that he was one of those guys you just had to see, although when the numbers indicate otherwise you are going to need more than that to convince me. In any case, I am not here to bury or praise Bill Walton. If you are so inclined you can go to Basketball-Reference and do all of the comparisons with any centers you can name. let's just say that we dug deep into our imaginations and found an awful lot of good but not great guys who compared favorably or at least closely with a guy given props in the NBA's all-time top fifty players, a claim that seems tough to sustain.

In any case, I finally went out and bought The ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, something both a fan and a historian really ought to have. Yes, all of this stuff is available online, but reference sources like this still matter. In any case, I did some perusing and one of the guys I have always thought was the most overrated player of all time and yet who is a Hall of famer brought up in a lot of best of all time conversations came to mind and I compared him with a guy I always loved who was tough and gritty but also luckless and battered. Tell me what you think (and don't cheat by scrolling down):

Player A: Played 149 games, 135 as a starter. He threw 3593 passes and completed 1879, or 52.3%. His average yards per pass was 7.5, he threw for 26,886 yards. He threw for 182 touchdowns but 208 interceptions. He was sacked 252 times for 2014 lost yards. All of this adds up to a 69.6 quarterback rating. He also ran for 2176 yards and scored 35 touchdowns in his career.

Player B: Played 140 games, 64 as a starter. He threw 3762 passes and completed 1886, or 50.1%. His average yards per pass was 7.4, he threw for 27,663 yards. He threw for 173 touchdowns but 220 interceptions. He was sacked 150 times for 1425 lost yards. All of this adds up to a 65.5 quarterback rating. He also ran for 140 yards and scored 7 touchdowns in his career.

OK -- so here is what I see based on the numbers: Two decent, at times good quarterbacks with fairly serious flaws. Player A threw slightly fewer passes for slightly fewer completions and slightly fewer yards. But he has a higher completion percentage (albeit marginally so) and a higher quarterback rating, a byzantine statistic that is difficult to assess but that often is at the apex of quarterback assessment tools. He threw more touchdowns and fewer interceptions, though the ratio is obviously bad for both guys. Player A was a much better runner -- indeed something of a weapon where Player B was obviously a statue, even if Player A was sacked more and for more yards.

Looking just at the numbers it would be hard to make a passionate case for either guy, but again, just on the numbers, I'd probably favor Player A slightly. It might make a difference to know that Player A appeared in one Super Bowl and got trounced (and he got abused). Player B won his lone Super Bowl appearance.

But with those numbers, can we agree that one of these guys ought not to be considered an all-time great, the other a marginal guy?

Player A?

Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots, a gutty, tough as nails guy. He played with a damned neckroll because he took so many shots.

Player B?

Joe Willie Namath. One loudmouthed promise, a fur coat on the sideline, an Alabama pedigree, and a whole lot of hype gets you a guy who might have been better than Steve Grogan.

Ladies and gentlemen -- Joe Namath is my nominee for most overrated NFL football player of all time.

Self Indulgence Alert!: South African Rugby Edition

A post on South African rugby that I wrote over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog has drawn the attention of the folks at mixeye, where they are featuring it on the front page as well as here. recently I've also written about Charles Taylor's pending war crimes trial, the marginalization of Africa by the media, the South African professor race gap, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and more on South African sport. Please do visit and check it out.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Joke: Yankees Suck! Edition

A student emailed me this joke recently, and given the Sox-Yanks matchup this weekend, I figured I'd share it:

"I am a Yankees fan," a first grade teacher explains to her class. "Who likes the Yankees?"
Everyone raises a hand except one little girl.
"Janie," the teacher says suprised. "Why didn't you raise your hand?"
"I'm NOT a Yankees fan."
"Well, if you're not a Yankees fan, then what team do you like?"
"The Red Sox," Janie answered.
"Why in the world are you a Red Sox fan?"
"Because my mom and dad are Red Sox fans."
"That's no reason to be a Red Sox fan," the teacher replies, annoyed. "You don't always have to be just like your parents. What if your mom and dad were morons? What would you be then?"
"A Yankees fan"


(Hat tip to Kenzi.)


Red Sox first baseman kevin Youkilis is off to a monster start this season. His OPS is .988, he has 30 runs batted in, and while batting average is an overused and overrated stat, it nonetheless is worth pointing out that he is batting .354 to go with his .427 OBP. He is in the midst of a 22 game hitting streak. he has scored 40 runs. By any measure, Youks is reaching the exalted standards that brought him to the attention of Billy Bean and Moneyball author Michael Lewis. Oh -- and he costs the Red Sox $424,500 this season, a pittance. Now the Greek God of Walks has his own blog. there is a pretty good case to be make that Youks is the Sox MVP thus far this season, and with the way the Sox are playing, that places him as an early-season candidate for the AL MVP race. (Sox-Yanks kick off their latest series tonight.)

(Hat Tip to colleague and reader Brian for the heads up on the Youks blog)

Coaching, Sexuality, and Missouri Lacrosse

At Greg Garber has the story of Kyle Hawkins, lacrosse coach at the University of Missouri. The Mizzou lax program, which competes at the club level, recently chose not to renew hawkins' contract. Not so long ago, Hawkins came out of the closet, and in so doing discovered the large number of closeted gay coaches at all evels of sports, with a plurality of these apparently from the college coaching ranks. It is difficult to discern whether or not Hawkins' sexuality played any role in the decision not to renew his contract, but by any measure, his story reveals the hurdles that gay coaches face.