Sunday, September 30, 2007


Today's New York Times travel section has suggestions for how to spend 36 Hours in Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is easily one of my favorite small cities in the US. My best man and his lovely wife and beautiful baby live there and over the decade-plus since he moved to Western Carolina I've spent a lot of time there, including the bulk of a summer back in 2001. If you can, go.

On Sex; On Selfishness

Two articles in the Sunday Boston Globe caught my eye today: Paul Abramson, a psychology professor at UCLA, argues that many of the prohibitions preventing relationships between instructors and students at universities should be lifted, and he makes a pretty compelling case. With the exception of cases where a professor has direct supervision over a student, it seems dubious to assert that romantic relationships are any business of a college or university administration.

Jake Helpern, meanwhile, effectively shows that a good hunk of the new generation of recent college graduates are narcissistic jerks. That's right, sports fans: The Baby-Boomers produced self-absorbed offspring. But before we get too smug: I'm considered part of this generation, and odds are, so are you. (One expert pegs anyone born after 1970 as part of this "entitlement generation.") But it's not all bad news -- come to find out, this generation also carries with it strengths. That narcissism might be a source of strength, not merely annoyance. So just read the piece, you selfish jerk.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

On "Educrats"

Over at Cliopatria Hugo Schwyzer has a great post that is too sane for any of its targets to grasp, as it rails on the power those he calls "educrats" have to impose their blinkered views of educational policy (couched under the buzzword of "accountability") on higher education.

Whenever we are compelled to partake in one of these education department-sponsored shell games I want to make a simple request of those who have taken it upon themselves to be our teaching betters: Could I please see your teaching evaluations? I have always believed evals to be a blunt instrument rather than a sharp tool, but it's the most obvious measure we have. I have always assumed, and believe that my suspisions would be borne out were I ever to have access to the evidence, that education professors don't actually perform any better than the rest of us. So why is it that they get to impose their pedagogical norms on content, writing, and analysis related fields?

And don't get me started on interference from state legislatures. Even when well meaning, their demands end up being so catastrophically foolish and shortsighted as to defy reality. If any of this sounds familiar to you, read Schwyzer's self-described "polemic."

At the South Africa Blog

I've been busy at the FPA's South Africa Blog, covering terrain such as the ANC's increasingly contentious succession battle, the crisis in Zimbabwe, African governance, and much, much more. Please check it out.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Curbing Use of the "S" Word

In an "Editorial Observer" column in today's New York Times Philip Boffey takes on the idiocy of invoking "socialized medicine" to attack the various health care proposals coming from the democratic candidates. I would go farther -- almost every invocation of "socialism" in the current political dialogue is so muddle-headed as to be laughable. Conservatives love to taint their opponents with socialist/Communist labels even if those labels are laughably inapt. It's their go-to move, as the Nazi analogy is for some elements of the left, though invocations of Nazism and fascism by now tend to cross aisles. That particular brand of idiocy, anyway, now transcends partisanship.

Life Trumps Sports

The Boston Globe has a long, disturbing feature on Hank Hendricks, the backup quarterback from the University of New Hampshire and protege of Doug Flutie who now faces murder charges for his role in beating a student to death in his upscale hometown of La Jolla, California. Hendricks was not one of the aggressors, but he was there when the fight and death happened and took a few steps that could be construed as leading to a coverup. Flutie continues to vouch for the young man and expects his exoneration.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Johnny Pesky

dcat wishes a happy 88th birthday to Sox legend Johnny Pesky. Arguably no one embodies the Red Sox more than Pesky, who is in his 55th season of being affiliated with the Sox. The right-field foul pole is named after him. He was best friends with Ted Williams. He still hits fungoes to the guys before games and he still has a uniform, even though curmudgeonly MLB officials won't let him on the bench during games. The current Red Sox players love him. 2004's championship was his reward as much as anyone's. Here's hoping that he gets to see his beloved Red Sox win another one this year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Washington Post travel section provides us with the breaking news that the Scranton depicted in The Office is not the same as the Scranton that exists in the real world. Thunderstick, who is married to a Scranton gal (I was in their wedding, which was in fact held in that fair city -- much to my giddy delight) could have told us as much.

Michael Vick and the American Dilemma

At Howard Bryant, one of the most perceptive writers on race and sports, has an article about the Michael Vick situation and the prism of race:
Ostensibly, the [thousands of emails he has received about the case] are about Vick, about what he did and what he did not do. But they are really about us. Go beyond Vick. He doesn't matter anymore. They are about the intractability of race. They reveal the faces behind the American mask, the black and the white at stubborn impasse. Vick has provided us an unwelcome mirror, shown us who we are when we're held up close to the light, what we are really thinking when we walk past each other every day, each wearing the same uniform that says "America" across the chest. The uniform is the same, but clearly, after he exposed the raw nerves of race and class and privilege, Vick has shown us we are not all playing on the same team. We've always known this. But maybe we thought that by living better than our parents, at a greater distance from the bloody collisions that pockmarked their lives, we had made progress.

Vick shattered that illusion, telling us that despite undeniable progress in rights and opportunities, we don't understand each other at all.

Ultimately it does not matter that it is hard for many of us to find a serious racial component in the Michael Vick dogfighting nightmare or in the latest OJ Simpson revelations. The racial perceptions exist. And if they exist, if people's perceptions are so reliant on their ethnic background, then those racial components are real. It does not take much serious thought about race in America to realize just how far we've come. But we are not at that promised land yet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Political Memories

I just received the following in an email from the prodigal RoJo who has been deeply immersed in his study of Ronald Reagan:
I've "tagged" you in a "blog meme." This means you have to write a post about your earliest political memory - I'm not sure what the penalty for ignoring this is, but it's bound to be something terrible.

[Here's his.] Well, far be it from me to risk something terrible happening to me. Especially when the threat comes in a British accent, which, when not foppish and fey, can be quite sinister!

My earliest political memories come in montage version. I cannot claim to remember anything from Nixon's America, and I am not certain anyone remembers anything of the Ford experience. But I do recall bits and pieces from the Carter years. And I certainly remember seeing episodes of All in the Family, which probably introduced me to political culture as much as anything else in those days. I remember Mrs. Carter coming to my home town when she was First Lady and my little brother being excited to meet "Mrs. Washington" (he was about four as I recall). I remember the hostage crisis vividly, most notably my Mom owning a t-shirt depicting Mickey Mouse flipping the bird with the caption: "Hey, Iran!", which naturally was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

Even cooler is that I just found the image online.

By the 1980 I was nine and can clearly remember wanting Carter to lose and supporting Reagan, to the point where I was a budding political cartoonist and could do a pretty mean Reagan, usually involving him threatening to bomb someone and asking for jellybeans, both proclivities I supported at the time. Within a year of his election, however, I came to my senses. I was a liberal Democrat by 1982. I was eleven.

So my earliest memories come from the Carter years, but my political awareness emerged with the Hostage Crisis. I was eight when this played out on my little tv screen in our house on a cable-free dirt road in Newport, New Hampshire, so by my own recollection I was not especially politically precocious. I do have clear memories of sports, and especially baseball and the Red Sox that antedate my political memories or concerns, so I guess that particular path was already cleared even when I was young.

Mmmmmmm Bacon . . .

Tired of your old alarm clock? Does the shrill screech or noisome buzz make you want to toss it out the window, preferably with malice aforethought at the yapping dogs next door? Well some certifiably brilliant folks have the idea for you: Wake 'n' Bacon, the alarm clock that wakes you up not aurally, but olfactorally (which may not even be a word, but roll with it), to the genuine smell of sizzling bacon. God bless ingenuity. (Hat tip to Steve-O.)

The Mystifying Appeal of Rudy Giuliani (Cont.)

I've previously discussed my mystification about how Rudy Giuliani conned his way into a reputation as someone with a record on combating terrorism. Now, on the heels of this Village Voice piece, to which I've linked once before, the Washington Post has this Alec MacGillis article about how Giuliani's record does not square with his rhetoric.

And if Giuliani does not have terrorism, no matter how desperately he claims it, what, exactly, does he have? He has claimed to have cleaned up crime in New York City, and for this he deserves some credit, though crime dropped in cities across America during the exact same time period, and one suspects that William Bratton, Giuliani's police commissioner, deserves the lion's share of the credit given that crime rates similarly dropped in Boston (before his tenure in NYC) and Los Angeles (since) after Bratton and his seemingly magic touch swept into those cities. What beyond crime? Race relations arguably took a turn for the worse during the Giuliani years as the direct result of his policies. Many of the rescue workers from 9/11 loathe the man. His highest level of government is Mayor of New York City, a fine achievement, but hardly the sort of platform to give one credentials to lead the United States. So what is it? Could someone please explain the Rudy appeal?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Remembering the Impossible Dream

Today's Boston Globe has a story on arguably the most important Red Sox team in the post-World War II era, and possibly in franchise history. In 1967 the Sox, who up to that point in the 1960s had been dwelled in the second division, had a magical run to the pennant. Led by Yaz, who had an MVP season, and Jim Lonborg the Sox defied expectations, won the American League in a tight four-team battle that came down to the final pitches of the regular season.
The season was tinged with tragedy, as Tony C had his legend foreshortened by a Jack Hamilton fastball to the eye, but the Sox still scripted what will forever be known as the Impossible Dream, one of the great slogans ever to be attached to a sports team. The Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals and their incomparable Bob Gibson, but in reviving the Red Sox they also revived Boston's commitment to being a baseball city.

2004 obviously stands as the franchise high point, but without 1967 none of it may have mattered quite as much. With their win and a Tigers loss yesterday, the Red Sox again qualified for the postseason, though they have much bigger goals in mind for the next week and the next month-and-a-half. The fortieth anniversary of the Sox' Quixotean quest for a title seems as good a time as any for another magical run.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In The Changer: EF It

It's been a long while since I've done an installment of "In the Changer," my semi-regular (emphasize "semi") feature in which I provide capsule reviews of things I've been listening to lately. A while back I promised to clean out the mass of cd's precariously piled in my bedroom and at my desk and to do so alphabetically. Today we cover E-F. As is my wont, none of these are truly new, but I try to take time to absorb music, and besides -- I'm not gettin' this stuff for free, so I'm not working on deadline!

Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations: Mark Oliver Everett is the genius behind the almost criminally overlooked band Eels. The driving force behind this melodically orchestrated pop is Everett's (or "E's") raspy voice, which has an atonal loveliness that captures more emotional range than it at first appears possible to do. This is a double-album set, and as I've argued so often over the years, artists sometimes confuse volume with value. I dig these songs, but am not convinced that trimming wouldn't strengthen the offerings. In any case, Eels come through with lots of piano and lush orchestration. The lyrics are contemplative, occasionally acid, sometimes world weary. This is probably the band's most complete effort and like so much that I listen to I believe that it would have gone platinum in a better world than this one. Grade: A-

Eminem: Curtain Call: The Hits: Eminem is a force of nature. He promised that he was going to retire, or at least take a long break, from putting out albums to spend more time with his daughter, who is familiar to any of his fans. No one believed him. Which is weird. The guy never showed himself to be a liar or hypocrite -- it's his relentless honesty that makes him so compelling. Hiding a serious demeanor beneath a cartoon character, Eminem is so much smarter, more adroit, deeper, than his critics that by the end of listening to this collection of a prematurely abbreviated performing career (that we all hope will resume aside from appearances on the tracks of other rappers, most recently Akon) one comes to realize that he was not only the best rapper of his generation but that he had the opportunity, much like Dave Chappelle in another context, to transform the nature of his genre only to choose personal integrity and trueness to self over filthy lucre. In both cases, we can only yearn for more, knowing that both are young enough to return triumphantly, which makes their absence all the more frustrating. If there was any doubt about Eminem's willingness to turn his persona on his head they were erased with "Stan," in which Eminem speaks through the letters of a disturbed fan who doesn't grasp the difference between Slim Shady the character and Marshall Mathers the man behind the curtain. Brilliantly (and unexpectedly) sampling Dido and the sound of falling rain in the background, "Stan's" pacing is worthy of David Mamet, Eminem's appropriation of Stan's internal descent delivers chills, his use of his own voice providing the perfect embodiment of the artist independent of his persona. The other song that stands out even among the standout body of work of Eminem's thus far truncated career is "Lose Yourself," the feature track from Eminem's largely autobiographical "8 Miles." This might be the best song about the desperate desire for fame, or at least success, that's ever been put through speakers. I wish it had been released back in my days as an athlete when I would undoubtedly have put it on a mix intended for gameday consumption. By song's end I'd have been willing to run through walls. Oh -- and did I mention the dude's funny? Eminem is not without his controversies, but in the end when we trust the art and not always the artist, we're left only with the hopes that the rumors that Eminem is in the studio with plans to release an album sometime next year are true. A

The 5. 6. 7. 8's: Bomb the Twist: Take three Japanese chicks, give them an intense love for sixties girl groups, surf music, and a copy of one of the Nuggets compilations, send them off to a few weeks worth of English lessons (which they apparently skipped with fair regularity), arm them with a couple of amps, and my guess is that you'd get the 5. 6. 7. 8's. You've heard them too, though you probably don't know it. For a brief time a year or two ago "Woo Hoo" provided the backdrop to two or three commercials and they appeared in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, so you just know they are too cool for school. This six song EP is like an unearthed time capsule from a nonexistent past. B+

The Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics: The glorious weirdoes from Flaming Lips, with lead freakazoid Wayne Coyne in the lead, have been providing songs about space aliens and robots and chicks who don't use jelly for a decade and a half now. A casual listener might categorize them as a novelty act, but that would be like calling the Beatles a band about entomology. Not only would it be wrong, it would miss the point entirely. At War With the Mystics is not the best album from these Oklahomans, who, by the way, apparently put on a legendary live show, but it is still better than most of what you are listening to right now. B+

Foo Fighters: In Your Honour: The Foo Fighters' new album, Echoes, Silence, patience, & Grace, which comes out on Tuesday, is receiving incredible buzz. This double album -- with one rockin' disc and one acoustic, both very good -- shows the Foos at their underappreciated (I'm sensing a theme in these reviews) best. They are simply a damned good rock band, but will forever be shadowed by Dave Grohl's affiliation with another, somewhat more famous, and legendarily defunct band. Which makes me ask a couple of questions: Do you think Dave Grohl ever stops in his tracks and says "I was in fucking Nirvana!" As significantly, do you think Foo Fighter drummer Taylor Hawkins ever has moments of existential crisis on stage in which he says to himself, "that guy was the drummer in fucking Nirvana?" Probably. B+

Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better: You Could Have Had It . . . represents the follow-up to their acclaimed eponymously-named first album. The Ferdinands are at the forefront the new wave of Britpop (or in this case Scotpop, as they are from Glasgow)which, if it can take on a certain level of saminess, especially for the uninitiated, still kicks the snot out of the parallel American movement, which everyone calls emo, and which suffers from a comparable saminess, but sucks. B+

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Quad? That's Odd

I know that when I want my college football news I go to . . . the New York Times? Well, normally, no. But somehow the Times has managed to put together a pretty damned good blog called The Quad that plays it fairly straight and is quite good. I'd encourage you to check it out.

Vote on the Fate of the Bonds 756 Ball

Courtesy of longtime reader G-Rob (You probably better recognize him as "Greg" but we rock it differently here at dcat) comes the by now infamous poll that allows you to vote for what Marc Ecko should do with the Barry Bonds 756th home run ball. The three options are to donate it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, to mark it with an asterisk, or to banish it into space. dcat's answer is clear, and by clicking on the following link, you can concur: Bestow it to the Hall of Fame. The other options are, in their rather obvious way, sort of clever. Kind of. But whatever your views, the ball is a part of baseball history. It belongs in Cooperstown where it will be all of ours to make of what we will.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bob Herbert and the Subculture of the Punditocracy

In the latest Washington Monthly TA Frank has a compelling article on New York Times columnist Bob Herbert with the provocative title "Why is Bob Herbert Boring?" But rather than being a snide attack on Herbert or a snarky takedown, Frank really wants to know why Herbert (his column from today is here) isn't given a lot more credit for being among the most astute columnists working today. I started to pull excerpts, but the whole thing is so good that you really should read the whole thing, especially if the insular nature of modern punditry fascinates, confuses, or vexes you.

Tellingly enough, I saw references to this piece today on at least a couple of blogs -- Andrew Sullivan and TNR, as I recall -- and ignored it because I assumed that an article on why Bob Herbert is boring would be, well, boring. Instead Frank provides one of the most insightful pieces on the naval gazing journalistic subculture that I've read in a long time. (By the way, can you tell that I've been shopping a submission of an article to that same journalistic subculture with no luck so far? Am I really that transparent?)

dcat Quick Hits

A few interesting things that have crossed my desktop today, with brief commentary:

The Guardian is running a series of great interviews of the twentieth century. Yesterday the paper reproduced an edited version of a 1936 New York Post interview with a dissolute F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers, and it is difficult to separate him from his era, both for good and ill. For all the glamour and glitz of his 1920s incarnation the Fitzgerald of the 1930s was a seedy and pathetic character whose talent shone only intermittently. This interview captures that version of the man who embodied one normative, if not normal, slice of the 1920s.

USA Today gives props to the University of New Hampshire's quarterback, Ricky Santos. Despite its long-standing excellence in hockey and recent successes on the gridiron, UNH has never been able to win a national championship in any sport. Santos, who has led the Wildcats to victory over IA teams in each of the last three seasons, hopes this will be the year, though sitting at the top of the rankings is an Appalachian State team that has managed to garner a few votes in the IA polls after its upset victory over Michigan. (Hat Tip to the Thunderstick, reporting from the southern edges of the Granite State.)

Pool play in the Rugby World Cup in France is well underway and as of now South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, the SANZAR/Tri-Nations powers, look like potential champions. The Washington Post travel section has a feature on the scene in France as one of the world's greatest and most popular sporting events works its way toward the awarding of the William Webb Ellis Cup. I have but two words: Go Amobokoboko!

Also from the Post is this article on Virginia's Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. I have more than a passing interest in this subject, having been a fellow with both the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Virginia Historical Society, and I would like to see the trail expanded to include many of the locations in Virginia where blacks and their white allies challenged arenas other than education. We have a tendency to compartmentalize aspects of the Movement that to my mind need merging into a narrative whole. Nonetheless, it is nice to see Virginia, too often overlooked in favor of the hot spots in Mississippi and Alabama, getting its due as an important theater of struggle during the Civil Rights era.

If you see issues of gay rights as fundamentally questions of civil rights, as I do, the decision of Maryland's highest court to uphold the state's ban on gay rights will serve as a reminder of how far we have to go. The case cannot be appealed to the Supreme Court, though the judges did not rule out political action to remove the law in question.

Charles Pierce at Slate has as good an argument as any for why all of the hoopla over the Patriots in the last week may simply drive them to dominate the NFL this season. I hope so.

Finally, and most self-indulgently, I've been busy over at the South Africa Blog, where I have lots on Zimbabwe and a whole host of other topics related to South Africa and the region. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Avoiding a Fight?

Is it possible that with his choice of Michael B. Mukasey as his nominee to be the next attorney general President Bush has decided to avoid a fight with the Democrats in the Senate? Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen posit as much at The Washington Post.

These must be exhausting times for the President. His popularity has sustained lows like no other in history. His Iraq War has foundered on the shores of incompetence and mismanagement. His approach to the war on terrorism has been characterized by cynical political machinations, his own party keeps him at arms length. It is widely presumed that in January 2009 the government will be firmly back in the hands of the Democrats, an outcome that is almost wholly attributable to his administration's incompetence on a host of issues, and thus to him.

Almost all of this is President Bush's own fault, and more than six years of smugness and arrogance mean that almost no one will sympathize with him. But surely it is not good for America when presidents leave office broken men. The two most recent examples, Nixon and Carter, found redemption in their post-presidential lives, but the America they left was almost inarguably worse than the one they inherited even if the fault was not always theirs entirely. Democrats have much reason for optimism within the party. But the reason for the party's ascent should give all of us, including and maybe especially those of us who live in a Blue State of mind, pause. These are times of great opportunity for those of us on the left side of the American political spectrum. These are not, however, good times for America. I hope that my party is able to recognize the difference.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gloriously Dirty Water: Sox and Pats Talk With the Thunderstick

dcat's back, and charged up for one of the great periods on the sporting calendar. September and October offer baseball pennant races, the first half of the NFL season, and the bulk of college football's glorious march to its fraudulent conclusion (Watch out for Boston College, which could easily be 6-0 heading into the Catholic death match with Notre Dame, which BC has fairly dominated over the last decade and change). Golf even gave us the Fed Ex Cup (I love the idea, do not so much love the execution, even if the outcome was clearly the right one) and for some of you, the NASCAR Chase for the Cup (Hint: Go straight, turn left. Piss in your racing uniform when need be, inexplicably hate the best guy of the last fifteen years, and repeat several hundred times and one of you will win.)

From here on out, Sox Talk With the Thunderstick will be "Sox and Pats Talk With the Thunderstick." You love it and you know it. Here we go:

Thunderstick: First off, the Sox: Strangely I feel better about the Sox than I did about 10-14 days ago. I know they lost 2 of 3 to the Yanks, but I was actually encouraged by what I saw. It was a bummer to see Okie and Pap blow things on Friday night, but we can't expect them to always win and we can't get off their bandwagon because of this. Rivera's safe conversion percetage against the Sox is like 75%--but do we expect the Sox to beat him every time he comes out? Of course not, so I'm willing to write off the bullpen meltdown on Friday night as a case of one of those things that happens when the Sox and Yanks play from time to time. What I did like this weekend is that Beckett looked awesome. Schill looked great through 7 innings and never should have pitched to Jeter (better for Francona to learn that lesson now than in the playoffs) and Dice, while throwing a lot of pitches, showed some spunk in getting through as many innings as he did. And with one win this weekend and the lead at 4.5 (we'll assume it's 4 since the Yanks have one more game to play than the Sox) with only 12 games left, I think it's just a matter of time before it's sewn up--especially since those 12 games I believe break down as 3 against TB, 3 against Bal, 2 against Oakland and 4 against Minny. I don't even worry about the offense because Manny is supposed to be back on Wed and that'll help things a lot. We need to wrap things up here quickly and get some of these arms some rest through. That's priority #1.

As for the Pats--damn! That's all we can really say. That was an asskicking from kickoff to final gun and it couldn't have felt better. As you texted last night, the simple message for this team is that they are really good. I mean, there's not a weak spot on the field. And they not only beat, but they dismantled what is supposed to be one of the top 3 teams in football and they did it during a week of distractions and with Seymour and Harrison out. We're not even at full strength. This team is ridiculous and while I don't think the Colts have been as impressive, that's the only team that can stop us. I'd like to think the Pats won't trip up somewhere, but I'm sure they will. But at this point, I'm looking at one thing--that Pats/Colts game and
who is going to get homefield advantage.

Couple other points from this game though--obviously the taping thing brought this team together. Was listening to Mike and Mike in the morning this morning and Greenberg (who I really like) said this morning that by Belichick not addressing this to the media and stonewalling it, he's left the players holding the bag and they should be livid at him for doing things that call into the question the validity of their dominance. I don't know if that's true or not, but what I do know is true is that after the game it was clear that the players love this coach (suck it Tom Jackson and your whole "the new England Patriots hate their coach" even if it is 5 years old now). They outpouring of happiness for him after that game and the comments made to the media showed that they weren't mad at him and that they had his back. And as we talked about last week and that the national media picked up on later in the week, it was going to be tough for this team to find something to give them the "us against the world" mentality but they found it and because this video deal will linger for a while, it's going to be easy to keep summoning it up. And I think if I'm a player on an opposing team, after what I saw last night, I just shut the fuck up about the whole thing. All those guys on the Chargers better shut their yap and those guys on the Steelers running their mouths and McNabb and his whole "maybe we can get our rings back" thing (yeah McNabb--first off you never had a ring to get back and second, maybe you would have if you could have controlled your on field vomiting when the game was on the line)-they had their week of fun, they got to take their shots and now they should realize, best not give any bulletin board material.

God I love this team.

dcat: Sox: While I loathe losing to the Yankees (and have lost yet another bet to Holmes, who managed to avoid bets early in the season but has taken it to me the last couple of series) the reality is that we will clinch this thing within a week or so, which will give us time to get the rotation set, rest some guys, but still play trough the finish. It was a great series and the Yankees showed why they will be dangerous. That ninth inning last night brought my first stomach churning of 2007, so I know that the postseason is nigh and I think we can expect that we will run into the Yankees again.

The key is to avoid a letdown. We have twelve games left. Go 9-3 and we do not have to worry about New York. Anything less and we are looking over our shoulders. Tonight in Toronto will be big. Flying there late will probably effect us, but this is a pennant race. Got to deal with what we got.

Pats: I feel that my argument about them has been consistent for a week, no matter how much some might brand me an apologist: They broke the rules. They got caught. They paid a stiff penalty. It's disappointing. But the overwrought hand wringing is just really annoying. We have allegations from two games, one in Green Bay last year and one in New York this year, which was caught well before we opened up the floodgates on them. The idea that this all somehow goes back to the Super Bowl years simply baffles the imagination. That is quite an intuitive leap. And if it is true, aren't folks like Mangini implicated anyway? As Sean Salisbury has said, anyone who tries to make this more than it is to discredit the run this team has had is simply an idiot. It was probably worth a week's coverage. It should be done now. It won't be, but it should be.

Why should it be? because it is evident that the last week's activities proved much more of a distraction to San Diego than to the Pats. The fact that they spent all sorts of time hermetically sealing themselves off from the rest of the world to avoid Patriot spies was great news for the Pats. And then when all the talk was done (well, the Chargers barked all game), when the rubber met the road and the cleats hit the turf, the Patriots absolutely dominated what by all accounts is a team that has realistic Super Bowl aspirations. What's your excuse now, Chargers? What excuse are you going to give for getting crushed on Sunday night on national television after not only a week of chatter but after an entire offseason? Shut. The. Hell. Up. Oh -- and play better.

Right now the Patriots look like the dominant force in the NFL, though as we always say: defending champs hold the reins until someone knocks them off. So I am happy to let the Colts be the number one team in football -- they've earned it -- and to hear our footsteps. Looking at the schedule, I don't see many games we should not win, but the NFL always throws challenges at even the best teams. We may stumble. But I think last night should reveal once and for all that when the whistle blows, the Pats are going to be there. As you say, the rest of the league has made what appears to be a huge mistake. They fueled the us-against-the-world mentality that has served New England so well. The Bills are in trouble this weekend. And the rest of the league should really just pipe down.

Oh -- and on December 16 the Patriots play the Jets at home. That one is going to be a bloodbath. Thank you, Eric Mangini.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Postcard From Kansas

Dear All,

The trip to Kansas has been great.

Fort Leavenworth is like a big, attractive campus of a good state university. If you are a civilian it cannot help but seem (and rightfully so) that everyone in uniform is in the cool fraternity while you are decidedly on the outside looking in.

The conference has been impressive, though at least for now I cannot speak much to it, as all of the events are not for attribution. But there has been some informative stuff, a mix of everything from tactical and operational to strategic and policy discussions blending the work of scholars, military personnel, and in most cases, both.

Tom and his family are well. His boys serve as my alarm clock (someone apparently mis-set it yesterday, much to Tom's consternation, but it worked just fine this morning as five years worth of boys ended up on my head at 6:15). There are a couple of other members of the former OU mafia that have come to occupy sacred space at the Combat Studies Institute and Command General Staff College, but fortunately there are enough fellas with khaki tucked into boots to keep them in line. Last night we had incredible barbecue. And we bought books.

I'll be back in Texas on Saturday. Until then, don't worry yourselves over this patriots folderol. It is much ado about very little. Enjoy the first couple of games of the Sox-Yanks series.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Patriots and The Patriots

Your faithful scribe is on the road again. I'm in Kansas where for the next few days I'll be in Fort Leavenworth participating in the US Army's Combat Studies Institute's Symposium on the fight against terrorism. My own presentation will be on policing in contested political zones, using Apartheid South Africa and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland as historical context. I'm staying with Tom and his family and will write as I can.

Let's just say that yes, I am rather invigorated by the Patriots' performance against a Jets team that has playoff hopes. And I'm more convinced than ever, after Randy Moss' performance, that the preseason is way too long and for veterans guaranteed of a roster spot, largely superfluous. Bring on the Chargers!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Misery Loves Company?

Ahh, the reader's report. Any writer of even modest accomplishment (that would be me, with the emphasis on "modest") has received them. Sometimes they are glowing. Sometimes they are eviscerating. Usually they lean toward the "this is good, but this is what I'd like to see the author do differently," which is usually followed by a strinbg of suggestions that would radically change the book that the author has written into the book the writer of the report wishes he had written. These reports can also be problematic -- almost always they are anonymous; almost always they are given far too much priviledge inasmuch as the author of the book is almost always more of an authority at least on the specific topic of the project; and when there are multiple reports, publishers will always ignore the most favorable in order to make the author engage the most critical irrespective of the merits of these reports.

In this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review the Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Oshinsky has a wonderful essay based on his poring through the reports in the massive collection from publishing powerhouse Knopf that is located at the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. That hostile letter you just received via your editor? After reading this essay you can take some solace in the fact that you are not alone. In fact you join a rather long and distinguished list. Congratulations!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dubious Assertions at TMQ and Another Argument For a Playoff in College Football

I used to look forward with great anticipation to Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback. And Easterbrook is so undeniably smart and provocative that I still read his epic columns regularly. But at least three or four times in any given one of his discursive, sometimes self-indulgent Tuesday articles I practically shout at my computer screen. Let me provide a couple of examples from this week's entry. I am going to excerpt judiciously, which I know is always a fraught endeavor inasmuch as context always matters and I want to be honest in my assessments of his arguments. Please go back to the original if you want the whole of each of these sections of his article.

First I am going to start off with an aside that he makes in an argument about expanding the NFL Hall of Fame -- an argument that I fundamentally buy, but the aside embodies the Easterbrook style:

Comparisons of Canton to baseball's Cooperstown, which only admits a few per year, aren't valid owing to the larger number of players involved in football and to its status as the quintessential team sport. (Teammates matter more in football than baseball, thus more should be honored.)

Note the ipse dixit assertion: "Teammates matter more in football than baseball." Do they? In baseball, every single player is going to have his one-on-one moment where he is fully responsible for his teammates. On any given play, the ball can go anywhere on the field where the fielder will be responsible for making a play. Football players work together as units in a way that baseball players do not, to be sure. But I'm not certain how that means that teammates somehow don't matter as much in baseball. Unless, of course, easterbrook knows of a way in which it would be possible for either, say, a pitcher or catcher to function without the other. And I would never argue something so ultimately impossible to prove as that teammates matter more in baseball than in football. Doing so either way is silly, and to simply assert it as fact is fairly representative of Easterbrook's occasional assert-don't-prove writing style.

The second example reveals one of Easterbrook's other signature moves -- mocking those who disagree with one of his assertions even when his own internal logic dictates that maybe those assertions are not all that he believes that they are. In the midst of an argument that itself is full of inconsistencies and dubious assertions, Easterbrook writes the following:

At this point Appalachian State of beautifully rustic Boone, N.C., is not only good, it's the hottest team in college football at any level. Stretching back to last season, Appalachian State has won three consecutive do-or-die playoff games, then won a championship game, then defeated the nation's No. 5 team on its own turf. Short-term, no football factory school has done anything so impressive. BCS defending champion Florida beat Ohio State, but then wimped out by next scheduling Western Kentucky, a cupcake. Preseason No. 1 USC's short-term performance isn't even close to the Appalachian State run: in their three most recent outings the Trojans lost to UCLA, then won a bowl game, then faced a second-echelon team in Idaho. Appalachian State has won five consecutive max-pressure contests – the Mountaineers are the hottest team south of the NFL. And should New Orleans upset the Colts in the NFL opener, Appalachian State would become the hottest team in football, anywhere, period.

Now note that Easterbrook is celebrating Appalachian State's victory over Michigan. And yet in the same paragraph he argues that Florida "wimped out" by scheduling "Western Kentucky, a cupcake." And so on he goes, insulting the teams that the major programs schedule even while celebrating a win by Appalachian State in a game that beforehand had equal "cupcake" implications. Easterbrook clearly loves that Michigan lost a game that he believes they should never have scheduled even though without scheduling them they could have never lost.

The reality, which the Appalachian State win shows, is that the lines between the levels of college football are more blurred than most people would imagine. Appalachian State is a multi-time Division IAA national champion. In any given year I would strongly press the case that qualitatively the IAA National Champion (and a handful of other elite programs at that level) is easily as good as a large number, quite likely a majority, of IA programs (and yes, I realize the NCAA recognizes a far more cumbersome title for the former IA and IAA schools but let's stick with the old titles for simplicity's and sanity's sake). When all is said and done, Michigan may well end up as a top-25 team, probably far more than that. They have a lot less to be ashamed of than most of the college football experts would have you believe. It is possible for Michigan to be a very good football team that just happened to lose to a very good team in a lower division.

And here is another pretty important point: These small schools line up to get a shot at playing the big guys. Sometime David throws a scare into Goliath. And while this past weekend's game in the Big House marks the biggest upset, it was not the only time in recent history when a IAA team knocked off a IA team, or even a BCS conference IA team. (New Hampshire beat Northwestern a year ago, for example.)

To be sure, football probably has the biggest disparity between divisions because of the size-strength-speed-numbers factor, which creates a multiplier effect. But at all levels and across sports the little guys beat the bigger guys, and that includes DIII upstarts occasionally taking down the DI guys, especially in sports such as track and swimming, but also including basketball.

Finally, as long as there is an incentive for the big time programs to keep a pristine record for the purpose of the BCS, these seemingly lopsided matchups will characterize the early stages of the college football season. There is only one solution: A playoff system in which enough teams and conferences are represented that it does not pay off to schedule true cupcakes, but in which the little guys in the IA ranks are not kept out by virtue of the current BCS conferences refusing to play them. Make it a 16 or more team playoff in which every conference gets at least one representative, in which there will be no allowance for IA independents (join a damned conference, Notre Dame!), and that would allow for five at-large berths that would presumably go to schools from the major conferences. Until that happens, the highest level of college football, for all of its pageantry and wonder and greatness, will never really be a sport we can take fully seriously.

All that said, I love seeing TMQ if for no other reason than that it means the NFL season is upon us.

Is al-Qaeda in Iraq a Myth?

At The Washington Monthly former Stars & Stripes reporter Andrew Tilghman has a potentially explosive piece on what the title calls the "Myth" of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He concludes his piece thusly:
Five years ago, the American public was asked to support the invasion of Iraq based on the false claim that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to al-Qaeda. Today, the erroneous belief that al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq is a driving force behind the chaos in that country may be setting us up for a similar mistake.

I have tended to be wary about underestimating al Qaeda's will to do the liberal west harm even if the organization does not have the capacity to carry out its most ardent desires. But I think we do need an honest an open debate about causation and correlation in Iraq, about al Qaeda's real role throughout the conflict there, and about the various options and consequences for each of them. There is no ideal result about to spring forth like a mirage from the desert sands. But there surely are better options, and those are what we have to seek.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

It's been a crazy week here in West Texas, so I am tardy in getting this week's edition of Dirty Water out. Thunderstick wrote his side of this a couple of nights ago, I wrote mine tonight, so there might be some disjunction.

Thunderstick: We're into the first week of September so we're into the final stretch and done with what was an up and down week. We start off by getting beat in three pretty exciting game against the Yanks. Those games were tough to watch as the difference between the teams was the Yanks' ability to get hits when they had an opportunity to score and to play clean, error-free (or at least more error-free than the Sox) baseball. Basically the Yanks played the way that championship teams play while the Sox played like a bunch of pretenders. Fortunately, we were able to cleanse our palates with 3 against Baltimore and the Labor Day game against Toronto where we went 3-1 while the Yanks were going 1-3 against Tampa and Seattle and all of a sudden that sweep NY needed to get to stay in things last week doesn't look as meaningful.

Bottom line is that there just doesn't look to be enough games for NY to catch us at this point. As we've emailed a hundred times, there's 24 games left. Even if the Sox go 12-12, the Yanks will need to go 18-6 just to catch us and given our schedule I have a hard time seeing us go 12-12 over these last 24. But the most important thing now is to get this done as quickly as possible. We've got Manny ailing, Dice looking like he's tired and general nicks and bruises that result from a long season. The sooner the Sox clinch this thing, the sooner guys can start getting rest to get ready for the playoffs. That's really all it comes down to now. Hopefully, unlike in the last three series with the Yanks, this team can finally show some killer instinct and get it done.

dcat: It's tough for Sox fans to shake off the past and make bold calls. At least it is for those Sox fans who have been around long enough to know better. The bandwagon folks tend to be louder and brasher and generally make the rest of us look even worse than we can already be. But the sweep against the Yanks last week looks more and more like the last gasp of a desperate team. They had to win those games. It would have been nice for us to win those games. And from outside appearances, anyway, the teams played in ways that reflected their sense of necessity. I think it is pretty safe to say that we are going to the postseason and that we are almost certainly going in as the Americal League East Champion and the team with the best record in the Majors.

As you noted, we have recovered pretty well, going 5-2 since that series ended and putting the Magic Number at what is now 16 after tonight's win against the O's. The Yanks were off, and any time we have a chance to gain a game when they are sitting we need to take advantage of it. You are right that the best thing we can do is put ourselves in a situation where the games at the end of the month are not must-wins so that we can set up the rotation, get some guys a bit of rest while playing some of the younger players on the 40-man roster. We are seeing Dice-K's rough adjustment to the longer and more intense season on this side of the Pacific, for example. And there is little doubt that if we are in a position to do so, Tito will give him rest in hopes that doing so will rejuvenate his arm. We need Manny back. Youks could use some time off. Basically, it would be nice not to be the team clawing to the end just to secure a berth in the postseason.

By the way, is there any doubt that September is one of the best months on the sports calendar when your baseball team is in contention? You get baseball that matters, the kickoff of the NFL and college football, and hell, even some significant tennis and golf, and perhaps somewhat more esoterically, at least for Americans, the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off tomorrow. Glory be.

The NFL, TV, and You

With the glorious, glorious onset of the National Football League season upon us, let's take a moment to get outraged over the pretty much unjustifiable television policies that the league and its network overlords foist upon us. I have no serious qualms with a certain level of regional policies guiding the cities in the immediate area of a franchise. If you live within 50 miles (the official policy is 75) of an NFL stadium, that is clearly the local market. If you are a Patriots fan living in Phoenix, that's how things fall. Get ready for some Cardinals football, Sully! But the rules on secondary markets are pretty much inane, and keep in mind that in some states the secondary market rules might cover hundreds of miles. In the end, these television policies end up being very fan unfriendly and for reasons that no one has adequately explained.

I'll try to pen an NFL preview tomorrow, but as far as tonight's game goes, let's assume that both the Saints and Colts will be good this season and that both are playoff bound and that whatever happens, barring a catastrophic injury for either team tonight. In other words, tonight's outcome won't much effect my inevitably daft predictions.

Hat tip to friend, colleague, and fan of lousy pro teams, BriBra.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The First Death

In his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column this week Peter King yields the stage for several pages in order to allow Redskins' lineman Ross Tucker to give a first-person account of what it is like to get cut and in this case almost certainly to have your career end. They say athletes die twice. I know this to be true. Tucker's honest reportage is fantastic, both gripping and in a way sad. There are worse things than to be a Princeton graduate who played in the NFL for six years and started two dozen games, but the end is the end in a world where there are few illusions and with no room for sentimentality.

Self Indulgence Alert!: FPA Election Blog

In addition to my work at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog I will also be posting sporadically at their new Election 2008 blog. My first post covers familiar terrain, as I rehash some of what I have written here on the issue of New Hampshire's desire to maintain the first-in-the-nation primary with a bit of added commentary.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Herf on Friedlander

My one-time professor and golf partner and still-friend Jeffrey Herf has a strikingly positive review of Saul Friedlander's new book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 in The New Republic. If you know Jeff's work you are right to guess that the review will be insightful, brilliant and challenging.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

On The Road, Again

With the 50th anniversary of the release of Jack Kerouac's On the Road upon us it is probably not surprising that lots of people are beginning to think about the fundamentally American idea of the road trip.

We all have our personal favorites, of course. In the two years after I graduated from Williams I took to the road for Mardi Gras, picking friends up along the way until the car was chock full. The stories that make up the memories of that trip are not suitable for a family audience by and large, but we lived all of the hallmarks, or perhaps cliches, of the genre: Excess, way too little money for way too many people, sleeping in accomodations that today seem frankly impossible, dangerously little formal planning, and more excess. There are countless other trips as well -- track trips in college, road trips that required me to cover lots of milage in little time and those that allowed me to stretch my legs, road trips that were the result of moving to another part of the country and those that allowed me to meet up with friends coming to a different part of the state, road trips for research and road trips for conferences. Whatever the cause of my various long car trips, my capacity for adventurous international travel probably began with a willingness to jump in the car on a moment's notice and drive wherever a few friends could convince me was worth going.

Today's New York Times has two reminders of how universal the lure of the open road has been for Americans. Matt Gross provides the tale of his frugal road trip, as if there is any other kind. Holland Cotter, meanwhile, has the compelling reminiscence of a 1964 road trip that he took by Grayhound that was inspired by a friend's incarceration in a juvie home and his own reading of On The Road. Race plays a big role in his story.

As for the source material itself, I have always found On the Road to be somewhat lacking as literature. But a recent discussion with dcat's friend Jaime (who was reading On the Road) reminded me that Kerouac's most lasting work is important for reasons beyond its mere literary value. Kerouac captured a segment of American youth at a particular time in US history that may never be recaptured but that nonetheless carries with it a universal resonance. A lot of my readers probably reject Kerouac's (and his cast of characters') proto-beat approach to the world, but I find value in the idea of trying to find options outside of those imposed by the mainstream. The 1950s could not have been the easiest time to be the sort of kid who challenged the status quo. In a sense, the great American road trip is a reminder of the possibility that America offers to evade that status quo, if only for a little while.

Next week I'll be traveling to Kansas (albeit by plane) where I'll spend a week, and in October I'll be driving to Dallas to meet some friends for a road trip weekend. Those days on the road are not entirely in the past tense, I guess, and as long as there is a highway and a full tank of gas, not to mention the prospect of an adult-version of a little excess, it will always be possible to go out on the open road to see what is out there over the horizon and in the great beyond.

A No Hitter Amidst the Gridiron Fireworks

On a glorious opening day of college football (My highlights, with one or two exceptions, will reflect the day's big stories: the Appalachian State victory over Michigan; BC beating Wake Forest by ten and revealing themselves to be an offensive juggernaut; Notre Dame getting thrashed by Georgia Tech; Virginia Tech, a team I normally loathe, using football as a backdrop to recovery; the shootout in Berkeley between Cal and Tennessee) the sports highlight in dcat's world will still be Clay Buchholz's no hitter against the Orioles. It's been a bad week to be a Sox fan, but today was an undeniable highlight. momentum only takes you as far as the next day's starting pitching, but I'd like to hope that this will give the Sox a boost in the first week of September.