Friday, November 30, 2007

A Celebrity Endorsement.

Courtesy of Homz:

Terry Francona says, "Read DCAT's blog!!!"

The BCS, BC and VTech

Soon enough I'll have my annual rants about the Bowl Championship Series and the patent fraud that is the end of the major college football season. But let me give you a little preview:

Can someone please explain to me how Virginia Tech is ranked ahead of Boston College? The two teams play in the same conference. They have the same record, as both teams are 10-2. And they played once this year. Boston College won. And so what we have here is a case in which the voters (I realize there is the computer component to consider as well) have decided, despite what has happened on the field when the two teams played, that Virginia Tech is better than Boston College despite the fact that all things are equal and Boston College won when they met on the field. The experts have chosen to place themselves above the action on the field. And yet at the end of year we are supposed to believe that things have worked out because the very people who have a say in the system tell us that they have finally gotten it right.

I realize that neither Boston College nor Virginia Tech is going to be in the national championship picture. And I realize that BC and Virginia tech will meet again tomorrow in the ACC championship game. But if the supposed experts can allow this pretty clearly unjustifiable glitch in the system to happen largely because of their own belief that their opinions matter more than what has happened on the field, how can we take them seriously as the final arbiters of a system that everyone else knows is flawed?

Soon enough I'll be making my case for Hawaii's deserved place in the BCS Championship game (if they hold up their end of the bargain in the last game of the regular season at home against Washington tomorrow night).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The GOP Leaders and Immigration Policy

At The Boston Globe Jeff Jacoby laments Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney embodying the contemporary equivalent of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings. The money excerpt:
The Know-Nothings today are spoken of with disdain, but their attractiveness to voters was once a powerful political phenomenon. One of Romney's predecessors as governor of Massachusetts, Henry J. Gardner, was elected three times on the American Party (the "Know-Nothing") ticket. He had plenty of company: In the 1854 election in Massachusetts alone, the Know-Nothings won every statewide office, every seat in the state Senate, virtually the entire state House of Representatives, every seat in the congressional delegation, and a slew of local offices.

It wasn't a party of single-issue yahoos. The Know-Nothings opposed slavery, supported greater rights for women, expanded constitutional liberties, mandated paid legal counsel for poor defendants, increased aid to public schools and libraries, enacted numerous consumer protections, and cracked down on corruption in public office.

But who recalls any of that today? The Know-Nothings are remembered now for one thing only: the anti-immigrant bigotry they inflamed and exploited for political gain.

Giuliani and Romney are not single-issue yahoos either. But they are letting their hunger for power overwhelm their better judgment and decency. Recklessly bashing illegal immigrants may score them points with one angry segment in the GOP base. But what are they doing to their party's reputation - and their own?

Jacoby, I'll remind you, is a very conservative columnist. This does not represent an attack from the left.

I live in the Southwest where the issue of immigration is more than just a cynical topic to scare white suburbanites and I find Giuliani and Romney's conversion to represent facile opportunism. There is no easy solution to this issue. But demonizing immigrants strikes me as a vicious and craven way to approach immigration policy. Texan George W. Bush understands this, and I don't give the president all that much credit on many issues. I don't entirely agree with Bush's immigration policies either, but at least he is making an attempt to find a solution within a context where any policy is going to lead to deep dissatisfaction.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mike Huckabee and the Conservative Divide

Is Mike Huckabee a "false conservative"? That's the argument Robert Novak makes in today's Washington Post.:
The rise of evangelical Christians as the force that blasted the GOP out of minority status during the past generation always contained an inherent danger: What if these new Republican acolytes supported not merely a conventional conservative but one of their own? That has happened with Huckabee, a former Baptist minister educated at Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The danger is a serious contender for the nomination who passes the litmus test of social conservatives on abortion, gay marriage and gun control but is far removed from the conservative-libertarian model of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
But rather than representing false conservatism, doesn't Huckabee represent one of conservatism's two distinct wings in a party that has an increasingly divided Big Tent? Novak has a distinct view of what conservatism is, and his version certainly long held firm. But conservatism also now "is," to some degree, its socially conservative, religious evangelical wing as well. For so long the Democratic Party had to balance disparate and often conflicting constituencies. The rise of conservatism in the last third or so of the twentieth century as uch as anything capitalized on the Democratic inability to maintain that balancing act by drawing some of that constituency toward the GOP. Think, for example, of Reagan Democrats. But the rise of the religious right appears not to have strengthened the Republican party by making it bigger, but rather to have created a divide among conservatives and the party within which they long have felt comfortable.

The Five Worst Airports in the World

We're back from our week in the greater Phoenix area, a period in which we never actually set foot in the city of Phoenix. We drove both ways, and so avoided some of the worst aspects of holidayb travel. Yes, it takes a long time to drive and traffic can be a hassle. But in the period from the days before Thanksgiving to the days after New Year's Day, we all know what a nightmare airports can be. Still, if you find yourself cheek-to-jowl in a terminal or stuck for an extra hour on the tarmac, feel thankful that you are not spending those hours in one of the five worst airports in the world. Unless, of course, your holiday travel takes you to Senegal, India, Russia, Iraq, or France (yes, France).

Monday, November 19, 2007

In the Valley of the Sun

We spent the day driving from Odessa to the greater Phoenix area in order to spend the week with this guy and his family. It took about ten hours driving across desert terrain that took us through El Paso, Las Cruces, Tucson, and into the epicenter of the Valley of the Sun. Thanksgiving Day activities will involve your faithful scribe participating in a fun run with Jaime's son while his parents run the real race, an enormous amount of food, and then tailgating before that night's Arizona State-USC game, for which we have tickets. Otherwise the week will consist of world class caliber hanging out, overeating, and buying ASU stuff. I'll post as I can, but in any case, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Klein on Wenner and Seymour on Thompson

This weekend's New York Times Book Review has Joe Klein's assessment of Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour's new oral history, Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson. I discovered and devoured Thompson's ouvre when most people do: in high school and college. He was a force of nature, the sine qua non of Gonzo journalism. But unlike a lot of the work of many of his colleagues, and unlike most of the Beat movement that led the way to The New Journalism, the high falutin' term for Gonzo, Thompson's best work has aged pretty well.

As for the book, Klein writes:

“Gonzo” is a wonderfully entertaining chronicle of Hunter’s wild ride, but it is also a detailed, painful account of his self-destructive immersions; the brutality he visited upon his wife, Sandy; and the anguish of a life that veered from inspired performance art to ruinous solipsism.
I'll certainly read Wenner and Seymour's book at some point, but even before I do, I'm sure I'll revisit some of Thompson's work. With the election coming up, I may well go back to Thompson's tour de force, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, 72, which reveals Thompson not only as the doyen of Gonzo journalists, but also as an acerbic, uproarious, and astute political observer.

Big Papi for MVP?

At The Boston Globe Jason Tuouhey argues that not only did David Ortiz have a much better season than people realize, he also deserves MVP consideration over Alex Rodriguez, who is practically preordained to receive the award unanimously, or nearly so, when voting is announced on Monday. Every year the discussion ensues as to what the Most Valuable Player award actually means. That is to say, how do we define "valuable"? I'm not certain I buy Tuouhey's argument, but he makes a much better case than I expected that he would when I first started reading his piece.

But one aspect I find interesting is that i simply do not care about the postseason awards now. For years, the award season was all that Red Sox fans had to salvage a season that went awry sometime between June and late October. Now? Let Sabbathia win thew Cy Young Award over Josh Beckett. Anyone who watched the postseason knows who is the better pitcher. Let Eric Wedge win Manager of the Year. We have Terry Francona, the only manager ever to win his first five World Series games as a manager (he is at eight and counting). I hope ARod enjoys his MVP award (and his new contract. Way to take a tough stand, Hank Steinbrenner. Punk.). Big Papi will just have to wait to size his second World Series winners ring.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Torture, Mississippi Style

Guess where they once used a form of the "water cure"? Jim Crow Mississippi. That probably comes as no surprise. But guess where the practice was outlawed as being barbaric? Also in Jim Crow Mississippi, in the case Fisher v. State, 110 So. 361, 362 (Miss. 1926). From the blog Is That Legal (With a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan:
Waterboarding, known ironically in earlier times as "the water cure", remains -- in the view of this administration and many supporters -- not torture. And if it's not torture, then it's not cruel and unusual punishment or a violation of due process.

But here's the rub.

In 1926, the Mississippi Supreme Court called the water cure torture. No qualifiers. No hedging. Just plain, good ol' fashion torture . . . and therefore a forbidden means for securing a confession. These men were hardly a group I'd call *activist* or *liberal* and certainly not bent on subverting our country in the name of coddling criminals.

I'm just not certain what case there is justifying these sorts of measures. I think that the United States can withstand bad foreign policy. I'm not certain for how long we can withstand engaging in practices that even repellent regimes have found to be repellent. It's unnecessary. It does not make us safer. It does not provide us with actionable intelligence. And it violates the very principles that are supposed to separate ourselves from our enemies. I can see no defense for waterboarding and similar practices and I do not know why anyone would try to do so.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Defense of DIII

Over at The Slice Holmes has a great post on Division III sports. It starts with the Williams-Amherst gameday appearance and goes on to discuss an encounter with one of those guys who disparage DIII sports without themselves ever having played a game beyond the jv level in high school. Good stuff.

Joltin' Joe and the Streak (*?)

In the October issue of Canada's best magazine, The Walrus (think The New Yorker meets Harper's) David Robbeson raises an intriguing question: is it possible that Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak might deserve an asterisk, or at least some skepticism. The most damning criticism: On more than one occasion DiMaggio maintained the hit streak as the result of the official scorer judging a play that could have been ruled an error as a hit. The problem is that the official scorer practically worshipped DiMaggio, was a good friend of him and several other players, and served as a de facto house publicist for the Yankees.
Baseball, more than most sports, reflects the times in which it is played. Rules change, ethics shift, and one era’s decisions become another’s poor judgment. Sometimes the judgments of the day are merely questionable; often they’re exercises in hypocrisy. If, in an age when Barry Bonds, a seven-time mvp, can be demonized strongly enough to dull the lustre of the all-time home run record, it seems only fair to apply the same kind of critical scrutiny back through the ages, to re-examine the “great” feats of yesteryear.

One can choose to believe that Joe DiMaggio ran the equivalent of a nine-second 100-metre dash in 1941. But to do so one must neglect the fact that his race was timed not by an impartial third party, but by a friend of his — an admirer, a co-worker — and that it took place at a time when America badly needed heroes. Was the streak the most singular sustained accomplishment in the history of sport or the work of a collective imagination seeking a new mythology?
This is one of those cases that we can never solve completely. But it just should remind us that we are on a slippery slope when we start trying to invoke asterisks for modern-day records, or when we privilege the past over the present.

Lapham's Quarterly

A new periodical, Lapham's Quarterly, has taken its place on the magazine racks and online. Founded by editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's Magazine, Lewis Lapham:
LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY sets the story of the past in the frame of the present. Four times a year the editors seize upon the most urgent question then current in the headlines - foreign war, financial panic, separation of church and state - and find answers to that question from authors whose writings have passed the test of time.

In effect, Lapham seems to believe there is a mass market, or at least a market among intellectuals, for what we historians call "primary sources." It's a daring venture, to say the least. Let's hope it amounts to something. Or if it fails, that it is an interesting failure.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Day Out in Oxford

This week's New York Times travel section suggests a day out in Oxford when the throngs of tourists have receded and the city is back to the business of being one of the world's intellectual centers. (Or, if you will, centres.)

Gameday at Williams

Donnie Baseball asked for it, and I responded. Here is an expanded version of my views on ESPN's Gameday spending their Saturday in Williamstown for the Williams-Amherst game (which Williams won 20-0).

The Pursuit of Perfection

The Boston Globe's Jim McCabe has a lengthy feature on the history of the quest for an undefeated NFL season, which of course the Patriots are pursuing but are still a long way from achieving. I think it is clear that the Patriots are far and away the most talented team in the league, and as their results indicate, the best. But as McCabe's article makes equally clear, even the most talented teams in NFL history have fallen short at some point. I would even argue that the one team that did accomplish the feat, the 1972 Dolphins, were not necessarily one of the truly great all-time teams, though just by virtue of that record they force their way into the conversation.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Glory Days

Not only are Boston sports teams on a four-week streak of making the cover of Sports Illustrated, since October 1 Boston teams have graced the cover six times if you include the World Series commemorative dition (which, incidentally, I do).

Nick Hornby Speaks

Over at The Atlantic's website, Jessica Murphy conducts an interview with Nick Hornby, who is one of my very favorite writers. He has a new book out, Slam, which is geared toward a young adult audience. Hornby also pens a great, quirky column in a magazine you should be reading, The Believer. And from the interview I discovered that he has a blog as well.

I read. A lot. It's sort of a professional imperative. And I love much of what I read -- scholarship, political commentary, reviews, and so forth. And yet there are certain writers whose work will always get me to stop what I am doing. Hornby is one. Chuck Klosterman is another. Both write readable, sometimes mesmerizing prose with a distinctive voice and worldview. Their work is quite removed (in many ways -- Hornby's Fever Pitch did influence Bleeding Red and I am writing a review essay in which Hornby's High Fidelity and several of Klosterman's books feature prominently) from anything I write about or teach. Some probably see them as fluff, but I don't buy that.

Accessibility should not be a bad word. Scholars in all fields (history is far from the worst) need to absorb this message. Clear, crisply written narrative history ought to be the gold standard in the field. Even for those writers whose narrative strengths do not measure up, the goal of clear, readable prose still should be foremost. Most writers could learn something about their craft from Nick Hornby.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waterboarding By Any Other Name

In a convincing op-ed at The Washington Post Evan Wallach, a former JAG and currently a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York and adjunct professor of who teaches the law of war at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School, wants us at least to call a spade a spade in the debate over waterboarding:
That term is used to describe several interrogation techniques. The victim may be immersed in water, have water forced into the nose and mouth, or have water poured onto material placed over the face so that the liquid is inhaled or swallowed. The media usually characterize the practice as "simulated drowning." That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is,the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.

The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government -- whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community -- has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

There can be little doubt that these forms of water-based interrogation are torture. We have always known that they are torture. And arguments of convenience to try to argue otherwise are little more than intellectual chicanery and amoral, indeed immoral, posturing.

Wearin' O' the Green

Courtesy of the Thunderstick, Ian Thomsen at SI onine has an article on the Celtics in which he says that things are good now, but issues loom. I think for now it's ok for C's fans simply to enjoy having our team be relevant again. The Big 3 have been every bit as good as advertised, but the NBA season is a long one. My favorite aspect of how they have played through just three games is that there has been great balance -- all three have had one or two great games, each has had a game when he was not the star. And the supporting cast has been great. If Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo can just keep the opposition honest it is going to be a very good season for the Green.

Oh -- and I'm sure those of you who aren't Boston sports fans are thrilled that four consecutive SI covers have had Boston teams on them. (Pats twice, Sox once, C's once, all wholly justifiable.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Representing the Lollipop Guild

I'm not sure what to make of this article in The Believer. Basically, it's about a fetishism for cute, little things and particularly for the marriages (real and mock) of these wee ones. Little people -- your midgets, your dwarves, what have you -- feature prominently. But so do pet weddings and other weird aspects of this bizarre fringe of quasi-erotica.

Someone help me figure out what to think of an article that has a paragraph like the following (and if you think I'm not using my puzzlement to promote this teaser, you really don't know me after all these years):

All royal courts of the day had their dwarfs. King Sigismund-Augustus of Poland had nine dwarfs while Catherine de’ Medici had only six but actively encouraged those six to engender more. Vitelli, a Roman cardinal, amassed thirty-nine to serve as waiters at a special dinner. But it was during the reign of Charles I, king of England from 1625 until he was beheaded by his people in 1649, Leslie Fielder claims, that “the erotic cult of the Dwarf” reached its peak and was perhaps most sumptuously embodied by all eighteen inches of Jeffery Hudson, whom Charles presented to his young bride hidden beneath the crust of a cold pie.
Mmmmm. Pie.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Alonzo Hamby on American Exceptionalism

Many of you by now know one of dcat's iron-clad rules: If my advisor, mentor, and friend Alonzo Hamby takes the time to write something, you can be certain that it is worth reading closely. Over at History News Network he has taken on the topic of American Exceptionalism with his typical insight and grace. I'm not certain that I entirely agree with him -- Hamby falls on the side of embracing the idea of American exceptionalism or something close to it -- largely because my own comparative work has led me to be instinctively wary of such arguments, but also because I usually want to steer clear of the political agenda that often lurks behind such assertions. But as he has done so often, Hamby has me rethinking my beliefs and looking at the question in a different way. That, I know, is exceptional.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A's for the C's

At The Boston Globe Jackie MacMullen and Bob Ryan (does any newspaper in America have a better 1-2 punch when it comes to basketball?) are effusive about the Celtics' 103-83 victory over the Wizards last night. It has been more than two decades since the C's last one a championship for the overcrowded rafters in the Garden (version 2.0). Adding an unprecedented 17th title suddenly does not seem a distant dream.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On: The Glory of Newspapers and the Pats' World Dominance

One of the great joys of being on the road and in a major city is the ability to read that city's daily newspaper. We dedidedly do not live in a golden age of newspapers, but almost despite themselves, local papers still provide a sense of a city and its character. More than that, though, is that a world class newspaper (and despite accusations to the contrary and the constant, sneering invocation in some ideological corners of the "Mainstream Media," or MSM, usually for not covering some story that may or may not actually be essential news, or for not covering a story the way the accuser feels it should be covered, there are world class papers in the United States) provides a tactile connection to the world. I can read The Washington Post online every day, and I do. But it is so much better to be able to hold the Post, to flip through it, to let the stories draw you in, to carry it around.

This unintended homage to newspapers is merely my way of directing you to Sally Jenkins' column today in the Post's sports section, which is easily one of the five best in the country. I probably would not have discovered it had I not been flipping through that sports section this morning. It provides the best non-Boston, non-Pats-fan perspective on the various pseudo-controversies swirling around the Patriots these days. It really is a fantastic column.

Now I need to go check out the op-ed pages. And then wash this damned ink off of my hands.