Friday, June 27, 2008

The Banality of Travel

Up at 4:00 am. Midland-Odessa to Houston. Sprint to catch my plane since we were delayed on the ground in Midland. Worry about luggage transferring. Houston to Jackson. Chill on plane. Jackson to BWI. Late by more than half an hour. Luggage takes forever to come out, which has me nervous as I have two hours to get to Dulles, which is where I'm leaving from for South Africa. (Dumb booking, don't ask.) Let Super Shuttle clerk convince me that the normal $74 shuttle may not get me there in time because of multiple stops so I should book the $128 solo trip, which she promises will arrive to fetch me in ten minutes. I'm convinced if wary. Catch shuttle. (Seventeen minutes later.) Get to Dulles with more than enough time to spare. Wonder if I'd have been ok with regular shuttle. Wonder if concerned shuttle clerk gets kickback. Wonder if it makes me a prick not to tip the guy more than the $2 that I do given the cost of the trip and the fact that I otherwise only had twenties.

Smooth sailing with South African Airways. Until we board. There is some failure in electric system. Delay. Temps rise. It must be 100 degrees in the cabin. At least there are only two of us in the four-seat middle row. Chat with seatmate, a South African with whom I share some interests. Flyflyfly. watch movies and tv shows and read and eat and have wine. Land in Dakar, where I've never been. Yeay! Do not get to leave plane. Boo! More electric failures. It must be 125 degrees in cabin. Go to door of plane, which is open and where we are allowed to look out on the forbidden land. Dakar is remarkably cool outside at 6 in the morning. Airport seems a bit isolated, except the to my mind nightmare security risk of a settlement of some sort that appears to be separated from the airstrip by, well, nothing. Bet with seatmate as to whether someone will join us. I assume worst: Yes, and they'll be fat. I happily lose bet. Late departure. Nearly two hours behind. I hope the person picking me up at airport from my guest lodge sticks around. I wonder if I would. Flyflyfly. Try to sleep in awkward positions. Flyflyfly. Note to self: Ordering the eggs for breakfast on a plane was a bad idea. Don't do that again.

Arrival -- 90 minutes+ late. Passport control. Stand in line. (An hour passes.) Passport control: Still standing in line. New security guy comes, tells us all to move to another line if we are not South African citizens. His predecessor had moved us all over to this line. I'm next to go. Pretend I don't hear. Rehearse nakedly dishonest answer in Afrikaans. Person in front of me hits snag at counter. Security guy behind me. Passport control lady calls me forward. Phew! Luggage waiting for me. Phew! Guy from B&B waiting for me. Phew! Drive to Melville. Get into guesthouse.

Go out. Eat lots of seafood. have some beer. Get back to guesthouse -- much easier to do than woman who runs place made it seem to be. Supposedly challenging secret stairway shortcut not daunting for people capable of walking straight down or up a hill of stairs and ignoring smell of urine. I can do both. Cannot figure out tv. Figure out tv. Crash. Wake up annoyingly early. Eat.

You're basically caught up. Travel carries with it its share of banalities.

For my actual substantive observations of my first twelve hours or so in South Africa go see my extensive post over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog or Africa Blog. That's where I'll chronicle most of the trip. Time to brave those stairs . . .

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Slice is a Babydaddy!

Our boy Homz is now a proud big papi. Congrats, big guy. I'm so happy for you all.


A.N.C. Rejects Outside Pressure on Zimbabwe

Southern Africa Bound

Tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am I begin a three-week trip to southern Africa. The main foci of the trip will be two conferences. One is on South African sports history at the University of Stellenbosch, where I'll be presenting a paper on rugby, race and nationalism in South Africa since the 1995 Eorld Cup, and the Historical Association of South Africa biennial meeting, which I usually try to attand, where I'll give a paper about white supremacy and black resistance in the US and South Africa in the 1940s. The latter conference is at my old home, Rhodes University, and the paper is basically a sectiopn from the introduction from my next book. I also will be conducting research and doing some leisure travel where I can squeeze it in.

But my other goal, and we'll have to see if it is even feasible, is to go to Zimbabwe for a few days to see firsthand the situation there. I have been writing extensively about Zimbabwe lately, and have another op-ed coming out in the Cape Argus tomorrow (in which I manage to invoke the Freedom Rides in a historical analogy. Synergy!) which hopefully won't register with the good folks north of the Limpopo. Zim isn't especially friendly to those practicing journalism without a license, and while I am not a professional journalist, something tells me that such an argument might represent a distinction without a difference in the minds of ZANU-PF thugs. Nonetheless, I want to see what is going on in Zim, and I assume that I am both small beer and that the border control folks do not routinely access Google or read the Cape Argus and remember its contents. Besides, how bad can a Zimbabwean jail be?

The main point is that I'll be away, posting here may be light, most of my on-site reportage will go on the FPA blogs, and I hope to publish some longer pieces either while I'm there or after I get back. Nonetheless I'll update as I can.

Talking With the Enemy

The debate over whether to talk to dictators is hopelessly silly. Of course we always have, of course we always will, and almost certainly we should. in another political climate this would be a nonissue. This is, alas, not another political climate.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Technology's Burdens

Rob Horning at Popmatters has an insightful post on consumerism and the false allure of free stuff that more than anything speaks to me about the tyranny of technology that supposedly makes our life better by giving us more access to free information at our fingertips. And for those of us who work in the realm of knowledge and information there is nothing more seductive than free information.

And yet at least for me, this access is at best a dual-edged sword. I get probably a score of news sources sent to my main email account regularly. Most of this I can justify as work, at least broadly, inasmuch as so much of it helps me stay abreast of African developments that are crucial to my writing on the Foreign Policy Association blogs and elsewhere. But couple these with far too many listservs, and then with a slew of personal email or email from actual people related to professional stuff, and then emails that qualify as junk, and then emails that qualify as semi-welcome junk (emails I signed up for that nonetheless is geared toward selling me something), and then emails regarding financial stuff -- credit card statements, cell phone, etc. and you begin to see the problem. On a day when I'm diligent about emails I find that I'll stay on top of that day's inbox -- unless something big happens in Africa, say -- and may whittle away at ten emails from, more than likely, yesterday, before other duties intercede. then to top that off with the fact that my account was violated some time ago, and I am still dealing with the ramifications (oh yes -- whoever got in there not only copied my contact list but stole it. If we know one another I probably don't have your email address any longer).

And so it was with equal parts fear and loathing that I loaded my main and campus email accounts on to my new Blackberry today. The deluge is already coming. And I asked for it.

(Via Andrew Sullivan, who picked it up from Nicholas Carr

Sunday, June 22, 2008

McCain's Energy Follies

In recent weeks John McCain has been misrepresenting and obfuscating both his and Barack Obama's record and views on energy policy. Newsweek and are on the case.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hooray Tom!

You should all take time to read Tom's latest article, A Troubled Past: The Army and Security on the Mexican Border, 1915-1917, which just came out in the Military Review.

Schilling and the Hall of Fame

Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? That's the question Nick Cafardo addresses in today's Boston Globe. Schilling, as you may know, is undergoing surgery and is out for the year and may be done for good. He earned his place in Boston lore with his legendary postseason performances in leading the Sox to two World Series titles. The question is, will that be enough to garner him entry into Cooperstown?

Schilling is a classic borderline Hall of Famer. His overall numbers are good but not spectacular. For better or for worse, pitchers are assessed by a statistic that is rarely indicative of the pitcher's performance alone, wins. If Schilling's career is over, he'll finish with 216 wins. Impressive, but far from extraordinary, especially for the rarefied air of the Hall of Fame. Most of his stats fall into that slot. And yet those postseason numbers. 11-2 in 19 starts with a 2.23 ERA and four complete games. A World Series co-MVP with Randy Johnson. And of course the two championships with the Sox, including the iconic bloody sock game against the Yankees.

My heart says yes. My head says let's wait five years and see how we feel then. Either way, though, if this is the end, as a Red Sox fan all I can say is "thanks." Curt Schilling has been the ultimate gamer over the course of his career, and as an elder statesman with the Sox he took young pitchers under his wing. The Cooperstown worries can wait. For now, let's hope Schilling gets a ring and a World series winner's share for 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cracking the Granite State

At The Washington Post EJ Dionne shows how close the presidential contest is likely to be in New Hampshire, and how in a close election the Granite State and other small states might play the role of kingmaker. When I was growing up in the land of John Sununu the idea that rock ribbed republican New Hampshire could be in play for Democrats would have been absurd. And yet given demographic and political changes in the state (which I have always argued was less conservative than libertarian) in recent years and the state's recent trends, I do not quite grasp why Dionne seems to surprised by these changes, especially given that nosedive this administration has taken in popularity and reputation since 2004.

The C's Top Ten?

In an early effort to place the Celtics' recent title in historical perspective, Bob Ryan ranks his Top Ten Celtics teams of all time. Not surprisingly, the 1985-1986 team tops his list. Surprisingly this year's team gets number two. But most shocking to me is that of his top ten, three did not win the championship, and one did not even make the finals. Bob Ryan may be the most respected basketball writer in history, so I will tread lightly with my criticism, but it seems a dubious decision to argue that the team that has the most NBA titles has three teams that were better than ten championship teams. I am firmly of the belief that "better" being subjective, winning it all is a better sign of greatness than whatever we project onto teams that did not win it all. Still, the whole excercise is thought provoking, serves as a reminder of the storied history of the C's, and is fully worth it if only for this picture:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Celtic Pride: Or, The Wearing of the Grin

I have been remarkably silent about the Celtics over the last few weeks.

Don't mistake this for anything other than what it is: I'm superstitious as all hell.

Curses are dumb. They are not real. But I'll be damned if I am going to be the one who messes with fate.

And so for two months I've been wearing the same C's hat. I've been drinking the same Sam Adams beer during games. And given how the Patriots performed in the Super Bowl I've been uncharacteristically humble about the guys in green. Given that I'm a Red Sox fan who well remembers life before October 2004, I've been fatalistic. Given that it has been more than half of my life since the C's were the most dominant team in the history of American professional sports, I've been intolerably uptight. In sum, I've been miserable (albeit with good beer and a comfortable hat at my disposal). If I have learned anything, I have learned that there is no commutative property of sports. That the Red Sox and Patriots have been successful has had almost no bearing on my emotional reaction to the Celtics of late.

Odds are that if you are reading now, you know exactly what happened in the game last night. The Celtics crushed the Lakers. Humiliated them. The C's suffocated the Lakers when the visitors were on offense (enough of the Kobe as Jordan comparisons, eh?) and buried them when the C's were on O. The Big Three proved to be stars, the supporting cast overwhelmed, and the bench made all the difference, outplaying the much more heralded Lakers Bench Mob for the entire series. It was quite clear from early on that the better team came to play, and while the team from Hollywood had come in hopes of something magic (or Magic) happening, instead Red reached on down and ... .

If you are a Celtics fan a breathless recap will be thrilling to you. But there are better places to get that. (See Bob Ryan's article here, Dan Shaughnessy's here, Sportsguy's here and if you are into schadenfreude -- and you know you are -- I'd strongly recommend the columns by the LA Times' Bill Plaschke, TJ Simers, and Mark Heisler.) And if you are not a Celtics fan this is just annoying -- more Boston sports crap in an era where Boston sports crap seems to be ubiquitous. (Nota bene: Don't blame us. Root for better teams.)

I am happy as a lifelong Celtics fan. I am happy as a longtime Paul Pierce booster.

I am happy as a guy who was lucky enough to be born into a legacy that included Bill Russell and Red and Cousy and Havlicek and Tommy and Jo Jo and the Jones boys and Luscy and Cowens. I am happy as a guy who grew up with Larry and the Chief and McHale, but also DJ and Cornbread and Henderson and Walton. I am happy as a guy who lived through the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. I am happy as a guy who saw a generation of basketball fans grow up worshipping Jordan and anointing Kobe because they did not know what came before them. I am happy as a fan. Title number 17, against the Lakers, at the New Garden, with my favorite Celtic in a generation leading the way. It does not get much better than this.

[All photos from The Boston Globe/Getty Images.]

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Where the desert meets the ocean and Germany meets Africa you'll find Swakopmund, one of my favorite little niches.

[The New York Times]

And now The New York Times has to go ruin this secret gem by telling you all about it. If it makes a difference, and I doubt that it will, I'd advise you not to go because I got robbed in a big way there some time ago. (I'd go back in a heartbeat. But don't tell your friends.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Take Me Out to the . . . Concession Stands

If you've been looking for a culinary assessment of the offerings at every Major League ballpark (and you know you have) look no further. The New York Times has yor back, with an interactive map with pics. Mmmm, hot dogs . . .

Richard Wright

At the Times Literary Supplement James Campbell has a fantastic review essay on Richard Wright. Wright's Native Son and one of his essays plays a vital role in the opening pages of Freedom's Main Line.

From the Primaries to the Veepstakes

He has a bit of a temper. He is inclined to say what he thinks, irrespective of the consequences (and to the chagrin of his handlers). He entered the primary season as a respected lion of the Senate. He had some integrity issues earlier in his political career, in the 80s, but those seem to be by-and-large behind him. He once ran unsuccessfully for his party's nomination prior to 2008. He began the primary season almost an afterthought in his party. And now everyone seems to be talking about him.

I am referring, of course, to Senator Joe Biden.

I liked Biden when the primary season started and felt that he ought to have been considered more seriously than he was, especially given his legitimate gravitas on issues such as foreign relations and the judiciary. Nonetheless, the voters spoke. But as soon as he dropped out I hoped his name would reemerge, whether as a possible Vice Presidential pick or else as a high-level cabinet (or cabinet-type) nominee, such as Secretary of State, for head of the National Security Council, or possibly SecDef.

Indeed I think he might serve the administration better in one of those positions, but the Veepstakes are as much about serving the ticket now as about serving the administration later. I am not convinced just how much the choice for VP actually influences the way voters act, but as a symbolic gesture it is vitally important. Biden would represent a fine choice and, to my mind, more of a dream ticket (especially in terms of winning) than one involving Hillary as Veep.

Boston Days

Sportsguy has a fantastic column from earlier in the week in which he juxtaposes the flourishing Boston sports scene, and especially the re-emergence of the Celtics, with what he sees as a renaissance of the city of Boston, as embodied in the Big Dig. I think there is a great deal to this argument, as does the Slice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obama and the "Far Left"

Here is Andrew Sullivan's take on what will certainly be the key argument that the Republicans make this fall (because it is the key argument that Republicans make every election year):
That's the exhausted meme that Bill Bennett tries to aim at Obama. It is the meme the old right need to force this election back into the red-blue post-Vietnam boomer rubric which is all Bennett understands. But let's be clear. "Far left" means to the right of Clinton in healthcare, right? "Far left" means tax rates broadly within the post-Reagan parameters and certainly far to the right of, say, Richard Nixon. "Far left" means retaining the right to bomb Pakistan if al Qaeda is deemed a threat there. "Far left" means a policy of withdrawal from Iraq that, as Bill Kristol observes, is increasingly close to McCain's. "Far left" means a man that Joe Lieberman was thrilled to get to support his last Senate campaign. "Far left" means a "cap-and-trade" position on climate change very close to John McCain's. "Far left" means well to the racial right of Jesse Jackson. "Far left" means opposition to same-sex marriage and to a federal constitutional amendment (very close to John McCain). "Far left" means a policy on torture embraced by the Republican nominee and endorsed by every American president apart from George W. Bush.

This "far left" meme is meaningless. It says everything about the intellectual bankruptcy of the talk radio right and nothing about the substantive polices and challenges of a president Obama.

Of course it is meaningless, indeed stupid, to call Obama, or really any other Democrat in the primary campaigns who had even a theoretical shot of being successful, an extremist. That will be the accusation, and it may or may not persuade those people too dumb to know the difference not to vote for him. the good thing is that most of the people who believe Obama to be too conservative are, almost by ontological definition, not in line to be persuaded.

John McCain can take comfort in the fact that the equally empty accusations that he is an extreme conservative will not work in any meaningful way. Do I think McCain is too conservative? He is for me. But more importantly, I think he is wrong. More importantly, I think he is more wrong than he was in 2000, because he has shifted rightward on a whole lot of policies. So not only is he more wrong, he is also less principled. Which is a bit of a tough pill to swallow in light of the fact that his principles are what made him most appealing across the aisle.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sexism? Um, No.

It is sort of crazy -- and a sign of the desperation that has long sense emerged within the Clinton campaign -- for Hillary Clinton or her supporters to claim sexism as a viable explanation for her inability to secure the Democratic nomination. For Hillary to claim sexism in the face of a black candidate sort of begs the obvious question: Was Hillary's support based on racism? After all, one cannot possibly claim the legitimately pernicious but in this case far from clear bias of sexism without having to address the much more clear, and in terms of American history far more pernicious, bias of racism against Obama. In short, it's the wrong gambit against the wrong guy. In the who-got-done-wrong in US history faceoff, African Americans pretty much prevail handily in any discussion in which they are pitted against rich white American women (point of fact: the second-most privileged category of human beings ever to walk the face of the planet).

Monday, June 02, 2008

More C's-Lakers (And a Plea For Tix)

Via deadspin, Free Darko has its C's-Lakers finals preview and supports much of what I think about Paul Pierce. It looks as if the Thunderstick and I will be pressing our noses against the glass wishing we were on the inside on Thursday. Unless you happen to have a couple of extra tickets. You don't have a couple of extra tickets? Do you?



Sunday, June 01, 2008

Touring the Civil Rights Movement

In this week's Boston Globe travel section veteran civil rights activist Charles Cobb, who was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for much of the 1960s, provides a guided tourof tourist sites commemorating the Civil Rights movement in the South. This article seems to represent something of a reduction of Cobb's new book, On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail.

Beat LA!

If you're younger than thirty, you likely have no idea just how big a rivalry the Celtics and the Lakers once had. That rivalry has gone dormant for two decades because both teams have fallen upon hard times, and when the lskers were truly great the Celtics were, well, not. The Celtics and Lakers are the top two brands in the history of the NBA. They have combined to win thirty titles in a league just over six decades old. The magic-Bird years represented the apogee of the rivalry, but prior to the 1980s the Celtics and Lakers had dueled it out in the 1960s, albeit in a lopsided series of competitions that the Celtics dominated.

On Thursday the rivalry commences anew, and if there is any justice in this world I will be at the game. I head to Boston Tuesday morning for a couple of days of shenenigans with friends before I head to a college reunion that I am looking forward to despite the fact that it makes me feel old. The Thunderstick and I have agreed to make a solid push for tickets Thursday despite the fact that we won't be able to sit together.

Kobe and the Lakers have taken on the role of heavy favorites, largely because of the comparable ease with which LA rolled through the Western Conference playoffs. But I am not buying that Kobe is that much more dominant than LeBron James, and the rest of the Lakers' team, while better than Cleveland's does not strike me as measurably better than what Detroit put on the floor. Mine may be a homer's call, but I believe that the combo of Pierce (still my favorite current Celtic), Garnett, and a rejuvenated Ray Allen, plus the tendency of the role players to step up as Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo and so many others have done this postseason, will lead the Celtics to banner number seventeen in six games.

Beat LA! Beat LA! Beat LA!