Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Brainer Alert

My glee at Karl Rove, who has arguably done more to harm American politics than any single individual in a generation or more, being cited for contempt by the House Judiciary Committee is overwhelmed only my belief that this was an absolute no brainer. And I would like to think that I would argue the same (in terms of legal culpability) were Rove a Democrat. Congress subpoenad Rove. He was called by the country's highest legislative body to testify. And, in a classic example of Rovian hubris and arrogance, Rove declared that he did not have to do so, that in effect, he was bigger than the United States Congress.

My guess is that for many of us who loathe the Bush administration, it is this arrogance that we most hate. This sense of not only being right, but of righteousness where most people would be at least a little bit self-reflective. Because aside from the arrogance, this administration has also shown a breathtaking level of incompetence. My view on the Iraq War was always ambivalent, but I could and did make a case for waging a war against Iraq. I also made a case as to why I did not trust this administration to wage that war well or competently. And this is where I see the biggest failure with regard to iraq -- arrogance mixed with incompetence that has reached such a perfect storm that the administration and its defenders actually manage to muster up something resembling outrage over the unwillingness of the anti-war types, whose own idiocy is often manifest, to recognize recent successes in Iraq. But it is this administration whose chief Iraq War architect sneered at reporters that the war would take six days, six weeks, but he could not imagine it taking six months.

Into the sixth year of the war that was supposed to take a fraction as long and cost a fraction as much, we are now supposed to genuflect to the sagacity of our leaders who may inadvertantly have stumbled into a modicum of success? It's ironic that one of the few good lines that President Bush has managed to squeeze out of his malaprop-prone mumblehole was his reference to the "soft bigotry of low expectations," because his advocates now expect his presidency to be graded on a curve so soft that it redefines the idea of lowering the bar.

So Karl Rove is likely to face contempt charges. And Republicans are likely to bewail the partisan nature of Democrats daring to act upon the obvious. But the reality is that Rove refused to respond to a subpoena that the country's lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, issued. There was once a time when the Republicans were Amnerica's self-proclaimed law and order party. But apparently there are no angles to be played when the scofflaws don't play to type. Suffice it to say that rich, white, connected Republican operatives are not that type.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Zim, the Freedom Rides, and Travel: Treble Self Indulgence Alert!!!

It's belated because I was out of the country, but on June 25, just before Zimbabwe's runoff election, the Cape Argus published another op-ed piece of mine. In this one I argue that Morgan Tsvangirai's withdrawal from the race, while fully understandable, might set a bad precedent. I then go on to invoke the Freedom Riders, drawing a comparison between how the3 students took over the Freedom Rides after the violence in Alabama broiught the original rides to a halt, the rationale being that sending the message that violence can stop the movement would have had devastating consequences.

(Speaking of the Freedom Rides, I received my edits of my manuscript last night. There is some, but not an overwhelming amount of, work to do. It is always nice to see signs of progress.)

[Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we laid our heads last night, is lovely. Off to Arizona in a bit.]

Monday, July 28, 2008

In the 'Zona

Mrs. Dcat and I are hitting the road for a trip to spend a week or so in Arizona with friends of dcat, including this guy. Posting will be light.

The End of the Manny Era

Is Manny Ramirez on his way out in Boston? Dan Shaughnessy says defnitely, and that was before this weekend's nonsense, which has caused Shaughnessy to be even more barbed.

I hate to see the Manny era end this way. And it clearly is ending. But if he can lead the Red Sox to another title, I think all Sox fans will look back fondly on his tenure in a Sox uniform.

Wind Power

T. Boone Pickens, Texas oilman extraordinaire, uber-booster of Oklahoma State University, and the seeming embodiment of voracious speculative capitalist has also become something else, something quite unexpected in recent years: a voice for, for lack of a better term, going green. One of his latest schemes is to harness something that Texas, and especially West Texas, has in abundance: wind.

Texas already does more with wind power than any state in the nation. Driving from Odessa to San Antonio we cover about 80 miles on state highways that take us through the small town of Crane and the tiny town of McCamey. Just South of McCamey, high up on mesas that jut up on both sides of the highway, are hundreds of enormous windmills. If Pickens sees the prospect for helping us wean ourselves from the very commodity that has made him rich, surely there is something to it.

I am at best a soft environmentalist. I've no doubt about global warming and that we as humans contribute to it. But I am not crusader on environmentalism, and although it is blasphemy to say as much among the true green crowd, the environment does not rank in my top five, meybe top ten political or policy concerns. But we are blind if we do not start thinking of other ways to heat our homes and run our cars and dispose of our junk. The wind, the sun, and water are powerful forces, and are elements that are as yet largely untapped for power. Yes, right now mosty of them are inefficient, but my belief in progress is such that I would imagine that we can fine ways better to harness them and in so doing to make a transition from oil dependency to a world in which oil is part of, but not the brunt of, the equation.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sleeper on Brooks

Over at TPM Cafe Jim Sleeper, hardly a doctrinaire liberal, eviscerates a recent David Brooks column, accusing the New York Times columnist of "intellectual usury." This summation of Brooks' ouevre capture pretty well what I feel about the man and his output:
His pseudo-scholarly ruminations flatter some readers and make others deferential, but they are always suspiciously easy to follow. They're the intellectual equivalent of "cash back" on an easy loan of false knowledge that leaves you feeling "had," empty-handed,and politically paralyzed. That is how Brooks makes his living: He charms you up the garden path toward a politics that is nowhere.

That about seems to capture it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dear Diary . . .

Tom has a new diary entry in which he talks about "slippery snippets," and yes, its every bit as sexy as you might imagine. Grrrrwwwwllll!!!

Safundi and Southern Identity: Self Indulgence Alert

Jeff Woods, a grad school colleague and friend, and I are the guest editors for a special issue of Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies devoted to the theme of Southern Identity. In addition to editing duties, I contributed the introduction and the conclusion/response to two prominent scholars who wrote responses to the issue. we are proud of the final product.

We came up with the idea at the Southern Historical Association's annual meeting in 2003, put forward a call for papers in January 2004 and have been working on the project in fits and starts ever since. originally conceived as a book project, in the end, doing it as a journal issue made more sense and worked out well for us. If you are in academia and your library does not subscribe to Safundi, make an inquiry, request it, lie and say that it is essential to your work. If you are an individual, subscribe. It is well worth it.

I have taken the liberty of placing a link to this issue under our slowly expanding list of books and similar publications.

Oldy McOlderson Speaks

From this week's Sports Illustrated (Print edition -- no link) "They said it," Bill Webber, the oldest living former Major League player at 100 years old commented on today's players:
"The hair's too long. Their beards are too evident. They're a grubby looking bunch of caterwaulers."

Greatest. Quotation. Ever.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Training Camp Kicks Off in Foxboro

Although I am excited for both college and pro football in the abstract, I am not really ready for the reality of the Patriots starting up again. Given that they were the best sports team I have ever seen for 18 games last year and given how the season ended, the hangover has had a dampening effect on my spirits. The Pats climbed to such heights last year only to fall short at the end that it is almost unimaginable where they can go this year. Part of me thinks that they are likely to go 13-3 and win the Super Bowl with less history on the line and consequently less hype. Part of me worries that they will get old all at once as happens in the NFL.

But taking the emotional investment out of the equation, it is hard to imagine the Patriots not being one of the best teams in the NFL this season. They won't slice through the league like they did last season, and there will almost certainly be no run toward an undefeated season, but they should still be playing in January. Training camp, which starts in a few hours in Foxboro, will be a bit tough to endure because there will be a lot of reflection on what almost was, but once the games get started all wil be fine again. Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe has ten storylines to watch develop as training camp kicks into gear.

Come Fill Your Glasses Up!

Williams has a new head track and field coach. My old head coach, Pete Farwell, who some time ago stepped down from head track coaching duties to focus on his championship cross country teams and coaching the distance runners on the track team, took the program over again this year after some controversy caused his successor to step down. After a national search, one-time Williams assistant coach Fletcher Brooks has been hired to take over the program. A former All American shot putter and football letterman at Allegheny College, Fletcher is also the brother of my friend and former teammate Ethan Brooks, who had a nice career in the NFL, including a couple of years as a starter for the Baltimore Ravens. Fletcher will be leaving MIT, where he has been head coach of the women's team and has worked with the men and women throwers.

I have no doubt that Fletcher Brooks will lead the Ephs to more glory in the years to come. As an alumnus not only of the school, but also of the program, I have high expectations for him to have a long and successful tenure at the head of the Williams College track and field program. All he has to do every year is beat Amherst, win Little Three, ECAC, and DIII New Englands and contest at the All New England meet, produce All Americans, and make noise nationally. Basically, all of the things that Williams track has been accomplishing just about every year since 1990 or so.

[Gratuitous and self indulgent shot of the winning long jump at the 1993 Williams Relays.]

Go Ephs!

Hometown Media

It has not been a great few days for the print media in my home town and its environs.My dad told me the other day that the weekly paper that covers local news, the Argus Champion, is closing its doors. It is hard to explain what the Argus means in a town like Newport. There is a daily newspaper, the Eagle Times, based in the (larger) town next door, Claremont. But the weekly newspaper always held the soul of newport. Or it did until a few years ago, when the coverage started leaning toward some of the more affluent nearby towns. For many in Newport, this is the real reason why the Argus failed.

In high school the Argus was especially good at covering local sports. Each week the paper chose an athlete of the week, and a local grocer sponsored the award by giving the winner two free steaks. I must have had two dozen steaks as a result of this partnership, the sort of thing that characterizes, indeed defines, small towns. The Eagle Times does a fine job of covering high school sports, but its coverage area is such that it encompasses well more than a dozen small communities and their high schools. The Argus was for our town and our teams, with a strong emphasis on Newport Tiger sports. I so rarely get home, and must admit that I do not go online to look at the Argus at all often. But like every other institution in my hometown, just knowing it was there has always been comforting.

On a lighter note, yet another basically local paper, the Valley News, which was based a few towns away and thus rarely figured in our day-to-day lives (unless we accomplished something against one of the Upper Valley teams in sports) has made news lately for a rather embarrassing snafu. On July 21, the newspaper misspelled its own name. On the front page:
The paper later sheepishly apologized:

[Hat tip to Patrick Appel, one of the writers still subbing in for Andrew Sullivan, for the Valley News gaffe.]

Wistful for The Wire

So I go to look at my Tivo (or whatever mine is called -- Tivo has become the Kleenex of digital tv recorders) list last night, and my reaction was almost wistful to seeing an episode of The Wire, the greatest television show ever, newly minted on the newly recorded programs. Apparently HBO is re-airing one of the old seasons, perhaps the first. I have a tirade built up about the fact that The Wire got snubbed again by Emmy voters, forever confirming in my mind that Emmy's are useless and indicative of nothing, certainly not the best that television has to offer, but I just do not have the energy or time. trust me that the bile is there, though. Recently The Guardian's Sam Delaney interviewed Dominic West, who played drunken, womanizing, profanity-spewing (God Bless him every one) Jimmy McNulty.

The Thunderstick has been pestering me to start watching Lost on dvd, and I finally got season one, but I'm not going to kid you -- I'm feeling a huge magnetized force pulling me toward Baltimore's mean streets. Fortunately I hear great things about Generation Kill, the latest project from the guys who brought us The Wire, and I'm Tivoing that as well, so perhaps David Simon & Co.'s take on Iraq will substitute for my desire to get back in the game of Bodymore, Murderland.

Food Service Memories

If you have ever worked in a restaurant, you have horror stories. Rude customers (let's just give them numbers one through five on this list), imperious prima donna bosses, the revelation that food can be pretty gross, and, if you've worked in the kitchen (which is my background) you know just how much manual labor is involved when it is your shift to wash the dishes. And then there is the heat, good God, the heat.

Despite all of the complaints, I owe a debt of gratitude to the time I spent in the kitchen at the Backside Inn in Goshen, New Hampshire. (Goshen represent!) While there I learned how to cook. I spent one summer doing nothing but baking and making salads, and that gave me a solid foundation and passion for cooking that never subsided. And that summer I got out of the nighttime kitchen drudgework. I was the equivalent of a white-collar worker that last summer.

Memories of that time came back to me when I read this interview in The Boston Globe with someone known only as "The Waiter," who is the keeper of Waiter Rant, a blog based on his table-jackeying in New York City. He is also the author of a new book, Waiter Rant: Thanks For the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. I'm sure most of you have done your time in the food service industry. This may either bring back deeply repressed memories or stir that bittersweet blend of nostalgia and revulsion that so many incidents from our past do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Zim's Talks

Over at the FPA Africa Blog I have my analysis of the Zimbabwe "talks about talks" that has led to an agreement between Robert Mugabe/ZANU-PF to meet with Morgan Tsvangirai/MDC to try to settle the crises there. Let's just say that I am not especially optimistic, even if I am hopeful.


The blog Oddee has a feature (with lots of great pictures) on the ten most amazing ghost towns in the world. I have only been to one of these, but it is the one ranked at the top of the list, Kolmanskop in Namibia. It is every bit as spectacular as the pictures indicate, as is the entire Skeleton Coast of Namibia.

Hat tip to Patrick Appel, one of Andrew Sullivan's pinch hitters while the doyen of blogging is taking a break.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The New England Revolution: Is There Anything They Can't Do (Other, I Mean, Than Win an MLS Title)?

In a pre-9/11 world the story of members of the New England Revolution subduing a clearly deranged streaker on a cross-country flight would fall into the category of amusing stories that bloggers use to fill out their content (guilty!). Although the story is absurd, it is also easy to imagine why "Some passengers became frantic during the incident." And even if you are a passenger who did not become frantic, and even if you are no pollyanna, a closed space with childrfen is probably not the time you are going to chuckle about a streaker. A lot of guys I know, myself included, would have jacked the guy in the face the first time the guy popped out of the bathroom in the altogether. Nonetheless I look forward to seeing how Homeland Security and the FAA overreact to this event and come up with utterly irrelevant and improper responses, a la the arbitrary and absurd 3 oz. bottles-in-ziplocks solution to a non-problem.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Today marks Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's 90th birthday. The great man is slowed but still robust, with his characteristic grace and wit still intact. As South Africa muddles through, the country's leaders would do well to dwell on Mandela and his meaning, not merely his undeniable symbolic power, and not even the mythology that surrounds him -- in some cases rightfully -- but rather on his approach to leadership and governing.

Mandela's greatness stems not from his perfection -- he was not perfect and would be the first to recognize as much -- but rather from the humility of his approach, on his willingness to compromise, on his loyalty, and on his unparallelled integrity. As just one example of a shortcoming leading to positive action, Mandela recognized even before he had left office that he had fallen short on what would prove to be one of the country's, the region's, biggest challenges, the threat of HIV-AIDS. And so his foundation has tackled that issue head-on and in so doing has done much good on that scourge that so haunts the country.

Mandela emerged from 27 years on imprisonment by a regime that deserved no quarter. But Mandela knew that in order to accomplish his goals of a non-racial, or multi-racial South Africa with one-person, one-vote democracy, he would have to negotiate with his enemies. And so he went about establishing the conditions for negotiation, cajoling some of his more skeptical comrades while at the same time making clear to the National Party the parameters within which negotiations would happen. Mandela was not the sole, perhaps was not even the most important, negotiator for the African National Congress, but he was the most important figure in the negotiation process, and knowing this, Mandela leveraged his identity and his leadership to bring about the end result that he desired.

Nelson Mandela will not live forever, yet he will live on. the question is how he will live on: As the father of a new South Africa forged in the consensus of the Freedom Charter or as the lamented apogee of an ANC gone awry. It is too facile to speak of historical crossroads, and yet South Africa certainly seems to be dealing roughly with the post-Mandela era. Thabo Mbeki will likely leave office scorned, his absence not long lamented despite his own well-earned status as an ANC exile leader. Jacob Zuma is hardly off to a promising start as the president of the ANC, and though it appears that he and his supporters may well find a way to cause the corruption charges against him to evaporate, as the country's president Zuma seems detined to be a divider rather than a uniter. South Africa does not need another Mandela -- there can be no such thing and we've been lucky to have the one -- but what it needs is leaders who look beyond Mandela's symbolism, beyond the birthday praise, however insufficient in relation to what the man accomplished and has meant to so many, and who can capture the essence of what Mandela wanted for his country and his world.

Grown men are not supposed to have heroes, or in any case are not supposed to worship them publicly. But Mandela is my hero. And he is the hero of millions. Long may he live in the minds and hearts and actions of South Africans and people the world over. More important, long may he live.

[Crossposted at the FPA South Africa Blog and the FPA Africa Blog]

Back to SA!

Naturally after a month out of the country, while still dealing with jet lag (I never4 get jetlag coming east to west except that this time with the layover in Dakar I got in at 6 in the morning in the States) two days later it seemed like a good idea to drive down to San Antonio for the weekend. The drive went smoothly yesterday, but I was out by 9:30 last night, something that happens about twice a year as I'm normall;y a very late-night person. I'll be here for the next few days and will post as I can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the USA!

40+ hours, one lost piece of luggage, three movies, several television shows, two read books, several newspapers, and virtually no sleep later, I arrived back home last night. I am catching up on life and will resume posting soon.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog and the FPA South Africa Blog.]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Departure Day

After three weeks here in South Africa, this evening I will board a South African Airways plane bound for Washington, DC’s Dulles International Airport via Dakar, Senegal. If all goes well I will land at 6:00 am eastern time tomorrow, Tuesday, at which point I’ll hope that I can get to BWI in time to catch my onward flight that will eventually take me back to Texas.

Leaving South Africa is always bittersweet for me. I love this country, its people, its culture and politics and sport and even, in odd ways, its history. And every time I leave I have no real idea when I will next be back. Next year? 2010? As of right now, I am simply not sure. South Africa is a part of my life, a vital part, and when I leave I will miss it even as I am excited to be home again, to see my wife and friends, to sleep in my own bed, and not to live out of a bag.

Over the course of the next few days I will continue my assessments about what i have seen and done in the hopes that it will continue to shed light on how I see South Africa right now, in the middle of 2008. Between now and then I have much traveling to do with a very cranky back. in the airport I am set to see a Zimbabwean friend who has fallen on difficult times here in South Africa. And then I’ll leave South Africa again, knowing full well that I will return, soon if not soon enough, to this place I have so come to love over the last decade-plus.

[Crossposted at the FPA South Africa Blog and the FPA Africa Blog.]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

South African Politics

I have written some of my observations about South African politics at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog and Africa Blog. Please do check one of them out if you get a chance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Back in Contact

My apologies for the silence here for the last week or so. Traveling in South Africa sometimes means not having the sort of internet access or opportunity to write as I might like. The last few days have taken me from Cape Town to Grahamstown and Rhodes University, one of my old homes. From there I came up to Johanneburg where my South African adventure will end without the hoped-for Zimbabwe trip for reasons simultaneously byzantine and prosaic.

In the next 48 hours before I leave for my return flight to the US I shall make some observations about a number of facets of South African life as it is in 2008.

Cross-posted at the FPA's South Africa Blog and Africa Blog.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July (And the Meaning of America)

To my readers in the United States: Happy 4th of July!

To my readers in South Africa and anywhere else on the globe: Happy Friday!

In the last dozen years I believe I have spent more American Independence Day holidays outside of the United States than within it, with most of those spent here in South Africa. Being abroad usually provides an interesting perspective on one's own country. I consider myself to be patriotic in the most important and perhaps least jingoistic sense in that I love my country but I see its flaws. I honestly have no idea what people mean when they say that the United States is the "best country in the world." I guess I do not dispute the assertion at its essence, but I have no idea what "best" means, and why those who make the assertion do as much with such totality. The best at what? The best by what measurement? Is patriotism simply the willingness to rank arbitrarily one's country by some sort of flow chart or Olympic medal chart? I will grant that the United States is the most powerful nation on earth militarily, politically, economically, and culturally. And as a result I think it can be argued, and I would, that the United States is the most important nation on earth. But nation-states not being reducable to one's favorite sports team or top-five pop bands, I see neither utility nor meaning in the "best country in the world" mania that strikes my most jingoistic countrymen and women.

At the same time, it is always telling to see what others think of one's own country. I have found the supposed anti-Americanism that is supposedly pervading the world to be vastky overstated. I am certain there are places where that sentiment is strong, such as in much of the Middle East and in certain quarters in Europe, say. But on the whole what I find, especially once I convince the listener that I am not an agent of my state and that I do not represent American policy (even if I may defend elements of it or the larger framework within which that policy operates) I will have engaging, if occasionally lively, conversations.

The fiasco in Iraq has not done the US any favors abroad, nor has the arrogance our current administration has put forth in presenting the American face to the world. But at the same time most people in South Africa and elsewhere understand that our administrations are temporal where the American state is not. And so what I hear most often are questions about the current campaign for the presidency, and whether Obama can win, and if McCain is a Bush clone.

It is my experience that the rest of the world is very much interested in the United States and its role in world affairs and looks at America with a combination of awe and fear and respect and admiration and concern and envy. This may be impossible to quantify, but it is a lot more interesting, and telling, than simple assertions that America is "hated" or loved.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog and the FPA South Africa Blog.]

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Reasons I Travel

At the end of the day, travel is, for me, about people. Whether I am returning to Africa or to the UK, places I visit regularly, where I have lived and worked, or whether visiting someplace for the first time, such as when I went to China a couple of years back, the most important component to me is always the people I meet, and friends new and old. This is not to say that there are not other factors -- work, for example, certainly requires me to travel quite regularly, and provides the justification for these trips. And like anyone who leaves home a lot, I like experiences as well, whether cultural, aesthetic, adventure, or what have you.

But the most important element of travel is people. I am staying in Sea Point, in Cape Town, with my good friend Doug, a black Zimbabwean who has lived in South Africa for more than a decade. We met in 1997 when we were at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, and he is one of the people I always try to meet up with when I return. The time here will be too brief, but it is important, indeed crucial, that I spend it here. The conference in Stellenbosch provides another example. I walked into the conference venue knowing of a handful of the people there but actually knowing only one, a grad student at The University of Texas who I nonetheless always seem to see in South Africa. By the time I left Stellenbosch yesterday I had made a handful of new friends, some of whom I'll maintain contact with professionally, a few of whom I will likely remain friends with over the years.

In some ways I think I'be grown almost sanguine about the opportunities travel affords me. I brought my camera on this trip, have been able to see some new places and revisit old ones, and have yet to snap a single shot, which probably seems like a waste, but in my eyes just remonds me of all of the time I have spent here and the ways in which I try to immerse myself.

In any case, Cape Town is raw this morning -- rainy and damp, cold -- and I have decided to devote a day to trying to catch up on work. I apologize for the fundamentally personal nature of this entry, which lacks much insight into South African politics or history or culture. But South Africa is, for me, more than simply a tableau for politics and work. It is a real flesh and blood place where I've spent a large proportion of my life and energies for nearly a dozen years. So today I'll just work for a few more hours until Doug, my friend, gets home from work, and we'll go out to eat and for a few drinks before tomorrow, when all too quickly, I'll be leaving again.

[Crossposted at the FPA South Africa Blog and the FPA Africa Blog.]