Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Once again, America's white leaders play footsie with white intolerance while Obama was pressured to bring the nation the head of Jeremiah Wright. Once again, a black person holds the nation's bag of racial burdens. Whatever discussions Obama started across America with his speech, the fact that Huckabee and McCain offer more comfort to Obama than Clinton is evidence that at the top, the conversation is tongue-tied.This situation will only hurt Obama among the camp of white voters looking for an excuse not to vote for Obama and for those who never would have voted for him in the first place. The former group might hurt him. The latter presumably will not.
[Hat Tip to the Thunderstick.]
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
(My Final Four are UCLA, Georgetown, Texas, and Carolina. Texas and Georgetown in the finals. Texas to win it all. Just a gut instinct. Now you can bet heavily against it happening. Enjoy the games.)
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Let's just say that I find the demand that Obama do more to separate himself from Wright and his church comical coming from at least two groups of people. First, if you are a Catholic, I do not want to hear it unless you have disavowed the entire Catholic Church after years of priests raping children, protecting those who did it, and covering up the crimes to begin with. Second, the Republican Party has largely suckled at the teat of the religious right for two decades now. And that religious right has spewed so much hatred it is hard to fathom where Wright's crimes alleged and real and that happen to have a foundation in some reality -- America's racial history is so loathsomely terrible it is hard to take seriously those who assert that Wright's assertions amount to racism -- rate, but they rate pretty low.
In any case, there is plenty of coverage of the Wright fiasco and Obama's response. The Washington Post had worthwhile pieces here,
here, and here. The New Republic asked several people to weigh in on the politically salient question of whether the speech was effective here and here. The New York Times' praiseful editorial is worth perusing, and naturally Andrew Sullivan has peppered The Daily Dish with Obama and Wright. And finally, I think one of the more thoughtful (and historically based) reflections, which came before Obama's speech, is Ralph Luker's Jeremiah, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution republished in slightly modified form. The topic of the religious tradition in the black community plays right into Ralph's wheelhouse.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
Today is a puzzling time for American politics. In many ways, conservatism dominates the political landscape. Unilateralism and militarism seem to rule U.S. foreign policy, while in domestic affairs, Washington resists robust federal controls on energy consumption or greenhouse-gas emissions. The nation battles over creationism in the public schools and financing stem-cell research, and every few years, Republicans and Democrats scramble to cut taxes. The conservative President Ronald Reagan has become the iconic figure for the current generation of voters that the liberal eminence Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the 1950s and 1960s.Tootle is working on a book on the 1970s, and he is a conservative and a Republican, so I'd be curious to know what he thinks about their argument. I certainly agree with them that the 1970s represent a more vital decade than most historians and political and cultural critics have heretofore acknowledged (and Schulman has persistently made this case for some time now) and that it is a decade that warrants as much attention as the sexier 1960s even if its narrative isn't as seductive or easy to capture.
Yet conservatives' vulnerabilities sometimes appear as prominent as their strengths, and not just because of particular problems facing President Bush. The reality of "conservative" America is that the federal government remains a large presence in American life. When disasters strike, we turn to government. When we retire, we turn to government. When we face external threats, we turn to government. Republicans failed to curb the growth of federal spending between 2001 and 2007, when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. In fact the Republican leadership developed new forms of government, ranging from the No Child Left Behind Act in education to a sweeping domestic-surveillance program. Notwithstanding the hawkish rhetoric flowing out of Washington, Americans are not flocking to volunteer for the war effort in Iraq. Public opinion of the president's military programs remains at historically low levels. With all the talk about the power of the religious right, popular culture is replete with the brash sexuality that conservatives have repeatedly decried. Such racy material is just as popular in the so-called red states as it is in the coastal cities of New York and Los Angeles.
We can understand the current situation only by unraveling the origins of the conservative movement — and the incomplete revolution that took place in the 1970s. The 70s unlock the mysteries of today because the decade constituted a decisive turning point in American history and set the foundations for current debates. The policies, social movements, leaders, and institutional changes that emerged from that decade continue to define the American political scene.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I really do not know what more there is to say. There was a time when the very idea of Americans engaging in such noxious practices inspired outrage. But too many have acquiesced. Does torture make us safer? Does it give us actionable intelligence? We have seen scant cases where either would be the case. in the meantime what we do is diminish ourselves while exposing our own troops to even worse treatment. I would just strongly encourage you all to read every one of the articles in the latest Washington Monthly, which is devoted to advocating stopping these policies. As long as this administration, which has done so much harm and so little good, is in power such cries will represent little more than lamentations. But a better day will come.
My first impression is to step back from the final episode, in which we always place far too much freight any time a show comes to an end, to look at the series in its entirety. Whenever I have said that The Wire is the greatest show in human history, almost inarguably the greatest drama at the least, I imagine many of you simply assumed that was dcat hyperbole. It was not. The Wire operated on such a higher, richer, deeper plane than any other show that has ever been on television. When you put together the best writing, the best acting, and the best directing over five taut, interconnected seasons, you have the recipe for greatness.
The Wire is not for everyone. You have to watch from the outset and you have to give each season three or four episodes before the picture begins to become clear. But if you do that the payoff is greater than any television experience you will ever have. Buy, beg, borrow, rent, or steal season one.
I would also argue that from the midway point of season three through the finale of season four The Wire was at its best. I really loved this season, and was more willing to go along with two plotlines -- the exploration of the media and especially the Baltimore Sun and the role that the homeless killings played. I know that many felt that the Sun plot in particular did not work. I disagree, but I can see the argument. And I would agree inasmuch as that plotline did not feel as seamless as some of the others have in the past. And I think the reason for this is that David Simon and his cadre of writers were able to take critical distance from everything else in the show, whether the terraces and corners or the police or the docks or the politicians. But because of Simon's experiences with newspapers, and his profound disappointment with The Sun, he could never quite step back from that element of the show. But my argument to this, and it incorporates the homeless killings as well, was that in the end Simon's desire was to create a seamless show that depicted a holistic Baltimore, or as close to it as he could in the time he was allotted. And part of this holistic world had to include the role of the media, both as that media effects the outside world, but also its dysfunctional inner-workings.
So, what about that last episode? First off, I'd recommend that you go read the incomparable Alan Sepinwall's article on the final episode. Sepinwall is my favorite television critic and has been a huge fan of the show. And while you're at it, read Alessandra Stanley's summation in The New York Times. The Thunderstick and I disagree on my conclusion to some extent, but I believed before Sunday that the conclusion would ultimately conclude by reaffirming the mantra of the corners: The Game is the Game. Thunderstick does not think this was the final message, but I do. Not just the game on the corners, but the game in the offices of politicians and the corridors of the police administration and the cubicled rooms of the Sun and the alleys and bridges of the homeless -- the game is the game, and the game goes on. Thunderstick argues that he saw the possibility of change given the right people doing the right things, but for me it is clear that the odds are so long, the system so twisted, that to make the changes would require a systemic overhaul that the five seasons of the show plainly reveal to be impossible. The game is the game, and the game goes on.
As for specifics, you can find that sort of stuff with any Google search. You grow so deeply involved with the characters on a show like The Wire that love them or hate them (or, as is appropriate for the show, feel a whole range of emotions about each person), the investment is real. I was absolutely heartbroken -- I still am -- about what happened to Dukie, just as I was achingly happy for the small victory we see Bubbles earn in the final montage that managed to capture perfectly the fate of most of the show's characters, and by extension of the fate of Baltimore (and presumably inner-city America in general, though the show is arguably the most place-specific in television history).
There is talk of a movie or miniseries or even another season sometime down the road. I'd be thrilled if the principles signed on and if David Simon had the same mastery over the totality of the show. But for now I am taking some time to mourn and to remember before, sometime not so long from now, putting the first disc of season One in my dvd player and becoming involved in the heartbreaking, exasperating, devastating world of Bodymore, Murderland. The Game is the Game.
I thought that a Ph.D. in the sciences having been bestowed on scholars from distinguished American universities would permit these men and women to call themselves doctor. Not so, at least in Germany.This is, if I may say it, batshit crazy. Effectively the German government has decided that it can simply yank scholarly credentials from people who have earned their PhD. I do not even understand the rationale for this law. And I certainly do not understand imposing it against American scientists.
Now seven scientists at the Max Planck Society's Institutes for Chemical Ecology (Jena) and for Gravitational Physics (Potsdam) with American Ph.D.s from Stanford, Caltech, University of Texas (Austin) and Cornell are facing charges under German federal law that might land them in jail for one year and sock them with a large fine. You see, under German law, the only Ph.D. that can certify a person as "doctor" is one that comes from an academic institution in the European Union. If your degree comes from a Maltese university (if there is one) you are a doctor with all the pretense and privileges that come with it. But if your doctorate comes from Caltech you are stuck.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Beyond that, I cannot rank Brett Favre much higher than 8 all-time, and that's just among the guys whose NFL careers began after 1970. I would definitely place John Elway, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young ahead of him. Oh, and was he really better than either Dan Fouts or Warren Moon? Then you enter into another generation from the '50s, '60s, and '70s that includes Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Norm Van Brocklin, Y.A. Tittle, Bobby Layne, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Sonny Jurgensen, and, of course, Starr. Favre was better than some of these guys, but not all. And if you really want to get historical, consider Sid Luckman, Sammy Baugh, and Frankie Albert. Let's just say Brett Favre should be honored to be in their company.
That seems about right to me. Favre was a great player. And it is no insult to be one of the greatest of all time. But anything beyond that is hyperbole derived of presentism.
Friday, March 07, 2008
This change will allow the South Africa Blog blog to emphasize South African issues more specifically while still giving both the FPA and me a voice on larger African affairs. The biggest change will likely come in the fact that within the next few days I will shift coverage of Zimbabwe to the Africa blog. I hope that you will read and engage with both blogs.
McCain is getting the kid glove treatment from the media because, well, he won the GOP nomination while the Democrats seem to be in some sort of cage match. But there is a long time yet to go, and McCain will get his chance to face scrutiny. Don't be surprised to discover that beneath the gravitas there is not too much policy substance. And that may be ok -- McCain is a good and honorable man and would almost certainly be better than what preceded him as president (yeah, I know, 'soft bigotry of low expectations"). But in a campaign that will be based on judgment and experience I think we have a right to ask about the judgments he made and what he has done with that experience.
Another leading South African historian, Stanley Trapido, who left South Africa after the Sharpevile Massacre in 1960 and became a lecturer at Oxford, also died recently. You can find his obituary in The Guardian here.
Hamba kahle, gentlemen.
(Crossposted at the South Africa Blog.)
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Hat Tip to my colleague, JLag.
So, what's going on here? It seems like the first problem is with the publishing industry itself. There is something awry about a culture so awash in memoir, that so privileges first-person accounts over verifiable non-fiction. In their quest for the next James Frey (oops) publishers have come to privilege memoir over almost every other genre. What seems quite clear is that many of these books have relied almost wholly on their first-person vantage point for their appeal, as it seems evident that many of them would not have passed muster as fiction, and yet once we discover that they also do not work as nonfiction, what do we have? (And yes, I realize that Bleeding Red shared at least some of the attributes of memoir, but even a cursory reading indicates that it was something a bit different.)
Writing good nonfiction is hard work. The craft is every bit as difficult as writing fiction with the added burden of owing fealty to evidence. Perhaps my favorite historian, C. Vann Woodward, wrote in his preface to the first edition of The Strange Career of Jim Crow, "The twilight zone that lies between living memory and written history is one of the favorite breeding places of mythology." Would that more publishers would keep this wisdom in mind the next time they think they have struck it rich with the next groundbreaking memoir.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Nonetheless, Hillary still faces some harsh realities when it comes to the arithmetic of the primaries. The reality is that Obama's lead is not likely to fade easily if at all, and Hillary will almost certainly have to rely on this year's kingmakers (queenmakers?) the mysterious and powerful superdelegates.
Meanwhile the analysis comes fast and furious. At Slate Jeff Greenfield compares the Democratic candidates to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. At The New Republic Eric Rauchway tells Democrats to look to the 1912 election (while TNR's Plank has its usual blast-fax coverage). And of course there is going to be no paucity of Democrats Divided talk (dramatically overstated, I think) and parsing the race v. gender fracture (which I weighed in on last month.
What we actually know is this: The Democratic race will continue, Obama is in the lead, and all of these discussions will move forward as well. Yes, John McCain can now campaign against the Democrats, but all of the attention will still be on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And any advantage McCain might get in terms of the ability to knock down his opponents will long since be neutralized by the time the summer rolls around. besides, turnout in the primaries has consistently favored the Democrats. If whoever emerges as the frontrunner can rally that turnout, the interest in the primaries may well redound to the benefit of the Democratic nominee. In a sense, then, all yesterday did was allow for a maintenance of the status quo ante.
On to Pennsylvania.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
My gut instinct is to say that Obama will pull out Texas (and likely Vermont), Hillary will claim Ohio (and possibly Rhode Island), but just barely, and the debate about whether Clinton should withdraw, which is already a ubiquitous subtext, will accelerate. It will be this issue, not the putative differences between Clinton and Obama, that runs the risk of getting ugly. If Clinton withdraws gracefully, one can imagine her in a number of scenarios, none of which plausibly includes her sitting at Vice president. I could certainly see Clinton becoming a lion of the senate. But is it too farfetched to imagine Obama nominating her for a vacancy on the Supreme Court? What about Secretary of State? Of course if Hillary fights to the bitter end, she will almost certainly guarantee that she will play no role in a potential Obama administration.
I now have to cross the street from campus to head to Nimitz Junior High to cast my vote. This is a vote that I never imagined would be anything but a symbolic gesture, falling as it does in the primary fight.
Monday, March 03, 2008
If you want to give the MVP to the guy with the best numbers on a pretty good team, then Garnett is not your guy. If you want to give it to the best player on the best team, to an individual who has transformed a franchise and brought the word "defense" into the daily discourse without the need for a laugh track, then he still has to warrant serious consideration.MVP debates in most sports often come down to the same definitional dilemma: What do we mean by "Most Valuable." Some people simply argue that the MVP ought to go to the best player. Others try to parse what "valuable" means, especially in terms of a guy's value to his team. I have always believed that it would be appropriate to have an MVP and a Player of the Year award, even if in many years the award might well go to the same guy.
As for this year's debate, there is no doubting that LeBron is a singular talent. And Kobe is having another year of gaudy numbers on a very good team in the tougher conference. But it seems to me that Kevin Garnett has been the difference-maker in taking the Celtics from the dregs of the East to the best record in the NBA, and he has made the Celtics a great defensive team while still racking up offensive numbers. I'd rather have the C's win and other people take home the individual hardware. Nonetheless, I'd give LeBron Player of the year if such an award existed. But Garnett gets my vote for MVP.