Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Bat S#!t Watch

Apparently Peru's bat poop market is thriving. Good for the Peruvians. Good for the bats. Though their labor likely goes unrewarded. Capitalist swine. The machinery of capitalism is lubricated by the . . . poop of the bats?

Stating the Obvious

The Council on Foreign Relations has produced two obvious but necessary reminders of the realities of the world in which we live: This nifty slideshow shows how the Olympics are pretty much always about politics, grandstanding to the contrary notwithstanding. And this op-ed piece from the CFR's Leslie Gelb states what ought to be an obvious point: American presidents nearly always negotiate with even the most noxious of leaders.

Just for a Giggle

This Tom Toles cartoon in today's Washington Post made me chuckle:

Beating the Bushes

At The Boston Globe Peter Funt has a fun little column on minor league baseball team names. I've been to my share of minor league games all across the United States and have seen the Hickory Crawdads and the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Midland Rockhounds and Asheville among many others play in cozy ballparks with wacky local giveaways and quaint traditions. I love Major League baseball and my ideal game will always involve Fenway Park. But there is something about minor league baseball that embodies the sport as America's Pastime no matter the status of football in the sporting hierarchy.


[Thanks to Ahistoricality for correcting my Iowa geography.]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day

Tom has a perfect example of the review essayist's art here. Reviewing books is important. I would argue that it is a sadly underappreciated aspect of the profession. Putting together an essay in which you place any given book within larger trends, indeed, using the book as a springboard to that discussion, is an essential part of the historian's craft. The one book matters less than the role it plays within what other books have to say. Tom's essay reveals as much, and should have been on the front cover of the latest issue of Claremont.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hillary For . . . Secretary of Labor! (?!)

There is an awful lot of chatter about Hillary Clinton now positioning herself for VP, and yet in what has become typical Clinton fashion, there is more than a little bit of an air of entitlement about their approach. Here is what I would do with regard to Hillary and appointments were I Barack Obama: Make a very big deal about offering her the important position of Secretary of Labor. In the speech point out how she forced him to think about the many issues facing the working men and women in this country, and that he can think of no better way to use her expertise and commitment to the good, hard working [apparently white] men and women of America than in this important position.


Why this would be great: We all know that Hillary sees SecLabor as well beneath her. We all know that the Department of Labor is not a plum choice for someone of Hillary's ambitions. We all know that she would not take it. We all know that she and Bill would be furious. But what could they say? And if they did speak out, you'd have a whole array of video and audio clips and numerous self-satisfied quotations at the ready showing Hillary's deep and abiding concerns for the working men and women of this country. This would represent an ideal kiss-off, and would probably reveal to some Dems and not a few GOP Obama's toughness without showing (too much) vindictiveness. Or at least it would allow plausible denial of vindictiveness.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Clinton's Perfidy in Florida and Michigan

Of all of the vaguely scuzzy elements of Hillary Clinton's campaign the Florida-Michigan gambit is almost inarguably the most nakedly opportunistic, hypocritical and unjustifiable. Almost every aspect of Hillary's campaign since it became clear that she was not the entitled chosen one she believed herself to be has revealed her to be a craven demagogue. But her feigning that injustices have occurred despite the fact that she fully agreed to these rule changes in the fall reveals both how much the race shifted unpredictably away from her and just how much she is willing to do anything, however slimy, to win. (Even if she were to get the Florida and Michigan delegates she would not win, but none are so blind as those who will not see.)

Another Beer? Yes, Thanks! I Am Working, After All!

Trying to explain to non-academics the nature of what academics do is a fraught enterprise. When I travel to South Africa, say, I may spend a lot of time in pubs, or seeing friends, or wandering Cape Town or visiting old haunts in Grahamstown, or catching up on South African sport and pop culture, but most often I am also there to work. Indeed, all of those supposed diversions qualify as work inasmuch as I want to understand South Africa from the inside. The same goes for when I go to do research or hit a conference in the United States. And then there are the "breaks." During the summer months, or for a few weeks in December and January, or for the week of spring break, I can set my schedule. I can certainly choose how much to work. But in the end, that is not time off. Lying on the couch, reading? Probably work. Blogging? Sometimes. When I do it at the FPA Blogs it is absolutely work. Here? Sometimes.


The reality is that in the humanities work is also a fungible concept made all the more inexplicable by the fact that we are lucky enough to be in a profession in which much of our work would qualify as leisure activities for others. Hey, Tiger Woods works his ass off at an endeavor that for most of us is the quintessential example of a leisure-time pursuit. Most people would not ascribe academia with the glamour of professional sports, but at least in this sense there is a workable analogy. If I am lying in the living room reading Sports Illustrated even I would have a hard time saying with a straight face, "I'm working," but at the same time I teach and write about sports and have begun the early stages of a book about sports and society, so much like when I read the newspaper or a magazine about politics, I may not be working but I'm not exactly not working. And then there are those times when I am not working because I need the chance to let my brain work, in which case, I may actually be . . . well, you get the point.


My guess is that most academics, and especially those in the humanities, deal with this issue all the time. It was thus refreshing to see this Rachel Toor article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Toor discusses this exact question -- the sometimes amorphous nature of what qualifies as work in the weeks, months, even years leading to publication.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Thousand Words


[From ESPN.com]


I think today's game probably goes down as an instant classic. I had to miss the third quarter and well into the 4th because I was flying from Tallahassee to Stlanta, but I caught the first half and the last few minutes as Paul Pierce made his place in Celtic lore.


Bring on Detroit, a team, unlike Cleveland, toward which I can really work up a nice antipathy.

The Arms Race

Sports Illustrated has a photo gallery of the 15 best seasons by a pitcher since the expansion era began in 1961. they cop out without ranking them, but rather provide the pictures in chronological order, earliest to most recent. Argue among yourselves.


The best I have ever seen when he was in his prime?


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Eire - Real, Imagined

I love Ireland. I'm not a fetishist for a mythic romanticized version of the country, but like many who have spent enough time there to feel as if I know the place, I have a desire to find a little niche of my own. This article captures some of the paradoxes of looking for a "real Ireland" when real Ireland might be right there before you. The author focuses on Counties Galway and Clare, which is wonderful, and where I lived (County Galway) for a while a few years back.


Whatever you do, avoid telling your friends about the Dingle Peninsula. It is one of the greatest places in the world, and the last thing we'd want would be for a bunch of tourists to overrun it.*


*Too late in the summer months.

Takedown Time!

It's been a while since I've done a good old-fashioned take-down of someone's idiocy. This one actually comes from something I wrote at the Foreign Policy Assocation's Africa Blog. Enjoy.


This Kevin Cullen op-ed in The Boston Globe is so badly argued, so dumb and shallow, that I hardly even know where to begin. And what probably vexes me more than anything is that I agree with the fundamental premise behind the argument. But it is so terribly done that it does an injustice to the merits of the debate. In penning such a badly written, poorly argued, at times inane screed, Cullen manages to hurt the very cause he espouses and gives those of us who do the hard work of actually understanding Africa more work to do just to cover our own flanks. Let’s look at, deconstruct, if you will, just how monumentally bad this piece is. As usual, I will place Cullen’s words in quotation marks and as appropriate will add my own running commentary, which I will precede with “***”:


"So they’re finally getting serious about rescinding the honorary degree the University of Massachusetts gave Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. About time, and props to the students and to state Representative Kevin Murphy who kept pushing this when all the beautiful people in Amherst looked the other way."


*** So far, fairly innocuous, and as I said, I agree with the sentiment. But the gratuitous “beautiful people” ad hominem gives a sign of things to come.


Mugabe, who led the struggle against white minority rule in what was Rhodesia, was the great black hope for postcolonial Africa when he became Zimbabwe’s first democratically elected leader in 1980.


*** Him, Joshua Nkomo, and at the time, most presumed, others to come. Anyone who has read my writing on Zimbabwe here at the Foreign Policy Association and elsewhere knows that no apologia for Mugabe is forthcoming on my end.


"It was a stroke of unwitting irony that UMass gave him a doctorate of law in 1986, because ever since Mugabe has been extremely good at thumbing his nose at international law, turning Zimbabwe, once Africa’s rose, into an autocracy as indifferent to human rights as Rhodesia’s British colonizers. At least the Brits stopped torturing people in the afternoon to take their tea.


UMass was entitled to honor Mugabe in 1986, but everything he’s done since has shown him to be a thug and a brute and a racist to boot. The UMass trustees responded to years of documented human rights abuses by yawning. Last year, they said they wouldn’t rescind the degree, but would write a letter expressing disapproval of Mugabe’s behavior. This, no doubt, bothered Mugabe no end."


*** Let us overlook the misuse of the word “irony” here. I am, frankly, beyond expecting journalists actually to use that word correctly. And the cliches — good God, the cliches. Let us instead look at the logic in this paragraph. You sneer at the idea of a sternly written letter causing Mugabe to feel chastened. Fair enough. Such a letter would be of no moment. But rescinding an honorary doctorate would? You are arguing for one meaningless symbolic gesture over another. Forgive me for feeling a bit underwhelmed by your intellectual gravitas, never mind the bizarre aggressiveness with which you make these distinctions not amounting to a difference.


"The trustees said they were very, very upset with Mugabe. That’s like members of the Reichstag saying they didn’t like the tone of Hitler’s speech to them in 1933."


*** Actually, the two are not at all the same. Even if we ignore the invocation of Hitler – almost always a sign of a vacuous argument – the analogy is a mess. In the case that has you so worked up, the trustees of a university in the United States are, we can all hope, dismayed, furious, distressed, have your pick, about the actions of a foreign leader. But they may or may not choose to withdraw an honorary degree they gave before the vast majority of the class of 2008 was born. My guess is that they do not want to get involved in the business of going through all past honorees to test for similar perfidy. In what possible way does that provide an analogue with Hitler and the Reichstag in 1933, given the role that the Reichstag and Hitler played and the relationship between the two after January of that year? I am taking a guess here, but based on what I have seen so far, you must have done terribly both on the analogy sections of the SAT and in history classes, because this comparison represents idiocy compounded by idiocy.


"The trustees said they didn’t rescind the degree because they had never rescinded one before. Following this magnificent logic, if you stumble across a dying person for the first time in your life, you should just keep walking, because, well, you never stopped to help a dying person before."


*** This strikes me as either another dumb analogy or as a dumb metaphor. Which brings me to another complaint: This is a rather poorly written screed. It is turgid and nonsensical and angry and unfocused.


"It’s high time they restore the Blue Wall as a full-fledged bar and offer two-for-one Powerhouses before trustee meetings at UMass-Amherst. Seriously, if these clowns got loaded before their meetings, could they do any worse?"


*** I honestly do not understand this level of rancor toward the trustees of a university who have a million more important things to do than to engage in – and I cannot emphasize this clearly enough – empty symbolic gestures. Kevin (Mr. Cullen? I won’t make you call me Dr. or Professor – let’s be on a first-name basis here), this is between you and me: I understand the business end of ardently written attacks. I’d like to think I am pretty good at them. And Lord knows I’ve teed off on a few folks in the past myself. But basically you are referring to an entire body of people as “clowns” because they have not decided to enact your utterly meaningless withdrawal of a fake degree. Take a step back and you will realize the manifest silliness in all of this. Maybe you should go and have a drink at the Blue Wall yourself and just calm down. I do like the inside references though – it makes you seem sort of hip in the way that people who are not at all hip but wish to be present themselves.


"I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the UMass trustees to my pal Geoff Nyarota. When he was young, Nyarota worked as a teacher, because that was the only job the white Rhodesian government allowed educated blacks to hold. When Mugabe came to power, Nyarota was able to pursue his real calling, which was journalism. He became editor of the Daily News, which quickly became the best newspaper in
Zimbabwe.


"After Nyarota exposed the corruption endemic to Mugabe’s regime, Mugabe did what any good despot would do: He had Nyarota arrested. Six times. When Nyarota wouldn’t back down, they bombed his printing press. When he still wouldn’t back down, they tried to kill him.


"At that point, six years ago, Geoff Nyarota did what any good newspaperman would do: He ran. He didn’t stop running until he got to Massachusetts, where the flagship state university had bestowed its highest honor on the guy who wanted him dead. Harvard’s Nieman Foundation gave him a fellowship and a way to feed his wife and children.


"The sanctuary is appreciated, but Nyarota wants to go home some day, and when he does, that will probably mean Mugabe is dead or in the dock at The Hague. When that happens, Zimbabwe will be better off."


*** Your friend’s is a great story and you tell it prosaically but effectively. You should have led with this. You should have let this be the basis for a rational argument about the real effects of Robert Mugabe’s regime. And you should have honored your friend by making an elegant case for the ways in which hundreds of thousand have suffered under the ills of Mugabe. Instead you use your friend to engage in a harangue that in some ways serves to dishonor him. Some way to treat a friend.


"Meanwhile, the traveling circus that is the UMass trustees will meet next month to sort this out. Luckily, they are not meeting in Amherst, which is located in a lovely part of Western Massachusetts known as Happy Valley because a disproportionate number of people there still wear Sandinista T-shirts and think Winnie Mandela was just swell."


*** And now back to our regularly scheduled inanity. Rather than engage in this sophomoric jibe against an entire, and not, by the way, insignificant, region of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts you should probably know that in Amherst there are almost assuredly dozens, probably hundreds, of people who know substantially more about the Zimbabwe situation than you do, which I would bet is a pretty low bar to jump. Rather than engage in some fatuous anti-lefty criticism you could have called some of these people, most of whom almost assuredly would have supported your case. Instead you insult one of the most important centers of learning in New England. Well played, sir.


Instead, the trustees will meet in Lowell, a real city where people have real jobs and don’t have time to worry about tin-pot dictators who live off faded freedom fighter tales.


*** This is a single-sentence paragraph (don’t get me started on the ways journalists write) that is densely packed with foolishness. Lowell is a “real city,” as opposed, I guess, to Amherst. It has a perfectly respectable branch campus of the University of Massachusetts, but a branch campus nonetheless. But I would love to know more about the “real jobs” dichotomy that you – who, may I remind readers, is a newspaper columnist for one of the most elite newspapers in the country, which hardly entails heavy lifting, and in his case does not apparently involve making phone calls to talk to people who know vastly more than you do about the very things you choose to splatter on the op-ed page – so venerate. Oh – and aren’t you choosing to write about a tin pot dictator? So I do not get it – either Mugabe is worth writing about (and I’d propose that he is given that he is a ruthless tyrant actively destroying his country) or he is not. But it hardly edifies the discussion to create strawmen and presume that the good folks of Lowell have real jobs and thus do not care about the very topic that has you so exercised that you are writing about it. Dishonoring the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe by asserting that their leader is not worthy of being noticed by people with real jobs might prove your populist bona fides in Lowell, but it hardly convinces the rest of us of your seriousness.


When the trustees sit down, they should make quick work of this, pausing only to cross out Mugabe’s name and put Geoff Nyarota’s name in its place.


*** Sure, Geoff Nyarota, or my friends Mark or Douglas or countless other Zimbabweans. This is fine. And were the column otherwise not so cringe-inducing it might have even represented an eloquent closing. And indeed your larger point – UMass should pull Mugabe’s honorary degree – is a worthwhile one. But your overall presentation is so bad, so poorly presented, so full of itself and yet ultimately substanceless, that you actually undermine the cause you espouse. A sort of grandeur creeps into a newspaper column this wretched. In a way I feel as if I should thank you. It is rare to see a single example that captures the manifest awfulness of so much of modern commentary from people who veer too far from their areas of knowledge. I am in your debt, sir.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama on Israel

If there is any lingering question about Obama's depth of thought on the Middle East, on his commitment to the state of Israel or about the idiocy of the supposed Hamas endorsement of Obama this interview should put it all to rest. Obama is just about pitch perfect and you should just go read the whole thing, which is not that long.

Loving Privately, Loving Publicly

Mildred Loving, the wife in the couple who brought the case of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriages, recently passed away. In an "Editorial Observer" piece in The New York Times, Brent Staples reminds us of the ways in which intimately private concerns became the foundation for a monumental court decision that the plaintiffs would have as soon never had to endure.


[Hat Tip to my top-notch student, Mary, for the link. For a review of the best history of interracial marriage in the United States in the post-World War II era I humbly direct you here, and to my getting the stamp of approval from Harvard University Press here. (If they can use me to further them, I'll gladly use them to further me!)]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on Obama and Race

As if to augment my previous post on Obama, The Washington Post has a lengthy and dispiriting story about the racism (and general hostility) aimed at Obama and his campaign that many of his campaign staffers have experienced. It is likely only to get worse.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Race Persists

We are beyond race.


That is the comfortable little myth that many of us white folks like to spew to make ourselves feel better about a history that clearly indicates that we are not at all beyond race. These people (We?) like to believe in an accelerated curve, a Whiggish and inexorable belief in improvement on the one demonstrable blotch on our national escutcheon, that has somehow innoculated us from centuries of reality. The candidacy of Barack Obama allows even those who do not, will not, support him to claim perfectibility on the one issue about which Americans have been sadly, tragically, imperfect.


Unfortunately there are times when reality kicks us in the teeth, or at least ought to. What to make, after all, in this supposedly color-blind society, about the fact that our misguided drug wars disproportionately effect African Americans? What does this tell us about our racial myths, and more importantly, how we deal with them?


Many of us are wary of decisions, supposedly race-neutral, on, say, voting rights in light of America's still demonstrably not race-neutral policies. Many of us are wary of claims that we live in a time when race is no longer a factor, because of the relative successes of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama. Indeed, we are wary precisely because of the facile ways in which we allow the prominence of a miniscule number of black Americans to substitute for a real discussion of the country's racial past.


Conservatives call such concerns "race hustling," a phrase notable only for its cynicism, vacuousness, and, yes, racism. And yet how many other issues in American history actually manage to sustain as relevant without actually being relevant? Issues that do not matter fade into obsolescence. This one continues to vex precisely because it matters. Would that we had an honest discussion about it, as Obama has done more honestly, and more frontally, than any American in the country's history has undertaken.

We can pretend that it does not matter. In fact nothing has ever mattered more.


[Crossposted at the Foreign policy Association's Africa Blog and South Africa Blog.]

Friday, May 09, 2008

McCain's Little Deal

According to The Washington Post:
Sen. John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest [in Arizona] for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers

The last few months have utterly shredded the lie of the liberal media given that the coverage McCain has received could not have been more cuddly had it been swathed in fleece blankets and surrounded by teddy bears. It looks like maybe the campaign has begun in earnest. In case you're wondering: Yeah, this should be a bigger story than the Jeremiah Wright silliness by a factor of about a hundred. Whether it will be remains to be seen. I tend to doubt that it will.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Good Old-Fashioned Take Down

If you want to read a blistering take on Edward Said's concept of Orientalism (and you know you do) I would highly recommend this Robert Irwin essay from the latest Times Literary Supplement. While presenting an effective review of two books (themselves damning) on Said and Orientalism, Irwin uses his material as a justification to let loose. here is the first paragraph:
So many academics want the arguments presented in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) to be true. It encourages the reading of novels at an oblique angle in order to discover hidden colonialist subtexts. It promotes a hypercritical version of British and, more generally, of Western achievements. It discourages any kind of critical approach to Islam in Middle Eastern studies. Above all, Orientalism licenses those academics who are so minded to think of their research and teaching as political activities. The drudgery of teaching is thus transformed into something much more exciting, namely “speaking truth to power”.

Irwin doesn't pull punches as the essay progresses. Between his observations and the apparently critiques of Said from the books in question Said's vision of Orientalism emerges battered beyond redemption.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The New Republic has pulled together its archive of articles on John McCain and, tipping their hand for what they will believe will be the outcome of the Democratic contest, Barack Obama. You also might want to check out this blistering George Will column on Hillary Clinton, titled, to my delight, "Go Home Yankee Fan."

Creating Narratives

From today's Fiver, The Guardian's daily tea-time email football newsletter, comes this stinging indictment of sports journalism:
Ah yes, here we go, another conspiracy of the inadequate. Sports hacks are a lot like those boilers who huffily insist that all models are airheads. Here's how it works: we put it about that all footballers are so stupid it's as if B-movie alien zombies have gobbled their brains, then we oink and wheeze like diseased swine the very second their utterances stray from the clich├ęs we want them to spew. And hey presto, footballers mostly stick to the script, enabling us to churn out putrid guff and then smugly sit back and congratulate ourselves for being so much better than the folks we write about - they may be fitter, richer, better looking, more talented, more widely travelled and altogether nicer than us but, hey, they're so dumb. Ha ha ha, the no-good fools!

Not only does this self-criticism ring true, it also says something about one of the ongoing laments I have about journalism, sporting and otherwise: The unrelenting hold journalists take on the narratives they essentially establish.


We see it in sportswriting, but this tendency is every bit as entrenched, perhaps moreso, among the hard news folks and the political commentariat. Obama wins a dozen primaries and caucuses in a row, then Hillary wins Pennsylvania, still leaving her hopelessly behind, but the talking heads have asserted that a good showing in the Keystone State gets her back in the game, and so there you have it. Those same folks insist that Jeremiah Wright is a major story, so they make his rantings a story and voila, it is a story. This same approach is how in some circles Tuesday's primaries are presented as a split decision even though Obama overwhelmingly won one state, narrowly lost another, and emerged with a greater delegate lead. Or how shallow interpretations of "the working class" and "elitism" becaome so warped and misused. Journalists create these memes and then have an interest in perpetuating them.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Horace Man, Oh, Man

In case there was any doubt, this New York magazine feature reminds us that high school students can be assholes. Add to that simple fact of nature (hey, I could be a shithead in high school and odds are so could you) a bastion of privilege such as Horace Mann High School and their rich, protective douchebag parents and you have yourself quite the tinderbox.


[Hat Tip to Sportsguy.]

Hillary's Choice

I'd like to think that my asessments of yesterday's North Carolina and Indiana primaries were pretty reasonable. Obama took North Carolina comfortably, and Indiana was tighter than expected. And so we are left with the ubiquitous question of this election season: What's next?


In particular, what now for Hillary Clinton? Yes, she won Indiana, but that seems pretty clear to me to represent a Pyrrhic victory. Her margin was razor-thin, and her delegate take relative to Obama's negligible. Yes, she is likely to win West Virginia, and Kentucky after that, but then she is likely to lose Oregon and the remaining western states. And if Obama contests in Appalachia and if Democrats in those states get the sense that Clinton is a lost cause, the margins might not be as great as some suspect.


Reality is likely to set in if she is willing to face that reality. Superdelegates are beginning to shift toward Obama with some Hillary supporters beginning to back away from their support for her. Clinton cannot win, but she can harm the party in her zeal not to lose, and presumably enough people will need to pull her aside to reinforce these points if this race is going to be wrapped up by June. The colossal Clinton ego -- hers and his -- will need placating. She will likely need to get first shot at the Veepstakes, even if only to say no, and she will get a prominent place on the lectern in Denver. But it is time to think of November.


Clinton can, if she chooses, almost certainly play some sort of role in an Obama administration, whether as the Vice Presidential nominee or in the cabinet we do not yet know. Or she may choose to continue to grow as a lioness in the Senate, where if anything her record has been underrated. In other words, her career is far from over. At this point she can do incalculable damage not only to her party but also to herself in a Washington world where reputation is, if not everything, at least the one thing that might matter most. Most everyone in DC has lost in politics. There is no shame in that. But the District is not a place where desperation is looked upon especially favorably. It is time for Clinton to face the facts. It is time for her to drop out of the race.

Overrated Movies

This list of overrated movies is, like most exercises of its ilk, intended to provoke arguments. Of the ten films included here, all have rated as all-time greats by critics or awards or box office or reputation or some combination thereof, and there should be plenty to inspire debate or disagreement. Let me state that I wholeheartedly agree with the inclusion and placement of the number one (that is to say "worst") movie on this list, which I find to be categorically awful.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Nixon Rises

At The Boston Globe Alex beam has an article on the seeming ubiquitousness of Richard Nixon in today's popular and intellectual culture. Nixon was a phoenix in his lifetime, constantly rising from the ashes of ignominious defeat. As in life, so too in death, I guess. As a historian I am especially interested in reading Rick Perlstein's new book, Nixonland.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

This story about Saddam hussein's bizarre fears regarding catching STD's while in US custody had a much better headline when it arrived in my inbox from South Africa's Independent Online, which consolidates stories from a dozen or so South African newspapers: "Was Saddam Stupid."


Speaking of stupidity, leave it to a Yankees fan to give the Sox-Yanks rivalry an ugly twist.


(And since the C's-Cavs series starts tonight, I may as well get the proceedings off on the right foot: Tom, Don, the Cavs and their fans are poopieheads. C's in six, despite the reality that LeBron is likely to score 200 points in the series.)

Hoosiers and Tar Heels (And Guam)! Oh My!

At the incomparable Washington Post politics blog The Fix, Chris Cilizza has expert views on several developments to watch for in today's Indiana and North Carolina primaries.


My own prediction is that we will again be dealing with dueling narratives after today. Both races are likely to be close, with North Carolina looking like it will give Obama a 5-10% win and with Indiana increasingly looking like a dead heat. Clinton will almost certainly spin anything less than a 10-point loss in Carolina as a moral victory. If Obama wins both states, it may well close the door on Clinton even though the extension in his delegate lead will be marginal at best. But the perception is that he cannot close the door and that he cannot win big states. An Obama victory in North Carolina coupled with a win in Indiana, however slight, (and don't forget his seven-vote caucus victory in Guam!) will likely reinvigorate calls for Clinton to bow out of the race. A split likely results in status quo ante, and if Clinton pulls out an improbably double win the race will be tossed into its greatest state of chaos yet.

NBCC Recommends

The National Book Critics Circle (of which I am a member) has posted its quarterly Good Reads Lists of new and recommended books at the NBCC blog Critical Mass. Naturally such lists inspire a great deal of debate, as the comments section indicates. And the nature of these lists is that the point is to highlight books recently published, so that the list is compressed -- certain kinds of books take longer to get reviewed, especially independent or academic presses, and reviewers based in the academy often operate with longer timetables. Nonetheless, any time we focus on good books, whatever the limits of that focus, is fine as far as I am concerned.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo probably reonates more with those of us who live in border states such as Texas than elsewhere. But even here the holiday seems to represent an excuse to drink than it does an homage to cultural heritage. Like many other holidays, Cinco de Mayo has largely become comodified, or, as The New York Times explained in an op-ed today, "For this north-of-the-border success, we have to thank the persuasive powers of beer. Cinco de Mayo is probably Corona’s biggest day." As Homer Simpson might say: "Beer. Is there anything it can't do?"

Defying Belief

Recent revelations that Nelson Mandela is still on the United States' terrorist watch list (a list he never belonged on in the first place) does not exactly inspire confidence in America's handling of its foreign policy, its approach to terrorism, or its grasp of African policy, does it?


[Crossposted at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog.]

Preacher Problems Abound

Let's not forget, amidst the hubbub surrounding Jeremiah Wright, that John McCain actively sought and embraced the endorsement of John Hagee and Jerry Falwell. It would be nice if we could get past the various candidates' so-called "preacher problems" and return a modicum of substance into the discussion. But that is not in the interest of the media, and it is not, apparently, in the interest of Hillary Clinton, and it is not in the interest of the attack machine that seems to so control American political life. And to think, it will only get worse between now and November. [Sigh.]

Friday, May 02, 2008

Amen, Brother Lee!

Spike Lee to Jeremiah Wright: Please Stop Talking.

Self Indulgence Alert!: Africa Blogs

I've been working away at the Foreign Policy Association's Africa and
South Africa blogs, with Zimbabwe, perhaps not surprisingly, getting lots of play. Go read away if you're so inclined.

Hypocrisy Watch: Crazy Religious Figure Edition

Is there a galling double-standard when it comes to the ravings of Jeremiah Wright and the usually even more insane, offensive and bothersome ravings of a vast swath of white religious figures on the right? Of course there is.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Resolving the Mess of the BCS

At the online newsletter of The New York Times' sports magazine Play Dan Shanoff proposes a pretty brilliant solution to the intransigence of those conferences that refuse to establish a playoff system for college football's highest level:
Personally, I would like to see [SEC Commissioner Mike] Slive take his ball and go home: "SEC-ede" from the B.C.S. and create his own playoff; as the nation's strongest conference (by far -- it boasts the past two national champs), he has the juice to do it.

Invite more playoff-friendly conferences, even individual teams, into the mix (and don't be afraid to go it alone). Create room for the non-B.C.S. schools to participate. Generate billions in revenue from TV networks and advertisers. And isolate the Big Ten and Pac-10, daring them to try to proclaim one of their member schools -- even an undefeated one -- as "national champ" while the rest of the country has turned its attention to a thrilling 8- or 16-team playoff. Any school that doesn't want to participate doesn't have to; I imagine that resistance will be short-lived.

Incremental measures won't work. Obstructionist colleagues need to be marginalized.

To save the B.C.S., they need to destroy it.

The idea that the BCS is worth saving, that a playoff system is somehow going to violate the academic integrity of college football, or anything else is patently absurd. The BCS is irredeemable and always has been. The fact that every other division of college football has a championship tournament and that every other NCAA sport has either a tournament or a meet to establish a champion on the field, court, pools, track, field, or ice should be enough to reveal the BCS for what it is: A naked grab for cash from a cabal of self-interested parties.

Swift Boating Obama

Evan Bayh has stated the obvious: The Republicans are likely to Swift Boat Obama over the absurd Reverend Wright fiasco. But before we point fingers, however deservedly, at the Grand Old Party, it is probably only fair to say that it is not as if the Clinton camp and its supporters have tread lightly on this issue. The Wright issue manifests itself equally as crude racism, politics as usual, kabuki theater, and media lightweightedness. The republicans operate effectively in this world, but let us not pretend that this is a partisan affliction.

Two Reviews

Two pieces in the newest Times Literary Supplement caught my eye. Mark Mazower, whose book Dark Continent is one of my favorites on modern European history, reviews Bernard Wasserstein's Barbarism And Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time, and John Keay has an essay on three books on China's cities, especially Beijing.