Friday, July 31, 2009

Meta (A Post on Possible Future Posts)

I'll have something to say this weekend, I hope, about both baseball's trade deadline and the recent news about Manny and Big Papi's positive steroids tests in 2003. But for now, how is this for being in some disturbing ways prescient?

An Uncivil Civil War War

The other night, Sally Jenkins was on The Daily Show touting a new book on Civil War Era America, The State of Jones. Jenkins is a Washington Post sportswriter (and generally a fine one at that) and so my teeth were set on edge when she started in on that great journalistic cliche that her book was one that explored a topic that historians had not only ignored but had intentionally kept hidden. People who say things like this generally speaking do not know what the fuck they are talking about. There are topics that could use more exploration, there are topics that have been mishandled by historians, and there are topics that could use reappraisal. But there is no topic in the historical profession where there has been collusion. When you hear people say that historians have ignored topic X or Y you can be certain that the person spouting off has an agenda that has nothing to do with what historians have actually written.

In any case, Jenkins wrote the book with a Harvard historian, so I at least assumed that she was out there for the salesmanship, and hey, she's on the Daily Show, my book didn't pass muster, so more power to her. Still, the assertions she made about her untold story did not ring true with me. But it had been a while since I had really focused on the Civil War and Old South, even if those topics made up a minor PhD field for me and a good hunk of my MA work as well.

And with reasons. Because of course Jenkins was wrong. And it appears that she was willfully wrong. For right down here in Texas, down at Texas State University in San Marcos (between San Antonio and Austin) a history professor named Victoria Bynum wrote a well regarded book on virtually the same topic and with practically the same title. And little did I know that percolating below the surface was a hell of a controversy, which came to the attention of most people in The New York Times and which Kevin Levin (with Ralph Luker's assistance) explicates in much greater depth and with loads of great links at Cliopatria. And wouldn't you know it -- Hollywood has a role in this fracas as well.

By the way, for what it's worth, I think Bynum wins the historiographical debate by a knockout.

Know Nothings on Parade

During the 2008 Presidential campaign conservatives mocked Barack Obama for asserting that we could save on gas mileage by making sure our tires are properly inflated, despite the fact that it was true. (And always in the service of inane policies to drill for more oil at home, "Drill, Baby, Drill!" being good bumper sticker sloganeering even if it is asinine policy given the tiny percentage of oil reserves available within the United States.) More recently the know-nothings on the right ridiculed assertions coming from the administration (particularly Nobel Prize winning physicist and Obama's Secretary of Energy Steven Chu) that we could save on energy costs by painting our the roofs of our houses (and businesses, or what have you) white. Of course that turns out to be true as well. Some advice: If Obama's loudest critics tell you it is going to be a nice day, bring an umbrella.

Endgame on the Gates Fiasco

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Sargeant James Crowley, and President Obama had their beer today. Now maybe this matter can be done and we can move on to the next controversy that gets all blown out of proportion (even if President Obama was 100% correct in his initial assessment that the Cambridge Police -- in other words Crowley -- acted stupidly). Gates' own reflective assessment strikes me as hitting the right notes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Role an Editor?

What is the role of an editor? How much does an author's original intent matter? Should a story or article reappear posthumously in different form from its original publication? These are just some of the questions that this TLS review of The Library of America's release of Carver's Collected Stories raises.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fueling A Child's Imagination

Click here to see The 17 Least Appropriate Playmobil Sets For Children. My personal favorite has to be the cop arresting the bum on a bench, but there are lots of good options.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ryan on Rice

Bob Ryan had a nice column in The Boston Globe after Red Sox slugger (and dcat childhood hero) Jim Rice was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Sunday.

Robinson on the Gates Imbroglio

Eugene Robinson has an interesting take on l'affaire Henry Louis Gates in his latest Washington Post column. Here is an excerpt:

Obama's choice of words might not have been politic, but he was merely stating the obvious when he said the police behaved "stupidly." Gates is 58, stands maybe 5-feet-7 and weighs about 150 pounds. He has a disability and walks with a cane. By the time Sgt. James Crowley made the arrest, he had already assured himself that Gates was in his own home. Crowley could see that the professor posed no threat to anybody.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume that Crowley's version of the incident is true -- that Gates, from the outset, was accusatory, aggressive and even obnoxious, addressing the officer with an air of highhanded superiority. Let's assume he really recited the Big Cheese mantra: "You have no idea who you're messing with."

I lived in Cambridge for a year, and I can attest that meeting a famous Harvard professor who happens to be arrogant is like meeting a famous basketball player who happens to be tall. It's not exactly a surprise. Crowley wouldn't have lasted a week on the force, much less made sergeant, if he had tried to arrest every member of the Harvard community who treated him as if he belonged to an inferior species. Yet instead of walking away, Crowley arrested Gates as he stepped onto the front porch of his own house.

Apparently, there was something about the power relationship involved -- uppity, jet-setting black professor vs. regular-guy, working-class white cop -- that Crowley couldn't abide. Judging by the overheated commentary that followed, that same something, whatever it might be, also makes conservatives forget that they believe in individual rights and oppose intrusive state power.

That the class dynamic might have reversed even as the racial dynamic has remained the same is an interesting observation. His conclusion:

Yet Gates's fit of pique somehow became cause for arrest. I can't prove that if the Big Cheese in question had been a famous, brilliant Harvard professor who happened to be white -- say, presidential adviser Larry Summers, who's on leave from the university -- the outcome would have been different. I'd put money on it, though. Anybody wanna bet?

That's pretty much my assessment -- that this was not all about race, but had Gates been white, none of this would have happened.

Frum Gives Advice

David Frum wants his fellow conservatives to cease with the absurd accusations about socialism, to get a sense of perspective, and generally speaking, to quit whining. It is pretty sound advice, but of course it will fall on either deaf or hostile ears (witness the comments). Part of me is happy to watch the right implode. But as much of me wants to see a serious opposition party emerge -- "serious" being the key word.

Almost Famous -- Self Indulgence Alert

The Odessa American ran a nice story about yours truly this past weekend.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On The Bedside Table: Rabbit, Run

"On the Bedside Table" was one of my ideas for a regular feature that I have not been great about following up on (as with so many of my clever ideas for regular content). Basically the idea is to write mini-reviews of a few of the things I've been reading of late. I am going to try to resurrect it now, but this time I'm just going with one book, John Updike's Rabbit, Run.

Rabbit Angstrom was John Updike's most enduring character. A former high school basketball star whose life after high school has been a disappointment, Angstrom represents in many ways the flawed everyman - I even invoked Angstrom in an essay I just finished about the difficulties athletes have with moving on from their sporting glories. Updike wrote four books about Rabbit, plus a short story that provides something of a coda, from what I unederstand. Two of the books won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

I picked up a Penguin Paperbacks copy of Rabbit, Run when I was at Keele in May. I was in an Updike mood, having read a number of excerpts from his essays after his death and wanting to shore up one of the many holes in my reading of the classics. I've read my share of Updike's essays and fiction that has appeared in The New Yorker, but am woefully short on his novels. I assumed the character of Rabbit might speak to me, what with the whole ex-jock thing and all.

The plot is rather simple: Rabbit is unhappy with his life. He flees his wife one night, driving aimlessly with vague dreams of escape, but then finally returning, though to the clutches of another woman rather than his wife. But his wife is pregnant, so he goes back to her, realizes he still sort of loathes her, leaves again, and a tragedy so awful and ugly and avoidable takes place that it propels the reader to the conclusion and, though it is likely even Updike did not know that the Rabbit Angstrom novels would become a series, to the books to follow.

Rabbit, Run is a good book, which is a pretty banal summation, but I choose it intentionally. For while it is good, it was not as sterling as I expected, and with Updike, goodness is sort of assumed. I will read the next installment in the series in hopes that the characters become more likable (in this first book if there is a likable character I do not recall their role), that Updike gives room for Rabbit, despite all of his foibles, to breathe a bit more. There is no questioning Updike as a stylist, though I could have done with less of the gimmicky inner monologues. But something by the end had me grabbed -- perhaps thematically more than plotwise or in terms of character development -- so that I want to see how this Rabbit Angstrom fellow fucks it all up the next time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rice Into the Hall

Jim Ed Rice goes into the Hall of Fame this weekend. Rice was, hands down, my favorite baseball player growing up and was largely the reason why I wanted to play left field for the Red Sox until I was about twelve (at which point I assumed I'd be an infielder.) I look forward to a nostalgic return to my youth on Sunday, though I also am anticipating the contrast in styles between the speeches of the taciturn Rice and vainglorious Rickey Henderson.

Soccer Player in a Bar Fight!

Yeah, it's pretty much as sad as you'd imagine, courtesy of England footballer Steven Gerrard, The Guardian, and the CCTV of what looks like a grotty little bar.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Apatow Time

For those of you who like Judd Apatow's ouvre (and those who don't, I do not like you any more) this Vulture interview will be as good a use of ten minutes as whatever else it is that you had planned. Well, Adam Sandler has one better idea for ten minutes, but you'll have to read the interview to know what that is.

The Ashes

In honor of the ongoing Ashes, the semi-annual series of test matches pitting Australia against England (I compare it to Springbok-All Black rugby clashes -- in any given year there might be bigger or more important matches, but rarely, and the intensity and history is incomparable) the Times Literary Supplement looks back at a 1951 review of four books on the 1950-1951 Ashes series, which Australia won 4-1.

This year England is up 1-0 (the first test in Cardiff ended in a draw, a result that would be perplexing to most Americans, but that simply ratchets up the tension in a test series) heading into the third test at Edgbaston in Birmingham. I was in England in 2005 for the bulk of the historic Ashes in which England ultimately prevailed. An England win in the Ashes is pretty rare, yet it looks as if the hosts might be in position to pull off a second one in the quadrennium.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Down the Pub

This weekend's New York Times travel section had a great feature on traditional English pubs in the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire, not far from where I spent a glorious summer in 2005. This essay pretty well embodies what travel writing is supposed to be.

At the FPA Africa Blog (Self Indulgence Alert)

After something of a lull after my trip to South Africa, I am back up and running at the Foreign Policy Association's Africa Blog where I have addressed issues ranging from Nelson Mandela's birthday (and the burgeoning Mandela industry surrounding the great man) to corruption in Kenya, political division in Mauritania, crackdowns on free speech in Gambia, questioning a particular criticism of South Africa's approach to AIDS, the enormous balls on the despots in Khartoum, the start of the Tri Nations, and perhaps my favorite, great cricket insults. Here is a sample of the last:
Eddo Brandes, the chicken farmer who batted at 11 for Zimbabwe, was surviving in entirely haphazard fashion.

The exasperated bowler wandered down the pitch and drolly asked: “Eddo, why are you so fat?” Brandes promptly replied: “Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit.” [My guess is that this one has been cleaned up for public consumption!]


Ian Botham could always give as good as he got. When he came to the crease Aussie wicketkeeper Rod Marsh said cheerfully: “How’s your wife and my kids?”

Botham is said to have replied: “The wife’s fine. The kids are retarded.”

As I wrote to conclude that post, "Hey, it doesn’t all have to be coups and corruption and politics."

Please go check it all out.

Creepy Amazonia

Well, well, well. Come to find out, your purchases on Amazon's Kindle are not final even after final purchase. I have not made the move to Kindle, and do not have plans to do so, because it seems to provide an essential product -- books -- in what for now at least is a superfluous configuration. But the fact that a number of buyers who purchased and downloaded a copy of George Orwell's 1984 (Irony alert!) discovered that their copy had been erased from their Kindles due to copyright issues. Beyond the fact that such a snafu strikes me as falling in the category of Amazon's problem and not the good faith consumers, it also raises a whole host of issues about privacy, consumer rights, and frankly, just plain creepiness. As one observer points out, "this is ugly for all kinds of reasons."

Tilting at Strawmen

I am not certain with whom Arizona State University historian Stephen Pyne is arguing in this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. His basic point is that we need to teach history graduate students how to write well, and particularly how to write books. Yeah, thanks Doc. It might be a good idea to teach them to think clearly and to read closely too. But here is the thing: I do not see any evidence that we are not doing this as a profession.

There is an old canard out there that says that academic historians do not write well. And it has been repeated so often, not so much by folks like Pyne, who ought to know better, but by journalists who usually don't know what the fuck they are talking about. I read more academic history than any journalist. I would say that the hit-to-miss ratio is no worse than it is for columnists or reporters, or even for journalists writing books, for whom the writing really ought to be key since they are trying to sell to a non-specialist audience. And this is the key issue -- I am not certain what these critics mean by "bad writing." Sometimes it is actually ok for historians to write to other historians. All specialized writing is not bad, especially when that writing is geared toward specialists. And there is a huge number of very well written books that are no less well written because they do not make it big and end up selling primarily to other academics.

When I work I do so surrounded by piles of papers and documents and books and cd's and all sorts of other junk. I am going to pull out the smallest book pile next to me, without paring it, without even looking at any of the books. Ok, here is what I have: Thomas Sugrue's Sweet Land of Liberty, a book destined to win a number of awards and deservedly so, largely because of the force of the argument and certainly because of the felicity of the writing. Sugrue is a professional historian. He teaches at Penn; Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour. It was reviewed everywhere. I reviewed it for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Virtually every review commented on the high quality of the writing. Joseph is a professional historian. He teaches at Brandeis; Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie. Again: Reviewed everywhere, widely praised, largely for the writing. Profesional historian. Yale; Two collections of essays, Freedom North and Groundwork, both edited by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard. Aimed mostly toward other historians. Like most essay collections the quality of the writing is uneven, but some of them are very good, and those that are not serve another purpose.

This is just a tiny slice of books, all interconnected because they touch upon a theme I am addressing in one small section of one chapter of a book I am writing. I could have pulled from a pile of books on South Africa in the 1980s or 1940s, another on sports and society, and another on race in the US in the 1940s. Putting forward that historians don't write well is a serial idiocy that has gone unchallenged for so long that the assertion has somehow become sufficient. Well it is not. I received an MA from one school, a PhD from another, and basically in between the two (I had started my first quarter at my PhD program first) was enrolled in a graduate program in South Africa for the purposes of a year-long fellowship. At all three of those schools, writing well was emphasized, writing clearly, even if not spectacularly, was a base-line expectation. Perhaps I was just lucky. But I suspect that the assertion of the absence of attention to writing lacks even the rudimentary evidence that a first-year MA student knows is required for an argument.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Louis Gates and the CPD

Look, I realize that post-9/11 we are all supposed to publicly assert that all cops are heroes and be done with it. But more of us than are willing to admit it have had enough experiences with cops to know that too many of them are self-important bullying dickheads.

That less-than-favorable image (and not the quite obvious racial implications) was the first thing that came to mind when I read about Henry Louis Gates, Jr. being arrested at his own home after someone called in a possible robbery. Gates might have said or done some stupid things, but he did so in the process of being falsely accused of breaking into his home and he did so while inside of that home or on that property. The idea that people who have done nothing wrong must defer to police inside their homes is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete fucking bullshit. It may not make one a gracious host, but in one's home you can say just about whatever you want to whomever you want. Once the police saw Gates' identification and realized that he was fully within his rights to be where he was, they should have slinked right the fuck off and accepted whatever verbal abuse a wronged Gates threw at them.

In a just world Gates wins a massive lawsuit against the Cambridge police who sure as hell should have had better things to do. And Gates, unlike most of us without the ability to get our story into the news, has the resources to push a case. I would imagine we'll see word of a settlement in which Gates will have to keep quiet to spare the CPD more richly deserved embarrassment.

UPDATE: This Lawrence Bobo piece on the Gates case is brilliant. Oh, and all charges have been dropped. Ooops.

To Steamroll Or Not To Steamroll

I like EJ Dionne's point in this Washington Post op-ed, in which he makes a more sophisticated version of the argument: Hey conservatives, the Democrats won, get over it. Dionne instead wants Democrats to get over the 2003 mentality in which they were the flustered minority party. But he also wants them to maximize the leverage their newfound power brings them.

At the same time I think it is smart politically but also for the enactment of policy if Obama's and the Dems' first step is always to try to reassure the Republicans that they are not going to be steamrolled even if the Democrats have to know that in their arsenal is a big-assed steamroller. The big stick is usually best when it goes unwielded.

Monday, July 20, 2009

History's Uses, History's Abusers

The historians and historically-inclined reading this will probably want to check out Margaret MacMillan's new book Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History. The distinguished historian David Kennedy reviewed it this weekend in The New York Times Book Review. Here is a sample of the review:
MacMillan lays about with rhetorical broadsword and with fearless abandon. She inveighs against the eclipse of “professional historians” by “amateurs.” She blasts the fall from fashion of political history in favor of sociology and cultural studies. She denounces identity studies of all sorts, particularly when they descend into what she calls the “unseemly competition for victimhood.” (She singles out certain Afrocentric histories for special scorn, as having “the same relationship to the past as “The Da Vinci Code” does to Christian theology.”) But she directs her most cogent criticism at the particular kind of historically constructed identity that is nationalism.

I am teaching our graduate historical method's class, "The Historian's Craft," this fall, and I wish this had come out a little earlier. But I also would not be surprised if MacMillan commits at least a few of the sins against which she inveighs, as it seems clear that she has her own ideological stances and politics that might inform the weay she sees the world and thus the practice of history.

Some Mild Carter Revisionism

I am a bit late coming to the game when it comes to recognizing the 30th anniversary of Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech in which the word "malaise" never actually appeared. Gordon Stewart, one of Carter's speechwriters and an author of that address recounts its origins in this piece in The New York Times. One of his arguments -- that for all of its infamy, the speech was actually very popular -- also seems to be a point echoed in Ohio University Professor Kevin Mattson's new book on the speech, "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?": Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country.

My views on Jimmy Carter have come to be much like my views of George W. Bush. Not because they were both epically bad presidents, though they were. But rather because they were bad because they were incompetent more than that they were bad because of their ideas (though Bush and his administration in particular had some catastrophically bad ideas). After all, Carter, not Reagan, began the military buildup that helped bankrupt the Soviets. Carter, not Reagan, set in motion the opposition to the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, with both its successes and its unintended consequences. And as much as he was pilloried for boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics, at least one of the arguments against it seem more and more dubious as the years have progressed: 1) That the Olympics are no place for politics. This is a view so ahistorical it would be laughable were it not still so pernicious. Furthermore, American policy has always been predicated on a balance of not supporting our enemies in either their economies or their propaganda. Going to Moscow in 1980 would have done both. I am not saying that the boycott was a great idea. I am simply arguing that today's conservatives, who believe that any engagement with Iran is tantamount to waving a white flag, in addition to mounting a stupid and also ahistorical argument, nonetheless must either acknowledge their own hypocrisy (fat chance) or that maybe they need to reconsider Carter's approach to the 1980 question. Furthermore, Carter's relative helplessness in the face oif the hostage crisis seems at least a little more understandable in the context of the intractable threats from radical Islam that we face today, not to mention the problems in Iran itself.

As for the speech itself, looking back on it, it is remarkable that the speech was fundamentally right. Its critics need to keep in mind that Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign was based on many of the the same ideas, at least the negative ones -- Reagan has gotten something of a free pass for being a sunny optimist, but his 1980 campaign was far from cheery. And Carter's views on energy seem eerily prescient in a tragic sort of way. Carter's problem was that he did not know what to do after the speech, that he faced circumstances largely beyond his control (many of which he inherited) and that he was a lousy leader who grew increasingly worse as his administration developed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fu@k That Hurts Less!

Researchers at Keele University, where I spent the month of May as a fellow at the David Bruce Centre for American Studies, have developed a study indicating that swearing is not only fun and popular in crowds, it also might help to alleviate pain. Hey, don't swear at me -- it's science you're mad at (and that just made you feel better).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hillary at the CFR

Because of my affiliation with the Foreign Policy Association I am able to access media events, though to this point I have not really done so. But today I decided to partake in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's on-the-record speech and presser at the Council on Foreign Relations. I am going to write a piece for the FPA and wrote a blog post for the Africa Blog, but I thought I'd share my notes (and that is all these are, so they are pretty fragmented) here:

Hillary Clinton On-The Record Event and Conference Call – Council on Foreign Relations

*Clinton is a much better, and frankly, more palatable and likable speaker in this capacity than she is on the stump.

*Advice she once received: Don’t try to do too much. But today this is impossible.

*The question today isn’t whether America should, but rather how it should lead.

*Obama – caused us to think outside traditional boundaries.

*We will exercise American leadership that no nation can do alone.

*While the idea that shape our foreign policy are critically important, this is not just an intellectual exercise.

*Does not make sense to utilize 19th c concert of powers, 20th c balance of powers, Cold War containment, etc,

*Countries face many of the same issues and “obstacles that stand in the way of turning commonality of interest into common action” – no nation can face these challenges alone but none can face them without America.

*A combination of boilerplate and heady rhetoric – clear break from previous administration in many areas – emphasis on coalitions and working with international community, climate change and nonproliferation, torture, talking with enemies, etc.

*Economic turmoil changes the calculus – normally economic matters not a major factor for SecState, but in these times she believes that there needs to be a restoration of State role in economic outreach, trade issues, etc.

*Good speech, to be sure. Coherent, well presented, smart, but certainly broad and even diffuse.

*Very little on Africa. Mentioned Ghana but in context of larger policy goals.


Israel/Palestine peace prospects in 2010? She carries forward hope. Wanted a skilled negotiator and got it in envoy George Mitchell. Not just responsibility of Israel, nor even of Palestinians, but of Arab States as well. Will not make predictions, but commitment is deep and durable.

Could Hamas play a role in the peace process? Firmly committed to quartet process. Would expect Hamas to recognize Israel, denounce violence, and support peace process. (Yeah, right.)

Elaborate on administration’s willingness to engage with Iran – any response from Khamenei to letter sent in May, and if they do show interest, what if they stonewall with no give? Has there been a green yellow or red light sent to Israel (re: Biden) with regard to attacking Iran? Troubled by repressive actions post-election, but there is no path opened up right now. There is a choice for the Iranian government to make. Will wait to see how they decide. This would not be an open-ended engagement, a door that stays open no matter what. Re: Biden: White House clarified the next day (ie: punt).

What do you expect from trip to India, especially foreign policy/global aspects? Delighted to be engaging in broad comprehensive dialogue – most wide ranging ever put on table between India and US. India has an opportunity to play a greater global role. There are a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership or involvement.

Reports that in discussions between Mitchell and Ehud Barak there was some agreement to allow construction to go forward – can you comment? Not going to step on the process – will announce decisions that have been made.

Talk a little more about Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review? Served on armed services committee for 6 years. This (QDDR) seems to be a very important discipline and tool for Defense Department. Allows us to justify what we are doing and to show concrete results. This is both a policy approach as well as an attempt to explain and justify what they are doing – wants this to become long-term policy put into place by Congress.

Dividends being received from recommitment to alliance relationships – early on it seems that some allies are still skeptical? She agrees that we are still dealing with the “down payment” process where we are taking unrequited steps without clear responses. But in the long run she is quite optimistic. We have intense ongoing discussions with allies trying to implement our strategies. Economic downturn plays a role. Furthermore, after eight years we are actually adding troops to Afghanistan and both at home and abroad we still have to answer questions and clarify our positions. We still need to assuage fears and anxieties (referenced loss of 8 British soldiers and Gordon Brown’s political difficulties as a result). Slow development and change in Afghanistan indicative of the difficulties we are facing. Of course she cannot say that all of our allies are going to come through to our thinking, but she is optimistic.

Previous Presidents from Carter to Clinton have set out to reach out to Iran and has been rebuffed – what happens if this attempt fails – are we prepared to live with a nuclear Iran? We have consistently said that we cannot accept a nuclear Iran. But we are not going to negotiate with Iran sitting here. Policy to Iran in last eight years was a mistake – we basically outsourced our policy to Iran and it failed. It’s not just US that should be concerned, but many others in world, including some much closer to situation for whom consequences are much more dire.

Expand on point about State Dept approach to economic issues – trade agreements, but also exports, etc. – what is the role of State in commercial advocacy? Takes commercial advocacy seriously, as it is part of State Dept. role, and trade policy is certainly an important issue for State. We are a trading nation and we need to make that clear, but economic policies also seen as important part of the diplomacy of nations. Role of State’s economic agenda needs to be strengthened, work with Treasury, work with Economic Council. Why would State say it is not part of economic mix when economics are so vital to our relations with other countries. Have worked to make ties with China comprehensive because economic issues are at the forefront.

In six months what has struck you most about your job? Excitement of new administration, this has also allowed us to improve our image in the world. Shocking that we do not Have full gov’t in place after six months. Realizes how shortsighted she was in Senate when it came to asking a ton of questions of every nominee! It’s been a real privilege and an honor and she is proud of what the gov’t has done so far.

Boastful C's Offseason Talk

Is it possible that next year's Celtics, with the addition of Rasheed Wallace and the development of some of their younger talent, will be even better than the 2007-2008 version that won the NBA championship? Danny Ainge thinks so. Naturally this talk is absurdly premature, but I love the enthusiasm. And I do think that the Big Three with Wallace becomes ever more formidable but also provides some insurance in case Kevin Garnett's knees are unable to endure the rigors of a full season.

Canon Culling

There is so much out there to read and so little time. And very few of us, myself included, have come even close to covering the (mythical) canon of books that fill us with guilt for not having cracked their spines. The Second Pass has helpfully culled ten books from the canon and decided that you do not, in fact, need to read them. naturally there will be lots of debate as to their choices, but I think the larger point is that we do not have to feel bad about not reading or not liking books that have gotten the stamp of approval from whoever it is that establishes these sorts of things.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Debunking the Rose-Fosse Myth

In honor of tonight's All Star Game, I am directing you to Deadspin, where Dashiell Bennett debunks the hoary myth that Pete Rose's (still sort of dickish and unnecessary) decision to truck Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game destroyed Fosse's career.

We have all heard it a load of times: The All Star Game once met so much to the players, who, along with their managers, treated it like a real game because there was real rivalry between the leagues, whose players only saw one another at the World Series. But I am not certain I particularly care to return to a time when the Midsummer Classic was an especially significant sporting event. I guess that may be because I have never known better. It is probably still the best all star game in all of professional sports, but it does not really matter much to me if the American League wins, though I suppose the home-field component means that I'd as soon see the Junior Circuit emerge victorious. And while I hope the Red Sox players in the game do well, I mostly would as soon see none of the pitchers, save maybe first-timer Tim Wakefield, even touch the mound tonight.

On Activist judges

Matthew Yglesias makes a great point in this article at The Daily Beast: "Conservatives love activist judges. They just prefer when they advance the interests of white people." More importantly, and perhaps more fairly, conservatives love judicial activism as long as the activism is for stuff that they like. Indeed, when a conservative accuses a justice of judicial activism what they really mean is "that judge did something with which I disagree so they must be an activist judge."

When Good Reviewers Review Bad Books

So, you're a high brow critic being asked to review decidedly low-brow work. How do you handle it? This Maureen Corrigan review of Nora Roberts' latest bodice ripping thriller represents a pretty sterling effort. Corrigan recognizes that this is a lose-lose proposition, yet she forges forward anyway, doing her critical duty knowing that it will not make a damned bit of difference in a world where too many bad books outsell (by the millions) too many good books.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Box Office Reconsidered

For years I have argued that the foundational way Hollywood measures the success of a movie is fundamentally flawed. Box office may be what Hollywood is all about, but in trying to place movies within their context, the idea that box office totals, which go unadjusted for inflation, are even vaguely apt is just stupid. Of course box office records are going to be broken all the time when movie tickets approach (and in some markets have long passed) $10 a pop.

Finally someone has done the work to try to make sense of the figures. (Via Matthew Yglesias) Zachary Pincus-Roth has addressed this very vexing issue. Here is the adjusted list: (The movie title is given, then the abbreviation of the studio, the first dollar figure is the adjusted gross while the second is the unadjusted gross, a number that nearly across the board should reveal the absurdity of simply giving the gross and assuming that it tells us anything, especially since it is always invoked to try to make historical assertions. Finally the list includes the year of the film's release. let's hope cutting and pasting does not prove to be a formatting nightmare.)

1 Gone with the Wind MGM $1,450,680,400 $198,676,459 1939^
2 Star Wars Fox $1,278,898,700 $460,998,007 1977^
3 The Sound of Music Fox $1,022,542,400 $158,671,368 1965
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $1,018,514,100 $435,110,554 1982^
5 The Ten Commandments Par. $940,580,000 $65,500,000 1956
6 Titanic Par. $921,523,500 $600,788,188 1997
7 Jaws Uni. $919,605,900 $260,000,000 1975
8 Doctor Zhivago MGM $891,292,600 $111,721,910 1965
9 The Exorcist WB $793,883,100 $232,671,011 1973^
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dis. $782,620,000 $184,925,486 1937^
11 101 Dalmatians Dis. $717,405,900 $144,880,014 1961^
12 The Empire Strikes Back Fox $704,937,000 $290,475,067 1980^
13 Ben-Hur MGM $703,640,000 $74,000,000 1959
14 Return of the Jedi Fox $675,346,600 $309,306,177 1983^
15 The Sting Uni. $640,045,700 $156,000,000 1973
16 Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $632,858,500 $242,374,454 1981^
17 Jurassic Park Uni. $618,957,900 $357,067,947 1993
18 The Graduate AVCO $614,402,600 $104,901,839 1967^
19 Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Fox $609,049,300 $431,088,301 1999
20 Fantasia Dis. $596,252,200 $76,408,097 1941^
21 The Godfather Par. $566,664,000 $134,966,411 1972^
22 Forrest Gump Par. $563,957,500 $329,694,499 1994
23 Mary Poppins Dis. $561,345,500 $102,272,727 1964^
24 The Lion King BV $554,524,300 $328,541,776 1994^
25 Grease Par. $552,298,200 $188,389,888 1978^
26 Thunderball UA $537,064,000 $63,595,658 1965
27 The Dark Knight WB $533,345,300 $533,345,358 2008
28 The Jungle Book Dis. $529,021,800 $141,843,612 1967^
29 Sleeping Beauty Dis. $521,814,100 $51,600,000 1959^
30 Shrek 2 DW $510,145,700 $441,226,247 2004
31 Ghostbusters Col. $507,845,800 $238,632,124 1984^
32 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Fox $506,605,400 $102,308,889 1969
33 Love Story Par. $502,586,700 $106,397,186 1970
34 Spider-Man Sony $498,900,500 $403,706,375 2002
35 Independence Day Fox $497,350,500 $306,169,268 1996
36 Home Alone Fox $486,331,500 $285,761,243 1990
37 Pinocchio Dis. $483,955,900 $84,254,167 1940^
38 Cleopatra (1963) Fox $482,377,300 $57,777,778 1963
39 Beverly Hills Cop Par. $482,137,100 $234,760,478 1984
40 Goldfinger UA $476,034,000 $51,081,062 1964
41 Airport Uni. $474,679,000 $100,489,151 1970
42 American Graffiti Uni. $471,828,600 $115,000,000 1973
43 The Robe Fox $469,963,600 $36,000,000 1953
44 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest BV $464,031,700 $423,315,812 2006
45 Around the World in 80 Days UA $463,938,500 $42,000,000 1956
46 Bambi RKO $457,455,400 $102,247,150 1942^
47 Blazing Saddles WB $453,973,600 $119,500,000 1974
48 Batman WB $452,014,200 $251,188,924 1989
49 The Bells of St. Mary's RKO $450,509,800 $21,333,333 1945
50 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King NL $441,843,800 $377,027,325 2003
51 The Towering Inferno Fox $440,677,300 $116,000,000 1974
52 Spider-Man 2 Sony $431,939,800 $373,585,825 2004
53 My Fair Lady WB $430,800,000 $72,000,000 1964
54 The Greatest Show on Earth Par. $430,800,000 $36,000,000 1952
55 National Lampoon's Animal House Uni. $430,012,100 $141,600,000 1978^
56 The Passion of the Christ NM $428,680,800 $370,782,930 2004^
57 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Fox $425,950,500 $380,270,577 2005
58 Back to the Future Uni. $423,983,700 $210,609,762 1985
59 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers NL $413,786,400 $341,786,758 2002^
60 The Sixth Sense BV $413,418,100 $293,506,292 1999
61 Superman WB $411,831,400 $134,218,018 1978
62 Tootsie Col. $408,570,300 $177,200,000 1982
63 Smokey and the Bandit Uni. $408,060,400 $126,737,428 1977
64 Finding Nemo BV $404,503,100 $339,714,978 2003
65 West Side Story MGM $401,866,600 $43,656,822 1961
66 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone WB $401,455,200 $317,575,550 2001
67 Lady and the Tramp Dis. $400,176,500 $93,602,326 1955^
68 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Col. $399,032,400 $132,088,635 1977^
69 Lawrence of Arabia Col. $397,653,900 $44,824,144 1962^
70 The Rocky Horror Picture Show Fox $395,398,500 $112,892,319 1975
71 Rocky UA $395,187,000 $117,235,147 1976
72 The Best Years of Our Lives RKO $394,900,000 $23,650,000 1946
73 The Poseidon Adventure Fox $394,196,100 $84,563,118 1972
74 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring NL $392,774,200 $314,776,170 2001^
75 Twister WB $392,660,800 $241,721,524 1996
76 Men in Black Sony $392,147,700 $250,690,539 1997
77 The Bridge on the River Kwai Col. $390,592,000 $27,200,000 1957
78 It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World MGM $386,825,500 $46,332,858 1963
79 Swiss Family Robinson Dis. $386,341,400 $40,356,000 1960
80 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest UA $385,460,900 $108,981,275 1975
81 M.A.S.H. Fox $385,452,600 $81,600,000 1970
82 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Par. $384,365,600 $179,870,271 1984
83 Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Fox $383,903,600 $310,676,740 2002^
84 Mrs. Doubtfire Fox $378,273,900 $219,195,243 1993
85 Aladdin BV $376,536,100 $217,350,219 1992
86 Ghost Par. $369,520,300 $217,631,306 1990
87 Duel in the Sun Selz. $366,326,500 $20,408,163 1946
88 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl BV $363,659,100 $305,413,918 2003
89 House of Wax WB $362,819,100 $23,750,000 1953
90 Rear Window Par. $361,547,000 $36,764,313 1954^
91 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Uni. $358,353,400 $229,086,679 1997
92 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Par. $354,810,400 $197,171,806 1989
93 Spider-Man 3 Sony $351,204,600 $336,530,303 2007
94 Terminator 2: Judgment Day TriS $349,352,800 $204,843,345 1991
95 Sergeant York WB $345,524,500 $16,361,885 1941
96 How the Grinch Stole Christmas Uni. $345,407,000 $260,044,825 2000
97 Toy Story 2 BV $343,466,200 $245,852,179 1999^
98 Top Gun Par. $342,137,100 $176,786,701 1986
99 Shrek DW $339,546,800 $267,665,011 2001
100 Shrek the Third P/DW $336,792,000 $322,719,944 2007

Professional golf and other sports sometimes have unadjusted historical money lists, but they also have other, more important, and more germane measurements -- tournaments won, Major titles, and so forth -- that the effrontery of the money list is far less problematic.

Stop Stopping Making Sense

Apparently the Transformers sequel does not make any sense. I'm stunned. (And please do click on the link -- it is well worth it if you love full-on snark. And you do.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


On Monday night when Nomar Garciaparra stepped up to the plate for the Oakland A's at Fenway Park he was met with a standing ovation that lasted a minute or more. It was Nomar's first return to Fenway since his trade to the Cubs in 2004 during days that for him were far from happy. Nomar, long a hero to the Red Sox faithful, had become something of a malcontent by July 2004. Worse, perhaps, injuries had limited his range and reduced his speed. We could not have known it then, but one of the potentially truly great baseball careers (he was every bit the equal of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, which is easy to forget given the way Nomar's career fell off a cliff) was on an inexorable spiral to the point where Nomar practically had to grovel just to get a chance at a backup spot for the Athletics this season. When healthy, he can still do things with the bat. But the halcyon days of 1997-2002 are a distant memory. Still, Red Sox fans once again reminded the world that when they strip away the bombast they are still the best in sports. Nomar is just another guy now. But last night it was 1999 again and he was the golden boy bathed in the lights of Fenway and the glory of the crowd.

Back From Africa

I am back from South Africa. I got in last night after nearly 48 whirlwind hours of travel misadventures. I need to catch my breath a bit, but hopefully I'll be back posting with something resembling regularity soon.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

South Africa Diary #4

I've been remarkably short on both internet access and time since arriving in Cape Town a few days ago. My latest South Africa Diary posting at the Africa Blog discusses being a tourist, authenticity, and delivery of housing, among other things. Enjoy.