Friday, August 28, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Kennedy's biography and legacy will always be shadowed by that terrible event on Chappaquiddick Island, of course, which has more than anything become the zinger line for conservatives who use Kennedy and that event as shorthand for all of the things they consider wrong with liberalism. And Chappaquiddick almost certainly cost Kennedy any hope at the Presidency. Kennedy was a possible contender in 1972, 1976, and did challenge Carter in 1980 and absent the mysteries surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne it is difficult to imagine that Kennedy would not have received the Democratic nomination at some point.
But Chappaquiddick did happen and so Kennedy had to be content with forging one of the most remarkable careers in the history of the Senate. His liberalism came to embody him for critics and supporters alike (is there any honor greater than having one's very name become shorthand for liberalism?), but there is no question that he was formidable as a foe and towering as an ally. Kennedy was profoundly popular and respected among his peers and while he began his career with a reputation for being a lightweight he became one of the most substantial policy-oriented politicians in the Senate's long history even as he played the game of politics as well as any.
I grew up in New Hampshire, so Kennedy was never literally my Senator, but for all intents and purposes he was the Senator who represented me, a liberal, in a state that was during the 1980s as solidly Republican as ever there was. I was stunned when I read about his death even when it was obvious for months that this moment was coming. I had to compose myself for a second, before diving in to read and remember why Ted Kennedy was such a vital figure in American political life for four decades.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
What a pain in the arse.
The cynical question when my enthusiasm is at its peak is: "How long will this last before it is crushed out of me?" And about half of the answer to that question is dependent on my students (the other half is dependent upon administration, but that is a post for another time). A good, enthusiastic group can make the coming four months a pleasure. But all it takes is a few students, the ones always looking for the easiest path, the ones who come up with excuses easier than changes of clothes, the ones who smirk their way through a semester full of material they do not understand, to suck the energy from a professor. I am not teaching the survey this semester, which will help. It seems that the students absolutely least equipped to have any clue about what university life is all about have the most obnoxious criticisms. "There is too much reading! He grades too hard!" Not to put too fine a point on it, but how the fuck would you know what college-level reading and expectations are?
In any case, in an effort to nip some of the student excuses in the bud, I present to you the "Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (Plus a Few Extra)" that students try to pawn off on faculty and the responses from one professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. (Hat tip to Texas in Africa.)
Let the games begin!!!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I have to head to San Antonio for a family emergency, so sadly for you all, I'm sure, blogging may be light.
1. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
2. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
3. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
4. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
5. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
6. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
7. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
8. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
9. Rap music has always been mainstream.
10. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
11. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
12. The KGB has never officially existed.
13. Text has always been hyper.
14. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
15. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
16. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
17. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
18. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
19. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
20. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
21. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
22. The European Union has always existed.
23. McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
24. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
25. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
26. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
27. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
28. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
29. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
30. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
31. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
32. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
33. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
34. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
35. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
36. Brits have always owned The New York Daily News.
37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
39. It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
52. They have never been Saved by the Bell.
53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
75. There has always been blue Jell-O.
I feel ancient, and to the incoming freshman, I probably am.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Basically the strategy involved was that Williams manipulated a "blood bin" in order to allow a replacement to come into the game. That replacement just happened to be a goal kicking specialist during a game in which a drop or penalty would have made all the difference.
Self-indulgence time: I should note (while being allowed to tell my favorite anecdote from my Rhodes University rugby glory season) that the blood bin replacement has not always been in effect. In 1997 during "Tri-Varsity" weekend at Rhodes, in Grahamstown, South Africa, where I played rugby for the university, I had the ball on the wing inside the 22 yard line and was approaching the goal. In the process of going down in a maelstrom of University of Fort Hare defenders I took a boot to the face, right above the right eye. I got blood binned, but at the time, to replace me would have taken me out of the game for good (which would not have been much of a loss. Why my coaches did not replace me straightaway is still one of the eternal mysteries of my athletic career). So as one of the trainers began daintily to prepare all of the medicinal tricks in her kit bag to patch me up, I grabbed the roll of tape from her, ripped off a piece, popped it over the wound, and ran back onto the pitch. I was a bloody mess, but I finished the game, and when I crossed to the tunnel toward the locker room, one of my teammates screamed "Now You're a rugby player, Fucking American!" (Ahhh, cute university nicknames.) The result was seven stitches that afternoon and the esteem of my teammates (and only halfway through a season of playing with them!)
Monday, August 17, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
(Basically, if you're fighting off admitting you're middle aged, this piece is a must read.)
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog, where I have also been writing about, among other things, Hillary Clinton's trip to Africa, the responsibility of journalists to Africa, what I call the "boosters vs. bashers" debate, rugby, and much more.]
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Oh, and it goes without saying, but the Yankees Suck!
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
I remember the moment clearly, though I think I have conflated the context. I was riding in my Dad's silver Chevy Blazer, a big-assed SUV in an era where Big-assed was good and no one knew what an SUV was. We were listening to the radio, and they interrupted the broadcast with breaking news. Now keep in mind that this was an age before ESPN, before sports talk radio, before the internet. If you were a sports fan you had the games themselves when they were broadcast, you had the daily newspaper, and you had a few precious minutes on the news in the evening and snippets on the radio. Sports and news were simply not ubiquitous. Breaking news was a big deal, unlike today when the Sportscenter after Pardon the Interruption opens with breaking news virtually every day. ("This just in: Brett Favre could not choose between waffles or pancakes at breakfast this morning.")
Thurmon Munson, the Yankees fireplug of a catcher and the New York version of local hero Carlton Fisk, had gone down in a plane crash in Canton, Ohio in which he was the pilot. He was dead. And I was legitimately crushed. By that time I truly, absolutely, unquestionably loathed the Yankees. I hated Thurman Munson because he embodied the evil doppelganger of Pudge, and because he was the heart and soul of that mighty but detestable Yankees team. But even then I knew that the hate existed within a context and that some things -- life and death -- were more important.
In my memory I have always remembered hearing that broadcast, and its grim updates confirming the fatal climax, in New York with my Dad and his then-girlfriend. That memory is plausible -- she was from New York, Dad enjoyed a good two-or-three year span in which he spent much of his time in New York, even living on Long Island for a spell. My uncle had just moved to Long Island (where he raised my cousins as Red Sox fans, God bless him) and so we went down somewhat regularly in elementary school and junior high. But my guess is that when I heard that terrible news we were simply driving around Newport -- running to a farm supply store or an auto parts place for one of my Dad's projects on the farm. The memory provides a nice symmetry -- young Red Sox fan from a farm in rural New Hampshire driving with his Dad on the outskirts of the big city that represented so much promise and hope and excitement and most of all the damned Yankees, hearing news that for at least a little while changed his worldview. It may not have quite happened where I thought it happened, but the slight transformation, and the intrusion of the real world on what was still at that point the sparkly fantasy world of sports, was very real then, and still strikes me as one of the most real experiences I have had as a sports fan even thirty years hence.
Monday, August 03, 2009
They Peed, They PED'd:
If you're reading this, you almost certainly know the news: In the slow bleed that has become the infamous list of 104 names of people who tested positive for Performance Enhancing drugs, Sox stalwarts Manny Ramirez (now the Dodgers' problem) and beloved David Ortiz, Big Papi, were on the list. And if you've read this far, you know the response by the well paid writers and talking heads, who have shown time after time that they are a lot more concerned about this debate than the rest of us, despite their complicity/blindness/ignorance during the worst years of the rampant PED usage: OUTRAGE! TEETH GNASHING! TAINTED TITLES! To that I say: Bah.
Do not get me wrong -- this is not good news. But it also is the exact news you get when you let a sport run without a testing program, making the use of steroids during the time in question effectively decriminalized activity, akin to Hamsterdam in The Wire. The list, which of course was never supposed to be released or leaked, comes from a time when baseball did not have a program in place to stop this sort of activity. In a very real way, steroids, HGH, what have you, were taken no more seriously than doctoring the baseball. That guys then utilized these means should come as no surprise.
What do failed drug tests from 2003 tell us? That guys failed a test for a whole range of drugs -- including amphetamines and a range of pre-steroid supplements that were not necessarily even banned in those incarnations at the time. We have no idea what the failed tests mean. What we do know is that it should never have come to this -- the list should have been destroyed. I am no fan of Alex Rodriguez, as most of you know (or should, if you read this). But the fact that he was on that list is something we never should have known. ARod is a bit of a tool, and he managed to make matters worse in his attempt to come clean, but this should not have been a story, at least from the vantage point of his name on that list being leaked. As for Selena Roberts' book, well, that's another matter. ARod still might be the greatest player I've ever seen. That does not preclude him from being a douchenozzle.
But above all, let's put to rest all of this talk about tainted titles. The Red Sox were playing on a level playing field in 2004 (and how any of this could possible taint 2007, when there was a testing program, eludes me entirely). Indeed, the team they beat in an epochal ALCS, the Yankees, had arguably the largest demonstrable list of those on the infamous list or otherwise under suspicion or confirmed. No one has clean hands in all of this. The idea that the titles of the Sox (or White Sox, or Cardinals, or Marlins, or, for that matter, the Yankees (nah, fuck the Yankees) is absurd. If the 2004 red Sox had played the 1975 Red Sox in the World series, that would be one thing (though players in that era had their own PEDs, most notably amphetamines, or "greenies," as they were known by the players who gobbled them by the handful). The idea of tainted titles is silly, ahistorical, and shrill.
Now, the records matter is another factor entirely. but even that issue I cannot exactly get worked up about. Whatever advantage the use of PED's provided players in the last two decades (why are many trying to draw a line starting in the mid-1990s anyway? If we know anything it's that we don't know anything -- fans in the bleachers in Fenway were chanting "Steroids!" at Jose Canseco in the late 1980s. Were we wrong on the merits? Hard to make that case now) is nothing compared to the abomination of segregation that profoundly colors everything that went on before Jackie Robinson's lonely walk onto the Diamonds at Flatbush, and really, for another decade or so, until real integration took place at all levels of baseball.
It also drives me mad that some sports are completely off the hook -- football most notably. We see sportswriters lamenting the baseball PED crisis in the purplest prose possible while football players get off with a 4-game slap and a wink and nod. PED's in baseball were not a good thing. They were not the end of the world. I wish this had not hit my beloved Red Sox, but Big Papi is still one of my favorite players of all time. Say it Ain't So? Sure. But it is so. Let's take off the scales and not pretend this is the end of the world.
Meanwhile the trade deadline has come and passed. The only big Sox deal involved the Red Sox trading a couple of legitimately promising (but not absolutely top tier) young guys for Victor Martinez of the fire sale Indians. Martinez plays both catcher and first base (as well as DH when necessary), van hit, and because of his versatility, he gives Francona some serious flexibility, which will be essential both in dealing with some fragility (Mike Lowell, eg.) and with egos, given that there are now more guys than spots in the lineup. But with Kevin Youkilis' ability to play gold glove-caliber first and third base, and Jason Varitek's need for more time off than he has been getting, my guess is that what might seem like too much will at times seem like barely enough in the weeks to come.
The Sox were one of many teams allegedly in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. And I have no doubt that they were players until the end. But it would have been uncharacteristic for the Theo Epstein era Sox to have poured too much into a 32-year old pitcher with just over a year left on his contract. There is not a team in baseball that would not want a warhorse like Halladay. But Epstein had a ceiling, I'll guarantee that, and he refused to smash through it even as all around him there was an air of panic as the Sox completed their worst run of the season. I have said it repeatedly over the years, but the Sox are learning yet again that there is no such thing as too much starting pitching. This year, as in so many of the last few, the Red Sox seemed to have more starting pitchers than slots in the rotation. But in a long season those extra arms always end up as to few arms. Starting pitching may yet prove to be the bridge too far for these Red Sox. But the price was too high for a guy who seems determined to test the 2011 free agent waters.
In sum, with all of the rumors that were swirling (I most wanted the Sox to find a way to get the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, but that too proved impossible), the Red Sox remembered that the trade deadline, like politics, is the art of the possible. The Sox did what they could. Now we'll see if that is enough.
The Pennant Race:
Move drugs and business aside and what we have stretched out before us will be another wonderful pennant race. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays are three of the best teams in baseball and are going to fight it out for two postseason slots in what is still the most exclusive playoff system in sports by a long way. This coming week the Sox face a two-game series against the Rays followed by a four-game series against the Yanks in the New Toilet Bowl. The odds are the Sox will split these series, as always seems to happen in even-numbered series. Win either one and the Sox will feel pretty good. Pull out a sweep and it becomes a great week. And of course they want to avoid doing the unthinkable, so let's don't think about it.
The Sox have a hellacious August schedule in which they face the Yanks twice, the Rays, the Tigers, the White Sox, the Rangers, and a feisty Toronto team twice. But the Sox have a tendency to rise and fall based on the level of competition. My guess is that this week will settle nothing save for the fact that there will be much left to settle. September almost promises to have the Sox and Yanks fighting for the division title with a future October date penciled in. That is as it should be. No one is happy about PED revelations. But in the end we have the game, the glorious, wondrous, fantastical game that is baseball.