Monday, November 30, 2009

TNR Tosses Around the Pigskin

When I think of football I think of . . . The New Republic. Well, not really. But it turns out that every so often the venerable liberal thought magazine has considered the gidiron. Take a walk through TNR's football archives as you gear up for tonight's Pats-Saints clash.

My prediction: Patriots 38 Saints 31.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Marfa, Texas (And Thanksgiving Greetings)

If you are ever in my neck of the woods, look me up. We'll visit Marfa, down in Big Bend country.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Quid Quo Pro(file) (Self Indulgence Alert)

Here's the deal: If you blurb one of my books, and The New York Times does a little lifestyles of the rich and famous profile of you (Note: No causal relation between the blurb and the feature), I'm going to link that profile on dcat. Because I'm that kind of guy.

Bruscino Bait

The New York Times published a somewhat peculiar op-ed this past weekend. I cannot be certain, but it seems that in "How World War II Wasn't Won" David P. Colley, the author of Decision at Strasbourg: Ike’s Strategic Mistake to Halt the Sixth Army Group at the Rhine in 1944, gets a very high-profile opportunity to lay out the thesis of his book, a gig many, many, many of us would love to have the opportunity to take.

As a result, though, Colley gets to make a pretty history-centered argument. I have no idea as to the merits (or novelty) of the argument, though I have to assume that by going after Eisenhower Colley is positioning himself in some sort of revisionist camp. Hopefully someone who knows more about this than I do will weigh in. (Calling Tom, Tom Please Report For Duty!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Last Cheer for the Huskies

Noertheastern University is cutting its football program and it is doing so because of money (or the lack thereof). I always hate seeing any college sports cut, because I do see sports as bringing a lot more to the table than they take from it. At the same time, in the ranking of priorities at most colleges and universities we need a little perspective. Football is important. It is not essential. And in the case of the Northeastern program it appears that "high costs, lack of fan interest, and inadequate facilities doomed the program" and that the loss of the program will be a gain for Northeastern's student body.

Growing Paine

It appears that conservatives who are embracing Thomas Paine may not quite understand him. Yes, I realize I'm grabbing at low-hanging fruit when I assert ignorance on the part of Glen Beck and Sarah Palin. But it's not my fault that low-hanging fruit has become the face of modern conservatism.

Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

So the majority of Republicans don't think Obama legitimately won the election and that somehow ACORN stole it. This is just completely idiotic and unhinged. But I also really do not believe that it is true. This is one of those questions that is so reliant upon party identification and sample size and . . . . but seriously -- are you fucking kidding me? How is it possible that a single human being could think something so monumentally stupid never mind even a poor and surely not representative sample? Even if the margin of error were 30% that would be batshit crazy.

You Take That Back, Sir.

This article in Spin vexed me. Beyond being largely incoherent, it is based on a complete Strawman. Who, precisely, is arguing that "Radiohead can do no wrong"? I love Radiohead. They are in my all-time top five. But I am happy to entertain arguments that their recent output has been too heavily doused in electronica, or that Thom Yorke's vision has overwhelmed that of the rest of the band, or that they should be more prolific, or whatever. I would disagree with some of those points, I would agree with others. But if Chris Norris' article is any indication, the critics of Radiohead are in a lot worse shape than even I thought, and I am of the belief that their argument is untenable to begin with.

Plus, Radiohead is fucking awesome.

Slow News Day in the Permian Basin (Self Indulgence Alert!)

You know it's a slooooooooowwww news day in West Texas when this is on the front page of the Midland Reporter-Telegram!

In the Service of Clio

For those of you in the historical profession, and especially early in your careers, I direct you to "In the Service of Clio," a blog that describes itself as providing "essays on career management in the historical profession." The professor who runs the blog recruits history PhD's working in various aspects of the profession -- various subdisciplines in the professoriate and in different types of schools and departments, archivists and librarians, public historians, foreign service officers, and the like.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stoke-on-Trent Goes Green!

As many of you know, I spent a good hunk of my spring/summer as a fallow at the David Bruce Centre for American Studies at the University of Kent in England. The nearest town to the self-contained university is Stoke-on-Trent. I'm pleased to report that Stoke-on-Trent is set to become the first city to sign up to the country's "10:10" pledge to cut its carbon emissions by 10% during 2010 and thus in a way to become Britain's first "Green City."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Impact: Factor

For those of you in academia, and especially in the humanities, you will find this Stefan Collini article in the Times Literary Supplement on the ways in which research is being assessed in the United Kingdom particularly important.

Trusting America

I simply do not understand the outcry against exposing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to a criminal trial in New York City. Indeed most of the arguments are either irrelevant or overstated (and of course not a few of them are the result of the fact that if Obama said it was day at noontime, the vast swath of the right would proclaim it to be night). Charles Krauthammer sums up the argument as well as anyone -- which is to say, not particularly well -- in today's Washington Post:

September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself. A decade later, the deed will be given voice. KSM has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable -- a civilian trial in the media capital of the world -- from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America.

I have no idea what "September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself" means, and neither do you, because it is nonsense, words that are intended to be portentous and meaningful but that are instead empty and useless. But that's not the point. The point, it seems, is that Charles Krauthammer and his ilk have no faith in the very things that make us better than the KSMs of this world. They have no faith in our ability to protect a courtroom in New York City. They have no faith that our truth is better than the jihadist's propaganda. They have no faith that our judicial system can prevail.

For many on the right -- and Krauthammer is only exhibit A -- the only real factor in terrorism is that it is a useful cudgel with which to whack those they disagree over the head. In the wake of that awful tragedy on 9/11 conservatives and Republicans were quick to point out that the failures of intelligence and security were the fault of no party and no politician, or rather, of all parties and all politicians, a useful conceit for them when they occupied the White House and both houses of Congress. But ever since that moment when suddenly accountability was so difficult to glean the right has been looking for ways to paint Democrats and liberals as soft on terrorism and weak on foreign policy. And if that means disparaging the American system, so be it. When Democrats and liberals criticized foreign policy during the staggering run of incompetence that was Bush years, the right was quick to play the un-American card, so quick to impugn the patriotism of those who disagreed with them. But apparently patriotism, like everything else, is contingent upon the prevailing political winds.

I think our truth is better than the jihadist propaganda. Clearly conservatives do not. That's a shame. There was a time when he seemed to love this country. It's amazing what Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill will do to a man's patriotism. Who knew that conservative love of country was only skin deep?

Put Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on trial. Give his poisonous rantings the widest audience possible. Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of upholding America's values. It also is the right thing to do because unlike Charles Krauthammer, I believe both that our ideas are better than the jihadists' and that any public airing of those ideas is a win for the United States of America.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Academics and Media

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked a number of academics about "issues of education, communications, and news and cultural literacy" and "how the decline of those news media will affect higher education." Their answers are thoughtful and very much worth considering.

I am one of those people who laments the decline, and probably eventual death, of the print newspaper. But I do not mistake the physical presence of print and cheap paper with a loss of good things to read, viable sources of opinion, or varying viewpoints. There will always be demand for these things, and the best of today's print media will adjust, the worst will fail, and that's the way the system is supposed to work. Yes, I'd miss a real honest-to-goodness Sunday newspaper, but I also believe that even a handful of those will survive, even if in morphed, national form. But the best papers are basically national in nature anyhow. The Sunday New York Times still carries with it as metro section, but let's be real -- the average reader of the Sunday Times does not give a damn about bond issues in Eastchester.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ending the Hypocrisy

Sigh. So when George W. Bush was president, it was un-American and undemocratic to filibuster judicial nominees. But now it is apparently ok for Republicans to entertain doing so against Obama's nominees or proposed bills.

I feel about the filibuster largely what I feel about the Electoral College. Both are in desperate need of reform, but no matter when you do it the motives will seem to stem from sheer politics. In the wake of 2000 reforming the Electoral College would have seemed like nothing more than a Democratic Party reaction to the 2000 election, rather than seeing the failures of the 2000 election as impetus for reform. Changing filibuster rules would almost certainly be even more problematic, though if a party got up to 65 or so votes in the Senate they could just pound it through, but then they would have enough votes to override filibusters, and would want to reserve that right for the future.

There is so much self-interest involved that hypocrisy almost inevitably follows. But there is almost nothing democratic and not much more that is republican (small d, small r) about allowing a minority to thwart the will of the elected majority out of sheer political obstructionism. I'd happily support needing a a super-majority on some issues, and on others, such as civil rights, the will of the majority certainly is secondary to Constitutional and other rights. But on their face the Electoral College and filibuster serve to protect the few from anything other than republican democracy. Let's try to get rid of these remnants of the 19th century. There are no slaveowners whose rights we have to be cowed into protecting lest they blow the whole project apart.

The Wire's Greatest Hits

Courtesy of Matthew Yglesias, via Radley Balko, great moments from The Wire, the greatest show in television history.

[Is it me, or has Blogger made it impossible to embed YouTube videos?]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Linkiness

While I recover, you should check out:

AO Scott of The New York Times writes about the greatest movie moments of the past decade.

At The Boston Globe Renee Loth argues, rightly, I think, that Democrats should "call the filibuster bluff." Reconciliation seems smart to me -- assuming they have the 51 votes, ram that bill through. Let the Republicans whine about a democratic majority prevailing.

At Newsweek Niall Ferguson makes the provocative but dumb argument that 1979 was a more significant year than 1989. Hint: The Cold War was kind of a big deal.

The Unbearable Lightness (And Deep, Deep Dishonesty) of Sarah Palin

I hate a world in which smart conservatives are consigned to the periphery. There are two great intellectual/political traditions in contemporary American history. They are liberalism and conservatism. I'm a liberal. I find much of conservatism to be wrong. But conservatism is not immoral or un-American, no matter what the continuing prattling of Dick Cheney teaches us. Nor are the variations of these traditions somehow prima facie flawed.

I am also worried about a world in which Sarah Palin is the spokesperson for modern conservatism. But today the ruthlessly dishonest Sarah Palin represents the most vocal world of conservatism, yet we know that she is deeply and profoundly mendacious. And she is unwilling to be challenged.

Based on sheer politics a huge part of me hopes that Palin becomes the GOP brand. But the problem with that would be that Republicans would then be compelled to support her. I knew Ronald Reagan. I loathed Ronald Reagan. And yet Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. I hope that America's right knows the difference. I fear that they don't.

Um . . .

Not to bitch about the officiating in a game whan the Patriots were clearly the better team, but: That was a fucking first down.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Up! Again

Here is what I wrote about the Pixar movie Up! After seeing it in the theater:
Up! is simply a beautiful movie. Toward the beginning it has what might be the single most emotionally powerful rendering of lived love between a couple as they grow old together. It is a movie about many things, not least of them loss, and it is poignant and funny and, yes, heart-breaking. It is perfectly suitable for -- indeed might be best appreciated by -- adults, but if you do not have kids, borrow someone else's so you are not the skeevie adult going to a Pixar movie.

After watching it on dvd as part of the Mrs. Dcat Birthday Bonanza yesterday, I double down on that sentiment. I will be profoundly disapponted if Up! (I think the exclamation point is part of the title) is not a finalist for best picture, animation be damned.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Aerosmith, RIP?

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Aerosmith. Although traditionally labeled a Boston band, they actually got their start in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire, where I grew up. It's tough to be a kid growing up in the area without absorbing the bands full corpus. Furthermore, when Aerosmith was starting out, they were regulars in the local party scene so that the first time I planned to go to an Aerosmith concert my Mom was stunned that I'd pay $20 to see them when she saw them for free every weekend.

One great story (that I've heard from multiple sources) among myriads that people roughly my parents' age tell that created the band's local legend involves Steve Tyler hitting on my Mom. It's an anecdote that embodies both figures quite well. At a party one night Tyler was wearing nothing but a fur coat. He went up to my Mom and sort of embraced her, opened up his coat, and put himself on offer. My Mom's response? "Put it away, Steve."

So despite the fact that it has been a long, long time since Aerosmith put out anything even vaguely relevant, it was still something of a shock to know that the band may be no more. Always racked by fraught internal dynamics (they broke up once before in the early 1980s) it seems that Tyler has decided to walk that way.

Deadspin Giveth to the Sportsguy, Taketh Away Brutally

Just days after Deadspin founder Will Leitch wrote a nice piece recognizing the contributions of The Sportsguy Bill Simmons, the site publishes Charles Pierce's absolute takedown of Simmons' new book on the NBA. (Extra credit to Pierce for linking this glorious Molly Ivins evisceration of Camille Paglia.)

I know it is too grad-schoolish of me, but I find sympathy with both Leich and Pierce on Sportsguy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So the Baby Boomers had 1968. Holy shit, have they told us, and told us, and told us of the wonders of 1968. Because in 1968 they changed the world, you see.

But of course they didn't. As a general rule of thumb, the baby boomers who tell you all about how they changed the world are not the ones who actually changed the world. So some ex hippie will prattle on about peace and love and someone like John Lewis, who really did change a particularly noxious corner of the world, doesn't feel the need constantly to reinforce that point. And John Lewis is a politician, for whom plugging his role in changing the world ought to be front-and-center. (It's actually remarkable how few of the Civil Rights Movement's activists act like your apodictic baby boomers, when the irony is that they are the ones who are most in a position to act like self-important, self-righteous, and self-indulgent twits. Ahhh, baby boomers, the dubious gift that keeps on giving, even when we make it clear we really don't like the gift.)

Don't get me wrong -- 1968 was a remarkable year, made all the more so because its currents were truly international. It's a year I love to teach. And it's a year that has come to symbolize both the best and worst of that strange decade. But for my generation, 1989 was every bit as important, with the added benefit of 1989 having been a time when the world really did re-order itself significantly.

Twenty years ago (gulp) I graduated from high school and headed off to Williams. Little did I know when I made the two-plus hour ride into an entirely different world that within a few months much of the world that I knew would transform itself. The Berlin Wall, the prevailing symbol and metaphor of the Cold War, would fall, and that collapse would itself provide a metaphor for the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc and the dawn of a new era. As 1989 gave way to 1990 FW de Klerk, who had risen from the ranks of Afrikaner Nationalism with a seemingly impeccable apartheid pedigree, released Nelson Mandela from prison and unbanned the ANC and PAC, setting the stage for epochal transformations in South Africa. The Simpsons made its debut in December 1989. And of course Milli Vanilli's first album, destined to win a Grammy in 1990, was released in the United States. Tectonic shifts all.

Much like 1968, the legacy of 1989 is "Still Up For Debate." Any series of events that causes The Boston Globe to heap praise upon a Bush (albeit the competent one) is clearly monumental.

Worth Spending Your D'oh!

I have not yet read John Ortved's The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, but it certainly looks like something I'd be interested in.

By the way, I don't know if I buy the idea that the new seasons are worse than the so-called golden age. Golden Age mythologies are almost always shallow and wrong, and what I find is that The Simpsons gets better with age -- episodes that at first don't blend with our idealized images of good Simpsons suddenly fit perfectly once blended into syndication.

That said, as far as favorite moments go, I would have to go with any number of Mr. Burns lines, such as when Mr. Smithers proposed that they go out for Chinese, and Burns replies, "Bah, those people are all gristle," or when, after losing an election for Governor Burns looks at the hoi paloi and remarks "Look at those slackjawed troglodytes, Smithers. Yet if I were to have them killed I'd be the one to go to prison."

Plus, I am not certain I could teach my classes without The Simpsons as a reference. The Simpsons: Is there anything it can't do?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


If you take the advice of Glenn Frankel in The Washington Post and decide to visit the Texas Panhandle, be sure to swing on down to Odessa. We'll have a drink and a meal.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Book Talk (With Special Bonus Self Indulgence!)

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had an exchange between Mark Bauerlein and Priscilla Wald, heavy hitters in the world of literary scholarship, about Harvard University Press' recently released A New Literary History of America, which has been garnering a great deal of attention of late. It makes for a fascinating engagement with what by all accounts seems like a major publishing event.

Speaking of major publishing events (shamelessness follows!) this weekend at the Southern Historical Association's annual meeting the University Press of Kentucky will be holding various book signings for some of its authors. I will be signing copies of Freedom's Main Line on Saturday at noonish in the book exhibit. If you are in the Kentuckianaohio area, swing by!

Monday, November 02, 2009

WaMo Turns 40

Washington Monthly celebrates its 40th birthday this year. As part of the celebration, the magazine has posted some of its greatest hits, which you can access here. Among my favorites: Taylor Branch on Civil Rights in Southwest Georgia, the smugness of baby boomers, the dubiousness of Woodward and Bernstein's cozying up to certain sources, and an assessment of the magazine's "Bullseyes and Blunders" over the last four decades.