Thursday, December 30, 2010
I am traveling to New England today for eleven days of the Boston-New Hampshire access punctuated by New Year's shenanigans in Boston, a few days in the old hometown, and the American Historical Association annual meeting in Boston, where I am on a panel on the Freedom Rides that will take place before a showing of Freedom Riders. If you're in the Boston area, do swing on by. I'll even sign this if you have a copy. (Prediction: My shamelessness will extend into 2011!)
Happy New Year, everyone!
Friday, December 24, 2010
#1 from my "Best" list:
1. White Christmases, the Smell of Evergreens, and the Idea of Tradition: I grew up in New Hampshire. So for me Christmas is supposed to be white, the house is supposed to smell of a real evergreen tree, needles are supposed to be everywhere, and someone is supposed to say something horrible to someone else at one of the family Christmas events, causing a death spiral of recrimination. I am in San Antonio as I write this. It’s 71 degrees — down from 84 earlier in the week in Odessa. A real Christmas tree would cost more than my car and so we have a fake tree (as does everyone whose house I’ve been in this month), which my 18-year-old self would recoil from in disgust (I’m with ya, you dorky little shit.) The only smell of evergreen comes from candles Mrs. dcat found at some overpriced shop. And it’s highly unlikely that anyone in my Mexican American wife’s family will say something horribly racist tomorrow. Sigh.
#1 from my "Worst" list:
1. The “Controversy” over “The War on Christmas”: Ok, let’s get it straight: Christians, this is not just your time of year. Hell, you appropriated it from the pagans, moving your holiday (Christ was born in March or April or something) in order to co-opt theirs. For ages the end of the year has been a time of celebration and commemoration. Kwanzaa is “made up”? Well so is every goddamned holiday that ever existed. Hannukah isn’t actually that important a holiday on the Jewish calendar? Why do you care? I say “Happy Holidays” rather than Merry Christmas? Where to begin with this one. For one thing, the root words of “Holidays” are, guess what you ignorant troglodyte, “holy days”. And I don’t know the religious or cultural background of everyone I run into. Maybe they are Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Wiccan. Or British (they say “Happy Christmas” — why is Fox News declaring war on happiness?) . Or maybe they worship the trees. Or maybe they know that even in the 1950s people said “happy holidays” because it’s not some liberal neologism. Or maybe I also want you to have a Happy New Year and a glorious Boxing Day. Or maybe there are a million different reasons why I say “happy holidays” and none of them have anything to do with waging war on Christmas. Now give me my damned presents, hand me that eggnog (hey, is that brandy?), turn up “Christmastime is Here,” and give me a minute, because I want to call my Mom to wish her, yes, a Merry Christmas.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
When I was a kid I split time between my Mom's house in the woods and my Dad's farm just down the road. From relatively early on we had pretty much full independence. On a nice day we'd be sent out in the morning to find our own fun. I cannot tell you the number of hours I spent up in the hayloft (which was literally suspended from the second-floor barn ceiling some 20 feet above the floor) or amidst the shards of metal and glass all over the place. Barbed wire was just another impediment -- or better yet an addition -- to the forts and tunnels we created. We'd climb the machinery and dangle from beams. We'd run around like we owned the place and I don't remember my grandmother helicoptering even though she was always in the house and occasionally would pop out and give us a shout offering a popsicle. We'd run down the hill behind the barn (the one that was perfect for sledding in the winter) at full speed to see who could get the furthest before wiping out.
In the woods we'd climb trees and jump from the branches. Or in the nearby fields we'd play tackle football, or baseball complete with hit pitches and in one-on-one or two-on-two games it counted as an out if you threw the ball and nailed a runner between bases. We had boxing matches with winter mittens as gloves. No one chased us around to make sure we drank enough water (we ran into the house when we were thirsty) or had enough to eat ("your arms ain't broke" is something I heard on more than one occasion when I whined about wanting a snack.) We'd chuck iceballs at one another in the winter and attach little sour apples to sticks and whip them at one another in the fall. We'd fight when angry.
And mine wasn't some sort of antiquated, mythological childhood. Everybody I knew did this stuff. And I'd bet anyone in my age range has similar stories, catered to the suburbs or the city or what have you. I probably sound like an old man romanticizing the good old days, and I never want to be that guy, so I suppose that there are things I missed that I didn't even realize. When you grow up poor or working class there are all sorts of disadvantages that you internalize, and my kids (touch wood) will have all sorts of advantages including me probably helping them to schedule them beyond free time while I hover and coach and beam. It's a different world now just as it was a different world then from what my parents knew, a world they always put up as being somehow tougher and more authentic just as their parents surely did for them.
Nonetheless, I know that my kids (again, assuming it happens) will never run on the farm or get to enjoy seemingly endless expanses of woods to explore. And so I'll tell them stories, about the time I tried to jump from a tree onto the back of a friend's speeding minibike, or about taking an iceball square in the nose (my first broken bone!), or about jumping from the neighbor's roof into a pile of leaves that proved insufficient to cushion the fall, or about that time we . . .
Monday, December 13, 2010
All that said, I still believe in the idea of the album. And I still consume music by the album, whether on cd or through the magic of downloading (and I still have the tendency to transfer music onto a backup cd -- keep in mind that problem some time ago when Amazon pulled books people had bought directly from peoples' Kindles.
Anyhow, I've tons of catching up to do, so there might be a lot of writing about music in the next few weeks.
Antony and the Johnsons -- The Crying Light: I was introduced to Antony (real name) and the Johnsons (not) by my friend Dan, who was one of my professors at UNCC. We have always shared music with one another and there is enough mutual benefit that we both introduce one another to lots of new stuff. If I were to characterize Antony's voice I would say that it evokes a more operatically inclined Jeff Buckley. This is what I would call "time and place" music inasmuch as it won't fit every occasion. I can listen to, say, U2 or Radiohead just about any time and anywhere. This is better as Sunday brunch or writing or bedtime music. It might not represent the best playlist to pull out at a party. Grade: B
Arcade Fire -- "The Suburbs": This is the It Band of 2010. And in reality Arcade Fire have been the It Band for quite a while now (Funeral in 2004 and Neon Bible in 2007 were arguably the best albums of their respective years). And why not? The shit-to-quality ratio in music -- and not just in this era -- is always gallingly disappointing. Yet there is always good stuff to listen to, and the best stuff in any given generation is as good as that in every given generation. Most people get frozen in time when it comes to music, and that time tends to be in those years between 16 and 22, high school and college, a phenomenon that I have always found sad, especially since these are the sorts of people always most inclined to make declarations about rock being dead and music was better when, and all of the grand pronouncements that can only be made when one adopts a pose of defiant ignorance and gauzy nostalgia. For the rest of us who care about music, however, time marches on. There are those for whom music ended when the Beatles broke up or when Kurt Cobain gave up on this mortal coil. That's too bad. They are missing out on Arcade Fire, and they are missing out on what will likely be the album of the year in the mind of a lot of critics and fans, some of whom will someday insist that music died when Arcade Fire broke up in 2016. Grade: A
Belle and Sebastian -- Belle and Sebastian Write About Love: The most endearingly twee band of all is, endearingly, somewhat less twee on their latest offering. But the essentials are the same -- catchy melodies with a sweet sadness, lush musicianship and production, boy-girl vocals, pure pop sounds with clever lyrics. If you like Belle and Sebastian you'll like this album. If you don't like Belle and Sebastian you'll reject my opening premise in this paragraph. I like Belle and Sebastian. Grade: B+
BLK JKS -- After Robots: Languages: English, Xhosa, Pedi, Zulu, and Tswana; Musical strands: Township jazz, mbqanga, rock, and Kwaito: These are the influences of BLK JKS, a South African export that carries with it a melange of post-Apartheid influences and that continues to stand on the cusp of being South Africa's breakthrough hipster export. Think TV on the Radio and you have a pretty good sense of the polyglot, complex, and occasionally frustrating sound BLK JKS (pronounced "Black Jacks") brings to the table. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with my first exposure to BLK JKS, a group I had actually never even heard referenced in South Africa at the time they started getting modest amounts of exposure in the sorts of circles where modest amounts of exposure equal massive amounts of buzz. But something keeps bringing me back to these guys, and I suspect it's that they produce a daring, epic sound that challenges and engages. In that sense too they are much like TV on the Radio. At a certain point promise has to reach fruition and the whole has to start adding up to something approximating the sum of its parts. BLK JKS isn't there yet, but they keep knocking on the door, and for me that's enough to keep me coming back. Grade: B
The Corin Tucker Band -- 1,000 Years: The starting point for this album will always have to be Sleater-Kinney, one of my favorite bands of all time, the apogee of all of the Riot Grrrl sturm und flannely drang of the post-Nirvana 90s. Corin Tucker was part of that power trio, a band I saw close the Olympia Theater and who had at least two albums that changed my life (Dig Me Out, The Hot Rock; run, don't walk; order them now, thank me later). Tucker's voice was one of the key reasons for SK's sublime power, a weapon that was all the more potent because it was not always fully unleashed. But when it was, oh, what a weapon. And so naturally the expectation that many fans had of this album was that it would be all about unleashing. As a result there is a hint of lamentation in the reviews. I can see that, but it is beside the point. We always expect our favorite artists to release a slightly different version of their last album, which is why it takes more than one listen to get a sense of just about any new album, but especially from a familiar artist, and why the first impression is almost always naive disappointment. The same can be said of solo releases -- we expect them to take on the character of the artist, to be sure, but mostly just to take on that character while giving us a stripped down version of their original band. With Sleater-Kinney on indefinite hiatus (and fans hang on to that label because the idea of a complete breakup is simply too much to bear) that yearning for the familiar was all the more trenchant. Tucker fully unloads in one song, "Doubt." This song has it all. Vertiginous guitar, drums getting the piss pounded out of them, and that voice. Holy fucking shit, that voice. She completely unloads at the 45 second mark, only briefly, and you're hanging on the very edge of the world during that entire time. There is a dopey 16-measure interregnum in the middle of the song that makes no sense whatsoever, just crashing waves and silence, but then they seem to use that as an excuse to drumkick a watusi beat out of nowhere, and why the fuck not? 3:22 of almost perfection, and almost perfection is usually better than perfection. Grade: A
Friday, December 10, 2010
We are fast approaching the 150th anniversary. And while much has changed much remains the same. (Yes, it is confusing that the Times uses the same photo for two different stories.)
Look, the Civil War was about slavery. The South fought the Civil War to preserve slavery and we know this because the states told us as much in the secession documents and in their conversations with one another. Sure, they had other complaints with the North, but none would have risen to a level anything beyond harsh words had the South's oligarchs not been insistent on maintaining their peculiar institution.
This is a message we need to pound down peoples' throats as the sesquicentennial approaches because there will be a serious rearguard attempt to revive States' Rights arguments about the war. the rejoinder to the assertion of States' Rights is always: The States' Rights to do what?
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Tom's book would make an excellent Christmas gift. And while we're at it, since 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides I hope you'll consider giving Freedom's Main Line as a gift (or buying it for yourself if you have not yet done so.) It's even available on Kindle.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Thankfully there are voices of sanity out there, and one of them is former NFL player Nate Jackson, who is also a pretty good writer. He holds back very few punches in this piece for Deadspin. Here is the glorious closing paragraph to give you just a taste:
Instead, a grown man was provoked into losing his cool and dropping shitbombs all over the airwaves. So now the manufactured perception is that the quarterback not only doesn't give a fuck about his team losing, but that he can't keep his cool either. So let's run his ass out of town because a couple of emotionally stunted football pedants can't relax and laugh it off. Meanwhile, in his second year as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, frequent laugher Raheem Morris has his team playing better than any Gruden-coached team has in years. Now that's funny.The reality is that Anderson could have been laughing for any reason -- my assumption was gallows humor of the "if I did not laugh I'd cry" type. We all want our teams to win games. But it gets awfully tiring to hear fans and talking heads try to insert themselves in the minds of players and accuse them of not taking the games -- and thus their livelihoods and reputations -- seriously enough. Derek Anderson may or may not suck ("suck" being a relative term, of course -- empirically he is better at his job than you are at yours unless you too are in the top 30 in your field in the country, and if you are reading dcat almost by definition you are not) but if he sucks it has literally nothing to do with whether he is "serious" enough during games.
UPDATE: Charles Pierce's take is equally worth reading.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
This is nothing more than idle speculation as far as I can tell. Jeter's prime is long past, and so the Red Sox should not want him for anything more than a cost-contained option to tweak the Yankees and then only if Jeter is willing to move to third (even if they ultimately use him as a shortstop -- I still hope they re-sign Beltre).
But can you imagine the reaction? Just for that reason (and because the Sox have plenty of money) I'd love to see them offer Jeter, say, four years and $64 million or even three years and $57 million. Stoke the bidding process, stoke the rivalry, and maybe acquire a stopgap shortstop.
I respect Jeter even if he is one of the most overrated players in the history of sports. But just from a brinksmanship angle this makes some sense. The Yankees almost certainly won't let him go to the Red Sox, certainly not over a few million dollars or an extra contract year. But can you imagine if they did? Criminy.
I's not going to happen. But this is a nice palate cleanser between hideous Monday Night games matching Arizona and San Francisco and the nightmare that is the BCS. Plus, it provides a nice lead-in to Pats-Jets on Monday night.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Oh, wait, depending on whose definition we are using the free market can be awful?
Oh, dammit. The world is complex and sloganeering does not actually help describe the world?
But I was reassured by a sloganeering and bumper stickering world.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
The next year, when I was a freshman in college, Newport went back to the NHIAA with its tail between its legs, entered the normal divisional system (which has changed at least five times in the last three decades) and won a state championship in a tiny division of the state's tiniest football playing schools, and between then and 1995 won at least two other championships. After something of a dry spell (brought about at least in part because Newport continues to be one of the smallest, if the the smallest, football-playing high school in New Hampshire) Newport again emerged as state champions last weekend after crushing a team from Gilford that had defeated my Tigers by twenty points two weeks earlier. The final score was 35-0, all the more impressive because it took place on Gilford's home field. And in typical Newport fashion, residents of the Sunshine Town traveled well -- we likely outnumbered the home crowd by a substantial margin. My junior year we played a pivotal conference game against Lebanon, 45 minutes up the road, and Newport, a town of 6,000 people then as now, had fans numbering in the thousands on the sidelines. (For posterity's sake I should note that I made the first tackle in that game against Labanon's All State kick returner and running back. Yeay me!).
My uncles won a couple of state championships back in the 1970s and Newport won another a few years before I got to the varsity. But because of the CVL experiment I never got particularly close to a state championship in football despite playing for teams that had a record of something like 18-7 in my three years. And while I am proud of my individual track state championships, it's just not the same thing inasmuch as no one actually gives a shit.
I certainly have not long lamented not winning a state championship in high school. I was always better at track than football, and while I was recruited by a few small colleges to play football, once I got into Williams I banished any of those ideas, though I have long regretted not even trying to "walk on" for the Ephs. But Newport winning brought back a bit of melancholy.
Newport is a small high school in a small town. The connection that one has to a school such as NHS is deeply personal, made all the more so by the intimacy of a community such as NHS. I would guess that there have been fewer graduates of Newport High School since I left for Williams than walk the halls of Permian High School this morning. I know the head coach (who was one of my high school teachers, who was then the baseball coach who had been passed over for the head coaching job, who some of the town idiots -- including the AD -- tried to remove a few years ago after his only losing season in nearly two decades, and who is by just about any measure the most successful football coach in Newport's pretty solid football history) and talked to him on Sunday. Most of the players have names I recognize -- I played with their fathers or uncles or brothers. And now they are New Hampshire Division VI State Champions.
Glory To Newport . . .
Friday, November 12, 2010
It is idiocy to believe that only English professors should be encouraging writing skills, so in order to pre-empt this blood-boiling criticism I address it headlong (I relish pointing out that our history department has published more books than our English department). And one of the ways I do this is to argue that in nearly every career that they choose they will have to write and that a huge percentage of that writing will come in the form of emails.
It might seem odd to equate writing a college essay with constructing an email. But the two really are not all that different. In both you are trying to make a point and eventually accomplish some goal. To be effective both must be clear, well organized, and well thought out. And in both cases the audience matters.
At his fine blog that is otherwise devoted to "research, international development, foreign policy, and violent conflict," Chris Blattman has a nice post that I hope gets as much attention as possible: "Students: How to Email to your Professor, employer, and professional peers." Students, and all of us, really, should commit his twelve rules to memory.
(By the way, put me in the column of those who loathe the so-called "democracy" of anonymous, unfiltered Amazon reviews. Yeah, yeah, I'm an elitist. Since when is "elite" a bad thing?)
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Arabs and the Holocaust has elements of candor and courage. It is a salutary development that someone with Achcar’s political views acknowledges the realities of the Nazi-Islamist wartime collaboration. It is important to be reminded of the history of a secular Arab leftism and liberalism that opposed fascism, Nazism, as well as Zionism. Yet Achcar undermines these virtues of his book with superficial, unfair, and unreliable readings of those with whom he disagrees, above all those who fought fascism and Nazism on the basis of secular, liberal, and even leftist values yet still support Zionism. His attack on these scholars is neither a contribution to scholarship nor a contribution to moderation.Speaking of TNR, the venerable bastion of center liberalism is celebrating its 96th birthday.
Monday, November 08, 2010
[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]
Thursday, November 04, 2010
[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
In the meantime, rejoice that the spring will see the release of a new Death Cab for Cutie album. They promise a wholly new departure. Because bands always promise wholly new departures and are conflicted about their last album. It's the oldest rock star trick in the book. Well, after banging groupies by the handful, doing lots and lots of drugs, and drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. Usually at the same time.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I have not been to Israel in several years and am looking forward to returning and seeing how things there have changed (or, perhaps, how my perceptions have changed). The Israel-Palestine conflict is in the midst of another potential turning point moment that is likely to result in disappointment even as so many of us ardently hope for the alternative.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Ok, so this criticism is pretty picayune, but in his recent review of Tony Blair's new memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Fareed Zakaria writes the following sentence: "The fact is that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were the two most successful political figures in the post-cold-war world because they understood the essential truth of economic policy in our times, which is centrist pragmatism."
Here is a one-question exam:
In fifty years, which of the following political figures will loom largest in the history of the post-Cold War era:
A) Tony Blair
C) Nelson Mandela
Even using Zakaria's own standard of centrist economic pragmatism, and even ignoring the decades before 1990, the answer is C.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Even in making fun of statistical analysis, the episode (inadvertently?) got at a larger truth: stealing bases is actually pretty dumb much of the time (not always, just much and possibly most of the time).
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The single issue price for 'Soccer and Society,' Issue Numbers 1-2 is:
Institutional Rate: $200
Yes, you read that correctly. For one issue (and yes, it appears to be a "double issue," but seriously now) of a journal of which you have probably never heard (and that I was only vaguely aware existed) they want to charge an individual $60. I can live with higher institutional rates, though journals have skyrocketed those costs as well, passing the expense on to rich institutions, yes, but also pricing less rich institutions -- which is to say, the vast majority of institutions -- out of the market.
And I guess this pricing model is an ingenious idea because Routledge has actually turned the double issue into a book. And is selling it for $125. Because apparently they want no one reading their journals and books. Cunning.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Friday, October 08, 2010
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Here is a pretty good defense of tenure, aimed at parents of future and present college students, which may not be perfect but is still pretty important. One issue the author does not address is the fact that not only does tenure protect certain types of potentially controversial work, it also protects the ability to do long-range research. It is not uncommon for a historian to take a decade or more to write a book, especially a big, ambitious one. We should embrace that sort of commitment to quality. And if that holds true in the humanities, it is even moreso in some of the sciences -- imagine telling a cancer researcher that they must work on the timetable of a three year contract.
Inside Higher Ed recently published two defenses of something that ought to need no defending (here and here) -- the liberal arts education. The goal of any college or university ought to be to teach students how to think, how to reason, and how to engage with ideas. If students can do that, they will be able to succeed in any range of jobs and careers (which they will change multiple times anyway) where there will be training in any case.
Here is a decent, if too tepid, defense of the professoriate from the onslaught from the outside. Academics are an easy target, but most of the criticisms barely withstand even the minutest scrutiny.
I oftentimes toy with declaring my classes to be a no-laptop zone. The vast majority of students do not use them to take notes, or even to look things up relevant to the class. And yes, sometimes classes can be "boring," I suppose, as dealing with unfamiliar or challenging material often is. But while I hope my classes are entertaining, my job is not first and foremost to entertain them. And if they are on Facebook or ESPN or sending emails, it is a distraction for people around them and it is a waste of time for them and for me. I have also toyed with the equivalent of pop quizzes: "Show me your laptop now." But I'd prefer that my classroom not be a place for "gotcha" moments even if some students deserve to get got. In any case, two recent articles agree with me, here and here. I'm not certain if I'll enact such a policy. But I'd be wholly justified in doing so.
The New Republic's Book has recently published a couple of justly tough reviews of new books on higher education, including Richard Kehlenberg's critical look at Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids -- And What We Can Do About It and David A. Bell's completely warranted hammering of (former Williams professor) Mark Taylor's Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming our Colleges and Universities.
Finally, can technology help reform (or overhaul) peer review? It will help. But technology is not a panacea. And while a wiki approach to scholarly publishing certainly might have some merit, as a historian, I still believe the craft of writing matters. We are not mere compilers of fact and dossiers for interpretation. History is as much art as science (moreso, I'd argue) and there is pleasure as well as knowledge to be gained from a well crafted book or article in my discipline and in many others.
Friday, October 01, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
[Cross-posted at the FPA Africa Blog.]
Monday, September 27, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
My favorite paragraph:
I was not aware that it is a heresy to hold that Freedom is not a masterpiece. There is something churlish about my friend’s insistence upon critical unanimity. Franzen’s book, after all, is fantastically popular. It is commercially immune from literary criticism. I am pleased that Franzen’s profits will accrue to a company that may be counted upon to apply them to the production of serious books by serious writers that will not attain similarly to the proportions of a pandemic. But if it is indeed a heresy to differ about Freedom, then I confess to being inclined against it. In his slyly invigorating essay on “the pleasure of hating,” Hazlitt complained that “the reputation of some books is raw and unaired,” and noted that “the popularity of the most successful writers operates to wean us from them, by the cant and fuss that is made about them, by hearing their names everlastingly repeated, and by the number of ignorant and indiscriminate admirers they draw after them.” Celebrity is not a literary value, and I do not believe in the wisdom of crowds. I think that crowds—well-read ones, too—are foolish and fickle. They are especially foolish when they regard themselves as a coterie. Their tastes need to be scrutinized with a hermeneutical hostility, because they are so easily invented and so easily manipulated. This is especially the case in a society consecrated supremely to promotion—that swoons over the pseudo-sagacity of Malcolm Gladwell, and regards people and the expressions of their souls as brands, and confuses techniques for marketing with techniques for living. The sales of Freedom say nothing about the qualities of Freedom. Has the book struck a chord? Of course. But that is anthropology, not literature; and nothing is more forgiving than anthropology.
I tend to write a whole lot more positive reviews than negative ones at least in part because there really are a lot of books that warrant more attention than they get. There is a myth that academic historians do not write well and that they focus only on arcane topics. This is silliness, but it is silliness that has not been able to puncture the myth. I avoid gratuitous negativity (in book reviews and also, more importantly, in the blind peer review process, which is riddled with flaws and ought to be reconsidered). And if I'm going to be more critical than not it is going to tend to be toward books that have gotten too much attention and thus have become overrated (see here for my personal favorite example).
Book reviewing is still important and books still matter and I suspect that even in a culture of handwringing about the alleged demise of both they will continue to flourish albeit in shifting mediums in the future. I'll happily place a bet that books, actual books with printed pages and alluring covers, will continue to endure even as other options emerge for consuming them in the much inferior downloaded form.
[We are off to Dallas for this. Hope to see some of you there.]
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
And of course if you don't already own it, Freedom's Main Line is available in hardcover and as a Kindle download.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
That is why stories such as this, in which the Real IRA threatens to resume the way of the bomb and the gun, are so galling. I am overwhelmingly sympathetic both to Catholic civil rights claims and Republican leanings in Northern Ireland. But I loathe the IRA and its Unionist counterparts. And there have been lots of hints of late that Trouble might be brewing in the Six Counties.
Spain and the Netherlands are, naturally, 1 and 2. The United States sits at 18. Ghana is the highest ranked African team at 20. South Africa has climbed 7 spots to #58. Papua New Guinea comes in last, at #203.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
[Me at the Nigeria-South Korea Game at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium, June 2010]
I haven't posted any pictures from my World Cup expedition this past summer, and since my trip just got featured in the university's monthly newsletter I figured I'd share.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
1. Patriots -- D will be weak early on, but will cohere, the O will be strong, and they are able to play the disrespect card, Belichick's favorite card to play.
2. Dolphins* -- They improved more than the Jets did in the offseason and they are flying below the radar.
3. Jets -- Did I miss something? This team needed the Colts and Bengals both to roll over just to get to 9-7 and slip through to the playoffs last year. They had a nice run in the postseason and they have a really good D, but finding Rex Ryan amusing and wondering about how well the rest of the league will respond to his running his yap are two separate things.
4. Bills -- This is a terrible, terrible team. CJ Spiller will get used and abused, because they will not be able to throw the ball consistently.
1. Ravens -- Now this might be the team that the Jets want to be. They will be stout on defense and will have a legitimate offense with loads of weapons. And I know that Ray Lewis and co. take issue with everyone anointing the Jets as champs in waiting.
2. Steelers* -- Peter King's choice for the Super Bowl might be lucky to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger's absence surely isn't going to help their cause.
3. Bengals -- But they may be the most amusing team in the league. Unless you're Carson Palmer when both TO and Ochocinco feel they aren't getting the ball enough in November.
4. Browns -- I just feel bad for my many friends who are Cleveland fans. How can you not?
1. Colts -- Look, I'd love to be able plausibly to come up with some other scenario. But seeing Manning choke away another postseason has its own rewards.
2. Texans -- The Texans are always on the verge of becoming. For now they are still becoming a team that's not going to the playoffs.
3. Titans -- I wonder if Vince Young's gonna get handed a Heisman in the next few weeks.
4. Jaguars -- Hard to believe Jacksonville has an NFL team and LA doesn't.
1. Chargers -- The best of a bad bunch out west.
2. Chiefs -- Consider this a vote of solidarity for Matt Cassell.
3. Raiders -- Just be less horrible, baby.
4. Broncos -- Not a stellar offseason, which follows a not stellar second half of last season. But at least they picked Tebow in the first round. That should bear lots of fruit . . .
1. Cowboys -- It's always funny to approach a new football season and listen to Cowboys fans insist they are going undefeated and will win the Super Bowl. Michael Irvin isn't walking through that door (with scissors to stab a teammate in the throat).
2. Eagles* -- My guess is the McNabb trade will prove to be a wash for the Eagles, and that's probably a pretty good outcome for them.
3. Giants -- Boring and mediocre is no way to go through life, fellas.
4. Redskins -- The best part is that I am certain Skins fans started talking Super Bowl as soon as they acquired McNabb. It's in their dna. (I actually think this will be a pretty good division top to bottom).
1. Packers -- Not sure I buy the Aaron Rodgers MVP talk, but this will complete the cycle of Rodgers supplanting Favre on the team, in the division, and in the conference.
2. Vikings -- The Saints will kick the shit out of the Vikings tonight and I suspect that will begin an ugly final season (seriously) for Favre.
3. Bears -- Closer to 4th than to 2nd.
4. Lions -- One of these years this won't be an automatic choice.
1. Saints -- This team isn't winning the Super Bowl again, but they are likely to win the division again and for now they remain pretty likable.
2. Falcons* -- I think last year, not two years ago, was the outlier. This will be a pretty good team. And this is also a vote for Matt Ryan.
3. Panthers -- They should have a good 1-2 running attack, and Matt Moore is fairly serviceable. They aren't good enough for the postseason, but they are also not awful.
4. Buccaneers -- If you do not live within 100 miles of the Tampa-St. Pete metropolitan region you cannot tell me five specific things about the Tampa Bay Bucs.
1. 49ers -- Holy shit this is a woeful division.
2. Seahawks -- I mean awful. (Though to be fair, the whole "Pete Carroll was a terrible head coach in the NFL" narrative is kind of bullshit.)
3. Cardinals -- Matt Leinart must have been really awful in the locker room because his numbers were better than Derek Anderson's. I still think Leinart's going to be a serviceable NFL quarterback.
4. Rams -- Sam Bradford will be good someday. But this team is going to make this first year unpleasant for him.
Wild Card Round: Colts over Dolphins, Patriots over Steelers
Divisional Round: Ravens over Colts, Patriots over Chargers
Conference Championship: Ravens over Patriots (yes, I do think this is a first for me, picking against the Pats. My heart says they can do it. But since no one on earth is picking the Pats there is no way that I can pick them to win it all and not come across as even more of a homer than usual.)
Wild Card Round: Eagles over 49ers, Cowboys over Falcons
Divisional Round: Packers over Cowboys, Saints over Eagles
Conference Championship: Packers over Saints
Super Bowl: Ravens over Packers
Kickoff in just a few minutes. WOO HOO!
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Is it stupidity? Is it rank dishonesty? At a certain point with modern-day conservatives it really isn't cost-effective to make the distinction, now is it?
Saturday, September 04, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
This is So. Fucking. Tiresome. And it happens every time. We've reached the point where we view everything through a politicized, ideologically clouded lens so that conservatives have not only decided that conservatives don't like soccer, but that it's socialist, an utterly inane argument on just about every level but one that numerous pundits proffered during the World Cup without batting an eyelash.
So this James Lee fella goes postal at a cable network headquarters and . . . you guessed it. The search for his political agenda that damns half the politically sentient population was on. Thankfully Michelle Cottle brings some common sense, which will of course get lost amidst the yammering:
But, to state the obvious, we’re not forced to pick sides. Lee wasn’t an ideologue driven by his own political extremism to do something drastic. He was, first and foremost, batshit crazy. We’re talking about someone who so lost touch with reality that he thought the best way to save the planet was to force a television network to run game shows promoting the ideals of “human sterilization and infertility.” (Can’t you just envision the “Jeopardy” spin-off? Thanks so much, Alex! I’ll take chemical castration for $400.)
The guy was a nutter. He had bizarre ideas that don't fit neatly into the left-right, Democrat-Republican paradigm, and even if he did, so what? is that really all it takes? A crazy liberal shoots a bunch of folks and thus we're all tainted? A crazy conservative shoots a bunch of folks and the entire endeavor of conservatism is invalidated? That's reductionist idiocy that smacks of nothing more than substanceless "gotcha!" politics.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
For years there has been speculation that Jordan "retired" when he did because he had actually been forced to do so by NBA Commissioner David Stern over Jordan's increasingly reckless penchant for gambling. I don't happen to buy this theory inasmuch as there is no actual evidence for it, and I'm quaint about requiring evidence to prove assertions, not least of all those that are damning. But no matter the flaws in the theory, the following argument still does not work:
"It's just nothing more than crackpot theory," he says, sounding exasperated. "Every journalist I talked to said, 'Don't you realize, Ron?' — Every Chicago sports journalist, every national journalist — 'We went down there, we spent a year looking for the smoking gun! We would have won the Pulitzer! If we had gotten it, we would have been spurred!'"
There are at least two major flaws with this argument:
This generation of sports journalists is the same one that managed to miss steroid use in baseball until well after the story developed. And sports journalists have long had an interesting and conflicted relationship with the athletes they have covered. The argument that it did not exist simply because journalists were looking for it is barely an argument at all, never mind being a good one.
Furthermore, and more importantly, it's not as if there had to be a large number of participants in a coverup. If Stern felt like he had the goods on Jordan (and again -- I don't think there were any goods to be had) he could have simply said "Michael, take some time off and this does not become a Pete Rose situation. Fight me and it does." Only two people had to know about this arrangement, two people who both would have had every interest not to talk. There would not have to be a smoking gun at all if these are the only two people who knew about it.
Think of an imperfect but not inapt analogy: Deep Throat's identity. As high as sports journalists might think the stakes are in what they do, political journalism covers a world where the stakes are much higher and the participants have actual power. And yet for three decades no one was able to uncover the identity of Deep Throat despite the fact that more people of necessity had to know about Mark Felt than would have needed to know about a Jordan suspension (at minimum Felt, Woodward, Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee -- and that is a bare and implausible minimum. Forget for now that most of Woodward and Bernstein's historical role is the stuff of myth -- they became cultural icons despite not actually getting most of the story right.)
I don't buy the whole "Jordan on secret suspension for gambling" conspiracy theory. But its plausibility does not rest on the mighty investigative acumen of sports journalists, most of whom only popped in for a Jordan story here or there simply because the whole thing was so surreal and not because they were deeply engaged in debunking the retirement story.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
[Oxford's Square Books on Courthouse Square. Washington Post.]
Thursday, August 19, 2010
[Hat Tip. Ralph Luker and I both have had some connection with VQR -- his more significant than mine, as I mostly got to know it through my affiliation with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and have written a couple of short reviews for them -- and I think we are both mystified by the recent events.]
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Monday, August 16, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I am still catching up on magazines that amassed while I was out of the country (and have continued to pile up relentlessly since I returned). But this morning I just discovered Anthony Lane's glorious article on the Eurovision song contest from the June 28 issue, "Only Mr. God Knows Why." You can access the abstract here (and if you are a subscriber can download the digital edition). But if you cannot get past the firewall, get thee to a library. Lane's article takes the perfect approach to the indescribably awful yet simultaneously mesmerizing carnival of kitsch and crap that is Eurovision.
(And after Lane amuses you, you may as well go and stew in fury and frustration while reading George Packer's August 9 article on the Senate, which carries the apt title "The Broken Chamber.")
Friday, August 13, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Put it this way: If I am Tiger's agent and I know Woods wants to play for the US and I know that Captain Corey Pavin is on the fence I make a phone call, and my pitch goes something like this:
"How much money have you made since 1997, Corey? How much money do you think the eleven other members of the Ryder Cup team have made since 1997? We can quibble about it -- but without Tiger you can cut those numbers somewhere between 40% and 60%. Don't you think Tiger has earned you all enough to get a shot at this year's Ryder Cup?"
I'm not saying Tiger should pursue this line. But I am saying that if he chooses to, his colleagues owe most of what they now have to his successes in the past decade-and-a-half.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Here is a view of the cover:
Order a copy. Or get your college library to subscribe!
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
The imbroglio over the Muslim cultural center-cum-mosque a couple of blocks from ground Zero is driven by two interrelated factors: Pure bigotry and rank political opportunism. There is no excuse for trying to exclude any particular religious group from building in the area, never mind one that has long had a presence there. People don't have a right not to be offended or to be made to feel uncomfortable. But beyond that, feeling uncomfortable just by the very presence of Muslims is pretty strong evidence of pretty vile prejudice. I know, I know -- conservatives have tried to turn the tables on those who accuse them of bigotry, making the accusation somehow as bad as the actual act of being a bigot. But that's nonsense, and we need to keep pointing it out at every turn. Oh: and the critics are playing right into the actual extremists' hands. (There has been tons of commentary on this. Almost literally to pick two at random, see Richard Cohen at the WaPo and William Saletan at Slate.)
The 1980 Olympic boycott was a terrible thing, especially for its victims, the athletes who never got to compete. But that does not make the decision wrong or bad. It may well have been the best option in a scenario where there were few good options. Let's dispense with the pablum that sports and politics should never mix. Virtually the entire history of the Olympics (or for that matter sport) is inseparable from politics. Was it really a better option to go to Moscow, providing legitimacy, exposure, and financial support (directly and indirectly) to what was still at the time our enemy -- so much so that Ronald Reagan would soon after label the Soviets the "Evil Empire"? Once the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, there were no good options and considerable bad ones for President Carter when it came to the Moscow Olympics.
The senate recently unanimously (you read that right) passed a bill that, in the words of a New York Times editorial, "protects Americans from the whims of foreign libel judgments." This is important. A while back I was working with an editor on something about Zimbabwe that I was working on. I had written something pointed about Robert Mugabe and he pretty much told me that my commentary on Mugabe would likely lead us both into a potential libel suit. I thought at the time that he was overreacting (and refused to temper my writing, and so we parted ways) but I also knew that the British court system has often been used for libel fishing expeditions. And as someone who often writes for audiences outside of the United States it would be nice to know that the next David Irving won't be able to take me for all I'm worth. (Note to potential litigants: remember Steve Dallas' first law of being a lawyer: never, ever sue poor people.)
Not that we really needed studies to confirm it, but sports are good for girls.
A trifecta from The Chronicle of Higher Education: The New York Times recently stacked the decks in a forum discussion about university tenure (against tenure, I should add). Conservatives recently selectively used or plain misrepresented the arguments of a book on elite college admissions. And UT-Austin will be the focal point of the latest court action over affirmative action.
Finally, Charles Pierce wonders if the Jets, everyone's preseason favorites, are not in for a mighty disappointment. Amen. It's not like there is anyone else in the Jets' division that has had any success over the last decade or so.