Thursday, December 30, 2010

Off to NYE Shenanigans

Over at the Foreign Policy Association's Africa Blog I have posted my annual "Year in Review."

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

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, What Have You

Merry Christmas from dcat. Over at Ephblog I have my annotated list of the best and worst holiday stuff.

A taste:

#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

FML in "A Merry Claremont Christmas" (Self Indulgence Alert)

I was touched to discover recently that my former Ph.D. advisor and my friend Alonzo Hamby recently included Freedom's Main Line in his contribution to the Claremont Review of Books' annual "A Merry Claremont Christmas" holiday book recommendations.

A Tale of Two Elections

ISN Insights has published my latest piece, "A Tale of Two Elections," which looks at the crisis averted in Guinea and the one broiling in Ivory Coast.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Good Old Days

Are you raising an unbearable child? Probably.

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 . . .

Fathers With Daughters Nod, Other Men Cringe

If you are a father of a girl I suppose this story falls into the "Tough, But Fair" category: "Dad hacks off penis of daughter’s boyfriend." But even a father has been a boyfriend . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

In the Changer: Catching Up Edition

It's been ages since I wrote anything about music. I call this series "In the Changer" even though as much of my music listening happens through the algorithm-fueled magic of my iTunes random shuffle as by cd. Indeed, what usually happens is I'll get a cd, burn it onto my laptop and onto my office computer and will put it in a pile of cds in my car, which is likely the last time I'll actually pull out that cd because between iTunes on my computer and my iPod, let's face it: The cd is an anachronism, despite the fact that the compressed digital sound is far inferior in quality.

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

The Civil War Was About Slavery

In my research for Freedom's Main Line and for another project on which I am currently working I have come across a great deal of material on the centennial commemorations of the Civil War. But in the South during that era, the era of massive resistance to civil rights and heightened regional sensitivities (and thus whistling past the graveyard chauvinism) they were less commemorations that celebrations.

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

Christmas Books (Self Indulgence Alert!)

The newest issue of the Claremont Review of Books has just been published. Scroll down and notice that heavy-hitter Michael Barone has reviewed Tom Bruscino's A Nation Forged In War. The review rightfully raves. It is hidden behind the subscriber firewall, hopefully just for the time being, but if there is one conservative publication you should be reading it's the Claremont Review. Its claptrap-to-seriousness rating passes muster and as far as I am concerned, the more places that take books seriously, the better.

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

Anderson, Apathy, and Inanity

The latest media-created non-story story has to do with Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Derek Anderson being caught laughing on the sideline during a game in which his team was getting hammered largely because of his offense's ineffectiveness. It became a massive story (sorry -- "story") when Anderson lost his shit after being asked and re-asked and generally harangued during the press conference after the game.

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

Now Batting for the Red Sox, Number 2, Derek Jeter?

There is no way Derek Jeter could sign with the Red Sox. Is there?

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

Well, That Sucks

Yeay! The Free Market is Awesome!

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

Motor Trend KO's Limbaugh

Todd Lassa at Motor Trend kicks the living shit out of Rush Limbaugh's (and to a somewhat lesser extent George Will's) ill-informed (imagine that!) tirades against the Chevy Volt. It is glorious to behold.

[Hat Tip.]

Friday, November 19, 2010

NHS -- 2010 New Hampshire State Football Champions! (With A Hint of Melancholy)

I never got to play for a state championship when I played football for Newport High School. My sophomore year we lost in the first round of the playoffs to a team we had beaten just a few weeks earlier. My junior year Newport began an ill-fated experiment in playing in a league of Vermont and New Hampshire teams, the Connecticut Valley League, that made total sense geographically (I don't think we had a road trip of any more than an hour in two seasons). But the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association was not a fan of our trans-state machinations, and so for two years we were ineligible to play for any sort of postseason berth. Both years we had winning records against teams from schools that were at least twice as big as we were and in some cases four times as big -- each of the New Hampshire schools in the conference would later play in conferences two or more divisions above Newport.

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

Students, Writing, and E-mail

It seems that I am constantly having to explain to my students why writing matters. There is nothing more annoying than reading teaching evaluations at the end of a semester and seeing "This is not an English class -- why did he grade only based on how good we wrote?" (QED)

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.

Goodnight Consensus

In today's Boston Globe Joan Wickersham uses Amazon reader responses to the venerable children's classic Goodnight Moon as something of a metaphor for our times.

(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

Herf at a Celebratory TNR

Over at TNR's The Book, friend of dcat Jeffrey Herf has a review of Gilbert Achkar's book The Arabs and the Holocaust. The closing paragraph:
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

Impumelelo on the World Cup (Self Indulgence Alert x2)

The latest issue of Impumelelo: The Interdisciplinary Electronic Journal of African Sports is now available. It includes a group of brief articles on "FIFA World Cup 2010 Reflections," including my contribution, "Ayoba!: Reflections From South Africa's World Cup. " (As long as I'm engaging in self indulgence anyway, the last issue of Impumelelo included my much lengthier "Stopped at the Try Line?: Rugby, Race, and Nationalism in Post-Apartheid South Africa.")

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

Pardon Our Interruption . . .

My US Sports History and Society class had a project whereby they put together an episide of Pardon the Interruption. Their YouTube trailer is brilliant and is destined to go viral.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

ISN Insights: The ANC (Self Indulgence Alert)

I am pleased to announce that I have begun a new regular gig writing about African affairs for the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network (ISN). I will be contributing to their ISN Insights. My first piece for them, which is on the state of the African National Congress, has been posted.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

And Now To Charlotte

I am heading to one of my old stomping grounds, Charlotte, for this year's Southern Historical Association annual meeting. If you're going to be there we'll inevitably cross paths in the book exhibit.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Back From Israel/Death Cab For Cutie: Oddest dcat Juxtaposition Ever?

I'm back from Israel and am trying to pull my life back to some semblance of normalcy. There is always something strange about going abroad during the semester. You return and jump right back into the routine and it's as if the travel never happened. The conference was great, I was pleased with my paper, and naturally returning to Israel was great but raised myriad questions and thoughts. I'll be writing about the political situation in the next few days and will keep you posted when I do.

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

Off to Israel

I am off to Israel for eight days and posting may be even lighter than usual. I am giving a paper, "From Apartheid to Liberation: Race, History and South African Historiography," at a conference, "Concepts of 'Race' in the History of the Humanities," at the University of Haifa.

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

Hump Day Humor

Just a reminder that no particular faction or ideology monopolizes the crazy:

Hat Tip.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Nitpicking

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

B)Bill Clinton

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

Bill James and the Simpsons

Over at Joe Posnanski analyzes Sunday night's Simpsons baseball episode, which cleverly took on the supposed sabermetrics-traditionalist divide.

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

Hump Day Humor

This is on my coffee cup, which I got from the famous Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, and it makes me laugh every time I read it:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Insight Into a Failing Business Model

If you want some sense of the absurdity of the current pricing model of scholarly journals you need look no further than a recent email I received from Taylor and Francis after I inquired about buying an issue of one of their journals:

The single issue price for 'Soccer and Society,' Issue Numbers 1-2 is:

Institutional Rate: $200

Personal Rate:$60

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.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Friday Question

So why is it that the very same people who claim the staunchest fealty to the Constitution -- and are most inclined as an ideological bloc to claim authority as its interpreters -- are also most inclined to call for amending it, usually to get rid of the inconvenient stuff they don't like?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

University Life Roundup

Lots of stuff on higher education has been clogging up my tabs on my computer, so consider this a purge:

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

On Obama and Africa

At the Foreign Policy Association you can see my latest "Viewpoints" article, "On Obama and Africa," in which I give my take on the Dinesh D'Souza-Newt Gingrich idiocy in which they asserted that Obama is informed by a "Kenyan anti-colonialist world view."

[Cross-posted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

Cold War Cultures Conference in Austin (Self Indulgence Alert)

Tomorrow I’ll be heading off to Austin for the Cold War Cultures: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives conference being held at UT Austin. I will give my paper, “Destructive Engagement: The United States, South Africa and the Cold War in the 1980s,” in one of the several Africa-themed panels. If you will be anywhere near Austin, come by — this sponsored conference is open to the public and has has no registration or other fees.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Debunking the Kennedy-Nixon TV Myth

At Slate David Greenberg challenges much of the accumulated mythology and misunderstanding surrounding the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. His basic argument: the election did not hinge on the contrast in appearance between the two men on television.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Negative Reviews

At TNR Leon Wieseltier has a truly outstanding defense of negative book reviews.

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

Freedom Riders -- Dallas Screening

Freedom Riders, the Stanley Nelson-directed documentary that yours truly appears in as a talking head, will be making its Texas debut (and, I believe, lone scheduled performance) at the Angelika Theater in Dallas tomorrow, September 23, at 8:00 as part of the Dallas Videofest. I'll be there, so if you are or can be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, please do try to find me.

And of course if you don't already own it, Freedom's Main Line is available in hardcover and as a Kindle download.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bobcat v. Buckeye

Rufus Bobcat, the mascot of one of my alma maters, started a fight with Brutus Buckeye before the Ohio-Ohio State clash in Columbus on Saturday. I'm so proud.

UPDATE: Dude's not even an OU student.

That Pesky Comma

Here is just another reminder that commas are the most vexing of all punctuation marks.

Trouble(s) Brewing?

It is easy to forget just how intractable the conflict in Northern Ireland once seemed. There was a time not long ago when The Troubles were on par with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of intensity and seeming hopelessness. I am not certain that the typical informed observer in, say, 1985, would have said that the Troubles would be settled first.

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.

FIFA Rankings

Ok, so riddle me this: How is it that Uruguay is ranked behind England in FIFA's latest rankings? I don't expect the results of the World Cup to mean everything, but they should be the single most meaningful metric. Uruguay made the semi-finals in South Africa. England was eliminated in the first game of the knockout stage.

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

On Jon Stewart

This pretty awesome New York Magazine article on Jon Stewart has been making the rounds, and rightfully so. Stewart's show is certainly about politics, but more importantly, it is probably the most trenchant media watchdog that we have.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wieseltier's Mosque Notes

Leon Wieseltier, someone who cannot ever be accused of being soft headed or weak spined, has what is hands-down the best piece on the Cordoba Mosque controversy I have yet read.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Afternoon Self Indulgence Alert

Dr. D

[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

Worthless NFL Predictions

Predictions. Why do I make them? The off chance of being right is more than offset by the reality that almost everyone's predictions about everything are a middling effort. Still, this is what I do. So with no further fanfare, here are my predictions for this year's NFL season. I'm going to list order of finish and my reasoning and then my playoff picks -- I'm not going to pick regular season records only to have the Thunderstick weigh in and tell me that my math is wrong. Wild Card teams get denoted with an asterisk.

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

Stupid is As Stupid Does

You remember my argument that it is completely idiotic to try to make political generalizations abut a sport (you know, like associating soccer with socialism despite the fact that the National Football League is by just about any definition the most socialist professional sports league on earth)? Well, conservatives are at it again. Now they are claiming baseball as a conservative sport.

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?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Can't Crazy Just Be Crazy?

It's become the standard operating procedure on both sides of the political spectrum when someone does something crazy, criminal, twisted, or otherwise condemnable: Go look for a clear political motivation that will make the other side look bad.

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

The Future of the British Pub

Last week The Guardian addressed one of the truly vital questions of our time: What is the future of the British pub? As an aficionado of pub life from my time traveling across and living in the UK it's a question near and dear to my heart. Clearly two alarming trends have been taking place. One has been the consolodation of power of chain pubs, ersatz representations of the real thing that lack history, charm, and ambiance. The second trend, perhaps tied to the first, is the death of the traditional pub. This is less a concern in cities like London than it is in villages across the UK (and Ireland as well) where once even the smallest village had one or more pubs where people could while away their time in food and fellowship over a pint.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More Saturday Foodstuffs

From the good folks at Burnt Orange Nation (a Texas Longhorns joint) comes a "Brisket Treatise" followed by a comments sections that adds more than it detracts -- the internet equivalent of a unicorn sighting (if you can get over the authenticity fetishism that nearly any discussion about barbecue seems to lure).

Saturday Foodstuffs

Three words for your weekend:

Great Bacon Odyssey.

You’re welcome.

[Crossposted at Ephblog.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Have a Purple Cow, Man!

The Williams Purple Cow will be joining a number of more heralded (but not better!) college mascots in an ESPN commercial soon to appear near you!


I tend to be late coming to most internet memes. So you've surely seen it, but I got a chuckle out of "OMG WWII on Facebook."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Jordan Conspiracy and an Unlikely "Deep Throat" Analogy

I just watched the "30 for 30" film on Michael Jordan's season-long experiment with baseball. Like most of these documentary films in Bill Simmons' brainchild that try to explore some of the most remarkable events in the world of sports in the last three decades the Jordan documentary was well done. But one of the arguments that the film (and subsequent coverage) has put forward does not pass the test of stringent argumentation.

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

(Re-)Visiting Oxford

Oxford, Mississippi is one of my favorite college towns in America. A while back The Washington Post travel section visited Oxford in order to look at more than Ole Miss and the community's fabled connection with William Faulkner. (Still, if you've never been to oxford it's probably best to start with Ole Miss and Faulkner.)

Ole Miss's greatest hits: Square Books, which sits on Courthouse Square, keeps the college town's literary tradition alive.

[Oxford's Square Books on Courthouse Square. Washington Post.]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tragedy in Charlottesville

Terrible news out of the University of Virginia and particularly the highly-regarded Virginia Quarterly Review. The ugly, sad story involves a suicide, allegations of professional bullying, and possibly the end of one of the country's best literary journals.

[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.]

FPA University

Are you interested in pursuing a career in international relations? You should seriously consider participating in Foreign Policy Association University:

The Foreign Policy Association University provides internationally minded individuals with the tools they need to realize successful careers in global affairs.

Established by the renowned Foreign Policy Association, FPA U offers specialized courses, networking opportunities and invaluable access to insider information for the next generation of global professionals.

FPAU will provide a host of seminars on topics ranging from landing jobs in various areas tied to international affairs to pursuing opportunities abroad that will best position you for success in working and learning abroad.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tootle Bait

Robert Samuelson has an op-ed on one of Tootle's bete noirs, bumper stickers and politics, at The Washington Post.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eurovision's Sublime Gifts

One of the true joys of The New Yorker is the fact that some of the best articles are the ones you read on a lark. Like everyone who subscribes to Eustace Tilly's magazine, I find that it arrives faster than I can read them so most weeks they get a judicious skimming (if that). But when I take the time there are always these glorious little gifts of writing.

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

Yeay Williams!

The methodology might be stupid (RateMyProfessor is actually a factor in assessment, which is fucking retarded) but another college rating system has Williams ranked #1 (Princeton is second, Amherst third, Harvard eighth).

Hat Tip.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tiger and the Ryder Cup

On pure playing merits Tiger Woods does not deserve to be on this year's Ryder Cup team, at least barring a miraculous turnaround in this week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Yet if Tiger wants to be on the Ryder Cup team, I think he warrants a place.

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

Freedom Riders Documentary Theatrical Debut

Just got this in my in-box today -- if you're going to be in LA or New York, check it out -- you might be able to see my ugly mug on the big screen. And of course I hope you have already read this . . .

For Tickets & more info:
Follow Laurens on Twitter @LG789
Help spread the word & pack all 28 screenings!
Freedom Riders is accepted into DocuWeeks!
DocuWeeks is a theatrical showcase that helps documentaries qualify for the Oscars!

"Freedom Riders" is a superb
piece of filmic journalism
- Variety
view the trailer:
SHOW TIMES - AUG. 13 TO AUG. 19, 2010:
Producer Laurens Grant & Director Stanley Nelson In Person!
IFC Theater
323 Avenue of the Americas @ West 4th
NY, NY 10014

Fri. Aug. 13: 12PM & 5:30PM
Sat. Aug. 14: 1:45PM & 7:30PM - Q&A w/ Director Stanley Nelson after 7:30pm show!
Sun. Aug. 15: 3:30PM & 9:35PM - Q&A w/ Director Stanley Nelson after 9:35pm show!
Mon. Aug. 16: 12PM & 5:30PM
Tues. Aug. 17: 1:45PM & 7:30PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 7:30pm show!
Wed. Aug. 18: 3:30PM & 9:35PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 9:35pm show!
Thu. Aug. 19: 12PM & 5:30PM
ArcLight Hollywood
6360 W Sunset Blvd @ Vine Street
LA, CA 90028
Fri. Aug. 13: 3:40PM & 9:45PM - Q&A with Producer Laurens Grant after 9:45pm show!
Sat. Aug. 14: 1:40PM & 7:35PM - Q&A with Producer Laurens Grant after 7:35pm show!
With two special guests from the film, including a Freedom Rider!
Sun. Aug. 15: 5:20PM & 9:50PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 9:50pm show!
Mon. Aug. 16: 1:40PM & 7:35PM
Tues. Aug. 17: 5:20PM & 9:50PM
Wed. Aug. 18: 1:40PM & 7:35PM
Thu. Aug. 19: 5:20PM & 9:50PM
* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS screens as part of the International Documentary Association [IDA]'s 14th annual DocuWeeks, a documentary theatrical showcase designed to qualify films for consideration for the Academy Awards. This year's selected films is a strong lineup of 17 features and 5 shorts to screen in New York City and Los Angeles.

* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS is scheduled to air on PBS' acclaimed American Experience series in May 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 freedom rides.

* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS is the first feature-length documentary to tell the story of a courageous band of civil rights activists who risked death by daring to defy the laws of Jim Crow in the Deep South in 1961. They were America's first inter-racial and inter-religious mass movement to challenge segregation in bus and train facilities. Because of their efforts, the signs "whites only" and "colored only" were taken down forever.

"The Death of Doubt?" (Self Indulgence Alert)

The newest issue of The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs is out, and the theme of its "Forum" section, which leads off each issue and provides the cover stories, is "Match Point: Sports, Nationalism, and Diplomacy." It includes an article by yours truly, "The Death of Doubt? Sport, Race, and Nationalism in the New South Africa."

Here is a view of the cover:

Order a copy. Or get your college library to subscribe!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Windbags and Moneybags

What kind of politicians find the Tea Party attractive? According to Ed Kilgore "windbags and moneybags."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Catch Up Links Dump

My best intentions have been to get a lot of blogging done here. But reality (I am still a long way from catching up from my trip, for example) has interceded. So here are a number of stories that have caught my attention, with commentary as apt:

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.