Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting Linky

A few stories that have piqued my interest:

Sports Illustrated has a great article on Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, who has more caps for Wales than any player in that country's history. He also is openly gay. And he is still playing. The question that motivates Gary Smith's article is when will there be an openly gay player in American team sports?

Conservatives always seem to predict apocalypse when it comes to social reform and economic regulation. And they are almost always completely wrong.

I don't think I have ever seen a Powerpoint presentation that did not detract a lot more than it added. Most people who use Powerpoint use it as a crutch to cover up their inability to convey material well. As a result students come to rely upon it as if it were necessary. It looks like many in the US military agree with me.

Here is an experiment all married people should get behind: Try to do it every day for a month. (Honey? Are you reading?)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Cursing Mommy

The Cursing Mommy is a figure I can get behind.

Nitpicking an Advertisement's History

There is a new ad celebrating magazines (you can see the text and accompanying picture of Michael Phelps here, though I cannot find a version that replicates the version I have seen in several magazines) and I generally like it. I love magazines, subscribe to a ridiculous amount that I cannot possibly keep up with, and believe that it is the print medium other than books that I hope weathers the storm. And one of the main points of the ad is that magazines are flourishing even as newspapers, say, are going belly up.

But one of the assertions has been grinding my gears. It is as follows:

What it proves, once again, is that a new medium doesn’t necessarily displace an existing one. Just as movies didn’t kill radio. Just as TV didn’t kill movies. An established medium can continue to flourish so long as it continues to offer a unique experience. And, as reader loyalty and growth demonstrate, magazines do.

The larger point stands. But I have a historical quibble: Why would movies have killed radio? They antedated radio. Radio did not become a mass consumer diversion until the 1920s. Movies were already a well established form of mass entertainment. Birth of a Nation, after all, was released to wide acclaim in 1915 and is known to have transformed the medium, meaning that there was already a movie industry. Yes, there was crude technology for radio as far back as the 19th century, but the first public broadcasts did not occur until right around 1920.

Am I nitpicking? Sure. But someone got paid an awful lot of money to place this ad in some of the most prestigious magazines in America. Is it really asking all that much to ask them to get facts right that are at the foundation of their argument?

Herf Wows the State Department

Friend of dcat Jeffrey Herf recently gave a talk at the State Department on progressive foreign policy and radical Islam. The New Republic has republished his provocative speech.
As with everything Jeff writes this is smart and provocative. I have my qualms, especially with regard to the idea that the Obama administration does not talk enough (or loudly enough) about the dangers of radical Islam. Eight years of Bush administration bombast was damaging enough, thank you very much. It's not what you say so much as what you do as you say it. Nonetheless, his piece is very much worth reading.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The iTunes Shuffle

In one of the (too) many magazines to which I subscribe they have a little feature where they ask a musician to listen to their iPod on shuffle for five songs, with no fast forwarding, and then to talk about each song. Part of the purpose is to get a sense of what they might actually listen to as opposed to what they might want everyone to think they listen to. But it also allows them to talk and think about music without filters.

It seems like a good idea, so I'm going to try it on dcat. I'm just going to click on play on my iTunes and see where it takes me. It could pretty much give us anything, as I have some 17,500 songs downloaded, which is something like 45 days straight of music if I were to turn it on today and just let it play straight through with no repeats 24/7. So away we go with the iPod Shuffle:

Sebadoh, "Mystery Man" from Bakesale: Sebadoh, Lou Barloh's post Dinosaur Jr. project, had a little two album run with this album and Harmacy that captured just about perfectly the early 90 indie rock ethos. My impression of Barlow, both from what I know of the way things went down with Dinosaur Jr. and from a couple of interactions with him after live shows, is that he seems to be a bit of a dick. This song as well as any embodies Sebadoh's sludgy guitar fuzz-driven indie pop rock. (Holy crap, songs go by fast when you're doing this.)

Sheila Chandra, "Speaking in Tongues," Virgin Records: Signed, Sealed, Delivered 2: I have no memory of this "song" (which really is just this woman making weird percussive noises with her voice) and I have nothing interesting to say about it other than that I imagine that in anything but very small doses it would grow tedious.

Nirvana, "Territorial Pissings," Nevermind: Nirvana helped to transform the way many of us listen to music even if we did not know it to be the case at the time. What then seemed unbelievably raw holds up pretty well over time but there will always be a subtext, in listening to Nirvana, of melancholy over what might have been.

Sol White (Quote From History of Colored Baseball, 1907) as Read by Ossie Davis from Ken Burns: Baseball Soundtrack: Ossie Davis is one of America's underappreciated gems. Baseball is awesome. And this little excerpt from the soundtrack to Ken Burns' monumental documentary on baseball is so brief that I'm already typing into the next song on the playlist.

Neil Hefti, "Coral Reef," Kings of Swing, Vol. 1: I have always been a huge fan of big band music from the 1940s. Perhaps it is from my grandmother on my dad's side, for whom this was the music of being a teenager. Maybe it comes from playing in jazz band in high school and naturally playing a lot of big band classics. This was rock and roll before rock and roll, but with a lot more glamour, and frankly, significantly better musicianship.

Well, that was fun. And remarkably fast. I'm already into Oasis' "My Big Mouth" from Be Here Now, which I bought in South Africa in 1997 the day it came out. I think this could become a regular feature.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Link Linkity Link Link

Just a few links that sparked my interest:

Kelefa Sanneh recently had an interesting essay on the idea of whiteness in The New Yorker. Oddly Sanneh has one important gap, the World War II era, which is why you should all be reading (and thus buying) this.

Independent historian Ed Sebesta has put together this site on the Citizens' Councils, which includes access to copies of the Councils' newspaper. This will prove invaluable to my work on a number of projects, so for that I am very thankful. The Citizens' Councils were all kinds of crazy, but no less important for being so.

Finally, since I will be traveling tomorrow (for this, remember) I would like to second the idea of the airlines that have taken so very much from us being asked to give something back, or at least to stop seeing those of us who fly as wallets with legs.

Newberry Library Rugby Talk (Self Indulgence Alert!)

This Friday, April 23, at 3:30 I will be giving a talk, "Stopped at the Try Line: Rugby, Race, and Nationalism in the New South Africa," as part of the Newberry Library's Seminar on Sport & Culture. The seminar is co-sponsored by Northeastern Illinois University and the Dr. Wm. M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture and the Newberry Library is located at 60 West Walton Street. If any dcat readers are in Chicagoland, I'd love to have you stop by.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conflicts in American History (Self Indulgence Alert)

If you have the capacity to order resources for a university or other school library, please consider ordering this, and not just because I contributed a chapter to the volume on Civil Rights.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Prize Winners! We've Got Prize Winners!

Friend of dcat Marc Selverstone recently won the 2010 Stuart L. Bernath Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Not only is Marc, who plies his trade at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, a fine scholar (obviously), he is also a truly great guy. So go buy Constructing the Monolith: The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945–1950 (Harvard, 2009).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Go West, To San Antonio

From significant personal experience I can tell you that there are worse things you can do than spend 36 hours in San Antonio.

I'm still digging myself out from the consequences of six fun, crazy, chaotic, and intermittently fruitful days in Washington. Hopefully I'll resume regular posting soon.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Pedro Returns!

Simply chill inducing:

dcat's National League Preview (With World Series Pick!)

And now for a much briefer take on the National League. (World Series pick at bottom.)

NL East
1. Phillies: This quasi-dynasty in the making had a peculiar offseason, effectively swapping proven postseason commodity Cliff Lee for Uber-Ace Roy Halladay. Very good rotation, strong lineup, postseason experience: I think you'd be a fool not to pencil Philly in to the postseason.

2. Braves: They have the most exciting young position player in baseball in Jason Heyward. The rotation is sneaky good. But they are rolling the dice with Takaski Saito and Billy Wagner at the back of the bullpen.

3. Mets: The sun will rise, the sun will set, Mets will get injured, and they will disappoint their fans, aka the fans of New York's other team.

4. Marlins: They have Hanley Ramirez going for them, which is nice. Although keep in mind that some years this front office really tries to win. But what a lousy team to root for as a consequence in all of those other years.

5. Nationals: I have Stephen Strasburg on my fantasy team just because at some point they are going to have to bring him up just to get people to go to games. This will be an improved team, but by how much, and will it matter?

NL Central:
1. Cardinals:
Always good, rarely great (even when they won the World Series in 2005) but they have the best player in the game, a strong rotation, and a decent lineup. It is difficult to begrudge this team and their fans their success.

2. Cubs: Remember last year when they were a hot choice to win it all? That was then. Expectations are low, which might benefit this team. But I look at their lineup, their pitching staff, their bullpen, and I just see nothing that makes me think that the best thing about Wrigley this year won't yet again be Wrigley itself.

3. Brewers: Or maybe the Reds.

4. Reds: Or maybe the Brewers. Though I have to say, I love them stepping up for the moderate-risk, high-reward Aroldis Chapman signing.

5. Astros: Ever since they made their improbable run to the World Series a few years back it seems as if this team has just disappeared. I will root for Brad Mills, their first-year manager and Terry Francona's long-time right-hand man with the Sox. By the way: Is it me, or is the NL Central really freaking dull?

6. Pirates: It is nearly impossible for casual fans to have any reason to understand that this is one of the great franchises in baseball history. We need to find a way to get them in the same division as the Royals.

NL West:
1. Rockies:
Every year this is a competitive division, and it seems that every year someone different wins, and someone good fades. They have done a good job of developing an organization that produces players and they have built the team to their ballpark. The lineup is really disciplined too, drawing loads of walks and therefore seeing lots of pitches. It will pay off this year.

2. Dodgers*: The Dodgers seem to be in the running every year. This year won't be any difference. Manny is flying below the radar, the Broxton-Sherrill bullpen combo should shorten games, and they seem to be made up of solid if not spectacular guys up and down the lineup. That's not a key to a World Series championship, but it should keep Chavez Ravine open into October.

3. Diamondbacks: If they can just improve their OBP slightly this is a team that should score tons of runs. And if they can score lots of runs they can win lots of games, or at least keep fans entertained in the Valley of the Sun.

4. Giants: Largely because I don't see Tim Lincecum, with that frame, continuing to be an ace without dealing with some injuries. This is not, to say the least, a great hitting team. And without Lincecum it could get ugly. And yes, I am predicating my entire guess on the San Francisco season in 2010 on an injury that has shown no sign of coming.

5. Padres: Sure -- if the Pads are in the crapper in July it increases the odds that the Sox are in the Adrian Gonzalez sweepstakes. But it's not like I wish ill on them. I just suspect that illness is coming no matter what, and if I can provide a gentle nudge, well . . .

* Denotes Wild Card Winner
Phillies over Dodgers
Rockies over Cardinals

Phillies over Rockies

World Series:
Red Sox over Phillies

dcat's MLB Preview: American League

I do not have the time to write up a full preview of this year's MLB season, which began in rousing fashion with last night's Sox come-from-behind victory over those dastards from the Bronx. Nonetheless, here are predictions for the American League with brief commantary that is all sure to be wrong. I hope to follow with the NL as soon as practical, hopefully before I leave for DC.

AL East:
1. Red Sox: Look, by now you should be used to homer picks from me. But since I've been writing dcat, there has never been a year when picking the Sox to succeed has exactly been pie-in-the-sky stuff. The narrative for this year's Sox is pretty well set: They decided to go with pitching and defense at the expense of offense, as indicated by letting Jason Bay sign with the star-crossed Mets and placing Mike Cameron in center field and Adrian Beltre at third. And this is true for what it is worth. But they also upgraded at shortstop on O and D by bringing in Marco Scutaro from the Blue Jays, who had a peculiarly late-blooming career year at the plate. Meanwhile, they went and added Angels ace (the word "bulldog" usually accompanies most descriptions) John Lackey. The fact is, the Red Sox will be in the top five and maybe better in offense in the American league, and whatever drop-off they have at the plate will be more than countered by runs saved on the mound and in the field. Thus their Pythag prediction should have them projecting out to more than 95 wins, and 95 wins is always the target on Yawkey Way. Obviously we worry about Big Papi's bat -- will he be the hitter of April, May and October of last year, or will he be the guy who pounded the ball in June, July, August and September? The answer to this question will go a long way in determining just how much offensive dropoff the Sox experience.

2. Yankees*: Trust me, I wanted to go with the Rays here, and the Rays are a popular choice not only to make the playoffs, but in some circles to win the East. And the Yankees have holes -- their D is not all that good. Their bullpen bridge to Rivera is far from secure, and Joba Chamberlain throwing 93 mph is a long way from him throwing 99 mph. One always assumes that they will get old. But that team can bash. It has enough starting pitching to be competitive on most nights. They seem to be nearly everyone's choice to repeat, and the middle of that lineup is going to pucker the sphincters of a lot of pitchers in the American League. But they have some holes that their supporters do not want to acknowledge even if their detractors (allo guvnah!) play them up too much.

3. Rays: This is an absurdly precocious bunch. And if they all peak at the right time, they could be an even better team than they were two years ago when they went to the World Series. But in this crazy game as much goes wrong as goes right for even the best teams, and I just don't think that Tampa has given themselves a depth of experienced talent that will be able to compete day-n-and-day-out with the Sox and Yanks. That said, I kept expecting them to fold two years ago and it never happened. If they are there in September they just might be there through October. The rest of the country gets sick of hearing it, but goodness, the AL East is loaded, and yet these teams still win 95 or so games a year.

4. Orioles: Another team that has embraced a youth movement, the O's are, simply enough, victims of geography. That's not going to change any time soon. If this team can win some games it will revive what has historically been a pretty good fan base. But when they play the Sox at Camden Yards it becomes Fenway South, and it turns into the Southern Toilet when New York is in town. Win games, fill stands, make money, get better players. That's a blueprint for every team in baseball, of course, but is vital in the AL East with the two leviathans and the upstart Rays.

5. Blue Jays: This was a team that seemed to be on the rise three years ago. I suppose they can find solace in the fact that in most divisions they would not be slotted in to last place. In this one however, if a lot goes right they can pick off the Orioles. That's a rousing thought when trying to inspire a ticket base.

AL Central:
1. Twins: Every year Minnesota is in it to win it. If by "It" we mean the American League Central. In a world where everyone now plays Moneyball (the rich Red Sox every bit as much as any small market team) they still actually have to try to find ways to exploit inefficiencies in the market because they have little money to spend. The new outdoor facility should be a boon to them -- though would you want to attend a game there in October? -- as will be signing hometown All American Boy Joe Mauer to a lengthy extension that all but assures that all of his important years are spent in a Twins uniform. Yeah, losing Joe Nathan is tough, but what does Moneyball tell us about closers? This will be a competitive, if somewhat mediocre, division. the winner might emerge with only 90 wins. I think the Twins will hit that target first.

2. Tigers: Look at that lineup. Pretty cobbled together -- Damon and Ordonez and Cabrera and Everett all have come in from elsewhere in the last year or two. Dontrelle Willis has claimed their third starter spot, which could be a sign of redemption or of desperation. Yet Jim Leyland has this team in a position to compete every day, and they have done so for three years now, playing the role of the Rays before the Rays did.

3. White Sox: I have to admit, the idea of the Windy City Madman having a Twitter account and the wherewithal to use it was almost enough to inspire me to figure out how the hell Twitter works. Almost. This team will frustrate the hell out of Guillen all summer as they struggle to reach 80 wins. That should make for fun reading, assuming you are not sensitive to profanities.

4. Indians: Remember when these guys were one win away from winning the American League and thus getting to face the Rockies and likely winning the World Series in 1997? Yeah, it seems like a long time ago. Maybe Fausto Carmona will return to form. Travis Hafner too. But it's probably going to be a long year at the Jake.

5. Royals: The Royals. it will surprise you to hear, will probably not be very good in 2010. Wash, rinse, repeat.

AL West:
1. Rangers: I suppose this could be seen as a surrogate homer pick since I have lived in Texas for nearly six years. I think the West is going to be wide open. Seattle is a trendy pick. The Angels are the safe pick. The A's are no one's pick. I thought last summer that the Rangers were one year away. By that math it's one year later. That pitching staff will be legitimately decent. The bats will rebound from a disappointing 2009. Neftali Feliz is about to make the leap at the back of the pen. The only reservation I have about the Rangers is the one I have always had: Do you know how freaking hot it gets in Texas for the entirety of the summer? It's 90+ today in West Texas and it's not uncharacteristic. DFW might be mildly cooler, but there will be a ton of 100 degree days in Arlington this year. Try playing in that weather every home game for three (or more) months straight.

2. Angels: The Angels are always good. And they got over the hump of beating the Red Sox in the postseason last year. But they intentionally got a lot older in the offseason (Matsui and Abreu and Hunter -- oh my!) while losing the closest thing thay had to an ace in Lackey. Plus I hate small ball. Though they will have a harder time playing it this year. I may well be most wrong on this one, but I think the Angels might be fighting for third this year.

3. Mariners: If you want to talk about run prevention over run scoring, don't look to Fenway, look to the trendy choice to win the West, which plays at Safeco. But look at that lineup. Eesh. Milton Bradley is slotted in as their cleanup hitter. Ruminate on that for a few minutes and get back to me as to how they win the West.

4. A's: Don't think that Moneyball has been discredited just because Billy Bean is no longer using duct tape and chewing gum to cobble together a team that wins 95 games and the AL West every year. the rest of the league caught up with them. It's harder to exploit inefficiencies when the rest of the league knows what those inefficiencies are, can pay for them, and can pay for stars, the lack of whom led to Moneyball (Not Billy Bean's coinage -- you knew that, right?) in the first place. But, yeah, the A's are going to get last in this division.

* Denotes Projected Wild Card Winner

Sox over Twins
Yanks over Rangers

Sox over Yanks
(What, you expected something else?)

Off to DC, Defending Ben's Chili Bowl, and Assorted Self Indulgence

I am off to Washington, DC tomorrow for this year's Organization of American Historians annual meeting where I'll be giving a paper on a panel (1:45 Wednesday if you're in the area) with a couple of names familiar to my regular readers. I'm going to try to hit a lot of my favorite haunts in the city where I wrote my dissertation in a state of pretty much absolute poverty. One of those haunts is Ben's Chili Bowl, which is featured in a recent Guardian (UK) blog post.

But listen, my limey friend, you watch yourself when you write: "Sadly, the only problem with Ben's Chili Bowl is that while the atmosphere is great, the food is mediocre, even by fast food standards." I will find you and I will beat your arse.

Picturing Civil Rights

The New York Times' "Lens Blog" has a fabulous slide-show (and accompanying story) from the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Considering Friedman's Rules

There are, to my mind, two Tom Friedmans. When the longtime New York Times columnist writes about the Middle East he is quite strong. I know many people see him as being too tepid or too centrist, but his book From Beirut to Jerusalem is still the one book I would advise someone to read if they wanted a primer on the Israel-Palestine question. Then there is the Tom Friedman who keeps insisting to us that "the world is flat," his metaphor for the effects of globalization. This Friedman is more miss than hit, his tepidness really becoming a problem when he veers away from an area he knows as well as the Middle East.

Friedman had an op-ed last week that kept spinning in my craw. It deals with American Middle East policy, and so plays to his strengths. In the piece he lays out "three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy." While I'm not convinced that he is wrong, on each of the rules I take issue.

"Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky."

But in diplomacy there are times when you call things by their "real name" and there are times when it is, after all, diplomacy so you need to be diplomatic. I'm not convinced the Obama team "turned a blind eye" so much as they knew that we had limited capacity to make a difference. The question is, do we need Karzai more than we can afford to alienate him? And will any difference that we make happen behind the scenes or in front of them? In other words, what we call things seems to matter a whole lot less than how we deal with them once they become reality.

One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”

If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many U.S. officials have flown to Kabul — the latest being President Obama himself — to lecture Karzai on the need to root out corruption in his administration? Do we think he has a hearing problem? Or do we think he believes he has us over a barrel and, in the end, he can and will do whatever serves his personal power needs because he believes that we believe that he is indispensable for confronting Al Qaeda?

This rule applies equally to the Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. There is something wrong when we are chasing them — two men who live in biking distance from one another — begging, cajoling and pressuring them to come to a peace negotiation that should ostensibly serve their interests as much as our own.

Not to get Clintonian on you, but this all depends on what "it" means. If by "it" we mean democracy in Afghanistan or a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine question, then yes, our partners need to want "it" more. But if the "it" in question is democracy in Afghanistan or a peaceful solution to Israel-Palestine in order to establish greater security for the United States, then we should want "it" every bit as much as they do and in some cases more.

"Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language."

To a degree this is probably true. But a lot of this depends on how much what is said in private is tied to conditions. We know you are going to say certain things to the public to save face or to present the best spin on negotiations with the United States. But the key is sticking to agreements whether we are talking about Karzai or Netanyahu. Countries are allowed to have their own policies, their own sovereignty. But the United States should not be expected to fund that sovereignty or to fight for that sovereignty. And if their sovereignty conflicts with ours, well, that's a problem.

I have been unequivocally strong in my support of Israel, much to the chagrin of many of my more left-leaning friends. But if we ask the Israelis to stop building in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem, and the Israelis imply anti-Semitism or simply spit in our faces, well, I'm inclined to delay some checks for a few weeks and to have third-rank State Department functionaries return phone calls (at their leisure) that otherwise would have gone directly to Hillary Clinton. Yes, we should worry about what they say to their publics. But they should worry even more about the things we can do once they speak ill of us.