Saturday, May 29, 2010

Released Exile

The Rolling Stones recently re-released an updated deluxe edition of "Exile on Main Street," which many people think is not only their greatest album, but the greatest album in rock history. The argument is a pretty strong one on both counts. Naturally the re-issue has inspired a significant amount of critical response. Two of my favorites have come from Jack Hamilton at The Atlantic Online and Ben Ratliff at The New York Times.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Self Indulgence Alert: "Stopped at the Try Line? Rugby, Race, and Nationalism in Post-Apartheid South Africa"

Forgive the self indulgence, but Impumelelo: The Interdisciplinary Electronic Journal of African Sports (based at my PhD alma mater Ohio University, but with no history department connections) has published an article of mine that you can actually access (still a too-rare thing for scholarly articles), "Stopped at the Try Line? Rugby, Race, and Nationalism in Post-Apartheid South Africa."

The article has a long history. It began as a seminar paper back when I was a PhD student. I continued to work on the topic and fleshed it out for a conference on South African sport at Stellenbosch University in 2008. Peter Alegi, a renowned historian of African sport who is part of Michigan State University's fantastic African Studies program, (his book, "Laduma!" on the history of South African soccer is an essential work in the field, and his newest book, African Soccerscapes, is sure to achieve the same status), serves as guest editor of this special issue of Impumelelo.

It's proving to be a pretty big summer for me with regard to my work on South African sport. I have an article coming out soon in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs on rugby and soccer in post-1994 South Africa. I have a review essay under consideration elsewhere. A few weeks back I gave a talk at the Newberry Library on race and rugby in South Africa (which uses the same title as the Impumelelo article, but which is in fact a much more expansive project). And of course I will be at the World Cup and will be doing a number of writing projects, scholarly and otherwise, from South Africa.

The opening game of the World Cup will already be in the books two weeks from today.

[Cross-posted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

You Can't Get Enough of That Wonderful Duff

There is a vigorous debate going on about what it means to be a craft beer. My own contribution, since it's Friday? Mmmmmmm . . . Beeeeeer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One Man's Reasons Are Another Man's Excuses

It's been a bit hectic here at dcat Central. I am teaching a Maymester course, which is incredibly intense and occupies giant amounts of time. The good part is that it's only a three-week term, and the course (US History Since 1945 Through Film) has gone exceedingly well. Tomorrow is the last day of the class, and I should have grades submitted by Friday. At that point I will be preparing for my South Africa trip, but I also have a chapter for an edited collection to finish, a conference paper to write, and progress to make on my book projects. Nonetheless, posting should accelerate.

In the meantime you should check out the FPA Africa Blog, where writing has also been light, but at least there is some content. I'll be writing daily about the World Cup starting sometime around June 9, when I head to South Africa via Ethiopia, where I'll spend a night in Addis Ababa.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Voice of Sanity Amidst the PED Cacophony

As a general rule I've devoted relatively little time to the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sports. The people who get most exercised about it tend to engage in levels of sanctimony that quickly become intolerable, and we're such enormous hypocrites about it: NFL guys get caught all the time for using PED's, get slapped on the wrist with a four-game suspension, and that's that. And the NFL probably has the most sane approach. People simply go insane over baseball, and perhaps worse, they get even crazier over sports, such as cycling, that they generally do not give a damn about.

In a post at his truly excellent sports blog for The Boston Globe, Charles Pierce has what is one of my absolutely favorite arguments about this whole mess:

As I always point out, this is not my drug frenzy, but, even if it were, I'd need an offer of proof beyond the argumentum ad hogwash and, no, citing The Canseco Precedent is not it. The people who get their plumbing in a knot over this stuff are the people insisting on more, better, and more intrusive drug testing. You cannot do that, and then dismiss negative testing results just because you don't like them. And, in the absence of an admission and/or a positive test, you can't simply decide who's using and who's not based on who you like and who you don't.
Bingo. This is absolutely right, but the people who most need to hear it are the shrillest voices in the debate to begin with.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Granite State v The Green Mountain State

You wanted it, you got it: The Definitive Guide to Telling New Hampshire and Vermont Apart. It's pretty much all true.

A small sample:

Simply put, Vermont is a little bitch. When you see the V in Vermont, think “vagina” and it will help you get a fair assessment of the state. New Hampshire, in contrast, displays a much tougher persona. As you might guess about the only New England state to host a NASCAR race, its residents are more likely to own guns and less likely to have college diplomas, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when your neighbor is as fruity as Vermont.
That's about right.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oh No, Mojo!

Odessa and Permian High School have come a long way since the days of Friday Night Lights, which revealed a pattern of placing high school football and the guys who played it on a pedestal. Now I always thought that what people missed about FNL is that it told a more universal story than most realized. In many ways Buzz Bissinger's book was less about Permian Mojo than about a society that had elevated high school sports well beyond where they belonged.

Well, whatever progress Permian has made is not going to be helped by a story that has exploded here in Odessa and that has ramifications that we are just now beginning to grasp. I don't want to pile on, so I am just going to direct you here, here, and in the most damning news yet, here and here. There is more to this story than I want to get into here, as I have insight based on knowing several of the named and unnamed principals. But this has the potential to be truly ugly.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Treme and Authenticity

Not surprisingly, given that it comes from David Simon of Wire fame, I'm a big fan of the new HBO program Treme. One of the main subtexts the show, which is set in New Orleans just three months after Katrina, is the issue of authenticity. I often find questions of authenticity in virtually any context to be static and tedious. Nonetheless, when it comes to Treme such questions have risen to the surface of a good deal of the discussion. This past week on The New Republic's website two writers tackled this issue. One, Ruth Franklin, basically argues that Treme does not replicate the "real" New Orleans, and that's a good thing. John McWhorter, meanwhile, argues that Treme has created an impossible standard by obsessing on authenticity:

What’s especially challenging is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quality: criticize New Orleans, or even don’t pay quite enough attention, and you’re a chump—but praise it and you’re probably doing it wrong. “Treme” is like a park with a sign that says “Welcome” followed by a long list of “Do Not”’s.

I can see McWhorter's point. Ironically enough two of the white characters are the most annoying on this front. Nonetheless, for me the power of the show comes in its ability to ask discomforting questions and to come up with only partially satisfying answers. You should be watching it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Tennessee Hates Good Students

It's pretty easy to summon up outrage these days. Much of it is fake, a pose of outrage geared toward scoring easy political points, a trend I have called "fakerage," though "mockrage" would be as good a term for it. The world of sports is not immune from this phenomenon, which sometimes makes it all the more difficult to recognize a true outrage when it occurs.

Well, Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor has found one. In his "Point After" column in this week's SI Taylor tells the story of four would-be cross country runners at Chattanooga's elite McCallie School. All four are elite students. And all four should be elite athletes on the school's cross country team. But they have been declared ineligible not because of anything they have done, but because they are such good students that they attend the school on academic scholarships.

Tennessee athletic officials, recognizing the legitimate possibility of abuse of academic scholarships for high school athletes, have nonetheless committed a pretty absurd injustice by ruling these students ineligible. And state officials have shown no sign of budging. Essentially because of the possibility of abuses that surely could be policed were the state inclined to try to do so, these four students who have abused nothing do not get to experience being high school athletes. I'm sure we could all find better examples of petty bureaucratic dogmatism, but we'd have to search pretty hard. Let's hope that Taylor's column proves to be the push factor allowing the three who will still be in school next year to run for McCallie. The other is Harvard bound in the fall.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Gareth Thomas' Transitions

Here is another story (see here also) on Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas who seems to be adjusting as well as can be expected to the massive transformation that his public acknowledgment of being gay brought about. Happily, his teammates seem to be fine with it as well, though he is making more adjustment than one, as he has switched over from rugby union to the more wide open style of rugby league, a pretty radical transition for such a veteran player.

Four Dead in Ohio

Forty years ago today students at gathered on the campus of a university to protest the Vietnam War. This likely happened on campuses all across the country on that day, but we only know of one protest from the 4th of May 1970. And it is not a protest at an elite, Ivy League institution like Columbia, or of a hotbed of activism such as the University of California at Berkeley. This protest took place at Ohio's Kent State University, a mid-tier school that not one American in a thousand knew existed prior to that terrible morning.

You know the story even if only from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song "Four Dead in Ohio." James Allen Rhodes, Governor of Ohio, asked President Nixon to call in the National Guard. That set in motion a horrifying series of events leading to the death of four young people, not all of whom were at all involved in the protests. Kent State captures the tumult of the era, the feeling of a society on edge and on the verge of collapsing onto itself. One need not have opposed the Vietnam War, or to see it as America's greatest foreign policy misadventure, to understand just how wrong things had to have gone on that day for soldiers wearing the American uniform to open fire on unarmed protesters.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Hold My Life

It's no secret that my favorite band of all time, by a long way, is the Replacements. The quintessential postpunk band, the Replacements mixed a sloppy garage d.i.y. ethos with some of the most achingly perfect music and lyrics ever recorded. Paul Westerberg was the genius frontman who poured his pain through the mic. Bob Stinson was the tragically drunk guitarist whose antics always overshadowed his casually brilliant skills. Tommy Stinson, Bob's brother, was the precocious bass player who joined the band at the age of 11. Chris Mars was the unspectacular but sound drummer. Together they helped define an 80s underground sound. But they barely survived the 80s and broke up during the latter half of the first Bush administration.

Paul has gone on to have a fine if underappreciated solo career. Chris and Tommy have been in bands that produced serviceable-to-good but ultimately disposable postpunk/pop. And Bob, as if fated, died in 1995 basically because his body gave out on him after years of abuse. This 1993 Charles Aaron story from Spin captured Bob when he was on his downward spiral. Mats fans will probably find that this one cuts a little too close.

World Cup Countdown Continues

At the FPA Africa Blog I have a long post on the countdown to the World Cup. Please take a look at it, and the other work I've been doing over there.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

Better late to the infield party than never. Yesterday Deadspin pointed us to "Stories That Don't Suck" about the Kentucky Derby, including Hunter S. Thompson's classic "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." And in honor of the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, why not buy this? (Shameless? Perhaps.)