Saturday, March 26, 2011

America Aflame

I guess it's been a week for promoting Friends of dcat. May as well continue the friend trend. David Goldfield, my MA advisor, who also sat on my dissertation committee and for a while was the series editor for my book until the press got a serious case of Dipshit-itis, got a great review for his latest book from this week's New York Times Book Review.

When I was in Charlotte a couple of years ago we visited for a while and he told me that his next book was going to be about how "the Civil War was not worth the cost." Naturally my jaw dropped. My thoughts then (and now had he fully written that book as opposed to the much subtler work that appears to have emerged) were not only that he was crazy and wrong, but that he was crazy and wrong in a way destined to ruin his reputation in many circles in the profession. But it appears that what did emerge is a fine example of counterfactual and speculative history, among other things.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shooting Down a Video Game's Premise

My colleague and friend Steve Andes, our Latin Americanist, has written a fine article over at History New Network, "New First-Person Shooter Game Exploits Mexican Narco-Violence." In it he takes aim at Ubisoft Entertainment S.A.'s new videogame Call of Juarez: The Cartel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Zimbabwe: New Verse, Same as the First (Self Indulgence Alert)

My latest piece, "Zimbabwe: New Verse, Same as the First," has been posted for ISN Insights.

Here is the abstract:

The renewed crackdown against the political opposition in Zimbabwe sparked by fears of an Arab-style uprising illustrates how the illusion of a power-sharing government has merely served as plaster over a gushing wound.

I hope you and enjoy it, and please share at will.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Simpsons: Is There Any News They Don't Deliver?

Oh, Simpsons. Glorious, glorious Simpsons.

One of the true wonders of the show is the humor packed in largely for multiple viewers and more than likely for the writers themselves. Signs are absolute gems. But among the most brilliant of the humor comes in the headlines of The Springfield Shopper (and select other publications). Now 55 of the best of them have been compiled in a slideshow.


I just made your day a little (hell, a lot) better. You're welcome. Hat tip.

Monday, March 21, 2011

News Flash! Integration Was Good For Baseball

So, how much did integration improve the talent level of baseball? According to Mark Armour of the SABR Baseball Biography Project (and, truth be told, common sense) a lot. (But even more in the National League, which on the whole was much quicker to integrate.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

American Busboy

Friend of dcat (and fellow Newporter -- Go Tigers!) Matt Guenette, has a new book of poetry, American Busboy (which was a finalist and editor's choice of the 2010 University of Akron Press Poetry Prize) that you should buy and he was recently interviewed in Devil's Lake, a UW-Madison literary magazine.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Airport Security and Privilege

Can someone please explain to me why there is a special security line for first-class passengers in (at least some) airports? I can understand why airlines provide special perks, including devoted lines, for their monied customers. But the process of security, which is operated by the United States government, is not supposed to be eased by privilege. Paying more to fly in better seats on American Airlines should literally have nothing to do with the treatment one gets in passing through TSA's gantlet.

This is yet another example of how the whole security apparatus is largely theater. After all, Osama bin Laden could afford to fly first class. Affluence is hardly indicative of virtue and flying coach is not a sign of jihadism.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Duke Journal: Fin

So I'm sitting in Duke's Bryan Student Center watching the afternoon NCAA games and killing time online. I gave my talk this afternoon. I thought it went well. It was a small group so I went the informal route, making it more of a seminar than a lecture. Most of the Duke historians who would have found the talk relevant are on their way to the OAH meeting in Houston this weekend, though one prominent historian with an interest in US-South Africa connections was there and we were able to talk about future collaborations and the like.

Before the talk I finished up my research for the trip. What I thought might take an hour took nearly three, and I am heading home with easily four reams worth of photocopies. The work just starts once the research is accumulated, of course, and there will be lots of organizing and filing and in the process thinking over the next few weeks and months as I try to turn thousands of documents into that alchemist's blend of art and science that is good historical writing.

I don't leave until tomorrow, but I do have to be up early. I downshifted from the incredible Washington Duke Inn, where I spent the last few nights, to a decidedly more downscale place where I plan only to lay my head before my early flight. I don't really want to leave campus, because, well, I won't be at a place like Duke again any time soon and once I'm gone I'm gone. It's a silly mindset that ties into a lot of the feelings I expressed in yesterday's post, I suppose, but i want to be here, to hold on to this quasi-attachment, for as long as possible.

It's a gorgeous day here, the sort of spring day that makes me miss the Carolinas (I lived in Charlotte from 1994 to 1996). Campus is bustling, people are beginning to talk about weekend plans, which in many cases means tonight's plans, and of course basketball seems to be on everyone's mind. By this time tomorrow I'll be back to Odessa, to home and hearth, which I am looking forward to, and to the politics of higher education in Texas, which I am not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Duke Journaling

Doing research ain't digging ditches. I grew up on a farm and research isn't equivalent to shoveling shit or lifting bales of hay or carrying pails of milk. But research is still draining, especially when one is under a time crunch. So the last few days I have been plowing through boxes and boxes of great stuff, particularly from the LeRoy T. Walker African News Service Archives, an invaluable resource (for those of you in the biz think of a 400-box, very well organized clippings file) that I would bet I revisit for projects in the future. I'll go home with a good fifteen pounds or more of photocopies. And yes, I'm the Luddite who photocopies, rather than takes digital pictures for reasons that actually have nothing to do with an aversion to the technology and everything to do with a preference for hard copies made instantly.

The work has been good. I have been trying to balance several projects because I do not know when I'll next get back here. I am down to half of one substantial research box left to go. I thought I'd finish today, but my copy card ran out after anyplace I could fill it up closed (there is only one machine in the entire library and it is out of order) so I'll need to return tomorrow, likely in the hours before I give my talk in the Rare Book Room (3:00 if you are in the area -- I'd truly love to have you show up).

I always experience a mix of emotions when I get to spend time at a place like Duke. I'm not at all proud of some of them. Envy, to be sure. Resentment too -- I'll put my record against anyone in their history department who got their PhD within three years in either direction of when I got mine (ie: 2000-2006). But also a real sense of appreciation. After all, I spend my days breathing decidedly less rarefied air than that which envelopes this community. When I leave on Friday I'll inevitably feel as if I did not use my time to the fullest, occupying a limited swath on campus as well as possible rather than spreading myself out to do every little thing possible. So I already have a favorite coffee shop and preferred hangout spots based on a limited sample.

One of the impressions that stands out immediately is the privilege that is ubiquitous here. And I do not mean that in a class warrior sort of way. But students and faculty and the whole community has first-rate facilities and services, options that students at lesser places, and the vast majority of places are lesser than Duke, could not even imagine. And I think of my time at Williams and how while I feel like I did so much there I still embodied the idea of youth being wasted on the young. Whenever I pass by the Duke Chapel, the central landmark on campus (which I can see clearly from my seat in this coffee shop and which is supposedly modeled after the one at Princeton and is reminiscent of the one at Williams) I gaze up in something of a state of wonderment and I realize that after another ten days here I'd probably forget to be in awe and would take all of this for granted.

I found out today that I lost out on a job I very much wanted to a newly minted Duke PhD and I was, I have to admit, a bit furious. I am sure this student is great. And the job was posted at either the Assistant Professor level or at Associate. But I cannot help but be angry about how much of academic hiring, like the NBA or NFL draft, is so much about potential. The reality is that if in six years this person has a record anywhere near approaching mine the school will have hired well, but of course they could have had that record now, with me, and they obviously consciously chose to pass it up. So add that to the "resentment" file (I'm a petty person, I suppose) even though I'll from here on out happily list my own little affiliation with Duke with pride.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tired Feet, Rested Souls and Empty Pockets

On Thursday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Rare Book Room of Duke University's Perkins Library I will be giving a talk, “Tired Feet, Rested Souls and Empty Pockets: Bus Boycotts and the Politics of Race in the U.S. and South Africa,” which will be sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. If you are going to be anywhere near the Triangle Area I hope you will swing by.

Charlotte Diary (More Self Indulgence)

I plowed through all of the boxes the archivists could make available to me before shutting down for the weekend, and with free time until Monday morning I decided to come down to Charlotte. I am staying with a good friend, one of my former professors at UNC-Charlotte, where I did my MA in Southern history.

Charlotte has changed remarkably since I was living here (I left in *gulp* 1996). Then Charlotte was something of an Ersatz city, all gleaming skyscrapers and striking skyline but without much to it. Uptown (Charlotte's somewhat pretentious name for the city center, or what most of us would call "downtown") served the city's business elite and banking establishment, but even on a weekend uptown rolled up its sidewalks and shut down until the next business day. Things have changed not only uptown, but across the city, where there is much more to do, where chains have been replaced by vibrant local institutions and where the funky, artsy district extends to more than Dillworth, a wonderful but too-small (and thus restricted and restrictive) enclave just off the edge of downtown.

Yesterday afternoon after I arrived Dan and I played frisbee golf at a great course in a park that also had beach volleyball and lots of space for dog walking and playgrounds and the like. I had only played frisbee golf once before, and much like my real golf game I sent it left or right when I wanted to go straight, straight when I wanted to go left or right.

It's sunny and bright and Charlotte is in its glory. The ACC championship is today and so I need to find a place to watch that. I'm back to the Triangle Area tomorrow morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Duke Journal (Self Indulgence Alert)

I spent my first full day at Duke today, working in Special Collections at Duke's Perkins Library on my John Hope Franklin Grant. So far so good -- technically I applied to work on South Africa in the 1980s but really I am looking at several collections related to a handful of topics on which I am working, including bus boycotts; my book on sport, race, and politics; and my comparative bus boycotts project.

As always happens with research, the things I assumed I'd find have proven disappointing but the things I assumed would occupy a passing glance have proven invaluable. No matter what happens with the digitalization of archives I will always believe that nothing compares to digging through the boxes. Those fools who talk about how we MUST make higher education more efficient have never been in an archives and have never sat in a seminar. Education and scholarship are oftentimes by their very nature inefficient, and that's a good thing.

Duke will always hold a place in my heart. This was the first school to recruit me seriously to run (well, jump) track, and while Williams won out for a host of reasons, when I wandered Duke's campus for a while I certainly knew that I could have spent four years here and have been happy. And although he is a giant douchebag, the Thunderstick went to Duke, and despite my better judgment, he is one of my best friends and when he was a senior and I was at UNCC there were a few drunken weekends on this campus. In fact the last two days likely represents the longest sustained period of sobriety I have ever spent at Duke. And to think, I have another week here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Duke Bound (Self Indulgence Alert)

Tomorrow I'm off to spend ten days in the Triangle area of North Carolina. I have a travel grant from the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University and I'll be conducting research starting Friday and will be giving a talk next week (details to come).

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Apportioning Blame

Want to know who to blame for the NFL's player-owner conflict? This sums it up just about perfectly.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Sporting Closet

A prominent English cricket player, Steven Davies, recently announced that he is gay. Davies is 24 and is likely to be a prominent player at both the county and the national level for years to come, so this is a really important step. He follows Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, who came out in the last couple of years.

The question remains: when will an active male in a major team sport in the United States follow suit? Note that the question is not "when will there be a gay male athlete in a major team sport in the United States?" There is absolutely no doubt that there has been and that there are closeted gay men in the Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and MLS. But that step is a huge one, and while we can hope that today's athletes would handle it, it would only take one or two not to for the situation to become virtually untenable in a machismo-laden locker room.

I asked my students about this in my Global Sports History class this semester and they made the sage point that whoever did it would have to be a very, very good player. The 53rd guy on and NFL roster or the mop-up guy in the bullpen almost certainly could not do it. I'd like to think we are ready for it. But I fear that we are not. Still, Steven Davies and Gareth Thomas provide hope.

The best hope is that someday gay athletes will not be a big deal. But we are not there yet.

A Town, A Team, A Documentary

The Onion SportsDome (which you probably should be watching) might just be tweaking Odessa (Friday Night Lights : The Book, The Movie, The television show) "High School Football Documentaries a Way of Life In Small Texas Town."