Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friday Sox Talk: Travel Edition

It's been some time since I provided a Friday Sox Report, largely because I have been in Los Angeles and now South Africa and as a result have not been able to write.

Let's get to the brunt of the matter: interleague play is not working out well for the Sox, who have lost every series in this leg against the National League and might be on the verge of getting swept by a Phillies team most people expect to be a potential World Series foe for the Sox. It all comes back to what I've said before and will play again. This team as not as bad as they looked in April and we not as good as they seemed at the beginning of June. They are better than they have played of late. It's pretty clear that this is not a 105-win Sox team. But they have to be better than this. The division still seems to be theirs to claim, but they do have to claim it. I'm tired of checking in only to find another loss to a National League team.

I'm now at Durban's beachfront, having moved on to the Garden Court Marine Parade. I plan to spend the weekend decompressing, catching up on some work and digging into South African life and politics and generally enjoying is country I love so much. You can check out more extensive updates, including on my conference, at the FPA Africa Blog.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back to South Africa - No Thanks to Delta

Oh, Delta Airline – is there no way you won’t abuse and screw over your passengers? The Atlanta to Joburg flight last night was delayed multiple times totaling nearly six hours. Throughout the communication was dubious, but once we finally we prepared to get off the ground Delta officials insisted that we would all be taken care of upon arrival, an important factor since just about anyone with a connecting flight was certain to miss it.

Fast forward to a few hours ago. We land at a quiet O.R. Tambo Airport at nearly midnight. Now keep in mind that every element of the delay has to do with issues in the United States and not in South Africa, yet the South African staff was left to deal with dozens of customers who had been made promises. Instead, we find out that only those with connect owns booked directly through Delta would be addressed. And given that Delta has almost no partnerships with South African carriers, that effectively took them off the hook in their mind not only for addressing those connections but for providing lodging. Keep in mind also that many of those stranded in Joburg are not especially familiar with either e country or the city and yet are essentially being told that on their own they have to book a room on their own aft midnight in a strange (and sprawling) city.

I advocated for Delta at least minimally helping people arrange for hotels that we would have to pay for on our own and an understanding agent did do that after 1:00 this morning. I got into a guest house in Edendale at nearly 2 and of course am now having trouble sleeping. And I have no idea what to expect when I get to South African Airways tomorrow to ask them to rebook me for my missed flight to Durban tonight. I expect that there will be a few headaches. But (and take note, Delta) ultimately SAA is aware that you don’t abuse your customer base and I suspect that at some point tomorrow I’ll be in Durban, enjoying far more temperate climes than those here in Joburg. I’ll arrive at the South African Historical Society conference really late, but better late than never.

(Cross posted at the FPA Africa Blog)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Red Sox Report: Airport iPad Edition

OK, so I have an iPad now, which I guess means I'm now one of those guys who always lets you know that he has an iPad. I tend to have a steep learning curve on these things, and so expect glitches with this, my first dcat post on my new toy.

The Red Sox have, in a word, been awesome of late, sweeping away just about everything in their path, with the closest call in the last couple of weeks being a loss to open the recent series against the Rays, and even then they came back to win the next two and take the series.

We are in a nice part of the sports year. There is time to breathe after the Bruins' glorious run to the Stanley Cup and the NBA is a feint memory (though I almost wish I had a class this summer term if only to see West Texans discover that there are NBA teams in Texas in the same way that they discovered that Dallas-Fort Worth had a baseball team last fall. And so barring a few intermittent events (soccer here and there - I am writing this on my way to California whe I have tickets to the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the Rose Bowl in addition to seats at a Dodgers-Angels game and U2 in Angels Stadium - the US track championships and subsequent world championships) baseball takes center stage.

The Red Sox are in a position to take the East and possibly to do so in dominant fashion. Injuries are always a possibility (Clay Buchholz has a worrying back issue and we've already lost DiceK for the season) and we've seen this team struggle with slumps this season already. But as of right now the Sox look set to shine in a period when baseball can dominate the sporting calendar.

As I said, I am en route to California for about ten days and then from LA I'll be flying straight to my annual South Africa trip. Oh, and have I mentioned that I got an iPad?

On Heroes and Heroism

This post from the "At War" Blog of The New York Times has revived some thoughts that I've been having over the last decade. These two paragraphs get at the gist of the argument:

I understand the sentiment, and I trust that there are those who truly believe that all service members are heroes, simply for signing up. But I can’t help think that for some, “hero” is a throw-away word, designed to demonstrate a “support the troops” position or guarantee applause at an event.

I don’t feel comfortable being called a hero. In fact, my brow furrows and my mind sharpens when I hear it. Words matter, and “hero” is so loaded and used so frequently that it stands to lose its meaning altogether. Maybe this is just New York cynicism, but I know I’m not the only veteran who feels skeptical when he or she is placed in the hero bin along with every other service member from the past 10 years. I admire the fact that men and women with whom I served chose a dangerous profession for their country – often making the decision after 9/11. But, these are soldiers. Soldiers are human beings. There are good ones and bad ones. A few do amazing, heroic things. The rest do their jobs – incredible, unique jobs – but jobs, nonetheless. Some perform happily, others grudgingly. And I argue that most feel embarrassed when lauded as heroes.

I have also felt the same about the profligate use of the word "hero" to describe every single police officer or firefighter after 9/11. Of course to say as juch seems like an implicit criticism -- to say that they are not all heroes is to say something dark and nefarious rather than to make a statement of interpretation. Is eery single person who has served in the military a hero? If so, don't we need another word to describe the valour above and beyond simple service that so many engage in? And doesn't that then devalue the word to begin with?

This "hero dilemma" strikes me as a function of two issues. The first stems from Vietnam, when the treatment of many vets ranged from indifference to hostility, neither of which was justifiable and both of which we as a society have studiously tried to avoid.

The second issue ties into cultural politics, however. For to question anything about the military, which includes not granting the highest possible form of praise at every turn, has become a reflection on one's patriotism. This leads to a knee-jerk politics about issues that ought to require more seriousness.

It is a good and sometimes great thing when men and women join the service. But it is also a good and sometimes great thing when men and women go to universities, or enter the work force, or engage in some other form of service. It seems to me to cheapen a word we ought to take at great value to toss it around for everyone who fits into a certain category. I simply do not believe that every cop in New York is a hero. It ought to be not only ok, but perfectly unobjectionable, to say as much.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Freedom's Main Line in Paperback! (Self Indulgence Alert!)

Freedom's Main Line is now available in paperback (or will be very, very soon). Order your copy today!

New Coldplay

I know a lot of people have an unreasonable antipathy toward Coldplay. Despite the backlash, I will risk my rock fan credentials by admitting that I'm still a pretty big fan. You can go here to access YouTube videos of five new songs they performed at last weekend's Rock am Ring Festival in Nurburgring, Germany.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Friday Night Lights v. Glee

In this past weekend's New York Times Magazine Heather Havrilesky tries to explain why Glee has become a phenomenon and Friday Night Lights struggled to find an audience despite FNL being a vastly superior show.

I like Glee (hey, I was a music nerd in high school, college, and beyond). But Friday Night Lights is one of the greatest shows ever to grace the small screen. In my ranking it trails only The Wire, and in many ways Friday Night Lights is as powerful and sometimes moreso.

The 75 Books Every Man Should Read

Esquire has a slideshow of "The 75 Books Every Man Should Read." How many have you read? I'm not proud to say that a quick accounting has me at only about 26.

Plessy and Ferguson

Two descendants of the named parties in the infamous 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson have gotten together to form the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation. The goal of the organization is "to highlight the historic moments in New Orleans’s struggle for racial equality and [. . .] to remind the public of the story behind the famous case."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Golden Ages of the Bruins

As you wait for tonight's vital Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals you must, must, must go read Leigh Montville's fantastic article in Sports Illustrated connecting the Golden Age of Bruins hockey in the 70s to today's incarnation through threads of torment.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Red Sox Report: Back on the Skids

Following up a five-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak is not the sort of thing that inspires confidence. For all of the hope that the two previous weeks inspired, this week has been a grim reminder of this season's struggles. But with a twist -- the injury bug that destroyed this team's legitimate hopes last year has struck the pitching staff yet again. And so the Red Sox are now going with a patchwork rotation that serves as validation of my longstanding belief: Even when we seem to have plenty of starting pitching we do not have enough starting pitching.

What to make of DiceK needing Tommy John surgery? Well, first, if he needs it he needs it. There was apparently a dispute as to whether he should go under the knife or simply let rest work its magic, but that had to be an effort at magical thinking. Guys who need Tommy John surgery actually need the surgery. Hoping that it will heal given time is a recipe for, well, for eventually needing surgery when rest fails as a medical option. Dicek came in with such high hopes and objectively he has not met those expectations. But one of the benefits of having a solid revenue stream (and let's not pretend that the Red Sox are simply one of a fortunate few -- it is the work the organization has done to make sure the team is competitive year-in and year-out that has put them in this position) is that they can afford to take risks like winning the bidding for DiceK and then rolling the dice (ha!) on signing him to a long-term deal. He still contributed to a World Series win, and that makes it worth it for just about any team, none moreso that a Red Sox fan base that should well recall the pre-2004 mindset.

So I suppose that we can look at this little bad streak as an adjustment. As I said last week, this team was never as bad as they seemed in April. They are not as good as they seemed for most of May. But I am going to continue to bet going forward on more of the latter and less of the former as baseball takes center stage in the summer months.