Friday, December 29, 2006

Saving Jeff Reardon

David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel has a heartbreaking story on former all-time major League saves leader (and one-time Red Sox closer) Jeff Reardon. Reardon lost his 20-year-old son and, not surprisingly, his world fell apart. A year ago he committed a perplexing robbery, largelky as a result of his depression and a reliance on a vat of medicines. A court found Reardon not guilty because of temporary insanity, and he still struggles to piece his life back together.

Hat Tip: SoSH.

Whither the Oxford History of the United States?

On Sunday in the Boston Globe's "Ideas" section, Christopher Shea investigated the status of the Oxford History ofd the United States,a project that for a half of a century has been in an ever-changing state of becoming. There is hope on the horizon that some of the long-awaited volumes will see the light of day, but we've heard all of this before. What is striking (and frustrating) is that the volumes that have been completed have been of the highest quality, and so the delays have not represented a failure of quality on the part of those who have gotten the work done but rather a failure of execution on the part of many who have not (or who ended up writing different books when they could not quite fulfill the parameters of the assignment).

Self Indulgence Alert

The Lulu Blooker Prize blog recently featured my book Bleeding Red.

A South African Report Card

Every year the mail & Guardian issues a "report card" grading every member of South Africa's cabinet. This year's report card is out, (Part I is here, Part II here.)

The M&Gis not the last word on these matters, but I usually find its report card to be fair and judicious, succumbing neither to knee-jerk Afro-pessimism nor to equally reactive cheerleading. The most telling grade(s) rightfully go to President Thabo Mbeki, who receives an A- for governance, but a D for leadership.

Nigeria on the Brink of Disaster?

What do you get when you combine an oil rich African country with internal instability, a history of regional division, a political tradition of violence, and a president hinting at delaying votes and staying in power? The possibility of "Nigeria on the Brink," according to David Phillips, executive director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, in a recent Boston Globe op-ed piece.

I have long argued that Africa requires certain anchor powers to maintain regional stability. South Africa is one of these regional powers. Nigeria absolutely must be another. If Nigeria descends into calamity, vast swathes of West Africa could follow.

Leon Powe and Hoop Dreams

Shira Springer of the Boston Globe has a compelling feature on the Celtics' roookie forward Leon Powe. Springer shows how Powe is the sort of kid who overcame all sorts of awful odds, then faced a catastrophic injury for a basketball player, yet has emerged as a potential player in the NBA. The Celtics teem with young talent, and after reading this, Powe is one of the members of this youth movement for whom I will be rooting especially hard.

Delaware: The Worst State

One of my favorite articles in any source in the last five years is Jonathan Chait's brilliant and fully warranted rip-job of Delaware in a 2002 New Republic piece that I swear at the time (at least in the magazine) was called "The Worst State." If you've ever had to endure Delaware's wretched, rapacious toll booths (to drive through just a few hideous, worthless miles) or paid usurious credit card rates (thanks to Delaware's utter sluttishness toward corporate interests) this piece will privide some succor.

Chait reiterates his disdain for "Perfidious Delaware" over at The Plank. He pulls no punches, calling Delaware a "sinkhole of inequity and greed." A "backward, corrupt parasite state." One that represents the "great underappreciated scandal of modern American life." You will doubt the truth he preaches only if you've never been held up for an hour on I-95 waiting to pay an insane amount of money for the ability to drive a tiny stretch of highway.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Pat Forde and the New Math

Over at ESPN, Pat Forde makes the irredeemably silly argument that Bob Knight could be aiming for his 1000th win at Indiana rather than his record 880th at Texas Tech tonight if only he had been unable to control his anger. Forde thus deems Knight's record as "Pyrrhic."

Let's leave aside Forde judging what by any measure is a spectacular accomplishment as "Pyrrhic." Let's instead look at Forde's math. I would like to have anyone explain to me where, exactly, Knight, who has won 20 games a season at Texas Tech, was going to win 120 more games than he has won in his time since his ignominious departure from Indiana. The math is impossible. Knight has coached for six seasons at Texas Tech. By my arithmetic, to be at 1000 instead of 880, in each of those seasons he would have to have won 20 extra games, an impossibility given that to do so would have required a 40+ game season. Basically Forde is arguing that had he stayed at Indiana, Knight would have had a run of six undefeated seasons (which would have had to have included six undefeated national championship runs -- given that Knight coached the last undefeated team in college basketball in 1976, the idea that he would have done so at an Indiana program that was foundering somewhat in his last few years stretches credulity) AND the NCAA would have otherwise inexplicably expanded the schedule.

It is fine to lament what we can perceive as Knight's career sabotage. It is fine to wonder what might have been. But in my mind, Forde's absurd assertion simply undermine's Forde's own credibility as a pundit. It does not add much to the Bobby Knight discussion. The reality is that whether at Indiana or at Texas Tech, Knight was likely to break Dean Smith's record during the 2006-2007 season. Some might argue that it is a shame that he left Indiana. There is no need to augment that case with implausible arguments that defy simple arithmetic.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Peer Effects and Variteks

Fire Joe Morgan has a post about peer effects that I am certainly not linking simply because he addresses a question that I asked. I would not be that transparent.

Annan's Legacy

South African political cartoonist Zapiro has the following take on Kofi Annan's UN Legacy:

The Graying Professoriate?

I have a post over at Ephblog about the supposed "graying" of the professoriate.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Self-Indulgence Alert: South African Books Edition

African Studies Quarterly has published my latest review essay of two similarly titled but very different books: James Barber's Mandela’s World: The International Dimension of South Africa’s Political Revolution, 1990-99, which I liked, and Sean Jacobs' and Richard Calland's edited collection, Thabo Mbeki’s World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President, with which I had problems.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"West Point Gently Weeps"

In case you missed it, the Sunday New York Times had a powerful feature in the sports section on the death of former West Point athletes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever your thoughts on the war, Juliet Macur brings home the sacrifices of these remarkable men and women and the ripple effect their lives and deaths have on an elite fraternity.

James Brown, RIP

Sad news on the Christmas Day -- James Brown, the Godfather of soul, has passed away. All this week I had a compilation from the British music magazine, MOJO, called "James Brown's Funky Summer," in heavy rotation in the car. Basically the cd is a compilation of summer funk songs (including a new track from the Godfather himself) that reminded me of why I fell in love with funk in college. I am a big Parliament/Funkadelic (P-Funk) fan, but without James Brown there is no George Clinton, and with no George Clinton there is no P-Funk. Heaven just became super bad, and that's very good.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Back to the Mountain

My best man, Matt, and his lovely, superbly pregnant, wife, Heather, have been back from their Latin American adventure for a little while now. They have posted what may be a last entry, providing a bit of closure, over at Far From the Mountain.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays

We are about to head out to San Antonio for Christmas. Posting will likely be light, and so I wanted to wish you all a very happy holiday. Or, as Randy put it on My Name is Earl, Feliz Naviblah!

Or as Mr. Garrison once put it, Merry F@(king Christmas. (You might want to make sure no one with delicate sensibilities is around when you play this.) Hat Tip to prodigal dcat son, RoJo.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Yeay Us!

Inside Higher Ed has a nice piece on the good job the UT system is doing in bringing a college education to students from low-income families. UTPB is one of the schools singled out in the article. We have a program called UTPB Promise in which we commit to "help qualified students meet the financial challenges of attending the university."

Self Indulgence Alert

History New Service has posted and distributed my latest op-ed, "In Historical Truths, the Road to an Open Society." Hopefully it will come to a newspaper near you (let me know if it does). My piece has its origins in a dcat post, Ding, Dong, Pinochet is Dead from earlier this month. Since as much as anything I see dcat as a place to post mini-op eds and to work out ideas, I suppose this is an example of how that can work ideally. In any case, enjoy, and feel free to comment.

'Twas Ever Thus

After another dominant year, New Zealand's All Blacks will go into 2007 as the favorites to win the Rugby World Cup. But international rugby sees shifts in fortunes more quickly than just about any other sport. Traditional powers Australia and defending Cup champions England will surely have something to say. And while South Africa struggled mightily for most of 2006, they began to turn things around in the last phase of their international season, and Coach Jake White's personnel policy, in which he tries as many players as possible over the course of a year to find the best combinations, appears like it might be set to yield fruit. Nonetheless, the All Blacks set the bar in world rugby. Everyone will be gearing for them in France (itself a formidable rugby power) once the new year hits.

Quick Hits

Three articles in today's Boston Globe caught my attention:

Bob Ryan argues that history shows how NBA teams that trade away superstars always end up on the losing end of the deal. He provides seven examples. His approach is a bit historicist, and certainly is deterministic, but when it comes to basketball, Bob Ryan is like E. F. Hutton: When he talks (and writes) people should listen.

Meanwhile, apparently a number of Massachusetts high schools are using pictures posted on the web (MySpace, et al) to catch, and possibly punish, students seen in pictures using drugs or alcohol. While this approach in and of itself might be debatable, the most problematic aspect is that these schools are choosing to focus solely on athletes in meting out punishments. This approach is dubious at best and sends precisely the wrong message: That athletes are different, that they are subject to a different level of scrutiny. In this case, to be sure, athletes pay the price. But on the other hand, if we can choose to single out athletes for punishment for deeds that are either right or wrong for all students (why not punish a kid in the chorus, or the debating team, or a class officer?) then we are saying that we can also treat them favorably as a matter of official policy. It seems to me that one of the positive aspects of Buzz Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights is that it shed a light on the excesses of glorifying high school athletes. Now what some Massachusetts public schools are doing is feeding this mindset even while putting it in the context of holding these athletes to higher standards.

Finally, Jason Stearns, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, and the spy novelist John Le Carre (!?!) have a plan to get the Congo's vast mineral wealth into the hands of its suffering people. Their suggestion, an entirely sane one that I do not see happening to the extent necessary anytime soon, is that the government and international organizations must renegotiate contracts "in a way that benefits the Congolese state and people."

Incoherence Watch

Charles Krauthammer apparently couldn't come up with a coherent, fluff-free column today.

Fair Warning

I have made the switch to Google's new format for blogger. This almost inevitably means that I will spend much of the next month screwing up posts, sending you to screwed up links to nowhere, and swearing at my computer screen. Just to provide you with fair warning.

The Skirmish on Sanity

TNR online has republished Michelle's Cottle's (typically witty) 2004 Column on the silly excesses of both the "War on Christmas" types and the "no public display of anything even potentially religious" types. I am a pox on all of their houses type, myself. I'm uncomfortable with public (that is, by the state) displays of overt religiousity, but could not imagine, say, a high school choral concert without some sacred music -- from whatever tradition.

One of the aspects of this debate that mosts vexes me is the very term "War on Christmas." Conservatives, who love to play the whole more patriotic than thou card, are the ones proferring this nonsense, and I'm surprised that more people have not raised a simple point: In a time when we are actually at war, it is profoundly offensive to those under fire to have some ninny at Fox News claiming that saying "Happy Holidays" is somehow tantamount to war.

My view has always been that you need to know your audience. Or you need to know what you do not know about your audience. Almost every email I send out these days will have some sort of holiday greeting, even if it is professional. But when I am corresponding with an editor, or a professor, or a student, and if I do not know their religious beliefs and spiritual background, why on earth would I simply assume that they are Christians? Why would I run the risk of receiving a potentially awkward email saying "thanks, but I am actually Jewish"? And to pre-empt that most shopworn of accusations, there is nothing "politically correct" about this approach. The conscious decision not to be a solipsistic asshole is not a manifestation of pc -- it is a manifestation of common civility.

So Happy Holidays. Season's Greetings. Or, as Randy put it on My Name is Earl last week, Feliz Naviblah!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

An All-Time Great Retires

Very few Americans have ever even heard of him, but one of the great athletes of the last century has just announced his retirement. Shane Warne, Australia's great spin bowler, is set to step down from test-level cricket at the end of this year's Ashes series. Warne, the all-time test cricket wicket taker and arguably history's greatest bowler, has had a storied (and at times controversial) career. I know him best from watching him torture South African and English cricket teams for a decade. Warne is to cricket what, say, Greg Maddux or Warren Spahn are to baseball.


President Bush has announced that the Pentagon is planning a new military command for Africa, the US Africa Command, or AFRICOM. The goal of the new command will be to address both humanitarian concerns and global terrorism.

If anything shows the low place that Africa has held in the United States, this pretty much sums it up. On the one hand, anyone concerned with Africa has to be pleased that the United States is taking the continent seriously. On the other hand, what took us so long? I realize that it has only been 65 years since America began its involvement in World War II in Africa, but it is pretty flabbergasting that it has taken us this long to make some sort of permanent military commitment to Africa and its people.

In the be careful of what you ask for category, of course, I would imagine that some in Africa might be more than a little skeptical of our newfound interest in the continent. The United States has not exactly earned the trust of most Africans, and in recent years our reputation has gotten worse. Cynical observers might be moved to wonder just how much Africans will benefit, or if this is not simply another chapter of colonialism, neocolonialism, or simply of using Africa as a pawn in western games. I am inclined to hope that this signals a recognition of Africa's long-term significance, but will keep a wary eye on things as AFRICOM develops.

Paging Dr. Blogstein . . .

We'd like to welcome Dr. Blogstein to our capriciously compiled blogroll. His witty musings (amusings?) and gleeful non-sequiters are worth your daily perusal. I'm sure he is thrilled.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa is a character I grew up with, though I did not grow up with him entirely sequentially. The first Rocky movie I saw was the second one. (In Rocky II, he wins the title in a fight he was losing going into the 15th round, but before that he spends too much money on tacky crap, Adrian falls into a coma during childbirth, and Rocky needs to know from Apollo if the champ gave it his all in their first meeting.) Somehow we had it on videotape, taped from television, when I was about nine or ten, and I probably watched that movie a hundred times. Only when the third movie came out (Riches make Rocky soft, Clubber Lang whoops ass through the heavyweight ranks, Thunderlips doesn't realize he and Rock are taking part in an exhibition, Mickey dies, Clubber pounds Rocky ignominiously, Rocky and Apollo become friends and share some awkward moments, Rocky beats Clubber in a rematch) did I fall into order. Nonetheless, from the first moment I laid eyes on the underdog series of movies that have been the Rocky films, I was hooked. I've bought in entirely.

Rocky (underdog from Philly is going nowhere, loses his locker after a desultory fight with Spider Rico, courts a mousy pet shop worker, gets shot at title against Apollo Creed because of oddities, has self doubts, works out in greatest montage ever, goes the distance with the champ) is a legitimately fantastic movie, one of my five favorites of all time. If you don't at least like the first one, I honestly do not know if I can like you as a human being.

A lot of people like Rocky II the least, but I'll always have a soft spot for that tattered VHS tape, and in any case, I liked the idea of Rocky Balboa winning the title. Rocky III and Rocky IV (Big Russian dude with ice queen wife emerges from the labs of Moscow and seems the perfect fighting machine, Russian dude -- Ivan Drago -- kills Apollo, Rocky goes to Siberia, runs up mountains and lifts logs, Rocky helps win Cold War) were silly but they were silliness of a piece.

Rocky V did not happen. So I have no pithy plot synopsis of it.

Which leads us up to last night, which was opening night of Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment of the Rocky series, but the first sequel not to carry the Roman numeral at the end because Sylvester Stallone did not want to acknowledge Rocky V either.

You can read all of the reviews. Some have been bad. Some have been quite good. But I can give you a simple way to assess whether you will like the latest movie: Do you fundamentally buy into the character and story of Rocky Balboa? It's as simple as that. If you see Rocky as a caricature, if you see him as a dolt spouting out "Yo, Adrian" at every turn, you'll see this last (God, let's hope so) Rocky movie as absurd. But if, like me, you cannot help but like the character, if you have bought into the absurd twists and turns, if you know that beneath the mookish exterior is embodiment of the everyman as we'd like to think we are, you will really like Rocky Balboa. In a sense this is the most real movie in the series since the first sequel. Even I, with my vast blind spot for Rocky, see the third and fourth movies as basically cartoons. Cartoons that I love, but cartoons to be sure. But the first two strike me as very real. This latest one is a return to form -- Stallone wrote and directed it, and as you can see from any review, positive or not, it might be the most personal movie he has ever made. (I'll spare you plot details -- you can find them anywhere.) There are those who see Stallone grappling with his own age issues, and find that too transparent on screen. To me, that is beside the point, or more precisely, it is the point -- of course Stallone decided to look inward: old boxer seeing mortality and wants another shot at glory, spouts truisms along the way = old actor known for action movies sees mortality and wants to wrestle with it. But because Rocky is such an earnest and fundamentally likable character, the truisms themselves come across not as hackneyed, but as earned.

The movie is not perfect. But its imperfections are of a piece. If you have not bought into Rocky by now, another training montage and stylized fight are not going to seal the deal. But if you are like me, and sadly, some of you are, some of that old Rocky magic will set in. You'll ache when he tries to come to grips with Adrian's death, you'll bob and weave and throw feints during the fight, and you'll get a lump in your throat and mist in your eyes at the end when . . . well, if you are with me up to now, just go see it.

Grading the Rocky Series: Rocky: A+ Rocky II: B+ Rocky III: A- Rocky IV: B+ Rocky V: F+ Rocky Balboa: A-

John Judis' Reading List

Over at TNR online, John Judis provides a list of some of his favorite books. His tastes run to the quirky and esoteric, but historians will find a lot to like (and much with which to quibble). I hope to post some capsule reviews of books and cd's before the holiday, but time seems to be working against me these days.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Giuliani's Viability

Over at The Fix Chris Cilizza excerpts his long chat on Rudy Giuliani's chances of garnering the GOP nomination. Cilizza is skeptical as to whether or not Rudy is nominatable in the current climate of the Republican Party. I have no doubt that Giuliani would be a powerhouse candidate, though I have always wondered what the appeal was and never bought into the Rudy-as-hero trope that emerged after 9/11. Nonetheless, Giuliani has pizzazz, or whatever it is, that many in the GOP might find appealing, especially if Barack Obama's star continues to rise.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Knicks-Nuggets Fight

I'm not even going to link, I'm just going to comment: Look, let's not get carried away. Let's not let our fake outrage shift the real narrative. The fight the other night between the Knicks and Nuggets was not an atrocity, it was not a disgrace, it was not even especially shameful. Fights happen in professional sports. They just do -- these are competitive guys in a sport that, while not football or rugby, places guys in physical contact with one another. The Nuggets were running it up on the Knicks, Isiah sent in his 15th guy to foul somebody and to foul him hard (I am astounded that Isiah escapes from this unscathed), and not surprisingly, the Nuggets took exception. This sort of thing used to happen all the time. Let's not let our holier-than-thou, post-Palace mindset blow this up into something more than it was.

And here is another thing: Carmelo Anthony did not throw a sucker punch. He just didn't. The two guys were jawing, the Knicks player, Collins, was pretty much asking for it. And in this process, Carmelo punched him (well, in the way that NBA guys punch one another, which is always one of the most amusing aspects of NBA fights to me -- they throw punches like Johnny Damon trying to get a ball back to second from centerfield). No sucker punch. In any fight, someone is going to land the first blow. Now what he did that was disgraceful was to backpedal from the melee as soon as he threw that punch. That warranted the full 15 games as far as I am concerned.

In any case, what we have learned from all of this is that modern day sportswriters, the source of the latest round of mock outrage, have not been in enough fights. It makes me respect Will McDonough all the more, as in the late 1970s when he was the Patriots' beat writer, he punched out the Pats' starting All-Pro corner Ray Clayborn. As the legend has it (and when in doubt, print the legend) McDonough knocked Clayborn into the owner and the two tumbled into a clothes hamper, at which point the South Boston-bred sportswriter asked, "Do you want another dose?"

Diary Blog

I'm still in San Antonio, which explains the light posting, but Tom has another great diary entry posted. This time he deals with Christmas in a new city, talks about online research, and graces us with a slideshow. Good stuff.

Friday, December 15, 2006

San Antonio

Since I'll be spending the next few days in San Antonio, and blogging may be light, a little San Antonio-related reading for your weekend, from the latest Journal of the West: "Pablo Cruz and El Regidor: The Emergence of a Bicultural Identity in San Antonio, 1888-1910" (I happen to know the author.)

The New Monster

Who is this Daisuke Matsuzaka fellow? John Powers has a feature on the man who since childhood has had the nickname "The Monster." Sox fans know that our original "Monster" (excluding the "Green Monster," naturally) will always be Dick Radatz, the burly fireballing reliever from the early 1960s, but we are willing to share.

(And here is the lead editorial in The Boston Globe today. In how many cities does baseball garner front-page and lead editorial space in December? And this is far from the first time. Pitchers and catchers report two months from tomorrow . . .)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Treasure Trove

The New York Times has a story about a treasure trove of documents, manuscripts, memorabilia and other materials that will soon be the foundation for a new museum (and, I hope, library) likely in Los Angeles.

Penis Envy

OK, this is just plain weird.

Brady Talks Smack

Tom Brady is not known for his trash talk. But he let loose yesterday, criticizing teammates, calling for greater focus and for players to adhere more to what the coaches have to say, and addressing the Dolphins' allegations that they had Brady's and the line's calls figured out. My favorite excerpt has to be from when he addressed the Dolphins' assertions:
"I don't see that. I'd love to see evidence of that; that they could know exactly what our line calls are," Brady said. "Our defense knows what our line calls are and it doesn't matter. They could say that, but I think that's a big crock of you know what. I think it's a matter of how we played. I'm sure if you asked them, it probably sounds good for them to say they have it all figured out, but they're 6-7 and we're 9-4, so go tell me who probably has it more figured out."

Ouch. Mark my words -- the Dolphins just pissed off the NFL's version of Michael Corleone. I look forward to next year's matchups when the Dolphins once again come into another season hyped as contenders. Meanwhile, call me the next time Miami wins a game that matters.

More Matsuzaka

At the Boston Globe Nick Cafardo argues that in these negotiations, "This decision goes to Sox, not Boras." Cafardo has some great insights from former Major League and Japan League third baseman (and Medford native) Mike Pagliarulo who runs a respected scouting system that emphasizes Asian talent.

Dan Shaughnessy provides a somewhat glib "newcomers guide to the Red Sox" in which he does show both some of the landmines Matsuzaka faces but also shows why Boston can be a great place to play.

Take the ball every fifth day, pitch your heart out, make no excuses, say good things only about your teammates, salute the fans, sign autographs, smile, and act like you are enjoying yourself. Let the experience of pitching for the Red Sox at Fenway Park wash over you like a soft summer rain. You’re going to love it here.

I cannot wait until baseball season.

Matsuzaka in the Fold: Now What?

OK, so after a week or so of tension, of Red Sox Nation collectively holding its breath, of crashing Sons of Sam Horn and giving millions of hits to a website that tracked the plane carrying our new savior from SoCal to eastern Mass, Daisuke (it's pronounced Dice-K, so his first name has become his nickname -- I sort of wish the rush to impose a nickname would slow so the process could happen organically) Matsuzaka is in the fold. After all of the speculation, Matsuzaka signed for a very favorable $52 million, though the Annual Average Value (AAV), taking into account the posting bid, is still a healthy$17.2 million per annum. We will know more once he passes the physical and we hear about incentives, escalator clauses and the like. But having him in the fold for six years at an acceptable salary is certainly good news.

The Sox pitching staff looks like it could be fantastic, but there are ample question marks. Schilling and Wakefield are elder statesmen, with Schilling indicating that this year will be his last. Beckett should adjust after a year in the tougher (for pitchers, certainly) American League but last year's performance was hardly that of an ace and former World series MVP. Lester is recovering from cancer, and while he hopes to be at spring training on time for pitchers and catchers reporting (February 16 for all of you keeping track) I think we need to give him some time, and even if healthy, Lester is young and will have growing pains. Papelbon was the season's revelation last year, but that season ended with him on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, which is always cause for concern. Now he is going to make the transition from closer to starter. Let's not burden him with expectations of greatness yet.

And then there is Matsuzaka. There is a reason why the Sox placed a $51.1 million bid on him. Every scout who is on the record is loopy for this guy. Even if rumors of the gyro ball are greatly exaggerated, Matsuzaka is supposed to be something special. Certainly his MVP performance in carrying Japan to victory in the World Baseball Classic reaffirmed all of the whispering. And his stats in the Japanese league show a young man who began good and has improved every season. But how will he adjust to the Major Leagues? How will he adjust to the longer season and the much more extensive travel and the circus that is the Boston media, a circus whose tents are about to expand with dozens of Japanese media members? What if he stumbles coming out of the gate? What if he has health issues? There are lots of questions that we will only answer once we get him to Fort Myers and to Fenway and once he gets going with what we hope will be a long and successful career.

Mathemeticians in the audience will note that I have listed six starting pitchers. There have been two recent seasons when the Sox entered the year with fans worrying about too many starters. How would we be able to integrate six starters into five spots? Those years were 2004 and 2006. And in both seasons even six starters proved not to be sufficient. As far as I am concerned we still do not have enough starting pitching. I hope we reach out to Roger Clemens and at least make a phone call to Boras to see what he might have to say about Zito. Seven starters will end up, at some point in the season, being four. Someone will go on the shelf. Someone will have the dreaded "personal issues." Someone will not work out. Someone will slump. Stickpile starters. The rest will evolve naturally.

But while looking for more top-of-the-rotation guys, the Sox need to start zoning in on closers. I do not think a big name is important. In fact, I tend to think the closing role is overrated -- I buy into the theory of Bill James that high leverage situations can crop up in any inning late in the game. That your "closer" might be best served coming out of the pen in the 7th, with someone else pitching the last inning of the game. But this is an idea whose time has not yet come, and the closer-by-committee had its hearing in early 2003 and failed, though I might point out that it was the personnel that failed more than the idea itself.

The Hot Stove is still cooking. Pitchers and catchers arrive in Fort Myers in about 55 days.

Michael Crichton: Scumbag

In March, The New Republic's Michael Crowley wrote a lengthy withering piece about Michael Crichton. Crichton has apparently gotten his revenge in his latest (and by all of the reviews I have seen, terrible) book. Crichton has gratuitously inserted a character who has no purpose, and who simply appears and disappears with no consequences to the plot, named Mick Crowley. Mick Crowley is a Washington-DC based polticial journalist who happens to share Michael Crowley's alma mater. Charmingly, Crichton has made the otherwise puposeless character a child rapist (of a 2-year old non less) with a small penis. Crowley responds here in a piece with the title "Cock and Bull," but if you look at the top of the browser, TNR has a more appropriate title: "Michael Crichton, jurassic prick." Here is a dose from Crowley's concluding paragraph:
Crichton launched his noxious attack from behind the shield of the small penis rule because, I'm sure, he's embarrassed by what he has done. In researching my article, I found a man who has long yearned for intellectual stature beyond the realm of killer dinosaurs and talking monkeys. And Crichton must know that turning a critic into a poorly endowed child rapist won't exactly aid his cause. Ultimately, then, I find myself strangely flattered. To explain why, let me propose a corollary to the small penis rule. Call it the small man rule: If someone offers substantive criticism of an author, and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he's conceding that the critic has won.
I'd say that this is indeed the case. Crowley has won, and Crichton is a loser.

Ad Hominem of the Week

In a post on the right already beginning its smear campaign against Obama, Jason Zengerle highlights a slimy Washington Times column by the loathsome Tony Blankley. In the comments, a reader has the ad hominem of the week (not for the delicate, or those who feign being delicate):
Whoever this Tony dude is, he can't be more than a mere menstrual stain on the thong of American political discourse.

We don't approve of this sort of thing of course.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Orleans and the Democrats in 2008?

Over at The New Republic online Michael Sean Winters argues compellingly that the Democrats ought to hold their 2008 convention in New Orleans. Sounds like a good idea to me. Logistically it might be a daunting accomplishment, but symbolically New Orleans would provide a powerful backdrop.

Sportsguy on AI

Sportsguy agrees with me about getting AI, but even more emphatically. My one problem with this article is that it shows a creeping tendency on Sportsguy's part that makes him more and more like your ordinary sports jouirnalist, even if he'll always be better: He loves to push an argument by saying "you just have to see X in person. Trust me." How often do sportswriters (think Around the Horn: Mariotti, Jay) try to lord over one another but especially the viewers the fact that they see these guys every day in person. It's the ultimate argument by anecdote and without actual evidence. I agree that AI is great and exciting. But that does not change that he can be difficult, that he very publicly tried to mock the idea of practice (against a Hall of fame coach, no less), that he is a serious gunner, and that the way he play probably means he won't be on the court until he is 36.

That said, Sportsguy has me even more excited about the possibility of an AI to Boston trade, even if it is unlikely to happen.


You really do not want to know the percentage of the last two days I have spent following the Matsuzaka saga. I've used Sons of Sam Horn (belatedly on the dcat list of links) as something of a home base but have scoured the net for news small and large, substantial and rumor. It finally appears that a deal may be done according to ESPN and other sources. Matsuzaka apparently got on a plane this morning in SoCal with several Sox officials, something that Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, insisted would not happen without a deal in place.

Let out a sigh of relief and get some sleep Sox fans. I said all along that this would get done, but not without machinations and the sort of speculation that makes being a Red Sox fan the joy that it is.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Iverson Rumors

The Sixers have sat Allen Iverson for three games. They have cleaned out his locker and purged him from the pre-game highlight films in Philly. Every report indicates that they will trade him in the next few days. Probably sooner, as they do not want the talks to drag on for weeks or months, as happened to the Pacers last year in the Ron Artest saga. One of the teams that keeps popping up in conversation is the Celtics. These are the sorts of rumors that get a fan's heart beating a little more quickly. Iverson is a legitimate superduperstar. He is tough as nails. He is a competitor. The idea of him wearing Celtics green provides the prospect of the first excitement in the New Garden in ages.

But is it a good idea? Bob Ryan, at least, seems ambivalent.

My question would be: What would we give up to get him?

In baseball, an abundance of young talent serves many purposes. One of these is as trade leverage. This makes a certain amount of sense -- picking baseball talent is a more capricious game than choosing basketball talent (hell, the NBA long ago scaled their draft down to only two rounds, with the second round rarely yielding many starters in any given year). Major League teams draft baseball players knowing they have years to develop. Major League teams have 40-man rosters plus entire minor league systems. The Boston Red Sox probably have at their disposal more than 150 players, possibly more, at all levels of the system. The Celtics have one tenth of that. So oftentimes guys with talent are great bargaining tools in baseball in a way that they cannot be in the NBA because in basketball there are so relatively few of them, and those that exist are almost always already under NBA contract.

What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Because the relative paucity of fungible young player assets, coupled with the NBA's hard salary cap, means that teams cannot just line up talent and make a trade. There are huge considerations independent of basketball symmetry that go into making a trade. And while future assets can haunt baseball GM's down the road (Jeff Bagwell, anyone?) in basketball the possibility of trading youth for proven talent can haunt a team almost immediately in the NBA.

So again, the question is, what would the C's have to give up for AI? They have a ton of young talent, which, to continue the baseball anaology, means that they really ought to use some of them to trade for proven value, because all of these guys will not mature into NBA stars, and even fewer will be able to do so as Celtics given the nature of the game. The Celts can also use a trade opportunity to give away a couple of salaries that are set to disappear off the books in a year or so (disposable salaries are as important in the NBA as young talent -- remember that hard cap) such as Theo Ratliff. This will give the 76ers vaunted cap flexibility. And the Celts have lots of young athletes who would tantalize most any GM.

I have heard the name Al Jefferson bandied about. Jefferson is maybe the most tantalizing of the C's youth brigade. Two years ago he looked set to make the leap to the next level. Then last year he was injured for most of the season and the whispering about AJ's potential began. This year he has yet to answer anyone's questions satisfactorily.

There is, of course, another factor. Let's call it what it is: the Greg Oden Effect. Ohio State's precocious big man is destined to be the first pick in next year's draft and by all accounts, even though he has only played a handful of college games, he could be the next superstar to enter the NBA. A big man with serious skills is the rarest of commodities and NBA dynasties are made of such dreams. The Greg Oden Effect plays into the AI prospects because whatever Bob Ryan says, he and everyone else knows that AI instantly makes the C's better. He makes them a contender in their execrable Atlantic Division and in the Eastern Conference. But AI is not likely to get the Celtics close to a championship. And he can be death on both coaches and teammates. Fans hate to admit it, and coaches and players would not dare whisper it, but young talent or no, the Celts are not going anywhere this year, and so why not think about the draft and what it beholds? Without AI, dreams of Greg Oden may dance in our heads. Oden might mean the sky is the limit. AI might help us to win a lot more games, but the limit he brings is likely more earthbound and prosaic.

My view, though, is that winning the draft lottery is not likely either. The Celtics are not very good, but they are youthfully talented with one legitimate superstar in Paul Pierce, and that will be sufficient to keep them from being bad enough to have any realistic shot at the #1 draft pick. They may be in position to draft a good young player, but the Celtics do not suffer for want of youth.

So again, what might the Sixers be offering? Because we all know the headaches AI brings to the table. But we cannot help it. Paul Pierce provides us with the Truth. Wouldn't it be nice, just maybe, to have the Answer as well?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ding, Dong, Pinochet is Dead

Augusto Pinochet is dead, and good riddance. His death reminds me of the crucial difference between the approaches of Chileans and South Africans in the 1990s. When the ANC rose to power, it had worked with the National Party and other factions to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC contained within it provisions whereby applicants could testify and if they met certain conditions could receive amnesty for gross violations of human rights. The same was not the case in Chile, where the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (or the Rettig Commission) had to operate within the framework of a blanket amnesty that ensured that neither truth nor reconciliation would emerge.

Mugabe: Lessons For Mbeki?

There are rumblings from Zimbabwe that the country's megalomaniacal president, Robert Mugabe, might extend his tenure in office to 2010 (he is scheduled to step down in 2008) if factions within the ruling party, ZANU-PF approve another constitutional change. Following up on what I wrote a week or so ago, I really do hope Thabo Mbeki is watching and understands what a monumentally bad idea tinkering with the constitution to extend a presidents term in office is, especially in Africa with its history of self-anointed presidents-for-life. When in doubt, look at what Mugabe does and strongly consider doing the opposite.

Or Maybe Barack Obama Just Really Digs Maple Syrup

Every blogger in America who writes about American politics has posted the story in The Washington Post about Barack Obama's trip to New Hampshire. Of course it means what we think it means, but we live in an age of political coyness. They like to presume to do us the favor of flirting with us before we jump into bed. There are lots of fine reasons to go to New Hampshire in December. The Currier & Ives vibe, the covered bridges, the quintessentially New England small towns with the town commons flanked by churches, the maple syrup, the flinty and curmudgeonly folks looking askance at outsiders, the natural beauty -- I love my home state. But my guess is that Barack Obama can afford to have maple syrup shipped to him, and that his affinity for pancake breakfasts and this morning, at least, lamentations about the Patriots is not enough to compel him toward the Granite State. I would guess that the gathered crowd that paid $25 a head to see him speak felt as if maybe, just maybe, Obama wasn't simply trying to recoup the Concord Trailways fare to Portsmouth. This is not, after all, their first exposure to the exotic quadrennial creature known as candidatus potentialus.

The UN, Nation Building, and Peace Keeping

In last week's New Republic Peter Beinart had an incisive TRB on the role the Unitred Nations can and must play in the world, especially in a post-Iraq world. What struck me is the way in which Beinart uses the Congo as his testing ground. despite some obvious worries,
But, nonetheless, the Congo hasn't been this hopeful since the 1960s. And the credit goes to an intriguing coalition of European money, African diplomacy, South Asian muscle, and U.N. expertise. Although U.N. formulas require the United States and Japan to foot a significant share of any peacekeeping bill, it was mostly the Europeans who financed the elections. South Africa and Angola pressured Kabila and Bemba to respect the results. South Asian troops kept the peace.

As the United States grows allergic to nation-building in the wake of Iraq, some combination of these forces might be the world's best hope for nursing broken nations back to health. While Europeans are more reluctant to wage war than Americans, they are often more inclined to help keep the peace. In fact, the European Union is developing a 60,000-person rapid-reaction force largely for that purpose. South Asia has become the world's largest source of peacekeepers, and the numbers could grow as India flexes its international muscle.

I, like Beinart, have often expressed my skepticism of the United Nations. I am wary of its echo-chamber status on a host of human rights issues as well as on Israel. I have serious concerns with the fact that in the General Assembly despotic nations sit aside liberal democracies. I worry that the UN takes such a closed view of peacekeeping that its soldiers on the ground can be neutered, s in Rwanda in 1994. I worry that its unwieldy nature can mask corruption. And I have on more than one occasion used words like "feckless" and "ineffectual" to describe the body.

Nonetheless, like many liberals, I still cannot help but let my idealistic side win out when it comes to the UN. For all of its flaws, the UN fills what I believe to be a necessary place within the international community. While I'd like to see the UN do much better, or while I might like to develop a new organization that from the outset avoids some of the biggest flaws of Turtle Bay, the reality is that even in its imperfect form, the UN can do some good in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of peacekeeping, and especially post-conflict peacekeeping.

Beinart recognizes this reality:

Then there's the United Nations itself--which, while often mocked in the United States (sometimes deservedly), has become the foremost repository of peacekeeping expertise in the world. As rand's James Dobbins has pointed out, both the United States and the United Nations did a lot of postwar stabilization in the '90s. But, while the Bush administration essentially discarded that knowledge and started from scratch in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United Nations now has a cadre of officials with extensive nation-building experience. Of course, Turtle Bay can't overthrow governments. But, when it comes to ushering post-conflict societies toward democracy and peace, as Dobbins notes, the United Nations actually has a better record than the United States.

Looking at the post-Iraq world, two realities jump out. In the United States, nation-building will be a dirty word. And, across the globe, nation-building will remain desperately necessary. As Oxford University's Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler have shown, peacekeeping is the most cost-effective way to prevent a country from sliding back into chaos. Indeed, the rise of international peacekeeping deserves significant credit for the decline in civilian deaths since the end of the cold war.

If the United States no longer has much appetite for such endeavors, we should at least support those who do. Largely as a result of the Congo, U.N. peacekeeping costs have shot up, and it is easy to imagine the United States trying to rein them in. We should do exactly the reverse. To consolidate its fledgling democracy, the Congo actually needs more blue helmets--and we should help pay for them. The United States goes through missionary phases and anti-missionary phases, but, in the end, this isn't really about us. The important thing isn't who saves countries like the Congo; it is that they get saved.

We live in a world where it is easy to think in terms of dualities. Red State or Blue State? Republican or Democrat? With us or against us. But rarely do these dualisms reflect the reality of the world. The Good UN or Bad UN debate is not interesting because it is not useful. There are things that the UN does well. We should cultivate those in hopes of minimizing those things that the UN does not do well. Those of us who never came around on John Bolton, even if he was not as bad as we thought he might be, always worried that he was unaware or unwilling to do the work to help the UN to do the things that it does well, blinded by that which it does not. It is telling that Africa, so oftentimes overlooked by most of the world, proves to be the best testing ground for what the UN can do. Beinart is right that we should draw the right lessons from recent events in the Congo and we should encourage the UN to do better but also to do more of what it does well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

American Heritage Blog

I have to admit that I did not have any idea that American Heritage has a blog. I know that a lot of historians look derisively at AH, but my view is that anything that helps to make people think about history is fine with me. I try not to buy into the largely (but not wholly) false dichotomy between "popular" and "scholarly" history. I do buy into "good" and "bad" history.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Please Sportsguy, Enough With The Gambling

Look, Sportsguy, I've been as big an advocate of your work as anyone. I supported you when our books were competing. (Theoretically at least -- we were on the same Amazon page for a month.) But don't try to pass this crap off as sportswriting, albeit with a gambling expert's frisson:
From a gambling standpoint, we can definitively say the following things: Pick every underdog unless you can't live with yourself for passing up a particular favorite. Grab underdog money lines over taking the points. Avoid road favorites and teasers unless your other option is setting your money on fire. Never feel comfortable with a lead until you see three zeros on the clock, coaches awkwardly shaking hands and players forming a prayer circle at midfield. And in the words of Agent Mulder, trust no one.

Seriously, dude. Your wife is kicking your ass on your own ESPN column. Your longstanding football gambling rules make little sense on the whole. Your column back in August in which you whined that poker winners no longer had to be skillful (after you tanked out of the World Series of Poker on the first day -- rationalize much?) was a bit on the pathetic side. Admit that, golly gee willickers, gambling has always been primarily about beating odds that are stacked against you. That or else your wife knows more about football than you do.

Just. Stop. With. The. Gambling. Now. Please.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Buddy or Bully?

Today President Bush met with South African President Thabo Mbeki. This led The Mail & Guardian to ask: "U.S.: Buddy or Bully?" It is a fascinating piece that ultimately condcludes that the US could be a bully, but that right now, it cannot afford to do so. In the words of Richard Cornwell of the Institute for Security Studies, "When Bush looks for lily pads to hop on to as he negotiates across Africa, he’s not exactly spoiled for choice. South Africa is the only sure thing right now. Angola might prove another, although its joining Opec will not have reassured Washington. Nigeria, moving into election mode, is hardly a stable platform.”

All international relations, even those regarding the United States when we are seen as something of a global bully, do not have to boil down to the strong exercising power against the weak. South Africa is by most measures the most powerful nation in sub-Saharan Africa, maybe even on the continent as a whole. South Africa thus has its own leverage in the relationship with the US while at the same time, South Africa wants and needs US support and investment -- US interest.

South Africans know that they will not have President Bush to deal with forever. But for now, they do. Thabo Mbeki is not about to cut off his nose to spite his face by endangering his relationship with the United States, and there is no reason why President Bush will resort to bullying behavior in a relatively brief meeting with the South African president. The "bully vs. buddy" syllogism was probably too cute for the author and editors not to use, but it does not reflect the realities of the current US-South Africa relationship.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Carter Contretemps

I have always admired Jimmy Carter. He is a good man, a man of integrity, a former president who has had arguably the most impressive post-presidential career of any man to have served in the Oval office. He took office undercircumstances that probably would have ruined the hopes of just about anyone and yet still has some notable accomplishments that are clouded in an easy to caricature presidency. But the other day when I was in the bookstore and saw the prolific Carter's latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. I have raged against the intellectually vacuous (and what I have in the past called "calumy") Israel as apartheid analogy. And so I was disappointed to see Carter engage in such simplistic and fallacious reductionism in his book's title.

I am not alone in my dismay. A former Carter aide, one-time executive director of the Carter Center where he has at least nominally been a senior fellow, and professor of Middle Eastern history Kenneth Stein has publicly rebuked Carter's book and resigned his fellowship. In a letter explaining his decision, Sten wrote that the book is “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.” (See here for the New York Times article and here for the Washington Post's coverage.)

Obviously a former president's take on a historical event is rarely going to meet the standards of scholarly history, but Stein hits the point precisely when he writes, "being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information." Stein is light on specifics because, apparently, he is preparing a review of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which should be an explosive read.

Larry Bird Turns 50

It seems impossible for any of us who saw Larry Legend emerge as the gawky Hick from French Lick, but Larry Bird turns 50 today. Over at the Boston Globe Bob Ryan rightfully sees an opportunity "to celebrate Bird's greatness." My favorite Bird quotation from the piece:
"I had fun," he points out. "I can tell you right now I did smell the roses. Any time I felt good, I completely loved playing. If I felt good during the warm-up, if I had my balance, I could definitely tell you that somebody was going to get an ass-whipping. Of course, I remember it all. I remember that first game in the Garden. There were only about 10 or 11,000 people there and I remember the place smelled like stale beer. Probably why I liked it."
You can have Jordan and Magic and Lebron and Shaq, transcendental players all. I'll take Larry Joe Bird.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Another Test

If you don't get just a little bit teary in the last third of Rocky, you have no soul.

Your South African Soccer Fix

The Mail & Guardian has a new weekly column on South African soccer. As South Africa prepares to play host to the World Cup in 2010 this should be a pretty good source for South African soccer infrastructural issues, for the country's preparations, and for Bafana Bafana's hoped-for resurgence.

A Test

If you don't get just a little bit teary in the last third of Field of Dreams, you have no soul.

Cool Historical Posters

The Georgetown Book Shop in washington, DC has a fantastic historical poster collection with reprints available for sale. And if you go here you will be able to buy the posters at a 40% discount if you are a teacher or professor. Some of the posters are truly amazing. Don't blame me when you spend way too much money.

Rachel Corrie Redux

Last month I wrote about James Kirchick's pummelling review of the one-woman show "My Name is Rachel Corrie." In the latest issue of The New Republic Cynthia Ozick takes an equally critical look at the script. A few choice excerpts:
On Corrie's willing immersion in propaganda and her own "willful" historical ignorance:
A young woman has journeyed from one continent to another to enter a history of which she is uncommonly ignorant. This is not the ignorance of naïveté. It is willful, and willful ignorance is indistinguishable from false witness. She has come as a determined tabula rasa. Absent are the Arab annihilationist wars of 1948, 1967, 1973. Absent are the repeated Palestinian refusals of statehood, beginning in 1948, when the United Nations proposed a partition of the land, and emerging again in 2000, when yet another Israeli (and American) appeal for Palestinians to accept statehood was answered by Yasir Arafat's murderous second intifada. "A largely unarmed people"? The English-speaking pharmacist in whose house Rachel Corrie is billeted admits to the culpable Palestinian origins of the current fighting: "Before intifada--no tanks, no bulldozers, no noise. After intifada, daily." But even this close-at-hand testimony of cause-and-effect cannot sway her. The believer is cognizant only of her belief.

For Rachel Corrie, in 2003, living and writing in the very heart of the second intifada, there is no mention of intifada, only of Israeli aggression; no acknowledgment of ongoing suicide bombings, rockets, bus explosions, attacks aimed at discos, eateries, malls, holiday gatherings; no recognition, for all her concern for children, of kindergartens inculcating six-year-olds with the beauty of "martyrdom." Or, rather, if any of these matters are argued, even in a mild and sympathetic tone (her mother's), against her belief system, she justifies in mechanical phrases what she permits herself, at least once, to call "Palestinian violence." And follows immediately with dogged, and preposterous, false witness: "The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance."

The mechanical lingo, with its neo-Marxist paraphernalia and hate-America jargon, is consistently on display. "I've had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the tax money that goes to fund the US military." "What we are paying for here is truly evil. Maybe the general growing class imbalance in the world and consequent devastation of working people's lives is a bigger evil." "I went to a rally a few days ago in Khan Younis in solidarity with the people of [Saddam Hussein's] Iraq." "[Children] love to get me to practice my limited Arabic. Today I tried to learn to say, 'Bush is a tool.'"

On her righteousness:
There is an old-fashioned word for this mentality, the kind of earnest temporary do-goodism that is likely to do harm: the word is slumming. For a sheltered young woman from Olympia, Washington, the intifada, as furiously enacted by Palestinians in Gaza, and the deterring Israeli response, are a shocking and often frightening experience. In Olympia there are no guns and gunmen occupying households, and no rocket launchers concealed in the forsythia bushes.

On her death:
A tragic casualty of the war she chose to join, she was cut down--horribly--by an Israeli army bulldozer. Contrary to the reports of journalists, the house she was attempting to shield was not a target. The bulldozer was clearing brush to thwart cover for launchers, explosives, and ambush. A photo taken minutes before the event tells what happened: the big growling machine is perched on a great mound of earth; well below it, shut off from the driver's vision and hearing, stands a tiny figure with a bullhorn. A piteous, pointless, heartbreaking death.

On the uses of her death:
The playscript includes an addendum by Tom Dale, one of the "internationals": the driver, he surmises, "knew absolutely that she was there." This version--a charge of plain murder--has, along with the notorious Mohammed al-Dura fabrication, entered the world's book of infamous fake facts. And for the opportunistic leaders of the ISM, which knows usable goods when it sees them, Rachel Corrie's death is neither piteous nor pointless: it is pure bonanza. A predatory organization that callously endangers its human shields by placing them before the hideouts of war, it purports to preach non-violence--except on its website, where it openly defends "armed struggle." Arafat, the warlord and terror chieftain who launched the intifada that was the ultimate ground of Rachel Corrie's death, lauded her as a "martyr"; for Arafat too, in the enduring propaganda blitz against the life of the Jewish state, she was usable goods. Media-savvy herself, she understood, as we have seen, the notion of a usable death: "the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen." Her grieving mother and father, seeking solidarity with their daughter and her cause, journeyed to Gaza, where they were an immediate temptation to the armed kidnappers who prefer to seize Westerners; identified as the martyr's parents, they were left to themselves by the equally media-savvy gunmen.

In conclusion:
In view of the play's manifestly political intent, and particularly in the lurid light of the editors' having concluded with an accusation of deliberate murder, the London audiences who jubilantly welcomed My Name Is Rachel Corrie, and the New York audiences who weepily do the same, should know at least this much: they have been spectators at a show trial. And there are Jews in the dock.

Rachel Corrie's death is tragic, but it was self-inflicted tragedy. Rachel Corrie's death carries with it object lessons. Alas, the right lessons are not the ones that those trafficking in her death are peddling.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Good Day For Sox Fans

It has been a very good few hours in Red Sox Nation. Sliding across the crawl on ESPN all night has been the news that the Sox have signed shortstop Julio Lugo (4 years/$36 million) and outfielder J.D. Drew (5/$70). They are also apparently closing in on signing Matsuzaka. Plus, it looks like the Manny trade talks are hitting an impasse (the rumors are that several west coast teams have been bidding against one another but none of the rumors I have heard have sounded even vaguely acceptable). But easily the best news of all? Jonathan Lester's cancer is in remission. The young man made the announcement today, and said his parents have not stopped grinning. What a glorious Christmas present for the entire Lester family.

Africa & China, China & Africa

One of the issues we try to address here at dcat is African linkages with the rest of the world. There is a new Yahoo group, "FeiZhou-AsSiin - Africa & China, China & Africa," that is dedicated to examining more closely a significant global trend on which I have been focusing more closely since my trip to China last summer. In the word's of the group's founder(s):
This group is created to facilitate consideration of connections and interactions between China and Africa, and Africans and Chinese - historic, present, and future. It draws its name from the Chinese (Mandarin, Puthonghua) for Africa, "Fei Zhou," and the name in Arabic for China, "Al Siin" (pronounced as-siin). Arabic ws chosen since it is one of many maternal languages in Africa, and one that has influenced a number of other languages on the continent (notably in the Sahel and east Africa). The main language of this list is English. Postings in other languages such as Chinese, African languages, and French are welcome but please accompany them with an English summary to assure a wider understanding.

China is increasingly going to play a role in the rest of the world with Africa as a particular focus. It is in all of our interest to watch as this geopolitical relationship develops.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Captain Chiliboy Ralapelle

This weekend, in a South African trouncing of the World XV rugby side in Leicester, England, saw a historic first for the Springboks. 20-year old hooker Chiliboy Ralapelle became the first black captain for a Springbok senior side. Given the role that rugby always played in the tropes of Afrikanerdom and white supremacy, Ralapelle's donning of the captain's armband represents another sign that the bad old days really are behind South Africa.

Foreshadowing a Mistake?

The Eastern Cape African National Congress, the largest single provincial voting bloc for the party, has passed a resolution calling for Thabo Mbeki to run for a third term as head of the party. While this is technically different from embracing a third term as South Africa's president, it sets in motion the potential for Mbeki to follow in the footsteps of so many African leaders in the last half century.

In February of this year I wrote about this possibility. I was wary then:

This is a colossally, monumentally, stupidly bad idea. To be fair to Mbeki and the ANC, this is not an idea that comes from them, but I do hope this is not Mbeki's way of floating a trial balloon. If it is, I hope that it bursts instantly. One of post-colonial Africa's curses has been Big Man Syndrome, whereby leaders, almost always from the independence era, believe that they are indispensible and thus refuse to yield power or else engage in chicanery and heavy-handedness to change or manipulate the Constitution and thus make their naked grab for power "legal" in the narrowest sense.

In 1940 a Republican slogan was "Washington wouldn't, Grant couldn't, Roosevelt shouldn't" in opposing a third term for FDR. Whatever the merits of re-opening the discussion of the two-term limit in American presidency -- and, speaking as a historian, I am an ardent supporter of all of FDR's terms -- given the circumstances in Sub-Saharan Africa, let us get a new slogan going: "Mandela wouldn't, Mbeki shouldn't."

I am even more wary now.

(This issue also emerged in the comments of another, longer entry on South African politics from this past June.)

I should note that Mbeki has continued to disavow any interest in a third term as head of state, which would in any case require a constitutional amendment. But this prospect helps elucidate why even those of us who support the ANC have always been wary of the ANC capturing 2/3 of the votes in parliament, which would allow them, if no one broke ranks, to change the constitution unilaterally if they so chose. The liberation movement has worked too hard to become the governing party only to see things go the way of oligarchy and presidencies for life. That prospect is a long way off, but the EC's recent decision at least points the way toward an inglorious future.

The fact that this motion comes from the Eastern Cape is significant as well. During the resistance struggle the eastern Cape region (it was not then its own province) provided the backdrop for some of the most intense moments of struggle. The region's leadership set much of the agenda for "making South Africa ungovernable" in the 1980s. Steve Biko and Matthew Goniwe are just two of the martyrs who emerged from the region as the result of their willingness to confront the apartheid state. The eastern Cape has a sacred place in the history of the fight against oppression. Let us hope that the same region does not prove to be the point of origination for folly in the next stage of South Africa's development.

Molasses 1 People 0

Over at the Diary Blog Tom learns the true meaning of treacle, which allows him to derive mirth from a molasses-borne tragedy.

Florida v. Ohio State

This will be the first of many posts on the fake national championship game, I'm sure. The guys at EDSBS had a live blog last night that was worth the price of admission. It is now at 125 comments and counting. Boise State was robbed. I am not being ironic. Boise State was robbed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Profile in Courage: Franklin Kameny

At National Journal Jonathan Rauch teaches us a little bit about Franklin Kameny, a longtime crusader for gay rights and the embodiment of courage, tenacity, and intellectual honesty. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Celebrities: Is There Anything They Can't Do?

Over at The New Republic online Joshua Kurlantzick asks "Can Madonna save Malawi?" but what he actually does is look at the larger phenomenon of celebrities adopting a chosen country and saving it with a combination of treacly rhetoric, cheesy photo-ops and self-righteous indignation. The following excerpt gets at the gist of the piece:
Whether or not Madonna adopted the boy legally, her entire cultivation of Malawi shows how celebrity activism has changed. Used to be, there was only one type of celebrity do-gooder. The Jerry Lewis type--earnest, maybe annoyingly persistent, but using fame to raise consciousness about an issue, and then standing back and letting experts do the rest. Now, in an era when celebrities have become the new royalty, we have three types of famous do-gooders. The Jerry Lewis prototype still exists. We also now have a second type--celebs who take on worthy topics, but act so bizarrely they tarnish their noble causes. Say, Steven Segal, who adopted a noble cause (Tibet) and then had a monk declare the tough guy a reincarnation of a powerful Buddhist lama. Segal quickly assumed the name Terton Chungdrag Dorje--though not on film credits, of course--and supporters of the Tibet cause started wondering whether Segal had made donations to the monk to win his reincarnation.

Then there is the third kind, now proliferating faster than Iran. Savvy development experts long ago figured out that, by bringing celebs into a cause, they would raise the profile of unsexy topics like African development or debt relief. But now, like a bad horror movie, the monster has outgrown its master and is taking over. Celebrities now not only want to do good but think they know how to do the good, even as they decry politicians who dare offer advice about their world of film, television, and radio. So George Clooney appears before the U.N. Security Council to lecture the world on Darfur policy, as if he could convince hard-hearted Russia and China to support tougher measures against Khartoum. Bono, of course, has become such an expert on aid policy that he now merits magazine covers analyzing his insights and his potential impact on the world. Coldplay's Chris Martin studies up on the impact of tariffs on Ghanian textiles. And Madonna thinks that what desperate Malawi really needs is red string and teffilin.

The only quibble I have with his argument is that it discounts the possibility that at least some celebrity involvement might be both serious and legitimate and that the celebrity activist might be qualified to speak. I have long opposed the idea that celebrities ought to be preaching to us just because they are celebrities. But I am equally opposed to the idea that someone might be disqualified from being a serious and legitimate activist for one cause or other because they are celebrities. My case in point is always Bono, who for years has shown not only the base level commitment to the causes he advocates but also a willingness to engage those topics for an extended period of time, to work with experts, and to develop long-standing programs based not on grandstanding but on a serious commitment to helping foster change. Too many celebrities believe their righteous commitment to an idea or a cause is a sufficient (as opposed to a necessary) level of engagement to allow them to preach 9and condescend) to the rest of us.

Bad Tidings

Politicians make promises. Politicians break promises. That is the coin of the realm in this world and gnashing teeth about it is like complaining about the sunrise or worrying about whether a relative is going to say something dumb over the holidays. Still, there is something more than a little unseemly about the Democrats' apparent willingness to scuttle their promises to adhere to all of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report.

First off, however, let us address what this is not: This decision does not represent evidence that the Democrats are not serious about national security issues. If the Democrats adhere to most of the 9/11 Report recommendations it will show a seriousness of purpose and accomplishment that the last five years of rhetoric and grandstanding on the part of Republicans in the executive and legislative branches have not matched. This might be politics as usual. It does not represent Democratic fecklessness. Not yet anyway.

What the decision might represent, however, is a certain level of tone deafness on the part of the Democratic leadership. A cynical world requires cynical strategy. Perhaps the Democrats have come to understand that a dramatic reorganization of Congressional intelligence oversight is simply not nor was it ever a viable option, and by scuttling it right away they are simply reading the reality of the situation and reacting accordingly. I would welcome an introduction of greater openness and transparency in government. And it may be true that the 9/11 report recommendations were never really practicable. But if you promise to enact all of the recommendations, isn't your promise really that you are going to try to enact all of the recommendations? Don't you owe an honest effort to do so and then concede failure if it fails to happen?

It is facile at this point to accuse the Democrats of hypocrisy or disingenuousness. At least for now. Hamhandedness, however, is another question.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Free Darko

Dcat's favorite sports websites tend to be insightful, smart, well-written, and clever. In keeping with faves such as Every Day Should Be Saturday and Fire Joe Morgan I hereby present freedarko, which provides clever, irreverent takes on goings on in the NBA. You're welcome.

Must See TV

I know it might seem absurd to purists, but I'm going to make a brazen assertion: Tonight's NBC lineup could be the strongest ever if NBC maintains this configuration: My Name is Earl, The Office, and Scrubs is a legitimate murderer's row, and while 30 Rock has yet to hit its stride, as a weak link, it is pretty good. (And keep in mind that I love Cheers, Seinfeld, and at least a few seasons of Friends.)

Go Bobcats!

Tonight in the Mid-America Conference football championship game, the mighty Bobcats of Ohio University take on Central Michigan University Chippewas. Ohio is looking for its first MAC championship since 1968. Channeling our inner Adrian Balboa, dcat has just one word for Frank Solich, who certainly has not passed out at the wheel while at the helm of OU this season, and our Bobcats: "Win!"

Update: Oh, Poopsicle. Congrats to Central Michigan for what ended up being a fairly dominant victory in what for most of the game was a close contest. OU is still going bowling, however, as they have already committed to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, which will give them some nice pub, as theirs will be the last bowl game played prior to the fictive national championship game. They will face Southern Mississippi. And yes, I think it goes without saying that the fact that the MAC bowl matchups were settled before the opening kickoff to tonight's conference championship game represents absurdity in its highest form. If ever we needed an example of the farcical meaninglessness of bowls (and no sentient person should) this would be it.

Memories of Garcia Major

Last night Nate Robinson of the New York Knickerbockers attempted what would have been the dunk of the decade in a game. On a fast break, at full run, he bounced the ball off the free throw line and tried to follow his bounce with a monster dunk. Unfortunately he missed.

This is not the first time that dcat has seen such an effort. In the second round of the 1990 ECAC college basketball playoffs, in a game in which Williams was blowing out (I believe) Babson College, Williams senior (and at the time the newly crowned all-time points scorer for the Ephs) Garcia Major, who makes my all-time all name team, attempted the exact same dunk. Unfortunately, the nefarious Babson defender practically tackled Major before he could complete what was still one of the great athletic feats I have almost seen accomplished.

By the way -- Majors' coach, Williams legend Harry Sheehy, was not thrilled with such self aggrandizement and benched Major after the failed dunk attempt, though it was pretty clear that Coach Sheehy could not remain angry for long. (It was Harry Sheehy, maybe the greatest basketball player in Williams history, whose record Major broke, and that record has subsequently fallen in the midst of Williams' incredible late 90s-early 00s run.) You can see some of the stars of Williams basketball, including Major and Sheehy, here.

Degradation and Such

Look, we have few hard and fast rules at dcat. We are not dogmatists. But let me just promise you one thing. When we need the 4-1-1 on Formulation & Forced Degradation Strategies For Biomolecules, and especially when we want to brush up on Formulation Development And Analysis, there is only one place that we will go, and that is to wherever the Thunderstick plies his trade. This much we promise you.

Blood Diamonds Run Dry?

A recent report indicates that the spread (and thus human costs of) "conflict diamonds," or "blood diamonds," has declined. Industry giant DeBeers partially funded the study, so I tend to be wary, especially as some of the other concerns that the report lists seem to be boosterish for the industry, but if true, this is good news. Chalk one up for awareness raising and subsequent policymaking to address the pernicious spread of blood diamonds. (And yes, I am looking forward to the movie.)

Best Forward in College Basketball?

Boston College's basketball season has thus far been an exercise in frustration. Hidden in their 3-2 record, however, has been the play of 6' 7" senior forward Jared Dudley. Bob Ryan, who is unmatched as a basketball writer and may be able to make a case for being the best sportswriter in America, argues that Dudley is "the best pure forward in the country." Now Ryan is both a BC alum and a Boston writer, but he rarely is a homer. And he seems to have the support of Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who got to look at Dudley up close last night as BC beat Michigan State 65-58 with Dudley scoring 30 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing 3 assists, and even mustering a steal. "Dudley might end up my favorite player of the year," said Izzo after the game. Ryan also shows how the respected Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook has Dudley as the only pure forward on its preseason All-America team.

From what I've seen, BC is still adjusting to the loss of Craig Smith. But these two early-season losses (one to Vermont, who then went on to lose to Michigan State) will likely be a blip on the screen. BC should have the firepower to compete in the ACC. Sadly, North Carolina looks like they might be able to lap the field this year, but BC belongs in any conversation about the league's second best team (sorry, Thunderstick). I don't really trust Coach Al Skinner in a big game, but I believe in his ability (along with that of his staff, which includes my college classmate Pat Duquette as his assistant coach) to get BC into good position in March. Jared Dudley's play will be crucial in determining how deep into March they go.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rauchway on Grad School; Also on the N-Word

Over at Open University Eric Rauchway addresses the question that so many ask this time of the year: Should I go to graduate school? He begins to provide an answer. I provide my own input in the comments where I weigh in with one of my hobby horses.

At the same blog Rauchway also addresses using the N-word, even in the context of quoting racists who used the word in the past. I especially appreciate the following excerpt:

Why should we quote these sentences, which are a dime a dozen? Not primarily to shock and certainly not to titillate, but to illustrate to students the silliness of relying on "states' rights" or similar explanations that attribute the parlous state of African Americans between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement to some complicated cause that isn't racism. Because, sure, you can start from a principled defense of limited government and find your way via circuitous logic to a regretful denial of civil rights to black southerners--but Occam's Razor asks that we notice the much shorter route, by which you get to denial of civil rights much more quickly if you start from abundantly evident racism.

Rauchway is fast becoming one of my favorite academic bloggers.

WaPo on Packing

If you travel a lot, as I do, packing becomes almost instinctive. But overpacking is something that can vex even the most experienced traveller. Whether you are an inveterate globetrotter or take one trip to the in laws once a year, The Washington Post travel section recewntly had "The Packing Issue," which is chock full of helpful hints.

Iran-Contra at Twenty

Over at David Corn's blog at The Nation, "Capital Games," he looks at the Iran-Contra scandal twenty years later and what it means. Some of his conclusions may be controversial -- he argues that many of the officials responsible for aspects of Iran-Contra are now operating in government and are largely responsible for getting us into what he calls the "hellish mess" in Iraq.

But whatever the implications for Iraq, Corn raises important questions about an event that somehow does not earn the place it deserves in the annals of the abuse of political prerogative. My own views of Iran-Contra are quite simple: Of the ignominious trinity of scandals that scarred the last three decades of the twentieth century, Clinton's was the most overblown, the most frovolous, and the least significant in import or impact. Nixon's was a nightmare and will always hold a prominent place in political scandal because of how it played out, the myriad issues it raised, and the ultimate outcome, which was to scuttle the Nixon presidency. But to my mind, clearly the worst in terms of the harm to the United States, the violations of law and Constitutional principle, and in terms of both the national and the global scale, was the Iran-Contra scandal. In an era when we now have a fuller recognition of the dangers posed by terror-sponsoring states, Iran-Contra looks even worse.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Diarist Writes

Tom has a new diary post in which he reads books, builds shelves, and discusses a "German meat market." A good time will be had by some.

Independents and the Election

I've really ceased trying to understand how the things I write may or may not resonate with editors or with a larger reading public. I'll write something that I think is good and will have an impossible time getting so much as a look. I'll publish something innocuous and it will get picked up. I'll write trying to appeal to liberals, and the Wall Street Journal will pick it up. the latest example of this comes from my post-election piece. (I really am shameless.) Did it draw the outrage of Republicans? The sympathy of Democrats? Did the left and the right brand me a squishy centrist? Nope. But for reasons I do not understand, but sure do appreciate, my piece has gotten a bit of traction among Independents, including "The hankster." This has led me to several interesting email exchanges with independents, including Linda Curtis, who has written a provocative piece on the independent insurgency and the recent Texas gubernatorial race over at Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report. Here is an excerpt:
I think the most important story of the 2006 Texas Gubernatorial race has been missed by the Texas media. I've been an independent activist for 27 years, and founded Independent Texans in 2001. I've gotten used to our story being "missed" by the media. In a winner take all two-party system, this is lawful. However, there just wasn't anything "lawful" about the Texas Governor's race. If we independents take what has been opened up in this election -- thanks to Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman-- and build with it, Texas elections will never be the same again.

It's hard to know how much media bias affected the outcome of the Governor's race. Some media outlets chose to continually reference the methodologically flawed online Zogby polls, giving (whether intended or not) Bell and Perry a boost. To the credit of Texas political analyst, Harvey Kronberg, Quorum Report was the only publication that consistently questioned the methodology of the polls and even explained why they were getting different results. Had the larger media outlets followed his lead, this could have given voters encouragement that the race would be decided by them, not the polls nor the media. KVUE in Austin and the Austin American-Statesman get the prize this year for advocacy journalism.

Perhaps I was overly sensitive, but it seemed to me that the media was unusually obsessed with polls and predicting the winner. At what point does that activity become a self-fulfilling prophecy? The original predictions of a record turnout race, fell flat. Wonder how come. That said, numbers don't lie!

The combined statewide votes of Carole and Kinky were 4,000 votes more than Chris Bell. This has been underreported and is a seismic shift in Texas voting, with two-partyism suffering a sever jolt. Carole Strayhorn won five counties and came in second in 104 counties. The combined votes of Carole and Kinky won 47 counties (including Bexar!), and placed second in an additional 74 counties. What's more, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project released some polling (albeit perhaps methodologically flawed) numbers indicating that Hispanic voters gave Chris Bell 39% of their votes, Carole 29% and Kinky 14%. Then they promptly declared that Hispanics are Democrats!

This likely "defection" (whatever the precise number, to the extent that polling can ever be precise), from the major parties by Hispanics is a BIG story in the Texas results. I am waiting to hear exit polls in the African-American communities across the state, but we already know that Carole did well in these communities.
The Kronberg report is apparently the oldest independent political newsletter in Texas. I've never thought of myself as an Independent, but I do find it fascinating that even a hint of centrism these days comes across as anachronistic.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Case For Boise State

The college football world is atwitter about the remaining possibilities for the fraudulent national championship that will pit Ohio State against someone on January 8 in Glendale, Arizona. Southern Cal is in the driver's seat now, and if they defeat crosstown rivals UCLA next week they will go to another BCS championship game. Waiting in the wings are Michigan, who gave Ohio State one hell of a game last weekend, and Florida, which, if it beats Arkansas in the SEC championship game will be able to point out that not only did it lose only one game in the brutal Southeastern Conference, but it also took on a playoff game to win the conference, something neither the Big ten nor the Pac ten expects of their top teams.

But I am here to lobby for Boise State. Undefeated Boise State. Michigan, USC, Florida -- these teams all have something that Boise State does not have: A loss pocking their record.

Do I think Boise State is as talented as these other teams? No. Do I think that they would beat any of those teams in a bowl game? No. But that really should not matter. Every year the experts -- sportswriters, talking heads, and ex-jocks-turned analysts -- pronounce at the end of the year that for all of its flaws, the BCS has ended up working. This is a bizarre proposition on the part of a bunch of people who, not to put too fine a point on it, are wrong all the time. Why do the college football rankings change every week? Because on the field college football teams give the lie to the experts who decide where teams should be ranked. Unlike in major college basketball, where these things are decided on the court, the rankings in college football are vital. The self-importance of sportswriters (and coaches who just might have an agenda, not to mention an interest in these matters) actually helps determine the national picture in college football. People who are wrong on a weekly basis in very public forums get to decide which teams are better than others in lieu of those teams actually playing on the field.

Division I-A college football is the only sport at any division that does not legitimately decide its champion on the field. Who can say with any certainty whether USC would beat Michigan, or Michigan would beat Florida, or Florida would beat Wisconsin (or that Wisconsin would beat Ohio)? Why is it that even as I type, the playoff brackets in Divisions I-AA, II, and III are all becoming more clear? There is no rational justification for any of this, just as there is no rational justification for the fact that the Alamo Bowl recently announced that in a choice between Minnesota and Iowa they would take the Iowa team with a substantially worse record than Minnesota and that lost to the Gophers 34-24 in their season finale.

Which brings us back to Boise State. In what other area of the NCAA sporting firmament can a team go undefeated and yet be told that they have no shot at the national championship from the outset? How is it that Division I football can maintain a de facto two-tiered structure? If The MAC and WAC and Mountain West can never produce a team capable of competing for the sport's national championship, shouldn't the NCAA tell them that they have to play at the I-AA level? If the BCS conference teams are the only ones guaranteed a shot, shouldn't they secede and form a Super-Division I?

Boise State's detractors will point to the conference schedule that Boise State plays, and rightly will argue that it does not even begin to compare with the Pac Ten. But Boise State plays in the conference it plays in. If Division I-A football has two-tiers, shouldn't a team such as Boise State be able to demand admission to one of those conferences? If that very conference structure is going to be used to deny Boise State an opportunity to build on an undefeated season, Boise State ought to be able to say "we want into the Pac Ten." Otherwise, the NCAA is clearly priviledging one group of schools at the expense of the others despite demanding certain conditions for those same teams to maintain their Division I-A status.

By not having a playoff system the NCAA effectively supports a system that manipulates who can and cannot play for the national chanmpionship game and who can and cannot share in the BCS pie and the riches that fill it. Were I a Senator from Idaho, or Florida, or Michigan, I would wonder why the NCAA gets to establish such a capricious system that favors some schools, and thus some states, over others without some sort of oversight and with the billions of dollars at stake. This patent lack of fairness would provide a pretty sound foundation for a holistic challenge to the NCAA's tax exampt status as well as to serious probing about what it means to be a student athlete at state universities.

Since the solons who control NCAA football do not care about legitimately deciding the championship on the field, I will continue to preach the virtues of Boise State, the people's national champion. A team that has done what Michigan, Florida, and USC could not do. A team that deserves a piece of Ohio State until we have a playoff system that gives every conference at least one berth in a tournament that decides the national championship where every other NCAA football division manages to establish these things -- on the field. Go Broncos!