Friday, March 31, 2006

Shocked. SHOCKED!

Apparently Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kris Benson and his wife, the hot but not as hot as she thinks she is Anna Benson, are getting a divorce. Let's see, when he was with the Mets she publicly announced that she would sleep with every one of his teammates if he ever cheated on her; there are serious allegations that the Mets traded Kris because his wife is such an unpredictable nutjob (think of it -- the team that weathered Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry traded a guy because his wife is unstable - what's that say about Anna Benson?); soon after the trade to the O's was consummated, Anna publicly announced another desire to consummate, this time in the parking lot of Camden Yards. Is there a sentient being on this planet who could not see this coming?

On Cleveland Sports

It's about freaking time. Tom has finally posted something over at Cleveland '64. I honestly think he should be a lot more enthused about the Indians than the Cavs, but I'll give the man a break because at least the Cavs are in the postseason and his long national nightmare is over. The Indians are going to be good, and though these sorts of predictions tend to be meaningless (and best forgotten almost as soon as they are made) I think the Indians make the postseason this year. As for the Browns, well, we'll wait until after mini-camps to start worrying about them.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Duke Lacrosse Fiasco

These are dark days for the Duke University athletic department. Let's forget about performance on the field and the courts. Several lacrosse players have been accused of a host of crimes, the worst of which include rape and assault, against exotic dancers hired to work a party hosted by much of the lax team. To make matters worse, there is a racial dynamic that plays a major role in the case. If you are unfamiliar with the story as it has played out so far, go here and here.

The Thunderstick is a Duke alum and a former Blue Devil athlete. Here is his take:

Of course, the Duke stuff is big news. I hate the lacrosse guys. When I was at Duke they were your standard lacrosse players, but I think they've gotten [. . .] worse. When we go down every year for a football game, we see them because for every football game they show up dressed in leather and all this S&M gear. It's really fucked up. The first time we were down there, a bunch of them [. . .] were bombed [and] came by our tailgate and tried to steal our beer. So I'm not shocked to see those assholes do something like this. At least it seems the general consensus is that the university is handling this well by letting the investigation take its [course] before deciding on the guilt of the students, which I think you have to do, but they pretty much suspended the lax season to send a strong message that even if this didn't happen, the behavior that led to this even becoming a possibility isn't acceptable and deserves serious repercussions. The flip side of this is that now we get bombarded with the annoying fembots that are going to be a huge pain in the ass and won't be happy unless the [blood of the] people that did this [. . .] is spilled. One of those women was on the Abrams report or something and she said she was appalled by the university's response and the guy said "they've pretty much cancelled the lax season and are waiting for the investigation to take place--what more do you want them to do?" and she couldn't offer [anything] and just babbled for another 4 minutes about how there's not enough awareness about sexual offenses. Those people drive me nuts as well. I guess I'm always one of these people that says let the investigation take place and then kick whoever is guilty out of school and send them to jail for a long, long time, but don't sit there screaming about punishing people when you don't know what went on yet.

While I might quibble with a few of his points, I think TS is spot-on in terms of how he addresses the major issue.

First off, let me be clear -- I know it may not be fair, but I have never quite understood the inflated sense of self-esteem that the vast majority of lacrosse players on elite college campuses (pretty much the only places it is played collegiately) seem to possess. Lacrosse has always struck me as affirmative action for affluent white kids from the suburbs of Mid-Atlantic States. They are the best spring athletes who don't play baseball, run track, or in some states play soccer, that money can buy. (Lacrosse is largely -- overwhelmingly -- a prep-school sport.) There is nothing wrong with any of this, per se, except that in coming from this cloistered world, many college lacrosse players do have an inflated sense of both entitlement and their own self worth.

I also tend to agree with TS about the rush to judgment and the outrage that some people are expressing that something isn't being done RIGHT NOW. It seems that some people are pretty selective in their concern for fundamental rights, such as due process. Whatever my criticisms of lacrosse, I do not believe that the vast majority of them would ever engage in felonious activities. Most are not racists or rapists. Yet those who want to accelerate a process that in reality has moved at an incredibly fast pace, apparently want to tarnish everyone affiliated with Duke lacrosse. Every white player in the program -- and there is only one black player (let that one sink in if you deny my characterization of the demographics of lacrosse -- 46 of the 47 members of the Duke men's program are white) has already taken a DNA test. Even the most extreme allegations only point to the involvement of a handful of players. It is one thing to be upset, and to recognize that even on college campuses we have much work to do with regard to matters of race and sex; it is quite another to vent your righteous outrage simply because you can. Duke is pretty much a bastion of liberalism and in some cases radicalism. It is pretty hard to take someone seriously who tries to argue that the leaders of the institution are somehow retrograde. This speaks to the larger sense of priviledge at a place like Duke -- an out of touch sense of where life on an elite campus fits into the larger world, a mindset to which in many ways the lacrosse team also fell victim.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all of this is the racial dynamic. In the world of liberal elite privilege, these things are not supposed to happen. The fact that the victims were black and had been picked out by the guys who threw the party, the rampant use of racial epithets, the violence that ensued -- this is maybe most alarming of all. And it should remind us of how far we still have to go with regard to race in America. Furthermore, those unfamiliar with the Duke demographic should be wary of sloughing this off as merely retrograde behavior by southern students. Duke is in the South; it is not of the South. In other words, Duke is a school in the South. It is not a Southern school. In fact, the university's makeup is pretty close to that of most lacrosse teams, but with more consciously honed racial diversity. Once the bombast fades and the righteous vent their spleens, the university community will have a lot of questions to answer. But Duke is certainly not alone -- this event happened at Duke; it likely could have occurred just about anyplace.

Charles Taylor, War Criminal

Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. I have always found this to be a rationalization for people seeking revenge but who cannot exact it immediately. Most of us more realistically believe that vengeance served cold is better than no vengeance at all. After all, Milosovic's recent death was a classic example of revenge almost being served cold, but then the former dictator died, outcolding the avengers, as it were. "Revenge: get it while it's hot!" is probably a motto that would win more votes in a bumper sticker simplification-off.

Yet another of the world's vicious late twentieth century dictators is about to get his comeuppance. Charles Taylor, the former rebel leader-turned president of Liberia has spent the last two-plus years in exile in Calabar, a city in southern Nigeria. (I have written reproachfully about Taylor's exile here.) Taylor is just one in a long line of rapacious murderers, kleptocrats, and all-around bad guys who have led Liberia, the African state that most bears the American thumbprint. When a peace deal forced Taylor out of power and into what appeared to be a tyrant's golden parachute, it seemed possible, if not likely, that Taylor would never have to account for his reign of terror.

Not so fast.

Liberia's newly elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a glimmer of hope in that West African nation, recently called forTaylor's extradition and eventual trial on charges of committing war crimes for his role in fomenting Sierra Leone's civil war, which merely touches the surface of Taylor's crimes against humanity. Johnson-Sirleaf clearly aimed her demands in the direction of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. (The New York Times' story is here).

Johnson-Sirleaf's courageous call proved to be a catalyst. At the behest of the administration, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said, "He needs to be brought to justice." The usually tepid Kofi Annan echoed the American demand, issuing a statement declaring that he "calls on all countries in the region not to give refuge to Mr Taylor, but to execute the warrant for his arrest".

Apparently Taylor could feel the noose circling his neck. He disappeared. Nigerian officials, no doubt aware that the world was watching and expected action, and clearly feeling pressure from the US, caught and arrested the warlord-turned-president-turned-exile-turned-fugitive.

This will be revenge served neither warm nor cold, but rather, I suspect, lukewarm. There comes a time when a dictator's atrocities so outpace any possible consequences he might face that all revenge seems cold. Nonetheless, this is good news, and the lion's share of the credit ought to go to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the latest in a long line of African leaders who have inspired hope. Perhaps this will be one of those times where that hope is justified.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pedro Martinez: Greatest Ever?

Back at my old blog I wrote a post titled "Pedro. Is. God." in which, in addition to ascribing sacred powers to the Dominican Dandy, I also posited that he might be the greatest pitcher ever. In addition to engendering what was quite possibly the best discussion we had at Rebunk (the comments are absolutely worth your time) publishing that post also gave a jump start to Bleeding Red, as once my daily diary of the 2004 season had an audience, it seemed real. After he read that post, Dave over at Ephblog asked me to publish my daily ruminations (and sufferings) and things accelerated from that point.

In any case, I reference this blast from the past because over at Sons of Sam Horn, there is a pretty good discussion (make sure to read all of the pages) about Pedro Martinez and the Hall of Fame, but specifically with an argument that is central to ones I made in the conversation in 2004 -- whether or not placed side by side, Pedro is better than Sandy Koufax. Of course I argue in the affirmative. This debate is an offshoot of another ongoing SOSH discussion about whether my favorite player as a kid, Jim Edward Rice, belongs in the Hall of Fame (and whether Dewey Evans ought to go in alongside him). The weight of evidence and argument points to "no," that both belong in the "Hall of the Very Good," but I disagree. With opening day around the corner (yes, I'll be in Arlington to see the Sox face off against the Rangers) it's time to start thinking baseball . . .

Monday, March 27, 2006

Israelis Go to the Polls

Unreconstructed terrorist organization Hamas wins elections in what will someday become Palestine. Ariel Sharon suffers a stroke that shakes Israel, indeed the entire region, to its core. In his wake he leaves a new political party, Kadima, in something of a state of identity crisis. It is odd, then, that the pending elections have been so uneventful. Etgar Keret's Op-Ed in today's Times is self-indulgent, containing as it does an anecdote about his father trying marijuana for the first time by way of a barely germane illustration, but it does make something of a compelling case for a low-key election. Over at The New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi less sanguinely attributes the mood in Israel to "despair." To wit:
These are Israel's saddest elections, the first with barely a mention of peace. In the past, even right-wing candidates had to hold out the promise that a hard line would bring a more trustworthy peace than the left's concessions, that "peace for generations," as one right-wing slogan went, would be more durable than peace now. Few really believed in 1996 that Benjamin Netanyahu would manage "a secure peace," or that "only Sharon will bring peace," as the 2001 Likud slogan put it. But failure to pay lip service to peace meant damning yourself as an unelectable fanatic.

Whatever your take, you can find the best election coverage at Haaretz and The Jerusalem Times.

On a related issue, I have been hoping for a couple of weeks to mention Irshad Manji's recent Times piece, "How I Learned to Love the Wall" (Behind the noxious Times Select firewall, alas.) The headline is awful, and reminds me of how almost every editor I have had for any sort of opinion piece has managed to provide a worse title than the one I always offer. Nonetheless, the piece is fantastic, revealing deep ambivalence but ultimate support for the wall, the very existence of which is unfortunate but necessary. I have a hard time excerpting just a part of it for flavor, and the piece is so good that there is no "money abstract," but this seems to capture manji's feelings fairly well:

After all, this barrier, although built by Mr. Sharon, was birthed by ''shaheeds,'' suicide bombers whom Palestinian leaders have glorified as martyrs. Qassam missiles can kill two or three people at a time. Suicide bombers lay waste to many more. Since the barrier went up, suicide attacks have plunged, which means innocent Arab lives have been spared along with Jewish ones. Does a concrete effort to save civilian lives justify the hardship posed by this structure? The humanitarian in me bristles, but ultimately answers yes.

As does this:
For all the closings, however, Israel is open enough to tolerate lawsuits by civil society groups who despise every mile of the barrier. Mr. Sharon himself agreed to reroute sections of it when the Israel High Court ruled in favor of the complainants. Where else in the Middle East can Arabs and Jews work together so visibly to contest, and change, state policies?

And this:
Like all Muslims, I look forward to the day when neither the jeep nor the wall is in Abu Dis. So will we tell the self-appointed martyrs of Islam that the people -- not just Arabs, but Arabs and Jews -- ''are one''? That before the barrier, there was the bomber? And that the barrier can be dismantled, but the bomber's victims are gone forever?

It is far too early to tell if tomorrow's elections will be epochal or simply another transitory moment. But the reality is that whichever party or coalition carries the day will face ongoing difficulties that have not much changed, and with Hamas' ascent may have gotten worse. Until that state of things changes, the wall may continue to be a sadly necessary manifestation.

Friday, March 24, 2006

My First Review

Bleeding Red has gotten its first official review over at lection. Tim Morris is a literature professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and writes extensively about sports and literature. (I have never met him, though we have now exchanged emails). His review is gracious and fair, I generally agree with his criticisms that reading the daily accounts can be difficult (I'm STILL shocked that people have read the whole thing and am even more shocked that they like it) and if all of the reviews are this kind, I'll be more than happy.

The Virginia Festival of the Book has been wonderful. My panel was well received, and Warren St. John and I make for a good pair -- we ought to do a road show.

The Weakest Link

The latest issue (#21) of Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies is now available online. It is a special issue devoted to the 25th anniversary of the publication of George Fredrickson's seminal 1981 book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History. The contributors, with one notable exception, include scholarly giants: Fredrickson, the University of Cape Town's Chris Saunders, Yale's Howard Lamar, the University of the Witwatersrand's Ran Greenstein, Lewis Baldwin of Vanderbilt, a brief introduction by Safundi editor Andrew Offenburger, and a contribution that fits into the category "which of these figures does not merit inclusion with the others?", my own essay "The Comparative Imagination: George Fredrickson and New Directions in Comparative and Transnational History." George Fredrickson is arguably the premier comparativist alive today and is one of our finest practicing historians. I just hope this issue, and my essay, does justice to his contributions to the field and the profession.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Zimbabwe's Coca Cola Drought

One of my favorite stories from my experiences in Africa comes from when I was in Botswana in 1997. We left the town of Maun in the north of the country, drove out into the veld for 45 minutes or an hour where we met some African men in an isolated spot in the Okavango Delta. Those men took us out on the Delta in hollowed out canoes called "Makoros" which they pushed along with long poles. (We were promised that the water was fully potable, and over the three-plus hours on the Delta as we progressed deeper into the wild we liberally filled jugs and drank; at one point a couple of hours in, we rounded a corner and not more than 30 feet away was an enormous elephant in our path letting fibrous nature work its course directly into the water -- let's just say that elephants eat vast amounts that later they expel freely.) After our time in the makroros we set up camp in a pastoral setting that had nonetheless just been ravaged by another enormous, and this time angry, bull elephant. After setting up, we went for a hike across miles and miles of veld. Elephants everywhere, other wildlife similarly ubiquitous, we walked until we hit a tiny village. The children there were fascinated by us, and some of my favorite pictures are of those children, and of me playing with them. Tired and hot and thirsty, we were amazed to find that in that village was a stand, and in that stand an old woman sold goods that came in once a week or so from rugged trucks that pass through this isolated spot a long, long way from Maun. And at that stand we could buy Coca Cola. It was a remarkable revelation about globalization and Coke's penetration into the world -- forget about McDonald's; this was an example of a corporation with a foothold in the entirety of the globe.

I thought of this wonderful memory when I read this story in today's Mail & Guardian detailing how Zimbabwe faces a dire shortage of Coca Cola for the first time in four decades. One need not be a rampant capitalist to understand that this, as much as anything, brings home to roost the recklessness and callousness of Robert Mugabe's morally, politically, and apparently literally bankrupt regime. When Mugabe led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980, Tanzania's independence leader Julius Nyerere told Mugabe that he was inheriting a "jewel" in Africa. Now that jewel cannot even maintain supplies of a commodity that one can find in the most isolated reaches of the Okavango Delta.

Kevin O'Connor: Superstar

Kevin O'Connor, former grad school colleague and friend of dcat, is a superstar. This week two (2!) of his book are being published. Lexington books introduces
Intellectuals and Apparatchiks: Russian Nationalism and the Gorbachev Revolution, which Lexington's publicity machine describes thusly:
This book traces the origins and activities of an alliance of conservative Communist Party authorities and Russian nationalists during the late Soviet era. Specifically, it examines how and to what extent hitherto orthodox Communists sought political allies in the Russian nationalist movement in order to garner support of halting the reform program and saving the Soviet state from collapse. Focusing on the perestroika period, Dr. Kevin O'Connor explains in detail how Marxism-Leninsim receded into irrelevance, forcing orthodix Communists to abandon their Marxist principles in favor of great Russian nationalism.

Simultaneously, Greenwood is releasing Culture and Customs of the Baltic States in its "Cultures and Customs of Europs" series. Greenwood describes the book:
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are thriving after hundreds of years of German colonization, numerous wars of conquest, and demographic Russification. Their cultures have survived, perhaps through a conscious effort to sustain many of their most ancient customs and traditions. Though the Baltic States are responding to modern and postmodern international trends, contemporary developments in the region's cultural life are part of an ongoing conversation about the way in which the Balts understand their own histories, destines, and national identities. This timely overview of the reemerging states portrays the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians as they see themselves--through a historical lens.

The approach in each of the topical chapters is to generalize what is common among the three states and then to focus on each country in turn. Chapters on the land, people, and history; religion; marriage, family, gender, and education; holidays, cuisine, and leisure activities; language, folklore, and literature; media and cinema; performing arts; and art are a superb introduction to the Baltics and to the unique aspects of the countries. Lithuania's culture has been heavily influenced by Poland, and the capital, Vilnius, was a thriving center of Jewish learning until the Nazi years. Latvia is the most ethnically diverse and Russian-influenced. Estonia sees itself as a European country, indeed, Scandinavian.

These mark Kevin's second and third books. We hate him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Danes are Pikers

The blog Muhammed and Me courts intemperate wrath by depicting "Muhammed and Me" in a whole host of banal situations (shaving; trying to hook up with girls). I won't post any of the pictures (all of the entries are in the form of comic-strip-like artwork) because there are some legitimate questions that this might be offensive, but once people started precahing violence, they opened these doors. Plus, I support the right to offend and the responsibility to be willing to be offended.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Live Free or Die

The New Hampshire legislature strikes a blow against bigotry. I am very proud of my home state right now.

Peretz on Friedman and Dubai

Martin Peretz stomps a mudhole in Tom Friedman and in the process makes some decent hash out of the nonsensical idea of Dubai as a benign victimized ally desirous of a simple trade agreement with the United States and its ports.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Charlottesville Bound

It figures -- just as Blogger gets back online (Technical glitches explain the relative silence of late here and elsewhere on Blogger-affiliated sites) I am about to head out of town for a few days.

I am heading to Washington, DC and Charlottesville, Virginia for the next several days. I have been invited to participate in the wonderful Virginia Festival for the Book in C-Ville, where I will return to some of my old haunts from when I was there for a few months in 2004. I am participating on a panel, "For Sports Fanatics," on Thursday, March 23 at 2:00 at the Student Bookstore on the Corner, 1515 University Avenue. I will be appearing with Warren St. John, who wrote his own wonderful book about sports obsession, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. Of course I will be talking about, and hopefully signing, Bleeding Red. It should be a fun panel. We'll both talk for a while, answer questions, and sign books. If you are going to be anywhere in the vicinity of Charlottesville, please stop by.

The Arroyo Trade (OR: Ask and Ye Shall Receive)

Today the Red Sox cosummated a trade with the Reds that brought Wily Mo Pena in exchange for Bronson Arroyo and ambrosia for small market teams: Cash. Here are my initial responses:

Obtaining Wily Mo Pena (No relation, as far as I know, to Wile E. Coyote):

He is 24 years old and can seriously mash. His power numbers reveal the ever-popular upside -- in just over 300 at-bats last year, he hit 19 dingers and drove in 58 runs. His slugging percentage was over .500 and most assume that he is heading into his peak. He should be a servicable platoon with Trot Nixon, and the odds are pretty good that he'll have plenty of opportunities to accumulate at-bats. He is a dead pull hitter, a righty who might dent the Monster when he isn't clearing it. Among the "ten players he could be most like" are names such as Frank Howard, Willie Stargell, and Jessie Barfield.

Let's say that Wile E. is not especially patient, with a laughably low on-base percentage and a disinclination to walk. He also hit below .260 last year. So if his slugging percentage drops, what we have here might be less Willie Stargell and more Dave Kingman. That ain't good. And by most accounts he ranges from mediocre to a butcher with the glove, a fact that will be exacerbated by the fact that the corner outfield positions at Fenway are not especially friendly to fielders. He also hinted at being a malcontent last year when he was not playing enough. There is no guarantee that he'll surpass last year's at bats, though Nixon is fragile and is good for at least a couple dozen missed games due to injury, and Nixon cannot hit lefties, which will open up more at bats.

Parting With Bronson Arroyo (Who earned the nickname "Saturn Nuts" on the Sons of Sam Horn website after Curt Schilling declared during the 2004 pennant chase that Bronson "has nuts the size of Saturn" -- referring to big-game cajones, and not to some bizarre form of elephantitis, we were all led to believe):

Is it ever a good idea to get rid of productive pitchers, especially swingmen who can both start and come out of the pen? And while there has been lots of talk about the Sox having too many guys for too few slots, I look back on 2004 when we started the season with a similar surfeit, only to have Byung Hyung Kim come up lame, and possibly insane. Furthermore, while emotion may have no place, Arroyo took a serious hometown discount this offseason to stay with the Sox because this is where he wanted to be. It seems lame to send him away like this, the sort of thing that comes back to bite you when things are not going quite so swimmingly. Plus there is the whole Saturn Nuts thing. And somehow we are also giving up cash, which is crazy.

You have to give value to get value. At least for now we DO have too many guys for too few slots, and Arroyo has been unimpressive in camp -- in his latest start he went five innings in which he was not scored upon; this performance LOWERED is ERA to just over 10.00. Last year it looked as if the league had caught up to him. And he cannot get out lefties -- not a good thing in the American League, and especially when the season is yet again likely to come down to a confrontation with a lefty-stocked Yankee lineup. Arroyo was one of the 25, and we'll always remember him for that, but his VORP will never be all that high, and the fact remains, Wily Mo has that upside.

In Sum: I hate to do it, but on the whole this is a trade that might bear out this year, but more importantly, it might yield serious fruits in the years to come. I do not deny that we might lament this move, but in the end, you have to give value to get value, and Bronson might have been the odd man out in the Sox rotation. We filled a need. It might backfire on us, but I give the trade a thumbs up.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An Homage to Irish Pubs

Today's Boston Globe has a brief essay, adapted from a forthcoming book on the Irish Pub. I think Eileen McNamara, a Globe columnist who provides the text for what appears to be a coffee table book, The Parting Glass: A Toast to the Traditional Pubs of Ireland, overstates the argument that the traditional Irish pub is disappearing in favor of megapubs. I have spent a lot of time in Ireland and have covered most all of the country extensively, and I can assure you that the traditional pub is alive and well, even if in the cities and larger towns it faces competition. Nonetheless, with St. Patrick's Day just passed, an homage to the traditional pub, a place of warmth and friendship and whiling away the time over a pint or two, seems appropriate.

President Bush Speaks at FDD

Last Monday, March 13, President Bush gave a speech at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. I am very pleased to see FDD continue to play a vital role in the conflicts we now face. One of the pleasures of my affiliation with FDD is that it allows for ideological variation on a host of issues -- FDD President Clifford May and I agree on relatively little politically, and we have had it out several times on email over things he has written, but in terms of questions related to the struggle against terrorism we, like so many Americans, have found common ground.

May gave the brief introduction to the President who then went on to focus on Iraq, to preach patience, and to call for compromise among the Iraqis. The speech received coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Post among others.

Whatever one thinks of President Bush and his approach (and I am firmly in the camp that argues that this administration has been almost criminal in its negligence, incompetence, and arrogance) his presence at the FDD is yet another validation of that organization's important work. The Foundation has placed its annual call for applicants to its Academic Fellowship Program. If you are a college professor or instructor working on or interested in these issues, I would strongly encourage your application. I was a member of the first group of fellows back in 2003 and it was a transforming experience. Please feel free to say that you heard of the program through me.

Friday, March 17, 2006

In Defense of Lecturing

Today's Times has what is, to my mind, both a telling and a vindicating article, "In the Age of the Overamplified, a Resurgence for the Humble Lecture." The lecture has a bad reputation for reasons I do not quite understand. I think part of the problem is this mindset of students as consumers, this belief that it is our responsibility to keep them entertained and happy, to give them what they want rather than what they need. A student-evaluation-driven system of teaching assessment does not help, especially when it seems pretty clear that there are ways to improve one's evaluations while at the same time making one's classes significantly less rigorous. The idea behind student evaluations is that students best know what they want and what they need. I challenge that mindset: Sometimes students LEAST know what they need even if they know precisely what they want. I will categorically assert that undergraduate college students are unqualified, maybe even uniquely unqualified, to judge much of what goes on in a university classroom. This is not a call to abandon evaluations, which have their place, but rather to de-emphasize them.

(As a caveat: My evaluations are very good and my teaching at UTPB has been lauded in my merit evaluations so far; that said, I know I will likely never reach the absolute highest level of student evaluations at least in part because of my expectations for how much reading and writing they must do, the rigor with which I grade, and the fact that I do not embrace this idea of the student as consumer. Students pay for the opportunity to take my classes. they pay for the chance to succeed or fail. They do not pay to have their way, they do not pay to judge the quality of the books I choose to assign, and they do not pay for Romper Room.)

One of the reasons the lecture seems to have fellen out of favor is because of educational theorists who prattle on about "multiple learning styles" that are useful for what they are, but that are not all that telling. That students learn in many ways does not mean that all ways of learning are equal, or that all ways of learning are even equally valid. Students love movies; they rave about movies on evaluations; but movies are not necessarily the best way to run a class even if they are the most popular medium. I show movies as much as the next professor and more than some, but I do so to supplement the things I have to teach my classes, not merely to keep them engaged. A good lecture still not only has its place, but deserves to have pride of place in most any curriculum. A good lecturer can engage, can convey ideas, can illuminate, and, yes, can show off. A good lecturer allows his or her expertise to play out in the most effective way. That some students find this approach "boring" should be of no moment. Catering to student boredom is catering to the least engaged students.

Furthermore, students love Powerpoint. But they love Powerpoint because such presentations distill the complicated into the simplified, and allow them to ingest their material in bite-sized little chunks that do not require them to chew. In the hands of some professors, I am sure that Powerpoiunt is a wonderful tool. I just swear that I have rarely seen Powerpoint lectures that were not more distracting than illuminating. This idea that we must bring technology into the classroom rather than use technology where it will demonstrably help is another trend that has gone far enough.

The good old fashioned lecture has been on the defensive for too long. It is about time that some of us take the offensive. The best teachers I have ever had are also the best lecturers. that is not a coinsidence. But then again, as a student I never saw myself as a consumer, and I never saw my desires as the driving force behind what went on in the classroom. It is nice to see that both inside and outside of academia, some people are beginning to recognize what is so right about the simple power of someone who knows something speaking to those who know less.

Speaking of Italian Gangsters . . .

If this review in today's Times is any indication, Sidney Lumet's new Vin Diesel vehicle, "Find Me Guilty," is fantastic. I saw Diesel on The Daily Show last night. It was hard to get a guage as to how good the movie would be, and I had no idea that Diesel is such a goofball, but certainly Lumet has done great work, and this review really makes me want to see this one. Entertainment Weekly was nowhere near as effusive (giving "Find me Guilty" a B-)so I now want to judge for myself.

Avoid South Boston Today

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I am one quarter Irish, and on this day, like an Italian-American who makes gangster films, I embrace the basest stereotype of my people. Slainte! (I am almost giddy that St. Patrick's day coincides with the second day of the tournament.)

Two Disparate Points

The two declarations that follow have nothing to dow ith one another. And I am ok with that:

With the premature ejection (see what I did there?) of Arrested Development because of the idiocy of both Fox and the American viewing public, My Name is Earl is officially the best comedy on television. Brilliantly funny, almost perfectly written and acted, MNiE is hilarious and has a soul. If you do not watch it, you are an idiot.

Second, on day one of the tournament I went 14 of 16 in most of my pools, with my only two losses minimal, because I have the other team winning the saturday game. Boston College almost ruined my month but spanked Pacific in the second overtime and get to face off against the Grizzlies of Montana. I call you out, (reader) Montana Urban Legend -- if that is your real name. And if you are really from Montana. And if you root for University of Montana sports.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Final Four

Duke, UCLA, UConn, and the Boston College Golden Eagles. UCLA defeats Duke in one national semi, BC over the Huskies in the other. BC beats UCLA in the finals. More heart than head? Of course. But what fun is it to be right and pick UConn? Or, to use the phrase that seems to have emerged this year without me getting the memo, why "go chalk"?

Starting in twenty minutes, I will be playing hookie. These may be the two best sports days of the year.

TNR Invokes Hofstadter

It's always good to see Richard Hofstadter mentioned in the public dialogue.

DCAT Talks Porn, .xxx Style

I am pretty close to being a free speech absolutist. Campus speech codes make me queasy. When I hear the administration hint that speaking against the war somehow puts the trooops in danger I want to punch someone. I am opposed to David Irving's prison sentence (but would have no problem if someone kicked the snot out of him on their own).

So some might be surprised that I am not necessarily averse to something I saw this morning on CNN: The establishment of .xxx domain names for porn sites. A Democratic Congressman or Senator (sorry I am failing on the details -- I cannot find the story anywhere on and I write these posts from my office, and so you can imagine why I might be averse to doing a google search involving the words "porn," "website," and "xxx." The University of Texas system is fairly straightforward on these matters. Then again, I suppose writing this means that surfing for such items would qualify as legitimate research . . .) has proposed that all porn sites be required to change from .com or .net to .xxx. Basically, the idea is that this way people, especially children, would be protected from inadvertantly ending up at an x-rated site when they browse the web for something rather more innocuous. The opposition, which I understand but just do not fully buy, argues that in so doing, we would ghettoize porn.

I am neither anti- nor am I pro- porn. I fully believe that adults have a right to do whatever they want behind closed doors as long as it is not illegal, and that such laws should be limited -- if someone is not getting hurt, the law ought to tread lightly if it treads at all. But my free speech near-absolutism comes with a caveat: While the state has little right to restrict speech, that does not mean that free speech does not have consequences. If you use the N-bomb on a college campus, you should not be punished by the university. But I'm going to have no problems if someone kicks the shit out of you, or if you find yourself stigmatized as a racist. If you say something offensive, there is no free speech protection from people being offended, and reacting accordingly. In sum, people have a right to be jerks; society has a right to response to that jerkiness. Free speech does not mean a free ride.

And so back to the porn domain names. I believe adults in their homes have every right to surf the internet for any damned thing they desire, to fulfill whatever sexual fetish they want. But I am not certain when the idea that someone might be embarassed equals as an encroachment on free speech gained traction. Now, if the government were to use this proposed domain names switch as a first step toward prohibiting pornography, I would have a problem with that. But I have no issue with protecting people with no interest of looking at porn, or protecting children from stumbling onto porn sites by providing a separate dominion for porn. As far as I know, prior to the internet, if people wanted access to porn, they had to go out and buy it or order it, and potentially risk embarassment. Tough patooties. Being a grownup, exercising rights, sometimes means one runs the risk of a little bit of blushing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Foe-on Nine

Andrew Sullivan has the 411 on some guy(s?) who decide to engage one of those African email spammers. There are some gutbustingly funny moments in this email exchange. I'll warn you now: This is not very pc.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

DCAT Tournament Bracket

If you are interested in participating in dcat's first annual NCAA tournament challenge, go to the ESPN Home Page, click on "Tournament Challenge," and sign up. Our group name is "DCAT," and our group motto is "Thunderstick is a Nancy Boy." The league is public, so there is no password necessary.

Thunderstick thought we ought to have an entry fee so that someone can win money, but so many dcat readers are only moderately engaged in our little endeavor, many of them are poor, and a shocking number are foreigners from places such as Sussex, Oxford, Johannesburg, and Sydney, and frankly, I don't want to have to deal with their silly currencies.

UPDATE: In a world where new ideas are rare, the Thunderstick and I have just come up with a dandy: We believe that the teams tonight are getting screwed by the system, that there ought to be room for both of them to be in the Dance and that a team such as Air Force probably could yield to Monmouth or Hampton. But better yet, why not have a play-in game between bubble teams? After all, the brunt of the aftermath of Selection Sunday involves discussing who should have gotten in and who should not have. Why not have teams battle it out for those slots? Why not have all of the #13 seeds be up for grabs? Take four bubble teams from major conferences, four from mid-majors and let them face off. You could pit Missouri State v. South Carolina, Air Force v. Michigan, George Mason v. Cincinnati, and Texas A&M v. Hofstra. Who could possibly oppose this idea? It would effectively start things off on the Tuesday before the tournament, and the intensity of these games would be unreal. Such a system would also alleviate the age old Majors or Mid Majors? argument that we engage in every year, and the result would be more March Madness.

Someone call Dickie V and Miles Brand. This idea is too good not to happen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Post Facto Arguments

Andrew Sullivan does a good job today of reminding anti-war advocates that for all of their smugness over the lack of WMD's, precious few made the arguments before we went to war that those weapons were not there. In other words, many who opposed the war and now take a "see -- we told you so!" approach in fact did no such thing -- they opposed war, to be sure, but not based on what we now know.

There is, however, a flip side to all of this that nails those who supported the war as well: In the wake of coming up empty on WMD's, many supporters of the war changed their own justifications for going in to Iraq. Where once Saddam's clear and present danger was reason enough -- and those who denied that such a danger existed were labelled appeasers or worse -- suddenly emerged a semi-cogent argument based on human rights that few made and even fewer emphasized in the build-up to the war three years ago. In other words, if the anti-war crowd never argued against the existence of WMD's that provides the foundation for their sanctimony, neither did the pro-war types stand on human rights to anywhere near the degree that they now claim.

My own stance was largely ambivalent, but I did make a liberal case for war. I was not gung-ho, I was skeptical of the "we have to go right now" crowd, but stood equally critical of those who were ardently opposed. I did emphasize human rights and also acknowledged that Saddam more than likely had WMD's. Despite this last belief, on the whole my stance seems reasonably prescient in the telling. Last year I posted the text of a speech I gave in Minnesota in the buildup to the war on Rebunk and I think it warrants consideration again now as we hit the three-year mark. As with most cases of disagreement in today's "I can shout loudest" approach to conflict, the loudest voices were wrong on both sides. As for the case today, the shrillest voices from right and left continue to misassess the situation in Iraq. It is not the disaster that the war's opponents claim, and it sure is not the success that proponents would like to argue that it is. I find myself still ambivalent, happy Saddam is gone, saddened by the incompetence of our leaders in waging war, pursuing peace, and rebuilding what we helped break.

BC Wuz Robbed!

In what looks to me to be one of the most wide open tournament brackets in years (I can see this being a year when a team like Arizona in 1997 comes through with a win from the mid-seeding pack) i can say with reasonable assuredness that Boston College got a little bit robbed in the seedings. Don't get me wrong -- I love their bracket, LOVE IT. They get a potential showdown with Villanove, which not only is, to my mind, a bit overrated, but which also has difficulties with teams with an inside presence who play physical basketball. In other words, with teams like BC.

That said, can someone tell me how the hell North Carolina enters the tournament as a higher seed than BC? BC had a better record. BC made it to the ACC finals. Oh, and UNC and BC played twice this year, and BC won both, including on Saturday in the ACC semis. What possible rationale is there, then, for UNC being given a higher ranking? It will all play out in the next three weeks, of course, and I do believe that BC has a pretty good path ahead. But still, a little justice.

There will be more, much more, on March Madness in this space in the days and weeks to come. I have not yet filled out my brackets yet, but I have a sense of which teams I like. A few keys to picking the brackets -- a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The reason why the department secretary and other casual fans oftentimes win pools is because they don't overthink these things. people who hew pretty close to the seedings tend to do well, especially in the early rounds. It may make you look like a genius to pick that 2-15 upset, but really it was luck (you missed your upset special the last four years if you had a 15 losing). The first round is just a matter of staying in the game. Missing an upset won't kill you -- everyone else missed it too (that's why it is an upset pick). What will kill you is when the team you picked to be upset makes it to the Elite Eight, destroying all of your hopes for that side of the bracket. At the same time, however, all four number ones are not going to be playing in Indianapolis three weekends from now. Maybe two will. So after those early games, you need to make some judgment calls. (Hint -- Memphis and Villanova look awfully lucky to be where they are).

I'd love to put some sort of pool together for dcat readers, but I'll have to figure out whether or not it is viable to do so.

UPDATE: The unsurpassable Bob Ryan has his take on BC in today's Globe.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Selverstone on Kennedy, Vietnam, and Iraq

Friend of dcat, Marc Selverstone, has this piece on JFK and Vietnam, but also on drawing conclusions for Iraq in today's Boston Globe.

Here is an excerpt:

Do the Kennedy tapes offer useful lessons for the current war in Iraq? Insofar as they provide analogues not only to America's entrance but also to its exit from both conflicts, we would do well to recall Kennedy's motives for his phased withdrawal from Vietnam: increased pressure on the client government to institute political, economic, and military reforms; a tangible response to dovish critics of his policy at home; and -- perhaps -- the rudiments of a full withdrawal he had every intention of completing.

Yet we cannot know conclusively how Kennedy would have responded to the altered conditions in the Vietnam of 1964 and 1965. Given his many conflicting statements on Vietnam, all we can say, by virtue of his own words on the subject, is that he would have crossed that bridge when -- and only when -- he came upon it.

Great job, Marc.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Live Free, And Well, Or Die

I'm on the road in Florida and will have much to report when I get back, but I thought I ought to weigh in with this bit of news: Once again New Hampshire has been ranked as the most livable state in the US. Wicked awesome. (Eat it, Maine!)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest

Here's the Israeli response to the Iranian response to the Danes. I love a good cartoon controversy

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Manny Being Manny

Due to unforseen circumstances (both UTPB teams losing last night in Waxahachie, putting an end to sort-of-big-dance dreams) I am delaying my departure for Florida until tomorrow. And since this trip is so Red Sox focused, I thought I would weigh in on l'affaire Manny.

Let it be said up front that I have oposed trading Manny all along for a host of reasons, two looming largest. The first is that no matter what, we are not getting equal value for him. Manny puts up monstrous numbers. No one could give us equal value in return, and getting two nickels for a dime would have been dumb.The second is that the chief concern with trading him has been payroll-related, and frankly, those issues are both less salient as his contract comes into line as being more reasonable now that we are approaching the back end of it, and such concerns are largely insignificant anyway -- who takes the Sox seriously when they whine about payroll? They sell out every day even with the most expensive seats in basdeball, they sell scads of merchandise and concessions, and they have increased seating at Fenway. Hell, the Sox sell out every single spring training game in Fort Myers. Red Sox fans are insane and support the team at an ungodly level. The Sox are 'haves" in the Moneyball world. That they have resources AND have Moneyball management sense is a huge factor in their success, but they should not lose sight of the fact that they can afford superstars to supplement the sabrmetric, efficient approach that Theo and the braits trust generally supports. Keep in mind that for all of the hubbub about Moneyball, it still takes more than simple smart thrift to get deep in the playoffs. Ask Billy Beane.

So with Manny now in the fold and allegedly happy as can be, and with Sox fans relieved that we were able to trade off his late appearance in southwest Florida for his agreement not to play in the World Baseball Classic, it is worth considering some of the thoughts in this recent piece in the Globe.

Basically, Manny is healthy, he came back absolutely ripped, he is talking MVP, he took his penthouse at the Ritz off the market, his wife just had a second baby, he has more than replaced Johnny Damon's follicular follies with a new orange dreds combo that is all the rage, and he wants to put up monster numbers. That all sounds very good to me.

Manny is a manchild, and you never know when one of his Manny moments will take place. There will be anywhere from six to ten delicate situations when he says his hammys hurt and he takes time off. At some point he may well walk right from the shower out on to the field buck naked. No one would be surprised. The voracious New England media will be on the lookout for every foible, flaw, or screwup, never mind any moments that appear to indicate Manny putting himself above the team. But for all of that, here is what we are going to get: An OPS of .1100, 150 rbi, 40 home runs. If he stays healthy and hungry and the Sox are in it until the end, those numbers may rise. If not, they may settle at .1050, 145, 35 -- still MVP numbers. Knowing this, I am very happy for Manny to be Manny and for him to do so patrolling rightfield in his "Caution: Hardhat Zone" sort of way.

Meanwhile, Schilling says that he is feeling better than he has in two years. The sound I just made as I typed those words? Think of Homer Simpson near the forbidden jelly donut, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the drooling incoherence that escaped my lips. In a few days I'll be in Fort Myers. A report will follow. In the meantime, it'll be catch as catch can. Go Sox!!!

Friday, March 03, 2006


C-SPAN radio is airing LBJ phone calls from June 1964 covering topics such as Medicare and Civil Rights. LBJ also chats with his first grade teacher. Good times.

Derek Gone Wild!

The close of business at UTPB today marks the beginning of spring break 2006. Sometime tomorrow, I'll begin my spring break road show.

If either UTPB basketball team, men or women, wins their Red River Athletic Conference semifinal games tonight (both teams won opening rounders last night) at Southwest Assemblies of God University in Waxahatchie, Texas, they will advance to the RRAC championships. I'll be there if they do, as reaching the finals of the tournament also earns them a berth in the NAIA Big Dance in Kansas City. I'm not sure if there will be room for the voice of UTPB radio in the KC, but I'll sure as hell try.

From there it will be off to New Orleans to see the aftermath of Katrina and contribute, if possible, to the local economy. One of my students today thought it ironic that I'd drink Hurricanes to help the city recover from the Hurricane. If I did such things, it might just be ironic . . .

Then it's on to Florida. Mom lives not far from Daytona (Bike Week begins tomorrow) and Dad in a little town outside of Lakeland. I am scheduled for a book signing at the Waldenbooks in the Edison Mall, southwest Florida's largest, next Friday, March 10, from 1:00 to 3:00. The Edison Mall is located in Fort Myers, Florida, which happens to be where the Red Sox hold spring training. It also may be the only place in the world where Bleeding Red is "doing brisk business," if a store manager who told me so today can be believed. If you are anywhere near Fort Myers, I encourage you to stop by.

As a consequence of all of these shenanigans, blogging will be light. I'll do my best, but something tells me that you'll live.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I cannot even begin to convey how important baseball cards were to me for about eight years of my life when I was a kid. Somewhere back in New Hampshire I still have an awesome, and probably quite valuable, collection (baseball especially, but a pretty amazing football collection, with a random box or two of basketball and hockey cards) that I hope to pass on to my kids someday. (Note to self: Have kids someday.) I am reminded of all of this by Sportsguy's intern informing the world about the Baseballcardblog. Some of you should enjoy this trip down memory road (you know who you are).

Sportsguy and Gladwell

I have come to appreciate Sportsguy's "Curious Guy" columns/exchanges even if at first I thought it might be a bit hokey and the title is really bad. His latest is with Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point. Blink and New Yorker fame) and is fantastic, even if from how he explains it, Sportsguy is unclear on what a "contract year" is. (He implies that the contract year is the first year after a player signs a big, extended deal; in fact it is the last year of an exusting deal, when a player performs beyond all expectations and precedent, that is the contract year.) What I like about this one, and what I loved about his exchange with Chuck Klostermann, is that in these cases he is dealing with rabid sports fans who are, first and foremost, writers and whose work primarily is not sports related. I guess what i am saying is that if I ever make it big, I hope to be the subject of a "Curious Guy" interview. (This is part one of two parts -- the second segment will appear tomorrow.)

It's Snow-ing in Iran

Eminent and lovebale Channel 4 anchorman John Snow has escaped from his studio desk and headed to Iran. All next week he and a team of journalists will be reporting from the country in a series of live broadcasts with apparently unprecedented access to Iranian society. Those unfortunates who do not receive Channel 4 News on their televisions can watch the reports here, as well as catch all the juicy extras provided.

John Snow's career was built on foreign correspondence, his travels engagingly recounted in his memoirs, Shooting History. He reported from Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis, as well as a host of other hotspots, including D.C. That these reports can only happen in cooperation with the Iranian government is bound to raise some scepticism in the viewer, but the programme has a deserved reputation for insight, detail and balance, and can be expected to provide something quite worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Serendipity, Discovery and a Civil Rights Treasure Trove

Historians are all well aware of the phenomenon: You are sifting through archival collections, on a lark decide to ask for a box that does not look likely to hold a lot of useful material, and as you quickly flip through the folders therein just to cover your bases, there it is -- a magical piece of evidence that becomes the telling anecdote, or that pulls together disparate strains. Or maybe you have been in the stacks, looking for a certain book, and when you get there you find six others that all prove to be even more significant. It's one of the best-known trade secrets, but we tend not to talk about these particular "Eureka" moments because we are trained professionals with PhDs and expertise both in our fields and in the craft of research, and so no one wants to admit what a huge role luck plays in this process of discovery that is more art than science.

I could not help but think about the barely acknowledged role that serendipity plays in historical scholarship when I first found out about the mother of all capricious discoveries. In 2004 Alexander Cohn, a photo intern at the Birmingham News, stumbled upon a cardboard box in an equipment closet labelled "Keep. Do Not Sell." Whoever wrote that command had an eye for value in a pre-E-Bay age, as within the box sat thousands of photo negatives of pictures from the civil rights era, a period in which Birmingham figured both prominently and ignominiously and during which the News did not exactly shine. This past Sunday, the paper produced a special eight-page section, "Unseen. Unforgotten." Cohn interviewed many of the people who appear in the pictures, and the section contains more than thirty of the photographs, with dozens more available online. The paper also addresses its own complicity and difficulties in covering the movement.

The Birmingham News has uncovered a treasure trove and done a service to hsitory. And it was all the function of luck. Fancy that.

More South Africa

As long as I am dealing with South Africa, I ran across this 2004 article yesterday when I was going through one of my many accumulated piles of stuff. "Decade of Democracy Fills Gaps in South Africa" approaches the situation on the ground through two protagonists, one black, one white, each trying to deal with the New South Africa in as positive a way as possible. It seems to me that this is precisely how most South Africans are approaching their still new democracy. Even 22 months hence, the Times article sems to get at fundamental truths about the realities of life in a country trying to move forward but still hamstrung by the legacies of the past.

Here are the latest updates from the municipal elections, the results of which will not be fully clear for another day or so. At the bottom of the article is a series of links to other articles. I don't think I am serving as a shill for Mbeki when I say that he has a point when he entreats to his fellow South Africans (and to the country's journalists) "Don't focus on Khutsong only," referring to one of the communities that has been riven by strife and occasional violence as a result of being shifted from Gauteng's penumbra to that of the North West Province.

Africa Stuff

There is lots of news from Africa in the last few days. The Sudan nightmare continues, and might be expanding; South Africans are going to the polls today to vote in what should be telling municipal elections; Observers fear for the future. Consider this a roundup.:

At The New Republic online, James Forsyth, assistant editor at Foreign Policy makes a compelling realist's case for greater involvement in the Sudan crisis. The gist of his case is that our inaction in the Sudan appears to lend credence to the idea that countries that seek shelter under "the China umbrella" will have free rein to be as dastardly as they choose. Forsyth acknowledges the virtue of humanitarian arguments for intervention while at the same time introducing a fairly compelling argument for intervention based on geopolitical interests.

Meanwhile, in a tail-wags-dog story, the Times reported yesterday that the Sudan has withdrawn its support for UN peacekeepers to take the place of African Union troops doing their best to control the situation in Darfur. One can easily debate this move on the merits -- in the wake of previous peacekeeping fiascos in which the UN was ineffectual in the face of African tyranny, such news might give pause -- but that Sudan should have a say in the matter is, to say the least, not reassuring. On a somewhat related note, Smith English professor Eric Reeves has been one of the leading voices drawing attention to the Sudan, and in a recent Mail & Guardian piece he addresses some of the problems of the AU forces, South Africa's inaction, and the need for stronger leadership, whether from South Africa, the AU or elsewhere.

All the while, Darfur refugee spillover into Chad runs the risk of turning the Sudan situation into yet another international (in the most literal sense of the word) miasma in Africa. Just consider what happened in the wake of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 or how the Congo/Zaire became a tinderbox a few years later. Once this becomes a cross-border problem, the potential for explosive conflict expands exponentially. This Sudan spillover may pose the worst refugee crisis in Africa (and the world) since the aftermath of the one hundred days of mayhem in Rwanda a dozen years ago.

In more hopeful news, South Africans flock to the polls today in what may be the stiffest challenge the ANC has yet faced. Thus far things seem to be going smoothly. In yesterday's Times Padraig O'Malley sounds a note of caution in the context of discontent over how the ANC has handled relocating certain communities from Gauteng to less prosperous provinces. I do not quite buy the most dire interpretations from the article, and would point out that while there are aspects of the ANC that seem bent on grasping more power than most (myself included) find comforting, the very existence of what should be fairly well-turned out voters who may challenge the ANC ought to be reassuring. The sentiments of one member of a Northern Cape opposition party member may indicate the tone of discontentment but not vitriol many in South Africa feel about the current state of the ANC: "I pray that the ANC will lose. We feel that you failed us. I was part of the people who helped the ANC win in 1994." What this indicates may be that a short-term setback for the ANC might cause the party to take a long look at itself, and perhaps to win back, to earn back, those who are concerned with what they see. Then again, some of the dissatisfaction appears pretty deeply seeded, as a quotation from a Shangase headman, Phenyamadoda Mchunu, indicates: "Tell me one reason why I should vote. We always vote but our lives don't improve." If enough South Africans begin to feel this way, things could grow very difficult for Mbeki's ANC.

Finally, according to the Mail and Guardian and observers, "things don't look good for Uganda." President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is facing its stiffest challenge yet, and the one-time darling of a west that only half-pays attention to Africa at the best of times (Presidents Clinton and Bush have both heaped praise on Museveni since he came to office in 1996), looks to be resorting to typical "Big Man" tactics that have become frustratingly commonplace across Africa.