Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Good Work, Slice!

Holmes ran the Burlington Marathon, his first. You can read his account (entertaining as always) here.

Touring Africa

A vast amount of Africa stuff has crossed my desk and my mind, and I want to try to sort it out today for those of you who may not pay quite as much attention to things on the continent as you would like to:
Sadly, it took the visit, pregnancy, and birth (a healthy, and inevitably gorgeous, little girl, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt) for Brangelina to draw attention to something other than death and carnage in Africa. Namibia is one of my favorite countries on earth. So maybe I can seek solace in this cocktail of inanity and frivolity in hoping that The Washington Post travel section is on to something in its speculation that the Pitt-Jolie road show might be good for tourism in Namibia. Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast, the rugged deserts -- in fact, now that i think of it, while I am glad Namibians might benefit from the tourism dollars (and yen and euros), I'd just as soon everyone stay away and just send checks.

Of course economic development is a vital, maybe the vital issue in all of Africa. So outside of pop culture superstars showing up en masse to finish (or consummate) pregnancies across the continent, what can be done? In the Mail & Guardian Larry Elliott looks at the economic situation in Africa and asks "Why is Africa not doing better?" The answers are not easy, and in some ways Africa is doing better than most of us would have ever imagined based on the news we see from the continent. Still, there is much work to be done. But we sort of knew that.

Paul Rusesabagina has been in the news of late. The former manager of Kigali's Hotel des Mille Collines (who was featured in Hotel Rwanda) has called upon the world to act to prevent the atrocities in Darfur. The world continues to pay little heed. Or at least the world now watches but continues not to act in any meaningful way. there is a difference, but it is not one of which we ought to be proud. Rusesabagina has made a second home in the Boston area.

The New York Times reports that explicit violence is not the only cause of death for Darfurians. The hundreds of thousands of refugees that have crossed the borders of Sudan and Chad face death by disease and starvation that could match or surpass the 400,000 or more already dead. These too will be the results of genocide, though the purveyors of inaction will try to find a way not to include them. As if all of this is not bad enough, the Mail & Guardian asks if the Sudanese government executes minors. We emerge with no satisfying or conclusive answers, but let's just say our worries do not emerge assuaged.

Injecting an even more sobering note, Alan Kuperman writes in a Times op-ed piece that Americans misunderstand the conflict in Darfur and thus our solutions are simplistic. While Kuperman is right about Americans, his own proposed solutions are both too sanguine and too wrong:

we should let Sudan's army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.
So let me get this straight: Evil regime drags feet, countenances genocide, reluctantly steps up to the table, has a record of breaking and ignoring just about every agreement it has ever signed, and yet it deserves the benefit of the doubt? Sorry. No go. The only reason we are in a position to have to defer to the noxious regime in Khartoum is because of our fecklessness in the face of their perfidy. Let us not presume to reward their behavior just because lots of people do not understand the complexities of the crisis. While he is correct in his assertion that most of the rebel groups are hardly rife with good guys, any military force worth its salt would go in with the goal of stopping violence on all sides without taking simplistic dualities of good guys and bad guys.

Meanwhile Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to fight over a little sliver of land that has caused the death of tens of thousands in wars and border skirmishes between the two nations in the Horn of Africa. The UN is talking about forsaking the region, essentially tossing it back into a state of war. The UN is spread thin in Africa, to be sure, but this is no solution.

Speaking of the UN, forgive me for feeling disquieted to read that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has emerged as the new hope to resolve the hitherto intractable Zimbabwean political and economic impasse. Annan means well. I believe that. But when we toss things to the UN as our last, best hope, we are punting. Meanwhile the South African silence hurts the ears, and it would be nice to see the United States make a forceful assertion about the evil emanating from Harare.

I am about to embark on another bout of globetrotting, and one leg of my trip will return me to South Africa for a few weeks. I look forward to returning, even if I am not gorgeous, rich, and pregnant.

Republicans: Uh Oh

It may not be a perfect rule of thumb, but I think it is pretty safe to say that when the Republicans have lost the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby, there is trouble brewing. It has long been clear that the administration is incompetent. But the trickle-down effect appears to be almost certain to swallow Congress. Whether the aftereffects will be enough to give the Democrats control of either the House or the Senate remains to be seen -- a cornered Karl Rove is a dangerous Karl Rove -- but at least for the administration, the implications are obvious: lame duck status is here, and Bush and company will be highly unlikely to be able to rely on a whole lot of support from self-preservationist Republicans.

Were I to make a prediction, I would say that the GOP will see a short-term revival of strength from religious conservatives who will misread the temper of the electorate and will proclaim that it was their forsaking the party (which I will guess at least some will do) that led to the GOP plummet. This will be inaccurate, but may put the party ina state of chaos for some time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chaos in Gaza

Is the Gaza Strip headed for civil war? Many signs point to yes. Or at least, if not civil war, at least a low intensity chaos that will do little to promote Palestinian claims to statehood and a great deal to exacerbate the miserable plight of Gazans too often victimized by the terrorism too many of their own people have wrought and the inevitable Israeli reprisals that come as a consequence. certainly a number of Palestinians fear that ongoing clashes between Hamas and Fatah will result in civil war. At least part of the debate centers around Mahmoud Abbas'laudable assertion that a two-state solution must be the only path Palestinians pursue. This flies in the face of everything for which Hamas has stood since its inception, thus the escaating conflict.

One wonders how the anti-Israel crowd will spin this to be the fault of Israel and by extension the United States. Fundamentally, the conflict in Gaza, and surely in West Bank sooner or later, revolves around two issues that are closely linked -- one is the very future of Palestinan statehood. The other is simple power politics. Hamas and Fatah want as much of the pie as they can get, however small that pie might be.

Israel's critics will naturally assert that the plight of the people of Gaza is the fault of israeli politics and policies. And there will be a grain of truth to these assertions -- Israel is not without blame. But surely that blame stems in large part from the insistence of Palestinian leaders and their foot soldiers to declare war on Israel, to declare and wage intifada, to threaten to drive the little nation to the sea. Surely were Palestinian leaders to look inward, to focus on political legitimacy and accepting Israel as a neighbor and working toward autonomy, they would discover that the plight of Gazans is at root so barren because of their own noxious rhetoric and policies.

No one should wish civil war or its lesser cousins on the Palestinians. But such a conflict might further reveal that vacuity of a Palestinian leadership that seems not to care about the realities Gazans face. One would think that the people of Gaza deserve better. Then again, they have chosen as their champions Hamas and Fatah to begin with, so perhaps even their victimhood is easy to overstate. Funny how supporters of Israel who advocate a two-state solution seem to care more about the plight of the people of Gaza than those the Gazans choose to represent them. Funny, but not in a "ha ha" sort of way.

The Jewish Enemy

Jeffrey Herf, the distinguished European historian and friend and mentor of dcat, has just published his latest book, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust with Belknap Press. There is zero chance that this is not a phenomenal book. Go buy it. And tell your friends.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Al Gore III: The Last Stand

Can Al make it?

That seems to be the question consuming many US political commentators, despite the fact that Gore himself denies any interest in the job. As we all know, that's the surest sign of enthusiasm for the Oval Office. Or at least, for political commentators it is.

Gore has long been a political hero. In fact, it seems that pretty much anybody who is a laughing stock in the US is a politician I liked (Kerry, Carter, we could go on). I find it hard to believe that he'd resist another Presidential run if he was convinced that the "draft Gore" enthusiasm was more than movie premiere fluff. Whether it does have more substance than that will remain to be seen. Every "me too" editorial and feature on Gore in this month's magazines and Sunday papers has an easy line to run. The question is, where does Al go from here to stay in the news agenda without committing himself to open electioneering.

The essence of a Gore come-back would be to continue to campaign outside mainstream politics. He needs to be batting away questions about a Presidential run for as long as possible, as they're his ticket to paragraphs of free publicity. He just needs to find more excuses for the media to swarm on. It will also be a test of whether the emdia's new tolerance for intelligent ("nerdish") policy wonks is just a passing fad, and if they'd return to candyfloss charm when they form their opinion on the eventual race.

Whether or not Gore would win the democratic nomination, or then the Presidency, is a harder question to answer. Cram has drawn attention to polling that destroys conventional wisdom that Gore would do better than Hillary. Gore is the perfect antidote to Bush, whose policy-light shallowness is definitely out-of-favour. The question is, how would he do against a similarly distinguished and serious candidate - a John McCain - and that's currently a difficult one to call. My inclination is that Gore is pre-vetted and the "come back kid" story will be picked up by the press.

For my two cents, I hope Gore's drafted and wins.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy Memorial Day!!

Taking this opportunity to look at some of the symbols of this holiday, but not without criticism: “Now, Memory Fails Us: Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong With the Statues of Monumental Washington” by Paul Richard:

"The fallen mustn't be forgotten. We used words like "the fallen" then. That seriousness bred art. That art would shape the country's look, and Washington's especially. Vast amounts of money, artistry and effort would be expended on its making. The beauty of the art would illumine its high purpose -- to immortalize remembrance. Strewn flowers weren't enough. The fallen would be given stone-and-metal monuments impervious to time.

Washington is filled with them. If you want to get Memorial Day, look around at the memorials. They're victors' monuments. They put generals on pedestals, and dead presidents above them. Washington's memorials share a certain style. Their statues aren't just portraits, though they're often that, as well; they're personified ideals. Their bronze laurel wreaths and eagles, and Greco-Roman lions, say: The past approves of us. They're insistently high-minded, august.

They represent an art movement, now dead. For a long time their architects and artists, their stone-carvers and bronze-founders got better and better. For a long time their elevated style got nobler and nobler. Then, suddenly, it died.

It died a poignant death -- at the peak of its accomplishment, just when it got great. We know the date exactly. Memorial sculpture's greatness left Washington forever on the 30th of May, Memorial Day, 1922.
Making mighty monumental statues of the great used to be an art form, a Washington art form. Not any more.

It's Memorial Day. Take a moment. Stand up, take your hats off, think of what the nation's lost."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Should we engage Iran directly?

Yes, says David Ignatius of the Washington Post:

“Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst with the International Crisis Group, noted in Senate testimony last week that opinion polls show 75 percent of Iranians favor relations with the United States. "Embarking on a comprehensive dialogue with Iran would provide the U.S. with the opportunity to match its rhetorical commitment to Iranian democracy and human rights with action," Sadjadpour said. He's right.

There's no guarantee that a policy of engagement will work. The Iranian regime's desire to acquire nuclear weapons may be so unyielding that Tehran and Washington will remain on a collision course. But America and its allies will be in a stronger position for responding to Iranian calls for dialogue. Openness isn't a concession by America, it's a strategic weapon.”

No. Absolutely not,” says Charles Krauthammer, far less equivocally:

“Pushing Washington to abandon the multilateral process and enter negotiations alone is more than just rank hypocrisy. It is a pernicious folly. It would short-circuit the process that after years of dithering is about to yield its first fruits -- sanctions that Tehran fears. It would undo the allied consensus, produce endless new delays and give Iran more time to reach the point of no return, after which its nuclear status would be a fait accompli.

Entering negotiations carries with it the responsibility to do something if they fail. The EU-3 understood that when they took on the mullahs a couple of years ago. Bilateral U.S.-Iran talks are the perfect way to now get Europe off the hook. They would pre-empt all the current discussions about sanctions, place all responsibility for success on U.S.-Iran negotiations and set America up to take the blame for their inevitable failure.

It is an obvious trap. We should resolutely say no.”

Krauthammer does allow for one exception: We should be willing to negociate only “If the allies, rather than shift responsibility for this entire process back to Washington, will reassert their responsibility by pledging support for U.S. and/or coalition military action against Iran in the event that the bilateral U.S.-Iran talks fail."

Happy Memorial Day!

Blogging may be light. I am heading to San Antonio for the weekend. Cram and Tootle surely have wild and interesting plans. Maybe the Brit dcatters will hold up their end. Back in high gear next week.

Hooray Brits!

In recent years, I have become something of an Anglophile. I've spent a great deal of time in the UK and have come to love it. A headline in today's Mail & Guardian did nothing to dissuage those sentiments: British poll: French are rude and boring

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The world at our feet: This week in technology

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortal man that you have taken note of him? That you have made him little less then divine, and adorned him with glory and majesty; You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet.”

That verse comes from Psalms 8:5-7, and I am often reminded of it when I read about the amazing new technologies and innovations that spark my imagination as if I were 5 years old. No matter how old I get, science and technology will never cease to amaze me. Even such day-to-day devices as the telephone and light-bulb contain a genius I would still be unable to reproduce in a pre-industrial society, despite their relatively simple designs. So I am always curious as to what new technologies and discoveries lay ahead.

The latest wonders in human achievement all occurred just within the past week alone!:

  • Invisibility: According to researchers, “new materials that can change the way light and other forms of radiation bend around an object may provide a way to make objects invisible… Their work suggests that science-fiction portrayals of invisibility, such as the cloaking devices used to hide space ships in Star Trek, might be truly possible.”
  • Cloning: Next month in Nevada, a very unusual race will take place involving “two cloned mules named Idaho Star and Idaho Gem,” who “will compete in a professional mule race.” According to this AP story, both mules “were born three years ago and carry identical DNA taken from a fetus produced by the same parents that sired a champion mule racer named Taz. Because Gem and Star have been separated for two years and trained separately, watching how they perform against each other will offer insight into the role played by environmental variables, such diet and training regimens, in developing racing mules.”
  • Mind Control: “In a step toward linking a person's thoughts to machines, Japanese automaker Honda said it has developed a technology that uses brain signals to control a robot's very simple moves.” The hope, according to the article, is that “in the future, the technology that Honda Motor Co. developed with ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories could be used to replace keyboards or cell phones, researchers said Wednesday. It also could have applications in helping people with spinal cord injuries, they said.”
  • Internet: In only the latest technological advance whose implications are incredible, Amazon, has introduced a new AJAX-powered Online Reader for previewing books. According to the technology magazine Lifehacker, “after purchasing an Amazon Upgrade on eligible books, you can read, highlight, bookmark, tag, and print the book from any computer as soon as you purchase it.” I only recently discovered Google Book search, which allows you to not only look up certain words and phrases across thousands of books, but even lets you search for specific items within the books themselves! If you are not familiar with this, its free so give it a try.

There is so much more out there, like the new running shoes that are imbedded with technology that transmits time, distance, calories burned, and pace data to runners' iPods, or the new FDA approved vaccine for the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. Then there is the newest satellite NASA sent into space that “carried instruments to transmit high-resolution images, infrared data, and temperature and moisture profiles of the atmosphere. The instruments would allow meteorologists on the ground to take images of weather problem spots and improve short-term forecasts locally.” Then there is an article I found titled simply: The Ethical Dilemmas of Immortality.

I wonder what new news next week will bring?

Olmert in America

Israel's prime Minister Erud Olmert appears to have had a reasonably successful US visit this week. But I am a little bit puzzled by the Bush Administration's responses to his withdrawal policies, as well as to editorials in the New York Times and Boston Globe.

Actually, in retrospect, Bush's lukewarm and conditional support for Olmert's desire to continue Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal plans are not all that surprising. If the Sharon-Olmert plans prove successful, they will have virtually no serious fingerprints from the Bush administration, which has all along promoted their Roadmap that was a virtual nonstarter. (I predicted as much in an op-ed piece, “Call it a Road Map Now, It’s Really the Same Old Conflict,” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on August 12, 2003, but it no longer appears to be online to nonsubscribers). It makes sense that Bush hopes to reap the benefits of a future peace agreement in Israel, irrespective of whether he actually has any relevance to the outcome.

The Times and Globe are a bit more vexing.

Let's forget for a moment the unconscionable moral relativism of the paper of record:

It's long been clear that getting a workable, feasible Palestinian state out of two geographically separate masses of land in the desert will be an uphill battle. Now, because of two culprits and one enabler — Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and President Bush — that hill is becoming a mountain.
See how it works? Ehud Olmert, who just took office and who is working toward establishing facts on the ground that will allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, is the equivalent to Hamas, a known terrorist organization that has called for the eradication of Israel. It is hard to take the piece seriously from there, but let's for a moment assume that we must. The editorial goes on:
Speaking to Congress yesterday, Mr. Olmert said Israel was willing "to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority." He added, "In a few years they could be living in a Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with Israel."

We'd like to see that, too. We only hope that Mr. Olmert and Mr. Bush realize that there will not be peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinians have a say in creating a state that can function.

My question to the editors: As you acknowledge earlier in the piece, did the Palestinians not exercise their say when they chose to elect Hamas? But furthermore, how is the decision to leave the bulk of West Bank and all of Gaza NOT a step toward letting the "Palestinians have a say in creating a state that can function"?

By comparison, the Globe editorial is nowhere near as obtuse. But only by comparison. In their concluding passages the editors write:

The sage principle Bush was affirming is that any division of the land must be approved and accepted by both sides.

This means Olmert cannot come to Washington to negotiate a final-status agreement. The road map for Mideast peace that was sponsored by the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia as well as the United States -- and that Bush continues to commend to Israel as the unaltered basis of US policy -- requires Israel to negotiate its permanent borders only with Palestinians, not with Americans.

If this is the message Olmert takes away from his Washington trip, it will have been a worthwhile visit for him, for Israel, and for the Palestinians.

This sounds reasonable. Except for a couple of not-so-minor issues: The Roadmap is dead. It has been dead since 2003. It is not coming back to life, especially with things being as they are now. Furthermore, what indication do the solons on Morrisey Boulevard have that Olmert came to Washington with the intention of negotiating a final-status agreement? Absolutely none, so the misplaced chiding is unecessary, superfluous, not especially useful, and indicates a disengagement from reality that ought to alarm the paper's loyal readers, of which I am one.

Finally, in an ideal world, of course Israel would negotiate with Palestinians. But where have the big shots at the Globe (and the Times) been since September 2000 when the Palestinians declared their intifada and began letting Israeli blood? Or if nearly six years is too hopelessly large a hunk of time for these newspapermen and women, where have they been since the Palestinains elected a leadership with the avowed desire of eradicating Israel from the map?

New insights for both parties

Michael Harrington, a political scientist, policy analyst, and writer, writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the current political narrative of red states v. blue states as well as other popular explanations for political divide (its all about race, or religion, or so-called “moral values”). Certainly, each of these theories carries with it empirical support through polling data and election results. But according to Harrington, a better framework to use when thinking about the political divide in this country is not red state v. blue state but 3 other dichotomies:

  • Urbans v. Nonurbans
  • Marrieds v. Nonmarrieds; and
  • Absolutists v. Contextualists (see article for explanation)

These “help illuminate our political differences over a variety of issues such as gun control, social spending vs. taxes, abortion, stem-cell research, education, foreign policy, immigration, and judicial nominations,” according to his analysis of election results by county. A worthwhile read.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Should Historians speak as experts on contemporary events?

Although I am no longer a subscriber to the History News Network, I still check out its articles every now and again and there is an interesting debate between Larry DeWitt, a public historian and a doctoral student in public policy history at the University of Maryland, and Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University.

DeWitt began the debate by directly attacking Wilentz’s “foray into political commentary disguised as historical analysis.” Although DeWitt’s criticisms of Wilentz are personal, his overall point is simply that it is too early for historians to be passing judgement on the presidency of George W. Bush.

"What are we doing assessing the Bush presidency in 2006,” he asks, “before that presidency has become part of history? We usually think it is the business of historians to follow along behind the policy parade, sweeping up the stray confetti left by the passing of events. Commenting on present public policies—and predicting their future course—seems more like something we might want to call “politics.” And that is precisely the problem with Wilentz and the kind of historical scholarship he offers us.”

“Historians need to wait and see how the story turns out before we get too far along in our assessments. One possibility here is that the Iraq War might turn around and over the next few years Iraq could conceivably become a stable democracy. I am neither expecting nor predicting this outcome. But if future events take this course, Bush’s stock will rise considerably. He could, against all expectations, come to be seen as an accomplished statesman. Which would make these types of mid-stream instant historical assessments look foolish indeed.”

Wilentz, to his credit, responds to DeWitt, saying in part,

“The main issue at stake in historical writing of any kind is not the proximity of events. It is whether that writing persuasively marshals evidence and historical reasoning. Of course, the documentation of recent and current events will always be thinner than it will become in future. What Theodore Draper once called “present history,” like all history, is subject to change, just as it is subject to debate. But it is not prima facie illegitimate, as DeWitt claims.”

Wilentz also takes issue with DeWitt’s (mis)characterization of his own positions and past writings.

In the comments section, DeWitt, to his own credit, responds to Wilentz’s response. In his response, he gracefully retracts part of his more personal attacks against Wilentz and clarifies his argument. I submit the debate here for observation.

Here is the original article by DeWitt
Here is the response by Wilentz
Here is the follow-up by Dewitt

Saudi Textbooks

“Despite years of work aimed at changing Saudi Arabia's public school curriculum, the country's latest textbooks continue to promote intolerance of other religions, a new study said Tuesday,” according to the New York Times today. The study was conducted by the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, a nonprofit group in Washington that seeks to encourage democracy.

From the article, “The results, they say, outline a systematic theme of "hatred toward 'unbelievers,' " mainly Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists, but also Shiites and other Muslims who do not ascribe to the country's orthodox Wahhabi teaching of Islam.”

Even more on the 08 race

I know its several years out and I also know that if people like me stopped thinking about it, perhaps the elections would not be drawn out so long, but I just can't help myself so here is an update:

According to the Washington Post, Senator Christopher J. Dodd from Connecticut may be adding his name to the long list of Senators running for the White House in 2008. According to the article, the 61 year old Democratic Senator who has served since 1980, put off running in 2004 in deference to his Senate colleague Joe Lieberman. Here is his Senate Website.

Just to be clear on the updated, the following people are likely to run:
Senate Democrats:

  • Hillary Clinton (NY)
  • Evan Bayh (IN)
  • John Kerry (MA)
  • Joe Biden (DE)
  • Russell Feingold (WI)

Non-Senate Democrats:

  • Wesley Clark (AR)
  • John Edwards (NC)
  • Tom Vilsack (IA)
  • Mark Warner (VA)

Senate Republicans:

  • John McCain (AZ)
  • George Allen (VA)
  • Chuck Hagel (NE)
  • Sam Brownback (KS)
  • Bill Frist (TN)

Non-Senate Republicans:

  • Rudy Giuliani (NY)
  • Newt Gingrich (GA)
  • Mike Huckabee (AR)
  • George Pataki (NY)
  • Mitt Romney (MA)

Thats 19 candidates America gets to pick from and we're still a long way out. Am I forgetting anyone or is someone here who should not be on this list?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In the Changer

I have gotten a whole lot of new cd's in the last year, and have been trying to absorb them in order to file them in the collection. Some of these I may have written about before, but here is what has been in heavy rotation of late:

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cold Roses: I have said it before and I will say it again: Ryan Adams is a genius, but his blessing is also his curse; He is almost too prolific for his own good. The highlights of this double album set (One of three albums Adams spewed out last year -- a record of productivity that makes me envious) are brilliant. My two favorite songs are probably "Let It Ride" and "If I Am a Stranger" from disc two. Compressed, this would be one hell of a cd. Separately, there is just a little too much chaff. This ties into one of my theories about cds and movies these days, however: "They" (presumably the record companies and movie studios) know in their hearts that their products are too damned expensive. But rather than do the logical thing and lower their prices, they instead think that we consumers are morons, and that we will think that more=better, and therefore worth the usurious cost. This seems to explain why so many cd's these days have 19 tracks, several filler, and why even the most marginal fluff movies weigh in at two hours. I am more than happy to pay $10 for a dozen good tracks, or $6 for a good, taut, 90 minute movie. In any case, I give Cold Roses a B, but it could have been an A had Ryan or Lost Highway curbed a little self-indulgence.

Ahmed Abdul-Malik: Jazz Sounds of Africa: The title is at least a little bit of a misnomer. Abdul-Malik, a bassist (primarily), bandleader, and well-regarded jazz composer, is not African per se (he is of Sudanese descent). He has, however, embraced a cultural Afrocentrism that allows his work to swing easily between traditional jazz and inflections of Africa, especially North Africa. He earned his earliest fame working with Thelonius Monk and has been a committed advocate of both African music and of breaking down artificial national barriers. In a sense, this album is something of a hybrid. One can imagine it most easily consumed in lp format (and if you do not know what an lp is you are far too young to be reading this!), as it seems that this disc is self-consciously more traditional jazz on the first half, and more African on the second. If you are looking for an introduction to African jazz qua African jazz, this may not fit the bill. But if you want to hear a master craftsman comfortably blending and merging styles with a transnational focus, Jazz Sounds of Africa will be a listening pleasure. B+

AC/DC: High Voltage: I used to say that AC-DC was one of my guilty pleasure bands. Fuck that. I just plain like AC-DC. I do not need to listen to them in large doses, I probably never have to listen to the wildly overplayed (and overrated) Back in Black again, and Bon Scott's death marked a turning point for the worse with these Australian hard rockers, but people who cannot let themselves like AC-DC also probably think that sex is too messy and beer is too lowbrow. High Voltage was the lads' first real studio album and it is pretty raw. But their best work was right around the corner, and this album shows definite signs of the promise to come. It's simple, dumb RAWK. And what's wrong with that? B

Brokeback Mountain Remember that Brokeback began life as an Annie Proulx short story in the New Yorker. Well, the dvd comes with this story-on-dvd. I have not yet been able to bring myself to watch Brokeback -- I know it is going to be heartbreaking, and I am not afraid to admit that I have a quick emotional trigger. Hell, about once a week a story on Sportscenter will be so touching or sad that it will make me tear up and suck snot. (This week's was a feature about a recreational baseball Umpire in Utah who got cancer and devoted the rest of his days to his wife and to umpiring games.) So while I am not a books-on-tape kind of guy (for me, books on tape are like phone sex. get the real thing or don't bother.) I figured this might provide a good introduction since I had been too lazy to track down the original version of the story and I refuse to pay $10 for the newly published book version with Jake Gyllenhaal and heath Ledger on the cover. (I never buy the promotional edition of a book with the Hollywood actors on the cover. I have few principles, but this is one.) In any case, it is all that I had imagined and hoped -- tragic, sad, and powerful. I have only listened to it once, and that is probably enough, so while it is not really in rotation, and was never in the changer (I listened to it in the car while running errands. As it ended I was at the post office and had to sit and compose myself for a few minutes, running the air conditioner for about ten minutes in 105 degree heat, surely sucking up about $3 worth of gas.) I wanted to mention it. The story? A The cd version: A- (I still don't dig books on tape).

More on the Democratic Race

According to a new Fox News poll, in a matchup between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, McCain wins out by a mere 4 points, a razor thin victory given the 3 point margin of error.

This tells us several important things:

1) It is never too early to start thinking about the next presidential election even though by this time in 1990, 1998, and 2002, few people would have predicted who would be the final candidates.

2) Contrary to conventional wisdom, Hillary comes close to the Presidency against a well-liked candidate with a “moderate” image.

3) Hillary is fully vetted already and is unlikely to move down much in the polls.

4) McCain is currently well regarded by many, particularly independents and is far more likely to go down in the polls rather than up as more of his positions become well known.

Side note: If McCain is up against Gore, then he wins by a safe margin of 12 points, indicating that far more people would support Hillary over Gore, a rather counter-intuitive result.

The Democratic Race

Using our really good discussion on the Democratic party here as a launchpad, I want to explore a possibility that would have seemed laughable even a few months ago.:

Suddenly the 2008 Democratic primaries have some pretty serious wattage. The GOP will laugh it off and mock some of them, but to do so will be to whistle past the graveyard. Hillary, Gore, Kerry, Biden, and if Jason Zengerle is to be believed, maybe even Barack Obama (that sound you hear is a whole cadre of Democrats going tumescent) make up a formidable lineup. Hillary may be the presumptive frontrunner, but Gore is looking more and more like not only a viable candidate, but a truly formidable one. After eight years of a disastrous Bush administration, Gore and his handlers ought to have a pretty sound case to make. People forget that Gore was not only wstrong on foreign policy issues, on matters related to terrorism he was hauntingly prescient. And he seems a lot more likable and comfortable in his skin today than he did six years ago. Kerry frightens all of us, but in this race he is likely to be at best the third candidate, and this is a guy who with a bit of luck and without the loathsome and contemptible Swift Boat veterans for Truth may even have been able to take Ohio, and thus the election. Biden could be the dark horse. And an obama candidacy has to scare the pants off of the Republicans. This leaves out Edwards, Bayh, Warner and Feingold, who lack the wattage but would certainly up the quality and range of the field.

The 2008 field looks to be a far cry from the "Seven Dwarfs" years of the party. Then again, these are the Democrats, so there is plenty of time for them to screw it up.

Pick Your Poison

To me it seems like six of one, a half dozen of the other, but over at TNR online, Joshua Kurlantzick argues that a nuclear North Korea is worse than a nuclear Iran. Since right now we look more and more to be in a position to stop neither, I'm pretty certain that this is not a reassuring distinction. So my question to the Bush administration is this: Weapons of Mass Destruction are still a bad thing, right? Or are they just another rhetorical arrow for the quiver? Then again, this administration is long on what it seems to think is good rhetoric and rather short on competent action.

Monday, May 22, 2006

You Heard It Here First

Apologies for my many months of absence. Real life has rather distracted me from blogging, but I did want to pop back briefly to note---

You heard it here first. Well, almost.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Gaith Abdul-Ahad

In my view, some of the most interesting reporting in Iraq has come from Gaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi photographer who has been working for the Guardian the past two years or so. Apparently a friend of the Baghdad Blogger, Salam Pax, he first became noticed on his own now defunct blog, G.

Some of his photos have been used in the exhibition and book, Unembedded, and are a testament to how close he is willing to get to the war. The viewpoint he chooses is from amongst the insurgents themselves, which has resulted in a series of remarkable reports detailing the people fighting, their motivations, and the lives they now lead. His subjects are wide ranging, but here are a few choice examples from June 2004, September 2004, July 2005 and October 2005.

His most recent article was published on Saturday, focussing on the growing violence between Sunni and Shia factions. The remarks of one young Sunni insurgent-turned-vigilante suggest that the United States may find some interesting allies, should it find itself at war with Iran:

"Our only hope is if the Americans hit the Iranians, and by God's will this day will come very soon, then the Americans will give a medal to anyone who kills a Shia militiaman. When we feel that an American attack on Iran is imminent, I myself will shoot anyone who attacks the Americans and all the mujahideen will join the US army against the Iranians.

"Most of my fellow mujahideen are not fighting the Americans at the moment, they are too busy killing the Shia, and this is only going to create hatred. If someone kills one of my family I will do nothing else but kill to avenge their deaths."

Friday, May 19, 2006


One of the many things I love about America is that we really have a lot of lattitude to do any damned fool thing we want. You want to immerse yourself in a ball full of water for public viewership? Get the permits and go for it. Some poeple will even watch you on television. You want to be a visible member of a crackpot religion that some dude just made up whole cloth? Go for it, Mr. Cruise. The First Amendment is glorious. You want to watch the Soap Opera network and eat nothing but Ding Dongs? Be my guest. (Bobby Ewing comes back; it was all a dream.)

But there is a flip side to all of this freedom. I too have freedom to exercise First Amendment rights, and don't resent it when I do. David Blaine is a self-aggrandizing douchebag. Scientology is a scam. Most fat people are not victims of some disease. You buy the ticket, you take the ride. You can do most anything you want. But the rest of us do not have to endorse it and we can choose to mock it.

I thought of all of this when I read this article in the New York Times announcing that Nevaeh is the 70th most popular baby name for girls, ranking ahead of such stalwarts as Sara, Vanessa and Amanda. Now do not get me wrong -- the world does not necessarily need another Sara, Vanessa or Amanda. But Naveah, "Heaven" backwards, is just, well, dopey. Let me spell it out for you: Singing bombastic country songs about the flag or kicking Osama in the ass, say, does not make you a better American. And while I am all about finding names from outside the mainstream, naming your baby "Naveah" does not increase your little girl's chances of eventually becoming a nun. People can name their kids Apple or Blueberry or Chocolateyyoohoo or their boy "Sue." I don't care. But when she is giving handjobs for crack, I am going to make fun of poor, strung out little Naveah. That is gospel truth that even L. Ron Hubbard cannot refute.

Best American Fiction

The New York Times recently undertook an unscientific poll of a hundred writers, critics, etc, to try to compile a list of the best American fiction of the last 25 years.

There are not a lot of surprises. I found that a lot fo my favorite fiction from that time period is not American (Ian McEwen, J.M. Coetzee, Nick Hornby, Zakes Mda, V. S. Naipaul, etc.). Since my ambit is nonfiction, naturally i have not read everything on the list. Notable omissions? Anything on the list that does not belong? Do you agree that Beloved is the best work of American fiction in the last quarter century? Discuss.

UTPB Gets Good News

This has been one of the biggest weeks in the history of my young university. The scuttlebut began flowing around campus on Monday, with confirmation coming in on Tuesday: After finally settling public school funding issues that have been vexing Texas as elsewhere in the US, the state legislature followed up by immediately approving a Tuition Revenue Bond for higher education. UTPB has had two building projects approved, including a $54 million science and technology center and a $45 million performing arts center. For those of you keeping score, that is $99 million worth of buildings, giving UTPB a big percentage of the state's budget for higher education building -- $1.8 billion total will go to 40 colleges and universities. UTPB is tiny in the scheme of the flagship University of Texas system, never mind that Texas also has the A&M system, the Texas Tech system, the state colleges, as well as junior colleges. This sort of disproportionate investment, then, is a ringing vote of confidence.

Major players in the state, including Speaker of the Texas House Tom Craddick, a Republican from Midland, came to the Permian Basin for a press conference that was packed. Craddick was a vital figure in getting the support for UTPB, and the performing arts center in particular bears his fingerprints. It will be located near the Center for Energy and Economic Diversification, which is located a few miles from campus, not far from the Midland International Airport, and will serve both the university and the surrounding communities.

This support represents not only obvious tangible benefits for UTPB, but also shows that we are a vibrant and vital part of the University of Texas system and of higher education in the state generally.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chomsky… need I say more?

In a move that should surprise no one, the devoutly anti-American and anti-Semitic Noam Chomsky recently visited Hezbollah's Headquarters and met with their Secretary General, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in the Southern suburb of Beirut, reported Al-Manar TV. After the meeting he defended Hezbollah's rights to hold onto their arms.

Just for the record, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hezbollah has been involved in a lengthy series of terrorist attacks against the United States, Israel, and other Western targets. These attacks include (but are by no means limited to):

  • A series of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon, including several Americans, in the 1980s;
  • The suicide truck bombings that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983;
    The 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which featured the famous footage of the plane’s pilot leaning out of the cockpit with a gun to his head;
  • And two major 1990s attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina—the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy (killing twenty-nine) and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center (killing ninety-five).

Of course, because the victims of Hezbollah violence tend to be either Israeli, American, or Western in general, one can be sure that the famous linguist considers Hezbollah’s terrorism to be legitimate (or at least, to be expected). Indeed, during his visit, he did not fail to add his usual rhetoric that has become a staple of his writing:

“When asked about the US list of terrorist states, he said if the US was to stick to the clear and precise definition of terrorism in its code of laws, it would be the leading terrorist state.”

However, this time, Chomsky managed not only to offend Americans with his visit but (unsurprisingly) the Lebanese. According to a Ya Libnan editorial by Ali Hussein, Chomsky’s endorsement of Hezbollah ignores the fact that, as one political observer said, the issue of the arms is not “America versus Hezbollah,” the issue of the arms is Lebanese sovereignty and independence. “Obviously Chomsky didn’t get it this time,” one observer commented. He added “Chomsky needs to live here for a while to understand what happened during the past 30 years and why most Lebanese are against the Hezbollah arms.”

Another observer added that what Chomsky failed to appreciate is that “the Hezbollah arms scare the Lebanese people more than the Israelis.” For a man who believes that Israel is the incarnation of all that is wicked and evil in the universe, such an understanding in unlikely to be understood. The message from Lebanon: “If Hezbollah is not disarmed this could trigger a civil war ... is this what Chomsky wants? Did Chomsky learn what is happening at the Lebanese national dialogue talks?”

As Michael Young of the Daily Star poignantly noted earlier today:

“The snapshot of Noam Chomsky communing with Hizbullah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, was a powerful symbol of the poverty of the secular Western left when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs. With dour attention being directed at the American right because of the Bush administration's tribulations in Iraq, it has become less obvious how morally destitute are those on the other side of the political aisle.”

Although one must be careful when using words like “the left,” or “the right,” if his targets are those people whom I believe he is speaking about (perhaps more accurately called the “far left,” or “fringe left” to distinguish it from mainstream political liberalism), than I think he is right on:

“What Chomsky also did was show how many on the political left openly embrace political forces in the Middle East that are their natural enemies, chiefly because of their antipathy for the policies of the United States … Chomsky, in idealizing Hizbullah as a valuable vanguard in the anti-Israel struggle, apparently ignored how hostile the party was to Lebanese secular leftist parties in the past, and how incompatible its worldview is with the one to which Chomsky claims to adhere.”

The Bush Presidency in Books

Last week in the New York Times Michiko Kakutani produced a remarkable essay on the vast literature on the Bush presidency titled "All the President's Books (Minding History's Whys and Wherefores)". Kakutani argues, "these books create a cumulative and, in many respects, surprisingly coherent portrait of the Bush White House and its management style." In all it is a pretty impressive, if episodic, essay on a burgeoning genre.

Professor Alonzo Hamby: Doyen

In it's semi-regular feature "History Doyens," History News Network this week focuses on Alonzo Hamby. Lon was my PhD advisor and I am now lucky to count him as a close friend and mentor. Go read (or re-read) Man of the People, Liberalism and It's Challengers, For the Survival of Democracy (I was his research assistant on Survival for two years) or any of his other vitally important works.

Oversight, not (necessarily) impeachment should be the goal

In an op-ed published today in the Washington Post, Democratic Representative John Conyers tries (successfully in my humble opinion) to dispel the myth that a Democratic takeover of the House will mean certain impeachment:

"As Republicans have become increasingly nervous about whether they will be able to maintain control of the House in the midterm elections, they have resorted to the straw-man strategy of identifying a parade of horrors to come if Democrats gain the majority. Among these is the assertion that I, as the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush."

“Rather than seeking impeachment,” Conyers later says, “I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader.”

In an article that documents the history of Congressional oversight, paying special attention the over 1000 subpoenas issued against the Clinton administration (compared to 15 for Bush), Zachary Roth, editor of the partisan Washington Monthly, writes:

“Congress's disinclination to hold President Bush accountable has few historical parallels, say congressional experts. “In our lifetimes, I can't recall a greater failure on the part of a Congress to do serious oversight,” says Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “The attitude of the Republicans in Congress has been: Avoid embarrassing the president at all costs.”

There is no shortage of angry liberals out there who advocate impeachment, as a simple google search attests to (the words “impeach President Bush,” returned almost 11 million hits). But assuming that bad judgment alone is not an impeachable offense, what grounds do these sites propose impeachment? John Dean has often attempted to make the legal argument for impeachment both for Bush’s executive order authorizing the NSA to conduct domestic wiretapping (“There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons”), as well as for lying about Iraqi WMD (“Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be “a high crime” under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.”)

Personally, I think Democrats are wise not to jump to conclusions and advocate investigations and oversight. This is not only politically smart, as calling for Bush's head will only make them look like bitter fanatics, but morally the right course of action. The failure of our Congress has not necessarily been its unwillingness to remove President Bush from office, but to wholly ignore even the most conspicuous evidence of wrong-doing (even the 9/11 Commission had to be thrust upon them by the outcry of 9/11 families). Whether or not the uncovering of alleged abuse leads to censure (as Senator Russ Feungold has already proposed) or impeachment are for the investigations to uncover.

Another OU Book

Stephen Taaffe, who received his PhD from Ohio University before I arrived in Athens, has just published another book, Commanding the Army of the Potomac. I do not know Professor Taaffe (though in addition to OU we also share Texas in common, as he is an Associate Professor in the history department at Stephen F. Austin State University out east in Nacogdoches) but I do want to extend to him my hearty congratulations.


In the last week or so, largely because of some serendipity involving Holmes, I have reconnected with a guy from the class behind me in high school. He is a writer who teaches at a community college up in Madison, worlds away from Newport High. He keeps a blog, Seize the Means, that just made it to the blogroll.

Put it this way. Anyone who writes lines like what follow is likely to get the dcat treatment (good version):

Teenybopper jailbait in the mall pornographically sipping electric green slurpees. Teenybopper jailbait wearing yoga pants that say bling-bling across the ass. How can I look and not feel like the perverted uncle? How can I not look?

And the teenage boys are saying some stupid shit like, “yo, her tits are like battleships” or “yo, check out the guy reading.” Then they point at the guy reading like he’s a platypus or something, a web-footed egg-laying duck-billed fuck-wad, because you know, reading a book, especially in the mall, has to be the most ridiculous thing. Ever.

And yet, I day-dream of the bling-bling. I day-dream of the most ridiculous things ever, like Swedish Gangsta Rap, or taking off my pants during staff meetings, and putting everything I say in quotes above my head. “The universal is in the particular,” Barb. “Your shit is whack,” Sven.

Check it out, yo.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mazel tov David!

I wanted to bring anyone’s attention on a new blog project undertaken by Slate’s David Plotz. Plotz, according to his “mission statement” so to speak, is to “find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based.”

Accordingly, he will spend the next few weeks reading the Holy Scriptures and sharing his thoughts on his blog.

The genesis of this project (pun is intentional) can be read here.

He thus far has two entries:
1) Reading the First Few Chapters of the Bible
2) Abraham vs. God

I have a particular fondness for this project since I conducted the same experiment after graduating high school (sans blog technology, sadly).

David has also generously solicited comments or thoughts at

Democrats need to pick a strategy and soon

Well, I know it has been a long while since I have posted but I check up with DCAT frequently and thought I would drop by to discuss something that has been going on under the radar lately and that is the Democratic strategy for victory in the coming years.

The current debate about Democratic strategy has less to do with specific policies (Iraq, for example, or immigration) and more to do with grand strategy. The debate is best exemplified by two men: Howard Dean, head of the DNC, and Representative Rahm Emanuel, head of the DCCC. In a headline that should reinforce the rank-and-file’s frustration over the inability of Democrats to unite, the Washington Post noted that “Democrats Are Fractured Over Strategy, Funds.”

“The blowup,” according to the Post, “highlights a long-standing tension that has pitted Democratic congressional leaders, who are focused on their best opportunities for electoral gains this fall, against Dean and many state party chairmen, who believe that the party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up -- even in states that have traditionally been Republican strongholds."

Here are the sides:

1) Dean’s 50-state strategy:

Howard Dean took a lot of heat during the 2004 primaries when he said that “White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us, and not [Republicans], because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too,” but as head of the DNC, he has pledged to compete in all 50 states. Says Dean, “The Democratic Party is committed to winning elections at every level in every region of the country, and we're getting started right now with a massive effort to fund organizers on the ground in every state.”

Sounds great, right? The problem is that in order to do this, he has to spend lots of money (which, by the way, he has raised far more than skeptics once thought).

From the Post article:
“Many Washington Democrats think Dean is unwise to spend on field organizers and other staff in states where House and Senate candidates have little chance of winning. Dean has maintained that the party cannot strengthen itself over the long haul unless it competes everywhere.

Dean, arguing for a long-term perspective, said that the party must become a presence everywhere, even in very Republican states in the South and the Mountain West. He was elected on an outsider's platform that promised a "50-state strategy" as the best way to revitalize a party routed from both the White House and Congress during most of the Bush years. "We have gone from election to election, and, if we don't win, then we've dug ourselves into a deep hole and we have nothing to start with," he said. "That is a cycle that has to be broken.”

2) Emanuel’s “let’s-win-elections” strategy:

“The way you build long-term is to succeed short-term,” Rahm Emanuel says, countering Dean’s strategy.

“Emanuel, Schumer and other Democratic operatives anticipate that the better-funded Republican Party structure and its allies will flood competitive states and districts with money, television ads and other resources.”

Of course, this does not mean the Democrats should not try to appeal to Republican voters. Just today, the New York Times reported that “House Democrats, trying to capitalize on conservative dissatisfaction with Republicans, are reaching out to Christian voters with radio advertisements critical of Republican proposals to overhaul Social Security.” Trying to take advantage of the current dissatisfaction among conservatives about government spending, the war in Iraq, and the current immigration debate, this makes sense.

The major difference between the 2 strategies is which is more important: the long term goal of building Democratic support in Republican strongholds like Alabama and Texas, or winning elections in swing districts in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Both Dean and Emanuel make good points.

On the one hand, had more money been put in Ohio in 2004, Kerry might have gotten the 60,000 votes more to capture the presidency and from there, perhaps reignite Democratic hopes for Congress. Furthermore, public confidence in Republicans has plunged to the lowest levels yet, with "Americans saying by wide margins that they now trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with Iraq, the economy, immigration and other issues, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that underscores the GOP's fragile grip on power six months before the midterm elections." Should Democrats really let 2006 and perhaps even 2008 fall to chance while worrying about building a new coalition for 2010 or 2012?

On the other hand, so long as Democrats stay on the defensive, Republicans will continue eating into traditionally Democratic voters such as Hispanics and Catholics (both of which defected to the Republicans in large numbers in 2004). Plus the fact that many Republican voters, particularly economic conservatives who favor fiscal responsibility, poor whites who could be convinced to support healthcare and education policies, and foreign policy conservatives who once shunned being the world's police and could find themselves comfortable in a Democratic platform. These people will not convert unless properly targeted and mobilized.

Assuming that Democrats can’t do both (and financially speaking, they really can’t), which tract should they pursue? I leave that question open for others to ponder.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tom Delay and Texas

If at all possible, forget for one moment the deleterious effect Tom Delay has had on the national political dialogue. Forget that he is one of a relative handful of people who have so poisoned the well of bipartisanship that relations between the parties are at one of the lowest ebbs in a century or more. Patricia Kilday Hart has a pretty convincing argument about the negative impact that Delay's sliminess has had on the Texas Congressional delegation.

Plagiarism Controversy in South Africa

When I was most recently back in South Africa, William Gumede's Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC was the talk of the country's literati and intelligentsia. It topped the bestseller lists. Government officials, academics, journalists, students, and the educated reading public made sure to get their copy. Gumede's critical exploration of Mbeki was as hot as any work of nonfiction in recent years.

Suddenly Gumede finds himself under fire on allegations that portions of his book may be plagiarised.

Gumede said he acknowledged the use of an “indirect referencing” system in his book, often, for instance, referring the reader to other sources and documents of his own that contained the relevant references, rather than to the primary sources.

Several of Gumede's passages share too-striking a resemblance to the work of other writer, including that of the journalist Charlene Smith and the respected writer Mark Gevisser. Examples, from the Mail & Guardian:
“A reading of Mandela’s speeches and interviews shows he has consistently upbraided white SA. But because he has a ponderous speaking style, his warnings are often missed, or are softened because of his smiles and hugs.” -- Charlene Smith, Saturday Star, June 20 1998

“Mandela often upbraided white South Africans, but his rebukes were softened with broad smiles and warm hugs.” -- William Gumede, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC

Mark Gevisser vs William Gumede
“Govan Mbeki’s family were Mfengu people (‘Fingos’), early converts to Christianity who benefited through their alliances with the British in the Eastern Cape. They were the avatars of Cape liberal capitalism, known by white traders as ‘The Jews of Kaffirland’, for they were educated, aggressive and unhampered by the feudal restrictions imposed by traditional hierarchies. They thrived -- and soon became the enfranchised elite of the region: the first Africans there to ride horses, to farm commercially, to build four-walled houses; teachers, preachers and clerks.

“Epainette’s family, the Moeranes, are Basotho members of the elite Bafokeng clan and come from a similar background.” -- Mark Gevisser, Sunday Times, May 16 1999

“Govan’s people were Mfengu, or Fingoes, early converts to Christianity, well educated and affluent. White traders called them ‘the Jews of Kaffirland’, and they produced many of the region’s elite -- teachers, preachers, shopkeepers and public servants. “Epainettes’s family, the Moeranes, are from the equally elite Bafokeng clan and of similar background.” -- William Gumede, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC
Gumede's publisher, Zebra Books, has responded. Marlene Fryer, Zebra's publisher, has responded to the allagations: “We absolutely condemn plagiarism as well as copyright violation, and do not regard William as guilty of either.” For his part, Gevisser says, “Gumede’s book is an important book but, based on the evidence I have seen, it is clear that his sources have not always been properly acknowledged. I was glad to read in the Sunday Times article that his publishers are planning to correct the problems in the new edition of the book.”

It is too early to tell if Gumede has made honest mistakes of attribution or if the book contains widespread plagiarism. I'm sure that this case will follow the path of so many before it -- if the use of others' words is rampant, someone will have the details for us soon enough.

Doug Flutie, Retiree

For New Englanders of a certain age, Doug Flutie will be forever young, flinging a football impossibly down the field as time ticked away in the Orange Bowl, a ball that would nestle in the arms of Gerard Phelan, establishing one of the truly iconic moments in the history of college sports. It is thus hard to imagine that the ageless sprite who almost singlehandedly brought Boston College to national football respectability, who dominated the Canadian Football League for eight seasons, and who tantalized just enough in the NFL to make his fans wonder what he might have been able to do in the right system with the right coach, has announced his retirement.

Flutie was a new Englander through and through. Part of a legendary family of Natick athletes, Flutie resonated with the joy of playing, as Bob Ryan so well illustrates today when he talks about the diminutive quarterback in the same breath as Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Tom Brady and Ted Williams. Obviously Flutie never achieved the status of those legends in his time in boston, but as an icon he came damned close. Many of us would have loved to have seen Flutie take his farewell tour as a backup with the Pats. But we'll forever have him in our minds, white jersey flowing as he rolls left, prepared to launch a pass that will in turn produce a legend. That was one of the great plays of my life, produced by an everyman legend. I feel old today.

Wow, Was I Wrong: Jacob Zuma Edition

Last week in discussing the acquittal of former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma on charges of rape, I wrote the following gem:
My guess is that he will be allowed to return to the party, but that the deputy presidency is a nonstarter. He will work to claw his way back, and because he has significant support, he will be reasonably successful, but I highly doubt whether he will be able to re-enter the rarefied air that had him one step removed from succession. Those days are gone. Zuma's decision will be whether to be a good soldier, or instead to play the populism card and be a burr within the party, or to leave and pose a challenge from without.

I feel a little bit like the old Gilda Radner Saturday Night Live Character Rosanne Rosannadanna: Never Mind.

According to an article in this morning's New York Times, Zuma has already returned to the ANC as Deputy president of the party. That does not mean that he is or will be deputy President of the country again, and as the article notes:

Whether he can regain his old standing, however, seems in serious question. Mr. Zuma faces a second trial as early as July on corruption charges related to what prosecutors say was a bribery scheme involving a contract for South African naval vessels. Mr. Mbeki forced Mr. Zuma to resign as South Africa's deputy president last June because of the scandal, and Mr. Zuma's financial adviser has already been convicted on charges that included funneling payments to Mr. Zuma.

Nonetheless, Zuma is back, and he will surely resume his role as a major player in South African politics, even if his future in electoral politics is in question. Behind the scenes he will still be able to marshal tremendous resources. I am shoocked in particular by the speed with which the ANC allowed Zuma back into the fold. But from here on out I will be disinclined to bet against him.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Karl Rove Indicted?

On Saturday Truthout's Jason Leopold reported that Karl Rove had been indicted on charges of perjury and lying to investigators and that Rove had 24 hours to get his affairs in order. Then nothing happened. On Saturday and Sunday none of the major media outlets, left or right, had confirmation from what I could tell. Just now I received the following email:
How Accurate Was the 'Rove Indicted' Story?

On Saturday afternoon, we ran a breaking story titled, "Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators." We assumed that we were well ahead of the mainstream media and that we would be subsequently questioned. Right on both counts.

What everyone is asking right now is how accurate is the story? Has Rove in fact been indicted? The story is accurate, and Karl Rove's attorneys have been served with an indictment.

In short, we had two sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation who were explicit about the information that we published, and a former high-ranking state department official who reported communication with a source who had "direct knowledge" of the meeting at Patton Boggs. In both instances, substantial detail was provided and matched.

We had confirmation. We ran the story.

Obviously I have no inside access, no way of telling whether Truthout, a left-wing source with more than a little desire to see Rove indicted, really does have a scoop or is being willfully obstinate, mistaking sources and confirmation for the truth. Nonetheless, if this is true, if Rove is under indictment as we will soon know about it, this will be an enormous blow to the administration. At this stage, if the rumor is true, one would have to be naive to think that this is the end of the line. These are probably not the best of times at the White House.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dick Farley, Hall of Famer

What do Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL, and former Williams football and track coach Dick Farley have in common? Both will be inducted into the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana this summer. This is a wonderful and much-deserved honor for Coach Farley who is, to say the least, a legend at Williams.

Coach Farley embodies the gruff, square-jawed, no nonsense football coach. A former All American football player and captain of the football and track teams at Boston University (at BU he played the role of rabbit for his British teammete David Hemery, the 1968 Olympic gold medal 400-meter hurdler) Farley played for the San Diego Chargers as a starting safety for two seasons befrore injuries curtailed his career. He is well known for his no nonsense one liners (My favorite was always "The only reason you guys are here is because there is no Division Four") and, of course, for winning. His eye-popping 112-19-3 record gives him the 6th highest winning percentage of all college coaches at any division. indeed, almost every year of his tenure at Williams, the rumors swirled that he was up for much bigger jobs. At one point I heard from some pretty reputable sources that the Harvard football coaching job was his to refuse in the 1990s. Instead he stayed at Williams.

Farley remains active at Williams. He is still an assistant with the track team, which is how I got to know him best, and he heads club sports. His son, Scott, who went to Williams (after transferring from Villanova, where he was a starter) and even as a kid was one of the great athletes I have ever seen, will be starting his second year as a defensive back with the Carolina Panthers after a year with the Patriots practice squad.

Before taking the football head coaching job, Farley was the head track coach and an assistant on the football team. he helped bring the track team back to respectability after several down years, paving the way for the ongoing dominance that began during my time in the Purple Valley, He has continued working with the track athletes, and especially the hurdlers, even as his Williams teams started racking up some of the most impressive results at any level of football in the early and mid-1990s.

I have many great Farley stories, but I will recount one of my favorites. We were at a meet at UMass. I think it was a tri meet with Springfield College. One of farley's pet peeves was that Williams guys tend to overanalyze everything on the track and the field, and he said something to the affect of "You guys in academia always overthink things" to my buddy Sal, an All-American 400 hurdler. Salvi responded, "coach, isn't academia a kind of nut?" Farley just shook his head and walked away. later on that meet, for some reason coach Farley used the word "academia" again, and I piped up: "Coach, but isn't academia a kind of nut?" He just shook his head and walked away again. That was the same meet where Farley used another of his great, but devastating, lines. We were idly watching one of the long distance races -- probably a 5,000 -- and he turned to me and said "Do you really think that any of these guys would be doing this right now if they could run the hundred?"

Congratulations Coach Farley. I never put on the pads for you, but I was lucky and honored to have worked with you even to the small degree that I did back at Williams.

The Williams Sports Information article is here and the North Adams Transcript article is here. (In addition to Rice, Farley's fellow inductees will be Entering the Hall alongside him will be John Gagliardi, of Minnesota's Saint John's University whose 432 wins [and counting] are the most in NCAA history. A third coach, Vernon "Skip" McCain, of historically black Maryland State, will join Farley and Gagliardi. Players being honored include the University of Idaho's John Friesz, Central Arkansas defensive end Ronnie Mallette, Jackson State defensive back Kevin Dent, legendary Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte, Pitt lineman Mark May and Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett. It came as a surprise to me that Coach Farley will be Williams' fourth inductee.)

Liberia's "Iron Lady"

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia who is charged with turning around one of the most beleaguered countries in the world, has become something of a rock star in the international community. Given that the West seems to have space for one celebrity African leader at a time, she seems to be it right now. This Boston Globe feature shows the fame, the reality, and the hope behind the Johnson Sirleaf era. the odds are long, but if Johnson Sirleaf can do it, she will be worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Nelson Mandela, who has held Most favored African status for more than a decade-and-a-half.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sudan and American Imperialism

Richard Just, The New Republic's deputy editor, has an important review essay in the latest issue in which he uses Gerard Prunier's Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide and Julie Flint & Alex de Waal's Darfur: A Short History of a Long War to explore the crisis in Darfur and American inaction. Having just finished my own review essay in which Flint and de Waal's book features prominently, I was especially interested to see what just had to say. You'll want to read just's piece, in which he makes an intriguing but problematic argument that our inaction actually reveals a form of imperialism. I think he goes too far with this -- to my mind he is correct in asserting that imperialism carried with it a great deal of indifferendce for the colonized, both in britain's settler colonies and in those it ruled indirectly. But the first step toward this indifference still is a level of engagement. The Brits had to colonize before their indifference matters, at least in Just's conception.

His call for greater action, and implication that the action will have to come from America and will have to be in the form of military engagement will also raise some hackles. It would be nice if those nations that have chosen not to engage in Iraq but with whom we maintain alliances would get behind action in Darfur, but that does not look set to happen. easier, I suppose, to tsk tsk the United States than to confront the fact that there are times whgen force may be necessary, and that those circumstances do not change just because you happen to find one particular example of the use of force to be wrongheaded. But absent European intervention, just may be right -- if we want change in Sudan, we may have to bring it through the imposition of troops. in the current climate, however, that simply is not going to happen

TNR online also has the second installment of its slideshow on Darfur. Photographer Jerry Fowler provides this collection of arresting images.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Diminishing Returns

If our leaders only realized how much they diminish us. Every time they parse and prevaricate and wiggle to rationalize torture, or near torure, they diminish us. Every time they stand before an audience and proclaim that they cannot think of any mistakes they have made, any regrets they have, they diminish us. Every time we persecute and prosecute not out of a sense of justice, but vengeance, every time we let ideology trump evidence, it diminishes us. Every time the President allows for illegal or dubiously legal wiretapping or searches or surveillance, every time he proclaims that he is not subject to Congressional laws or oversight, every time he claims extraordinary rights and invokes war or 9/11 to justify the most galling grab for power, he diminishes us. Every time Donald Rumsfeld, well, every time Donald Rumsfeld speaks, he diminishes us.

There is a reason for us to wage war against despots and tyrants, to fight terror and terrorists, to stand as a beacon of hope for the world. And that reason is that our values are better than those of our enemies. I believe this. It is the foundation for my love of my country, and it is why despite America's flaws, I still see us as a city on a hill.

These thoughts came to mind tomight as I was reading this Milton Viorst article (subscription required) in the Atlantic Monthly. It makes a fairly compelling case for how our prosecution of alleged Jihadist mastermind Ali Al-Timimi might be born more of religious and ethnic descrimination than legitimate evidence that he was part of a conspiracy. If Viorst's case is correct (and I am not certain that it is) what we have here is a case of a justice department so desperate to look as if it is waging successful battle against enemies real and perceived that it cares not a whit either about being effective or about the very principles that we are supposed to be defending. These days it seems that incompetence merely re-enforces arrogance which is buttressed by self-righteousness in a downward spiral.

Dude, We've Got a Dell

It is time to recognize someone working for the Bush government who is doing brave and impressive things. Christopher Dell, Ambassador to Zimbabwe, has now on several occasions spoken out against Robert Mugabe's regime. He recently accused mugabe's government of "burgeoning corruption," which, by the standards of reality in Zim, is actually tepid criticism. Nonetheless, Dell's words have raised the ire of Mugabe, which in and of itself warrants commendation. (The linked piece also includes a brief interview)

Then-secretary of State Colin Powell swore Dell in August 2004. Prior to his swearing in, Dell had served as Ambassador to Angola. He also served in several capacities in Africa during the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations and in a number of international posts in the Reagan administration. Dell's future in Zimbabwe will be worth keeping an eye on, as Mugabe is capable of just about anything. Don't be surprised if Mugabe kicks Dell out of Zimbabwe. If so, the president should immediately establish Dell in a high-profile post in South Africa where he can push Thabo Mbeki's government finally to act against its neighbor to the northeast.

Colbert and the Correspondents

I have little to say about whether or not Steven Colbert, whose show I love, was funny at the White House Correspondents Association dinner a couple of weeks ago. I thought parts were funny, parts were biting -- and were meant to be -- and that the fact that he was so acerbic toward the media meant that they were not going to be inclined to give him much of a fair shake. James Wood has the best analysis I have seen.

Events like the coverage of Colbert at the dinner help to give the lie to the intellectually vacant myth of the liberal media. Conservatives seem to know this, finally, because in the last two years they have embraced this meaningless construct, the "mainstream media," which no one has ever defined, because when used (and the left has adopted this dopey nomenclature as well) all the speaker or writer really means is "stuff I read or hear that disagrees with me."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jacob Zuma's Future in the ANC

Today's New York Times editorial page rightfully excoriates the behavior of Jacob Zuma, the former South African deputy president who was acquitted of rape charges on Monday. As the editors argue, "during the trial he admitted to behavior so irresponsible that his future political activity deserves to be limited to voting."

The question remains: Will this be the case? Will Zuma be relegated to the role of political observer? The Mail & Guardian indicates that Zuma's return to the ANC is not just a formality.certainly his ability to return as deputy president has been compromised. Zuma was caught up in several corruption scandals as well, and indications are that the rape charges were simply the last straw, and not the whole reason, for Mbeki and his cohort giving Zuma the gentle push from the ANC fold. Zuma has been sending mixed messages for the last couple of days about whether he believes the party will welcome him back.

My guess is that he will be allowed to return to the party, but that the deputy presidency is a nonstarter. He will work to claw his way back, and because he has significant support, he will be reasonably successful, but I highly doubt whether he will be able to re-enter the rarefied air that had him one step removed from succession. Those days are gone. Zuma's decision will be whether to be a good soldier, or instead to play the populism card and be a burr within the party, or to leave and pose a challenge from without.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Barry Bonds and 713

I want Barry Bonds to pass Babe Ruth. I've made the argument a number of times -- Barry Bonds allegedly taking steroids, especially in an era when such use was rampant, and when they were not banned, no more warps his run for 714 than the fact that the Babe never faced black pitchers or outfielders or catchers who undoubtedly would have diminished his numbers. By how much we have no idea. But if that argument is good for Ruth, it is also good for Bonds. We do not know the effect that steroids have had on his numbers and we never will.

One of the main ways that critics of Bonds have concocted to counter the "steroids were not banned" argument is by asserting "yes, but they were illegal." On a number of occasions I have countered that response by pointing out that the 1986 Mets were as coked up as Tony Montana, and I have not yet heard an outcry to grant the Red Sox the 1986 World Series title. But forget the peripheral analogy. Let's be more explicit.

One cannot read, watch or hear anything about Babe Ruth these days without references to his lifestyle. And in those references we always hear about how he lived large. Babe Ruth loved to eat. He loved women. He loved alcohol. But here is the thing: Among the women he loved were a good number of prostitutes. Prostitution was illegal then as now. (Ask the ghost of heavyweight Jack Johnson about prostitutes if you want a perspective on how some athletes could get caught up in the legal system for consorting with hookers. By the way, Jack Johnson was black. Have I pointed out that had he been a baseball pitcher of comparable talent he never would have been able to strike out Babe Ruth?) Oh, and alcohol? In the 1920s? I'll let you complete the thought. But let's just say that steroid use never prompted a successful Constitutional Amendment allowing for their prohibition.

So enough on the illegality of Bonds' steroid use being in and of itself sufficient to make him unworthy of as player whose very reputation was predicated on blithely breaking the law, and whose numbers are inflated by the fact that he did not get to face some of the best players of his era. We can talk if and when Bonds approaches Henry Aaron's record. Until then, I am more than happy to have the greatest player I have ever seen (and, if you are younger than 40, the greatest player you have ever seen too) pass the Sultan of Strumpets.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jacob Zuma: Not Guilty

South Africa's beleaguered former Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, has been found not guilty of charges that he raped a 31-year-old HIV positive woman. This case has electrified South Africa and have led to a tectonic shift in South African politics. reactions, not surprisingly, have been mixed. What remains to be seen is what place Zuma will have at the table of South African politics. much like another pariah figure, Winnie Madikazela Mandela, Zuma has a loyal and vocal following. The African National Congress now has a tightrope to walk.

Buddy Holly Goes to College

The Boston Globe has a fascinating story on Weezer frontman and pretty smart dude Rivers Cuomo, who is soon set to graduate from Harvard, where in his tenure he has only earned two grades -- a B+ and an A- -- that were not A's. Plus Weezer is a pretty freaking great rock band.

More TNR on Sudan

Melissa Katz accuses the US of appeasement in Sudan, which sounds about right. For a deeply affecting slideshow of Michal Ronnen Safdie's photographs, go here.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Who Can Teach?

Alison Lobron, a teacher at the elite Concord Academy in the shadow of Walden Woods outside of Boston, announces "I'm Unqualified to Teach Your Kids." In so doing she reminds us all of the silliness of most state teacher licensing systems, and of course of the utter vacuity of the fact that "education specialists" (I blame the university education departments, which should be seriously pared down to only dealing with elementary and special education) so often are in charge of education.

Her solution is so obvious, we know it will likely never happen:

. . . when it comes to teacher hiring, the Department of Education would do well to consider how independent schools define qualified. At the very least, the department should expand its definition so applicants who have taught in private schools or universities can substitute work experience for additional education credits. Ideally, the state would create a waiver system so that a series of positive evaluations from parents, students, and supervisors -- typically the method private schools use in deciding whether to retain new hires - could serve in lieu of state tests and education credits.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many academically accomplished people eager to work for a teacher's salary. But for the few who are, we shouldn't make life any harder.

Maybe someday these sorts of changes can occur. But I would not hold my breath as long as education theorists are in full self-preservation mode.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stupidest Assertion This Week

In today's H-Afro-Am listserv digest, someone made the following assertion: "Walmart is the modern slave plantation."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but are you fucking kidding me? We have to consider this as being at least as offensive as misplaced Nazi or Stalin analogies. Should we really have to explain to someone the difference between slave life on a plantation in the Old South and conditions as a worker for Wal Mart? In particular, should we really have to explain that difference to someone contributing to a scholarly listserv of African American studies? A couple of years back I had a student in my Modern Africa class who was grappling with the Rwandan genocide, and she blurted out "that's exactly like what is going on in West odessa." I had to correct her and point out howe monumentally offensive an assertion hers was, and how it lacked any sense of perspective. But that was a student who had never been exposed to African atrocities on that level. In this case, we are talking about someone aware enough to participate on a scholarly listserv, probably a professor or a graduate student.

Wal Mart has significant problems with how it treats its workers and a whole host of other issues. I am not about to defend the company, its ethos, or anything else. But can we not take its shortcomings on its own terms? Are we that intellectually bankrupt that something can not be just bad, or bad on its own terms, but rather it must be "slave plantation" bad? One would think that this analogy would be especially offensive to people who are descended from slaves. I will be curious to see if this person gets a free pass. Given that we inhabit an academic climate where in some circles inane hyperbole is not only the fashion, but is seen as legitimate, reasoned argument, I'm afraid I do not hold out much hope.