Thursday, November 30, 2006

Free Darko

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

Must See TV

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

Go Bobcats!

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

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

Memories of Garcia Major

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

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

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

Degradation and Such

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

Blood Diamonds Run Dry?

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

Best Forward in College Basketball?

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rauchway on Grad School; Also on the N-Word

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

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

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

Rauchway is fast becoming one of my favorite academic bloggers.

WaPo on Packing

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

Iran-Contra at Twenty

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Diarist Writes

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

Independents and the Election

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Case For Boise State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Midterm Lessons From History?

Beware journalists who want to teach you the lessons of history. Now that we have re-established that caveat, it is worth our while to read Peter Baker's article in today's Washington Post. In it, he offers "midtern survival tips" for President Bush, drawing especially from the lessons of Presidents Clinton and Reagan before him. I recently drew my own lessons from those midterms, so I suppose I would have been drawn to an argument like Baker's, especially when he couches his argument in qualifiers, such as:
Historical comparisons are always fraught with peril, since each president faces his own distinct challenges and brings unique faculties and flaws to the task. But veterans of past administrations see patterns that offer hope even to badly weakened presidents such as Bush. Adversaries who assume that Bush has been permanently crippled by the Democratic takeover of Congress, they say, misunderstand the opportunities still available to him.

My guess is that rather than taking advantage of opportunities, the President will instead pay lip service to bipartisanship and then will immediately start blaminmg Democrats for most all failures in the next two years. He will also get the opportunity to utilize his veto pen a great deal. It does not take much of an imagination to envision gridlock, finger pointing from all sides, and the earliest presidential campaign season in history. Oh joy.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The King Papers Project

Derrick Z. Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe, has written a two-part series on Martin Luther King, Jr. that has appeared over the past two weeks. (Part I is here, part II here.)Jackson appears to be writing in anticipation of the release of the 6th volume of the King papers from the King Papers Project of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. Clayborne Carson heads the project.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Post-Gluttony Quick Hits

Just some quick observations from the Starbucks in Southwest San Antonio across from a Best Buy where people began to camp overnight as early as 8:00 last night for this morning's shopping madness:

First, I will admit it: It looks as if on the whole I was wrong about Tony Romo. He has been incredible for the Cowboys. I still think Parcells could have handled the situation differently. And the Cowboys' offensive line could have saved Bledsoe's job by sucking less, like they do now for Romo. And I will not be surprised if Romo hits a wall. But so far the facts sem to indicate that the Cowboys are rejuvenated. It is better to be lucky than good.

In both basketball and football Boston College gets me every year. Why I thought they could get it done this year and make the BCS in the best chance they are likely to see in years (FSU and Miami down, lots of good but no other dominant teams, the best team in their division being Wake Forest, etc.) is beyond me. How could they not be ready to get it done last night and hope for Maryland to take out Wake? Vexing.

This Michael Richards thing has really thrown me for a loop. For one thing, it came out of nowhere. But above all, how can anyone in America these days come out with the N-bomb? Multiple N-bombs. And how do I consume Seinfeld now? I fully believe in using the power of consumerism to send a message, but given how Jerry seinfeld handled himself after all of this, which was nothing less than admirable, I don't really want to boycott the show. I guess I won't buy any dvd's, but I was not planning to anyway -- why would I buy dvd's for a show that is on cable all the time? Very perplexing.

I am the only person who seems to feel this way, but I would have preferred to have seen the power of the free market crush OJ into pulp rather than have his book and interview squashed. OK, maybe not the interview. But the book should have been made available once it was ready for publication. We can debate whether it deserved to get a contract to begin with, and I have to stay away from sharp objects for a day or so after every trip to the bookstore when I see what gets a major trade contract in light of the struggles of little guys like me, but OJ's crap was simply of a piece. Stifling it in such a way is alarming because of the ramification it has for the free market of ideas. That said, there was no way on earth I was getting anywhere near such a craven money grab and while I worry about the implications for free speech, I don't weep even a little for OJ.

I think I'm still full from yesterday.

No Winners in Africa?

So, despite losing by an overwhelming tally, former warlord and election runner up Jean-Pierre bemba and his destabilizing minions are raising hell (this is a dual M&G editorial -- scroll about halfway down though the first half, on ANC shenanigans, is worth reading as well) and making a mess of things. My good friend Dave has been monitoring the elections with the Carter Center, has been to Kinshasa several times, and as an indication of just how far the Congo has to go to become a viable democracy, he told me that the election was generally as fine as could be expected. 250,000 votes here and there went missing, but since those losses were fairly equal on both sides, he thinks the general outcome reflects the will of the population. Ye gads.

And don't expect a quick fix in the Congo either. Today's New York Times reports how seven years after democratization supposedly finally settled over Nigeria the country is still beset by corruption, chaos, violence and instability. Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. The Congo is vast and decentralized. If both became truly healthy democracies they could pave the way, alongside South Africa, for a true African Renaissance. As it is, however, they stand as the embodiment of the Big Man Syndrome, of the politics of anarchy, and of the deleterious role of western indifference to anything outside of plundering the spoils of natural resources.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Thanksgiving Spirit

In one simple act of generosity, which he recounts in this post, Holmeslice reminds us of the essence of Thanksgiving. I'm proud to say that he is my friend.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

A Valuable Rewrite

Over at his diary blog, Tom provides a necassary rewrite of a Thomas Ricks WaPo article. In Tom's words:
Unfortunately, Ricks and [his research assistant] chose to use the interviews to cherry-pick quotations that supported a seriously flawed, opinionated, and out of date news story. So, with no humility whatsoever, I helped Mr. Ricks with a rewrite that more accurately reflects the content of the interviews and the latest information on the training effort in Iraq.

From the intro to his entry and from speaking with him yesterday I get the hint that this led to a lot of consternation in Leavenworth.

Pre-Thanksgiving Quick Hits

Here is some brief commentary on a few of the stories that have crossed my way this morning:

The Mail & Guardian reports that Iran wants to throw its support behind Zimbabwe in the face of hostile nations, such as those noted tyrants the English. This pretty much tells you all you need to know. The "Axis of Evil" was a monumentally reductionist and poorly thought-out construction, but there are nation states whose leadership is irredeemable. Mugabe falls into this category, and if we needed moral clarity on this, Iran's embrace of them shines a pretty bright light.

At The New Republic online, Conor Clarke goes after the Congressional Black Caucus. While some of his shots hit their mark, I cannot help but wonder if his syllogism -- is the CBC good for blacks or really just good for black Congressmen -- does not miss the point of the CBC. I think that there is no shame in the idea that the CBC does exist to provide support, succor, guidance, and what have you for the black delegation in Congress. This is especially so when one considers how small that delegation was at the founding of the CBC. I also think some of his examples are sloppy, fo example when he acknowledges that the CDC promotes a program that is undoubtedly good for black Americans -- but it does not differ all that much from the Democratic agenda. Well whop-de-doo. If the question is how good is the CBC for blacks, and you acknowledge that their agenda is in fact good for blacks, then you have sort of answered your own question, haven't you? Or when he argues that the CBC rallied behind Louisiana Representative William Jefferson after Jefferson's recent shenanigans (including the mysterious decision to hide $90,000 in his freezer) one wonders if Clarke has been paying attention -- if there is cynicism on this front it is Congress-wide, as even Republicans were up in arms over the way the search was carried out. Why focus on the CBC on the Jefferson issue then?

Also at TNR online, James Kirchick gives the one-woman show "My Name is Rachel Corrie" what appears to be a well-deserved pummelling. Rachel Corrie was a victim of her own naivete. What happened to her is tragic, and I think that at points in the article Kirchick might be a bit uncharitable. But those who have decided to take on Corrie as their embodiment of righteousness are fools. Those who have compared her to Anne Frank are idiots. Ther article does a nice job of cutting the cult of Corrie off at the knees.

Meanwhile, a Republican student group at Boston University has taken it upon themselves to offer scholarships for whites to point out what they call "the absurdity of any race-based scholarship." There is absurdity afoot at BU, but it is not on the part of BU's support of whatever (and I would bet my lunch their numbers and scope are overstated) race-based scholarships Commonwealth Avenue's great private university offers. Here is the deal: The purpose of race-based scholarships is to do two things: To bring in members of historically underrepresented groups to campus who might otherwise go elsewhere and to close gaps that historic protection of whites created. The idea that white students somehow represent a morally equivalent group to black Americans is an odd reading of history and of the concept of "absurdity." But beyond that, you get with your racialist selves, BU Republicans. Offer a scholarship to whomever you would like. Because your approach is certainly going to do wonders for the perception of the GOP among the rest of us, and surely won't apply any stigma at all for the student recipients of your let's-hamhandedly-prove-a-point scholarships in the larger community. There are ways to discuss and debate affirmative action. I would submit that cheap stunts probably are not the way to go. The BU student Republicans have just added to the Jackassization of the current political climate without offering anything of substance. Huzzah.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be heading off to San Antonio where we'll be spending the Thanksgiving holiday. I will write if it is possible, but otherwise I wish all the best to you and yours.

Charles Dew on Slavery and the Constitution

My undergraduate advisor Charles Dew is both a truly great scholar of Southern history and is one of the finest men in the profession. I took his wonderful three-course sequence on Southern history at Williams and those classes largely explain why I do what I do. Professor Dew is a Williams alum and a native Southerner. In September he gave Williams' Constitution Day Lecture, which you can listen to here.. I still cherish the fact that I was able to develop a relationship with this wonderful teacher and writer. Enjoy.

African Jihadism

Africa is now at the forefront of jihadism in east Africa, replacing the Sudan, which, in case you have not noticed, is having its own problems. Gregory Alonso Pirio, an American author, has writtem The African Jihad: Bin Laden's Quest for the Horn of Africa, which will be published at the beginning of the New Year. You can see some details in this Mail & Guardian article.

Troop Commitments, Etc.

The latest Foundation for the Defense of Democracies "News & Notes" is posted with lots of good stuff. In recent weeks Alykhan Velshi has taken over for Cliff May, whom Condi Rice tagged to be on a special democratization group.

I was particularly drawn to the following chart which provides a breakdown of American troop commitments worldwide, excluding Iraq:

73,500 Germany (EUCOM)
41,360 South Korea (PACOM)
40,680 Japan (PACOM)
38,160 Kuwait-OIF (CENTCOM)
11,965 Italy (EUCOM)
9,877 United Kingdom (EUCOM)
8,500 Afghanistan-OEF (CENTCOM)
4,500 Bahrain (CENTCOM)
4,490 Guam (PACOM)
3,300 Qatar (CENTCOM)
2,306 Cuba (NORTHCOM)

I also tend to agree with Velshi's analysis: "the Cold War is over, and Germany is no longer at risk of an imminent Easterly ground invasion. And why are there more troops in Italy than in Afghanistan?" It's a good question and one that warrants an answer.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Feudin' and Fussin' (and Fairness)

For the non-academics in the audience, this may be a lot of inside baseball. Feel free to skip it.

This past weekend's New York Times Book Review has a fascinating article on the diminishing art of the litarary feud. The argument runs that they are less frequent, less interesting, and less prominent than they once were, and that compared to their peers in the UK, American writers don't see getting themselves embroiled in such public spats to be worth their while.

This got me thinking about historians and other nonfiction writers. This past weekend at the Southern's meeting in Birmingham I had a conversation with a very distinguished historian who recently wrote a review in one of the most prominent weekly newspaper book review sections in the country of a book that I happen to be reviewing currently. "I was probably nicer to it than I should have been," he told me conspiratorially. I understood him completely. In my own work, I tend to write a lot of book reviews, and while I have written a couple that could pass as ruthless, on the whole I either try to find strengths in the books I review or at least I downplay their weaknesses. In some cases, such as in a review essay, the best way to address a disappointing book is to discuss the work in passing and make the essay about the topic as a whole.

But there is one area in which historians, at least, tend not to listen to the better angels of their natures. That area is the anonymous reader's report. In theory (and only in theory) the academic review process is double blind; that is, the author of the work does not know the name of the reviewer(s) and the reviewers are not supposed to know the names of the author. This second half of the equation rarely happens in practice. I have received more than my share of reader's reports that used my name: "Catsam has produced a __________ work," things like that. Except where I have done detective work, however, I have never known the names of my readers, positive or negative.

This is where the problems arise. I have had my work reviewed enough times to know that while I am probably not the most gifted of my generation of historians, I produce reasonably good, readable work. I've read enough reviews, positive, negative, and lukewarm to have a pretty good sense of when a reader is grinding an axe, has missed the point, or is simply an irascible jerk. In the anonymous review process the very person whose identity ought to be protected -- the author's -- is usually either well known or a poorly kept secret; meanwhile the very person for whom anonymity only protects responsibility -- the reader -- is protected to say any damned fool thing. This system, not surprisingly, tends to produce reader's reports the tone of which are out of all proportion to the alleged sins any author might have committed.

One of the problems with the supposedly double-blind review process is that it gives the reader too much power. It is as simple as that. Even the most senior reader is likely not as much of an expert on the precise topic that is the subject of the article or book under review as the writer, and yet anonymity protects the reader to make brazen assertions about a writer's work that might actually be debateable. And if the assertions are debateable, don't those views deserve a public hearing? More importantly, shouldn't the author get to know who is casting the criticism? I am a big fan of opening up the process -- of removing anonymity and of giving writers a chance to respond to reader's reports before the revision process.

I have learned a great number of lessons from this process, however, beyond the fact that lots of academics are jerks who write things under the cover of anonymity that would almost assuredly earn them a smack to the teeth if said in public in the same tone and with the same dismissiveness as appears in their reviews. I am on the editorial board of a couple of small journals, and have begun to be asked to review larger projects by some presses, and having been on both sides of both positive and negative reports, I have drawn a few lessons from the process that I hope makes me less of a jerk than I might otherwise be. I'd like to think these rules are fairly widely applicable.:

1) Tone it down, killer. Only a very small number of people will be reading these things -- oftentimes as few as three -- you, the editor, and the author. There is no sense going on the warpath. No one is going to be impressed by the rigor of your written assaults -- you are not the star of this show, even if you have been granted the capacity to be the gatekeeper.

2) The point is to approve, reject, or ask for revisions. If you plan to do either the first or the second, you do not have to say that much. If you find that a work is truly bad, you can simply reject it without comment, or say a few things about a couple of areas where the shortcomings need a lot of work. Most submissions fall into the third area. If you want someone to revise and resubmit, constructive criticism is the only contribution that is needed from you. Chennelling your inner dickhead just gets in the way.

3) Know what you don't know. I made this point above, but the odds are that the author knows more about their topic, usually by a long way, than you do. This holds even if you are a senior person or an "expert in the field." So a little humility is in order. In a particularly galling reader's report I received a couple of years back, the reader was outraged that I did not consult an archival source that does not exist; was galled that I did not look at the reports of journalists who were not there; corrected facts that were not wrong. A little humility on the part of this writer might have both tempered their displeasure with my manuscript and might well have helped me to make undoubtedly necessary improvements to make the work better -- which really should be the point. (By the way -- I had my moment when Michael Corleone discovers in Cuba that Fredo has betrayed him with this same reader, who actually has a reputation for eviscerating much of what he reads, to the point where at least two prominent presses no lonmger will use him.)

4) Along these lines, know that you simply might be wrong. Nothing is more galling than receiving three different and widely varying reports as I did recently from a highly respected journal: Accept with minor revisions, accept with major revisions, and reject unconditionally. Despite the fact that the journal's editors disagreed with the person who said to reject unconditionally, they included that report, and it inevitably made me mad but also, and I don't want to sound too pathetic here, it did what these sorts of reports inevitably do: it made me feel like crap about myself, about my work, and about a project I spent quite a lot of time working on. And yet two other readers, presumably equal in status to the first, did not see the piece as worthless. In other words, among experts in the field, the person was quite possibly wrong.

5) Related to this last point, remember that there is a person on the other side of your withering evaluation. And that more than likely, this person is not your enemy. Seriously -- as important as history is, it's still just a journal article or book destined to be looked at by, well, maybe hundreds of people. You are not slaying dragons here. You are not saving the world from evil. You are simply helping to decide the fate of a paper. And in this endeavor, you might be fallible.

And to toot my own horn a little bit, for one of these journals for which I am on the editorial board, among several senior people whose work I respect very much, I am developing a reputation for being the most reliable, scrupulous, and fair reviewer they use on a regular basis. (At least the editor of the journal told me as much. maybe he says that to all of the girls.) I follow my own rules, I really try not to be a jerk, I know the process is not about me, I understand that even work I do not think is ready for prime time was produced by a person who both has feelings and who knows a lot more than I about some things in this field, and in the end I really do try not to say anything that I would not say to someone sitting across from me at a bar. There is a time and a place to drop the gloves. The anonymous review process is not that place.

More China and Africa

In this week's New York Times Magazine James Traub has a long feature on "China's Africa Adventure." I addressed the issue of "China's Dual-Edged Sword in Africa" a couple of weeks ago. Africa will represent a pretty good backdrop for China's intended global policy over the course of the next few decades and our policy makers would be wise to keep a close eye on what goes on there. This is yet another of many reasons why Africa matters.

Hamby on Spalding, Truman and the Cold War

My graduate advisor, mentor, and friend Alonzo Hamby has a typically brilliant review of Elizabeth Edwards Spalding's The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism. Here is a tiny slice of the essay, from hamby's conclusion:
It is tempting to argue with this book on many secondary issues, but Elizabeth Edwards Spalding has the one big issue right. It was Harry Truman who defined containment, not George Kennan. And that was a good thing.

(Hat tip to History News Network, which recently republished Hamby's article.)

State of the (South African) Nation

The Human Sciences Research Council has published the fourth annual edition of State of the Nation, a vibrant collection of essays asessing all facets of South Africa's still young democracy. State of the Nation rewpresents a successor to the South African review, whioch operated in different times under far different conditions. What makes the State of the Nation so vital is that it is strongly supportive of the ideals of the South African Constitution and thus of the expressed goals of the ANC yet is unflinching in its criticism of the governing party. As a consequence the HSRC is maybe the most respected observer of South African life and politics operating today.

Roger Southall, who wrote the article linked above, is one of the most visible members of the HSRC, is founding editor of State of the Nation, is a prolific student of African politics, and was a long-time politics professor at Rhodes University. I know Roger, mostly from my time at Rhodes, though I doubt very much that he remembers who I am.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pimping Seth Meyers

I'm back from a wonderful weekend in Birmingham (and a whirlwind trip to Atlanta) and need a little bit of time to decompress, sleep, and detoxify.

I do want to share this Boston Globe interview with Saturday Night Live star (and now head writer), friend of the Thunderstick, and Bleeding Red blurb-writer extraordinaire, Seth Meyers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Self-indulgence Alert

History News service has distributed my latest op-ed piece, The Unpredictability of an Unhappy Electorate. HNS sent it all across this great land of ours, and even into Canada and abroad. Here is a taste from the first couple of paragraphs:
The confetti has begun to settle after the latest election. The Democrats have congratulated themselves, the Republicans have pointed fingers, and the pundits have tried to convince us that they knew all along that this was precisely what would happen.

One of the preferred approaches of conservative pundits has been to whistle past the graveyard by asserting that the Democratic victories of Nov. 7 represent little more than the typical tilting of a midterm election toward the party out of power. But with apologies to Tolstoy, what we have instead learned is that while happy electorates are all alike, every unhappy electorate is unhappy in its own way.

Look for it in a newspaper near you. Or just click on the link and read it for free. Cheapskate.

I'll be leaving town for the Southern Historical Association's annual shindig tomorrow morning. The meeting is in Birmingham, and I am on the program with what should be a wonderful panel on the Freedom Rides Saturday afternoon at the famous Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. If you are in the neighborhood, drop on by. I will post as I can.

Matsuzaka Redux

Apparently the Sox bid $51+ million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, $10 million more than previous estimates. But they did win the bidding. (Here is Gordon Edes' story from this morning's Globe and here is Bob Ryan's column today.)

This fuels a point I have been making for a couple of years now. The beauty of being a team in the financial position of the Red Sox is that they can afford to play what I have called "Moneyball Plus." They can adhere to the tenets of Moneyball -- finding inefficiencies in the market place, relying on evaluation and statistical standards that go beyond the sometimes hackneyed old baseball tropes, and so forth but at the same time they can afford to pay for the inefficiencies inherent in the highest-echelons of the free agent and high-level trade market. The Red Sox can play it smart but still can afford to make mistakes. It is a nice position in which to find oneself.

Suffice it to say that the following has me giddy:

"If they can sign him, they've got the best pitcher in the market, and he may be the best pitcher in baseball when all is said and done," said one American League general manager last night. "He's got five outstanding pitches.

All of this simply re-enforces my view that anything other than making a serious effort to sign Matsuzaka would be insane. Pitchers and catchers report in approximately 92 days.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

James Fallows in China

Over at the Atlantic online James Fallows presents and narrates a photo sideshow from China. There will be a related article in December's magazine. Although he reports from Shanghai, so much of his experience reminds me of my time in Beijing this past summer.

The Daisuke Matsuzaka Watch

Peter Gammons is reporting that the Red Sox have submitted the high bid on Japanese superstar pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The bidding process involves clubs submitted sealed bids to a player's host franchise (in this case the cash-strapped Seibu Lions, who own Matsuzaka's contract rights). The Sox allegedly put in the high bid of $42 million. If this is the case, and if the Lions accept the bid, the Red Sox will have exclusive negotiation rights with Matsuzaka and his agent, the notoriously tough (I won't characterize him further, or more accurately, for fear of jinxing things) Scott Boras, for thirty days. If that time elapses without an agreement in place, the prized right-handed starter will go back to the Lions until he is a free agent at the end of the next Japanese season.

Not reaching a deal would seem to benefit neither side. There has been some speculation that the Sox simply submitted the highest bid to prevent the Yankees from signing him, but this seems off to me for several reasons. Not the least of these is that eventually Matsuzaka will be on the open market, free for all to pursue, and if so, the Sox will destroy any hope of landing him, or of keeping him away from the Yankees, by acting in bad faith now.

But beyond that, why would the Red Sox not want to make an earnest effort to land the best free agent on the market in a weak year for pitchers in which the best two starters available, Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, both overrated starters whose numbers are fading (especially the telling K to BB ratio) and who have never had to pitch in a hothouse environment like Boston or the Bronx, will demand a king's ransom? And on top of all of this, the Red Sox have been one of the savviest teams in terms of tapping and promoting foreign markets. Why they would squander such a precious opportunity in the Asian market is beyond me. Boras will drive the negotiations into the ground before taking anything less than his client's perceived value, but he also won't sabotage Matsuzaka's career, which is destined to play out its next phase in the Major Leagues.

We will know tomorrow at 8:00 pm if the rumors are true, but Gammo is back, and while I sometimes wonder about his writing and his tendency, among other things, to overinflate character strengths in guys he likes, there is little question about the size of his rolodex and the credibility of his sources. The Red Sox will strike the first significant blow in what promises to be another exciting Hot Stove League. No longer is the offseason all about the Sox and Yanks, but no offseason is complete without their mind games and one-upsmanship. My guess is that watching an 83-win team take the World Series led to some soul searching on Yawkey Way and down at the Toilet, and that neither team is going to be satisfied to let the action come to them over the course of the next three months.

Update: Here is the Boston Globe's story, which reports that even as the bid (which might be closer to $50 million) appears set to give Sox excusivity rights, Theo has made offers to two free agent pitchers. Giddiness envelopes dcat nation.

Duck on a Rock

A new bonanza of documents, pictures, and mementos from James Naismith, who created the game of basketball while teaching at what would become Springfield College (dcat's uncle John's alma mater, fyi) has just turned up as part of a serendipitous find by Naismith's granddaughter. Sports historians and basketball fans will be especially interested in this new trove of information that gives us a great deal more insight into the emergence of a now international sport that developed from a Canadian children's game called "Duck on a Rock."

Baseball seems to have an infinitude of creation myths. Most other sports emerged in relative obscurity by comparison, and yet these new discoveries (to be auctioned off in December) will help us to continue to piece together a vital time in the emergence of modern sporting culture. One hopes that the intact collection becomes part of a public archive and museum rather than the botty of a memorabilia collector or professional egoist.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tom Bruscino Inc.?

The Tom Bruscino media empire grows with the introduction of Tom's webpage, which he describes as a "clearinghouse for all my electronic writings, and a gateway to future work."

"I Am Macaca" Speaks

S.R. Sidarth, the University of Virginia senior and Jim Webb campaign worker who was the target of George Allen's infamous "Macaca Moment" racial slur has written a compelling op-ed piece for the Washington Post. Before mid-August, Allen was on his way to an overwhelming victory in the Virginia Senate campaign despite growing allegations of Allen's unsavory past on the matter of race. Then at Breaks Interstate Park (I spent a couple of days at Breaks in the summer of 2004 at the end of my NEH seminar on Appalachia -- it is spectacular) Allen let loose with his obscure racial slur, and the tides turned. It is impossible, in a close election, to discern what made the difference, but we can be certain that people's serious concerns about Allen's racism brought Webb supporters to the table, raised turnout, and damaged any outreach toward minority voters that Allen may have otherwise been able to undertake. Sidarth's piece shows the fundamental decency on the part of vast numbers of Virginians, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, but it also shows, as he writes:
The politics of division just don't work anymore. Nothing made me happier on election night than finding out the results from Dickenson County, where Allen and I had our encounter. Webb won there, in what I can only hope was a vote to deal the race card out of American politics once and for all.

Oh -- and he also explains that haircut.

The Curse of Some Suburban Dude

I just found out that I now hate the Houston Dynamoes so much! (Apparently the Revs, which is what we cognoscenti call them, have been to three MLS finals in recent years and have lost them all. I am going to write a book about the Curse of some guy who has consigned Revolution fans to a hellish existence that will come to define us. Any suggestions for who that guy might be would be most welcome.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Too Hot to Handle"

The Boston Globe Magazine has a lengthy, provocative article that carries with it a stumper: "From date rape to racism to gay rights, America's universities have long provided a forum for openly debating our most divisive and controversial issues. so why can't they talk rationally about Israel?" I'm not certain the article answers its own question, but it certainly goes a long way in showing the divisiveness of the issue on campuses. In the last few years I have certainly seen up close (as have readers of my blogs and some of my articles) the inability of most people to have a reasonable discussion on this topic.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Sorry for the abrupt absence. Family emergency with the in laws-to-be took me to San Antonio unexpectedly. I'll write and respond to comments as I can, possibly not before Monday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

They Really, Really Like Us

In what was huge news here on campus, Newsweek shined a little light on my little west Texas university, and they liked what they saw.

Here is the excerpt that has folks here giddy:

[Two recent studies] show that the best-known campuses aren't always the best place to get an education. In the Texas system, for example, Carey found that the UT campus with the most freshman-to-senior-year academic growth was Permian Basin, which accepts 95 percent of applicants. In Florida, the top earners graduated from Florida International University—not the flagship Gainesville campus.

We get 'em in and we coach 'em up. There are worse things that can be said for a bunch of university professors, even if you have never heard of us.

China's Dual-Edged Sword in Africa

To put it in the simplest terms, China is countenancing genocide in the Sudan. But equally simply, China might be emerging as the best partner Africa has, a country committed to Africa's development in ways that the rest of the world ought to observe and from which we ought to learn. earlier this week the New York Times emphasized China's growing role in Africa in an important article, "China Courts Africa, Angling for Strategic Gains."

China's role in Africa allows us a glimpse at our China dilemma in microcosm. China is vast, powerful, and pretty much immovable. The Chinese policy (a few notable exceptions -- Taiwan being the most prominent -- notwithstanding) of national sovereignty above all coupled with their sometimes callous disregard for human rights and human lives makes them a vexing world power. That China is reaching out to the rest of the world holds out both promise and peril. Let us hope that we can help promote the former while curbing the latter, but we need to be aware that force and coersion are simply not on the table as viable options in dealing with Beijing.

Allen Concedes

Once those late votes came in from NoVa the writing was on the wall. George Allen has conceded, Jim Webb will take his senate seat, and the Democrats will have control of both houses of Congress.

This does not invalidate my argument about the GOP turning on a dime on the issue of recounts. Both George Allen and Conrad Burns were ready to fight for every last vote, which was their right to do and which I would have supported fully. That the gaps proved to be too much for any reasonable person to think they could overcome in a recount should be of no moment. In close elections recounts are an essential and necessary component of the democratic process. There is nothing ideological about calling for them, nor does it make a candidate a poor loser to want an accurate vote count after months of campaigning and years of preparation.

Hamilton Richardson, Rest in Peace

Ham Richardson, an American tennis great and Rhodes Scholar who overcame diabetes to reach the top ranks of American tennis for more than a decade died on Sunday night. He was the father of a dear friend, Ken. our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Here is the New York Times' obit, and here is Tennis Week's.


This could also be called the "Jaime Aguila Living Memorial Post," because Jaime likes him some hamburgers. MSN has a guide to the best places to get a burger in twenty-one cities in the United States. Well, what are you waiting for? It's lunchtime somewhere!

Feel free to add your own favorite burger joint, especially if you don't live in or near one of these cities. I'll start: Jo Jo's on University Boulevard here in Odessa. I'd suggest the green chili cheeseburger. Jo Jo's is a roadside eatery that is shaped like a hamburger, so you know it's good, with a vast menu of greasy and fried yumminess.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


And so in what has become a post-election ritual, we sit and wait and wonder. If you are like me (God help you) your mouse grows accustomed to clicking the refresh button on multiple websites. All eyes are on Virginia (Montana just went into the confirmed column, apparently) as both sides line up the lawyers and the advocates and the talking heads. Let the games begin, gentlemen start your engines, let's get ready to rumble and all that.

So how big a night was it for the Democrats? From a literalist standpoint, until all of the votes are counted we still do not know. The Democrats won the House overwhelmingly, whatever the final results read, in a landslide transformation that certainly rivals anything in the post-New Deal era in terms of significance. As is the nature with Senate races, in which only a third of the hundred seats are up for election in any given cycle, any Democratic gains were destined to be more moderate. The conventional wisdom going in was that the Democrats might make it close but would have to run a table of tight races to take over the upper chamber. There was a lot of talk about a Republican Firewall consisting of Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Montana, but it appears that the wall broke. Democrats took Missouri, seem to have won Montana, and lost Tennessee (thanks largely to good old fashioned race baiting -- you stay classy, Southern Republicans; Harold Ford still gave one of the great concession speeches of our era and he will be back). It looks as if when the dust clears the Democrats will take Virginia. If that occurs, we will be looking at a bare Democratic majority once the two Independent winners, Joe Lieberman (anyone want to place odds how long it will be before he is back solidly in the Democratic fold?) and iconoclast and (pseudo?)Socialist Bernie Sanders are included in the Democratic caucus. But it will be a majority nonetheless, with all of the perquisites -- committee chairmanships, the power to investigate and subpoena, control of the judicial nominee steering process, etc. -- that entails.

Some might say that for a supposed sea change, the Democrats only took a razor-thin lead in the Senate, but that is to misunderstand the very nature of Senate elections. With only 33 seats up for grabs, the Democrats needed massive a shift to come close, and they got it -- they held every one of their seats (the majority that were contested) and may have grabbed six GOP seats. Arguing that the Democratic majority is slim and thus meaningless might allow GOP advocates to sleep a little easier. It will not mar the reality of what has taken place.

One of the most interesting tectonic shifts to have culminated yesterday came in New Hampshire where not only did the incumbent Republican House members discover they would have a lot of time and fewer DC commutes on their hands, but for the first time in more than a century the New Hampshire House and Senate went to the Democrats, and the Governorship is in the party's hands. My home state, always believed to be more conservative than it is, certainly by Bush-era definitions of conservatism, has both shown its iconoclastic nature, indicates the depth to which the Republican Party has sunk in the northeast, and suddenly has made itself very relevant for the Democratic primaries for 2008, the race for which kicked off, oh, last night at about midnight. (It also is worth noting that Massachusetts made history as well by electing the state's first black governor and only the nation's second, and by an overwhelming margin of 20 points.) On the whole, in fact, a hidden but equally important story that emerges from yesterday's news is the fact that Democrats are ascendant at the state level in the majority of the country.

Given the overwhelming success of the Democrats nationwide (with the South an increasingly isolated outlier for the most part) I think a word of praise for Howard Dean's 50-state strategy is in order. Maligned early in the year for wasting money on states that some strategists believed were lost causes, Dean stuck to his guns, took a national approach, and lo and behold, a slim victory in traditional GOP stronghold Montana might help catapult the Democrats to majority status in the legislative branch. For a lot of people Dean's screaming rictus will forever be frozen in amber but the reality is that for all of the skepticism about Dean (and I have been as up-front about that skepticism as anyone) any fair assessment of the election will have to give Howard Dean a great deal of credit, something that would have seemed laughable just two years ago.

Meanwhile, how can we not take pleasure in the fact that recount fever has suddenly struck the Republican Party? So now it's a good idea to make sure all of the votes are counted. Gotcha. I'm curious as to what, if anything, might have changed. My advice to Democrats? Remain consistent from 2000: It is important that we get the right result, that all votes be counted, that the most important thing is the integrity of the democratic system. Not only is this the right approach, but at that point the Democrats will have won the debate. It was only a matter of time before this happened. Why not rejoice in the rampant self-serving hypocrisy of the Republicans? It appears that Webb will go into any recount with a lead numbering in the thousands, a tally that will almost assuredly hold up unless there are serious irregularities, which we should want to have straightened out no matter what it does to the results. Democrats can confirm victory, watch Republicans trip all over themselves, and maybe learn a few things about the lengths to which they might go in an era of electronic voting. It could be a win-win situation.

I'll go into the historical analogues and the implications for Democrats at a later date, but there is one more rich anecdote that I think is telling. In the last week John Kerry was baselessly accused of disrespecting the troops even though his prepared remarks clearly indicate that he intended to make a (admittedly unfunny) joke at the expense of the president. The GOP and their chattering class minions of course ran with that patent falsehood knowing its falsity because there were points to be scored. Kerry did not demean the troops. So I hope that President Bush today receives the same amount of attention with the same level of opprobrium after uttering the following at his press conference this afternoon:

I thought when all was said and done that the people would understand the importance of taxes, and the importance of security.

So let me get this straight: Millions of Americans just don't get it because they exercised their will through the democratic process. We are all just too dumb, I guess. I look forward to the outrage from the same folks who worked themselves up into a lather over Kerry's misrepresented remarks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Midterm Elections

Possibly the most intriguing midterm election campaign in decades comes to an end today and the rubber meets the road: A majority of American voters will stay home and a committed (plus a practically coerced) minority will determine the direction of the American political system. This is a vital point that those of us who thrive on being in the middle of the storm forget -- most Americans do not care, do not perceive a vested interest, and do not know much about today's races.

For a lot of people, there is probably an element of relief where for that engaged minority there is a sense of anticipation. Both sentiments are understandable.

The idea of no more hate-filled and misleading political ads, no more fake outrage (well, good luck getting rid of that, but maybe it will diminish to a low throb as opposed to a shrill scream), no more experts passing guesses off as fact (ok, so maybe ditto that one) has to be a welcome one for even the most devoted political observer.

But for many of us, the day will build slowly and almost torturously. The first exit polls won't be available for another hour or two, and as we've seen in the past, exit polls are at best tea leaves. They are not worthless, but it is probably best not to look to them as infallible guides to what goes on in the voting booth, where people tend to defy certitude and expectation. By about the time that the major evening news anchors start powdering and primping things will slowly start shaping up on the east coast. But keep in mind that we already know the outcome of the overwhelming majority of today's races. Those that hold out mystery are also likely to keep their secrets deep into the night. In some cases possibly longer. Imagine the composition of the House hinging on a contested vote count in New Hampshire or the Senate vote coming down to un-recountable Diebold machines in Virginia or Rhode Island. Oh the things we'll see . . .

Recent polls indicate that the aggregate race, once perceived to be a blowout for the Democrats, has tightened. This will inevitably lead to arguments that the Democrats peaked too soon. I do not believe it. My guess is that a lot more voters than we believe already knew what they were going to do upon entering the voting booth and that polls, while useful, are simply overwhelmed by the complexity of the real numbers that appear on any given election day. Had the election occurred two weeks ago the results would have looked a lot like what they will look like at midnight tonight. That is to say, most people who go in undecided or make the decision to vote today would have made that decision when they had to and would have voted as they will today.

I was always suspicious of the talk of an epochal landslide win for the Democrats. Which is not to say that the Dems are not going to win -- they are. The question is, will they win by a healthy enough majority in enough different races to allow them to take back the House and Senate? If my own reading of things is any indication, the Democrats taking both chambers will require a lot of things to go right. The Senate seems less likely than the House to fall if only because Senate races are so much bigger and in most cases incorporate so many more voters that the party inertia tends to take control -- Americans tend to be pretty divided politically, and pretty evenly at that. A Senate race is far less likely to come down to a "throw the bums out" reaction than a much smaller House race.

If forced to predict I would say that we can anticipate a Senate that is pretty much like what it was prior to January 2005 -- very closely divided. If that is the case, someone like Lincoln Chafee (see the post below) might find himself a very popular figure. Wishful thinking leads me to hope for a 51-49 divide for the Democrats, sparing folks such as myself the noxious prospect of Vice Preident Cheney marching in to the Senate chambers with that perpetual sneer on his face as he prepares to cast a tiebreaking ballot.

The House, on the other hand, tends to stand as America's political mood ring. Where gaining six seats in the Senate seems like a Sisyphean task in most election seasons, a 15-20 seat swing in the House, if not common, at least happens frequently enough to keep its members on their toes if they are unlucky to be in one of those increasingly rare contested districts. One almost imagines House voters storming the polls with pitchforks each time there is an election such as this one, when recriminations are flying, the party in power has a tenuous hold on power, and when the perceptions of failed leadership create a frenzy like blood in shark-infested waters.

So for those of you who are not junkies, it's almost over (until December or January, when we can start looking at the 2008 Presidential race in earnest!). For the rest of you, enjoy the day. Parse the exit polls. Keep checking your favorite sources for the latest news from Virginia and Maryland, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, California and New Mexico, Georgia and Florida. In just twelve hours from now we can start speculating on what it all means, mere hours after finding ourselves hopelessly wrong on our speculations of what it all could mean. Have fun.

Anecdotal Whispering Rumors

It might be best to file this under "wishful thinking," "loose-lipped rumor mongering," or simply "election day speculation," but if true, this is a whopper: Lincoln Chafee might be thinking of becoming a Democrat even if he wins. From Franklin Foer at The Plank:
I have a friend in Rhode Island--a Democrat torn between his affections for Lincoln Chafee and his desire to make Harry Reid majority leader. Over the weekend, my friend attended a Chafee event and cornered the senator. Now, my friend doesn't have a personal relationship with Chafee, but he put the question bluntly to him: Why should I stick with you in a race with so many national implications? Chafee pulled my friend aside, lowered his voice, and told him that he might not be a Republican for much longer.

This is just one report. Take it for whatever its worth.

Of course we will. But it does raise the possibility of part defections if the GOP hemmhorages seats today -- something I am beginning to doubt may be as extensive as appeared possible a couple of weeks ago. I've also been wondering, if Joseph Lieberman wins, will he be back in the Democratic fold within a few weeks or months?

I am going to try to write a long-ish post on the election today before we have a lay of the land but once at least a few votes have been cast.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Friend of dcat and fellow South Africanist British Rob has a new blog, Read, enjoy, call him a "wanker."

They'll Sell You The Whole Seat, But You'll Only Need The Edge

I'll just die if the New England Revolution do not defeat the Houston Somethingorothers in the MLS Cup on November 12.

A Halloween Diary

Tom has a new diary entry up in which he talks about Halloween. I'm in that interregnum between having kids but when I no longer go out of my way to look for chaos and internal organ damage, so Halloween of late consusts of spending time with friends with kids, eating too much candy, and convincing the women to go out for the bulk of the trick or treating while we sit around watching tv. I have become a reliable pumpkin carver, a useful if limited skill set.

Fare Thee Well, Elfin Ethicist

One of the longtime members of the dcat blogroll, The Elfin Ethicist, has called it quits. He has moved on the graduate school, feels the need for a clean break, and thus is folding up his tent. I hope he opens a new one once he has his footing.

A Bad Weekend

On balance, this was not the greatest of all weekends. Of course we have the Patriots' loss (see below) but also the fact that BC geeked their game against Wake Forest, a game that could have boosted them into the upper echelon of one-loss teams but that instead casts them back among the pack of marginal contenders. Borat, for reasons I do not want to contemplate, has not yet come ot the Odessa-Midland metroplex. And the end of the World Series did not mark the end of the incessant playing of that awful John Mellencamp truck commercial.

In the plus column, we had a totally awesome 80s Trivial Pursuit party on Saturday night in which i emerged as the big winner. I was also able to see Catch a Fire on Friday, which was great, if a bit on the grim side. (I hope to have more on the movie in the next day or two.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006


There really isn't much for Patriots fans to say. The Patriots lost because they deserved to lose. They turned the ball over five times, four on interceptions (at least two of which are directly on the receivers who let balls bounce off their hands) and looked utterly discombobulated on offense in the second half. The most perplexing part of that is that it seemed as if the Patriots felt a responsibility to go mano a mano against the Colts, to beat them by passing even though the Colts showed little sustained ability to stop the Patriot running attack. It was almost as if trying to win was not enough -- Belichick and company seemed determined to prove that they could win their way, that they needed to prove that they are the smartest coaches in the game. It is shocking in a lot of ways that they even had a chance at the end, though in keeping with the theme of the game, every time a window opened, someone on the New England side slammed it on their own fingers.

The Patriots are back in a fight for positioning now, tied with the Broncos, who have the tiebreaker, among other teams in the 6-2 range. But that's the NFL. Nothing is supposed to come easy and now Manning and the Colts get to ride the team of destiny thing for as long as they can hold out. They deserve it, as much as it pains me to say it. Hopefully this will be continued in January.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I have been looking forward to "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" for months now and plan to see it this weekend. I am pleased to see that the reviews coming in rave about this Sacha Baron Cohen vehicle. The calls it "scathingly funny." It is, according to Globe film critic Ty Burr:
a comic put-on of awe-inspiring crudity and death-defying satire and by a long shot the funniest film of the year. It is "Jackass" with a brain and Mark Twain with full frontal male nudity.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis review is slightly more coy:
Whether you rush for the exits or laugh until your lungs ache will depend both on your appreciation for sight gags, eyebrow gymnastics, sustained slapstick and vulgar malapropisms, and on whether you can stomach the shock of smashed frat boys, apparently sober rodeo attendees and one exceedingly creepy gun-store clerk, all taking the toxic bait offered to them by their grinning interlocutor.

Well, count me in. (Dargis too, who finally argues: "The brilliance of 'Borat' is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy.")

What Happens November 8?

The New York Times is the paper of record, and missteps in recent years aside, rightfully so. The Wall Street Journal is the best paper for finance, business, and the politics of finance and business. but for American politics, the Washington Post is far and away ahead of every other newspqaper in the country. This should come as no surprise, given that for the Post the national beat is the local beat. Their sterling work extends to their web coverage.

In recent weeks Chris Cilizza and Dan Balz have posted their Congressional Countdown. What is shocking to me about these numbers is that in recent days, when I expected some of the talk of a Democratic sweep to give way to what I assumed to be a more realistic asssessment of the Republican capacity to rally, the Countdown has consistently shown that the few seemingly safe GOP seats in contested races have been slipping into the toss-up column.

Next week before the election I am going to try to write something reasonably extensive about the Congressional race, but one of my chief concerns is the "now what?" factor for Democrats. This seems like the classic example of a case in which the party that wins could easily confuse the race with the ultimate goal, which should be to govern, to govern better, and to govern well. What the next two years ought not to be about is recriminations and witch hunts, though there will be a need for investigations in some areas, but that should not be the totality of Democratic strategy.

In sum, one of my concerns in recent weeks has come down to one question: Where is the Democratic party's Contract With America? I happen to believe (and I think history has vindicated my views) that the Contract With America was both largely symbolic, largely ineffectual, and largely bad for America. But at least Newt Gingrich understood that ideas have power and that part of the point of politics is to develop ideas and to implement them, however inperfectly, as policy. I wish that my party showed some sense of intellectual and policy direction beyond oppositionalism, though the party out of power of necessity has to rally behind the principle of opposition. November 7 should have been an essential part of the plan, but not the end point. A more important date, really, should be January 2007. What then?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Following a Hobbit in a Cotton Candy Field . . ."

Michael Crowley has a great anecdote at the Plank (via a story in the New York Times) that will fully appeal to the dcat audience:
When [New York Knicks forward] Jared Jeffries awoke from an anesthetic stupor on Tuesday, his first concern was not his surgically repaired wrist. It was his stomach. "I hadn't eaten for like 20 hours; I was delirious," Jeffries said. So much so, he said, that doctors told him he awoke babbling about a rather vivid dream: "I was following a hobbit in a cotton-candy field, chasing chili dogs."

We've all had that dream; few of us have been brave enough to articulate it.

The Kerry Campaign

I'll tell you what, that John Kerry is in trouble in his campai . . . wait, he's not running in this election? You mean his fundamentally innocuous poorly-delivered joke that was not funny to begin with but that no serious person believes was intended as a slur against American troops and that has resulted in a lot of sound and fury is merely a diversionary tactic? I'm stunned. My innocence is gone.

Update: Eve Fairbanks has a pretty good capsule summary of this farce over at the Plank.

Life Moves

Our boy Holmes has taken on a new job and a new challenge that will take him away from New England and down to my old stomping grounds in North Carolina. But in a wonderful post at Slice of Life, he's having a few second thoughts. This is must-read for anyone who has ever made a huge decision that involves major life transitions. Knowing his family makes it all the more poignant for me, but I'd place a bet that his essay about family and proximity and change will speak to you as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

George W. Bush, the T.R. of Today?

Tom has a fine article at Doublethink. I believe that he flatters Bush far too much with the TR comparison, but this long-awaited piece is certainly worth the wait. Of course it also belongs in a newspaper or at one of the major opinion journals, but we've covered that ground a great deal here at dcat.

Die Dood Groot Krokodil

PW Botha, the Great Crocodile who embodied and oversaw the last throes of white resistance to the changing tides of history in South Africa in the 1980s, died in his sleep Tuesday night at his home. Some of us had begun to believe that the ultimate embodiment of South Africa's securocrat state, who had established the "total strategy" against the perceived "total onslaught" of communist terrorists, would live forever. The bulk of my work on South Africa deals with the 1980s, so I feel as if I know Botha intimitely though reluctantly. The African National Congress, revealing the ongoing reconciliationist spirit in South Africa, has extended its sympathies in a way that many of us probably cannot.

The Mail & Guardian has its expected first-rate coverage of Botha's passing. In one piece, which accumulates tributes to the old apartheid warrior, Tony Leon, leader of the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, calls Botha a "reformer without results." The problem with this conception is that while there was some reform, there were all sorts of results under Botha's tenure in office. He oversaw an era of hidden hands and dirty tricks, ruthless covert operations during the States of Emergency that were characterized by the worst abuses of the apartheid era. In August 1985 Botha had his chance to engage in reform and push results, (which F.W. DeKlerk would finally carry out not even five years later) during a speech in which he was supposedly going to "Cross the Rubicon" into serious reform of the apartheid state. Instead in the much ballyhooed speech before the Natal National Party Conference in Durban, Botha ruled out significant concessions and explicitly denied that he would end apartheid. The Rubicon Speech revealed to the world the intransigence emanating from Pretoria and, in the ultimate unintended consequence, fueled a laggardly international community finally to disengage from its buttressing of the apartheid state.

Closer to the mark is the idea of Botha as the "kragdadige autocrat", the vigorous, strong, powerful authoritarian who ruled with an iron fist and a wagging vingertjie. What else explains the Rubicon Speech but the fact that Botha was so enamored of his own power that he maintained in the face of all evidence to the contrary that the views of the rest of the world and the resistance of the anti-apartheid masses on the ground was irrelevant. A belief in his own immutability led to Botha's downfall, and was a vital component of the tragic and eventually triumphant drama that was the South African story.

I'll shed no tears, crocodile or other, for the passing of one more of the twentieth century's authoritarian brutes. The world was a worse place with him in it. Hendrick Verwoerd, John Vorster and the other architects of the apartheid state have another suitemate in hell.

Update: British Rob has a couple of updates. The Guardian's obituary does not pull any punches. He also informs us that the Telegraph "remembered his 'genuine political courage' in reforming apartheid in the early 1980s." In that understated way that we all have come to incorporate in our stereotype about the Brits, Rob's summation is spot on: "Oh yes."


Odds are good this won't be the last mention of a little football game coming up this Sunday night between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots. Ron Borges of the Boston Globe has a savvy early take on what we might see. All signs point to an offensive slugfest, which probably means we'll see a 17-14 game. In all likelihood the winner is headed for home field throughout the playoffs, but whichever team loses is still well-positioned to win their division. The game is in Foxborough, which should be of more than a little aid to the Pats. There are some saying that the Patriots do not belong in the same breath with the Colts (I'm talking to you Bill Platschke). Because apparently Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have no idea how to deal with the unstoppable Colts offense and the indomitable Peyton Manning.

Surely an unrelated tidbit: Peyton Manning is 1-6 against Tom Brady in head-to-head matchups. Since 2001 the Patriots have won three Super Bowls. The Colts have yet to experience playing in one.


You probably already knew this -- I didn't -- but Newsweek has a blog, Gaggle, that they call a "daily political notebook," because, well, if they simply called it a blog they would not be able to snarkily insult bloggers for not being real journalists. Nonetheless, Gaggle has a pretty impressive contributor list. Lord knows you need more sources for news in the runup to the election.