Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Holmes' Day With Big Daddy

Over at Slice of Life Homz has a great story about his Day With Big Daddy. He talks about his job, a pizza oven in the woods, Bud Light, peculiar driving habits in non-4wd trucks, finding common ground on the issue of natural preservation, and of course a guy named Big Daddy.

OU Axes Track

One of my alma maters, Ohio University, has made a distressing announcement. In order to manage the university's athletics budget and to adhere to Title IX, OU has announced that it is cutting a number of varsity sports. Among these will be men's indoor and outdoor track and field. I have a peripheral connection to the track teams at OU, as for a year and change (1999-2000) I was a volunteer assistant coach of the Bobcat sprinters and jumpers.

I have written about Title IX before (see here and here) and do not want to belabor that point. Plus, making matters a bit more complicated, while OU currently offers the second most varsity sports offerings in the Mid-America Conference, its athletic budget is in the bottom half of the MAC. Still, it is distressing. Men's track and field has been a fixture at OU since the early 1900s. The OU athletics Wall of Fame, which rings the main entrance to the university's still-stunning Convocation center, bears witness to the track success at the school. Nonetheless, the reality is that too often administrators find men's track and sports like it to be disposable in ways that other sports -- women's teams and the big revenue sports, football, basketball, and in some cases hockey -- are not.

No matter how the solons at OU spin it, this is a dark period for Ohio University sports. I hope that someone can propose a solution, but I fear that the reality is that the decision is final.

Biden Comes Out Swinging

Biden's in, and he's come out lobbing bombs at his Democratic rivals. According to the New York Observer,
To hear him tell it, Hillary Clinton’s position is calibrated, confusing and “a very bad idea.” John Edwards doesn’t know what he’s talking about and is pushing a recipe for Armageddon in the Middle East. Barack Obama is offering charming but insubstantial fluff. And all of them are playing politics.

I don't mind someone coming out and being the aggressor. It was bound to happen. And I have always liked Biden. He certainly has the foreign policy gravitas and will be hard to depict as unserious on security issues. It will be interesting to see if his candidacy can inspire any buzz, however, and while he is smart, Biden can also be a ponderous speaker, which is going to lend itself to mockery and what, especially in a sound-bite culture, might sound like gaffes. Traction will be a problem inasmuch as it is difficult to discern Biden's natural constituency. He will likely be pilloried by the noisome but powerful netroots. He lacks Obama's charisma and polish. He lacks Hillary's name recognition and money and buzz and last name. He lacks Edwards' populist appeal and southern accent and blowdryer. Nonetheless, taken in toto, Biden could be a strong candidate if he can garner some early support in the form of endorsements and fundraising, and if he can maximize his credibility and minimize his tendency to strike the wrong chord.

Instability in Guinea

The West African nation of Guinea has been in turmoil lately. After three weeks of demonstrations, including a debilitating general strike on the part of unions, Guinea's President Lansana Conte has agreed to yields some of his authority to a yet-to-be-named Prime Minister. But Conte did not yield before his security forces killed some 40 demonstrators. The unparalleled Africa Focus has a page with several stories that will catch you up -- many of them are wonderful examples of Africa reportage.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New Hampshire, Iowa and the Nominating Process

Over at The Fix Chris Cilizza gets into the contentious issue of New Hampshire and Iowa wanting to hang onto their historic roles in the election process. This is an issue that Granite State Native dcat has addressed here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Crime in South Africa

Intruders killed David Rattray, a longtime proponent of tourism history and a recognized expert on the Anglo-Zulu War at his home as he tried to shield his wife on Friday. The murder of the respected battlefields expert has once again brought to the forefront the issue of crime in South Africa. Rattray was at his lodge in Rorke's drift, KwaZulu-Natal, when the men tried to barge into his home. There is an added level on intrigue top this tragedy, as rattray's friends believe that his murder came about not as the resulty of yet another mere property crime, but that Rattray has been targeted for assassination.

Recently Cape Town has experienced a spate of muggings at the famed botanical gardens in Kirstenbosch. For South Africans, crime is a very real concern that has not abated over the course of the last decade or so, and finally the dissatisfaction is beginning to resonate at the highest level of government, despite denials at the highest levels of government of the gravity of the problem.

With the Soccer World Cup arriving in South Africa in 2010 crime will continue to be a vital issue. As the country prepares to put on its most public face for the world since Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994 it is going to be essential that the ANC address the crime issue. But my hope is that they will address is systemically, as opposed simply to cracking down enough to protect the tourists for a month three years from now. South Africans daily have to deal with the harsh realities of violent crime. The causes for this epidemic are multifold: Rampant poverty, shortcomings in educational and job opportunities, a corrupt, underfunded police force, and a sense of denial on the part of the country's governing elite are all major problems. The ANC is going to have to face the crime question frontally not for the sake of publid relations, but to allow South Africa to reach its true promise.

Countdown to Spring Training

It's been a great offseason for Red Sox fans. The team won the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes and then signed him to a very reasonable contract. They signed JD Drew who, though injury-prone is still a productive hitter. He has a reputation for being a churl, but the hope is that if you get him in the right environment he will thrive, and there is little doubt about his talent when healthy. A hidden signing, at least compared to these other two, was that of Julio Lugo, who is another in a succession of Sox shortstops since the heyday of Nomar, but who looks to be a possible long-term fix. (Amelie Benjamin has a fantastic feature on Lugo in today's Boston Globe.)

And now there are rumors that the Red Sox might be trying to work out a deal for Colorado's Todd Helton. Helton has an absolute albatross of as contract and his decline in the last two years has been alarming. But there have been health issues that are not chronic, the Rockies are rumored to be willing to eat up about half of the contract, and Helton has somewhat quietly been one of the most productive players of his generation.

The key, then, becomes what the Rockies are asking for him. Among the names swirling around are Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez, but also Matt Clement and prospects. The Sox should, and I believe will, draw the line at any prospects that include Craig Hansen or Manny DelCarmen, but we have plenty of lesser-tier prospects who could be under Colorado control for an extended period of time. The Sox might be interested in Helton, but they do not need him. And they can easily walk away because they have all of the leverage. Colorado has been vocal about needing to rid themselves of the bulk of Helton's contract. Helton has a no-trade clause that he has indicated he would waive for the Red Sox, but not for many other teams, and he has indicated that he would want to do so quickly. For the right combination I would make a Helton trade, but the Sox have all of the leverage, the Rockies almost none, and the Sox can walk away from these negotiations without giving it a second thought. The key is that under the right conditions the Sox would like to add Helton's bat and reasonably good defense. But they do not need him, and for the purposes of making plans for the next month, they do not even have to come across as particularly wanting him. Their offseason will go down as a success either way.

(Note that the Nick Cafardo Baseball Notes column, which I link above for the Helton trade, also has a lot of other great news and info, including a list from Gabe Kaplar explaining how he is preparing for his new gig as a manager in the Sox Minor League system, and loads of other stuff. Thank God Peter Gammons pioneered the full-page Sunday notes section for the Globe.)
(Hat Tip to the folks over at SoSH for helping me clarify some of my thoughts on Helton.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bill Belichick on the Pats

Today's Boston Globe has a fantastic, wide-ranging, state-of-the-team-type Mike Reiss interview with Bill Belichick. If you are a Patriots fan (and you know you should be) you'll realize that this may be the most open that Coach Belichick has ever been and there is lots of fascinating insight about the team, the future, and this past season.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Kerry Gambit?

Far be it from me to be cynical. But the thought that crossed my mind, despite the fact that John Kerry's announcement that he is not running for President in 2008 truly did seem heartfelt, is that he has a secret plan. He has decided that his goal is to end the Iraq war. Fair enough. We can quibble with the monomaniacal nature of personalizing such a quest, but criticizing politicians for their self-centeredness seems too easy. What I see going through Kerry's head, at least somewhere in the transom, is that he will mount this charge furiously, his work will have some effect, and the Democratic masses will look to him and demand that he run. They will enlist him. And when called, thinks Senator Kerry, of course he will serve.

The problem with this approach (other than that I am making it up out of whole cloth, I mean) is that Kerry is not the compellingly draftable type. But on top of that, if anyone has set himself up to stand, rather than run, for office, isn't it Al Gore? And if the Democrats are faced with a choice of spurned Democratic nominees to insist upon running, isn't Gore so obviously more appealing that Kerry is destined (in my concocted scenario) to feel spurned thrice?

I think John Kerry is a good man who has served his country nobly and well. He has many years to develop and grow as a Senator. Never becoming president need not be a mark of shame. I hope that his recent moves have come as a result of a realization that the Oval office is simply not in the cards, and not out of some cynical last-ditch gambit.

Friends Don't Let Arachnid Friends Drink and Weave

Please, I entreat you, do not allow spiders to drink or take druge and try to weave webs.

Hat Tip to Steve-O.

Quick Hits

Two worthwhile pieces today over at TNR online:

Rick Perlstein uncovers what he calls "the most perversely successful propaganda campaign in American history," namely that liberals sold out Vietnam in the last years of that conflict, abandoning our troops in a time of need and thus stealing victory in that conflict.

Meanwhile Joshua Kurlantzick explains why conservatives, for all their anti-State bombast, actually love, or at least need, Foggy Bottom. It comes down to reality versus rhetoric, not surprisingly. It is easy to lambaste the State department, but the reality is that the rle of the foreign service is vital, and conservatives in power know this as well as anyone. But why let facts get in the way of a good meme?

Hypocrisy Watch

Anyone else remember the GOP outrage, to the point of wanting to change Senate and House rules, over Democratic filibusters threatened and real over the last few years? Yeah, me too. Well guess who engaged in a filibuster yesterday when Senate Democrats tried to pass a minimum wage bill free of tax breaks for big business that had been shoehorned into the bill by Republicans?

Ahhhh, hypocrisy, thy name is Republicanism.

Kerry's Out: Weighing the Consequences

Chris Cilizza at The Fix has the winners and losers from Senator John Kerry's (merciful) decision not to run in 2008. As usual, Cilizza is pretty spot-on, I think. But I have a couple of quibbles:

He lists Senator Ted Kennedy as a loser, writing:

Kennedy had the perfect excuse not to choose between Obama, Clinton and Dodd. How could he not go with the home state guy? But now that Kerry is out, Kennedy is one of the most prized free agents in the Senate. Let the courting begin.

I'm not certain how this is a negative for Kennedy. Once beholden to Kerry, a sure loser in 2008, Massachusetts' senior Senator now, in Cilizza's estimation, can await the beginning of a long courtship process that will bolster his ego and affirm his already venerated status. Moreover, Kennedy is a skillful enough politician that he ought to be able to broker deals for himself and the people of Massachusetts for the next 20 months or so. How does that make him a loser?

In listing the late night talk show hosts as losers Cilizza gives a couple of examples of the "fodder" that Kerry provided. First on this list is that Kerry asked for Swiss cheese on his cheesesteak. I'm not certain how this qualifies as a gaffe. I realize that there are cheesesteak stalwarts out there, but I'm pretty certain that 90% of Americans, of any class background, would probably make some similar gaffe the first time they ordered at the window at Pat's or Geno's in Philly. I know I did. I cannot help but think that Cilizza must be a Philly guy whose regional solipsism got the best of him on this one.

In any case, Kerry had no shot, even with the reality that he would be able to stick around just based on his fundraising capacity. It is for the best that he will be able to work in the Senate as one of the opposition leaders. There is no shame in that, just as there is no shame in recognizing the direction of the tides in 2007.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Genarlow Wilson

Wright Thompson has a horrifying story of an absolute travesty of justice in Georgia. Trust me on this one. Genarlow Wilson is living a nightmare right now because of stupid, archaic laws, stupider custodians of the justice system, and the standard racism that one does not have to scratch too deeply to find.

The Downside of Peace?

Michael Oren has forgotten more about Israel than I will ever even begin to know. But something about this op-ed in today's New York Times struck me as being slightly askew. basically he posits that Israel and Syria might be working toward a secret peace accord. And he hints that such an agreement might be bad for the United States and our relationship with Israel.
The last thing Washington wants is a Syrian-Israeli treaty that would transform Mr. Assad from pariah to peacemaker and lend him greater latitude in promoting terrorism and quashing Lebanon’s freedom. Some Israeli officials, by contrast, see substantive benefits in ending their nation’s 60-year conflict with Syria. An accord would invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, which endanger Israel’s northern and southern sectors.

More crucial still, by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit, Israel will be able to address the Iranian nuclear threat — perhaps by military means — without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles. Forfeiting the Golan Heights, for these Israelis, seems to be a sufferable price to pay to avoid conventional and ballistic attacks across most of Israel’s borders.

The potentially disparate positions of Israel and the United States on the question of peace with Syria could trigger a significant crisis between the two countries — the first of Mr. Bush’s expressly pro-Israel presidency. And yet, facing opposition from a peace-minded Democratic Congress and from members of his own party who have advocated a more robust American role in Middle East mediation, Mr. Bush would have difficulty in withholding approval from a comprehensive Syrian-Israeli agreement.

I'm not certain I understand how a peace agreement between israel and Syria harms the United States and our relationship with Israel in any substantial way, especially if such an agreement served to have Syria recognize Israel's right to continuing existence and forced Syria to stop supporting organizations devoted to Israel's withdrawal. It is simply hard to envision Israel signing a peace agreement with Assad and then watching as Syria overruns Lebanon, which Oren implies. As for unilateral Israeli action against Iran? I do not see how a peace agreement would make all that much difference, and such an agreement might in fact put Syria in the position of deterring Iran's fantasies. There must be something here that I do not see, but Oren's argument strikes me as an example of looking for a dark lining behind a silver cloud.

Calling Chicken Little

The Mail & Guardian online has published a silly little piece basically arguing that Cape Town is in danger of becoming little more than a fishing village. Old Mutual financial corporation has decided to move its headquarters from Cape Town to Gauteng. This makes sense -- Gauteng, and especially Johannesburg is not only the country's economic and financial centers, it is Africa's financial center and has its eyes on being a world financial powerhouse.

But so what? Anyone who has spent time in Cape Town or Joburg knows each city's strengths and weaknesses. Cape Town is not Jo'burg, and in most cases that is all for the better. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. It is a tourist destination, a cultural center, and provides access to some of South Africa's most acclaimed areas -- wine country and the Garden Route, to name just two. Claiming that Cape Town is going to be little more than a fishing village, a visdorp, in a few years because Old Mutual is consolodating its headquarters (Old Mutual will still have an ample presence in the Western Cape) is like arguing that San Francisco is destined to be little more than a wharf city because when Nationsbank and Bank of America consolidated Charlotte became the company's headquarters.

Let's have, or at least work on developing, a sense of perspective.

The Early Polls

Over at WaPo's Fix Chris Cilizza provides some insightful parsing of the recent polls on the 2008 contenders. I suppose I fall into that category of people who will feign indignance at the encroaching campaign while paying more attention than I'd like while throughly being fascinated by the whole sordid spectacle. These numbers mean little -- as Cilizza points out, they are largely a function of name recognition. Still, it seems to me that we already have a pretty good sense of who most of the big names will be from here on out.

The Super Bowl Teams Ranked (Dubiously)'s Page 2 has a list guaranteed to inspire controversy, outrage and discussion. The authors rank the Super Bowl teams from one to eighty.

The rankings that got my dander up came when they rated the 2001 Rams about 20 places higher than the 2001 Patriots. Yes, the 2001 Patriots that beat the Rams on the field, the one place that we legitimately decide which team is better. And thus the ice skatification of sports continues apace wherein a bunch of guys decide that what they can derive from statistics and their own impervious logic is actually more significant in determining winners than the performance on the field of those teams that actually win.

My view on such a list is that the Super Bowl winners automatically claim spots one through forty. The losers, after all, lost in the biggest game where the winners did not. Doctrinaire? Sure. But I would defend my stance as also being right. I'm sure you will all have your own complaints and criticisms.

(Note that the link I have provided will take you to slots one through twenty -- at the top of the page you can go to the other groupings of twenty.)

Dear Diary . . .

Tom has what to my mind is his best diary post yet. Great, must read stuff. My favorites are his tackling of some indefensible Benjamin Schwarz assertions and an in-depth slap job of the increasingly bombastic Gregg Easterbrook (whom I have often touted here, but whose know-it-allishness is coming to make his weekly extravaganza less and less of an A-List read for me.)

Dazed & Confused

The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy pretty well sums up the New England fan's stupor this week.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Vegas Hangover

Let me just get it out of the way now: That was probably the most painful loss I have experienced as a football fan, and it really screwed up an otherwise fantastic weekend. There are no excuses -- I'm sure that the Colts fans would point to a couple of bad calls as would Pats fans (offensive pass interference on Brown, the awful roughing the passer call). And it is clear that Reche Caldwell could not catch the clap in a Bangkok whorehouse. But the Colts won, they deserve it, and while I'll be avoiding anything NFL related for the next week or so, the reality is that Patriots fans have gotten to be very, very spoiled. Since most of us are also Red Sox fans, we know what it is like to be doubled over in anguish from one of our teams, but we simply did not expect it from the Pats. But being a fan, like being an athlete, is as much about dealing with defeat as it is about celebrating victory. This one will hurt for a while, but pitchers and catchers report in less than a month.

So I made my maiden Vegas trip in a big, big way. We'll dispense with the cliches, and in so doing, dispense with the details, if only to protect the guilty, the innocent and the ones we are not sure about. On the way there and back I re-read Hunter S. Thompson's classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Toward the end he writes something like "A little bit of this city goes a long way. Five days can feel like five years." Most of us were more than ready to leave by Monday not because we did not have a good time but because we had too good of a time. The Thunderstick was a first-rate cruise director and we had the perfect mix of necessities and extra-curriculars (just which is which varied by each individual).

So just one question remains: When are we going back?

Oh, and for the guys: Touche. Touche indeed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pre-Vegas Championship Weekend Picks

It's championship weekend in the NFL. Historically offering a better weekend of games than the Super Bowl, the AFC and NFC Championship games usually bring together great plotlines, good games, and compelling stories. This year is no different. In the NFC we have the matchup involving this year's Team of Destiny, the New Orleans Saints, who will be playing with the support of everyone in America who does not live in the greater Chicago, Indianapolis, or New England regions.

And the Saints are a good story. That said, could we please stop freighting them with the weight of the region's recovery? It has become hackneyed to assert that the Saints are a feel-good story lifting an entire people with their plucky play on the field. I love football. New Orleans fans love football. If the Saints win, those fans will be happy. But I'd really appreciate it if everyone involved in looking at this game would stop maintaining that the Saints are a redemptive force in any meaningful way.

Back in 2001 writers and commentators and baseball people tried the same nonsense with the World Series, arguing that the Yankees and Mets facing off provided some sort of catharsis for a region and that thus those fans "deserved" that confrontation. (Not quite as blatantly, but equally as stupidly, people tried to claim that it was apt that a team called the "Patriots" won the first post-9/11 Super Bowl, as if the nickname of one billion dollar organization really conferred some sort of patriotic legitimacy over other billion dollar organizations).

Again, the Saints story is a nice one, even if I think we might be right to question the sort of priorities that allowed taxpayer monies to rehabilitate the playground of a gazillionaire when hundreds of thousands still remain without the basics and when by almost any standard the city is still in tatters. Furthermore, football is not the United Way. Sports are not a charity organization meting out wins like a sort of karmic Santa Claus, weighing which teams fans are most worthy of the largesse of a Super Bowl win. I am especially pleased for this reality because while I may hate to admit as much, I'm pretty sure that the rest of the country would find New England fans the least worthy of those remaining of winning the ultimate NFL prize.

But have I been buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya. Because if the weather Gods cooperate, this weekend will represent for me the opposite of somber reflection or weighing of civic priorities. For all of the travelling I have done across the country and the world, tomorrow at 10:40 I will step onto a plane bound for the City of Sin, Las Vegas. Other than a brief layover on the way to California a few months back I have never set foot in Vegas. The Thunderstick has found that to represent a disgusting lacuna in my biography and sought to rectify it. Using the pending nuptials as an excuse he has organized a Vegas bachelor weekend for nine of us who will be congregating from all over the country tomorrow. (Yes, there are a number of my friends with whom I am not happy right now -- bums!) We wanted to organize the event around a major sporting weekend and narrowed it down to March Madness or else the AFC-NFC Championship weekend. With hopes that the Patriots would make it this far we settled on this January weekend and the roll of the dice, as it were, appears to have paid off.

I'll avoid the usual cliches. Maybe what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but my guess is that more likely we will create a lot of great stories in the next three days that demand retelling and augmenting. And since we will be in Vegas the picks that follow might even provide my own guidelines for gambling. Otherwise, I'm just going to say it: We're dealing with professional sports here. No one "deserves" to win other than if they take victory on the field. New Orleans is experiencing a great football story, which pales against what is otherwise a bleak and grim backdrop. For whatever reason some people have come to hate the Patriots. None of this will matter on Sunday either when four very good teams will play to get to the Super Bowl.

As for my merry little band of nine? Wish us good fortune in getting there, in staying in lady luck's graces, and in surviving dcat's initial Vegas foray. "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert . . ."

Saints at Bears: (Bears favored by 2.5) Vegas thinks the Bears hardly even warrant the benefit of home field advantage, apparently. And I can see why in a sense -- this is a tough game to call. The Bears have been underwhelming for several weeks now. They managed to get it done in theis first postseason game last week by slipping past a Seahawks team that scared no one. Seattle was the weakest team in the postseason this year and yet with a few bounces of the football they would be facing their second consecutive NFC Championship game. We know that Rex Grossman is sketchy at best. The Chicago defense has fallen from rarefied air -- back in midseason people spoke of this Chicago defense not in terms of the rest of the NFL, but in terms of the great defenses in history. For awhile some folks were foolish enough to utter comparisons with the 1985-1986 Bears defense, which is just insane.

Meanwhile we have everybody's darlings, the Saints of Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister and everyone's favorite rookie sensation, Reggie Bush. People tend to overlook the weaknesses of New Orleans even while they poke at every pockmark on the other three teams. Reggie Bush almost gave that game away. New Orleans played a Philly team that made a lot of mistakes and still let them be in it until the very last stages of the game. And as importantly, New Orleans is the least experienced team in the playoffs. Usually, that is the sort of thing that catches up with a football team. It almost always takes a team several shots to get through the playoff schedule. The Saints have won two playoff games in their star-crossed history. One of them came last weekend when they won to get to their first conference championship game. I'm not certain that the bright lights will shine too brightly for them. I'm not necessarily worried that the Saints will not be able to handle Chicago weather -- Brees played his college ball at Purdue, after all, while Grossman played at Florida. And I imagine that the Saints will not succumb to the intimidation factor of the Chicago fans -- fan intimidation is usually one of the most overrated factors in all of sports. Most of the time professional football players enjoy being hated in opposing arenas. Guys who get mashed by unfathomable amounts of force on the field are rarely cowed by fat guys from the suburbs dressed like dogs or wearing hog masks or garbed in Star Wars gear with spiked shoulder pads or wearing cheese on their heads.

But a confluence of factors will pile up in this game. The Saints looked somewhat tentative at times last week. Destiny almost always gives way to ability at this time of the season. New Orleans has been a great story. Whether the Saints win or lose will make little difference, however, in the city's recovery, and we all should be rooting for the people of the Gulf region irrespective of whether or not their NFL entry manages to overcome the Bears this weekend.

Like everyone else, I suppose my heart is with New Orleans. But on the field, the Bears are going to bring too much. Rex Grossman is going to manage the game rather than try to win it. The Bears defense will be a step too quick, the New Orleans stars a bit too callow. Chicago, which for almost all of this season has been the best team in the NFC by a long way, will be the best team on Sunday. It may not even be that close of a game. Bears 31-Saints 24

Patriots at Colts: (Colts by 3) I'm not even going to pretend that I am going to do anything but pick the Pats in this one. The Colts are scary talented on the offensive side of the ball. As the week has progressed, I, like lots of fans, have looked at the options the Colts have at their disposal -- it all starts with Manning and then goes to Harrison and Rhodes, Waynes and Addai and Clark -- and wonder how the Patriots can possibly stop them. I look at their reinvigorated D and am convinced that they have improved so much that maybe they will be able to shut down the Patriots. And of course the Colts now have the advantage of Adam Vinatieri. And that is a huge advantage.

But for all of the clear attributes the Colts bring onto the field, they still are not the Patriots. The Pats have won three of the last five Super Bowls for a reason. They have an opportunistic defense whose sustained body of work ranks as well as any in the history of the league. They know how to close out close games. They beat a better team than the Colts did last weekend. And as always, the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

The rest of the league's fans hate that last assertion especially and call it smugness, but I've reconciled how the rest of the world looks at Patriots fans because that is how the rest of us always looked at Bears and Cowboys fans in the 90s, Niners fans in the 80s, and basically any team that has had a sustained level of excellence. All fans of winning teams become a bit obnoxious and hard to handle. All winning teams become dislikable over timne because their story line grows tiresome.

In any case, what it comes down to for me, and what it will continue to come down to, is that I am going to take a tautological view of Pats-Colts playoff games just as I'm sure, and it pains me to admit this, Yankees fans looked at the Sox before 2004: until they show that they can beat us, they cannot beat us. Peyton Manning may well win a Super Bowl. I cannot stand him because that's what fans do, but he is a tremendous quarterback who will more than likely lead a team to the promised land. If they can get past the Pats it will happen this year. But until they do it I won't believe that they can do it. The Patriots will find a way to win because at this stage of the season the Patriots have always found a way to win.

Plus I am going to be in Vegas this weekend, and that has to mean something. And no, it is not coming down to a Vinatieri kick. Patriots 34-Colts 30

And yes, I promised to avoid cliches, but what the hell -- Vegas baby! We are so money, and we don't even know it! "I feel like a monster incarnation of Horatio Alger . . . a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident."

A Child Soldier's Story

This weekend's New York Times Magazine had a fantastic feature on a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. Ishmael Beah now lives in America. He is obviously brilliant -- he attended Oberlin College, where he first began writing about his experiences in English classes -- and his first-hand account is drawn from a forthcoming book on his experiences.

Zimbabwe News

There are several stories from Zimbabwe in today's Mail & Guardian online. None of them represent especially promising developments.:

Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the largest faction of the now-divided Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has announced popular resistance against Robert Mugabe's attempts to extend his nefarious reign. The M&G reports that such demonstrations may meet government forces determined to stop the protests at all costs. According to Eldred Masunungure, chair of the University of Zimbabwe's department of political science, “[Mass protests] will be met with the might of Mugabe’s security forces and any person who takes lightly the threat of the force that will be unleashed will only do that at their own peril. This government is fighting to survive and will do everything possible to remain in power.” In light of recent dissent from police officials, one wonders which "security forces" Mugabe would unleash.

Meanwhile, following up on a recent story about representatives from African nations trying to recruit Zimbabwe's remaining white farmers, the Zimbabwe government has ordered 15 more farmers to vacate their land. This despite the fact that earlier this month the government announced that it was "calling back expelled farmers to help resuscitate the collapsed agricultural sector." The key to understanding this story is the realization that the agricultural well-being of the nation is at best a secondary concern and that first and foremost the government's, Mugabe's, maneuverings are about the naked exercise of power.

Finally, the Zimbabwe National Editors' Forum (Zinef) has taken a brave stance against Zimbabwe's refusal to renew the passport of newspaper owner Trevor Ncube, who publishes The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent in that country and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa. They have called Zimbabwe's action "a form of punishment that must not be allowed to escape international notice," noting that Ncube's "newspapers in Zimbabwe and South Africa have taken a lead in exposing corruption and misrule." According to the report, Zinef said Ncube was seeking a high court order compelling Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede to renew his passport following his application for Zimbabwean citizenship and the agency hopes that journalists in Zimbabwe and internationally will "make it clear to the regime that any interference with the freedom of the press in Zimbabwe is unacceptable." The odds that Mugabe will pay those journalists any heed are, alas, slim. Tyrants are never cowed by words alone, though words are necassary.

On Britpop, Blur, and Damon Albarn

In Britain, pop music seems to matter more. That is not to say that Britpop is superior to its American counterpart (though I am a big fan of a lot of Britpop) nor is it to say that there are not passionate and knowledgable American music fans. Of course there are millions of us. But pop music is part of the zeitgeist on the British Isles in a way that it is not in a bigger, more diffuse United States. In the mid-1990s when the Oasis-Blur-Pulp wars were waged, the principals in that battle -- the rowdy and obnoxious Gallagher brothers, the pretty boy Damon Albarn who was part of the epoch's great pop couple, and the chic geek Jarvis Cocker -- seemed to be ubiquitous in both the daily and the weekly music tabloids that are notorious in England.

It is odd to think, given that Oasis appeared to have swept the floor with the competition by 1998 or so, that Albarn may have emerged triumphant from those days, though I doubt he cares. Oasis put out two (or so -- the debate rages on) truly great albums but became something of a caricature of themselves, and in any case by setting up the expectation that they were bigger than the Beatles created the conditions for a fall. When you aim for the heavens and fall short there will be many who enjoy your comedown. Pulp was always a favorite of the cognoscenti, but even in Britain they were the little engine that could, a band big enough to take the piss out of the bigger boys but not big enough to sustain it. That said, "Common People" might be the most quintessentially British song of the era.

Then there was Blur. Popular, not especially threatening, lacking Oasis' bombast and Pulp's wit, Albarn and co. seemed destined for the hall of the very good though not the Hall of Fame. But in recent years Albarn has taken some daring, even brazen, approaches to pop music. He has become the most unlikely hitmaker with a cartoon group (literally) in which he subsumes his personality in anonymity. He lets the cartoon speak for itself, and while the Gorrillaz might never approach true greatness, they are infectious and good and have captured a particular pop mood -- fusing hip hop and dance and rock -- every bit as much as Blur did back in the heyday of the mid-1990s when Britpop seemed destined to save the world, or at least to take some pulses and hand out a few presriptions.

Now along comes Albarn as the frontman of a new supergroup that has released an eponymously titled album. Capturing at least one aspect of today's music ethos (a cumbersome, indeed terribly bad, name) "The Good, the Bad, and the Queen" received a four-star review from Alexis Petridis in today's Guardian. I have not yet heard the album so cannot confirm or deny Petridis' impressions, but if the review is even halfway accurate the Gallagher brothers must be gnashing their eyebrows in a jealous, ale-fueled rage.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Diary Blog With Pics, News and Crime Sprees

Tom has a new diary post up in which he displays some wonderful pictures of the fam and his scofflaw wife and then closes with some great news. Congrats from dcat. But then he knows that already.

Buzzwords and the Historical Profession

Over at POTUS friend and mentor of dcat Alonzo Hamby worries about buzzwords (and topics) at the AHA convention. To my mind the buzzwords are more worrisome than the broader topics, but he is generally right to worry.

Hat Tip: Steve at Big Tent

Bringer of Calamities

Recently I started subscribing to a couple of The Guardian's email newsletters mostly to keep my Anglophile freak flag flying. One of the daily emails they offer is something called "The Fiver" (because it is sent out at 5:00 GMT and so arrives in my inbox midday), which is a soccer (i.e. "football") epistle. It is irreverant and clever allows me to brush up on my global, and especially Premier League creds. in any case, the following from today's email made me chuckle:

Who is Andriy Shevchenko trying to kid? Not content with failing to justify even a fraction of his transfer fee to Chelsea, the man who invented sharks, ripped open the ozone layer, sunk the Titanic and lit Krakatoa today accused the media of exaggerating his negative impact on the world. "I am being made a scapegoat for things that have nothing to do with me," he whined. "It's bull$h1t."

The Ukranian is particularly upset at suggestions that he's at the centre of the rhubarb between Chelsea megalomaniacs Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho. "There are things written about my relationship with Abramovich which have been exaggerated," wailed the man believed by some to be the reason there is no life on Mars. "My relationship with him is the same as every other player, it is entirely professional" continued the destroyer of Atlantis, adding: "I see Abramovich in the dressing-room sometimes or occasionally at training. We might have a quick word with each other but that is natural as we both speak Russian. Maybe I shouldn't speak Russian. Maybe that gives people the wrong idea."

After distancing himself from Abramovich, the former goalscorer snuggled up to his manager. "I have the greatest respect for him," hollered the extinguisher of the dinosaurs. "He has won two titles at Chelsea and he has won Big Cup [with Porto] ... He has proven he's a great coach and a winner ... if he decides I'm not capable then I just have to work harder. It doesn't matter what I think. He has the final say and it is not just about Shevchenko. If he decides I'm not OK to play I will go back to training and do what I can to get back in the team." Meanwhile, in unrelated news, meteorologists today warned of an immense storm of destruction that will beat down on Portugal if a certain Ukranian doesn't play at Anfield this Saturday.

On the whole American sportswriting is the best and most in-depth in the world, but in other countries, and especially the UK and Ireland, there is a sense of irony that our saportswriting often lacks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Dinesh D'Souza

Warren Bass, a senior editor at The Washington Post's "Book World" served on the professional staff of the 9/11 Commission. On Sunday he kicked the bejesus out of Dinesh D'Souza's latest screed, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. It is pretty tough to pull out just one representative excerpt from what Bass calls "the worst nonfiction book about terrorism published by a major house since 9/11," but I'll go with these paragraphs:

Of course, the ascetic bin Laden doesn't like American culture or values, including such far-left ideas as democracy or educating women, but he has a clear politico-religious agenda that's important to take seriously. You'd never know it from reading D'Souza, but bin Laden's February 1998 "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders" -- the most considered summation of his casus belli -- laid out three main grievances for which al-Qaeda kills. First and foremost comes the post-Gulf crisis deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which are "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories" and "using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples." Second comes the supposed Crusader-Jewish alliance's "long blockade" of the Iraqis, designed "to destroy what remains of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors." Finally, America's anti-Muslim wars "also serve the petty state of the Jews, to divert attention from their occupation of Jerusalem and their killing of Muslims in it." See anything about Hollywood there?

D'Souza breezes past clearly articulated core al-Qaeda goals (such as toppling the "near enemy," as bin Ladenists call the impious regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt) to enlist bin Laden as an ally for D'Souza's side of the American culture wars. But the 1998 declaration bluntly states that "the purposes of the Americans" in their crusades against Islam "are religious and economic" -- not cultural. D'Souza is too busy projecting to really grapple with al-Qaeda's politics, strategy or ideological appeal; it's as if he read Mein Kampf and concluded that its author's main concern was not Aryan supremacy or genocidal anti-Semitism but distaste for Weimar theater.

For a Stanford fellow, D'Souza shows a surprising ignorance of the growing literature on jihadist ideology. One has to ask which is more likely: that such authors as Steve Coll, Lawrence Wright, Peter L. Bergen, Marc Sageman, Jessica Stern, Richard A. Posner and Bruce Hoffman could have scrutinized al-Qaeda ideology and somehow failed to notice that bin Laden's main beef was with America's corrupt cultural left, or that the grinding sound you hear off in the distance is D'Souza with an ax. Or consider the work of another heavyweight, Michael F. Scheuer, the tough-minded founding chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, who advocates the massive use of the U.S. military as our principal tool for fighting al-Qaeda. (D'Souza, oddly, lumps him in with a bunch of lefties.) "Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us," Scheuer has written. "None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world." There's a feisty and interesting debate among terrorism specialists about whether Scheuer has the balances right, but "The Vagina Monologues" isn't high on any serious analyst's list of al-Qaeda grievances.

I saw D'Souza last night on The Colbert Report. He was just awful. In addition to the inanities about the cultural left, D'Souza tried to claim that all Republican Presidents have bravely and successfully tried to wage war against terrorism while Bill Clinton, naturally, failed. In addition to being utterly intellectually dishonest, such an assertion shows D'Souza's absolutely blind fealty to a Ronald Reagan who never was. There are lots of reasons and lots of justifications -- no one could have anticipated the rise of radical Islam, in the waning years of the Cold War there were bigger issues, and so forth -- but the reality is that no presidency set the table for the modern crisis than did Reagan's.

D'Souza is a fatuous hack whose jeremiads have pretty consistently been little more than ideological puff pieces for the right and hatchet jobs on the left. It appears that in this book, D'Souza has reached a nadir. Good for Bass for not flinching from rigorous criticism of such slipshod, dishonest work.

Myth Busting

This post over at The Plank caught my attention, though not really for the reasons John Judis intended. His argument is that two former Justice Department officials from the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations who argue that it is unconstitutional for the Democrats to introduce a resolution condemning the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, are hypocrites. Or at least that is one of Judis' crucial points.

But what stood out to me was a sentence that Judis intended to make another point:

In Oct. 1993, Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole and Republicans passed a "sense of the Senate" resolution against the Clinton administration using force in Haiti or Bosnia without Congressional approval.

To me this just serves as reenforcement for a significant point about the Clinton administration's foreign policy and the revisionist view that Clinton in particular (as opposed to America's leadership generally) failed us with regard to the growing terrorist threat that culminated on September 11, 2001. The reality is that from the minute he set foot in office isolationist and "realist" Republicans posed the biggest impediment to an activist foreign policy. Whenever Clinton engaged in any actions against Saddam Hussein his strongest critics came not from pacifist lefties, but rather from the leadership of the Republican Party and especially the "Republican revolutionaries" from the Class of 1994. Had Clinton tried to act strongly against Afghanistan only a revbisionist of the most naked partisan stripes would argue that the Republicans would have gone along with any plan he might have concocted. Had Clinton chosen to attack Afghanistan to crush al Qaeda strongholds in that country in, say, 1998, one reasonably imagines that further counts of impeachment would have gone forth.

This does not take Clinton off the hook by any means. He should have tried to have done more. But the myth that the GOP has consistently been an ardent advocate of a prescient foreign policy that would have kept us safe from terrorists is bunk. The reality is that the conditions that led to 9/11 are the result of failures, unhappy accidents, unintended consequences, and blowback stemming at least back to the late 1970s and arguably earlier. Neither side has an especially legitimate claim on virtue, but nor should leaders of either party suffer alone on charges of negligence.

Bob Ryan Reports From Olympus Heights

Bob Ryan imagines a conversation from Olympus Heights, the Valhalla retirement community of Boston sports legends. Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Bobby Orr are there discussing Tom Brady becoming the first New England football player who will eventually join their ranks. My favorite part is that they are all a bit cranky and somewhat bemused by one another's old stories.

Ellen Sirleaf Johnson's Liberia, One Year Later

South Africa's IOL ("Independent On Line") shows the slow but discernible progress that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made as head of once- (and in some ways still) ravaged Liberia in her year in office. It is too early, as the article clearly shows, for much more than closely guarded optimism, but even slight progress warrants our support. See here for previous dcat coverage of Sirleaf's Liberia.

Travel Log

The Washington Post has begun a new travel blog, "Travel Log." It is too early to tell if it is going to be any good -- one of the ironies of journalists, who tend to sneer at bloggers, is that they often make for lousy bloggers -- but for travellers certainly worth noting.

Winter Wonderland

The Permian Basin is a winter wonderland, a veritable Currier & Ives painting come to life. Yesterday and last night we received what might be as much as an inch of snow, blanketing the region and throwing it into chaos. Schools, including the university, are closed. Highways and many major roads are shut down. It is a war of all against all out there. Some have warned us to stock up on provisions if things clear up because there might be more snow to come.

Obviously I find all of this amusing. Not a soul in New England would pay so much as one whit of attention to all of what they would probably call glorified flurries, but here it really is an enormously big deal. My favorite irony in all of this is that it reveals once again that the region of the country that most worships NASCAR (And that extends from El Paso to Norfolk and everything south) produces the worst drivers in the country under clear conditions. Forget about going out there now, with snow on the ground and the threat of more. Under these conditions people drive like they are experiencing grand mal seizures while being tasered.

Time to start a fire.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gore in 2008 Redux

Scott Lehigh of The Boston Globe speculates on the renewed whisperings that Al Gore might eventually announce a run for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Dcat prodigal son, Oxford Richard, has long advocated Gore's candidacy as you can plainly see here, here and

Monday, January 15, 2007

Seeking White Farmers For Long Term Relationship

The Mail & Guardian reports that representatives from a handful of African nations have begun headhunting white farmers in Zimbabwe in hopes of drawing members of this beleaguered group to promote agricultural growth in their own countries. Among the potential suitors include Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (hey, beggars cannot be choosers), Malawi, Angola, and Tanzania. Others may well lie in the wings. Far from an ideal situation, this opportunity might well represent the best solution to an increasingly untenable situation.

For nearly two decades after Zimbabwe broke free from the shackles of white dominance Robert Mugabe threatened to take white farm land. When he had the opportunity to develop a fair and reasonable program to transfer land from white to black proprietorship he did not do so. Then, in recent years, Mugabe chose to demagogue the issue. Black loyalists of his rogue regime started violently stealing land willy nilly (or, if you prefer, pell mell) without regard to whether or not they could actually farm it, and as a consequence Zimbabwe's agricultural productivity, once the envy of the continent, has disintegrated. People are going hungry, shelves are barren, fields lie fallow while ruffians occupy former farmlands. A program of redistribution that would once have been fully justifiable if handled appropriately has come to represent yet another example of Mugabe's morally and intellectually corrupt autocracy.

It remains to be seen if such a program is viable. But it would be telling if other former victims of colonialism benefit from Mugabe's thuggishness by inviting some of the most intransigent colonial settlers into their countries to revive or promote agricultural development. Mugabe does not seem to have a finely developed sense of irony. Nonetheless, he is an inadvertant ironist of the first rank.

(One of the cool aspects of the new Blogger system is that I can search for all posts within the blog on a given topic. Here, for example, are -- I trust -- all dcat posts on Zimbabwe.)

Norm Goda on Saddam's Execution

I intended to post it when it appeared last week, but HNN has a must-read article on Saddam's Execution from Ohio University's Norm Goda. As a dubious bonus, you can read a tired rehashing of all of the old, irrelevant hobby horse anti-Israel arguments that the usual suspects bring forth even in an article that has virtually nothing to do with Israel.

Chilembwe Day and King's Holiday

Today millions of people will recognize a leader who stood against white supremacy in the face of unremitting odds. They will remember a religious man, a reverend, who challenged white authorities and promoted justice and equality in the face of brutality. They will honor his past and reflect on his legacy.

I am referring, of course, to Reverend John Chilembwe. In 1915 Chilembwe led an uprising, against the white colonial powers and their racist regime in what was then known as Nyasaland and what we now call Malawi. In Malawi, January 15th is celebrated as Chilembwe Day.

In the United States, of course, we reflect similarly on Martin Luther King, Jr. King was clearly one of the great men of the 20th Century. He gave his life for racial justice. But on this day let's keep in mind that King is best celebrated as an embodiment of a struggle for justice in which millions shared a role. It is too easy to conflate King's role in the movement with a misconception of King as the Movement. King accomplished many great things in his too brief life. But he did not do so alone, and much happened in the Civil Rights Movement without King's imprimatur, without his active involvement, and under the guidance of common folks whose desire for equality was every bit as strong as Dr. King's. These words are not intended to deflate King's legacy, but rather to remind us all that the contours of history are not shaped merely by great men but rather by the work of thousands who too often fade into shadows cast by giant figures.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Seeking Confirmation

Wait a second -- in the intro to the Bears-Seahawks game, did Joe Buck really just use the word "funkified"?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Peyton Manning's Epitaph?

The fiancee, who knows absolutely nothing about football, just sat down next to me to eat a late lunch while I am watching the Colts-Ravens game. Peyton Manning came on the screen, and she said "Hey, that's the commercial guy."

Yes, yes it is.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Beckham Moves to US: World Still on Axis

Upon hearing the news that English soccer icon David Beckham is coming Stateside I contacted friend of dcat British Rob for some insight on what it all means. Are the British weeping quietly into their pint glasses? Are soccer hooligans descending upon HMV's contrywide to smash and destroy every available copy of Spice Girls albums? Will we ever be innocent again? Here is his take:
He's a genuine talent, if not quite in the stellar category suggested by his public profile outside the States, but not a bad investment. He hasn't shone in Spain this season, but then again, he hasn't really had the chance. However, it is more than likely a case of both hype *and* a 'Pele moment' - the Beckham phenomenon is about hype - in a real as opposed to derogatory sense - as much as football. One of the new headlines today was "Posh [Victoria Beckham - Posh Spice out of the Spice Girls] and Bucks" - I think many of us over here would agree that LA is the most fitting location for the end of his career. Wealth is probably not the issue - he's one of, if not the, richest footballers in history, but obscurity is the key - one news package last night pointed out that the States is the one market relatively unconquered by the Beckham brand - it might not be the football, per se, that motivates this move ....

He also sent me to this Richard Williams piece from the Guardian's Sports blog, which provides a pretty spot-on summation. (And he adds the following comment: "And ... if you are thinking that my reference (yet again) to a Guardian article is further evidence of parochialism, please look at today's Guardian sport headlines - cricket, tennis and baseball are the lead stories. Any news service that can have cricket and baseball in its top sports stories has got me hooked.)

My own view is that the Beckham transfer to the LA Galaxy will have less impact than Europe's soccer solipsists would like to believe but is another sign of the health and growth of MLS and soccer generally in the US. I do not anticipate that Becks will cause a tectonic shift in the American sporting firmament, and he might even discover a level of apathy that he has not encountered since exploding onto the sporting scene more than a dozen years ago. This won't come close to matching a Pele to the Cosmos/NASL moment, but it is significant for a host of reasons tying to sporting culture. Plus, even if Beckham has slipped from the rarefied heights he once occupied, in MLS, where the talent level is simply a notch below that in England or Spain, he will probably star for several years and if it goes well for him and the team his move may start a wave of European talent crossing over to the US to cap off their careers.

NFL Playoffs: The Divisional Round

This might be the best weekend of the playoffs, so buckle yourselves in and enjoy the ride: Four games, the best teams playing, a couple of stellar matchups, and intensity kicked up a notch. Here are my picks for the weekend:

Colts at Ravens: (Ravens favored by 4) If the Colts play this week like they did against the Chiefs last weekend, the Ravens' defense will crush Indy like a bug. I suspect that we will see a better Colts team, however, and thus will get to test that age old NFL question: In a clash between a great offense and a great defense, which wins? It is too reflexive and pat simply to assert that great D beats great O. Sometimes it does. More often than you think, it doesn't. In the end a team with a great offense still needs a D to hold up its end of the bargain and vice versa, and special teams always play a role, as does game planning, matchups, and the thousand other things that determine the course of any football game. But that the Colts offense will improve is probably not sufficient. I see Baltimore shutting down the Colts running game -- I simply do not see the Ravens' D succumbing to a rookie like Joseph Addai. Which leads us to Peyton Manning and the Colts' passing game. Manning will be good. But he won't be good enough, and on Monday we will be discussion, among other things, whether Manning will ever be able to lead a team to a title. The Baltimore D is nearly as good as it was in 2000-2001 and their offense is better, even if it is still not a juggernaut. The Ravens will win by forcing a couple of crucial turnovers. Ravens 23-Colts 17

Eagles at Saints: (Saints by 5) I don't see the Eagles as being good enough to derail the great story that is the Saints. It is as simple as that. Forget about the angles, the permutations, the ephemera. Oftentimes the answer is easier than it seems: The better team usually wins. By most measures, the Saints are the better team. The only question I have is whether they are too young and too inexperienced in games like this one. The Eagles have a great story with Jeff Garcia as well, but the surge of the post-Katrina Saints continues this weekend. Saints 34-Eagles 24

Seahawks at Bears: (Bears by 8.5) Let me be succinct: The Seahawks stink. The Bears, even with serious questions at quarterback and despite a sense that they peaked too early, do not. Any other assessment is superfluous. Bears 27-Seahawks 10

Patriots at Chargers (Chargers by 5) This will be the game of the weekend. All week I have had the same worries that has concerned everyone who roots for or is affiliated with the Patriots: Can they stop or at least contain LaDanian Tomlinson, and can they find a way to slow down Shawne "'Roid Rage" Merriman and the rest of that Chargers' D? But the Chargers also have a rookie quarterback. And the Patriots have Bill Belichick. In the colonial era in Africa, there was a bit of doggerel verse that the British liked to quote when issues of whether they could hold on to the colonies in the face of bitter native resistance emerged: "Whatever happens we have got, the Gatling gun and they have not." For this weekend I am going to adopt and provide a twist on this concept: "Whatever it is the Chargers have got, the Pats have Brady and they do not." Patriots 34-Chargers 27

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Donnybroook at the Plank

I'm in the middle of a good old fashioned donnybrook over at The Plank. In comments related to a post about Lieberman, things have turned heated about the old "chickenhawk" meme. While I'm not defending the administration I am trying to get people to clarify some of their thoughts. And maybe not to refer to everyone in the administration as "pussies' and "cowards." Go see for yourselves.

Police Dissent in Zimbabwe?

A month ago Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister, Kembo Mohadi, received a letter from the country's top police official, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri. The letter, dated December 8, entreated the country's leadership to fix the country's hemorrhaging economy and stop relying on the police to address the lawlessness that the country's plight has brought with it. As the Mail & Guardian reports, Chihuri wrote:
"We are overwhelmed by the numerous operations that we are being asked to carry out in almost every facet of government. It is now as if the police have been assigned the role of governing the country . . . Some of the activities the principals want us to stop, the normalcy they want us to restore can only be best restored by solving outstanding economic issues. Without normalising the economy, all we can do is put stop-gap measures."

This December 8 letter represents an interesting development inasmuch as Mugabe relies on both the police and the military to prop up his regime. If he loses the former he will have to trust the latter increasingly. This will prove bad for Zimbabwe's citizens, but also could make Mugabe's control more tenuous even if in the short-term it becomes more draconian.

Tellingly, no one in the police is speaking. Mugabe has shown a willingness to crush dissent. The country's journalistic institutions, especially the newspapers, have been under a state of virtual siege for years. Mugabe and his minions have forced the closure of newspapers, arrested editors and reporters, and generally made a mockery of the idea of a free press. Will a similar purge of the police follow? And if so, what might the consequences be? For too long observers of Zimbabwe have wondered if there might be a tipping point that could lead to the downfall of Zimbabwe's biggest of Big Men. Perhaps this seemingly small story represents a shift in weight. Or, as is likely, Chihuri's letter may represent just another muffled lamentation of the sad state of affairs in tragic Zimbabwe.

Stomp the Damned Catbox?

There is this Cingular cell phone/mp3 player commercial that has been driving me nuts for about three months now. Two guys are walking down the way listening to The Clash's "Rock the Casbah." One of them is mangling the lyrics when another guy suggests that maybe the line in question is "Stomp the Catbox."

Look, I am a reasonable man. But if you are listening to the Clash -- if you downloaded The Clash onto your phone -- and the lyrics of arguably the biggest hit The Clash had are troubling you, how about looking at the freaking song title? But really, "stomp the catbox"? Someone at Cingular needs to be beaten with a bagful of batteries in Casino Royale-torture-style.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ginn's (and Ohio State's) Ouchie

There is no way that Ted Ginn would have made a significant difference in the final outcome the other night, but if this is not the most dumbass way to suffer a key injury, I do not know what is:

I have always been shocked that more guys did not get hurt in similar ways in big end zone pile-ups. My guess is that next year coaches will seriously crack down on this sort of thing, and that every NFL team still alive in the playoffs will be threatening serious fines to anyone who tackles a teammate after a touchdown the rest of the way.

Hat Tip to Homz, an OSU fan who nonetheless also gave me this:

Update: Tom, a huge Big Ten fan who was ardently for OSU on Monday adds to the self-flagellation with this mock-up of Ohio State's famous "Script Ohio":

Reductio Ad Kingium

Over at TNR Rick Perlstein (who I find to be fascinating and provocative, but also one of the most hit-or-miss writers working today) has a piece on "how conservatives still don't get Martin Luther King". he argues:
[I]f we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history. We might as well recover the true story. Conservatives--both Democrats and Republicans--hated King's doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism.

This latter distinction is vitally important -- when people talk about King today, or civil rights generally, they tend to misunderstand conservatism and liberalism, Republicans and Democrats in the decades after World War II. Today, conservatives on matters of race are almost universally Republicans, liberals on the same issues are almost always Democrats, with some exceptions. But in the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the most conservative voices on issues of race were Southern Democrats, the most liberal voices Northern Democrats with the significant, indeed crucial, support from liberal Republican allies. Race divided the Democratic Party in ways that have continued to resonate to the present day.

Perlstein concludes his largely compelling argument with the following:

The conservative response to King--to demonize him in the '60s and to domesticate him today--has always been essentially the same: It has been about coping with the fear that seekers of justice may overturn what we see as the natural order and still be lionized. But if we manage to forget that, sometimes, doing things that terrify people is the only recourse to injustice, there is no point in having a Martin Luther King Day at all.

King has come to be an anodyne figure allowed to mean all things to all people. Summoning him has become almost the antithesis of the reductio ad Hitlerum, the silly reflexive invocation of Hitler to demonize something with which one disagrees. The reductio ad Kingium is an attempt to win an argument by claiming a presumed moral high ground. But King stood for some fairly specific things in his life, and his legacy deserves more than simply to serve as a pillar of virtue for whoever can hastily utter his name first, irrespective of whether that invocation bears scrutiny.


Over at Ephblog I have an essay on age and regret and recreating an idealized past. Think of this as a kinder, gentler, more reflective dcat.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Figure Skating Season Is Now Over

I've said it all before, so there is no need to linger. Boise State got screwed in the polls. Once Florida pounded the sack off of Ohio State last night, the Broncos remained the only undefeated team in D-IA college football. I can live with Florida winning the national title, though I would have liked to have seen Boise State take the AP poll. Now that the polls are out, Boise State ended up #5 in the AP poll. They finished behind two two-loss teams, LSU and USC. They finished behind Ohio State, which has not yet stopped drooling and weeping from their humiliation last night.

I do not deny that Boise State would face an uphill battle in a tournament matched up with LSU, USC, Ohio State (well, last Monday night's Boise State team rubs last night's Ohio State team's face in its own pee like a dog that wet on the carpet). but that it not the point. The point is that the vast majority of the experts had Ohio State winning comfortably last night. The vast majority had Oklahoma pummelling Boise State last week. A good number believed that Michigan deserved a shot at the national title game.

The point is that we have countless examples of experts and close observers being wrong. Two months ago not one of the experts had Florida as their eventual national champion. Vegas makes its fortune in sports books every season based on the fact that guys who know a lot about sports are going to lose more than they win. And yet in these final polls they slap us in the face again. Until we have a playoff system, major college football is no more than figure skating with fewer sequins and every year they let us get no further than the short program, at which point the judges come in and announce the competition over. It's a fraud, and this year was Boise State's turn to be the patsy. Well, Boise State and all fans of college football.

Confronting Genocide in the Future

In the wake of the Iraq conflict gone wrong, one of my biggest worries is that the very idea of the use of force will forever be tainted in the minds of some people. Nonetheless the world in which we live guarantees us that there will always be bad guys, some of whom will only respond to force. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute has a proposal at TNR online. With an eye toward Darfur, O'Hanlon argues for the establishment of "a U.S. military division dedicated solely to the prevention of genocide."
he identifies the problem as follows:
Even if you sent a million soldiers to Darfur, that would not solve the problem," a Sudanese minister recently taunted Western governments. The West could probably prove him wrong with a mere 20,000 troops, but, unfortunately, that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. It has now been four months since the United Nations authorized the deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur to stop the killing and destruction that has so far claimed 400,000 lives. During that time, the genocide has, by most accounts, accelerated. But the United Nations will not send peacekeepers to the region without Sudan's approval, and Sudan's genocidal leaders--eager to see the carnage continue--refuse to give their approval, so the U.N. force hasn't deployed. And it probably never will.

I would like to see such a policy enacted, but with the understanding that the US genocide peace force always try to work with allies on the ground -- say, the African Union in the case of troubles on that continent. Another key would be for such a force not to be fungible -- that is, the mandate would have to be clear that such troops could not be pulled into other conflicts. The creation of such a division might not be viable now, but perhaps in the future it will happen, when we are shaking our heads and saying "Never again" yet again.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The BCS "Championship"

I want Florida to beat Ohio State. For one thing, I hate Ohio State, and I especially hate Ohio State's fans. But more important, as you all know I want Florida to win to throw the whole BCS into a tailspin. If Florida wins, there is a chance that the AP voters will split the ballot, giving Boise State a share of the national championship.

Has there ever been a national championship game that felt less like a national championship game? The week layoff between games (or at least games of any significance) has crushed the momentum that the New Year's Day games started last week. Now that the NFL playoffs are underway, college football is taking a backseat, yet another reason why the BCS is an utter catastrophe for anyone who thinks that, unlike figure skating, championships ought to be decided on the field of play.

The weeklong layoff just added days to an already interminable break between games. Ohio State has not played since the track meet against Michigan in November. Florida's layoff has not been much briefer. It seems obvious that this extended break might make a difference -- will the teams come out flat? Will they be sloppy, or tentative? Will their timing be off? Obviously both teams face the same dilemma, but it seems possible that Florida has been able to use their slightly longer break to build up a healthy dose of the respect card -- as in, no one respects us, everyone favors Ohio State, we'll show you all.

Ohio State deserves to be favored -- they have earned that much. But many of Florida's strengths will neutralize Ohio State's strengths. Florida brings more team speed than any team that Ohio State has played this year and the Gators are certainly used to playing great athletes. At the same time, Ohio State has been relatively more dominant than Florida has been this season and plays in the Big Ten, which, while not as strong as the SEC, provides almost as good a conference test. Ohio State has the best player on the field, but Florida has shown a knack for stopping very good players this year. Both teams have great coaches. Both teams have loud, obnoxious fans. Both teams and programs are accustomed to big games. For all of these reasons, this should be a close game. I don't know how much I trust Chris Leak in a game of this magnitude, but at the same time, I'm not so certain if Ohio State fans can entirely trust their defense after the Michigan shootout.

So I am going to go with my heart: I hate Ohio State and I hate the BCS. I've been an ardent voice in favor of Boise State's claim to a share of the national title absent a national championship tournament. So I am going to make mine a protest prediction: Florida 34-Ohio State 27

The South African Succession and Mbeki's Future

As someone who on more than one occasion has expressed concern with the idea of Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress amending the South African constitution to allow Mbeki to serve a third term in office, I am relieved to see The Mail & Guardian speculate about Mbeki's future and thus the ANC succession battle. Both of these stories are signs that South Africa will continue on the right path.

as for Mbeki's future, there is always the possibility that he will enter the private sector -- his background is in economics -- but given that Mbeki has been such an ardent proponent of his own vision of Pan-Africanism, his "African Renaissance," I tend to think that he'll look toward becoming involved in leadership in regional or continent-wide institutions. My initial guess is that leadership of the African Union will hold a great deal of appeal for him, especially if somehow resolutions to the crises in the Sudan, Somalia, and the perpetual state of chaos that is the Congo emerge between now and 2009 and he can begin to bring to fruition some of his visions for Africa.

As for the succession battle to come, Tokyo Sexwale, a prominent businessman and former stalwart in the anti-apartheid struggle, seems to have the support of a number of prominent South Africans. there is speculation that among these might be Nelson Mandela, which, if true would almost assuredly provide heft to Sexwale's ambitions. If the private sector is going to provide the next South African president, I have always had high hopes for Cyril Ramaphosa, who also went into the private sector to make his much-deserved fortunes after playing such a vital role in the negotiations that led to liberation.

2007 will be one of the most fascinating years in South African politics since 1994 largely because in December the ANC will (I hope) pick a new party leader, who then almost assuredly will become the next president in 2009. As long as that "new leader" does not end up being Thabo Mbeki, I will continue to have faith in South Africa's future.

The Wild Card Weekend

I was as surprised as anyone by how accurate my predictions for this past weekend turned out to be. The only game I got wrong was the game that I assessed most correctly, and only the truly bizarre botched field goal attempt failed me. otherwise I would have been a perfect four-for-four this weekend. (It appears that I may have been premature when I wrote that I was wrong in my initial assessments of Tony Romo.)

Realistically, I had the right winner and roughly the right margin for the Colts, but I don't think anyone expected such an ugly game, such ineffectual offense for long stretches and generally such a sluggish contest. If the Colts play like that against the Ravens, they are going to get mangled.

The last two days did nothing to dissuade me from my belief that the NFC is marginal. Both games ended up being entertaining because the teams were equally matched, but of the eight teams that played in the last two days, i would have a hard time accepting any argument that did not place at least three AFC teams -- the Patriots, Colts, and Jets -- above any of those NFC teams. Things might change when we bring the Saints and Bears into the equation, but as of right now, the AFC is the dominant conference.

The Patriots pounded the Jets, as I thought they would, and while a lot of commenters have said the game was closer than the final score, let's keep in mind that the Pats blew two opportunities to score in the red zone and instead kicked field goals. Add twelve points to the final score (for touchdowns and conversions) and it calls into question just how close that game was. Nonetheless, the Jets played well -- better than any os the losers this weekend -- and I was glad to see Belichick and Mangini embrace after the game. I was even happier to see Belichick engage in what appeared to be dwarf tossing of at least one cameraman.

Early impressions of next weekend:

The two AFC games should be incredible. The four teams are all very, very good. The matchup of the Colts offense against the Ravens defense will provide yet another test of the still unresolved question of whether a great D or a great O will win when they clash. My initial impression is that we should look at the opposite as well -- the Ravens O and the Colts D is dubious, but I think the Colts might be better defensively than the Ravens are on offense. I will change my mind ten times on this question between now and the weekend.

As for the Patriots and Chargers? I cannot imagine what it is like to be a Pats player or coach this week, because I imagine that I will be losing sleep over LaDanian Tomlinson, who really is the most devastating threat in the game. That said, I always like New England's chances against a callow quarterback, and while I think the woeful playoff history of Marty Schottenheimer sometimes is easy to overstate, to whom do you give a coaching advantage in a matchup between the Pats and the Chargers?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The 50 Most Loathsome People in College Football

The guy at Hey Jenny Slater is 3/5 of the way through his annotated list of "The 50 Most Loathsome People in College Football." ("Hey Jenny Slater" is now on the blogroll. Hat Tip to EDSBS.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Round

Here are my picks for the opening round of the playoffs, which kick off tomorrow. Now you know what not to do.:

Chiefs at Colts: (Line: Colts by 7) The chic pick seems to be that LJ is going to run all over the Colts, just as everyone has done this year, and that as a consequence, this game has upset written all over it. LJ is going to run all over the Colts just like everyone has done this year. I have no doubt about that. And the Colts are going to gag at some point in this postseason. They always do. But it is not going to be against a team that backed into the playoffs when the Colts are at home. Kansas City won't be able to stop Manning, and as KC falls behind, Johnson's ability to rip off 6 yards a run will be less important. The only way this is a game is if KC gets out to a two touchdown lead and can make something of that running game advantage. I do not think they can. Colts 35-Chiefs 24

Cowboys at Seahawks: (Line: Seahawks by 2.5) I was at the Cowboys game this weekend. They looked terrible. Just like they looked for almost the whole last month of the season. But it seems pretty clear to me that even Vegas thinks the Cowboys are the better team -- Seattle has one of the legitimate home-field advantages in football, and home field is almost always worth three points. Yet Seattle is only favored by 2.5? Seattle has been a team waiting, to no avail, to improve all season. They played in an execrable division in a terrible conference, and so won their division and get home field in this game. I guess that is an accomplishment. And while I do not trust Tony Romo, his teammates and defense will bail him out just enough to win in this game, which, were it a college bowl game, would have been played before Christmas. Cowboys 23-Seahawks 19

Giants at Eagles: (Line: Eagles by 7) So the people who thought the NFC East was going to be a good division this year were partly right. The east was less (or is it more?) mediocre than the rest of the NFC and so has three playoff teams, none of which is actually any good. And the Giants are less good than the others. Jeff Garcia has been more than a placeholder for the Eagles, they have home field, and while Tiki Barber will help keep this game close for a while, Eli Manning is not getting it done. It will be fun to see who Tom Coughlin blames after this loss. Eagles 17-Giants 13

Jets at Patriots: (Line: Patriots by 8.5) The AFC is really tough, and I am not prepared to say for certain that the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl. But I am pretty confident that they are going to paste the Jets this weekend. The Patriots have three components that are better than anything the Jets have: Belichick, Brady, and the defense. The Jets played the Patriots tough this season, beating them a few weeks back in a game that convinced the Krafts to invest in field turf, but this is not then. This is playoff football, and the Mangenius did not suckle at the Belichick teat loing enough to beat the master in a Wild Card round game. New England has been gearing up for the playoffs for a month now, and they are going to the second round. Patriots 34-Jets 17

Deval Patrick's Inauguration

Deval Patrick's inauguration as Massachusetts' first black governor marked a historic moment in not only Massachusetts, but national politics yesterday. What is especially important is the way in which Patrick's success seems to have mobilized an oftentimes invisible black political class in the state and indeed across New England. Perhaps the most powerful symbolic moment in Patrick's swearing-in was the fact that he placed his hand on a Bible that once belonged to slaves.

Tom's Diary

Tom has put up a new, albeit brief, diary post.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Aisle Be Damned"

In the last few days I discovered an old article in one of my piles of stuff that I once earnestly intended to read, file, or respond to but never quite did. In the March 21, 2004 Washington Post Magazine Gene Weingarten wrote a great piece, "Aisle Be Damned," in which he goes after the critics of gay marriage. He addresses most of the main points and brings out just how absurd the opposition is.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Boise State's Slipper Still Fits . . .

What is there to add about one of the greatest games you or I have ever seen? Last year's Rose Bowl (which I only saw after the fact, as I was in Africa for the bowl season) was a truly great game, but the Fiesta Bowl, which pitted traditional power Oklahoma against upstart Boise State, best known to most casual fans as the team that plays on the blue "Smurf Turf," had the added benefit of presenting one of sport's favorite scenarios: The plucky underdog against the fearsome powerhouse; David versus Goliath; windshield versus bug. Because of this confluence of circumstances, Boise State won a game from which we will be seeing highlights until our alien overlords take control.

And yet a funny thing happened on the way to the coach turning into a pumpkin: Boise State did not play like an underdog. They did not play like a team filling their role in a script. They did not back down. And as a result they won the game, they won respect, and they changed the nature of the debate over how college football ends its season.

Let's forget for a minute the spectacular ending -- the perfectly executed hook and ladder, the pass from the non-quarterback (wide receiver Vinny Parretta), the decision to go for two when one would have continued the overtime, the modified Statue of Liberty play to score on the two-point attempt, that running back's (his name is Ian Johnson) proposal to the cheerleader (Chrissy Popadics) that almost assured that someone will make a movie out of the 2006-2007 Boise State football team. (If you insist on details you can and should read EDSBS's coverage here.)

The reality is that it was Oklahoma that had to muster a feverish, improbably comeback after Boise State came out and punched the Sooners in the mouth. Boise State was winning the game handily and in such a way that the final outcome, while wild, and while predicated on opening up a playbook, should make Boise State's head coach, Chris Petersen, the new crush for all AD's looking to fill coaching vacancies. Petersen thoroughly outcoached Bob Stoops, Oklahoma's erstwhile genius. And Boise State was simply better than Oklahoma on New Year's Day.

Back in November, after the Ohio State-Michigan game, I made the case for Boise State. I concluded my argument by writing:

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!

Of course at the time, mine was a protest voice, an argument railing against a power structure that has proven both unjust and inflexible. But suddenly my argument, and that of thousands like me, does not seem so quixotic. There is no doubt in my mind now that whoever wins the "national title" will be a dubious champion. This will be especially true if Florida upsets the heavily favored Ohio State Buckeyes. Suffice it to say, I am jumping on the Gator bandwagon, hoping that the coach of the last non-BCS-conference team to win a BCS Bowl, Urban Myer, can validate his own ascent from it boy to savior, have-not to have, and in so doing, can cement Boise State's claim (with the help of AP voters) to at least a share of the most improbable national championship in the history of college sports.

Sad News

The historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese has passed away. I first encountered her work as an undergraduate at Williams and especially in my MA program in Charlotte. Within just a few days, Eugene Genovese lost his brother and his wife. The Genoveses had one of the most interesting ideological tragectories in the historical profession in the last three decades and dcat's humble condolences go out to Professor Genovese.

Happy New Year

I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year. I just got in from a weekend in Dallas with a buddy and am just trying to catch up. Your email campaign is working -- I will be writing about the Fiesta Bowl as soon as I can get caught up on life.