Friday, August 31, 2007

Self Indulgence Alert Redux: The South Africa Blog

Over at the South Africa Blog I've been busy with the Zimbabwe crisis, the Zimbabwe crisis, the Zimbabwe crisis, and other stuff (including SADC's response to, well, the Zimbabwe crisis).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Self-Indulgence Alert!

Cliff May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, gives me some props in the FDD "News & Notes," for my recent argument about "The Unbearable Lightness of Howard Zinn."

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Dual-Edged Sword of Email

I'm certain I'm not alone among my readers, but I spend an insane, inordinate amount of time on email. Keeping up with friends, of course, but also academic listserves, which proliferate seemingly daily, and news sources -- newspapers and magazines and journals -- and too many sports-related emails to mention. Much of my daily contact with Africa comes to me via email. Email that by any definition is work-related. There are days, it seems, when "work" consists entirely of deleting email, responding to email, ignoring email, blogging based on things I receive via email, and engaging in endeavors and making the sort of inquiries that will lead to more email. A day away from the computer can set me back two days. A week away from email and I cannot imagine how I would dig myself out.

Now we have confirmation that we are not alone from the website of the respected literary magazine-cum-journal N+1, which explicitly makes the case"Against Email." Here is a sample, though the whole thing is worthwhile:

America, most efficient country on earth, is in fact a nightmare economy of squandered time. Our economic system condemns people to work in offices and send email; that’s what they do there. (And in order to cover their asses, they cc everyone about everything.) Then they go home and take with them all the work they were supposed to be doing all day. Their revenge upon those of us who don’t work in offices? To send us email from nine to five.

We too have sometimes been the have-nots in the email economy. In the role of supplicant emailer, we have labored to achieve the impossible right tone: so winning that others will have to write back, so casual you can pretend it doesn’t matter when they don’t. The whole thing is painful all around. And this, finally, is what must be understood: email, which presents itself as a convenience, a breeze, is in fact a stern disciplinary phenomenon. You must not stray too far from your desk. You must be polite, you must write back soon. And yet in order to strike the right note, you must not write when too giddy, angry, tired, or drunk. Always at the disposal of email, never, except guiltily, at the disposal of your moods. . . . It fits our phase of capitalism: the collective attitude is casual, natural-seeming, offhand; the discipline is constant and intense.

Email represents a form of self-inflicted tyranny, but it is tyranny nonetheless. But I have to cut this short. I have to check if I have any new messages before I go to bed.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Thunderstick: What a great week. We roll 2-1 against TB and 4-0 over Chicago while the Yanks are going 1-2 against Anaheim and 1-2 against Detroit with one left today and that 4 game lead that had us back on the ledge a week ago has grown into a 7.5 game lead. This series with the Yanks that starts tomorrow has been looming for a while now, but this past weekend might have made it immaterial. The Sox will enter with at least a 7-game lead. The only thing that could really derail our train to the AL East title in these three games would be a sweep and even with that, it just gets us back to the ledge that we were on a week ago.

Like the Yanks did after the all-star break, we fattened up against some bad teams this past week, but you don't make apologies for who you beat, you just got out and beat them and improve that record. We got solid pitching all around and the bats were lively this past weekend and now we can get a day of rest (key given the doubleheader that had to be played on Friday after the rainout) and can roll into NY with Dice, Schill and Beckett lined up to go (although the way Waker is pitching right now, I'm not so sure I wouldn't rather see him in the rotation this week than Schil). It'd be nice if the Sox could go in and lay a beat down on and finish them off like the Yankees did when they came into Fenway late last year and laid down a 5 game hammer on the Sox. Bring on this series.

dcat: Bring on this series indeed. You hear that sound? That is the bluebird of happiness singing softly into our ears. Are you basking in that warmth on your skin, that sweet, fresh smell in the air, that indescribably blue sky? Those, my friend, are the heightened senses of victory.

Let us forget for a moment the historic whomping we just put on a team that will probably remove the last bit of shine from the Ozzie Guillen diamond on the South Side of Chicago. It's pretty clear that we got on a bit of a run, that ChiSox team is demoralized, and their middle relief is execrable. But while we were ringing up double digits in every game and keeping them to minimal runs, several of those scored in games that had long been decided, the Yankees were falling back to earth. They have finally reverted to their mean. Not as bad as they were in May, not as good as they were in July, the Yankees are revealing themselves for the sort of team that they are -- a mishmash of old and young, a fantasy team brought to life, with little coherent construction, a dangerous but weakened old animal capable of devastation if you corner them, but at the end of the day toothless when matched up against those who are emerging as the alpha dogs in the pack. They can forget the American League East. Once we take just one game in this series, that becomes a pipe dream for the Yankees. Right now Steinbrenner's lads are looking at a deficit that is becoming increasingly daunting in the Wild Card race. I for one cannot think of a better recruiting tool to get A-Rod than to have him watch us in the postseason while the inevitable Steinbrenner storm rages through the fall and into the winter and while the dullards who populate the Yankee City State point their errant, accusing fingers at their best player.

Naturally this series is important. But we have the pitching lined up nearly perfectly. (Though when your pitching staff goes six deep, you always have your pitching staff lined up -- Tim Wakefield is tied, with Beckett, for the ML lead in wins, and he has had a decision in every start, something that has not happened in a full season for something like 80 years. Let's also give a hat tip to what Tavarez has done for the Sox this year.) The bats are bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan. The Yankees will come in with the stink of desperation (which is only barely discernibly different from the stink that normally follows them like that which enveloped Pig Pen of the Peanuts) and our job will be to crap all over them. They need a sweep to have even a slight hope. That ain't happening.

Go Sox!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sox Offensive Explosions

Think the Rangers' 30-run explosion against the Orioles last week was impressive? At The Boston Globe Bob Ryan uncovers the story of how the 1950 Red Sox, a team that he reminds us was one of the great offensive juggernauts in baseball history, scored 49 runs in a two-game blasting of the St. Louis Browns.

Of course this weekend the Sox scored in double digits in every game of a four game series, something accomplished only three other times in the last century. But more on that in the next edition of "Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick."

Moving On Up

James Wood, the sometimes-controversial literary critic at The New Republic, is moving on the The New Yorker. This may be the source of some consternation in the literary world. Wood is often controversial, sometimes frustratingly narrow-minded, but rarely dull.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

More Belated Justice in Mississippi

In another effort to get at the truth and deliver justice from some of the crimes of the Jim Crow era, a federal judge on Friday gave former Ku Klux Klansman James Seale to three life sentences for his role in the abduction and murder of Henry H. Dee and Charles E. Moore in Meadville, Mississippi in 1964. The murders were not the subject of a great deal of attention because of the high-profile disappearance of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner that summer, though it was in the process of searching for the bodies of those three young activists that the bodies of Dee and Moore, who were both 19, were discovered. To provide some perspective on the scale of racial oppression from that era, according to the piece there are still more than one hundred cold cases from the civil rights era that have gone unsolved, including thirty in Mississippi.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Red Sox Nation Travels

Courtesy of the Thunderstick, a USA Today article on how the Red Sox Nation represent the "kings of the road," and the Sox the biggest attraction in baseball:
The cheering, fawning and often angst-ridden Red Sox Nation is everywhere, some nights outnumbering the home team's fans at Red Sox road games. Some fans are newcomers, having latched on to the team of the moment. Others are die-hards who have found it easier to see their beloved Sox away from Boston because it's often difficult and expensive to get tickets to games in Boston's tiny Fenway Park.

(See also this story in today's Boston Globe.)

Let's just say that I am well aware that were the regular season to end today, the American League playoff representatives would be the Sox along with Cleveland, Seattle, and Anaheim. And the National league playoff teams would be the Mets, Cubs, San Diego, and Arizona. With the possible exception of a World Series matchup in Wrigley, every one of those cities would be easier and cheaper to see a Sox postseason game than Fenway by a matter of magnitude. I'm rooting for Arizona in the National League, as a good friend just moved to within miles of Arizona's ballpark. Though like everyone, I would love a Sox-Cubs meeting as well.

Of course there is a long way to go in the regular season . . .

Iraq and Vietnam: The Quagmire of Analogies

So now Iraq is like Vietnam. When for so long war supporters have fulminated and sputtered that it is not. And now the anti-war masses will argue that Iraq is not like Vietnam. When for so long they have fulminated and sputtered that it is.

How is this: In some ways the Iraq War loosely resembles some aspects of Vietnam. In a huge number of ways it does not. That will prove deeply dissatisfying to ideologues who are unwilling to make comparisons except for when it helps them to make some larger point to lambaste the other side. A moderate stance on the analogy is a lot more true than the perspective of those who now argue that Iraq is like Vietnam in order to try to pin prospective failure on a party that was not in power in any branch of government in the first four years of a war that is now not quite four-and-a-half years old. And it is a lot more true than the stance of those who have tried to invoke Vietnam as shorthand for "bad war."

In our constant quest to develop a usable past, we almost always do so the wrong way. The reality is that in terms of planning at strategy and long-term approaches, this war in Iraq is, like nearly all wars, sui generis. At this point the only quagmire that seems apt is the one that ideologues on both sides find themselves mired in as a result of their desperate attempts to score points against those with the temerity to disagree with them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Jimmy Fund, A Story, and a Reminder

Dan Shaughnessy has a reputation, largely deserved, of being one of those sportswriters who looks for weak spots and sticks the knife in and twists. But when Shaughnessy, who was long, long ago my favorite sportswriter, is on, he is still capable of greatness.

(Contrast this with Rick Reilly, who inexplicably is arguably the most famous and revered sportswriter alive, largely on the basis of his column, "Life of Reilly," on the back page of Sports Illustrated. Reilly's columns come in two types: The attempts at being clever, which rarely are. And the attempts at being sentimental, which always are. And that's not necessarily a good thing.)

If Reilly wants an example of a good column addressing an emotional topic, he could do worse than this Shaughnessy piece from Sunday's Boston Globe in which he discusses the red Sox's recent Jimmy Fund campaign and its confluence with events of 40 years ago when Tony C was beaned in the face. Here is a lump-inducing sample:

A lot of the '67 guys are back in town this weekend and they were standing behind home plate, in uniform, Friday night when 7-year-old Jimmy Fund patient Jordan Leandre sang the anthem, then circled the bases before the second game of the day-night doubleheader.

You can have your Carlton Fisk homer in '75, or David Ortiz's walkoff against the Angels in the ALDS in '04, or even Ted's clout off Jack Fisher in his final major league at-bat in 1960. Jordan's tour de bases was more meaningful and emotional. A lot of us hadn't seen the brave little guy since the home opener in 2006 when he sang the anthem from a wheelchair.

The chair was gone Friday, another victory for the Jimmy Fund. And in the final hours of a two-day WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon in which citizens of Red Sox Nation pledged more than $3.6 million, Jordan gave us a moment for the ages. He was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Making Dreams Possible," and he was running on legs that weren't strong enough to allow him to stand last year.

This was his 10th anthem at Fenway, but his first without a brace, a cast, or a chair. He ran for every kid who ever battled cancer and every Boston baseball fan who ever put a quarter in a Jimmy Fund box. And when he crossed home plate, staggering to the finish, he was swept up and held aloft by Jose Santiago, who won the final game of the August '67 series with the Angels, a game in which the Sox trailed, 8-0, in the fourth inning.

The Sox fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund was a huge success, pulling in nearly $3.5 million, largely over the course of Friday's day-night doubleheader against the Angels. No team in any sport is as closely connected to a charity as the Sox are with the Jimmy Fund and few teams in any sport would be capable of holding a fundraiser of that magnitude. The Jimmy Fund is also one of dcat's main go-to charities, and it is worth reminding many of you about dcat's charity drive, to which it is never too late to make a commitment. Click here for details, and make your commitment either in the comments here, the comments at that link, or as many have done, via email, based either on the remainder of the season or on the season as a whole.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

RoJo, an Amiable Dunce, On Michael Deaver

Over at Amiable Dunce RoJo has a thoughtful reflection on the passing of Michael Deaver, longtime aide to Ronald Reagan.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Thunderstick: We went into this weekend against the Angels saying "you know what, it'd be great to win 3, but the Angels are a very good team and in all likelihood we'll split and NY is playing well so it's very possible that we could exit this weekend up 4, having gone a respectable 2-2 over LA because the Yanks take 3 of 4 from Detroit." And that's exactly what happened and yet I still feel like we got kicked in the gut. You know, if you go 2-2, get good wins in the games Schil and Beckett start and you see Buckholz and Tavarez get lit up, you say "oh well--two guys not in our rotation that needed to make spot start got bombed--what can you do". We win Buckholz's game and come back from 5-0 down to win Schill's--both nice wins. But Gagne totally geeks Beckett's game and then on Sunday the bats don't even show up. So we went 2-2 which we kind of said before the weekend we'd be happy with, but the way it happened, obviously put us back on the ledge. Not good.

But then we get to face Tampa. God it's nice to knock two off the magic number. Seems like those days have been few and far between. I agree with what you have been saying for a while now, though, that the Yanks are finding out how hard it is to come back from that deficit, especially against a team like the Sox who aren't going to go on many long losing streaks. In fact, the ground that the Yanks have made up is largely because of them playing great, not us playing really poorly--it's more like when we've got 4-3 over 7 games, they've gone 6-1. It's tough to keep that up. Going in I was thinking it would be great if we could just get this lead back up to 5 games before the series with TB was done. now that it's there, I can't help but think that it would be nice if we could sweep the series and Anaheim could find a way to take one more and we could get this to 6 before the weekend series with Chicago. I'd feel comfortable going to NY with a 6 lead, less so with a 5 game and downright frightened with a 4 game lead.

By the way -- I heard on the radio this morning that game 1 of Sox/Yanks is shaping up to be Schil vs. Clemens. Geez--that's going to be nuts.

dcat: It's a good thing that I am used to climbing out onto and then back off of the ledge during the latter stages of every Red Sox season, because otherwise this last few weeks would be doing a lot more damage to my heart than it is. But I think this day-to-day emotional investment is what separates a baseball pennant race from anything else in sports. Americans are passionate about football, to be sure, but the nature of a football season is that with one game a week per team, it is all about anticipation, the buildup to that one game on Friday night or Saturday or Sunday (or Monday. Or Thursday night. Or Wednesday night. But you get the point.) In baseball, they play every day, or nearly so. And so a race ebbs and flows, crescendoes and decrescendoes. Every single day a scene of the drama plays out, thus capturing emotions with more sustained immediacy, I would argue, than any other sport.

I wnat to take just a few minutes to discuss Tim Wakefield's performance this season. It is pretty stunning to realize that Waker has already accounted for 25 decisions this season. He has 15 wins. And yes, he has 10 losses. But what this tells me is that he is eating up innings, saving the pen, and that he is putting the Sox in a position to win when he takes the mound. He quietly might amass 20 wins and he is in many ways the anchor to this staff. Wins (and losses) are not really the greatest statistic to assess pitchers, but it is telling that when Wakefield goes out to the mound, he always sticks around long enough to get the win or get the loss. We have flashier guys. We always have. But Wakes is always there, always steady, and provides us with depth, but also with postseason options that few have, because we well know that he is capable of pitching on short rest, on the spur of the moment, in relief, as well as in the more familiar starting position. He threw another gem last night, something that has happened quite a lot regularly, and his shutout gave the Sox a serious boost.

We now get two more against Tampa while the Yanks have two more with the Angels, and we know how tough they can be. Let's hope for another two games to come off that magic number tonight. For most of the country, it is far too early to think about the Magic Number, but as we have been counting down since the first day of the season, we may as well let everyone know that according to the Thunderstick's infallible system, the Sox' Magic Number sits at 33. Or as you put it in an email this morning, "Larry Bird Says 'Go Sox!'"

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn is probably the best selling historian of all time. And yet many of his supporters (rarely the professional historians who write in the areas about which Zinn has written) like to pretend that he is a maligned outsider who has been ignored by all but a brave, enlightened cadre willing to speak truth to power. While his books have sold a gazillion copies, I do not find him to be an especially good historian. By wearing his ideology on his sleeve, some might see Zinn as ruthlessly honest, but he lets his politics drive his historical work in a way that warps and twists his interpretations and makes his work tremendously dishonest. Or at least uninteresting for those of us who are not interested in creating a usable past to confirm rather than challenge our own prevailing worldviews. Zinn has served as a fairly good polemicist at times, and his reportage on, say, the Civil Rights Movement helped me to shape some of my own ideas about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee early on, but on the whole, I have little use for him. I can almost always anticipate what he is going to write before I’ve completed reading the first paragraph, and I’m rarely surprised by what follows.

Thus when I came to Zinn’s letter to the editor in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review, I could see what was to follow. Let’s just parse the letter paragraph by paragraph. I’ll place Zinn’s words in quotation marks and will precede my own with *** in customary dcat fashion:

“Samantha Power has done extraordinary work in chronicling the genocides of our time, and in exposing how the Western powers were complicit by their inaction.”

*** In approaching his letter this way, Zinn is setting Powers up in order to knock her down. But let’s keep in mind who the respective writers – Zinn and Powers – are and their relative status not in book sales, but on the actual issue of global genocides and the Western responses to them. Oh, and I am curious what action, in light of what follows, Zinn would have advocated Western powers taking in the face of the genocides Powers has chronicled so well.

“However, in her review of four books on terrorism, especially Talal Asad’s “On Suicide Bombing” (July 29), she claims a moral distinction between ‘inadvertent’ killing of civilians in bombings and “deliberate” targeting of civilians in suicide attacks. Her position is not only illogical, but (against her intention, I believe) makes it easier to justify such bombings.”

*** One can only assume that in what follows Zinn will try to claim that intent does not matter, that intending to kill someone is no different from unintentionally killing someone. I really hope I do not have to explain to any sentient person why an unwillingness to distinguish between the two is monumentally stupid.

“She believes that ‘there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective.’ Of course, there’s a difference, but is there a “moral” difference? That is, can you say one action is more reprehensible than the other?”

*** Yes, you can. I’d like to be more snarky about it actually, because the question is so obtuse, reveals such sophistry, that it warrants little more than scorn. But the answer to the question is so patently clear that I’m at a loss for snarkiness except to say that yes, intending to kill someone is worse than inadvertently killing someone in almost any imaginable case. Morally worse. Or, as he’d have it for reasons I cannot quite divine, “morally” worse.

“In countless news briefings, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, responding to reporters’ questions about civilian deaths in bombing, would say those deaths were ‘unintentional’ or ‘inadvertent’ or ‘accidental,’ as if that disposed of the problem. In the Vietnam War, the massive deaths of civilians by bombing were justified in the same way by Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon and various generals.”

*** Look, I loathe Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I think they have been irredeemably terrible public servants, and though I will never know them personally, their public personas are to me disgusting, self-important, arrogant beyond words, and dangerous. I would not trust either of them to shit competently after a bran binge. But simply mentioning their name and halfheartedly using them as the spokesmen for a complicated idea (and for historical analogies that obscure more than they reveal) such as civilian deaths in war is simply shoddy argumentation.

“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in an action, like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’ Does that difference exonerate you morally?”

*** Leaving “inevitability,” a concept of which good historians are always wary, aside for a moment, that “inevitability” still does not erase the difference between intending and not intending to kill people in war. And it does not elide the fact that targets can be chosen so as to minimize damage. It certainly does not address the issue of whether when countries go to war, they tend to be asking for moral absolution or exoneration. But that sidesteps the actual question, which is whether all deaths are morally the same or whether they are not. Zinn’s assertion is that intentionality does not matter. Ultimately, “exoneration” is not the issue, though invoking it represent a clever sleight of hand to try to obscure things.

“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent. To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”

*** I am going to say otherwise. I am going to assert that there are morally superior stances to make, morally superior stances that when he has believed the morality to be on his side, Zinn has not ever been afraid to make. Indeed, Zinn’s career is nothing more than a series of moral judgments. (“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” That was the title of one of Zinn’s books.) The terrorist chooses to target innocents. Their death is his goal, and the overarching objective beyond that goal is to instill fear ina population and their leaders so as to accomplish a political objective. I am willing to grant that aerial bombardment is problematic. But so too is manslaughter. The difference is that I’m not about to assert that manslaughter and murder are morally equivalent just because manslaughter is unpleasant and I wish it did not exist. More to the point, perhaps, I wish no one would have to kill another out of self- defense. But I’m not na├»ve or blinkered enough to argue that there is no difference between murder and a killing done in self-defense. Regretting some bad things does not make all bad things equal. Zinn is too smart not to know as much, but too fatuous a thinker to care.

Overstating the Glow of the Lights

The latest issue of the New York Times' sports magazine, Play has an interesting piece on both Friday Night Lights and the spectacle of Friday Night Lights that inspire the show. Football is fast approaching and so naturally Odessa and the region are getting geared up for another season under the lights. There is no doubting that football is huge in West Texas, and that Permian High is the most prominent program, though in Odessa it appears that the coverage of both PHS and Odessa High are fairly evenhanded (my guess is that Bronchos fans might disagree).

To a degree I take issue with one assertion from Darren Allman, Permian's third-year head coach who played on the Panthers' 1984 state championship team, when he discusses how realistic the television show is:

“The book, movie and TV show are all based on how rabid the people in this community are about high-school football,” he says. “Is that realistic? Yes.” Football is “the No. 1 source of entertainment,” he continues, adding, “It’s what people think about and talk about all the time.”

This represents fiercely insular thinking. Lots of people spend lots of time thinking about football here, to be sure. But football simply is not so dominant throughout the community that we all sit around discussing whether the Panthers can improve on last year's playoff performance. (I think perhaps they can).

For parents and alumni and die-hard fans, of course, local football is huge, as it is in just about any community across the country. But once you escape the penumbral shade of Permian's world, one can live an existence in Odessa quite removed from the black and white wonders of Mojo. And this does not come from a hostile observer -- anyone who has read this blog for even a week nows that I obsessively love sports. But like most things related to high school life, those within its ambit tend to over-inflate the significance of what goes on within.

Of course Coach Allman thinks Permian High football is the be-all and end-all for the community's existence. As well he should as the program's head coach. But one of the problems we as a country tend to have with regard to high school sports is to make them life-or-death, and thus more important than they are. Since 1998 Permian High has made the playoffs exactly once. And by almost any indicator, the community is thriving, arguably more, on the whole, than it ever has. Like a swath of the city's denizens, I'm looking forward to next weekend's Permian Basin Football Preview in the Odessa American. I'm hoping to make my first foray under the lights at Ratliff Stadium this fall. But if I chose to pay the hype no heed, I would not represent a scorned outlier in this community. In a sense, it does Odessa and this region a disservice to imply otherwise.

Friday, August 17, 2007

FPA Analysis on The Vlok Trial: Self-Indulgence Alert

The Foreign Policy Association has published another of my Great Decisions Analysis pieces. "The Vlok Trial and a Reconciliation With the Truth" looks at the recent criminal proceedings against Adriaan Vlok, South Africa's Minister of Law and Order in the 1980s, and four other members of the security apparatus for a bizarre attempted murder that involved the attempted poisoning of the underwear of anti-Apartheid cleric Frank Chikane in hopes of killing him with neuro-toxins.

The case involves the intersection of my two main areas of interest in South Africa: the state response to the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s and the post-Apartheid push for truth, reconciliation, and justice. Almost literally as the piece was posted, it was announced that Vlok pleaded guilty along with his co-accused. By working out a deal, Vlok was able to avoid jail time, though he did receive a ten-year suspended sentence and one assumes that these may not be the last charges he sees.

(Crossposted at the South Africa Blog.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In Praise of Beckham

The coverage of the American sports media when it comes to international sports is generally awful. Your typical sportswriter or talking head (and increasingly, the difference between the two is slight) knows nothing or close to nothing about soccer and significantly less about sports such as rugby or cricket. And so the natural inclination they have is to mock these sports. David Beckham's arrival in the US has merely allowed too many guys -- including some I generally respect a lot, like Tony Kornheiser -- to reveal their manifest ignorance about and prejudice against sports that the rest of the world love.

Becks has been dealing with an ankle injury for the last few weeks, which inevitably earned the condemnation of journalists quick to call him a wimp despite the fact that more than one of the games was a glorified exhibition, and that we in the US are in the midst of the inanely long NFL preseason when players will miss practices and exhibition games at the drop of a hat. Well, Beckham saw his first substantial action last night in a Superliga game (which matches teams from Mexico's pro league and the MLS) and hopefully he shut his detractors up for a while, scoring one of his patented free kick goals and handing out an assist in a 2-0 Galaxy victory over DC United.

David Beckham is not going to save soccer in the United States. I'm not certain that it needs saving. And I actually think that MLS might now be our fourth major team sports league, despite the fact that it is a second-rate professional soccer league by global standards. But he has been a wonderful player (even if limited in many ways, and even if his fame surpasses his still considerable abilities as a player) for a long time and Americans are lucky to have him in our professional ranks. It is easy to overstate the Beckham effect, but it is, as recent behavior from our supposed sports experts reveals, even easier to mock and understate what we don't understand. Beckham won't do what he did last night every time out. But he has now shown why the Galaxy wanted him to cross the pond and join our sporting firmament. Let's just allow him to play. And let's enjoy it when he does.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, Rest in Peace

Irene Morgan Kirkaldy passed away last week at the age of 90. Back in 1944 the then-Irene Morgan challenged segregated seating on a bus traveling between Gloucester, Virginia and her home in Baltimore. She was arrested and convicted of violating the state's Jim Crow laws but she challenged her conviction in court. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled in her favor in the case Morgan v. Virginia in 1946, which established (in the realm of Constitutional law, but not in practice) that segregation on interstate transportation violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. That decision fueled the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, in which sixteen men, eight black and eight white, boarded buses in order to test whether or not the Morgan decision was recognized on the ground and to educate people about the case.

Irene Morgan has played a real and important role in my development as a historian. In a seminar class as a PhD student I investigated the Morgan decision and Journey of Reconciliation and it was from that work that I began pursuing my dissertation on the fight to desegregate interstate transportation. That project in turn has become my book manuscript, about which I hope to have some long-awaited positive news in the next six weeks. The events of the 1940s occupy three chapters of that manuscript. Without Irene Morgan's brave stand against Jim Crow, my own career might be rather different. And of course that is the least of her contributions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The New Haven Review of Books

It's not the American Review of Books that my friend, erstwhile golf partner, and some-time mentor Jeff Herf famously called for a few months back at Open University, and it might only be a one-off, but The New Haven Review of Books has produced an issue. Even if this is not a one-time thing, it is unclear whether the NHRB will do more than involve the estimable talents in the New Haven area, but in an era of newspapers reducing their books coverage, at least the folks within Yale's penumbra have gotten the ball rolling.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Baseball Road Trip

It doesn't take much for a guy like me to start waxing poetic about baseball and its magic. John Donnelly of The Boston Globe took his kids on a baseball road trip -- ten games at ten venues in ten days. Here is his account of that trip. This is one of those stories that makes me want kids right now.

Over at the South Africa Blog (Self Indulgence Alert)

I've been industrious of late at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog where amidst a lot of emphasis on Zimbabwe I have used the Wizard of Oz as a model to understanding why an invasion of Zim from the UK or the US might be a bad idea. But I've also looked at issues related to development, to China's role in Africa, and much more. If you have anyinterest in current African affairs, please go check it out.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

dcat: Ugh. Two terrible losses in which we gave up comfortable leads and squandered good-to-great pitching performances has me just plain disgusted. we still have a four-game cushion and we still may be the best team in baseball, but I simply cannot talk about the red Sox right now without feeling sick to my stomach. You take it away . . .

Thunderstick: What a shitty weekend. We have the best bullpen in baseball and we absolutely waste stellar efforts by Dice (who really fought through some tough early innings and was up against it in a fantastic pitching duel on Friday which he left with the lead) and Schilling. I guess to some extent, things have to even out. Our pen has been so good all year and no doubt a lot of the reasons why we built such a big lead initially in the AL East was because we didn't blow and leads for 2+ months, so I guess eventually you have to blow your share, but what a completely demoralizing weekend to blow two games they should have won while the Tribe did their best "Cavs in the NBA finals" impression against the Yanks and the lead is at 4 which might as well be zero given that there are still 40+ games left to make that up.

Here's why I've got really bad vibes right now. The Sox have made a host of trade-deadline deals in the past--sometimes they don't seem like much, sometimes they seem like they are going to get us over the top. But the 2004 Nomar trade was a lot different--I remember reading that they traded Nomar for a less-talented shortstop in Orlando Cabrera and a late-inning first base defensive replacement in Minky and thinking "wow--this is a panic move". But it turned out to be great--Minky ended up making some big defensive plays late in games that Millar may have booted and Cabrera went on to have a fantastic end of the year and was a great catalyst to the offense hitting behind Damon in the 2 spot. That's the only deal I remember the Sox making where I thought "this is an awful deal" and then in turned out to be just what they needed. Well, the Gagne deal is the exact opposite of that. When they got him, all I thought was that "this is a great trade, the Sox didn't give up a lot and now we've got three great relievers at the end of the pen and we kept him away from the Yanks" and I had visions of the game being over after 6 innings when Okie would come in and lock down the 7th, Gagne in the 8th and Pap in the 9th. Now, I think Gagne has only gotten through one outing with the Sox without giving up a run and he was nothing short of disasterous this weekend. Anyway, this is like the opposite OC/Minky trade right now. Looked great and is proving to be disastrous. Things like this happen to teams that aren't meant to do much, if anything, come October. Hopefully TB provides us what we need in these next three games to feel better about the team.

Oliver Hill, RIP

The Washington Post has the story of the funeral of Oliver Hill, one of the vital lawyers who helped midwife the Civil Rights Movement. Appropriately, the passing of the 100-year-old Hill fueled as much celebration for a life well lived as mourning over his death. The lawyers at the heart of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's challenges to Jim Crow tend to get lost in the shuffle as the plaintiffs, politicians, and activists get the lion's share of the attention. But without the committed cadre of lawyers who challenged the system at mid-century, the rest of it may never have succeeded.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good Times For Boston Fans

Over at, Chris Mannix writes about how Boston is experiencing heady times:
Life is good these days if you're a Boston sports fan. The Patriots, who have three times as much hardware as the Celtics and Red Sox have collected in the last two decades, have reloaded with Randy Moss and a host of other new weapons. But it is the Red Sox's acquisition of former Cy Young award winner Eric Gagne and the Celtics' trade for former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett (two men whose last names sound remarkably similar when spoken with a pronounced Boston accent) that are the topics du jour.

Boston fans do have a great deal to feel happy about. Even without the C's things have been pretty good -- let's face it: when a city's baseball and football teams are serious title contenders, it shoudn't matter what else is happening. Right now there are no locks. The Red Sox are as of right now the best team in baseball, but the American League is a meat grinder and there is lots of baseball to be played. The Patriots had a great offseason and they are still a team that has won three Super Bowls in six years, but Indy will be the defending champs until they are knocked out, and deserve to be the favorites. (And I would imagine they are sick of hearing about the Patriots.) The C's have great potential and are relevant again but still have not won anything of significance in more than two decades. But as far as promise goes, no fans have reason to be any happier than those of us who root for the teams from New England.

Thanks to the Thunderstick for the heads up.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Giuliani Myth

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't get the Rudy Giuliani phenomenon. I have never understood his popular appeal, I have no idea why he became such a sanctified figure after 9/11, and he has shown me almost nothing on the campaign trail. Now we have this full-scale evisceration of Rudy's supposedly big selling point, his leadership during 9/11, and the glory he derived after that day. Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice addresses Giuliani's five self-perpetuated myths and takes them on one by one. (Via Jonathan Chait and TNR's "Plank")

Friday Night Lights Shining

As many of you know, I believe that Friday Night Lights is an underappreciated gem of a television show. In case you need to be reminded of my love for the show, see here (where I also take issue in a big way with a condescending writer from the New York Times), here, and here.

Fortunately FNL was renewed for this coming season, but my understanding is that NBC has it on a very short leash. Courtesy of the Thunderstick comes a review of the FNL Soundtrack that really is a gushing essay of appreciation for the show. FNL is easily one of the best programs on television, so when the first season dvd is released, get it, and when the fall schedule is released, find out when FNL is going to be on (rumors are Friday Night, which will conflict with the real Friday Night Lights, but may allow the show a chance to grow its audience in a time slot that is usually not expected to produce blockbuster numbers) and if you have not watched it, give it a chance.

The True Scholar-Athletes

This week's ESPNU has been running a four-ppart series on college sports at the Division II and III levels. Naturally my alma mater, Williams, features prominently given that it is both the nation's best Division III athletic program and more importantly is among the very finest colleges in America. The first installment discusses how the best DII-III programs sustain excellence in the face of tight budgets and lesser status than Division I programs. The rest of the week's coverage looks at boosters and alumni support, fan support and internet coverage, and how smaller schools count on academic reputation more than sports. Chris Preston of the Shelburne News in Vermont is the author of the series.

Hat tip to Ephblog.

Holden on Black on Nixon

In this week's Times Literary Supplement Anthony Holden provides a critical review of Conrad Black's mammoth new biography of Richard Nixon. Black's work represents an attempt at revisionist rehabilitation of Nixon. But Holden cannot help but see the subtext of Black's own current troubles, which include convictions on multiple counts of fraud, and which are currently under appeal.

One can understand an attempt to look beyond Watergate, though most historians have done that much, and Joan Hoff has already emphasized Nixon beyond Watergate in a revisionist work in her book Nixon Reconsidered. But it is impossible to decouple Nixon from the most sordid series of events of his presidency, a series of crimes and coverups and abuses of power and violations of the Constitution that are with the passage of time too easy to dismiss (and diminish) as political business as usual.

Wicked Pissah (Redux)

So South Carolina has announced that the Palmetto State's primary will now be held on January 19. Inevitably this is going to cause New Hampshire to react by moving its date forward, because by Granite State law the First in the Nation Primary is sacrosanct and must antedate all others. Last year in a post called "Wicked Pissah" I commented on this precise issue. I feel that my argument holds up well, plus you can never underestimate just how lazy I am, so I am going to quote the whole thing:
New Hampshire's hold on the first in the nation primary is growing increasingly tenuous, at least as far as the Democratic Party is concerned. I am pretty mixed about this. As a New Hampshire native and still semi-jingoist, I believe that tradition ought to matter, that the particular style of retail politics that the New Hampshire primary imposes on candidates is good for democracy, and that New Hampshire stepped up to the plate long ago when it was not a particular honor to be first but rather a duty and when in any case candidates were chosen by the parties rather than in any meaningful way by the public. Why now should the Granite State be shoved to the side, or at least diminished, in the candidate selection process?

At the same time, New Hampshire is not exactly representative of our great democracy. The state is about 99% white. Ethnically, socially, geographically the state is not as diverse as the presidential selection process warrants. New Hampshire may be the most libertarian-inclined state in the country and so having its citzens choose the candidates for each party's nomination seems to have a warping effect sometimes. I understand all of these points intellectually, even if my heart and sense of loyalty indicate that New hampshire deserves to maintain some status, however honorific, in the primary season.

But here is what I do not want to see happen: A move toward early, frontloaded superprimaries in which the party's choice happens quickly without voters being able to see candidates be hardened by a selection process. I do not want to see retail politics, the politics of the spaghetti supper and pancake breakfast and candidates trudging through the snow and gingerly walking on the ice and giving speeches in high school gymnasiums, give way to the saturation of blanket television ads and speeches in giant auditoriums delivered to the voter only via television, if then.

New Hampshire still has a role to play. Rather than place Nevada's caucus between that of Iowa and the primary in the North Country, why not leave things as they are, but, as they plan, bring South Carolina's primary closer on the heels of New Hampshire's and have Nevada be that week as well, preserving New Hampshire's role, at least symbolically, but allowing candidates to make South Carolina or Nevada more significant as well, thus increasing diversity of voices?

The reality is that the parties are going to have to intercede, they are going to have to ruffle some feathers, and some of these smaller states are going to go away feeling slighted. My guess, not that different from what i concluded last year, is that New Hampshire will be allowed to maintain its status, but only nominally, with a series of larger primaries following New Hampshire's in such quick succession as to push the "First in the Nation" status into practical irrelevancy while allowing the state to maintain its symbolic grip on primacy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

756! (%$#!!^@ 756 ??) 756.

Within the last few minutes Barry Bonds hit number 756, a no doubter that resonated across San Francisco, across baseball history, and into the realm of endless debate. At the New Republic Gary Hoenig, Editor-in-Chief of ESPN The Magazine , has one of the most perceptive reflections on what this imbroglio all means. Here is an excerpt:
If you bothered to read beyond the Bonds expose and the circus of congressional hearings in 2005, you would have learned that steroids have been used by baseball players as far back as at least the mid 80s, that by 1991, baseball officials were alarmed enough to add steroids to a list of banned substances sent to all teams, and that even with new testing procedures in place since those hearings, any player who wants to enhance can likely do so with little chance of being caught. But most sportswriters and columnists went back to the safest route: blaming the few, extolling the virtues of the game, finding solace in building up new heroes to replace the fallen ones.

Bonds's real sin, in the end, is in making that so difficult. As he continued his assault on Aaron's record, passing Ruth in the bargain, he was a constant, irritating reminder of the shortcomings of the church of baseball, and especially of its priests in the press. And so he had to be punished. Again and again and again.

Won't we all be relieved when it's finally over.

One element of this controversy that I would like to see clarified is what, precisely, was the role of the banned substance list for which there was no testing policy. What were the penalties for violating the list, and without a testing policies, what did such a list mean? Truth be told, I was under the belief that there was no steroid policy at all.

I most appreciate Hoenig's rather pointed dig at the journalists who have consistently led the holier-than-thou brigade. The chase is done, though the recriminations have just begun. The self-righteous await hopefully ARod taking the record away, because they who remained willfully blind suddenly have decided that ARod was never part of the scandal they never saw when it was happening yet see so clearly in outrage-fueled hindsight.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Thunderstick:Damn--would have liked to have knocked more off the magic number this weekend, but let's face it--the Yanks are smoking right now and while we are playing decent, they would be making up ground on anyone. Heck, in the time that they ate up the 7 game wild card edge, we've actually added 3 games to our lead over Cleveland and Detroit, but the Yanks have closed 4 games on us in that time.

Bummer of a loss last night. Weird how that one home run changed the perception of the game. If Schill gets through that inning and leaves, even if we lose, we're saying "OK, but at least Schill is back, going 7 and giving up 2." Instead we're saying "ehhh--he was OK, giving up 4 in 6". The bats continue to hibernate against starting pitching. Anyway, should be a stressful two nights as we'll be going with Wake and Lester. I'd feel a lot better if Dice or Beckett were going.

dcat: I'll tell you what's driving me nuts about a Red Sox team about which we should be gushing given that prior to last night's game they had been on a roll and had looked pretty good: Dropping the first game of these series. How many has it been in a row? Three series now where we've dropped the first game? Five of the last six, something along those lines? In the regular season that is bad enough. But in the playoffs, and especially in the ALDS, not coming out ready to roll against a new team can be deadly. I'm still convinced that we could have beaten Chicago in 2005 had Game 1 not gone so badly (and had you not scheduled your wedding for the middle of the playoffs. Good going.)

The Yankees are simply on fire. And yet had someone said in February that we'd have a 6-game cushion in early August we would have been thrilled. But the way the Yanks have run through the last month or two is frightening. Still -- six games is a nice lead, and the Yankees have seen how hard it is to get over this hump. Like you, I wish that we could place a bit more faith in Lester or Wake to close out this series, but those guys have shown an ability to come through, especially Wakefield, so that I bet he has a good game because we need him to. I know that comment is practically the sort of voodoo I usually disavow, but I'm actually pretty comfortable with Wake coming down the stretch.

I hope also that Manny (and Ortiz) learned a lesson last night: Moss came to bat in our last hopes in what was Manny's spot in the ninth because Ramirez had gotten himself run for arguing balls and strikes. I don't want to be melodramatic and say that his ouster cost us the game, but it sure did make things that much tougher against a really good team. You never win when you argue balls and strikes. And I think that some umps are frankly sick and tired of the histrionics from the Sox' Big Two. Ortiz bitches the most, but Manny isn't far behind, and this is not a case where being right matters. We simply cannot afford to have Manny out of the game if he is not scheduled for a rest, especially for something as self-inflicted as getting tossed for arguing pitch location.

Looking ahead we have these two games against the Greater-Southern-California-Los Angeles-Anaheim-San Diego-Orange County-Angels-of-the-West-Coast, a day off, and then three at Baltimore and three at home against Tampa. We need to find a way to get one or both of these games out west and then get back to beating on teams we should be pummeling. At this point, all the Sox can do is take care of what is front of them and not worry about what is behind them.

Facing South Toward Katrina

Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies, argues convincingly that the Bush Administration continues to fail New Orleans. I'm also adding Facing South to the dcat blogroll.

How Garnett Was Won

At the Boston Globe, Shira Springer has the inside scoop on the process that got Kevin Garnett from Minnesota into the #5 Celtics jersey and back to relevance again. Here is an excerpt:
But the smiles and joke-filled comments at the news conference belied the weeks of careful negotiations, constant cross-country calls, and convincing that resulted in the blockbuster trade. The final 72 hours may have been a whirlwind for Garnett, but the preceding six weeks were a study in the ups and downs, starts and stops of deal-making in the NBA. In recent days, league and team sources -- as well as people close to Garnett -- described the events leading to one of the biggest acquisitions in Celtics history.
The key factor was Garnett's change of heart about Boston, but in between the week leading up to the draft and the culmination of the trade last week came a whole slew of machinations. Springer does a good job of providing some insight into how the behind-the-scenes world of the NBA (and professional sports generally) operate when a major transactiopn is on the boards.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dear Diary . . .

Tom has a new diary entry up in which, among other things, he defends American historians from an utterly baseless (Tom really is too kind on this point) accusation that American historians ignore popular culture. he also presents a couple of pictures of beautiful Mariana Violet, the newest addition to the Bruscino brood.

Rock & Roll Landmarks

The Guardian (the consecutive posts from this source is, I promise, wholly coincidental) has a travel article on the "Top Ten Rock & Roll Landmarks in the US." My personal list would probably include more venues, such as First Avenue in Minneapolis, the 9:30 Club in DC, Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina, the late, great CBGB's (in limbo today) in NYC, and the like. And of course we all have our personal landmarks (TT The Bear's in Cambridge, where I saw Paul Westerberg in a secret concert in 1993). Feel free to add your own suggestions.

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For

The English Premiere League is about to kickoff a new season. The Guardian has a preview chock full of all you might need to know in preparation. It's not all about David Beckham, people!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Does This Really Tell Us Anything?

His rookie year:

Toward the end:

The second guy is a lot bigger than the first guy. So for those people using this as the magic clue to solve the steroids mystery, I hope you are consistent. And I do not, by the way, have any reason to suspect Ripken of anything. But that's not the point. The point is that professional athletes, indeed any fit guy, can get bigger over time. Let's not drink the Kool Aid of circumstancial evidence when the circumstance at the heart of it all is the explosion of weight training during the 1990s.

Let the Arguments Begin (And the C's Begin to Win)

ESPN ranks the 50 active NFL players they believe have a chance to go to the Hall of Fame. Number one is a no brainer: Brett Favre. there will be little argument about the guys in the top ten or twenty, but I imagine that the order might raise some eyebrows. At number two, just one point in ESPN's system from Favre, is Tom Brady. Manning is third.

A few words on the Celtics blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett, which Sportsguy loves. I'll admit it -- when the rumors were flowing in the days leading up to the final announcement, I was not thrilled. I love Garnett, I really do. But Al Jefferson is going to be a star in this league for a decade. And to give him up along with several other guys (some, admittedly, dross) and draft picks seemed like an awful lot for a brief window given that Pierce, Allen, and Garnett are all at the tail end of their primes.

But after a lot of thought, and reading thousands and thousands of words of analysis, and seeing the press conference and realizing that you want your teams to win championships when they have a shot, I am fully on the bandwagon. This is one of those "Buy Stuff Events": Even though I have tons of Boston sports stuff -- t-shirts and googaws and hats and key rings and Red Sox win the World Series radio call ring tones (and Red Sox win the World Series radio call bottle openers) -- this is the sort of trade that has me looking at the C's team store not to decide whether to buy something, but to decide what and how much to buy. Certain transactions -- huge trades, free agent signings, and the like -- inspire the fan base to spend money. This is undoubtedly one of those events.

With all due respect to the rest of the Eastern Conference, if the C's have even marginal development of their young guys, this will be the team to beat for the next few years. Cleveland has faced a remarkable amount of dismissal given what they accomplished this past season and in the postseason. When people talk about the top teams in the east, even after the Cavs' run to the Finals, they tend to mention Detroit and Miami and Chicago, and then, in passing, almost perfunctorily, Cleveland. I find that bizarre. Nonetheless, if this year's Cleveland team is the best that the Celtics confront in the East in the next three years, I'll feel really, really good about the Green.

Any time you have a chance to win, you have to go for it, especially if, as has been the case with the Celtics, your cupboard has been pretty bare for most of the last two decades. AJ will be a superstar in this league for a long time. But Garnett is a superstar now. And he, Allen, and Paul Pierce now have a chance to redefine the Eastern Conference. All three of them asked for a chance like this. Now they have it.