Thursday, February 25, 2010

Salt Lake City Bound

Am off to Salt Lake City tomorrow for a boys' ski weekend. I have not gone skiing in ages, so here's to not breaking myself. Utah is one of the very few states I've never been to, so I'm happy to break that seal, Mormon-style.

Justice Obama?

Would Barack Obama make a fine Supreme Court justice some day? Absolutely. And he is young enough that following in the footsteps of Williams Howard Taft might happen. But it is just silly to propose, (even as just a thought exercise) as Jeffrey Rosen does here, that Obama should appoint himself to the court.

Northern Ireland's Peace

Well, this is alarming news, especially as there are signs that it may not be a one-off, isolated incident. I began talking about Northern Ireland in my Global Terrorism class today (I always start off with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from Rattle & Hum in order to have them hear Bono's awesome speech that is all the more powerful because it came on the day of the Enniskillen Bombing in November 1987) and had to try to convey to my students that the Troubles once seemed every bit as intractable as the Israel-Palestine question. The peace has held in Northern Ireland for more than a decade now (and really ought to be seen as the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Clinton administration) and so presumably is strong enough to weather the occasional flareup. But if the IRA is determined to return to the way of the gun the way of the gun will prevail.

Just Asking

Is it unreasonable of me to expect my coffee to be full when I spend the bulk of a five-dollar bill on it? Because when I ask the barista to top me off they look at me like I've offended them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Charles Pierce's Blog

While I'm trying to catch up with life after my trip to eastern Pennsylvania (My rule of thumb is that it takes two days for every day I am away to get back to where I was when I left) you should check out Charles Pierce's sports blog at The Boston Globe.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Off to Penn's Woods (Self Indulgence Alert)

I'll be away for the next three days for a trip to southeastern Pennsylvania. Opportunities are afoot.

30 Books in 30 Days

At the National Book Critics Circle's Blog Critical Mass members of the NBCC Board are featuring "30 Books in 30 Days" for the month leading up to the announcement of the NBCC Book Award winners. Each day a new finalist for this year's awards will get the spotlight.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Um, Congratulations?

The far-right-wing British National Party has decided to abandon its whites-only policy, allowing black and Asian members into the party, albeit largely to skirt anti-discrimination laws. (Assaulting journalists? Apparently still ok.) Of course this raises the question: What black or Asian person in their right mind would consider joining the BNP?

Burning Scholarship

When I saw this story, about a Columbia University historian who lost a decade's worth of research to student radicals in the 1968 uprisings at that campus I experienced pangs of what can only be called sympathetic pain. For all of the legitimacy of protest in the 1960s, some of the worst and most indulgent excesses of the late years of that decade seriously undermined the legitimate claims.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Commemorating Black History

Scottsboro, Alabama has opened a museum to document the case that made the town infamous. In the words of Garry Morgan, a white man who helped establish The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, "We want to end the negative stereotype of Scottsboro, to let the world know we've moved into the 21st century."

Meanwhile today in Louisiana the Eddie G. Robinson Museum will open, honoring not only the legendary Grambling football coach, but also taking an honest look at segregation.

A Tragedy, Not a Case Study

Can't we stipulate that cases such as this one provide especially bad contexts for arguments about either gun control or the tenure system in American universities? Discussing an outlier as if it were a mean ends up just warping the conversation. Let's just recognize the story for what it is: A terrible tragedy perpetrated by a disturbed person.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mandela's Long Walk

Over at the FPA Africa Blog I commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, one of the great moments of the 20th century.

Weather is not Climate

People who assert that a current snowstorm refutes long-range climate trends are complete fucking morons. Weather and climate are not the same thing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wolfe TKO's Sowell

At TNR's The Book Alan Wolfe has a glorious takedown of Thomas Sowell's new screed, Intellectuals and Society. Here is the opening paragraph:

Let’s get my judgment of Thomas Sowell’s new book out of the way first. There is not a single interesting idea in its more than three-hundred pages. Purporting to deal with the role that intellectuals play in society, it offers no discussion of literature, music, and the arts. While containing copious references to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, its index lacks references to Lionel Trilling, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Daniel Bell, Jürgen Habermas, Raymond Aron, Mary McCarthy, Michael Walzer, Amartya Sen, and countless others known to have put an interesting idea or two into circulation. It recycles ancient clichés about the academic world and never questions its author’s conviction that those who share his right-wing views are always right. Jonah Goldberg calls it “an instant classic.” Case closed.

The rest does not disappoint.

I love those who have made their way in American intellectual life who nonetheless make a career out of cracking wise about intellectuals (an issue that Wolfe mines to great effect). And I especially love those who have made their way in intellectual life cracking wise about academics. Very cute. In a self-parodic sort of way.

Update: Russell Jacoby is no kinder to Sowell's quite clearly bad book over at The Chronicle Review.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World

Yesterday I highlighted Jeff Herf's review of Robert Wistrich's book A Lethal Obsession. Well, Jeff is having a big few weeks. On January 31 he was interviewed by Egypt's Al-Masry Al-Youm about his most recent book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World.

WH: Some Critics 'Serving the Goals of al Qaeda'* - Political Punch

WH: Some Critics 'Serving the Goals of al Qaeda'* - Political Punch

Monday, February 08, 2010

Going to the Dump

I got me a new laptop this weekend while in San Antonio and so need to do some serious housecleaning in the office. Thus it's time to do a links dump of all of the tabs that have accumulated on my perpetually-stretched-to-capacity Firefox window:

You would never know it from the madding crowds of tea partiers and talking heads, but this Congress has been a whole lot more productive than you think.

For all of the insults going Obama's (and Eric Holder's) way for allegedly radically changing how we deal with accused terrorists, it turns out that this administration has pretty clearly followed many of the precedents of its predecessor. So, yeah -- Obama's critics are largely uninformed. Shocking, I know. If anyone has a right to be angry it would be Obama's critics from the left, but they tend to wallow in their own blissful ignorance. All of this simply serves as a reminder that today's conservatives would reject much of what Ronald Reagan represented in reality (as opposed to in their purist caricature of him) but then you knew that already.

At TNR William Galston takes on some of the more sophisticated conservative critiques of Obama (they are out there, believe it or not). In so doing he mounts a nice defense of liberalism, something that should have never needed a defense.

Finally, at TNR's The Book, dcat friend and former mentor Jeffrey Herf reviews Robert Wistrich's A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.

Friday, February 05, 2010

President of the Other America

I am pleased to report the publication of regular reader and commenter Ed Schmitt's new book, President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty. The University of Massachusetts Press, which has been putting out some really good books of late, just released it. By your copy and grab another for a friend.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Questioning the Book Review

I am often perplexed by some of the decisions of The New York Times Book Review. And I will gladly admit that some of my vexations stem from what probably qualifies as jealousy: Why is that person writing a review and not me? Why is that book being reviewed and not mine?

But take my own solipsism out of it and the questions are fundamentally the same. Why is that person writing a review of X and not (Persons Y, Z, A, B, D) who are clearly more qualified to do so and at least one of whom would surely respond to en email from the Times? Why is this book being reviewed at length and not all of these books that have come out lately?

Two examples speak volumes from Sunday's Book Review:

Why does Kaiama Glover get to review Chinua Achebe's new book, The Education of a British-Protected Child? Glover is an assistant professor of French at Barnard, and from what I can tell, most of her work has been on Haiti. Chinua Achebe is from Nigeria, which was not even a Francophone colony. When Nigerians looked to the metropole (and looked to pull away from it), they looked to London, as the title to the new book of Achebe's essays makes clear. Look, I do not resent Glover taking the assignment. She'd be a fool not to and I would accept an assignment to review an astronomy textbook to get to write about books for the Times. But are there really no, say, tenured professors of African literature out there? Are there no tenured professors of Anglophone literature who would have fit the bill?

Perhaps more vexing, why on earth does Catherine Millet's new book, Jealousy, get two full pages in the Sunday Book Review when it is a quite clear that it is not a very good book. Millet is the author of a controversial memoir about her sexual profligacy. Jealousy is a memoir about her jealousy over her kinda-sorta significant other's dalliances with a handful of other women during a time period when Millet admits to sleeping with hundreds of other men herself. The subject matter, if self indulgent, is not the problem. The problem comes in the fact that the reviewer, Toni Bentley is pretty withering. Bentley does a great job. It is a fun review to read as a result. And again -- given two full pages in a publication of that status I'd happily review the worst crap imaginable and would have a hell of a time doing it. But there are hundreds of authors of good books who would kill for that real estate for their own much better books.

I've always thought that reviews of bad books, except for books that are clearly important (and Millet's does not count, sorry), should go into a sort of dustbin in which the reviews are truncated to the length of those included in the "Fiction/Nonfiction/Poetry Chronicle" that the Book Review runs near weekly, opening up space for books worth reading, and thus worth reading about. In the meantime, editors -- email me. The answer is yes.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Starbury in China

Over at Deadspin Anthony Tao has a great, and lengthy, piece on Stephon Marbury's debut in the Chinese Basketball Association, "The Lone Wolf Goes to China."

The Greensboro 4 at 50

Monday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Greensboro sit-ins. The actions of those four students -- Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond and Joe McNeil -- set in motion a new wave of civil rights activism.

Indeed, when I talk about the Civil Rights Movement I often try to hold two wholly contradictory ideas in my head at once, knowing they cannot both possibly be true. On the one hand, I embrace the idea of the Long Civil Rights Movement. In Freedom's Main Line I trace the story of the fight to desegregate interstate transportation back in considerable depth to the 1940s and recognize movements well before that decade (Plessy v. Ferguson, after all, involved transportation and not education.) In one of my current book projects I am looking at bus boycotts in the US and South Africa in the period between about 1940 and 1960.

On the other hand, there are times when I think that what began with the sit-ins really represents a new stage in civil rights, and that we might be as well served thinking of the period from February 1960 as almost sui generis in its new approach to direct-action protest. In that view, the Long Civil Rights Movement still holds, but that we then begin to think of the movement in terms of phases. This might help both to revive looking at Brown v. Board as a starting point (something that has been passe with the Long Civil Rights Movement's recent sway) for a phase of the movement while still recognizing that Brown really was not the start or beginning of anything when it comes to the movement as a whole.

I think the emphasis on the 1940s in particular has been essential. But I do not think we should let that swallow up the significant shift that the Greensboro 4 helped usher in and that the Freedom Rides helped connect. In the next few years prepare for a lot of 50th anniversary celebrations and commemorations and reflections of the lightning storm of events of the period from 1960 to 1965 or so.