Saturday, March 27, 2010

Links Deluge

As often happens, I see a bunch of stories that interest me and want to write about them, and the next thing I know I have ten tabs open and they just sit there because it all seems too much. So it's time to clear out some of those tabs:

Jane Mayer's absolute hammering of the insufferable Mark Thiessen's new book is a thing to behold. The review is all the more damning because The New Yorker tends not to traffic in withering reviews.

A couple of weeks back the New York Times Book Review had an essay on the venerable presidential election campaign book, which seems to have made a comeback just a few years after having been left for dead. I may as well use this time to point you all to the University Press of Kansas' fantastic new series on presidential elections. There are a dozen or so books already out. I have used the ones on the 1980 and 1912 campaigns in classes with a great deal of success. This is one of the rare series (including the one that Freedom's Main Line is in) for which I plan to own every single book, and I hope they eventually cover every presidential election in US history.

Recent events (and the tone of some political discussion) should remind us of the long strand of anti-government (generally) right-wing violence that too many people conveniently elide in discussions about terrorism.

Ezra Klein reminds us that the recent health care legislation is not especially left-wing and uses that to pivot to the point that the current Republican stance has been politically driven, not policy driven. The Republicans have decided that being the party of no is their path back to power. I suppose we'll see if that works. It might be the path to power. It is definitely the path of irresponsible governance.

The Last Bastion

At The Bygone Bureau Josh Fischel has a great feature on the only high school ski jumping league. This story is particularly close to my heart because I competed in this league back when I was on my high school ski team. My high school has one of the jumps from the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics and we often hosted the state meet, though insurance issues have kept NHS from fielding a ski jumping team for quite some time. As for my own ski jumping career? I was decent enough for a guy picking up the sport as a teenager. A guy a few years ahead of me was a multiple-time Olympic ski jumper and by the time he was in his early teens he could no longer use our jump because he would have out-jumped the incline and thus killed himself. Oh -- and there were only two "agony of defeat moments" that I saw. One came when a friend and teammate wiped out on the ramp in Plymouth, which was humiliating for him and so hilarious to us. The other one came when a jumper from Concord High crossed his tips in the air and we all thought we'd just seen someone die. he walked away with a concussion and broken nose.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Me on Health Care (Self Indulgence Alert!)

I was interviewed by one of the local stations on health care yesterday. You can access both the video and the online writeup here.

I was a bit nervous about how I would come across (I look terrible -- much worse than I actually do, too much close-up) because I try to play the ideological aspects pretty close to the vest when I am interviewed. In those situations my job is to be analytical and descriptive. It's not my job to ride some political hobby horse. But in the interview yesterday (you have to understand if you have not done these sorts of things before, they film a good deal of footage and then truncate it down to less than a minute of separate soundbites) they really could have made me look like a flaming liberal. They did leave out my best line, though, which was "Republicans had begun asserting that health care would be Obama's Waterloo only to find themselves on their own private Elba."

So how do I feel about the health care? (You won't gather it from the interview, which was almost wholly about Constitutional issues, and of course any answers with any depth are on the proverbial cutting room floor.) It is landmark legislation, the most important since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Joe Biden hit it just right: It's a Big Fucking Deal.

This is, of course, all theory now. We'll see what it looks like when it is implemented. But I think the passage of the act completely changes the trajectory, at least in much of the public mind, of the Obama administration, as well it should. I think that it finally accomplishes the biggest frustrated liberal goal of the last sixty or so years. And if anything, I wish it did more by incorporating a real public option.

The politics got really ugly. Obama did everything he could to reach out to a GOP that has decided that being the "Party of No" is a winning gambit. Politically it may well be. But from a governing and policy vantage point it is irresponsible. Some have tried to diminish the accomplishment by asserting that some Democratic defectors and no Republican votes somehow makes the law invalid, which reveals a silly misunderstanding of the benefits of holding a substantial majority, not to mention providing remarkable insight into how Republicans view important issues solely through the prism of partisanship.

Another popular argument is that Democrats will lose seats in the fall elections because of health care. The Democrats were going to lose lots of seats anyway. That's what happens during midterm elections. I would argue that the Democrats would have lost more seats had they not passed health care and that passing the law is a net plus. Now Republicans will have to go out on the stump on a platform of repealing something that is concrete and no longer theoretical.

And of course right-wing racism, sexism, homophobia and invocations of Stalin and Hitler continue unabated.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


RoJo, of Armitage Shanks and (long dormant) Amiable Dunce fame has a new blog, Gipperwatch. As the name implies, the newly doctorized RoJo's fabulously entertaining and insightful blog (he describes himself as "Professional Gipperwatcher") is committed to all things Ronald Reagan.

Defying Parody

I love the headline of this Matthew Yglesias post, drawn from this Ben Demiero Media Matters Post:

"Glenn Beck Denounces Civil Rights Activist John Lewis For Comparing Himself to Civil Rights Activist John Lewis"

Given my profound admiration for John Lewis, my sincere hope is that Glenn Beck's fifteen minutes of fame for being the Mayor of Crazytown are nearly up.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Remembering Alex Chilton

While a huge bummer, the death of Big Star and Box Tops singer/songwriter/guitarist, producer, and postpunk icon Alex Chilton this past week served to remind us what a vital artist he was. It also had the added effect of bringing my favorite group of all time some much-deserved attention. One of the Replacements great songs, "Alex Chilton," is devoted to their hero. Paul Westerberg, the Mats' lead singer and songwriter, wrote a short piece on his "mentor" Chilton in today's New York Times and last week Carrie Brownstein of another of my favorite bands, the late and lamented Sleater Kinney, remembered Chilton (and the Replacements) at NPR.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Williams National Championship Game Liveblog

I'll be liveblogging the Williams v. Wisconsin-Stevens Point DIII men's championship game over at Ephblog. The game starts at 1:00 eastern time, noon from where I'm sitting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alma Mater Hoops Update

Good weekend so far for the alma mater men's hoop teams.

Yesterday Ohio smacked Georgetown around as if their seeds were reversed, running away with a 97-83 victory. Georgetown only managed to come as close as 7 at about the five-minute mark of the second, but OU responded with a three and controlled the game the whole time. I don't want to count chickens, but there is a better-than-outside chance that OU could end up facing Ohio State, which might well qualify as the biggest sporting event in OU history. The Bobcats beat Kentucky in the tournament in 1964, but given that Ohio State is the big in-state bully, and given how much bigger the NCAA's are now, a Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Buckeyes would surpass anything I know about in Athens.

Closer to my heart, Williams defeated Guilford today in the DIII national semis 97-88 in a game that was a nailbiter until the end. Williams was actually down eight at the half but shot the lights out in the second half. Williams won the national championship in 2003 and has gone to one other championship game. The Ephs will face the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Remaking Memory or Getting it Right

At the Michigan War Studies Review Tom Bruscino has a great article, "Remaking Memory or Getting It Right? Saving Private Ryan and the World War II Generation." I am teaching a US history through film class for our Maymester this year that will cover the US since 1945 but I may well start with Saving Private Ryan (and Tom's essay) before moving on to The Best Years of Our Lives (one of my favorite movies of all time) and the twin pillars of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement that so defined American life in the generation and more after World War II.

I suspect that Tom likes Saving Private Ryan more than I do, but I think he does a really good job of placing the movie within the larger filmography of which it is a part and in putting forward a useful argument about the ways in which memory and history interact and how we think of World War II as a result.

Rahabilitating Grant

I hope you've all seen Sean Wilentz's New York Times op-ed piece in which he debunks the myth that Ulysses S. Grant was a bad president. A representative paragraph:

In reality, what fueled the personal defamation of Grant was contempt for his Reconstruction policies, which supposedly sacrificed a prostrate South, as one critic put it, “on the altar of Radicalism.” That he accomplished as much for freed slaves as he did within the constitutional limits of the presidency was remarkable. Without question, his was the most impressive record on civil rights and equality of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Revisiting the Greatest Idea Ever

As long as I am discussing the NCAA tournament, I may as well throw out one of the ideas that I have long put forward. I may as well pull it out again as I watch the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff defeat Winthrop in this year's "play-in game" to continue their improbable run.

Every year it seems the same debate plays out when addressing the bubble teams and the field of 65. It is a field of 65 because in its infinite wisdom the NCAA decided to make the two weakest teams go to Dayton and hold that "play-in game." But rather than subject these teams to that insult, why not take the last four at-large slots and have four play-in games, one for each region, pitting the last four teams from major conferences against the last four teams from mid-majors. It would make for a hell of a Tuesday, would help settle the mid-majors versus majors debate, and would allow every conference tournament winner a guaranteed slot. Reserve the 13 slot for the winners of these games, as customarily the 13 seeds are among the last into the field.

You're welcome.

Alma Mater Hoops Watch

We are about to embark on one of the great weekends in all of sports with the tipoff of the NCAA tournament. Each year my loyalties fluctuate. Unlike in professional sports, where my loyalties are firmly based in Boston, my college sports loyalties fluctuate. I grew up in a state without any real Division I presence in football or basketball (though UNH hockey is a perennial contender, albeit one that has yet to scale the top of the NCAA mountain). By default I have always been a Boston College fan as a result.

Going to college did not make a lot of difference on this front. I bleed purple and gold for Williams athletics, but Williams is a Division III athletic program, and while we have the greatest athletic program in all of DIII, it is simply not the same as the spectacle of major-level DI sports. I pursued my MA work at UNC-Charlotte (which now goes simply by "Charlotte" for athletic branding purposes). Charlotte has a respectable basketball program, once made a Final Four, and had a run in the period from the mid 90s to the middle of the decade just past when an NCAA run was the norm. Nonetheless, Charlotte straddles that line between major and midmajor-level program. For my PhD I attended Ohio University in the Mid-America Conference, for which the term "mid-major" was pretty much coined.

Otherwise my loyalties come and go. I have been a fellow at both Virginia and South Carolina, so I have tried with middling levels of success to appropriate those schools. I teach in the UT system and my paycheck (and tenure decision) come from Austin, so I gravitate toward the Horns. Duke was the most prominent and persistent college to recruit me for track out of high school, so I am not only not a Duke hater, I actually like to see them do well. Despite the appeal of being a free agent, it's a lousy way to go through life as a college fan, and I have always said that if I were to get a job at a college with big-time sports I would engage in full immersion and would write a book called "Becoming a Fan" based on that first year of overcompensation.

In any case, as usual, my alma maters are experiencing various levels of involvement with the Madness of March. Williams is ranked second in the country and has made the DIII Final Four, which is played every year in Salem. Williams has been there before, having won once, and has a good shot again this year. The Ephs will take on Guilford College on Friday for the right to play for the national championship. Guilford was the alma mater of one of my (late) college track coaches and is a Quaker school in North Carolina which will come into the national semifinal with a 30-2 record (Williams is 29-1) and that made the national semis last year as well.

Ohio University made an improbable run through the MAC tournament, its only shot at going to the Big Dance. Their prize? A trip to Providence (freakin' sweet!) and a meeting with historical powerhouse and #3 seed Georgetown. OU took a really good Florida team to the wire a few years back, though, and while far from a national power, OU has been to a dozen NCAA tournaments and will hopefully give the Hoyas a game. I'll proudly wear my OU green and am looking forward to the game on Thursday.

The news is not so good in Charlotte. The university inexplicably (to my mind) fired Bobby Lutz, the winningest coach in program history. In a dozen seasons Lutz compiled a 218-158 record. The team had its worst record in a long time last season, but was in a position for an NCAA berth this year until a collapse toward the end of the year and in the first game of the A-10 tournament scuttled any hope to make the field of 65. I have no idea what AD Judy Rose, the university administration, and the trustees want from the basketball program, but if the next dozen years look anything like the dozen just passed, it seems to me that it will be a rousing success and Lutz should have categroically been part of the program going forward. Lutz has been at least arguably the best coach in the history of the program, is a Charlotte alum, is one of the truly good guys in the profession and the community, and had weathered the toughest storm he was likely to face after last season. He had some of his best recruits on campus and had in the past turned down opportunities to move up in order to remain at his alma mater. I will continue to root for Charlotte to do well, but this is a lousy, knee-jerk decision no matter what rationalization comes from the athletic department.

In the meantime: Go Bobcats! And, above all, Go Ephs!!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coupe du Monde (Self Indulgence Alert!!!)

What do the following four World Cup games have in common?

Serbia v. Ghana, 13 June, Pretoria

Slovenia v. USA, 18 June, Johannesburg

Nigeria v. Tolerable Korea, 22 June, Durban

Commie Korea v. Ivory Coast, 25 June, Nelspruit

Give up?

Dcat's gonna be at all four of 'em. Laduma!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I don't want to get all Tommy-From-Quincy on everybody, but Nomar Garciaparra's retirement as a Red Sox brought about equal parts wistfulness and happiness when I saw the news. In the years since he left the Sox Nomar dealt with a spate of injuries. He was one of those guys whose career went downhill fast, with one injury leading to another. But in his first few years in the league Nomar was a Hall of Fame quality player, ARod's equal and Jeter's superior in what was the high-water mark for the shortstop position. The best analogy for Nomar's career in my mind is Fred Lynn, another preternaturally talented Californian whose potential was crushed due to injuries and whose departure from the Sox was on less-than-amicable terms. Nomar also served as something of a bridge between my youthful fandom and adulthood, and so the march to middle age continues unabated.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hungover From Summer

I've now seen more than half of the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. And two of the movies I have not seen I know in my bones suck. (Avatar and The Blind Side: Hello!) There were not five movies in 2009 that were better than The Hangover or (500) Days of Summer. In fact, I would make the case for those as two of the best movies of 2009, though Up remains my favorite from 2009.

Let's Don't Forget Bill Russell

I'm tired of hearing increasing discussions about whether Kobe has matched Michael for the mythical "best player ever" title. I have an answer to that debate:

Bill Russell.

I win. Mine beats yours. Eleven championships. One as a coach-player. (How's Micheal's career in management worked?)

Oh, and in terms of social significance? This becomes a laughable discussion. Plus, I'd take Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or LeBron James over Kobe in any case.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Pavement Front(wards) and Center

The Pavement reunion: Greatest News Ever? Greatest news ever.