Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Future of the British Pub

Last week The Guardian addressed one of the truly vital questions of our time: What is the future of the British pub? As an aficionado of pub life from my time traveling across and living in the UK it's a question near and dear to my heart. Clearly two alarming trends have been taking place. One has been the consolodation of power of chain pubs, ersatz representations of the real thing that lack history, charm, and ambiance. The second trend, perhaps tied to the first, is the death of the traditional pub. This is less a concern in cities like London than it is in villages across the UK (and Ireland as well) where once even the smallest village had one or more pubs where people could while away their time in food and fellowship over a pint.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More Saturday Foodstuffs

From the good folks at Burnt Orange Nation (a Texas Longhorns joint) comes a "Brisket Treatise" followed by a comments sections that adds more than it detracts -- the internet equivalent of a unicorn sighting (if you can get over the authenticity fetishism that nearly any discussion about barbecue seems to lure).

Saturday Foodstuffs

Three words for your weekend:

Great Bacon Odyssey.

You’re welcome.

[Crossposted at Ephblog.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Have a Purple Cow, Man!

The Williams Purple Cow will be joining a number of more heralded (but not better!) college mascots in an ESPN commercial soon to appear near you!


I tend to be late coming to most internet memes. So you've surely seen it, but I got a chuckle out of "OMG WWII on Facebook."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Jordan Conspiracy and an Unlikely "Deep Throat" Analogy

I just watched the "30 for 30" film on Michael Jordan's season-long experiment with baseball. Like most of these documentary films in Bill Simmons' brainchild that try to explore some of the most remarkable events in the world of sports in the last three decades the Jordan documentary was well done. But one of the arguments that the film (and subsequent coverage) has put forward does not pass the test of stringent argumentation.

For years there has been speculation that Jordan "retired" when he did because he had actually been forced to do so by NBA Commissioner David Stern over Jordan's increasingly reckless penchant for gambling. I don't happen to buy this theory inasmuch as there is no actual evidence for it, and I'm quaint about requiring evidence to prove assertions, not least of all those that are damning. But no matter the flaws in the theory, the following argument still does not work:

"It's just nothing more than crackpot theory," he says, sounding exasperated. "Every journalist I talked to said, 'Don't you realize, Ron?' — Every Chicago sports journalist, every national journalist — 'We went down there, we spent a year looking for the smoking gun! We would have won the Pulitzer! If we had gotten it, we would have been spurred!'"

There are at least two major flaws with this argument:

This generation of sports journalists is the same one that managed to miss steroid use in baseball until well after the story developed. And sports journalists have long had an interesting and conflicted relationship with the athletes they have covered. The argument that it did not exist simply because journalists were looking for it is barely an argument at all, never mind being a good one.

Furthermore, and more importantly, it's not as if there had to be a large number of participants in a coverup. If Stern felt like he had the goods on Jordan (and again -- I don't think there were any goods to be had) he could have simply said "Michael, take some time off and this does not become a Pete Rose situation. Fight me and it does." Only two people had to know about this arrangement, two people who both would have had every interest not to talk. There would not have to be a smoking gun at all if these are the only two people who knew about it.

Think of an imperfect but not inapt analogy: Deep Throat's identity. As high as sports journalists might think the stakes are in what they do, political journalism covers a world where the stakes are much higher and the participants have actual power. And yet for three decades no one was able to uncover the identity of Deep Throat despite the fact that more people of necessity had to know about Mark Felt than would have needed to know about a Jordan suspension (at minimum Felt, Woodward, Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee -- and that is a bare and implausible minimum. Forget for now that most of Woodward and Bernstein's historical role is the stuff of myth -- they became cultural icons despite not actually getting most of the story right.)

I don't buy the whole "Jordan on secret suspension for gambling" conspiracy theory. But its plausibility does not rest on the mighty investigative acumen of sports journalists, most of whom only popped in for a Jordan story here or there simply because the whole thing was so surreal and not because they were deeply engaged in debunking the retirement story.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

(Re-)Visiting Oxford

Oxford, Mississippi is one of my favorite college towns in America. A while back The Washington Post travel section visited Oxford in order to look at more than Ole Miss and the community's fabled connection with William Faulkner. (Still, if you've never been to oxford it's probably best to start with Ole Miss and Faulkner.)

Ole Miss's greatest hits: Square Books, which sits on Courthouse Square, keeps the college town's literary tradition alive.

[Oxford's Square Books on Courthouse Square. Washington Post.]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tragedy in Charlottesville

Terrible news out of the University of Virginia and particularly the highly-regarded Virginia Quarterly Review. The ugly, sad story involves a suicide, allegations of professional bullying, and possibly the end of one of the country's best literary journals.

[Hat Tip. Ralph Luker and I both have had some connection with VQR -- his more significant than mine, as I mostly got to know it through my affiliation with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and have written a couple of short reviews for them -- and I think we are both mystified by the recent events.]

FPA University

Are you interested in pursuing a career in international relations? You should seriously consider participating in Foreign Policy Association University:

The Foreign Policy Association University provides internationally minded individuals with the tools they need to realize successful careers in global affairs.

Established by the renowned Foreign Policy Association, FPA U offers specialized courses, networking opportunities and invaluable access to insider information for the next generation of global professionals.

FPAU will provide a host of seminars on topics ranging from landing jobs in various areas tied to international affairs to pursuing opportunities abroad that will best position you for success in working and learning abroad.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tootle Bait

Robert Samuelson has an op-ed on one of Tootle's bete noirs, bumper stickers and politics, at The Washington Post.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eurovision's Sublime Gifts

One of the true joys of The New Yorker is the fact that some of the best articles are the ones you read on a lark. Like everyone who subscribes to Eustace Tilly's magazine, I find that it arrives faster than I can read them so most weeks they get a judicious skimming (if that). But when I take the time there are always these glorious little gifts of writing.

I am still catching up on magazines that amassed while I was out of the country (and have continued to pile up relentlessly since I returned). But this morning I just discovered Anthony Lane's glorious article on the Eurovision song contest from the June 28 issue, "Only Mr. God Knows Why." You can access the abstract here (and if you are a subscriber can download the digital edition). But if you cannot get past the firewall, get thee to a library. Lane's article takes the perfect approach to the indescribably awful yet simultaneously mesmerizing carnival of kitsch and crap that is Eurovision.

(And after Lane amuses you, you may as well go and stew in fury and frustration while reading George Packer's August 9 article on the Senate, which carries the apt title "The Broken Chamber.")

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yeay Williams!

The methodology might be stupid (RateMyProfessor is actually a factor in assessment, which is fucking retarded) but another college rating system has Williams ranked #1 (Princeton is second, Amherst third, Harvard eighth).

Hat Tip.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tiger and the Ryder Cup

On pure playing merits Tiger Woods does not deserve to be on this year's Ryder Cup team, at least barring a miraculous turnaround in this week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Yet if Tiger wants to be on the Ryder Cup team, I think he warrants a place.

Put it this way: If I am Tiger's agent and I know Woods wants to play for the US and I know that Captain Corey Pavin is on the fence I make a phone call, and my pitch goes something like this:

"How much money have you made since 1997, Corey? How much money do you think the eleven other members of the Ryder Cup team have made since 1997? We can quibble about it -- but without Tiger you can cut those numbers somewhere between 40% and 60%. Don't you think Tiger has earned you all enough to get a shot at this year's Ryder Cup?"

I'm not saying Tiger should pursue this line. But I am saying that if he chooses to, his colleagues owe most of what they now have to his successes in the past decade-and-a-half.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Freedom Riders Documentary Theatrical Debut

Just got this in my in-box today -- if you're going to be in LA or New York, check it out -- you might be able to see my ugly mug on the big screen. And of course I hope you have already read this . . .

For Tickets & more info:
Follow Laurens on Twitter @LG789
Help spread the word & pack all 28 screenings!
Freedom Riders is accepted into DocuWeeks!
DocuWeeks is a theatrical showcase that helps documentaries qualify for the Oscars!

"Freedom Riders" is a superb
piece of filmic journalism
- Variety
view the trailer:
SHOW TIMES - AUG. 13 TO AUG. 19, 2010:
Producer Laurens Grant & Director Stanley Nelson In Person!
IFC Theater
323 Avenue of the Americas @ West 4th
NY, NY 10014

Fri. Aug. 13: 12PM & 5:30PM
Sat. Aug. 14: 1:45PM & 7:30PM - Q&A w/ Director Stanley Nelson after 7:30pm show!
Sun. Aug. 15: 3:30PM & 9:35PM - Q&A w/ Director Stanley Nelson after 9:35pm show!
Mon. Aug. 16: 12PM & 5:30PM
Tues. Aug. 17: 1:45PM & 7:30PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 7:30pm show!
Wed. Aug. 18: 3:30PM & 9:35PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 9:35pm show!
Thu. Aug. 19: 12PM & 5:30PM
ArcLight Hollywood
6360 W Sunset Blvd @ Vine Street
LA, CA 90028
Fri. Aug. 13: 3:40PM & 9:45PM - Q&A with Producer Laurens Grant after 9:45pm show!
Sat. Aug. 14: 1:40PM & 7:35PM - Q&A with Producer Laurens Grant after 7:35pm show!
With two special guests from the film, including a Freedom Rider!
Sun. Aug. 15: 5:20PM & 9:50PM - Q&A w/ Producer Laurens Grant after 9:50pm show!
Mon. Aug. 16: 1:40PM & 7:35PM
Tues. Aug. 17: 5:20PM & 9:50PM
Wed. Aug. 18: 1:40PM & 7:35PM
Thu. Aug. 19: 5:20PM & 9:50PM
* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS screens as part of the International Documentary Association [IDA]'s 14th annual DocuWeeks, a documentary theatrical showcase designed to qualify films for consideration for the Academy Awards. This year's selected films is a strong lineup of 17 features and 5 shorts to screen in New York City and Los Angeles.

* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS is scheduled to air on PBS' acclaimed American Experience series in May 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 freedom rides.

* * * * * *
FREEDOM RIDERS is the first feature-length documentary to tell the story of a courageous band of civil rights activists who risked death by daring to defy the laws of Jim Crow in the Deep South in 1961. They were America's first inter-racial and inter-religious mass movement to challenge segregation in bus and train facilities. Because of their efforts, the signs "whites only" and "colored only" were taken down forever.

"The Death of Doubt?" (Self Indulgence Alert)

The newest issue of The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs is out, and the theme of its "Forum" section, which leads off each issue and provides the cover stories, is "Match Point: Sports, Nationalism, and Diplomacy." It includes an article by yours truly, "The Death of Doubt? Sport, Race, and Nationalism in the New South Africa."

Here is a view of the cover:

Order a copy. Or get your college library to subscribe!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Windbags and Moneybags

What kind of politicians find the Tea Party attractive? According to Ed Kilgore "windbags and moneybags."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Catch Up Links Dump

My best intentions have been to get a lot of blogging done here. But reality (I am still a long way from catching up from my trip, for example) has interceded. So here are a number of stories that have caught my attention, with commentary as apt:

The imbroglio over the Muslim cultural center-cum-mosque a couple of blocks from ground Zero is driven by two interrelated factors: Pure bigotry and rank political opportunism. There is no excuse for trying to exclude any particular religious group from building in the area, never mind one that has long had a presence there. People don't have a right not to be offended or to be made to feel uncomfortable. But beyond that, feeling uncomfortable just by the very presence of Muslims is pretty strong evidence of pretty vile prejudice. I know, I know -- conservatives have tried to turn the tables on those who accuse them of bigotry, making the accusation somehow as bad as the actual act of being a bigot. But that's nonsense, and we need to keep pointing it out at every turn. Oh: and the critics are playing right into the actual extremists' hands. (There has been tons of commentary on this. Almost literally to pick two at random, see Richard Cohen at the WaPo and William Saletan at Slate.)

The 1980 Olympic boycott was a terrible thing, especially for its victims, the athletes who never got to compete. But that does not make the decision wrong or bad. It may well have been the best option in a scenario where there were few good options. Let's dispense with the pablum that sports and politics should never mix. Virtually the entire history of the Olympics (or for that matter sport) is inseparable from politics. Was it really a better option to go to Moscow, providing legitimacy, exposure, and financial support (directly and indirectly) to what was still at the time our enemy -- so much so that Ronald Reagan would soon after label the Soviets the "Evil Empire"? Once the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, there were no good options and considerable bad ones for President Carter when it came to the Moscow Olympics.

The senate recently unanimously (you read that right) passed a bill that, in the words of a New York Times editorial, "protects Americans from the whims of foreign libel judgments." This is important. A while back I was working with an editor on something about Zimbabwe that I was working on. I had written something pointed about Robert Mugabe and he pretty much told me that my commentary on Mugabe would likely lead us both into a potential libel suit. I thought at the time that he was overreacting (and refused to temper my writing, and so we parted ways) but I also knew that the British court system has often been used for libel fishing expeditions. And as someone who often writes for audiences outside of the United States it would be nice to know that the next David Irving won't be able to take me for all I'm worth. (Note to potential litigants: remember Steve Dallas' first law of being a lawyer: never, ever sue poor people.)

Not that we really needed studies to confirm it, but sports are good for girls.

A trifecta from The Chronicle of Higher Education: The New York Times recently stacked the decks in a forum discussion about university tenure (against tenure, I should add). Conservatives recently selectively used or plain misrepresented the arguments of a book on elite college admissions. And UT-Austin will be the focal point of the latest court action over affirmative action.

Finally, Charles Pierce wonders if the Jets, everyone's preseason favorites, are not in for a mighty disappointment. Amen. It's not like there is anyone else in the Jets' division that has had any success over the last decade or so.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Twittery (Superduper Self Indulgence Alert)

You'll notice that I've added my Twitter feed, @dcatafrica (follow me!), on the right-hand side of this here blog. For the time being I am sticking with Africa commentary, and my Tweeting has been light of late, but will pick up the pace soon and I'll probably expand my topical horizons in the near future.

Overrating Favre

Twice today on ESPN talking heads proposed that the maybe-retiring Brett Favre might be the greatest quarterback of all time. let's dispense with this nonsense right now. Favre's prolific statistics notwithstanding, during the era when he played alone there were at least five better all-time quarterbacks. In no particular order: Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady were all better than Favre.