Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hallelujah, I'm a Travelin'

I've been loading up on content this evening in part because I'll be heading out of town for about ten days tomorrow.

First I head to Chicago where on Friday (April 29) I'll be chairing a panel, sitting on another, and participating in an author's event for the Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary event this weekend. All events are at the Hyatt McCormick Place.

From there I fly to DC Saturday and will be heading to Charlottesville soon after. On Monday (May 2) I'll be giving a talk at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at UVA as part of their forum series. My talk is "Freedom's Main Line: The Freedom Rides at 50." My talk is at 11:00. I hope to see you at both events.

There is talk of another event in Washington next week, so I'll be sticking around until the weekend. If you are in Chicago or Charlottesville please come by.

And of course if you have not yet gotten your copy of Freedom's Main Line in hardcover, supplies actually are running low in the lead up to the release of the paperback.


Loving 80s Underground Rock

A couple of music tidbits related to two of my all-time favorite bands:

The Daily Swarm discovered a few gems from the epochal 1980s Minneapolis music scene. Among the nuggets is a recording of a Replacements show from the 7th Street Entry, "the ugly, piss-stinking Siamese twin" of legendary music venue "First Avenue." The 'Mats are my favorite band of all-time, so even with the uneven sound quality this discovery makes me a bit giddy.

Meanwhile Carrie Brownstein, from another of my favorite and much-missed bands, Sleater-Kinney, has started a new band, Wild Flag which is floating on a cloud of massive buzz from some live shows. They do not as of yet even have dates set to record, but the rumblings are that they are awesome.

On Travel

I've taken this trip on the Okavango Delta on mokoros. In fact it makes up one of my favorite memories, especially when we arrived at our chosen campsite to discover it being ransacked by two giant bull elephants.

I tend to be a bit skeptical of most travel writing, especially that about Africa, as most of the genre tends to veer toward buttressing various hoary cliches about Africa. Nonetheless, I also think there is a place for even the most boosterish travel writing -- that is, the kind you find in a typical weekend edition of the newspaper that basically is a sales job for travel.

Some time ago inveterate travel writer Paul Theroux (with whose writings I tend to have a love-hate relationship) wrote an essay in the New York Times' Sunday travel section titled "Why We Travel." I think "we" travel for many reasons. Every time I get the chance to return to Africa it is always driven by work, but even when I go for work, I'm not going to pretend that I work fifteen hours a day. Most of my time is devoted to the simple pleasures of travel. Seeing old friends and returning to familiar haunts as well as always seeking out the new.


Barone on Bruscino

The Claremont Review has finally posted Michael Barone's review of Tom's excellent book, A Nation Forged in War. You do own A Nation Forged in War, right?


Democracy: A Journal of Ideas has a new blog, Arguments, that you should bookmark.

Yo, Perk, What With the White Boys?

Deadspin has a great story on how two random white guys from Boston became part of Kendrick Perkins' entourage.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shocked. Shocked!

Shockers for a Monday: Law schools are sometimes dishonest and business schools are most often shoddy.

My favorite statistic from the business school article? "[W]hen business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major."

Re-read that. Basically, on the test that ought to be the main justification for going to business school, or certainly one of them, they score worse than social science majors, engineering majors, even humanities majors:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Red Sox Report: After the Deluge

Though it may defy belief, my absence in reporting on the Red Sox in what was supposed to be a regular Friday feature has almost nothing to do with the fact that for the first two weeks of the season the Red Sox were absolutely horrible. Instead a Vegas trip and then recovery from that Vegas trip got in the way.

That said: Eeeesh. The Red Sox had a horrible start to the season, but one that I suspected would recede into the rearview mirror over the course of a very long season. Barring some sort of cataclysm, this Sox team simply was not going to continue to flail. Their outlier came early, and while clawing back into contention became a lot more difficult after the first week or so of the season it would have been foolhardy to believe they would not right the ship. Lots of experts started pulling out statistics about teams that started 1-7 or 2-10 and came up with the same ominous result: Teams with those sorts of starts don't win championships. Well, no shit. they were bad teams that started off badly. This Sox team is a good team that started off badly. Not recognizing the two represents obtuseness. Of course obtuseness tends to reign among the sorts of folks who get paid a lot to discern that the majority of teams that start off badly don't finish well.

Since then the hitters have hit well and the pitchers have pitched well, and lo and behold, the Sox have won some games. As I write this they lead Anaheim or Fake Los Angeles or wherever the hell they hail from 3-0 after taking a big win in extra innings last night. They will be climbing out of the hole they dug early for quite some time now. But the Red Sox will be just fine just as the hot-starting Baltimore Orioles will end up wallowing in mediocrity. Ten games in baseball is a tiny sample size, equivalent to a single NFL regular season game.

[I will say this: 2004 (and 2007) made the brink seem a lot farther away than it otherwise would.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Race-y Tea Party

The Tea Party Movement and its defenders go apoplectic when they are accused of being driven in any way shape or form by racism. yet the politics of racial resentment are so close to the surface, the examples so prominent, that one almost wonders where to draw the line between racial resentment and racism. And then something like this happens and helps clarify the picture once again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Myths About the Information Age

Post-Vegas life got a bit crazy and then I had the actual official Big 4-0 and thus the light posting.
Excuses, excuses.

In any case, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "5 Myths About the Information Age," caught my eye. The gist (in case the title does not give it away): We regularly hear all of the following (these sorts of exercises run the risk of creating strawmen, but I think most of us have at least heard variations on all of them.) "The Book is dead." "We have entered the information age." "All information is now available online." "Libraries are obsolete." And "The future is digital." Robert Darnton, a professor and University Librarian at Harvard, dismantles these arguments and in their place presents a more nuanced view of what we should see as the interaction between new technologies and old.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

An Anniversary Celebration

After classes tomorrow I'm off to Vegas. A friend and I are meeting there to celebrate the 19th anniversary of our 21st birthdays, his a week ago, mine a few days after my return. What happens there may or may not stay there depending on what is worth retelling.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Manning Marable, RIP

Manning Marable, a prolific historian and essayist, died yesterday. His passing is particularly sad because he did not live to see the publication of his long awaited biography of Malcolm X, which will happen on Monday and will inevitably change the way we think of his subject.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Friday Sox Report: Opening Day Edition

I think I'll try to do a weekly update on the Red Sox this year. We'll see how long I stick with it.

It's Opening Day (Opening Day for me is when the Sox first toss the ball out there for real) and there is much reason for optimism in Red Sox Nation. Despite the fact that lots of people are picking the Sox to do well (usually enough to give pause -- how often is that consensus right?) I am going to agree with them simply because Boston experienced a horrid season of injuries last year and still finished up with 89 wins and were in the running with a week or so to go in the season. Assuming that last year was an outlier -- Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Martinez and Cameron missed an average of 88 games to injury last year and much of the pitching staff spent time on the DL.

And if reverting to something resembling a mean on the disabled list would be enough to inspire optimism, the offseason signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzales should be enough to have warmed even the frostiest heart. Gonzales is going to mash in Fenway. He was a stud in San Diego, and PETCO is the worst hitter's park in the game. Crawford meanwhile steps into a better lineup in Boston and is just reaching what should be his peak years. The irony of last year's team is that while they went in preaching the virtues of defense, with cynics wondering where the offense would come from, they ended up having an incredibly potent offense despite some of the lineups Tito was forced to put out there and despite their supposedly weakened situation. This year's team could conceivably bring the team back to its 2003-2005 offensive apex when they were historically good.

The biggest concern is likely with pitcing depth both in the starting rotation and at the back end in the bullpen. In the pen papelbon had his worst year last year and every save opportunity seemd like a misadventure, even when he prevailed. Fortunately Paps is in his contract year, so he has every reason to excel, and they have Daniel Bard and former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks in the wings. Barring some sort of epic season from Papelbon this is likely his last year in a Sox uniform as it would be uncharacteristic of Theo and the rest of management to break the bank for a closer.

On paper the starting rotation looks as if it could be exceptional. but there are some cracks. Lester and Buchholz should continue to improve, though whether they will be top-5 in the Cy Young voting good again remains to be seen. But Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey all disappointed last year. For all of DiceK's potential he is simply maddening, nibbling rather than being aggressive, and as a consequence rarely getting much past the 5th inning. there have been some promising signs this spring (and last fall) but most Sox fans need to see progress when it counts to believe it. Beckett too has been frustrating since his first couple of years in uniform, putting up mediocre numbers and having a hard time avoiding injuries great and small. It felt like a panic move when they extended him last year when he was struggling. He needs a big year to validate the contract and to avoid being the priciest fifth starter in baseball. Lackey too disappointed, though as the season progressed he seemed to get a bit better. Maybe the pressure of the first year in a Sox uniform got to him. Whatever it was, he needs to improve. Ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield returns as well but he is at the stage in his career where he is better seen as a stopgap than a regular starter, though reports of his demise have proven premature in the past.

The season starts against Texas, here in the Lone Star State, and were it not for an unfortunate foot injury that's kept me on my own version of the DL the last ten days I'd be getting up there this weekend. But I'll be watching here at home and obviously will hope that the Red Sox get out of the gate strong and keep it rolling. Once again the AL East will be beastly. The Blue Jays and Orioles are no slouches. It seems a long time since Tampa was a laughingstock and even after some of their offseason losses have likely become "perennial" contenders, though they have to hope they continue to replicate their farm system success. Then there are the Yankees. I suspect that they have loved being discounted by just about every pundit. yes, they did not have the offseason they had hoped for, largely because they put all of their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket and they never hatched. but something tells me that the demise of the Yankees has been greatly exaggerated. they will be there in September when postseason berths are being allotted.

In The Changer: Spring Has Sprung!

Here is another installment of my quasi-regular (so: irregular) feature "In the Changer" in which I review some of the stuff I've been listening to lately.

The B-52's -- The B-52's: Before they turned into cartoon figures in their later years, Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and the rest of the B-52's (named after the 50's hairstyle donned by their female protagonists) were glorious weirdos who must have really seemed like they were from another planet, even in musically progressive Athens, Georgia. Merging surf and rockabilly and 50's space kitsch into a danceable sludge the B-52's (in later years they would drop the apostrophe) probably got most of their propulsion from guitarist Ricky Wilson, who would later succumb to HIV-AIDS. What I love about this album is an almost desperate intensity that underlies all of the froth. Sure. I don't ever need to hear "Rock Lobster" again, and neither do you. But check out the buildup of "Dance This Mess Around," with Cindy Wilson's banshee scream breaking through to the other side. The album doesn't (couldn't possibly) maintain this sort of controlled howl, but at it's best The B-52's still sounds like a retro-revolution. Grade: B+

Sam Baker -- Pretty World: Some people cannot get over the voice. It's an atonal drawl-talk-mumble that represents no one's idea of singing. But oh, the songwriting. The two absolute highlights are called "Odessa," (yes, about my Odessa, though I learned about Baker from my friend Dan, in Charlotte and have never heard him here; he is from East Texas) and "Broken Fingers." "Odessa" is about a spoiled scion (who "played for Mojo in the boom") of an oil-rich daddy who gets away with whatever he wants to because of Daddy's money. He kills his girlfriend in a high-speed car crash and never really recovers. The latter I still cannot listen closely to without tearing up and informs Baker's back story. In 1986, while traveling through Peru on one of those trips people take to "find themselves," Baker "got in the middle of somebody else's war" when the "Shining Path" terrorist group blew up the train he was traveling on. The result was injuries he's never recovered from (thus the singing voice and as important the delivery) and an indelible story about a little German boy and his mother who died next to Baker. Baker's fingers were also mangled in the explosion and he had to learn to play the guitar with his opposite hand. But while the fingers are the immediate reminder it's the child's face, "etched like a crystal vase," that haunts him. Both of these songs are achingly beautiful. Track this album down (or download his stuff). If you love powerful songwriting I promise you will not be disappointed. Grade: A

The Decemberists -- The King Is Dead: I am not the first to point out that this is the most accessible album yet from this great Portland band. Lots of people have been turned off by Colin Meloy's baroque MFA-in-literature lyrical stylings, (not me -- I've bought in from the outset). For those people I'd recommend this album. Ten songs, only one longer than five minutes, this practically qualifies as a pop album. The lyrics are still worth perusing (Meloy has long talked about getting that English graduate degree and his sister is the acclaimed novelist and short story writer Maile Meloy). And you have to like a guy who insists that all of his tours go through his home town in Missouri because growing up he felt a million miles away from the music and pop culture he loved. There are rumors that The Decemberists may not be together forever, an amicable split possibly being on the horizon. I hope not. But if this ends up as the topper for their discography, well, it could have been worse. Grade: A-

Eminem -- Recovery: The world's a better place with Eminem back in it. he disappeared for a while, seemingly a casualty of his meteoric success. then he had a comeback album. And it sort of sucked. Which created something of a guilt complex in anyone who cared to consider that they needed Eminem to be fucked up for their enjoyment. This comeback redux assuages that guilt. Eminem is back on his game, schizophrenically bleating out apologies in one line and spewing vitriol in the next, taking back his title as the most fascinating figure in hip hop, a title he has earned at least in part by not giving a shit whether he fascinates you -- there might be a lesson in there for some of his peers. (Kanye? You listening?) My one concern is that Eminem will fall into a rut of apologia and introspection. There is some very good angst here, but it could get old fast if it becomes a go-to move. Still, Eminem is back to venting his spleen, and that's a very good thing. Grade: B+