Friday, May 27, 2011

Good Things are Bruin

The Bruins are on their way back to the Stanley Cup Finals. It hasn't happened since 1990 and they have not won since 1972 (Bobby Orr's iconic leap across the goal mouth), so they remain the gaping hole in my sports fan's scrap book.

I've covered some of this before, but I grew up watching the Bruins and am named after one of the 60s-70s legends, Derek Sanderson, since my Mom apparently found him to be dreamy. When I was a kid and spent tons of time at my grandparents' farm I used to watch Bruins games all the time in their bedroom, where I also watched the killer afternoon lineup of Banana Splits, Caspar, Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, Flintstones, Brady Bunch. That might give some chronological perspective.

I vividly remember the Petr Klima 3-OT nightmare in 1990 but can only vaguely remember the infamous Too-Many-Men-On-The-Ice call against evil Montreal (which came in the same era as the infamous roughing call against the Pats' Sugar Bear Hamilton. Jesus, the 70s were awful). I saw Ray Bourque have to go elsewhere to win a Cup not long after seeing Cam Neely's thigh calcify much like Bo Jackson's.

When I was just a little guy my aunt Joan, who lived what seemed then to be the good life in Boston (she was what was once called a spinster and I'd bet that her distant view over the Monster at Fenway was something she would have traded for more amorous, lasting happiness) bought me a Bruins jersey that was way too big for me. But that proved to be fortuitous, as I was able to wear it for several years.

The B's are one series away. They will face Vancouver, which will have all of Canada (or as I call it, North-North Dakota) behind it. Tampa was tenacious as hell. But the Canucks won this year's President's Trophy for the most points in the NHL regular season. At this point none of that matters. The Bruins are knocking on the door. Let's see if they can knock it down.

Just Pure Self Indulgence

I'm not posting a ton here, and I'm not great at Twitter, but you might want to follow me there as well @dcatafrica

And of course there is always the FPA Africa Blog where you can see smart dcat.

Friday Red Sox Report: Two Weeks of Bliss

If there is a lesson for fans of contenders (this, sadly, does not apply to fans of, say, the Pirates) it is that it is never smart to get too high or too low over the course of a season where all is transient until the cumulative effect kicks in. This year's Red Sox were never as bad as their start (or as mediocre as the weeks that followed). And they probably are not as good as they are playing right now.

Still: Fuck yeah!

This is more like it. They are banging the piss out of the ball and preventing the other guys from doing the same. And the rising tide has elevated nearly every boat. Carl Crawford's slow start is giving way to him showing major flashes of being the guy who signed a monster contract in the offseason. Consecutive four-hit games will do something for a struggling man's numbers, and his .244/.277/.368 is merely bad, not wretched, and those numbers are on an upward trajectory. The same can be said for the team as a whole, which had been mired in the middle of the league in the various offensive measurements, crude and otherwise. They now rank 3rd in batting average (crude!) 4th in runs, and second in both on base percentage and slugging (otherwise!)

The pitching has not been quite as glorious in the aggregate, but the Sox are missing 40% of their starters and the 1-2 punch of Josh Beckett (I have no answer to it either) and Jon Lester is getting support from Buchholz and others. The ageless Tim Wakefield had a marvelous start last weekend and Alfredo Aceves has done well after being thrust into the starting rotation, something all the more gratifying because he was plucked off the scrap heap of the Yankees.

Suddenly the Sox are in a virtual tie with the Yankees for first place, with Tampa 1.5 back (and the O's at .500 and Blue Jays only two under) and they have the third best record in the American League. This is what I think we all expected. And this is what we'd love to see going forward.

Now, since last I wrote (I was in San Antonio last weekend, thus the absence) the Sox have gone 11-2, a pace I'd love for them to continue, but let's be realistic. But this is the team I think we all hoped to see. The AL East is going to go down to the wire, and that's as it should be. But there is ample reason to believe that when it all shakes out, Boston will be looking at another postseason berth and another shot at October Glory.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brushes With Quasi-Fame (Self Indulgence Alert)

My Miller Center lecture is now available for viewing (or listening to) here.

The Newshour with Jim Lehrer also featured Freedom Riders on Monday (you can access the video and transcript through that link), and the clip they featured the other day included one of my appearances in the film (I'm in the documentary a dozen or so times total.)

Texas' Priorities

Jesus. So we're looking at draconian cuts in higher education, secondary education, human services, and just about every sector of the Texas economy. yet somehow the state of Texas can afford $250 million over ten years to support Formula One racing, which may be the world's premiere form of driving in a pattern but does not even register? And to top it off, we are lining the pockets of billionaires AND we are bidding against ourselves?


Monday, May 16, 2011

UPDATED!! "Freedom Riders" Tonight

Don't Forget, you can see me on The American Experience: Freedom Riders on PBS tonight. It's on at 9 Eastern, 8 central in most markets. As they say, check your local listings for the original broadcast and re-showings.

Freedom's Main Line is out in paperback soon. Order your copy now!

Update: You should also check out this feature in The New York Times on the film's director, Stanley Nelson (not only a world-class documentarian, but a great man as well) and this piece on CNN exploring how the Freedom Riders might have influenced the new generation of Arab protest leaders.

The reviews have been pouring in as well. Yours truly gets mentioned in the San Antonio Express News and Popmatters.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

"I Am A Man!"

This Thomas Friedman column this morning evoked a historical image that Friedman should have caught. In discussing the Libyan uprisings, he used his typical anecdotal reportage*:
A Libyan friend remarked to me the other day that he was watching Arab satellite TV out of Benghazi, Libya, and a sign held aloft at one demonstration caught his eye. It said in Arabic: “Ana Rajul” — which translates to “I am a man.” If there is one sign that sums up the whole Arab uprising, it’s that one.
Indeed the title of the column is "I Am a Man!"

I am a bit surprised and disappointed that an American columnist would not recognize that during the Memphis Sanitation Workers' strike in 1968 (it was in Memphis during the strike that Martin Luther King, Jr, was assassinated) strikers wore sandwich boards reading in big block print: "I AM A MAN!"

Beyond any gendered interpretation the Memphis campaign embodied the kind of movement that Friedman intends to identify, and while he invokes Albert Camus and Che Guevara he misses perhaps the most salient historical resonance. Now, whether the movement in Libya bears the characteristics of that in Memphis is an entirely different question, but the assertion "I am a man!" should have set off some historical analogies in Friedman's mind.

* I do not intend this characterization as criticism. Friedman's detractors -- and he has many -- are usually not willing to grant just how good he is at this kind of writing. They see his work as shallow and impressionistic. And it may be. But in terms of trying to bring complex issues to a general audience, Friedman is very good, and the closer he stays to the Middle East beat, the more valuable he is. I have found his "The World is Flat" pop sociology-economics commentary to be facile and self generating, but I maintain that From Beirut to Jerusalem is as good an introduction to the Israel-Palestine question as one is likely to find.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Red Sox Report: New Verse, Same as the First

Since my last Sox Report the Red Sox went 3-3. Blah. Blah blahbity blah blah.

Mediocrity is in some ways even more frustrating than abject badness. They win a couple, they lose a couple, each winning streak yin met with a losing streak yang, every sign of hope dampened by worrisome trends. .500 becomes the top of the hill, each new opposing team Sisyphus' rock.

Tonight the second season series with the Yankees kicks off in the New Toilet Bowl in the Bronx. I have a nice bet with Holmes this year -- every year we have different stakes, sometimes tied to sauces from our respective barbecue hotbeds, sometimes requiring the loser to buy the winner a hat or tee or shorts from a local sports team, or the other's favorite sports teams. This year's bet has an air of the philanthropic about it, as for each win equals five dollars for the charity of the winner's choice. The Sox are up 2-1 early on, so $10 is allocated to the Jimmy Fund, and I believe I am at $5 and counting for Children's Hospital. There are no losers in this one, though I hope my side wins a lot more.

This would be a great time to get rolling on the winning streak that we Sox fans have been counting on. The Yankees lead the way in the East but are themselves vulnerable. Someone will distinguish themselves in the division this year. Now would be a good time for the Sox to do so. I'd as soon not be reflecting on another .500 week seven days from now.

The Yankees Suck.

Big Daddy Drew Channels Rick Reilly

This is just about pitch perfect. You have to know the target, but if you do it is spectacular.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Oatmeal

You should occasionally go read The Oatmeal. It's funny.

Or maybe you already read it and I'm just behind the coolness curve. Either way, thanks to my friend Bill (my longest standing friendship -- we grew up down a very rural road from one another and have been friends since nursery school!) for giving me the heads up when I stayed at his place in Northern Virginia last week.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Red Sox Report: Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

I've been up to my neck in Freedom Rides-related events this week, which may be good for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I have largely missed most of the Red Sox games from the last eight or ten days. Because while it's easy to look at the 0-7 and 2-10 start and pinpoint that as this team's sole problem, the reality is that they are 4-6 in the last ten games. When they hit they don't seem to pitch and when they pitch they don't seem to hit and even while the Yankees have struggles of their own the Sox have not made up ground, a trend they may well lament when August and September roll around.

At a certain point seemingly unlimited promise does not get the job done. Indeed there is nothing more disappointing than when promise fails to fulfill itself. Realistically, everyone thought the Indians would be wretched, so their performance is especially welcome for Cleveland fans. Or alternatively, baseball fans in Kansas City cannot possibly enter any given season with especially high hopes. But Red Sox fans? Well, our expectations are simply higher, and everything fuels those expectations, including management that knows it can get away with the highest ticket prices in baseball because the seemingly inexorable march through the Fenway turnstiles continues apace.

That said, it is still nearly impossible for me to imagine that this team will not start hitting in particular. Carl Crawford reminds me a lot of Edgar Renteria in 2005. It's easy (and self congratulatory) for Sox fans simply to chalk some players' inability to perform to the heightened expectations, knowledge, and intensity of the fan base. My guess is that most of the pressure Crawford is feeling comes from within. But whatever the circumstances, new guys tend to feel disproportionate heat when things go awry. All know is that a .515 OPS isn't going to get it done. Not in Fenway, but realistically, not anywhere. He's shown signs of life the last week or so, and that has to continue. But the rest of the lineup needs to produce as well. They rank 17th in runs and 19th in slugging percentage. That is, to be blunt, horrid.

The Sox have four games against an even more struggling Minnesota team and then two games against the Blue Jays, a team that probably is beginning to think it has a chance in the AL East. Then a week from today commences the second series of the season with the Yanks. It would be nice to be closer to first than to last when that happens. But it's not going to happen if they do not start putting the wood on the ball and keeping the other guys from doing the same.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I Was on Oprah Today (Kind Of)

Well, I would imagine most of you did not see it (I am out of town and so I didn't see it) but this morning Oprah's show featured the Freedom Riders. One of the clips she showed from Stanley Nelson's Freedom Riders documentary apparently featured yours truly.

Thanks to all of you who emailed and texted and Facebooked and Tweeted to let me know.