Thursday, July 28, 2011

AP & Me on Stadium Security Post-9/11 (Self-Indulgence Alert!)

I was interviewed by a writer from the Associated Press on the issue of stadium security ten years after 9/11 largely on the basis of this piece for The Public Sphere that I wrote about three years ago. And when you get quoted in a story by AP it ends up appearing everywhere. (My personal favorite is Sports Illustrated via

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Heavy Rotation: Was "In the Changer"

It's been a while since I have written about whatever it is that I have been listening to. I used to call this "in the changer," and now I really do not have a clever name for it. "In Heavy Rotation" is what I'm going to roll with now, at least until the next time, when I forget this name.

By the way, even though all of my music does end up on my iTunes, I still actually buy most of my music (though not all) on cd if only for the dual virtues of permanence (I always want a hard copy of music and documents -- call me paranoid) and sound quality. The actual sound of downloads kind of sucks. Plus, while I have satellite radio, I have to move the little gizmo from house to car and so except for long trips I use my cd player in my car to listen to new cds. So I still do actually listen to a large percentage of music in that dead tree format.

Arctic Monkeys -- Suck it and See: So, the group almost always referred to at some point in any review or feature as "Sheffield lads" has produced their most mature album yet, which they obscure with their most juvenile album title to date. In addition to building on their own growing body of work it seems that Arctic Monkeys must have holed themselves up in a room and listened to a lot of Kiss at some point, because there are a couple of songs here that seem to be aiming directly for denizens of Detroit Rock City (see "Brick by Brick" in particular). Ok, so maybe maturing upward to Kiss is a sign of incrementalism rather than evolution, but just how much evolution do we want in most of our rock music anyway? Grade: B

Beastie Boys -- Hot Sauce Committee Part Two: This is a good Beastie Boys album. They manage to build on what they have done in the past without repeating themselves. Their delivery is as good as ever, maybe better. I have enjoyed listening to it. So why do I get the sneaking suspicion that other than when a song appears on random shuffle I will never listen to this album in its entirety again? B

Best Coast -- Crazy For You: This is excellent indie pop music redolent of girl groups and sunsets over California surf and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and chewy, confectionary goodness. In a just world, this is what mainstream radio would sound like. In this world, we get Lady GaGa and I don't listen to mainstream radio. A-

Broken Bells -- Meyrin Fields EP: This is the second production from Danger Mouse (nee Brian Burton) and James Mercer, the songwriter, lead singer and guitarist for the Shins (I really want them to release a new Shins album, by the way). It's an ep, so it only consists of four songs, all building on Broken Bells' eponymous lp. It's just as good but too short. Have I mentioned how much I hope the Shins put out a new album? A-

David Byrne & Brian Eno -- Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: New wave gets mature? Postpunk reflects on its post-postpunk years? Brian Eno helps Talking Heads lead singer find a sport coat that fits? Grownups on parade? Whatever it is, I hope I age this well. A-

Cut Copy -- Zonoscope: A little dance-y, a little trance-y, a little indie rock. And probably a little emo because I really don't know what the fuck emo is and yet everything these days is emo because 20 year olds apparently always think they invented bringing emotion to music. And I swear they stole some riffs from Fleetwood Mac, which is a pretty good source to steal from if you can get away with it. B

[Saturday] Sox Talk: Is It Hot in Here, Or Is It Them? And: Steroids, Jeter, and Thome

Now some of the rest of you get to experience weather that is de riguer for summer in Texas. It seems like the entire country is in the grip of 100+ degree temperatures.

But the Red Sox, about whom I have not written of late, are also pretty damned hot. They are 8-2 in their last ten games, have the second best record in baseball, and have hit the 60 win mark faster than at any point since the Fred Lynn-Jim Rice "Gold Dust Twins" era. And they have been doing it all with a depleted roster that has been beleaguered by injuries -- 60% of the starting rotation is on the disabled list and Carl Crawford just returned.

I'd like to think that all of this means that this team is not even close to peaking. Which is good for at least two reasons. For all of their accomplishments just past the midway point the Sox are still only two games clear of the Yankees, who are the only team with an even better run differential than the Yankees, which is the key factor in figuring out Pythag projections. And if we are willing to project to the end game I hope happens, the likely National League champion right now seems to be a Phillies team that looks even better than the Sox do and that has what is clearly one of the better rotations in a generation or more, surpassed only by the 1990s Braves in my memory.

The Sox just started a twenty game stretch of games that should help clarify things. They host Seattle now, facing a wretched Mariners team and will follow that up with a Kansas City visit in which the away team's rallying cry is "we're not quite the worst team in the AL!" From there they get a three game trip to Chicago to face a White Sox team whose most interesting element their cumbustible manager but who are probably still in the running for a mediocre AL Central. Then it is back home to face Cleveland, which had every sign of a team ready to fold it in after setting the world on fire in April and then collapsing soon after but that is back in the running of the aforesaid Central. Three games in Fenway against the Yankees should give us a really good sense of the direction the divisional race will take, though that is likely not to be the last clash between these two teams, and then the Twins meet up with the Sox in Fenway before the Sox get their next off day.

A few words on Derek Jeter and Jim Thome. Both have hit or are about to reach monumental landmarks, Jeter becoming the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits and Thome about to surpass 600 home runs. Jeter is surely a great player even if he is simultaneously a vastly overrated player. Thome is probably rated right about where he should be given that we do not really know what power numbers mean anymore even for those of us who think the steroid scandals, while bad for the sport, created ginned up outrage among the media that did not really reflect fan outrage to the same degree. But while we are on the steroids thing, let's just keep in mind that a lot of those same media members are now saying that Jeter and Thome have never been tainted by steroids. And it would be unfair to do so without evidence (not that lack of evidence has stopped the speculation before, but the media loves Jeter in a way that they never loved other guys). But one of the forms of circumstantial evidence that people happily used against, say, Barry Bonds was that OMG Look How Big He Got. And his head grew!!! Ok.

Jeter as a rookie:

And Jeter more recently:

All I'm saying is that using the head growth argument as a form of evidence brings us down a slippery slope because, and I want to be nice here, Jeter's current head appears to have swallowed his rookie head and left room for seconds.

And Jim Thome:


And now:

(Please do your own Google image searches because obviously this is an imperfect measurement -- which is, of course, my point).

See, when journalists say that an athlete "has not been tainted" the passive construction masks who tends to do the tainting, which is, of course, that selfsame media. Now, before anyone goes crazy, I do not have any reason to believe that Jeter or Thome (or for that matter Cal Ripken, who also got a lot bigger over his career, and whose longevity streak happens to coincide with the one thing that we know that steroids do even more than increasing power, which is increase the ability to fend off and recover from injury) ever took steroids. I'm just saying what I'm saying, which is that there was always an asymmetrical approach to steroids (by a media that managed to miss almost the entirety of the steroid era while it was happening, by the way, and yet managed to be the most outraged constituency of all once they caught up to the story) that was based as much on personality as it was on concerns about journalism.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Quotation of the Week, Possibly the Year

I'm not certain if truer words have ever been spoken:

"One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o'clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they're looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole. This was the latter case," - Larry Summers on the Winklevoss twins.

Big Tip of the Hat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rock is Dead. Long Live Rock!

It is likely the most evergreen of all tropes about rock and roll. I swear I read something about it once a year, once a month, maybe once a week and have done so for my entire life as a fan of music. And that's the "rock is dead" proclamations (and its counter-genre, which includes this post, the "rock is not dead" rejoinder.) But news of rock's death is always premature.

Look, no matter what your particular preferences, the best time to be a fan of rock music (or for that matter hip hop or soul or anything else -- let's just subsume it all under the category of "pop" and not be too snobbish about it, eh?) is right now. Right this very minute. And if you are reading this tomorrow at 12:52, then the answer is "right this very minute." And the answer is so not because the music coming out now is better than the music coming out at any other time, but because that music does not disappear and there is always something worthwhile now. There is more moment at this instant than at any point in human history until the next moment, which will supplant this one.

Don't look at the charts. The best stuff rarely makes the top 40 or top 100 or this or that countdown. In fact, what tops the charts often sucks, is insipid pap that makes you lament the very state of the republic, indeed the planet. But the charts not only don't tell the whole story, they tell very little of the story at all. So ignore the cottage industry pronouncing "rock is dead" and the folks telling you that this band, this album, this movement, is going to save rock.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On FPA Blogging (Self Indulgence and All That)

Ok, after a couple of rough weeks I think I am back up and running and blogging at the FPA's Blogs, which, you'll note, have undergone a quite radical format change. I still oversee all of the Africa-related blogging, including writing regularly on African Affairs. But the format is geared toward feeding into one master blog that you can break down into constituent areas rather than emphasizing the constituent areas that can be compiled into a master blog, if that makes sense.

In any case, my meatiest post in a while is up. In it I use the current wave of strikes to explore the state of South African politics and especially the relationship between COSATU and the ANC.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Fun

Dan Drezner (a Williams alum, by the way) imagines the lead paragraphs of prominent world affairs pundits if they covered the Women's World Cup.

Freedom Riders, Emmys, and IMDB (Self Indulgence Alert)

Well, I've made the big time. As a result of my role in Freedom Riders, I now have an IMDB page. A barren, consequenceless IMDB page, but an IMDB page nonetheless.

But I've buried the lede. Freedom Riders has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including "Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking," "Writing for Nonfiction Programming," and "Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming."

And a reminder that Freedom's Main Line is available in paperback.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dealing With Drought

Much of the country is dealing with drought conditions but nowhere has been hit worse than right here in West Texas. In all of 2011 Odessa has received .16 of an inch of rain -- yes, 16 100ths of an inch of rain in seven months (and we had not gotten much precipitation before that -- 13 or so inches in 2010, which was not an outlier one way or the other). The fact that it has been over 100 degrees virtually every day for weeks on end has not helped. The region is parched. Lawns, if they still exist, are beyond relief for anyone adhering to the watering restrictions (many, many people are not adhering to those restrictions because people are selfish pricks).

This is the real danger of the potential devastation of climate change. It also reveals the possibilities of a serious resource scarcity that has the capacity to undermine not only American, but global stability. If you want to imagine a war of all against all, imagine if most of Texas finds that its access to water has been severely restricted.

There will be a certain irony in Texas scrambling to access potable water given that folks in this state have often been fond of festooning their vehicles with bumper stickers reading "Burn more oil and freeze a Yankee." Well, Tex, northerners can use electric heat or fire up the wood stoves. Good luck drinking your precious unrefined oil. Of course then I remember: I live in Texas now.

In any case, it's hot as hell and dry as a bone in Odessa. And while there have been hints of relief coming -- it was banner news in the Odessa American when West Odessa, but not the rest of the city, got rain last night -- we will believe it when we're wet.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Back in the USA

After 48 or so hours of traveling, I'm back in Odessa. The reasons for my early return are pretty horrible, related to deaths in my wife's family, and I certainly wish I could have stayed in South Africa. But it's always nice to be home. Hopefully I'll be back to regular blogging soon.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Over the past fifteen years or so I have almost certainly spent more Independence Days abroad than in the United States. This year is no exception, as I arrived in East London late this morning. I spent the night in Mthatha in a B&B whose second B gave me killer food poisoning this morning. I decided not to head on to Alice after driving some 200km on a very delicate stomach to get here. So I'll move on to Fort Hare for research tomorrow instead.

By the way, for bizarre reasons the blog was down for at least a while today/last night. I have no idea why. Hopefully there are no further issues.

Now go eat something grilled and drink something fermented.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Boston Sports From a Distance

I may be thousands of miles away from the United States. And my mind might be primarily occupied by South African sport (namely the Super Rugby semifinals today in which the Western Cape Stormers are South Africa's hope for a title). But I can still very much enjoy this.