Thursday, September 30, 2010

NCAA Top 25

None too soon this week....

1. Ohio St. (1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Oregon (3)
4. TCU (4)
5. Boise St.  (5)
6. Stanford (14)
7. Florida (13)
8. Nebraska (6)
9. Oklahoma (7)
10. Auburn (18)
11. Arizona (8)
12. LSU (10)
13. Arkansas (11)
14. Wisconsin (12)
15. Utah (14)
16. Iowa (17)
17. Miami (19)
18. USC (20)
19. Michigan  (22)
20. Michigan St. (23)
21. Nevada (24)
22. South Carolina (16)
23. Oklahoma St. (NR)
24. Penn St. (NR)
25. Air Force (25)

Gone: Texas (9), West Virginia (20)

Games of the week:

1. Stanford at Oregon--probably for the Pac-10 title. These two teams are clearly the class of the conference
2. Florida at Alabama--Alabama really didn't play that great last week. Meanwhile Florida has been up and down all season. Both these teams could be great. It's going to be a good one.
3. Texas vs. Oklahoma--Although Texas was exposed as a gigantic fraud last week against UCLA, after struggling to beat inferior opponents previously, this is still a huge game. Texas does have ability and Oklahoma has looked extraordinarily inconsistent as well. Frankly, I wonder if Oklahoma St. and Texas A&M aren't the 2 strongest teams in the Big 12 South (and as they presently playing each other as I write, I guess we'll see which is the most legit--OSU I think).

Tony Curtis, RIP

I'll admit to never being the biggest Tony Curtis fan. Nonetheless, he clearly was an important actor. Here he is in what I consider his best film, Sweet Smell of Success.

Roger Ebert shares a pretty funny story he heard from Walter Matthau about Curtis, one of Hollywood's most notorious womanizers.

This has been the worst week for movie deaths in a very long time. A brief list:
Tony Curtis
Arthur Penn
Sally Menke (Tarantino's editor)
Gloria Stuart
Grace Boyd
Joe Mantell (nominated for Oscar in Marty and was also in Chinatown)

It's almost like the gods are so disgusted by the quality of film coming out of Hollywood these days that they've responded by whacking as many people as possible. Or maybe the legends of Hollywood are just giving up after seeing all this dreck.

More Protests in Ecuador

The situation in Ecuador seems to be growing more serious. Rebellious police claim to have overthrown a state governor and taken the state government offices. Protests continue in Quito.

I highly recommend following the Bloggingsbyboz twitter feed for updates.

Historical Image of the Day

4-H members with their corn crop, 1918

Unrest in Ecuador

Sprung up this morning, seemingly out of nowhere. Will report more if there is more to report. Protesting security forces have evidently taken over the airport, unclear if they are marching against President Correa directly or against benefit cuts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arthur Penn, RIP

A great loss. Wish he would have stayed relevant past the 70s--he'd probably be more remembered today.

Historical Image of the Day

Green Corn Festival, Bixby, Oklahoma, 1970

I'm guessing these are the people who do not smoke marijuana in Muskogee. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Slade Gorton--Washington's Jesse Helms

I knew that former Washington Senator Slade Gorton was no friend to Indians. I remember than when he lost a close reelection race to Maria Cantwell in 2000 that it was widely seen as the most successful Native American political effort in history. But I didn't know how much of a racebaiter Gorton was.

Gorton came to power stoking the resentment of white fishermen who hated the fact that Native Americans were pressing for their treaty rights. As salmon numbers collapsed, whites looked to blame someone. Rather than blame the timber industry, dams, cities, pollution, or other white causes, they blamed Native Americans. The members of small tribes around Puget Sound did fish a little bit, but there were so few of them by the 1960s that they made almost no negative impact on salmon populations.

But lingering white hatred of Indians stoked resentment against their very limited treaty rights, rights that the state of Washington did all they could to resist. Even after courts clearly stated that those rights needed to be respected, Washington acted very much like South Carolina and Alabama did after courts ordered school integration--they ignored the ruling and did everything in their power to delay implementation.

Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton led the way in this illegal attempt to deny Native American fishing rights. Elected to the Senate in 1980 over incumbent Democrat Warren Magnuson, Gorton was popular with state conservatives because of his decade long campaign against the Indians. When he reached the Senate, he made sure to get a seat on the Committee on Indian Affairs, where he continued to launch campaigns against indigenous rights.

Gorton was never particularly popular in the state at large. He lost his reelection campaign in 1986, but then ran for the state's other seat in 1988, winning two terms until Cantwell defeated him. Gorton is almost totally forgotten about today. Although still alive, his Wikipedia page is skeletal, even though he was on the 9/11 Commission. But Gorton was a racebaiter of the worst type. We think of oppression of Native Americans as something of the distant past that we are trying to make up for today, either through casinos or through finally respecting treaty rights or through pushing for the legal consumption of peyote or whatever. But this national attitude belies the kind of local hostility in states like Washington, South Dakota, and Oklahoma that can be as nasty and horrifying as anti-black racism in Detroit and Mississippi or anti-Latino racism in Arizona and Texas.

Saving Stagecoach

Peter Bogdanovich's massive ego makes it hard to judge the validity of this story, but according to him, he managed to save the only existing pristine copy of Stagecoach when he found it in John Wayne's garage:

For a movie buff, it was a heady moment.  I said something like, “Jesus Christ, Duke, do you have 35mm prints of all your pictures!?”  He said, “No, but just about.  It’s been part of my regular deal for a long time—the studio’s gotta give me a print off the original negative.”  A light went on in my head.  I looked around and saw quite near me a canister marked “STAGECOACH.”  Knowing the original negative of that classic film—-the one which turned Wayne into a major star—-had been lost or destroyed, I got excited:  “Is that print of Stagecoach from the original negative?”  Wayne said, “I believe it is—don’t even think it’s ever been run.”

Well, this was golden news for film lovers because, as I told Wayne, his print—-which did turn out to be a mint copy—-could be used to create a new negative, producing a better result than anything in existence.  I knew that if he would actually contribute his Stagecoach print to a non-profit institution like the AFI, he would get a very good tax write-off.  After a new negative had been made, a new copy could then be sent to him.  Duke was enthusiastic, especially about the tax break.  Indeed, what I outlined in the garage did happen, and just that accidentally is how Stagecoach got saved.


Historical Image of the Day

"Husking Corn," image from Harper's Weekly, April 13, 1861

Fucking Hippies

From a policy perspective, it's clear that we need to legalize marijuana.

However, the behavior of hippies almost makes me want to keep the drug criminalized, just as an excuse to throw them all in jail where hopefully they will be severely beaten every day.

See for instance, this "debate" about California Prop 19, which would effectively legalize the drug, at the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo:

As an emcee tried to introduce the first speaker, Prop. 19 architect Richard Lee, he was overwhelmed by boos and jeers. Some pot farmers, doctors, and pot-dispensary owners fear that legalizing the drug will eliminate their jobs or expose them to competition from industrial-scale growers. "I need everyone in the crowd to act like an adult. Right now!" the emcee yelled fruitlessly. He then asked "the adults" in the crowd to raise their hands. The room grew quieter.

But not for long. Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, a marijuana cultivation school in Oakland ("Quality traning for the cannibis industry"), wore aviator sunglasses that made him look like a fighter pilot about to strafe the crowd. "We're all for legalization here, right?" he began, mildly enough, before exploding: "We're all for fucking legalization! So fuck these guys who want to keep fucking up out of Mexico!" He went on, a bit cryptically, "Thirty thousand people are dead! We've got to move to legalization, it's that simple. This is the best we can do right now." Applause and cheers clashed with cries of "You suck!"

"I'm hiding behind you if a fight breaks out," Derek Oppedisano, a Prop. 19 supporter and co-owner of weGrow, an Oakland hydroponics store, told me. "I'm too stoned to throw punches." I pointed out that pot smokers are supposed to be peaceful. "I'm telling you, man, when economics gets involved, it changes everything," Oppedisano said. A year from now, he predicted, the pot business "is gonna be as ruthless as Wall Street."


Go DeMint?

I'm almost happy Jim DeMint has decided to declare himself King of the Senate and hold up all legislation as long as he wants to do so. On the face of it, this is a terrible thing. But the Senate is already a nonfunctioning disaster. The longer there's any illusion that the Senate works, the longer it is before something drastic happens to fix it. I'm not trying to make a Leninist "let's cheer for things to get worse so the revolution can begin" argument. Things are already so bad that all DeMint is doing is making it increasingly obvious for all to see.

True Grit

The trailer for the Coen Brothers' remake of "True Grit," with Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role.

This looks awesome.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Certificate from the Corn Products Refining Company, circa 1910. This company was a conglomeration of the major corn refiners in the country. They later expanded around the world. I'm not sure if they exist under that name today, but no doubt they played a big role in the expansion of high fructose corn syrup later in the 20th century.

This week's images are inspired by corn. We'll see how long I can produce corn-related images.  The book that inspired this was James McCann's Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000. I read this as part of keeping up with the historiography of environmental history. It's an award winner. It is however an old school environmental history book, meaning that there's lots about the botany of corn and very little about actual people.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Editorial cartoon concerning the Embargo Act of 1807. The Embargo Act was arguably Jefferson's worst move as a president and was one of the nation's great foreign policy disasters. Admittedly, the U.S. was not bargaining from a strong position. But still, Jefferson really wasn't a very effective president.

As for the specifics of the cartoon, I'm not sure what it all means. Pre-Civil War editorial cartoons are full of extremely obscure insider references.

When Hipster Irony Gets Carried Too Far

This is utterly indefensible, even by the low standards of misnomered "irony."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Friendly Reminder...

...that the guys from Fire Joe Morgan have returned to blogging for today only over at Dead Spin. "Why should I care?," you ask? Well, if nothing else, there's some excellent ragging on the cult of Eckstein, as well as really weird stories about Joe Morgan. But really, every single post is worth reading.

European Stereotypes

I had seen one of these maps before. A colleague last year had one of Hungary. They are interesting because they hit home at the simplistic ways people think of countries. The American one is pretty classic:

Hits our Cold War way of thinking about the world, how racial stereotypes of other places get projected upon the wrong nations, and how consumerism fundamentally defines our popular relationships with nations. It's not too different with the Germans either:

That Russia is basically Gazprom for most of Europe is pretty right on and all the more so after they cut off gas supplies a couple of winters ago, letting Europe freeze.

Obviously this kind of thing has limitations, but there's real value here too.

Spatialized Segregation

Cool maps showing the segregation of various cities.

Here's Detroit:

Well, that explains a lot. Detroit is an extremely racist city and has been going back to at least World War II.

Segregation is everywhere, but some places it's more complex. Here's San Antonio:

San Antonio looks segregated too, but if you click on the larger version of the map, you can see that in fact there are lots of Latinos (yellow) in the white (red) neighborhoods and the other way around to some extent.

Anyway, it's all really fascinating.

Preparing PhD Students For Life Outside Academia

Bill Petti:

Curry was commenting here on changing the mindset of the students, but I would argue in many disciplines the problem isn't the students, but the professors.  There are still large groups of people in academia that not only disagree with this sentiment, but actively work to undermine students who choose to take their education and apply it outside of academia.  My experience has been in the realm of political science, but certainly know others that have had similar experiences in other disciplines.

The skills one learns in graduate school are absolutely applicable outside of academia.  In many cases, students may be better positioned to apply what they've learned and have a more fulfilling career in either government or business.  Not everyone is cut out for this type of career, but then again not everyone is cut out for a life in academia either.  In many cases, it takes a different set of talents and to thrive in either environment.  And when we take into account the utter dysfunction of the academic labor market, I don't think pressuring students to seek a career in that market is the most responsible thing to do.

Bottom line: the focus should be on the students and what will be the best move for them, not what professors think is the 'proper' career for those pursuing and holding a Ph.D.

Absolutely. While many students go into Ph.D. programs thinking that they want to be professors, the reality is that most them won't get tenure-track jobs. It's absurd to keep admitting students if you are only going to train them for academia.

Universities do a terrible job preparing students for anything outside of academia. This is natural in some sense--professors are the ones who succeeded. But to assume that all their students will also succeed in the academic job market is dishonest and almost fraudulent. Universities and the individual departments within them must do a better job of opening students' eyes to multiple career choices. Individual professors sometimes do this with their students, but they are usually anomalies within the department.

I've been in a series of visiting positions. I don't really know what to do if I don't get an academic job. At least I am conscious about trying to improve my job prospects outside of the academy, but I am by no means confident, nor do I have a strong plan of what to do if this all falls apart. I wish I understood the path to move into policy for instance. And I consider myself far better off for this transition than most people in my position.

TV Replacing Film as Storytelling Medium of Choice?

Jim Emerson explores this question, riffing off this A.O. Scott article.

I don't know--there sure hasn't been a lot of buzz around American cinema in the last couple of years. It's all about sequels and technology. The Hollywood studios are showing about as much creativity as network television in the 1980s. Meanwhile, I don't think TV has ever witnessed such a peak of quality and creativity. I suppose we have The Sopranos to thank for this. One might make the argument that The Sopranos is one of the five most important TV shows ever, for this reason.

In the end, I'm a film guy. But I'm also a quality guy and if my viewing habits begin to combine old movies and new TV in equal measures, well, I can think of worse things.

Historical Image of the Day

Page 2 of a circular sent from Attorney General Caesar Rodney providing questions for investigators to ask about Aaron Burr and his conspiracy to work with the British in separating the western territories from the United States, 1807. This was part of the Jefferson Administration's attempt to convict Burr of treason, which it failed to do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gun Ownership Rates

Buried in this post about the correlation between guns and crime is an amazing statistic. Evidently, in 1993, 45% of Americans said they owned a gun. In 2009, 33% of Americans said the same thing.

If this is true, it's quite remarkable. That's a sea change decline in gun ownership. I don't know much about this issue so I have no sense of why that would have happened (certainly I wouldn't have predicted it). Are young people more adverse to guns? That's the best reason I can think of. But it may well not be the case.


The Senate fails to repeat Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Actually, I could have just shortened a post titled "Disgusting" by just listing the word "Senate."

NCAA Top 25

This week's Top 25, with last week's ranking in parantheses

1. Ohio St.(1)
2. Alabama (2) A real test at Arkansas
3. Oregon (3) Arizona St. did put up a tough fight against Wisconsin. That might say more about the Badgers being overrated. Still, ASU has much more speed on defense than anyone else Oregon's faced. Not sure if the ASU offense can do anything against the Oregon defense though.
4. TCU (4) An interesting matchup with SMU this weekend. I'm sure TCU prevails, but it could be close
5. Boise St (5) I'll be really curious about this Oregon St. game this weekend. I think Boise needs to win fairly convincingly to go to the title game, assuming they can also beat Nevada in Reno.
6. Nebraska (9) Complete dominance over Washington, arguably the nation's most overrated team coming into the season.
7. Oklahoma (6)
8. Arizona (17) Huge win over Iowa, though they nearly blew it in classic Mike Stoops fashion.
9. Texas (13) I was skeptical about the Longhorns but they proved themselves with a tough win in Lubbock.
10. LSU (10)
11. Arkansas (11) Nice win at Georgia. If they beat Alabama, I'll be a true believer.
12. Wisconsin (8) A win is a win but they looked very unimpressive against Arizona St.
13. Florida (14) Still not convinced Continued to struggle in the first half against mediocre opponents.
14. Stanford (18) Bludgeoned Wake Forest. Now a trip to South Bend. A win at Notre Dame means they could be a top 10 team. 
15. Utah (15)
16. South Carolina (16)
17. Iowa (7) Still a good team, but they played poorly for much of the game against Arizona.
18. Auburn (22)
19. Miami (21)
20. West Virginia (23)
21. USC (24)
22. Michigan (12) Pathetic near loss against UMass. Never dropped someone 10 points for a win before. Defense is sketchy. Nonetheless, 3-0.
23. Michigan St. (NR)
24. Nevada (NR) Fantastic win over Cal. Could challenge Boise.
25. Air Force (NR) I almost had them in this list last week and then they almost won in Norman. Very tough team and a good boost for the Mountain West.

Out: Oregon St., Houston, California

3 Games to watch this week:

1. Alabama at Arkansas. Enormous SEC matchup. Everything thinks Alabama is going to win but Arkansas is a very good football team.
2. Oregon St. at Boise St. The big primetime matchup in Boise. Oregon St. got dropped despite a win against Louisville because their defense is poor. Bad defense vs. great offense is a tough combination.
3. South Carolina at Auburn. Two teams I don't quite believe in but that are winning early in the season. Particularly impressive comeback for Auburn against Clemson.

Historical Image of the Day

Political cartoon satirizing Congressional infighting, 1798.

I realize it's not the 1800s like I said the images would be for this week. I hope this doesn't devastate you.

Erik's Radio Playlist, 9/18/10

So the College of Wooster has for some reason decided to allow me on the radio. Unfortunately, being a college radio station, things don't always work right so the streaming is broken. Otherwise, I'd let you know when I'm going to be on. Essentially, it'll be on Sunday afternoons when I'm in town and there's room. So occasionally.

Last Sunday was my first go around. Went pretty well I guess. Thought I'd put the playlists on here. I have 2 hours. I split it into 4 sets of different kinds of music. I could do a more coherent show, but I like to mix it up. I started with an R&B set, went to old time and bluegrass, followed by alternative rock broadly defined. I ended with a set of rock from the late 60s and early 70s.

Here's the playlist:

1. Ben E. King, Spanish Harlem
2. Stevie Wonder, Pasttime Paradise
3. Howlin' Wolf, Howlin' for My Darling
4. Clyde McPhatter, Long Lonely Nights
5. Marvin Gaye, I'll Be Doggone
6. James Brown, Think
7. Wilson Pickett, Don't Knock My Love
8. Mavis Staples, Pop's Recipe
9. Mance Lipscomb, So Different Blues
10. Sam & Dave, Soul Man

Set 2
1. The Bailey Brothers, Take Me Back to Happy Valley
2. Blue Sky Boys, When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again
3. Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops, Elmore Mountain Road
4. Kessinger Brothers, Garfield March
5. The Williamson Brothers & Curry, Gonna Die With a Hammer In My Hand (which is a version of John Henry)
6. Dry Branch Fire Squad, Atlanta is Burning
7. Jimmy Martin, Truck Drivin' Man
8. Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Southern By the Grace of God
9. The Meat Purveyors, Pain by Numbers

Set 3
1. Jens Lekman, Into Eternity
2. Talking Heads, Burning Down the House
3. Smog, Dress Sexy at My Funeral
4. Camper Van Beethoven, Might Makes Right
5. The Magnetic Fields, The Way You Say Goodnight
6. Cat Power, Free
7. Sufjan Stevens, The Dress Looks Nice On You
8. The New Pornographers, Breakin' the Law

Set 4
1. King Crimson, Easy Money
2. Neil Young, Down by the River (acoustic version from the 1971 Massey Hall concert)
3. 13th Floor Elevators, Tried to Hide
4. Leonard Cohen, The Old Revolution
5. The Band, Rag Mama Rag
6. Van Morrison, Crazy Love
7. Tim Buckley, Make it Right

Monday, September 20, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will focus on the decade of the 1800s. Oddly, in all the years I've done these images, I've never had a single image from that decade. There are some obvious reasons for this--images in the photography age are much easier to come by. Also, I don't study the period and it's not a decade I think much about. However, since these images are really about a bank of cool images for teaching, I want to be more complete. How many more New Deal images can I show? A lot really of course. But anyway, the 1800s!

This week's images are inspired by Diane Wenger's A Country Storekeeper in Pennsylvania: Creating Economic Networks in Early America, 1790-1807, published by Penn St. in 2008. It was recommended as a possible book to teach for the first half of the U.S. history survey. Wenger has a good story, following a single shopkeeper during the transition to capitalism. However, there's no way to teach it. I don't know whether to blame the author or the press. Probably the latter. It's a huge problem with the academic publishing market. This story should have been written in a more popular and accessible manner--there's a lot to work with here. But that doesn't get you tenure unfortunately. There's also dissertation-level historiography in the text, which the press should have eliminated. Good book in many ways, but not for undergraduates.

Map of North America, 1806

Saturday, September 18, 2010


On Thursday, a huge thunderstorm came through my town of Wooster, Ohio. There was a tornado warning. I didn't really take it seriously. After all, I didn't actually see a tornado. And I didn't hear any sirens. Anyway, maybe next time I should actually head to the basement. This is a picture from the damage:


The last in my series of articles on activism just came out in Global Comment. I'm hoping to work this up into a book proposal this fall. I think it's important stuff.

Today, I write about the need for a new leftist ideology in order to fight global capitalism. We live in the time of the Last Great Ideology--Friedmanesque Capitalism. Until we create an ideological structure to systematically fight this scourge, the right will eat our lunch.

Here's a bit from the article:

The triumphalist rhetoric in the aftermath of communism’s collapse created a climate allowing capitalism to become so ingrained in our lives that we hardly recognize it as an ideology anymore. It’s become more a basic element of our life like water and food than an economic system that nations have accepted or rejected. To even mention the word “capitalism” today almost marks you as suspect or an anachronism because so few people seriously critique it today.

This is a very bad thing.

Without some kind of ideological framework to fight capitalism, the left cedes the intellectual field to conservatives. Even many young progressive bloggers and writers openly disdain ideology, preferring to focus on policy and winning elections. This allows conservative extremists to set the rhetorical and political agenda.

Terms like “tax relief,” “border security,” “the war on terror,” “illegal immigrants,” and “government waste,” are part of a successful right-wing agenda to roll back the progressive gains of the last century. The more we buy into their language and to the idea that capitalism is inherently good, but just needs some reform around the edges, the more capitalism becomes ingrained in our souls as an immovable force.

To retake the political momentum and to roll back the evils of untrammeled capitalism, we need more than to just reform tax policy to ensure some semblance of a welfare state. We need an ideological framework that rejects fundamentalist free-market capitalism in favor of a more just world. We need a new generation of intellectuals to build on the great thinkers of the past and create a new, post-Soviet socialism to fight the ravages of free market capitalism.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Floods, Dams, NGOs, and Africa

Nathalie Rothschild writes an impassioned article about NGOs and floods in Africa, claiming that aid organizations don't care about ending poverty in Africa because they oppose dams.

So why are NGOs like Survival International and International Rivers, which are spearheading the protest against Gibe III, not focusing their efforts on lobbying for investment in smart, ambitious and truly sustainable solutions to prevent the disastrous, and avoidable, effects of floods which every year displace, kill and plunge thousands into poverty? Why are they opposing large-scale development projects – like dams – that could contain the impact of both droughts and torrential downpours?

The answer is because their interest in preserving the lifestyles of ‘indigenous peoples’ really means that they do not want Ethiopia and other poor nations to modernise and have what we in the West have: industrialisation.

In the case of the anti-Gibe III campaign, NGOs say the dam will disrupt the lifestyles of tribes living along the Omo River, who depend on flood-retreat cultivation to (barely) sustain themselves. They say the dam will ‘end the [Omo] river’s natural flood cycle, on which the downstream communities have depended for growing food, fishing and grazing animals for thousands of years’. But this dependence effectively amounts to river-enslavement, with Ethiopians living at the mercy of nature rather than taming it.

The NGOs’ ostensibly humane impulse to protect ‘indigenous tribes’ in fact represents an abhorrent, paternalistic attitude to Africans, whom they treat in the same way that a zoologist might treat an exotic animal species. They regard these people as belonging to nature rather than to human society, as being part of a fragile ecosystem which should be preserved at the cost of social progress and material development.

This certainly raises very important issues. Rothschild is not all wrong--certainly there is an aspect of romanticization of pre-industrial lives in developed world-developing world relations. Aid organizations have a very mixed history in Africa that I have criticized before. As far as I can tell, they have nothing to stabilize Africa. And while it's not their job to do that per se, studies have suggested that aid organizations taking over governmental functions simply provides cover for governments to not govern. Moreover, there's the constant theme between Africa and Europe/US that whites must take care of brown people who can't do it for themselves--and you can read just about any Nick Kristof column for proof of that.

However, this topic is not nearly as simplistic as Rothschild makes it out to be. Let me just point out a few ways.

1. Protecting indigenous rights is important. States traditionally run roughshod over indigenous rights, whether in the U.S, and Australia in the late 19th century or India, Thailand, and Ethiopia today. If we value the complexity of cultures that the world has traditionally seen, don't we have a duty to learn from our past mistakes and lend assistance to indigenous peoples who are trying to maintain traditional lives and some autonomy from centralizing state authorities that openly plan to oppress them?

2. Floods do hurt people. But are dams a good solution? In the long-term, they may well not be. They will prevent the flood tomorrow. But to rely on dams for flood control in the long-term assumes a continued state and international investment in the project as well as ongoing technological development that will allow for the dam to remain safe, siltation to be removed, and the water to be used with some level of responsibility. There's been many dam projects that have ignored all of these issues, particularly in the developing world. Yes, we should be worried about protecting Ethiopians and everyone else from floods. But should that be our only concern? Dams do come down. Water will eventually overcome humans' desire to control it. And the damage when that happens will be catastrophic.

3. Long-term environmental damage. Dams provide humans much. But they also destroy ecosystems. In a world with disappearing ecosystems, shouldn't we give some thought to protecting the most valuable of them all--riparian ecosystems? Environmentalists always find themselves open to criticism for placing ecosystems in front of people.  But a healthy ecosystem also leads to a healthy human population. Rothschild talks about the need to "tame nature." Can we ever really tame nature in the long-run? Aren't we part of nature? This isn't some abstract theoretical question. It's fundamental for understanding our place in the world. At best, these dams will only temporarily stop floods--but how healthy will humans be during the lifetime of the dam.

4. Who do we listen to in Ethiopia? Does the government really represent people? If the Sudan wants to build a dam in Darfur in the name of protecting the majority of Sudanese from flood damage (I realize there's not enough water up there probably, but this is a hypothetical, so hang with me), are NGOs obligated to support this, even though the government doesn't represent the people of Darfur or Sudan at large? I find this dubious. Do the majority of Ethiopians want a dam? Possibly, were there to be a poll. Does the government want a dam in order to fund projects that would enhance their power? Absolutely. Does that mean aid organizations and western governments should rush to fund this? I don't think it follows that they should.

I'm not saying dams shouldn't be built in Ethiopia. There are arguments in their favor including providing electricity to an impoverished population, as Rothschild points out. But it's a lot more complicated and nuanced than she's presenting.

Most Prominent Politicians From Each State (X): Virginia

Virginia's most powerful politicians not surprisingly come from the early years of the republic. I was somewhat struck at how hackish their politicians were in the late 19th and much of the 20th century. Also, although Woodrow Wilson was from Virginia, his political life was entirely in New Jersey, so he's there, not here.

1. George Washington--I rank him first because of his stabilizing influence over the country in its early days. I know Washington's star has fallen a bit in recent years, but he was important for who he was, irregardless of policies he made as president. His choice not to accept a lifetime appointment alone ranks him here.

2. Thomas Jefferson--Actually a pretty bad president, but so successful in the rest of his political life and in creating American ideology.

3. James Madison--he only wrote the Federalist Papers, was Jefferson's Secretary of State, and a 2 term president.

4. John Marshall--most important Supreme Court justice in history. Really created the Supreme Court as a legitimate institution.

5. James Monroe--an important figure of early America, even if he wasn't the most memorable president.

6. John Tyler--one of our worst presidents, Tyler significantly furthered the pro-slavery cause by hitching his political hopes for the 1844 election to southern extremists. Named John C. Calhoun Secretary of State, who proceeded to declare southern slavery expansion as the foundation of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Good times.

7. Patrick Henry--core figure of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath. Turned quite conservative in later years and became an ally of John Adams against Jefferson and Madison. Would have been more prominent in the early republic if, a) he had accepted Washington's offer as Secretary of State in 1795 and b) he hadn't died of stomach cancer in 1799.

8. Harry Byrd, Sr.--segregationist senator from 1933-65. Dominated the Democratic Party in Virginia during the mid-twentieth century. Opposed much of the New Deal and activist government policies more broadly. Leading segregationist. Received unsolicited electoral votes from southern voters opposed to both political parties in 1960.

9. Carter Glass--Secretary of the Treasury, 1918-20; Senator, 1920-46. White supremacist who openly advocated discrimination. Most remembered today for the Glass-Stegall Act, which has received much attention from people interested in banking reform today. That's fine, but let's not allow his sensible fiscal policies to cloud the fact that even for a man of his time and place he was a hell of a racebaiter.

10. Howard Smith--Congressman from 1931-67. Also a notorious racebaiter. Most famous for proposing protecting women under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a way to undermine support for it. Because who thinks women should have equal rights.... Smith actually claimed that he was serious in supporting women's rights and he had some history here. However, I find it extremely hard to believe that he would add a women's rights clause to a bill he so vociferously opposed, and of course voted against. These were the years that Sam Rayburn dominated the House. A southerner himself, he worked to reduce Smith's power in Congress because of his racism. Yet other southern Congressmen always ensured Smith would speak for them.

Next: New York

Historical Image of the Day

Sign welcoming visitors to the Civil Rights Trail, marking the march from Selma to Montgomery that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The issues surrounding civil rights tourism are pretty interesting. It's a good thing in many ways. It brings tourist dollars to economically depressed areas. It marks some of our most important events. It's also often controlled by the same white people who opposed civil rights in the first place. It also reinforces very specific tales about racism and the civil rights movement that both blunt the movement's ultimate goals to fight economic and quasi-legal discrimination and make it seem like this is a story of the past. Thus conservatives can construct a Martin Luther King that somehow would support gutting the social safety net and discriminating against immigrants and Muslims.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Historical Marker on the 1921 San Gabriel River Flood

Pictured above is the historical marker I just completed, along with my graphic designer, Carlos Barron. It's an interesting story I found. In 1921, a hurricane hit the coast of Mexico and spun north into Texas. It headed up into central Texas as a tropical storm, dumping a tremendous amount of rain. And I mean tremendous. One town received around 38 inches of rain in 24 hours, which at the time was the U.S. record. The rivers flooded. About 100 people died in Williamson County, Texas. About 100 more died around the rest of the state.

Williamson County has traditionally been a pretty white place. Like most of the Texas, the power structure has remained white and conservative since Americans arrived in the area. The flood is one of the most important events in the town's history. Local historians have told the story. Sort of.

What they did was tell the story from a white perspective. They interviewed local whites about their experiences and wrote them up in books. But most of the people who died weren't white. They were Mexican migrants. Probably fleeing the Mexican Revolution, which led to the first wave of migration north from Mexico, these people worked the cotton farms east of Georgetown on the San Gabriel River. The employers rarely provided workers housing. So they set up tents or shacks along the river, where they could bathe and have a fresh water supply.

Unfortunately, camping along the river also made them susceptible to flooding. The river rose in the middle of the night and washed them away.

In researching this issue, I wanted to tell the Mexicans' story. I found a Spanish language newspaper out of San Antonio that interviewed a woman who survived the flood. She was driving with her son from San Antonio to Taylor, about 20 miles east of Georgetown. The flood washes both her and her son out of the car. She managed to cling to a tree. Her son drowned.

In creating a historical marker around this issue, it was very important to me to make it bilingual. Williamson County, like much of Texas, has seen a huge increase in Latino migrants over the past few decades. They use the park where the sign was placed. Yet their history is not told at all on the historical markers. I thought I would receive some push back from my insistence on a bilingual sign. I know that the old people behind the local historical society have shown zero interest in putting up bilingual signs in the museum for instance. And I wondered if Texas had some kind of English-only law. But no, everyone was cool with it.

So there it is.

But it almost didn't make it. Literally a week after it was put in, which was two weeks ago, the tropical storm that headed into Texas did almost the exact same thing as the 1921 storm. It literally dumped on the I-35 corridor. About 14 inches of rain fell in Georgetown. The San Gabriel River flooded. I was sure my sign would be washed away. I thought this would be the ultimate of ironies. But while the park lost about 60% of its light poles, someone the sign survived.

Historical Image of the Day

19th century log cabin, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Cades Cove is the most popular part of the Smokies, and possibly the most crowded road in the National Park system. It's supposed to represent the ways of the mountain people and provide a sort of 19th century fantasy for visitors. It is however quite a bit of a fantasy. When the National Park Service took it over, they got rid of all the evidence that people used the valley for anything other than subsistence farming, when in fact it had been a resort community as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh South Carolina....

Oh boy.

This was the scene at the National Federation of Republican Women meeting in Charleston recently. The guy in the middle--only South Carolina Senate President Glenn McConnell.

Nothing like remembering back to ye ol'antebellum days. Complete with slaves playing washboards and dancing oh so happily. And then emancipation came and everything went to hell....

Next time someone argues that the Republican Party isn't racist, I'm going to send them this picture.

Our Immigration System--Not At All Afflicted with Racial Profiling....

The story of a Mexican-American kid who had his birth certificate with him when cops pulled him over and was forced to sign a statement saying it was a forgery and was then deported is truly disgusting.

Luis Alberto Delgado, 19, was carrying his American birth certificate, Social Security card and Texas ID when he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop on June 17, according to Houston immigration lawyer Isaias Torres, who represented him in his legal battle for repatriation.

A South Texas sheriff’s deputy who apparently believed the documents were not authentic handed Delgado over to U.S. border agents. After eight hours of questioning, Torres said, Delgado felt pressured to sign a document agreeing to voluntary removal from the country and waiving his right to a lawyer. The Border Patrol then drove Delgado to Matamoros and left him, he said.

He was finally able to return home over the weekend, Torres said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service said it could not comment specifically on Delgado’s case. But in a statement it said, “When an individual requests and is granted a voluntary return, they sign a notice of rights where they are admitting to being in the U.S. illegally and give up their right to a hearing in Immigration Court.”


“They kept saying, ‘These are not your documents. You’re lying to us. You’re going to go prison for 20 years’,” Torres said. “They basically wore him down. He’s a 19-year-old kid.”

With the resurgence of open racism in the U.S., we increasingly define citizenship by color and language more than actual, you know, citizenship.

Plus the fact that the Border Patrol has zero interest or incentive to find out whether the people they want to deport are actual citizens shows the deep institutionalized flaws within that agency.

And that this all took place in Texas surprises not at all.

Things Just Ain't What They Used To Be...

In fact, they are far safer.

The industry of parental fear and guilt makes me sick. The idea that there are rapists and molesters and kidnappers and murders all over the place ready to kidnap our children is extraordinarily antisocial and damaging to society. That we have to protect our children from even the possibility that they might fall and scrape a knee or get scratched up by blackberry nettles or that they might hit a rock and fall off their bike if they ride down the street--this is all insane.

There was a time when we needed to worry about our kids in public spaces--the 1970s and 80s. When I was growing up, there was significantly greater danger to kids. We never wore bike helmets. There was no Amber Alert. People didn't watch over kids with the same hawkish view.

I'm not exactly saying those were good times. But the overreaction is ridiculous. And as the link shows, crime rates have plummeted from their 1970s highs, a trend holding through the recession.


Of course, the internet is abuzz with discussion of Tea Party extremist Christine O'Donnell's upset victory of Mike Castle in the Republican primary in Delaware.

People have different views on this. The most interesting debate is whether this is good for the Democrats or not. Yglesias says not really:

A lot of people I know are excited about O’Donnell’s surge since it gives Coons—who’s much more progressive than either—the best shot. My view is that that kind of partisan view is a little short-sighted. Both parties are destined to govern approximately half of the time and what matters most is the strength of progressive ideas in either party. The increasingly rigid conservatism of the GOP is a huge impediment to progressive causes and Castle’s problems reflect that.  

Jamelle Bouie agrees with this:

The Republican Party's rigid conservatism is completely inhospitable to progressive ideas, and a federal government dominated by these figures and a Republican White House is vastly more likely to start needless wars and redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top. A GOP raised on lies and mired in extremism is helpful in the short-run but dangerous for the future; liberals don't have to help moderate Republicans -- or even like them -- but they should at least appreciate their value.
Lemieux dissents:

Given that if he won Castle could be expected to vote as a teabagger when it matters, isn’t it better not only for the Democrats but for electoral accountability if an actual unapologetic teabagger runs for the seat, rather than the bait-and-switch the Republicans preferred?

Given all this, on the proposition that Democrats should be unhappy about a certain near-term advantage because of speculative long-term effects that a Castle win in the primary wouldn’t have done anything to advance anyway, I vote “no.” O’Donnell’s win is, in fact, excellent news for the Democrats.

I think the basic answer is that everyone is right here. There's no question that Castle's loss is a huge win for the Democrats. The Tea Party has killed Republican chances of picking of the Senate.

Or at least, I think they have. The reality is, no one knows what's going to happen this year. I really believe with Yglesias that the extremist takeover of the Republican Party is horrible for America. The media always presents two sides to every story. When one side is insane or extreme, it legitimizes it.

Let us review the climate change debate for a refresher on how this goes:

Reporter: Mr. Climatologist, is climate change for real?

Mr. Climatologist: Almost certainly. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that humans are causing a rapid change in the Earth's climate. Not a single peer-reviewed article suggests otherwise.

Reporter: Very interesting. Mr. Skeptic, what do you think about this evidence?

Mr. Skeptic: Absurd. We used to ride dinosaurs! Also, Jesus. Hey, there's some play-dough I can eat!

Reporter: You've heard both sides of the debate. What do you think?

These Tea Party ideas are presented pretty much the same. Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell legitimize extremist ideas for the public. This is terrible for the nation in the long-term

Plus, there's always the chance that some of these people get elected. Paul is almost certainly going to win. Sharron Angle in Nevada may well do so. Delaware is neither Kentucky nor Nevada, but while O'Donnell probably loses, I wouldn't discount her ability to build a grassroots campaign and at least make it close.

Of course, as Lemieux points out, you can't predict the future with too much confidence. What seems good now may be terrible in the future. Or the other way around. And really, Castle and O'Connell would have voted the same 90% of the time anyway.

So it is a Democratic victory in Delaware. But one that I do believe has ominous overtones for the future.

Historical Image of the Day

Gone with the Wind slot machine game, circa 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Postcard celebrating the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas, 1920

The entire phenomena of lynching postcards are one of the creepiest things in American history. That you'd actually advertise the event and connect it with a specific place in a positive way is absolutely bizarre. But I guess you can sell racism as much as anything else.

Rebranding High Fructose Corn Syrup

What happens when people begin attacking your disgusting product? Just rebrand it!

That's what the American food industry is doing with high fructose corn syrup. Under attack for being terrible for you and for infecting our entire food supply, they are renaming it "corn sugar." From a corporate perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Americans don't understand where any of their farm products come from anyway. If you asked Americans where sugar came from, I'd bet less than 20% would be able to say from sugar beets. Maybe 30-40% would say sugar cane. Both are correct of course. Since sugar is not closely associated with a single plant anymore, doesn't "corn sugar" sound like the same thing.

To me, the biggest problem with HCFS isn't so much that it exists. It's that the food industry has inserted it into everything, creating a gigantic national sweet tooth in products where sugars of any kind don't need to be--peanut butter, ketchup, bread. The artificality of it is bad too, but so much of the food we eat comes from chemical labs that it's hardly worth picking on HCFS for this alone. I mean, what is a Diet Coke anyway? A giant lab experiment.

Also, HCFS tastes gross. While many of the attacks on HCFS come over issues of health and our national addiction to corn products, I think they miss a major point. The soda companies are marketing products with natural sugars in them again because they taste much much better. It started with the so-called "Mexican Coke," which is really just that HCFS hadn't been effectively pushed in Mexico. Those bottles trickled back up to the U.S. for the growing Latino population and food hipsters rediscovered the glories of this drink.

This may be a really effective marketing strategy. But I don't think marketing can entirely cover-up the problems with HCFS. It's not just a simple advertising question--it's a question of land use, health, and most importantly, taste.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gingrich Influenced by Racist, Pro-Colonialist Worldview

Today's big uproar stems from Dinesh D'Souza and Newt Gingrich claiming Obama's unsuited to lead American foreign policy because of his "Kenyan anti-colonial" worldview. Even if this is true, and it is based upon the idea that because his father was foreign, obviously Obama believes everything his father believed, would that be a bad thing? Of course not.

But then again, Newt Gingrich is openly pro-colonialist. An embarrassment to my profession, Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history. His dissertation was a notorious screed defending Belgian conduct in the Congo.

So for Gingrich, being anti-colonialist is an actively bad thing. Such remarks are too embarrassing for even leading Republicans to endorse, though they probably agree with him behind closed doors.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will be of tourism in the South. This is actually a harder subject than it sounds because few people really conceive of image categories in this way.

I'm also starting to organize the week's images around a book I am reading during a given week. It makes it easier in my mind. It allows allows me to promote a few books. This week's images are inspired by Anthony J. Stanonis' edited collection, Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South, published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008. Like most edited collections, the essays are mixed, but some are quite fascinating. I read this book in preparation for future discussions of food history in my courses. The book provides relatively few of these and really the title is more than a little misleading on this. But it was interesting nonetheless. 

South of the Border, a notorious tourist trap along I-95 in South Carolina, just over the North Carolina border, circa 1970

Lions for Lambs, circa 1865

Unfortunately, Robert Redford continues to make ham-handed movies about current politics. "Lions for Lambs" looked like the worst movie ever made. I can't say I feel much better about his new film, "The Conspirator," about the hunt for people involved with John Wilkes Booth. From Ebert:

Yet a fever for revenge runs strong in the land, and Mary's rights are brushed aside. Despite a last-minute stay of execution, which is overruled by president Andrew Johnson, she is hanged. But her case resulted in enactment of strong habeas corpus guarantees being written into U. S. law. It can not have escaped Redford's attention that the prisoners at Guantanamo have been held without charge under both the Bush and Obama administrations, in apparent violation of the principles Mary Surratt essentially died to bring into being.

Ebert doesn't slam on it.  But he doesn't praise it either, so maybe he is waiting for his real review. Either way, it looks scary bad. Though with good beards. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kevin McCarthy, RIP

Had no idea the star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was still alive.


How lazy and out of ideas is Maureen Dowd?

Her column today consists of Dowd calling her sister and asking her what she thinks of Obama.

How did she (and others) hold on to their columns at major newspapers?

NCAA Top 25

Haven't done this the last couple of years, but I've decided to do my own Top 25 poll this year. I didn't do it the first couple of weeks because it's so meaningless until there's a body of work to show. Unfortunately, starting high in the rankings gives teams an advantage because many pollsters are loathe to drop someone unless they lose. It really has nothing to do with the actual games played. However, that is starting to change with more voters actually watching the games and taking this seriously.

Anyway, here we go, with notes on some teams.

1. Ohio St.--many would pick Alabama, but I believe they are the best team in the country. And they just hammered Miami. Very impressive. Pryor is my pick for the Heisman.
2. Alabama--on the other hand, Alabama looks great too. But I also think Penn St. just isn't any good.
3. Oregon--completely dominant at Tennessee, best offense in the country.
4. TCU--very tough team, but it's just hard to know what to think of them now. A win over Oregon St. is great, but how much does it tell us? Too soon to say.
5. Boise St.--I don't really want to punish them for Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison. After all, it was Boise who sucked the life out of the Hokies to the extent they couldn't even get up the energy to beat a team like JMU. But it clearly hurts their national championship hopes with only Oregon St. an interesting game ahead.
6. Oklahoma--this is why one game means nothing. They looked horrible against Utah St., just pulling out the win. Then they bludgeoned Florida St.
7. Iowa
8. Wisconsin
9. Nebraska
10. LSU
11. Arkansas
12. Michigan--Denard Robinson has been amazing. I don't think the Wolverines can really keep it up, but with Robinson the best player in the country the first two weeks, who knows how far they can go. While I have Ohio St., Iowa, and Wisconsin above the Wolverines, I remain somewhat unconvinced by the latter two.
13. Texas--the classic example of being ranked too high in an early poll. They are still #6 despite looking like crap against two inferior teams. Yet someone still has them ranked #1. That voter has obviously not watched football this year.
14. Florida--exact same comment as Texas, minus the #1 vote. Both teams have slipped some, showing that some voters are paying attention.  But neither has slipped enough. And Florida just has no running game.
15. Utah--great win over Pitt, could make a run for the national championship game. I'm serious.
16. South Carolina--nice win over Georgia. Marcus Lattimore is a sick beast.
17. Arizona--nation's most underrated team. Wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them upset Wisconsin this week.
18. Stanford
19. Houston
20. California--also underrated--watch out for the resurgent Golden Bears.
21. Miami (FL)--the only ACC team in my top 25 and they have a loss. Pathetic.
22. Auburn--I know they are ranked much higher by most, but uninspired and boring wins over Mississippi St. don't suggest much to me.
23. West Virginia--lucky to escape Marshall. The Big East sucks this year. Not as bad as the ACC though.
24. USC--have looked terrible against Hawaii and Virginia. Feel like the season is already about the come off the wheels. Yet they are 2-0.
25. Oregon St.

3 Best Games of Next Week
Very poor week ahead with few interesting matchups.

1. Iowa at Arizona. Clearly the game of the week. Will say a lot about both teams.
2. Air Force at Oklahoma. Seriously. Air Force just pounded BYU. Oklahoma has been inconsistent. Obviously the Sooners should be favored.  But I considered Air Force for this list. And I think this could be a very good game.
3. Arkansas at Georgia. Key SEC matchup. Is Arkansas really that good? Is Georgia as bad as they looked against South Carolina? This game should answer both questions. 

2010 NFL Preview-AFC West

San Diego Chargers (10-6): It pains me to say that, at least for one more year, the Chargers will take the division. It won't be a slam dunk by any stretch, because the division has improved in every team except for San Diego, who are missing two very valuable pieces. Without Marcus McNeill to protect Philip Rivers at left tackle and without Vincent Jackson for him to throw to, he's going to have a pretty hard time of it, especially with a diminished defense. They're banking big on a running game they've never seen. Ryan Matthews may be superb, but pretending they return to the LT days with Matthews is delusional.

Denver Broncos (9-7): The loss of Elvis Dumervil is devestating, but by all accounts, Robert Ayers and Jarvis Moss, both disappointing thus far in their careers, have stepped their games up considerably. That the consensus that the Broncos will be incredibly bad is really stupid and nobody has given a real explanation for why. Normally, it comes down to a general hatred for Josh McDaniels. They've improved at every position except receiver, and that's even addition by subtraction. Marshall was nothing but a distraction. The D-line is way tougher, their secondary is superb, the O-line is one of the best in the league, Kyle Orton has looked fantastic in the preseason. I see a pretty good, but not quite playoff-bound team.

Oakland Raiders (7-9): Oakland is on the way up. If they get there, I'm going to get physically sick, literally, probably for days. I've always thought Jason Campbell got a raw deal in Washington. He'll do well in Oakland, if for no other reason, because the team actually wants him there. Confidence goes a long way at that position. I think they had a sadly excellent offseason, with draft picks that don't make Al Davis look like an insane fool (though he still is, of course). If Davis is willing to keep players and coaches consistent for a couple of years, they might be closer to where they were a decade ago.

Kansas City Chiefs (5-11): The Chiefs are going to be better than their five wins make them look. Like the Raiders, they've improved in all facets. Not quite as much as Oakland, but they had farther to go anyway. Matt Cassel isn't very good, and might do better with his old job as a Bruce Campbell impersonator, but he's helped by a huge upgrade with Thomas Jones at running back, improvement on both sides of the line and, also like the Raiders, actually consistency from year to year. The only question is whether OC Charlie Weiss eats one of the players during halftime.

NFL 2010 Preview-AFC East

Miami Dolphins (11-5): So, about a month ago, Erik calls me up because he wants to make fun on Teddy Bruschi who, in Erik's unesteemed opinion, had just said two of the dumbest things he'd ever heard. He asked me two questions. The first, "Who will be the comeback player of the year?" I can't remember my answer, but Bruschi's was Wes Welker, which is indeed stupid. The second, "Who will be the most improved player this year?" I answered with Chad Henne. This was Bruschi's answer and, of course, Erik was flabbergasted. It made me laugh. With Brandon Marshall demanding the ball, a solid defense, and the perfection of the Wildcat, Henne may not be the most talented quarterback in the world, but he's going to look great.

New England Patriots (9-7): New England's goose is finally cooked. They're old and beat up, they have no running game, and their defense is suspect. Tom Brady is still a very good quarterback, one of the best, but his receivers get worse every year. How many games will Wes Welker play before destroying another knee? That they believe they can continue with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris at running back tells me they think they're better than they are. Nine wins isn't bad, of course, but their loser fans will be disappointed without another playoff run. They really need to think about a certain amount of rebuilding, but they are much too arrogant for that.

New York Jets (7-9): I love a team that talks smack, but if you don't back it up, you wind up like me in fantasy football: hated and bad. This is the Jets, who are a massively overrated group who pulled a real Redskins-style offseason, signing up every veteran jerk on the market. Mark Sanchez plain isn't good and, while their defense certainly is, they aren't going to be able to score any points. It'll be funny to watch them fail, since they think so highly of themselves. Will Revis get complacent now that he's been paid? It's always a danger; teams are certainly going to test him this year. I'm sure he wants them to bring it on, but these guys aren't going back to the playoffs this year, no way.

Buffalo Bills (4-12): It's easy to forget that they field a team in Buffalo, but I'm always reminded when I see their low number on the scoreboard. This is a terrible team; not quite Rams terrible, but really close. CJ Spiller has a chance to be good, but not on this team. They have some good players on defense and Lee Evans is an excellent receiver who has had a waste of a career due to the ridiculous choices the team makes at quarterback. They're going to be brutal to watch this year. Four wins might be a stretch.

2010 NFL Preview-AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (11-5): The Ravens retake control of the South this year by way of its excellent young quarterback and running back, and the hugely improved receiving corps. It may be a bunch of number twos, but they're two of the best second receivers in the game. They're both going to do very well with Flacco throwing to them. The defense is great, of course, but we always knew that. As old as some of their players are, the organization has been consistently great at replenishing their bench with young players and, when they finally get to play, they fall right into the squad's usual high-quality play.

Cincinnatti Bengals (10-6): I'm still a believer in TO, and next to Ochocinco, Carson Palmer once again has a fantastic duo to throw to. They're getting old, true, but Owens hasn't slowed down much at all, at least given how long he's been playing. They don't have a real running game, and Cedric Benson doesn't count, so they're going to get a lot of chances for big plays. There are going to be a whole lot of high-scoring affairs, but I think the defense is improved enough to keep the score down for them. They're not going to win pretty, but they get to play the Browns twice, so that pads their schedule.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9): The Steelers are going to be pretty bad this year, but it's not because The Rapist is out. I think they're going to win at least two with Dennis Dixon under center (Hook 'em Ducks!). When The Rapist comes back under center, he's going to be out of step with the rest of the team; it's easy to think the team has started giving up on him anyway. Plus, he'll be frustrated since he hasn't raped anybody in nearly a year. Beyond the quarterback play, the vaunted running game is a mess and, while their defense is good, they're getting pretty old. Mike Tomlin's job won't be in jeopardy, but The Rapist's might.

Cleveland Browns (5-11): Trend should feel good; five wins is quite an improvement. They're still one of the worst teams in the NFL, but they aren't the worst. Jake Delhomme is a terrible quarterback, but I guess that's forward progress from the Anderson/Quinn gambit they've been trying. Eric Mangini is a terrible coach and seems like a real asshole, but he may just look that way. Their defense is their saving grace, especially the linebackers, who I think is one of the deepest and most underrated groups in the league. Otherwise, not so much. Josh Cribbs is pretty good, but it appears that they believe they can win with only him. They can't.

Historical Image of the Day

Little Johnny Mine, Leadville, Colorado, 1941

2010 NFL Preview-AFC South

Finally, to the only conference that actually matters.

Indianapolis Colts (12-4): You really can't bet against Peyton Manning. He's the best quarterback in the league and the best quarterback of the last decade; even at his age, he has shown absolutely no sign of slowing down. Even when the defense isn't very good and even when you've never heard of any of his receivers, Manning finds a way to win. The team has no running game and it seems like they should be declining, but I've thought this for years and they win their division every time. Until they prove otherwise, I just can't pretend like they'll be bad.

Houston Texans (9-7): Since Gary Kubiak became coach of the Texans, I've rooted for their success and I've certainly overrated their chances. But now that they're being heralded as one of the big rising teams, I'm the one calling them overrated. The front seven of their defense I thought was going to be so great has consistently underperformed and their secondary is really pretty bad. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are both good players, but the offensive line is still a mess, making it the sack-happy affair it always is. Arian Foster is touted as a great new running back, and all because he's better than Steve Slaton. That's great, I can think of fifty backs I'd rather have than Slaton.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): The Jags have a great running game, and a pretty good line, but that's about all. David Garrard doesn't make many mistakes and won't lose any games for the team, but he's not going to carry the team on his back either, especially with their receiving corps, a lackluster group for years and now fronted by Mike The defense isn't much better. I like Jack Del Rio, but I think he gets fired after this season. The team hasn't been terrible under his watch, but he hasn't taken them a single step forward.

Tennessee Titans (5-11): In the up and down world of Vince Young, this is going to be another down year. Probably another benching, as well, and probably more pouting. It's probably not all his fault, though. He's constantly under pressure and he has nobody to throw to. Chris Johnson is sure nice to have, but he's going to be a huge target this year, especially with his claims of another 2000-yard season, so he'll be a little down. Jeff Fisher keeps his defense going year after year, and I've heard of nearly nobody on that side of the ball, but I expect them to still be pretty good. Too bad they're going to be forced back on the field after all those interceptions.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 NFL Preview-NFC West

San Francisco 49ers (10-6): How do you know you're writing about the worst division in the NFL? The best team--by far--is starting Alex Smith as their opening day quarterback. Don't get me wrong, Mike Singletary is an excellent coach (though I'd be too scared to say otherwise) and they have excellent players in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree, but Alex Smith? That's like telling me they're throwing Tim Couch out there; it just doesn't make sense. They aren't great defensively, but they have the best linebacker in the game in Patrick Willis; he's a great leader and that doesn't hurt. I figure they'll lose only one division game and make the playoffs, but I don't think they're quite good enough to do much past that this year.

Arizona Cardinals (7-9): Speaking of quarterbacks, how does Jeff Garcia not have a job in the NFL. The Cardinals rightfully get rid of Matt Leinart, but how can they possibly think that Derek Anderson is the answer? All Jeff Garcia has ever done is throw for a ton of yards on crappy teams and caught flack for it. He's playing in the UFL; he wants to play and he's clearly better than Anderson. I don't understand. Regardless, Larry Fitzgerald takes a huge hit with him under center and the loss of Anquan Boldin to the Ravens. He's a great receiver, but they don't have a lot to help him. I'm not sold on their running game and nobody covets their defense; the Cardinals are much closer today to what they were five years ago than in their run to the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks (6-10): This has all been so hilarious. First, they hire Pete Carroll, the most abhorant coach in the Pac-10. Then, he trades actual picks for Charlie Whitehurst to back Matt Hasselback up. Finally, he stocks his team with former USC players, including Mike Williams, the former Trojan washout. I'm guessing that Carroll covered the football in frosting in practice, finally finding a way for Williams to chase after the ball. Imagine his suprise when there's no frosting on the ball during the game; I sense a huge breakdown. Seattle seems to have never realized that they began to dwindle in about 2006, and now it's too late. Seeing the Seahawks lose and seeing Pete Carroll fired in discrace are both worth waiting for. Plus, Erik will be miserable watching it, though he'll say he doesn't care. There's a lot of win in Seattle's sucking.

St. Louis Rams (2-14): Once again, the quarterback is the story of the team. Is there nobody the Rams could get that could stay the starting of Sam Bradford? Given the right circumstances, I think Bradford could be a very good NFL quarterback and, though it was fun to hang out with Erik in a bar in Jonesboro, AR, and see Bradford get injured, I'm actually a fan of his. The circumstance he's in, however, is closer to David Carr than Aaron Rogers, and that doesn't bode well for his future. It appears to have worked with Matt Stafford, so I guess we'll see. Otherwise, they have one good player on offense in Steven Jackon, who has been overworked for years, and one good player on defense in Oshiomogho Atogwe, who is irrelevant when the rest of the D sucks. They were the worst in the NFL last year and so again this year.

Historical Image of the Day

Child labor in a coal mine, Pittston, Pa, 1911

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 NFL Preview-NFC East

God, I loathe this division....

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Because I seethe with hatred for every other team in the NFC East, the Eagles become my de facto favorite. Regardless how I feel, though, this is really the only team good enough in this overrated division to compete with the real contenders in the conference. Philly will take a step back with Kevin Kolb replacing Donvovan McNabb at quarterback, but his very young, very good receivers will certainly minimize the damage, and LeSean McCoy, my favorite young back in the league, is perfectly suited to this offense. Eagle fans will go crazy on sunday when they lose to Green Bay, calling for Kolb's head when he throws two picks and bemoaning the defense's four TDs allowed to Aaron Rogers, but they're still winning the division, don't worry.

New York Giants (8-8): The first of two .500 teams, the Giants get the first not because they're slightly less disgusting for me to talk about. Eli's an overrated fool, riding the coattails of his superior brother, and he doesn't have anybody to throw to. I think Brandon Jacobs will show a resurgance in power now that he's in a secondary role, but for Tom Coughlin to think that Ahmad Bradshaw is a worthwhile starter makes me think he takes roster advice from his quarterback. Their eight wins come via their defense, which I think will be ferocious after a couple of down years, if Eli doesn't tire them out with too many picks or try to teach them math.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8): What can you say about a team called a Super Bowl contender every year, even though they've one a single playoff game in over a decade, and that was last year. Not only is "Playboy" Tony Romo the most drastically over-hyped quarterback in the league today, he has to play behind a barely above average line, when they're healthy, and a poor one in the state they're in to open the season. It's laughable to say this, but they're going to sorely miss Flozelle Adams, who they jettisoned for good reason and replaced with nothing. Admittedly, I really like outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, but they aren't enough to overcome an average defensive line and a bad secondary. Seriously, when did the Cowboys have a safety worth a shit? Many of the Cowboy fans who can read and work the internet read this site; maybe one of them can tell me.

Washington Redskins (5-11): Forgive me if I snicker at the latest Dan Snyder moves to win a Super Bowl this year, but it's the same every year, although these annual add-ons don't always get along too well. I can't exactly argue with removing Jim Zorn from power--John Zorn could have done as well--but the Mike Shanahan insertion is suspect. The man reason for his success in Denver was the hands-off attitude of owner Pat Bowlen. Dan Snyder is more hands-on than your creepy uncle and he'll hamstring his coach's precious control. Luckily, he has his little son as his OC, knowing that he taught Kyle long ago not to talk back to his father. McNabb will work really well in his offense, though, and should put up some good numbers. Overall, however, this is an awful team. Will Dan Snyder give Shanahan the same two years he gave Zorn? I say no.

Why There Shouldn't Even BE A Debate Over the AL Cy Young Award This Year

Posnanski has it covered:

When you compare him [Sabathia] to, say, Felix Hernandez in any way except wins, he falls short. He has thrown fewer innings, given up more runs, given up more hits, has a significantly higher ERA, has walked more batters, has struck out fewer batters, has fewer complete games, does not have a shutout. Those advanced statistics that some people love and other people despise make it very clear hasn't just been better than Sabathia - he has been a lot better. Hernandez's WAR is 5.7/5.9 (Baseball Reference/Fangraphs) while Sabathia's is 4.0. Hernandez's fielding independent numbers are all markedly better than Sabathia. Hernandez has also faced better competition, not least because he has had to face the Yankees three times while Sabathia has gotten to face the Mariners three times. And those Mariners are as bad an offensive team as I can ever remember.
Yes, yes, and yes. It's ridiculous that anybody still needs to say this, but I'll say it again: wins tell us almost nothing. What little useful information we can derive from wins tells us about as much as a team's offensive abilities as it does about a pitcher's abilities. There was a time where wins were a good indicator of a pitcher, but that time is long, long past. Based on any metric, King Felix is this year's AL Cy Young winner, and it's not even close. It's the most open-and-shut case in the Cy Young in a long time.

So of course, don't be remotely surprised if and when the Cy Young voters give it to Sabathia instead.

M.R.E.'s Around the World

This is a really  interesting photo essay of what the different nations with troops in Afghanistan feed their soldiers in the field.

I was disappointed by the lack of Cheetos in the American M.R.E.--what's more American than disgusting chips with cheese-like powder on them?

The Best Friend Terrorists Have Ever Had

I've always thought Joe McCarthy was a far better agent of the Soviet Union than whoever was actually spying for them. McCarthy weakened American democracy, undermined the Voice of America, gave the U.S. a horrible international reputation, and made the nation's rhetoric about freedom look like hypocrisy. What actual agent could do more?

Similarly, I don't know who could better advance terrorist aims more than Terry Jones. Who could do more to undermine American foreign policy aims, our relationship with the Islamic world, and to expose everything we say about freedom as complete hypocrisy? No one. The proof is in the increasingly bloody pudding.

Historical Image of the Day

Farmington Mine Disaster, West Virginia, 1968

Thursday, September 09, 2010

2010 NFL Preview-NFC South

Green Bay Packers (12-4): The only place I don't see as completely solid is at running back. I've never been sold on Ryan Grant, but he'll look better than his ability through the superiority of the passing attack. The organization has done a brilliant job of drafting over the past few years, building a very solid, very young squad. Aaron Rodgers is a top-5 quarterback and their defense is very tough. Green Bay is my pick for the NFC Championship.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6):The Vikings have a superior defense and some hugely talented players, but there are too many oddities for me to think they'll be a great team. Brett Favre's age; Adrian Peterson's fumbles; Percy Harvin's migraines; these are Minnesota's main offensive weapons and their offense could collapse at any given time. If any of this does hurt them, and it will, the defense is good enough to compensate and help them win games, but they're no coop of spring chickens anymore, either. Tonight's opener is the perfect test for this team in all aspects.

Detroit Lions (7-9): The post-Millen era of the Lions is in full swing, and they've continued to improve across the board. Matt Stafford comes into his second season under center with improvment in all facets. He's had more consistency, both in players and in coaching, than any Lions QB in a decade, which is obviously a big reason why. He has a potential superstar behind him in running back Jahvid Best and, of course, Megatron. This is an up-and-coming offense, for sure. Ndamukong Suh will be a monster at defensive tackle and help their entire defense tremendously. No winning season in Detroit yet, but they're at least as good as the Bears. That, however, says more about the Bears than it does the Lions.

Chicago Bears (6-10): The Bears of recent years remind me of the Dallas Cowboys: they always pick up one huge free agent and declare themselves Super Bowl bound, even while they take clear steps backward. Last year was Jay Cutler and his own brand of high-octane suck; this year, Julius Peppers comes in to delight Bears fans with whiney, lazy play and OC Mike Martz gets to help Cutler with his record-breaking season...for interceptions. Combine a quarterback who slings the ball down the field without looking with a coordinator whose philosophy is to throw the ball where the receiver isn't and you wind up with a big shiny pile of garbage. This is a team deep on its way down without ever having realized it.

Vigilantism in Mexico

A curious incident took place last month in Oaxaca. (See also here) A 17 year old kid, wasted out of his mind and probably desperate for another score, robbed a girl of her cellphone in broad daylight. He did this in one of the oldest and most stable neighborhoods of Ciudad Oaxaca, where most of the residents' families have lived for centuries. Instead of shaking their heads and watching the kid run away with the phone, residents chased him down. They then strung him upside down from a big tree, as you see above. I believe I know this very tree and the church behind it. And then they tried to figure out what to do with him. The kid was screaming, the cops came though they didn't do anything for hours, probably because they were almost as scared of the residents as the kid. Finally, they cut him down.

You never want to make too much out of a single event like this, but this incident is pretty emblematic of the increased failures of the Mexican state. Oaxaca has not suffered the same drug violence as many other parts of Mexico, but petty crime has risen significantly in the past year or so. And it's hardly surprising that residents are getting pretty sick and tired of it. Let's just quickly list how the government failed here:

1. Failed to keep kids in school
2. Failed to instill trust among its citizens in the police force
3. Failed to train its police force well enough to take charge of the situation upon arrival
4. Failed to hold crime down
5. Failed to provide any kind of options for this kid--even if he wanted to get off drugs; even if he wanted to get off drugs, treatment centers are few and far between, particularly for the poor.

It's hard to approve of vigilantism. But with the Mexican state so corrupt and incompetent, is is hardly surprising that people took the law into their own hands? Of course, they have started down a slippery slope. Will they kill the next punk they catch? Does the Mexican state, or the Oaxacan state government, have even the slightest ability to stop this from happening? Do they really even care?