Friday, October 10, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

One of the great pleasures of literature is the unexpected: Those “insignificant” passages that, while you are engrossed in the narrative, make you pause. It is as if you are running along a path when suddenly a flower or some other unexpected small distraction causes you to halt your run, perhaps even leaving you wondering why you stopped. This is a novelist’s craft and unique talent, to create such a passage that may seem insignificant yet which speaks to us profoundly in some way. Oh, and to somehow make it appear effortless. 

This passage from Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea struck me this way:
But let’s suppose another way of considering her, which was that she had a special conviction of imagination. Few of us do, to be honest. We wish and wish and often with fury but never very deeply. For if we did, we’d see how the world can sometimes split open, in just the way we hope. That it and we are, in fact, unbounded. Free.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Earworms: Real Thing

Tune-Yards (stylized as tUnE-yArDs, but that just doesn’t roll too easily off the typing fingers), the project of artist Merrill Garbus, is one of the most interesting bands going. Her percussive rhythms are interesting and challenging, with tinges of African influences throughout. But most importantly, Garbus is one of the bravest songwriters out there, unafraid of controversial material – her lyrics tackle racism, violence, climate change and more. Yet the heavy content is lifted by the melodic, sing-song nature of her music. She also brings a visual artist’s style to her videos and, just as her songs blend serious lyricism with lilting melodies and toe-tapping rhythm, her videos are thoughtful and whimsical visual experiences.

Here’s the latest earworm burrowed in my brain, Real Thing from the album Nikki-Nack:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Chronicles of FC Arrogance, Part I

I have followed sports all of my life, which is getting on toward a half-century now. As someone born around the time when Major League Baseball and NFL franchises landed in Atlanta, my favored teams were naturally those of my home city.  As a result, I grew to dislike the many teams that routinely beat my hometown heroes within their respective divisions: In the 1970s and 1980s, those would be the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers, the 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams, etc.

Yet my healthy dislike of these organizations was always tinged with an envy and admiration for the way they operated: The Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds remain among the best teams I ever watched; the Tommy Lasorda Dodgers oozed class; and the San Francisco Dodgers of the DeBartolo/Walsh-Seifert eras just kept amassing – and retaining – incredible talent.

(There was also the provincial rivalry of the New Orleans Saints, which involved dislike without the respect.)

Unusually for a boy growing up in the Deep South, I always had a curiosity with The Other Football, soccer. I think it had something to do with the insatiable appetite for sports I had as a kid. What was this other sport and why were so many people outside the US so interested in it? Why couldn’t I know about it and absorb everything about it the way I did with other sports?

So one day in the late 1970s I picked up my local, small-town newspaper and saw that the recreation department would be holding tryouts for a new soccer league. Here was my chance for empiricism! On the noted date I excitedly hopped on my bike and headed to the tryouts. Sadly, but in retrospect certainly unsurprisingly, there weren’t even enough local youths interested enough to form a starting XI, much less an entire league.

Yet my curiosity remained, and in 1982 I watched my first World Cup Finals on a grainy UHF channel – and then I knew what it was all about, and I knew I wanted to know more. Information on the sport was still hard to come by. I bought a short-wave radio in the mid-80s and spent many late nights scouring the dial and country-hopping to glean any information I could.

Finally, in the Age of the Internet, I could at last read about the pro leagues overseas. I picked a team – I don’t know how or why, but I found myself hooked on Arsenal FC. I was a fan with a passing interest in the club, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to live in the UK that the team became a passionate pursuit.

As with my favored Atlanta teams, I gave myself over to the passion disliking Arsenal’s rivals. And these too were often comprised of dislike tempered with a grudging admiration, particularly the Manchester United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson.

But there is now one club – in fact, More Than A Club – I have grown to detest with no admiration whatsoever. No, I do not speak of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal’s local rival and bitter foe. Rather, the club that operates with an arrogance I have not seen matched in any sport, ever. Not even the Steinbrenner Yankees.

I speak of FC Barcelona. FC Arrogance.

So whenever they like, FC Barcelona feels they can swoop in and buy an Arsenal player. Which is their right – it is a free market. Naturally, we Arsenal fans have come to resent this policy of treating our proud club as their own AAA affiliate (but that’s a subject for another post).

In the last season, it became apparent that what the Catalan club lacked was defense, specifically central defenders.  Coincidentally it seems, Arsenal had one who, after numerous calamitous mistakes and injuries, had been relegated to the bench for virtually the entirety of last season.

Thus Thomas Vermaelan had become surplus to Arsenal requirements. Barcelona had lots of cash. Everybody wins, right? 

It's also felt in Catalonia that Arsenal have overcharged Barcelona for transfers including that of Alex Song, Alexander Hleb and the return of Cesc Fabregas. That Thomas Vermaelen still hasn't played a competitive match since joining from Arsenal this summer is also starting to cause irritation, with it felt that Arsenal knew they were selling a dud.
Why, that's a lovely Catalan Whine, Vintage ’14: “You made us buy a bad player, even though he was the player we wanted to buy!”

The sad part is, they will have their revenge. With FIFA in their pockets, there is no rule that applies to FC Arrogance. Count on it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On 'The End of the Civil War'

Do the new electoral changes we’ve seen this month portend the end of a particular tyranny of the minority?

Richard Nixon’s infamous ‘southern strategy’ was the beginning of a cynical era of politics in which the good of the country was mortgaged for the benefit of a single political party, perhaps even for the benefit a single politician. More than any other act in the past 40 years, the southern strategy has been the cause of the politics of division in the US by necessarily dividing the American South from the rest of the nation – cementing the South’s secessionism and seething regional resentment among conservative whites.

And more than any other act, this rancid strategy has been the source of the South’s regressive nature, reputation for ignorance and nativist anger.

As a native of the South, I am often struck by the incongruity between a people so deservedly noted for their hospitality and friendliness who are, contradictorily, so angry with the rest of the country. Mitigating factors are the continued migration of ‘other’ Americans into the South’s urban centers. This dilution, combined with a sustained drive to register new African-American voters, pose real threats to Republican hegemony over the region.

For the South, the legacy of losing a war is that absolute certainty is valued more than rational thought. This comes from the dissonance that it could not be possible that one’s forefathers fought valiantly for a cause that was, despite modern revisionist rationalizations, morally wrong.

Transcending race is at least an intellectual, if not a spiritual, enlightenment. Inevitably, if the intellectual culture of the South does not encourage this type of transcendence, someone else from somewhere else will. Thus the protectionist’s objective is not to educate toward a transcendence of race, it is to nurture a pre-existing resentment of those – today’s ‘intellectual elites’ -- who would advocate for it. Most of the white Civil Rights activists, for example, could be explained as college students indoctrinated by academic elites and sent to undermine the southern way of life.

Which is a repeated cycle to the white conservative southerner: ‘Others’ (predominantly northerners) ‘invade’ the region to force another way of life on a culture thus perceived as under threat.

A spark of resentment requires only oxygen to blaze. Nixon understood this from the perspective of a shrewd political outsider recognizing an opportunity to capitalize on the backlash against the Civil Rights Act.

George W. Bush and Karl Rove understand it as insiders. Their famous base of evangelical support was stoked with a victimization strategy that those same elites were attacking more than just a way of life – they were seeking to destroy the southern white conservative’s very religion with the theory of evolution and same-sex marriage.

In the wake of these perceived threats, this ‘culture war’, Bush has subordinated governance to moral certainty – bafflingly to the rest of the country, even to the point of total loss. This, to those like him, is the heroic Way of the South.

The rest of the country, who by and large do not see their way of life as under constant siege, politically marginalized the South this month. After dominating American politics for more than forty years, the South finds itself marching in a direction opposite the rest of the electorate.

Yet holding fast to your certainty, even (or especially) in the face of defeat and devastation is the embodiment of regional nobility. Isn’t that why town squares all over the South prominently display statues of confederate soldiers, heroically facing north?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Posting Suspended!

Wordcruncher has left the country...literally. As we have just relocated to Europe, we'll be quite busy with other pursuits for the time being. Please feel free to drop us an email at We may launch another blog to update everyone on the move, but for posting, as you can well see...

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Perfect Political Storm: The Crime at the Eye

You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

- Generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln (undocumented). Also attributed to P.T. Barnum.

…here comes a raging rush of people with torches, and an awful whooping and yelling, and banging tin pans and blowing horns; and we jumped to one side to let them go by; and as they went by I see they had the king and the duke astraddle of a rail -- that is, I knowed it WAS the king and the duke, though they was all over tar and feathers, and didn't look like nothing in the world that was human -- just looked like a couple of monstrous big soldier-plumes.

…We asked some stragglers about it, and they said everybody went to the show looking very innocent; and laid low and kept dark till the poor old king was in the middle of his cavortings on the stage; then somebody give a signal, and the house rose up and went for them.

- Mark Twain

There are times when one senses a moment of historical importance is at hand. Such a moment is upon the American political narrative.

The perfect storm has been raging at sea and is headed directly for the American political landscape. It roils with crime, espionage, intrigue, propaganda, patsies, corruption, revenge, conspiracy and deceit. It threatens a direct hit that would bring a revolutionary type of upheaval, a death to the status quo. It fuels endless speculation about when and where it may hit. It may even just spin furiously, but harmlessly, at sea.

But there is no doubt that it is there.

At the eye of the storm is the central crime or crimes committed when Valerie Plame’s CIA status was leaked to the media; the seriousness of the crime(s) fuels the entire storm.

While the grand jury investigation into the outing of a CIA officer has been admirably prosecuted without leaks, we do know the legal opinions of the judges who refused to lift contempt of court charges against Time’s Matthew Cooper and The New York Times’ Judith Miller, thereby ordering the reporters to testify to the grand jury:

In February, Circuit Judge David Tatel joined his colleagues’ order to Cooper and Miller despite his own, very lonely finding that indeed there is a federal privilege for reporters that can shield them from being compelled to testify to grand juries and give up sources. He based his finding on Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which authorizes federal courts to develop new privileges “in the light of reason and experience.” Tatel actually found that reason and experience “support recognition of a privilege for reporters’ confidential sources.” But Tatel still ordered Cooper and Miller to testify because he found that the privilege had to give way to “the gravity of the suspected crime.”

Judge Tatel’s opinion has eight blank pages in the middle of it where he discusses the secret information the prosecutor has supplied only to the judges to convince them that the testimony he is demanding is worth sending reporters to jail to get. The gravity of the suspected crime is presumably very well developed in those redacted pages. Later, Tatel refers to “[h]aving carefully scrutinized [the prosecutor’s] voluminous classified filings.”

Some of us have theorized that the prosecutor may have given up the leak case in favor of a perjury case, but Tatel still refers to it simply as a case “which involves the alleged exposure of a covert agent.” Tatel wrote a 41-page opinion in which he seemed eager to make new law -- a federal reporters’ shield law -- but in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to do it in this particular case. In his final paragraph, he says he “might have” let Cooper and Miller off the hook “[w]ere the leak at issue in this case less harmful to national security.”

Tatel’s colleagues are at least as impressed with the prosecutor’s secret filings as he is. One simply said “Special Counsel’s showing decides the case.”

All the judges who have seen the prosecutor’s secret evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime, and they have done everything they can to help him get an indictment.

Once the CIA had conducted an internal investigation into the crime(s) and referred the case to the Department of Justice, it was seriousness of said crime(s) that prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself (though not before notifying the White House first) and empower a special counsel with full prosecutorial leverage to investigate any other crimes or circumstances. As Deputy Attorney General James Comey said at the Department of Justice press conference announcing Mr. Fitzgerald’s appointment as special counsel:

I have today delegated to Mr. Fitzgerald all the approval authorities that will be necessary to ensure that he has the tools to conduct a completely independent investigation; that is, that he has the power and authority to make whatever prosecutive judgments he believes are appropriate, without having to come back to me or anybody else at the Justice Department for approvals. Mr. Fitzgerald alone will decide how to staff this matter, how to continue the investigation and what prosecutive decisions to make.

If the narrative of history were like a novel (and we know it is often that and more; why else would truth be stranger than fiction?) there would be no better foreshadowing of this climactic chapter than Hurricane Katrina, in which floodwaters horribly drowned New Orleans and cleansed American eyes of the false image of its leadership.

The levee of public trust has been breached, and Republican halls of power are taking on water. What impact will a direct hit from this grand jury investigation, and subsequent prosecutions, have? The question may significantly -- perhaps even historically -- alter no less than the president’s administration, the Republican leadership, the intelligence communities and the media.

Like coastal residents, key players in the unfolding drama are even hunkering into defensive positions, preparing for impact. “Former White House aids” are leaking stories selling vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby up the river. The Washington Post reports that the administration is considering staff changes and that, ever mindful of image over substance, Republicans are bracing for the real danger:

Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans.

Meanwhile, the thunder rolls and the tide swells. Who and what will be washed away? Who and what will be washed clean?

Monday, October 17, 2005


No posts until Thursday as I show some international houseguests around my city.