Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Couple of Thoughts on the Police Threat

I haven't gotten it together to write the definitive post on the Skip Gates situation. But one of the things I've noticed in the media is that every one considers encounters with the police to be a threat to their health and safety.

As one of the commenters on RSI pointed out, "many believe if a cop tells you to do jump, you should simply ask, "How high, officer?"

Cops are armed to the teeth and a certain percentage of them are so provocative and belligerent that the only reasonable conclusion is that they're looking for confrontations.

Given that nobody can know which cops are looking for confrontations, it's reasonable for everyone to see cops more as potential threats than anything else.

Actually, I wonder about the extent to which the cops are seen as bigger threats than the criminals.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Break Up the Clippers!!

I was shocked to see that Charlie Rosen didn't have the Los Angeles Clippers on his list of the seven worst teams in the NBA.

But maybe I shouldn't have been.

If the Clips are healthy, their starting lineup is Baron Davis and Eric Gordon at guard, Al Thornton and Blake Griffin at forward and Chris Kaman at center.

That's not bad altogether.

The Clips have a blooming star in Gordon, a likely star in Griffin, and a functional center in Kaman. Ultimately, they'll be dragged out of the playoffs by that fact that Davis isn't a functional point guard and Thornton needs too much time with the ball.

But next year won't be a horror show unless the Clippers get bombed by injuries again.

That's mostly because trades over the last two years a bench that looks good as far as bottom-feeding teams go. Mike Dunleavy got Marcus Camby for nothing from the Denver Nuggets and was able to flip Zac Randolph (who he got for practically nothing) for 20 points a game in Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith.

The Clips don't get lucky very often and they probably won't be getting lucky here either. But there is the possibility that Telfair and Craig Smith will press the starters for minutes while Marcus Camby covers at power forward and center.

Down the bench guys Fred Jones, Steve Novak, and Mike Taylor are all capable of streaky contributions and Marcy Collins can play some defense.

The Clips are a long way from the '27 Yankees, but Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are such good building blocks that the Clippers would be players in the 2010 free agent market if they didn't have such crummy ownership and questionable coaching.

Still, I can see them making a triumphant surge toward mediocrity.

Brad Pitt: Another Atheist Role Model

Perhaps the world as we know it really is coming to an end.

Film actor and all-around celebrity Brad Pitt came out of the closet and admitted that he was an atheist for a German magazine.

Well, mostly an atheist.
"Inglorious Basterd" Brad Pitt is going to burn in Hellfire for this one: The demi-god thespian was recently interviewed by German Web site, and when the reporter asked if he believed in God, Pitt smiled and replied, "No, no, no!" Uh-oh . . .

"I'm probably 20 per cent atheist and 80 per cent agnostic," says Pitt. "I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, and then there's no point thinking about it."

Wouldn't Pitt have said "nein, nein, nein" instead.

Of course, Brad Pitt and Daniel Radcliffe aren't outing themselves as atheists because they've suddenly developed some religious courage. What's happening is that widespread disgust with the religious right has decreased the prestige of Christianity to such an extent that actors like Radcliffe and Pitt can say what they actually think about religion without worrying about retaliation.

Still, Brad Pitt makes another atheist good role model for my daughters.

The Religious Right: Destroying Christianity One Day at a Time

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama Had His Wonk On Tonight

Barack Obama decided to show his wonk side during his news conference on health care. Policy alternatives, facts, figures, and budget logic dominated.

Inspiration was in short supply.

I'm probably a little bit more impressed with "Inspiration Obama" than I am with "Wonk Obama." But it would be awesome if Obama could do a better job of bringing both of his political personalities to the table at the same time.

Blue Dogs Still Over-Rated

My suspicion is that the moderate Democratic jihad against health reform is peaking. Moderates on the House Energy and Commerce Committee prevented health reform legislation from being "marked up" the other day. But moderates ultimately don't have much of a bargaining position because they don't have many ideas of their own.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is Obama Next: Cops Arrest Skip Gates for Breaking Into Own House

Only in America?

Cambridge, Massachusetts police arrested celebrity Harvard professor Henry Louis (Skip) Gates for breaking into his own house.

Police responding to a call about "two black males" breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there –

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black scholar. Gates had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

Gates was eventually arrested on a disorderly conduct charge. The arresting cop said that Gates "continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him."

Who can blame Gates if he did yell at people who were investigating him for breaking into his own house?

If I were Gates, I would have thrown in some obscenities as well.

But the attorney for Gates claims that Gates wasn't yelling at all, that he contracted a viral infection while traveling to China and could barely speak.

Ogletree also disputed the claim that Gates, who was wearing slacks and a polo shirt and carrying a cane, was yelling at the officer.

"He has an infection that has impacted his breathing since he came back from China, so he's been in a very delicate physical state," Ogletree said.

Given the propensity of cops for lying when they're worried about having complaints against them (something which I've seen myself), I'll have to side with Gates on this one.

But I have to disagree with the characterization of Gates as "the nation's pre-eminent black scholar." I've seen some of Gates' writing and he's very good. But there are so many great black scholars that it's just as dumb to identify the "pre-eminent black scholar" as it is to call someone the nation's "pre-eminent white scholar." Some examples of "beyond category" black scholars are bell hooks, Patricia Williams, and Annette Gordon-Reed. Gordon-Reed's work on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings will be shaping our understanding of the founding of the American republic for generations to come.

But there's no gainsaying the prominence of Skip Gates as a Harvard professor and media personality.

If Gates can be arrested while breaking into his own home, one has to wonder how long it's going to be before some enterprising officer arrests Barack Obama for sitting in the Oval Office.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

At the SHEAR History Conference: Obama History for a Multicultural Nation

Last weekend, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois for the annual meeting of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). SHEAR's a great conference. It's an important enough conference that a lot of the big names show up, but not so important that anyone need feel swallowed up by the size of the event. This year's conference was relatively small because it was held in the fly-over country of downstate Illinois rather than a metropolitan area like Toronto or Philadelphia. Mrs. RSI and I enjoyed Springfield a lot. It's a good size city of about 125,000. People were friendly and helpful and we had a great dinner at a place called Kaitie's Girls (if I remember correctly).

I've posted a couple of times about the trip.

Let just add one more travel note.

"Bob Evans" restaurants are VERY popular along Interstate 65 in Indiana.

My main goal in attending SHEAR was to promote my book project, but there weren't many publishers there. So that didn't work out.

But I went to a lot of panels and they were almost all very good. SHEAR's much more of a commentator's conference than a researchers conference. A large percentage of the papers are presented by graduate students or relatively unknown scholars. What draws audiences to the panels is the star power of the scholars doing the commentary on the panels. In this way, SHEAR gives prominent academics a chance to define "the state of the field."

What I found interesting about this year's SHEAR panels was the relative weight of Lincoln history vs multi-cultural history. This year is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth; that's why SHEAR was held in Lincoln's adult home of Springfield. There's been an enormous outpouring of worshipful writing about the greatness of Lincoln over the last year or two and much of it is deserved. As he stated in the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln presided over a new birth of freedom in the United States and deserves enormous credit for the perseverance in his conduct of the Civil War and his personal growth over the years in which he engaged with the issue of race. I don't think Lincoln fully understood what he was helping bring into the world, but Abraham Lincoln was certainly one of the presiding geniuses as the idea of racial equality began to take root in American society.

But it looks like the season of Lincoln worship is drawing to a close. Historians of the Early Republic sound just as exasperated by Lincoln as they are by Thomas Jefferson. Because of his self-contradictions and limitations in perspective, Lincoln is somewhat of a boring and even mildly repellent figure as he muddled his way through the 1840's and 1850's. In many ways, historians were far more fascinated by the politics of the Indian tribes in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri than they were by the politics of the white settlers who were pressing them to abandon their traditional lands. Historians were also very interested in the abolition movement and African-American leaders like Frederick Douglass. I pressed one of the paper presenters a little bit on the role of David Walker (of "Walker's Appeal" fame) and the historian just flatly claimed that it was Walker (not Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, or any of the white leaders of the early Republic who turned out to be right about slavery, integration, and racial issues).

One of the things I was struck by was the easy correlation between the Obama administration and the multi-racial histories of the Early Republic that are being written. Historians have been emphasizing African-American and Native-American history for decades now and certainly don't see their scholarship as reflecting the multi-cultural ideals that are becoming more prominent during the Obama era. And they're right not to do so. What's happening instead is that American politics is catching up with the work of the historians.

Who knows. Maybe David Walker will one day be seen as one of the "founding fathers" of modern American society. There certainly would be justice in that.

Curse My Corn Allergies

I couldn't see the new Harry Potter movie because of my horrible corn allergies. It's gotten so bad that I can't even walk through a movie theater lobby without starting to react to all the popcorn.

Maybe Mrs. RSI and I will hit the Winchester Drive-In next weekend.