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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Revisiting Boston Sports Agony: Hope, Glory, Satan, the Babe and the Civil War

Sometimes a Super Bowl victory is not enough.

From the ROANOKE TIMES, 12 February 2002


USUALLY, I write opinion pieces on political issues. This is no exception. The New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory Feb. 3 got me thinking about one of the most important aspects of American politics: the enduring divide between North and South.
I got back to the old Bostonian roots that night as the Patriots won the most exciting Super Bowl ever. I ran outside, bellowed to the moon, called my dad, my brother, my buddy in the upper peninsula of Michigan, my college roommate and just yelled for joy. Called my brother back and barked some more. But it was not good enough (talk about pathetic).

If you find a native Bostonian (or New Englander) nearby, look him or her in the eye. You’ll see that this Super Bowl victory was magnificent, fantastic, blessed, just, awesome (uh, for you New Englanders, that would be wicked), incredible, redeeming and absolutely not enough in the face of the Curse of the Bambino.

Yup. That’s it. It does not matter what happens. Boston bleeds for the Red Sox. Until Tom Brady suits up for the Sox, and pitches their way to a World Series victory (only after beating the Yankees in the playoffs), no true Bostonian (or New Englander for that matter) will be able to sleep at night, shave or walk out to get the paper in the morning without getting irritated.

To the gentle Southern reader, this may seem incomprehensible. How much do you Bostonians want? How could the Sox get me down when the Patriots won the Super Bowl?

What do Northerners know about pain? When I first came to teach at Washington and Lee, it was pointed out to me that the difference between a Southerner and everyone else is that everyone else can go 10 minutes without feeling pained about the Civil War. Every Southern boy, it was explained to me, shares the same passion that rose with Pickett’s charge on the way to the high point of the Confederacy at Gettysburg.

Well, I’ve been to the high point at Gettysburg and it does not compare to the spirit of agony that haunts Fenway Park. The Patriots’ victory proves the one fact that will horrify Southerners and Bostonians alike: They are equally tormented.

Dallas has won a couple of Super Bowls, and the Atlanta Braves have won the World Series. Did this make up for coming in second in the recent unpleasantness? Apparently no. So there.

This apparent bond is bound to cause consternation in Dixie: The torment suffered by Red Sox fans is actually worse than that suffered by the South. The South came in second only once. The torment of the South is finite. Boston agony renews itself annually.

The difference between a Red Sox fan and the rest of the world is that the rest of the world can go 10 minutes without being ticked off about the curse of the Babe, the 1946 World Series, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, etc. (Note to the reader: There is a dark religious significance in this. BUCKy Dent. Bill BUCKner. B, U, C and K are the second, 21st, third and 11th letters in the alphabet. Add them up and that comes to 37. Divide 37 into 666 and you get 18. That’s three sixes. If this curse is not satanic, nothing is.)

The South came in second to the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. How many Confederate generals (or, for that manner, self-respecting privates) were called Bucky? Buddy, maybe. Bubba, possibly. But Bucky? There is no dignity losing to a Bucky.

It’s not as if the South is going to wake up this spring with hopes of winning the war this year. It’s not as if Birmingham goes to bed at the beginning of October saying, “Oh, shucks. We’ll win the war next year.”

Bostonians suffer the sort of ongoing torment that is nurtured by hope. As long as baseball seasons begin after they end, there remains the hope that this year we can win the Series. Bostonians know real pain. We are the sports Prometheus. Every year, the Red Sox buzzard comes back and takes another bite out of us. We are the sports Tantalus. Just when we think we’ll drink the World Series water, it disappears from our lips.

So, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and the Red Sox still have not delivered. But at least Boston provides solace to those achy Southerners. No matter how bad their pain is, Bostonians suffer worse.

The last time the Sox won the World Series was against the Chicago Cubs. Their fans have suffered longer than those of the Sox! We are saved. Go Patriots! – and take the Curse of the Babe with you.

Sam Rasoul on Gerrymandering in Virginia

In a recent piece in the Roanoke times, delegate Sam Rasoul finished his call for redistricting reform with the following statement: “ Redistricting reform can stop the unethical practice of politicians drawing their own district lines, and reform can help our great commonwealth create a political atmosphere that encourages more solution-centered dialogue. Our futures depend on it.”

Gerrymandering has been a pox on American politics for more than a century. In the wake of the Voting Rights Act, it has become even more pernicious. Sticking to the letter of the law, state legislators and members of Congress have worked together to draw districts that will ensure the election of minority legislators as effectively as they used to be drawn to prevent this. Thus, in the wake of the VRA, “electoral reform” has resulted in the diversification of the class of unbeatable incumbent legislators.

Granted, this is, indeed progress. Minority political aspirants now can run for office and minority voters can now actually register and vote without being subjected to the various forms of heinous disenfranchisement that characterized U.S. politics before the passage of the VRA.

Nonetheless, if the fallout of the VRA has been to enable incumbents who are racial minorities to gerrymander themselves into office as permanently as those who are white, then it is clear that our incumbents have settled for some pretty low hanging political fruit. So, we now have more racially and ethnically diverse legislatures. But, incumbents remain unbeatable, elections remain generally uncompetitive and turnout in legislative elections is embarrassingly low. It seems that we’ve forgotten that voters—not incumbents—were the intended beneficiaries of the VRA.

Redistricting reform would be an important step to improving the conduct of elections and promoting the aspirations of the Voting Rights Act. Alas, only our incumbent legislators can pass the laws necessary to bring about the necessary reforms. But, it is unlikely that legislators will pass laws that will take away their control over the districting process that enables them to gerrymander district lines. Sadly, this process is absolutely undemocratic: it enables legislators to choose their voters—instead of the other way around.

We should heed Rasoul’s call for electoral reform. Legislators should not be allowed to draw legislative districts. It’s a conflict of interest. As well, we should look to simplify the political map of Virginia: use multimember districts in and around our cities so their citizens can vote together instead of having their interests divided. There is lots that can be done. Check out the Center for Voting and Democracy. They have a wealth of information on this topic. For now, though, sent a tweet of support to @Sam_R

Democracy and ISIS in Tunisia.

The New York Times ran this article by David Kirkpatrick, “New Freedoms in Tunisia Drive Support for ISIS,” on 22 October on the Arab Spring in Tunisia. In it, we see some of the subplots that were in operation throughout the movement. From the “western” perspective, this is a pro-democracy movement. This is inaccurate. While people across the Arab world do seek freedoms, they seek, more importantly, better lives. They will settle for a UAE-style illiberal state if life is good and sufficiently free. They do not seek western, liberal democracy.

Democracy does cater to the organized. Everyone from James Madison to Mancur Olson to Jonathan Rauch tells us that. In the Arab world, desires for freedom and better economic conditions were and remain tempered by the fear that democracy and elections will lead to rule by the Muslim Brotherhood or, now, ISIS.

Oscar Wilde said that the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings. This concern was palpable during my time in the Middle East and remains so today. If democratic freedom means that one is now free to spend all of one’s free time combatting the political power of the Brotherhood or ISIS, many across the Arab world would settle for a much less liberal version of democracy than that to which westerners are accustomed.   Granted, this is a much easier tonic for folks living in oil-rich, stable states such as the UAE.


Nevertheless, it’s instructive to note that the circumstances under which democracy flourished in North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were a far cry from those across the globe today. The spread of democracy across the North American continent was neither bloodless nor always peaceful. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the spread of democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring is following a well-trodden path similar to paths it has taken across the world and throughout history.


Tags: Arab Spring, Democracy, Tunisia, Oscar Wilde