Breaking the Line

Samuel G. Freedman’s book, “Breaking the Line,” comes out tomorrow (buy it here).  It’s a story about how two rival football teams, two legendary coaches and two star quarterbacks came together to break the color line, revolutionize college sports, and transform the NFL.

Over the course of four months in the summer and fall of 1967, as their teams headed for a showdown in black football’s title game, a game played in the same city as that groundbreaking Super Bowl some forty years later, Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither stepped off the political sideline and took a stand. In the tradition of Paul Robeson, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Jackie Robinson, they put their sporting achievements in the service of social change. What happened when they did is an essential chapter of sports history and black history and, most of all, American history.

read the rest of an excerpt here

Smalls Revenue Sharing Project, A New Paradigm for the Music Business?

The Greenwich Village jazz club Smalls has for two decades been an incubator of young talent in much the same way Minton’s Playhouse showcased the progenitors of 40′s Bebop: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and others.  Like jazz, which bends toward innovation, Smalls is now raising funds to create a revenue sharing system, likely the first of its kind for any music venue.

Pianist and co-owner Spike Wilner, whose webcasts — the club seats 60 but frequently reaches up to 10,000 viewers over the internet – and recording archive are accessible to paid subscribers, wants to re-envision what a jazz club can be:

 We feel that this Revenue Sharing System can be a paradigm for the new way in the recording industry, a way for for a club and artist to be a partner, 50-50, in a project that will present an endless amount of music to the world, bringing recognition to musicians and support for the club.

Subscribers would have unlimited access to a growing library of audio and video.  (Every performance since 2007 has been recorded, and since 2011, videotaped.  The club presents approximately 21 shows per week.)  Wilner plans to pool and distribute revenue to artists in the archive based on the frequency with which their recordings are played.  All the musicians on a given performance would get credit, enabling popular sidemen to earn as much as leaders.  Direct downloads of select concerts would also be available, with revenue going to the artist rather than the pool.  The experiment could have wide ramifications for a music industry struggling to reinvent itself in the digital age.

You can contribute here.

Claiming Egypt

A deeply thoughtful post by the US-based Egyptian scientist and businessman Maged Atiya, writing at, named for the Egyptian secular socialist:

The unseating of former President Morsi is as difficult to condemn as it is to condone. It is a paradox with no easy resolution. An elected president was unseated by extra-legal means; yet on the other hand the current Egyptian constitution, which he rushed through,  also by extra-legal means, provides no workable way of removing a dangerously incompetent and increasingly isolated man.  Democracy would normally demand that we wait for the next election to vote him out; yet on the other hand the Muslim Brotherhood was moving rapidly to alter the election law to make it impossible to challenge them at the polls and to gut the judiciary to remove any semblance of a rule of law. The street is a dangerous substitute for electoral politics; yet on the other hand the Brotherhood foolishly excluded all others, even other Islamists.  One can go on in this vein, but it would not help make the events easier to justify.  No understanding is possible without some searing honesty about where Egypt is today. Nor will the future be brighter, nor the plans better thought out, without learning the lessons of the last 30 months.

How the film “Crash” is like a Failed State

From Adam Elkus at Abu Muqawama:

In 2004 I was taking a film and literature class taught by a professor who absolutely hated the film CrashWhy? Crash was part of a genre of film that was particularly popular in the mid-00s: hyperlink cinema. Hyperlink cinema could show interesting connections and contrasts between a set of individuals–like in the Mexican classic Amores Perros and the drug war epic Traffic. At its worst, hyperlink cinema was the kind of New Agey-”everything is connected” BS that makes middlebrow audiences swoon. Crash was the Failed States Index of cinema—something most educated film consumers hated but nonetheless won an Oscar.

Most people prefer objects, totems, and conceptual containers that can stand for a collective and often contradictory set of phenomena. They especially like when they can find master concepts that demonstrate the connections between a set of disparate and complex things. If your wife or husband has ever used some minor failure of yours as a symbol of  larger failings as a romantic partner, you can understand this instinct perfectly well.  Even mathematicians are surprisingly lax at validating many of the proofs underpinning the concepts they use.


The Evisceration of the Voting Rights Act

Test1.jpg.CROP.article920-largeThe lack of national fury over the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act is stunning.  It is an assault on law.  It is an assault on history.  And it is an assault on our shared American heritage and obligation.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act is an act of extraordinary judicial overreach,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The Supreme Court ruling takes the most-powerful tool our nation has to defend minority voting rights out of commission. By second guessing Congress’ judgment about what places should be covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the court has left millions of minority voters without the mechanism that has allowed them to stop voting discrimination before it occurs.”

And the court wasted no time: Thursday, SCOTUS vacated two voter discrimination cases in Texas, sending them back to the federal court for further consideration in light of its striking down the VRA’s pre-clearance formula (in which states must seek federal approval for any changes to election laws).  The federal court will most likely have to reverse both decisions.

The crux of the VRA decision, as I understand it, rests on the idea of “equal sovereignty” of states put forth by Chief Justice Roberts.  This is a novel construct used to deliver a whitewash of history.  SCOTUS is asking the astonishing question: Why should nine states (and assorted townships and counties) with a history of black disenfranchisement be treated any differently than any other state?  To which Justice Ginsburg aptly offered the following simile: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” 

Writing in Slate, Richard A. Posner, pretty sober in general, is fairly shrieking here.  ”Equal sovereignty,” he writes,”is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard-for the excellent reason that there is no such principle”:

…there is no doctrine of equal sovereignty. The opinion rests on air But the real key to “stealth” jurisprudence is patient, crafty incrementalism (no conservative monopoly on that strategy, of course). It’s a strategy illustrated by Shelby’s predecessor, the 2009 decision in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, heavily cited in Shelby. That was a case in which Chief Justice Roberts, again writing for the majority, criticized the same part of the Voting Rights Act, and invoked the same imaginary doctrine of “equal sovereignty,” yet without actually invalidating anything, and so avoiding a dissent by the liberal justices. So now in Shelby he could quote extensively from his opinion in Northwest Austin as if to imply that really there was nothing new here—just a small and logical next step. [emphases added] Was that a disreputable tactic, or merely a clever one?

The Gangs of Egypt

“Everybody needs a weapon,” said Mahmoud, a 23-year-old Egyptian arms dealer, as he displayed his inventory of pistols, machetes, and switchblades on the living room floor of his family’s apartment in the crime-ridden Cairo neighborhood of Ain Shams.

With Egyptian government statistics indicating a 300 percent increase in homicides and a 12-fold increase in armed robberies since the 2011 revolution, Mahmoud and other black-market entrepreneurs are capitalizing on a growing obsession with self-defense and civilian vigilantism among Egyptians who have lost patience with their government’s inability to restore security. Frustration with lawlessness is among the numerous grievances that will drive antigovernment protesters to the streets on June 30, the one-year anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration.

Mara Revkin’s piece here.


They considered it a privilege to fight fire, and a spot on the crew was coveted. Good behavior inside the prison had earned them the opportunity to get past the razor wire and the gates and the floodlights that loomed above the Perryville complex, way out there in the middle of the Sonoran Desert northwest of Phoenix.

For sure, the job beat doing other people’s laundry or slapping together bologna sandwiches in an institutional kitchen. Plus, it offered the chance to spend weeks at a time camped out in sleeping bags under the stars, with steak and pork chops for supper at the campsite. But there was something else that made the work special, as good for the soul as it was for the stomach: In prison, the men had to wear all orange, all the time. Yet dressed in the firefighting uniform—yellow flame-resistant Nomex jackets, olive green pants, lace-up leather boots, and hard hats—no one could tell that the men were prisoners. And to the people whose homes or land or lives the men saved, they weren’t felons. They were firefighters. Heroes. They commanded respect.

Great long-form work from Jaime Joyce, available at The Big Roundtable.

Brazil, Football, and Global Protest


“As far as I’m concerned, the explosion of indignation in Brazil is justified. In its thirst for justice, it is similar to other demonstrations that in recent years have shaken many countries in many parts of the world.

Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.”

-  Uruguayan writer and football scholar Eduardo Galeano, via Tony Karon (photo Al Jazeera)

Roger Cohen echoes:

“[The Turkey and Brazil] protest movements have erupted in two of the major emergent powers of the 21st century where economies have been growing fast. I do not think this is a coincidence. Ordinary Turks and Brazilians, particularly young people, are reacting to a feeling of global forces beyond their control; they are reminding leaders swept up in boom times of the need for consultation and accountability; they are telling the hyper-connected financiers who have profited most that social justice — society itself — matters. By gathering, by occupying, they are asserting a shared humanity against atomizing development and the globalized shopping mall.

Can they get from “No” to “Go”? It will take organization on a scale not yet seen, decisions on objectives and, yes, leaders…From Tunis to Istanbul, from Cairo to São Paulo, something essential has already happened. Fear has fallen. That in itself is a game-changer.”

John Lennon on “The Voice”

From Jesse Blockton:

SCOTUS and Same Sex Marriage

Ann Howe has written an excellent summary on the same-sex marriage SCOTUS decisions (DOMA and Proposition 8), coming down this week:

But there’s a chance that the Court might not even get to the question whether DOMA is constitutional at all.  The case may have a fatal procedural flaw.  In a normal case that comes to the Court, the party that lost in the lower court is the one asking the Court to review the case.  But this is not, as you may have figured out by now, the average case.  Windsor and the United States won in the lower court, by getting a ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional.  And to make things even more complicated, usually it is the federal government that appears in court to defend the constitutionality of federal laws, but the government isn’t doing that here; House Republicans are doing it instead.

h/t Charles Kaiser