One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films — A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry —  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

Rotator Cuff

Apologies for the silence over the last few days, which means, among other things, that Karl Marx (14 March) got left out of the Dead Socialist Watch on this particular trot through the calendar.

Turned out that what I thought was upper arm cramp last week was in fact a rip in the tendon in one of the rotator cuffs in my left shoulder. I noticed at the week-end that I couldn’t really lift my left arm into even a horizontal position, let alone anything higher; on Sunday night I stopped being able to sleep comfortably; and on Monday and Tuesday it became quite inflamed and produced a lot of pain, so I’ve started doing sensible things like going to the doctor and finding out what’s actually going on in there, and I think everything’s on the mend now, with industrial quantities of ibuprofen working its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving magic.

As a Boston Red Sox fan, I thought I knew a lot about rotator cuffs — Pedro Martínez’s rotator cuffs were about as familiar to New Englanders as David Beckham’s metatarsals. But whereas Pedro damaged his RCs by striking out lots of New York Yankees (or something similar), I hurt mine through the altogether more sedentary activity of reading Fénelon on the sofa at home. Perhaps it’d be safer if I gave up reading altogether.

Anyway: I still can’t lift my arm above the horizontal, but now it doesn’t hurt anymore, I don’t really mind.

Go Sox!

ALDS Game 1: @ANA, W9-3
ALDS Game 2: @ANA, W8-3
ALDS Game 3: vs ANA, W8-6
ALCS Game 1: @NYY, L7-10
ALCS Game 2: @NYY, L-1-3
ALCS Game 3: vs NYY, L8-19
ALCS Game 4: vs NYY, W6-4
ALCS Game 5: vs NYY, W5-4
ALCS Game 6: @NYY, W4-2
ALCS Game 7: @NYY, W10-3
World Series Game 1: vs STL, W11-9
World Series Game 2: vs STL, W6-2
World Series Game 3: @STL, W4-1
World Series Game 4: @STL, W3-0


The Red Sox swept the Angels in their Divisional Series, and the Yankees knocked off the twins last night, sending the right teams through to contest the American League Championship Series over the coming week.

Actually, I’m not sure it really counts as an American League Championship Series unless it’s the Sox against the Yankees, in much the same way as it isn’t really an Ashes Series if it isn’t England vs Australia.

(The Australians beat India just now, but with luck that’ll just set up another series like this one.)

ALDS, Game One

I can’t find the television pictures anywhere around this college, but I have managed to get the radio broadcast from WEEI coming through my computer, and I’m very pleased to report that the Red Sox are leading the Anaheim Angels 8-0 in the middle of the fourth inning in their first play-off game.

And there I was assuming that all the games would take place in the middle of the night, and generally bugger up my schedule.

UPDATE [6.10.2004]: Final score 9-3 Red Sox — and the Twins beat the Yankees 2-0. So a good evening’s baseball all round.

Baseball Update

From the New York Times:

Vice President Dick Cheney spent about 20 minutes in Manager Joe Torre’s office and in the clubhouse shaking hands with players before the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox, 11-3, last night at Yankee Stadium….During the singing of “God Bless America” in the seventh inning, an image of Cheney was shown on the scoreboard. It was greeted with booing, so the Yankees quickly removed the image.

So even Yankees fans have at least one redeeming feature.[via lbo-talk]


The Red Sox were swept by the Texas Rangers over the last few days, boo hiss. Stupid National League rules, no doubt. Or something.

In other Red Sox news, however, I’m pleased to report that while there are far too many eejits wearing NYY caps around Oxford, which is something that me growl at strangers in the street, Red Sox caps are clearly in second place in this town, with the rest nowhere, and this is probably a Good Thing.

Sporting Nations

Chris Bertram is spending some of his time writing friendly criticisms of my various personal preferences over at Crooked Timber here and here. I’m now spending more of my time justifying my choices back on this blog. Yesterday I dealt with the Marxists (though read on for some second thoughts on the matter), and today I’m turning to the altogether more complicated Question of Sport.

So, beginning towards the end of his post with his double misplacements, I’m entertained to learn that when he cheers for England against Scotland in football or rugby he feels himself able to play (if necessary) the postcolonial card against the memory of Colley’s beastly Scottish imperialists… On the second misplacement, I’m not at all sure that I agree that “the displacement of the Union Jack by the Cross of St George in the hands of English sporting fans represents if not an explicit rejection of Great British colonial nationalism, at least an adaptation to something less jingoistic and aggressive”. But that may in part be because the only time I’ve experienced my own College bar as a less than fully welcoming place was the time there was a group of usually intelligent male (did I have to say that?) undergraduates with the Cross of St George painted on their faces singing, um, jingoistic and aggressive songs about how the Argentinian football team’s fondness for gay sex was grounds for asserting the superiority of the English. (Somehow I don’t think that this particular poisonous triangle of English nationalism, homophobia and football is unique to Oxford University.) One anecdote certainly does not a theoretical argument make — and I’m not going to pretend for a moment that the older Union Jackshirts never expressed similar attitudes — but I hope Chris will forgive me if my inclination is to respond to these expressions of this Cross of St George English nationalism by wanting to have nothing to do with it, rather than by launching a campaign of my own to try and contest and resignify the meanings of national symbols in sport. There’s certainly a disidentification here (though it’s a far stronger disidentification with nationalist expressions of support than with the object of support, the English football team, which I sometimes do support, as I did in that England v Argentina game), but as I’ve described it so far this disidentification has nothing straightforwardly to do with either postcolonial guilt or the romance of the Celtic nations, the two explanatory factors to which Chris draws attention.

Some people do have a policy of not supporting England. Dennis Skinner is one, and it was his use of the phrase, “Anyone but England” which provided the title for Mike Marqusee’s fine cricket book, which I was glancing through again last night. (C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary also reminds us that the complex relationship of cricket, social class and national politics is a spur to the very best writing on the game: I’m half regretting not voting for James and Fred Engels in Josh Cherniss’s poll, replacing Benjamin and Habermas on my list, but I don’t know whether he’ll let me submit a replacement ballot.) I don’t hold to “Anyone but England” as a policy or principle, and often I do find myself wanting England teams to win the matches they play, in football or in cricket — though quite often in cricket it’s obvious to me that my desire for the English cricket team to do well in part stems from my desire to have a competitive match: good Test cricket is one of life’s great pleasures, but when the English middle order collapses and the bowlers are crap, as has been known to happen, that’s very unlikely to take place. Cricket really is the sport where postimperial questions are quite inescapable, since the international game is entirely a product of the British Empire and matters of immigration and apartheid have done so much to shape the game, but I’m not going to try to talk about them here (go and read James and Marqusee if you’re interested) — except to say that when I experience feelings of postimperial guilt with respect to Test cricket I think that it doesn’t so much concern my feelings about the England team in particular, so much as the pleasure I derive from the entire spectacle (which we should understand here to include the Test Match Special radio commentary).

So, what of the rugby World Cup?

The two World Cup games I’ve enjoyed most were Wales vs New Zealand and Ireland vs Australia, in both cases because spirited performances by the Northern sides showed that the gap between (most) Northern and (most) Southern hemisphere rugby was narrower than it’s often taken to be. And watching the first game made it very easy to support Wales wholeheartedly against a dull and in some respects disappointing England the following week. It was a thoroughly good choice: Wales were the firm underdogs before the tournament began, in a sport where underdogs rarely win (look at both the quarter-final and semi-final lineups); and in their quarter-final they scored three tries to England’s one, played some great attacking rugby, led at half-time, and would have remained competitive right to the end if only that penalty kick had gone over in the 74th minute (or whenever it was). England won because Wales conceded way too many penalties, Jonny Wilkinson’s a good kicker, and their levels of personal fitness and discipline remained quite a bit higher. But those aren’t reasons for feeling terribly excited about their performance or their team. A dozen years ago I used to enjoy England’s ten-man rugby, but that was when I was a back-row forward myself, and I enjoyed watching England’s pack play well. Now it’s almost exactly ten years since the last game I ever played, and I find that I much prefer watching the open running game which I’ve seen Wales and France play in this World Cup better than England have managed to do — and that makes me want sides like that to do well. (I’ll certainly cheer for England if it’s an Australia vs England final, though, and that fact does say something about the ineliminably agonistic construction of national sporting identities.)

Chris writes critically of the “people who are plainly acculturated as English” who “seek to identify as �really� something else (on the grounds that this or that ancestor was Irish, Scottish or Welsh)”, but he seems to me to get things only half right here (at least in my case — though I have reason to think he was thinking of my case when he wrote those words). I’m “plainly acculturated as English”, but the point of cultivating a memory of where my ancestors came from in the context of sporting contests (in my case Ireland, Wales, England, New Zealand and Denmark) isn’t to stake an implausible claim to an authentic national identity that overrides my thoroughgoing Englishness. (What could that possibly be?) The fact of my grandmother’s Welshness, for example, and the fact that her father played rugby for Wales around a century ago doesn’t make me Welsh, but it does provide the right kind of elective affinity or affective attachment which makes it easier for me to cheer for Wales (or Ireland, or New Zealand, with reference to slightly different facts) than it would be to rustle up any real enthusiasm for, say, Australia, Scotland, Canada or Uruguay. (I’ll stop there before I start talking about interpellation and the way in which the universal does not hail. Don’t worry.)

Chris raises the further question of whether this “displaced allegiance [is] welcome or irritating to the recipients”. I don’t know. I imagine that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and that that depends on the context: there’s more than one public for sport, that’s usually a very good thing, and the problem he raises is not unique to matters of national identifications: what do local supporters of Liverpool and Manchester United make of the southern middle-class kids who fetishise those teams? Or, closer to my home at least, what do the supporters of Oxford United make of the small number of university students who go to the games, and would they like there to be a lot more of them, such that the overall character of the fan base were to change significantly in its social composition? I’m sure many Irish and Welsh fans would find my occasional support for their rugby teams ridiculous and not especially welcome. But I also suspect that if I were to go to Lansdowne Road with my Irish uncles-by-marriage for Ireland v England (not an implausible possibility), they would both want me to cheer for Ireland and reserve the right to take the piss out of me as a representative Englishman where appropriate — and that seems entirely reasonable on their part.

There’s only one sports team about which I feel thoroughly and uncomplicatedly partisan, and that’s the Boston Red Sox. I was very surprised that I became interested in baseball at all, and after first going to a game at Fenway Park in 1996 my interest has continued to grow, and has (so far) survived a migration back from New to Old England three years ago. It’s not always easy to be a Sox fan on this side of the Atlantic (the internet — which, among other things, streams the WEEI Red Sox Radio Network — is invaluable), and I don’t quite know how I’ll feel about the Sox when all of the players I used to go and see or watch on television — Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and a handful of others — are no longer playing for the club. But I do enjoy being a Red Sox fan, enjoy hating the Yankees, and right now all I’m thinking is, Wait till next year!

… Except that before next year, there’s next week-end, and the matter of who to support in France vs England. Well, I have an aunt who lives in Normandy…