Yankee Blog

Friday, June 27, 2003


It continues...

Being in the US really does seem to diminish my desire to blog. On the one hand I feel like I have less to add to the level of discussion, because there is nothing especially unique about my perspective. On the other hand I am just so frustrated by the level of discourse that seems to go on. I just want to say that Radical Patriotism should not be a political agenda. Perhaps it is not, but everytime I see one of those super-Patriotic bumper stickers I think that there is someone who would follow President Bush to the end of our nation. It seems silly, there is no real reason to think that...why should it be the case that when someone supports the integrity of our country they should be supporting a particular leader? But yet it seems to come off that way to me. Perhaps it is from being abroad where attacks on America are largely informed by politics (as opposed to fundamental values). If I am always feeling a need to defend the idea of America in the face of political attacks, is it the case that people here are doing the same? Perhaps not.

I am curious what people think about this...are people who are "flying the flag" just projecting a well-deserved sense of pride in the fundamental values of America and our government...or is it a form of political statement? I really have no idea, but I get the feeling that people who are in the US a lot more than me might have a better idea.

Well, for some reason the computer that I am working at has no tools for creating links, and since I have never really bothered to learn how to do that, I guess there will be none here. But that can't stop me from highlighting some key stories. First thing that struck me this morning is that a player for the Cameroon national team died after collapsing on the field during the semi-final of the conferderations cup. I am not sure how and why this happens, but it is tragic. The questions to ask are if players are playing too much, and if the insanely tight schedule of this tournament contributed to his death.

Also, I am interested to see what Bush can say after yesterday's Supreme Court decision on Texas' law against homosexuals. If it is not abudently clear to everyone more tolerance is the way the World and even America are heading. Bush can either beat his head against the wall trying to fight that, or can alienate his conservative base by just getting out of the way. Either way it is a losing proposition. There are lots of issues like this where the Republican coalition is in conflict with itself and with the mainstream, it is just pathetic that Dems are not able to do something about it.

Krugman writes about America becoming a one-party system today in the NYT. I think that this is one of those areas where he gets a bit too far from what he knows best and is not giving the best analysis possible. Even if industry lobbying groups are consolidating around Bush and Republicans that does not mean the Dems don't have a voice. And while money can probably buy many elections, it does not buy the Presidency. I think that most people watch at least a bit of news on the election and have an idea of what is going on without needing to rely on political ads (I might say something different in regards to Congress).

I would also add that there is no automatic alliance between business interests and the Republican agenda. A good Democrat should be able to articulate some positions that business should support. I have been promising a piece on why business should support regulation, and I have most of the stuff written already, but it might have to wait until I am back in the UK and have some real time to make it right.

Well, my semi-blog hiatus will probably continue for the next few days. I might get something up every now and again, but in the meantime I trust that the world will go on.


Wednesday, June 25, 2003


The blogging...

I will probably be a bit slower with the blogging for the next two weeks. I am back in the US, going to be moving around a lot, and generally don't feel that commenting on US politics is as interesting when it is all around. Perhaps inspiration will strike me, but there are likely to be a few post-free days.


Interesting...

So I leave France and it looks like the US Soccer team puts forward a respectable performance. It was not like any of the teams in their group was really dominant. It seems like the French are the only team that looks like they really want to win this tournament (perhaps looking for some home redemption for the miserable World Cup performance they put forward).

One thing I am glad to not have to see again is the Turkish fans. I mentioned in my post about my trip that the security was pretty weak at St. Ettinne. I thought it was a local thing, but it was really just that the Turkish fans are not being well behaved. Here is a story about their behaviour during the next match. And then, to the surprise of only the French Police the trouble continued at the match against Brazil. The last article mentions problems at an England-Turkey qualifier. What they leave out is that the tension there was mostly due to the deaths of a couple of Leeds United in Turkey a couple of years ago during a Champions League match.

Another interesting piece of football news this morning is that Captain American Claudia Reyna is rumored to have three games with Sunderland to prove his fitness before gaining a transfer to Blackburn. Sunderland was relegated from the Premiership last year after an absolutely horrible season. Reyna was out for most of the year with a busted knee. Blackburn is the home to US super-keeper Brad Friedel and has had a few pretty successful seasons. They finished top 8 last year and I am pretty sure are qualified for the UEFA Cup. It would be good to see Reyna still showing his skills on a high profile stage.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003


Subsidies...

I mentioned yesterday that I need to do a rant against farm subsidies in the developed world. As if on cue Drezner has picked up the same topic, providing an Economist piece on the topic as well as some other links. This is one topic where I am completely in agreement with the Economist. Farm subsidies in a globalizing economy go miles to keep poor countries poor. Agriculture is one of the few sectors where cheap labour can help overcome poor institutional development in providing income and growth to an economy. Meanwhile, in nations where there is greater prosperity and opportunity agriculture starts to look less attractive. Logically it would make sense that poorer nations would specialize in agriculture while people in wealthier nations could focus on higher value activities like making cars, computers, and farm machinery. But this is not happening. Instead the relatively unproductive activity of agriculture is subsidized because there is some strange belief in many countries that farming is a way of life, a part of culture, rather than an economic activity. So what happens is that farmers in poor countries cannot compete with the relatively low prices that rich nation farmers are able to offer (which are only made possible by non-market subsidies for production).

Anyway, what gets me is why is farming such a special activity that we need to pay people extra to do it. No one is saying that blogging is my profession and because I am not competitive in the market I should be paid by the government. That is not the way things work, competition sorts these things out, and people move to activities that produce the greatest value on the market. I sure would like to be paid for sitting around writing stuff that is on my mind all day, but thankfully I am forced to do something more productive for the world. Why is farming so different? I am aware that there are some dynamics of agriculture that make it an especially risky activity. But this is precisely why there are large farming corporations today. People are risk-adverse, and instead of bearing the risk each year themselves there are certainly ways to move that risk to large organisations that are much more neutral to risk. Before people could move around quickly and easily with autos and railroads I am sure that monitoring the farmer to make sure he was working for a salary would have been difficult. But today there is no reason that monitoring costs would be prohibitive to prevent agriculture from being organized like any other productive activity. What is the difference between a farm and a factory? In a factory you have workers who operate capital to produce output. Why is it that on a farm capital has to be owned by the operator. It is risky to own the capital, people don't like risk because it means that they might not get anything for a year. But it is easy enough to manage away that risk with certain organizational structures. Everytime I hear a story about people losing the family farm I cringe. Why is that any different than anyone else losing a job? Either the land is not productive enough and some person in Mexico or Brazil or Africa was doing a better job producing crops (and I say good for them) or the production technology was not sophisticated enough. In either case, if that farm is protected it will only mean that food prices will be higher (either through tax-funded subsidies or directly from the consumer).

Basically I want to know why farmers are treated special. There are not so many of them. What national myths are at play which make us think that farming is some special activity? And why do we put more value in these national myths than in the real suffering of real people alive today in other countries? Someone help me understand this.

The importance of these beliefs in American politcs was conveyed in a West Wing episode several years ago. In a flashback recounting how the Bartlett campaign team was put together Leo invites Josh to see Bartlett speak at a VFW hall in Nashua, NH. Josh is working for Hoynes at the time and is entirely un-interested in what is going on, he is only there as a favour to Leo. Anyway, after a few questions, a farmer gets up and asks Bartlett why he voted against a bill that would have protected Dairy Farms in New Hampshire. The farmer said that really hurt him, and his family, that life is tough as a farmer and that the bill would have made life a bit easier. It was a question that begged a typical politician answer. But, in the moment where it is revealed to Josh that Bartlett is the "real deal", Bartlett says essentially, "Listen I am sorry that my vote hurt you, but I also need to protect the kids who drink milk, the consumers of our nation from paying too much for milk. It is a tough decision, but I had to do what I thought was right, not what would have protected the interests of an important consitituency in my state. If you don't agree, then you don't have to vote for me, but at least respect my decision". My point is that when trying to show the convictions of the President, the issue used was farm subsidies, because they are so nonsensical and yet so ingrained in our national myths.


Urbanism...

When I started this blog I thought that I would be writing a lot more about Urbanism, something I have spent the last year studying. But I guess with exams going on, and spending most of my time on studying, I really did not want to think about that more. But that is done, so I am turning my attention to it. I receive a regular email from a web site called Planetzien. It has a good clipping service, and usually includes a few job postings. It is useful, although for some reason it always ends up in my junk mail folder (Yahoo filter choice, not mine). Anyway, they picked up a couple of stories this week from an interesting conference in Memphis regarding the role of the creative class in local development. The "Creative Class" thesis was established by Prof. Richard Florida a couple of years ago, and he turned it into a book last year. The main idea is that technological innovation in a local region correlates to a number of social factors that Florida summarized as the "Bohemian Index". It includes social diversity factors, presence of artists, and either most interestingly or controversially gay population. The idea behind the thesis is that economic growth in a post-industrial economy like the US is largely dependent on knowledge industries that depend on innovation. These industries depend on a highly skilled workforce. Given that knowledge workers are highly mobile (most having gone away to college), they have some freedom of locational choice. While Florida's paper does not demostrate causality, two hypotheses are present, either that creative workers in the arts create a "creative millieu" in a locality that fosters creativity in other industries. This is the idea behind a company like Ford locating design facilities in Southern California. Or (and I think more likely), the presence of creative workers in the arts as well as gays indicates the attractiveness of an area to highly mobile persons. Innovators in other industries are likely to be attracted to similar locational assets, and thus co-location is witnessed.

What this all means is that areas that have a lot of culture tend to attract young people who make a difference to local economies. The examples of this include San Francisco, New York, Research Triangle Park, Austin, TX. The awareness of this link is also causing a re-think of economic development policies. Instead of areas giving tax breaks to large companies, they are better suited developing locational assets that make workers want to live there. The Memphis Meeting produced a manifesto that speaks to these new approaches to economic development planning. A commentary on the subject is available here.

There are two things I have to say about this. First is that I think it is interesting that socially progressive ideas are starting to get recongnized as a basis for capitalist economic success. I think that for too long big business interests have been able to co-opt the idea that economic success means an Auto Plant or Oil refinery. These are key parts of our economy, but they are not the driving forces in our economy. For reasons that I am not going to try to understand here, there has been an alliance between business interests and social conservatives. This is not good for our economy in the long-run because it is leaving the areas that really drive the national economy without a real voice in the policies of the nation. Hopefully this movement is a start of some consolidation of voice among those knowledge workers who really drive our nation forward, and perhaps they will get listened to as national policy is shaped.

The second thing I want to say is slightly critical. While I do like this movement, and think it is a step in the right direction, it is not for everyone. If all places start pursuing the "creative class" then there will still be no differentiation, and thus no local competitive advantage. This movement should not be for every place, as the strength of our national economy depends on a diversity of local economies. A handful of places (perhaps a few more than exist today) should take a lead in attracting young knowlege workers, but like a business localities need a long-term sustainable advantage. I am skeptical if Tulsa, OK or Omaha, NE (both fine places I am sure) will be able to compete with SF, NY, or Austin. That is fine, those places should have a different strategy to make them attractive to firms. Not every person shares the same values, and federalism provides the flexibility to capture that in local places. I am about to get on a slippery slope with this argument, so let me stop there.


Monday, June 23, 2003


Interesting...

There is some dude who has a blog called Expat Yank. I am sure he has been around longer than me, so I am not going to sue him over the name. He has an interesting post about being an American abroad these days. I had a similar experience a couple of months ago. I was in Germany in late March and at the time I was pretty pro-invade Iraq. I was at dinner at a friends house when the host asked me if "I was pro-war." I tried to respond diplomatically by saying that I was not pro-war, but felt that there are certain times when other options are not working and one has to do things that are unpleasant. It was clearly not the answer the host wanted, but then, if you are afraid of the answer, then don't ask the question.

In England things have been quite mellow lately, with the anti-Americanism seeming to die down as the war is over, and the fears of the critics have not been justified (yet). I was a bit apprehensive going to France. While it was obvious that I am an American wandering around, there were no remarks or rudeness that I noticed from individuals. But, at the two matches people did boo the national anthem of the US. I don't know if this is done by every partisan crowd, but from an American point of view it reflects a real lack of class. That is all it is...classless, not hostile, and as protest go pretty mellow and unthreatening. I can also assure everyone that the French are still wearing American labels, eating in American restaurants, and drinking Coca-Cola like it doesn't rot your teeth. In fact, one of the ironic moments of the week was at the match against Turkey. After the US keeper made a good save and denied the Turks the lead, the crowd started booing and whistling, and they also threw more than a couple of Coke bottles on the field. Not to reject the Coke, but just because it was about 10 minutes past halftime and they had finished their halftime Coke.


Again...

This week the Washington Post is profiling Dennis Kucinich's Presidential campaign. If you read this, and have been reading my stuff, it should be pretty obvious that I am not running to back this man. He wants to repeal NAFTA for crying out loud...I am sure that will do great things for poor Mexicans. My favorite is the quote from a Dem party official, "I keep telling folks if Democrats run in the middle, sounding like a Republican, what's the point of voting for a Democrat?" My simple answer is that the point is to keep the Republicans from running the country on a radical right agenda.


Did I say that...

I noticed lots of new visitors last week, which was great, but was partially due to some selective marketing on my part. Anyway, I hope that some people are returning for some more insights this week. I was linked to by a blog called Free Dartmouth, and I just thought I would return the favour. They have some good stuff up, lots of links and summaries and these pictures from Iraq. But, if they are going to go through the trouble of writing about South East Asia, it seems that getting the distinction between Indonesia and Malaysia would be helpful. I am just pointing this out so they know that someone out there is paying attention.

The other great thing about new visitors is that I can see how some of them find this site. I got quite a few visitors because of this post, where I run through the line-up of Manchester United. It seems that my mis-spelling of Ruud van Nistelrooy (or as I prefer Ruud Van Niestelroy) is catching on. So, while I seem to spend more time ranting about politics than my promised diatribes on sport, globalisation, and urbanism the sport picks up a few viewers.

The other great thing is that I can sometimes even tell where people are coming from. It is usually some bizarre string of code that is entirely meaningless, but sometimes an identifiable server pops up. So my post on the Ambassador Dinger was at least noticed by the State Department. But, it was not noticed enough to get them to change the link between the two Ambassador Dingers (that would be Larry and John). It also makes me feel bad that I might have said something completely uninformed about either Ambassador Dingers. I am sure they are both super-competent individuals, who are doing their best to represent the interests of the US in both Micronesia and Mongolia.

One final follow-up is that I received an email about my post on the best Ambassador gig in the world. A reader suggests France, writing: "you're living in paris, in luxury, on the u.s. gov'ts dime, and you get to wink and nudge the french every time the president does something stupid, and pretend like you agree with him but really you know he's an idiot. oh, ambassador to france would be _sweet_!
. While I like the setiment, I am not sure how well the wink-nudge thing would go over with the President. Turns out the Ambassador is some dude named Howard Leach. He was a businessman, appointed by Bush. I have a feeling he is not yucking it up with the French over GW's diplomatic flailings (that are only equalled by those of the French themselves). I could be wrong though. BTW: Leach's agriculture links and his presence in France reminds me that I need to go off on Farm subsidies. I'll get to that soon.


Snap back to reality...

Aside from an hour on the internet (mostly spent trying to figure out my trip home) and a glance through the Friday International Herald Tribune (still a fine slim paper) I have been partially removed from the news of the world. Not surprisingly the world got on without me. Anyway, I have been crusing the net this morning and found this fine post on OxBlog regarding the still kicking WMD story. I remain completely convinced that this is going to kick up into a full-blown scandel soon, but until it does I am going to keep an eye on the low-level simmer going on. I tend to agree with what is said, but just feel that there is a bit more urgency needed when we are talking about high-level government officials even mis-leading the public regarding a reason to go to War. This is war we are talking about...with people dying, American soldiers and innocent victims. It was a great job by our military, but there are still many people who don't have fathers, mothers, brother, sisters, sons and daughters because of the decisions made by the American government. Whatever the other merits of invading Iraq were, they were not the reasons given to America and the world. While this time, the good side might be outweighing the bad side in the grand accounting of good and evil that goes on in the sky (or wherever that accounting is done), there is no guarantee that the result will be the same next time. A precedent has been set, and I would be more comfortable if that precedent was set in all the right ways, rather than leaving dangerous cracks to be exploited the next time by this adminstration, by the next adminstration, by a foreign government, or by some disgruntled exiles. I am going to keep saying this because it makes me nervous, not because I think that this tiny little blog, in a tiny little corner of the media world called the blogosphere really matters when it comes to these things.


And I am back...

Several days in the south of France is good for the soul. I say this as someone who was seriously exploring the entire "boycott the French" thing. I may fundamentally disagree with many of the international policies of the French government, but just like I don't want to be held personally accountable for President Bush, I guess it is unfair to impose the same thinking on the French. Anyway, I had never been in France outside of Paris, and let me just say that it is amazing.

I flew into St. Ettienne on Thursday afternoon and immediately when I walked off the plane I could smell the difference in the air from London. It was hot, and dry, and noticiably cleaner. The sun was strong and felt good in the short walk from the plane to the terminal. After going through the customs thing (which always leaves me last one threw the terminal in Europe...is there anyway the US could join the EU immigration area?) and finding out that the only way to the city is a taxi we started looking for one. After about five minutes being the only ones in the taxi queue we found out that you have to call a taxi to get picked up. Can I just point out that only on Ryannair do you end up in these kinds of airports.

Anyway, after getting a taxi we made it to the stadium to see the US play Turkey in the Confederations Cup with about 10 minutes to spare. Perhaps unsurprisingly the crowd at the the game was entirely Turkish. I would have been surprised if there were 500 US fans in the crowd of about 19,000 (which is a pretty pathetic crowd, considering that QPR draws 14,000 a game and that is Div. 2 in England). Anyway, the US was playing with Turkey for the first part of the game, showing perhaps some better talent, but also making a lot of silly, stupid errors. The first goal was to the US on a great cross from Landon Donavon who put it right on the head of DeMarcus Beasley. Very pretty. Anway, the Turkish fans were silent for a moment, but unfortunately that was not to last, as the referee gave what I thought was a pretty questionable penalty to Turkey. The Turkish dude put the PK into the net, but only because of perfect placement as Howard had almost the entire net covered. The Turkish goal also made the crowd go crazy, with them jumping on the fence surrounding the field, and generally making the world seem chaotic. I was quite surprised by the tolerance of the security there, as I know that in England, Australia, or the US there would have been more than a few ejections from the stadium. The second half continued pretty sloppy for the US and Turkey was in a bit more control. Midway through the half Turkey got a go-ahead goal on a pretty nice move to beat Howard. The US had some good chances to tie late in the game but were not able to convert. My impression of the US team is that they have some real talent up front that just needs to learn how to play with a bit more control of the ball. The US was playing an aggressive game, but they need to limit their silly give-aways. The defence on the otherhand was less than impressive. They seemed to be very nervous with the ball, which made me nervous when they had the ball. They also did not add much to the attack, generally just holding the ball when the midfield had managed to advance and not find an opening. If you actually want a real report on the game check out the BBC or ESPN.com.

So, after the game we headed into St. Etienne. The walk into town was not great, especially since the traditional Turkish victory celebration seems to include driving around and honking your horn as much as possible, but the centre was really quite nice (when the cars were honking somewhere else). They have a good square surrounded by cafes and restaurants. I guess because of the soccer tournament they also had live music and some amusement rides in the square. After dropping off our stuff we headed in to find a place to eat. My French was sufficient to figure out that most places were pretty busy, even if it was about 10:30 by this time. After a couple of times around we found a place. It was good to eat at the pace of the French. Each time we ordered a beer it took about 15 minutes to arrive, and between the salad and the main, we were not done eating until about 1. Hey, I had no place to go, and eating outside on the square was pretty nice. The next day we did a short walk around St. Ettinne, realised that there was nothing we really needed to see and took the train to Lyon.

Lyon is amazing. It is just such a nice city to walk around, with squares and fountains every couple of blocks in the main part of the city. I don't have a list of things to see in Lyon, a favourite square, or any really great stories about the place. It is just good for the soul to be a city where everyone is out and about. I had a great time just spending three hours looking for an internet cafe to find out what time was my flight back to London (ironically there was one a half block from my hotel, but we turned the wrong way). Anyway, after two days of exploring Lyon it was game time again.

The US-Brazil game was not until 9 pm local time, so we had a chance to eat before the game. It just happened that where we were eating was where the Samba drummers and dancers started their pre-game party. It must be incredible to be a Brazil fan and just have a party where ever you are. It was also pretty clear that the entire city was gearing up for a party, but we had no idea why. So, we headed towards the stadium. Again, the US fans were in the minority, but the Brazil fans were not as fanatical (probably due to many non-Brazillian fans). The game itself was pretty one-sided, with the US showing things up front on occasion, the defense doing a good job stopping the Brazillian attack, but still looking nervous with the ball. The only goal in the game was on a pure error by the US centre back as he had the ball just taken from him and the Brazillian had a clean shot at the goal. Howard made a great effort to stop the first shot, but the rebound was easily put in. The US had one good chance when it looked like Donovan might have been fouled in the box, but nothing was called. It was not like the US deserved to win the game, but they had a good effort in the second half. Even though Brazil was without many superstars, they are still a damn good team. (Incidentally, according to the team list, not a single player had two names...weird). The real report on the game can be found here. An article about Donovan getting worn down is here...my take is that he needs to be in Europe to find out what football as life is all about...he can be a great player but all great players sacrafice. Perhaps Nike or someone should get him a sit-down with Michael Jordan so he can learn what it takes to be a great player and he can decide if he wants to do that. Last word on the football is that even though I saw the US lose two games, they still have a lot of potential, and when geared up for big games should be able to put together a better showing. No one expects them to beat Brazil, but beating Turkey would be a sign that they are a team to contend with. I am sure they will have a better squad when World Cup Qualifying starts up again soon.

We took the long walk back to the city, and upon reaching the centre found out that there was a party all over the city. This was not about the soccer match, but was all about Lyon. It seems that every band in Lyon was welcome to just plug in on a corner and start rocking. The city was packed with music and people were just walking around checking it all out. We wandered the city as well and finally ended up checking out some 17 year old French kids who had the guts to cover Radiohead and The Pixies. They just were psyched to be playing, and it was fun to watch them. The party was still going at 2 when we realised we had to get moving early the next morning.

The trip back was interesting, if uneventful. To get back at a decent hour, and be able to see people in London before they left we were flying out of Geneva. So we took the two hour train from Lyon to Geneva, saw some more French countryside from the windows, had an hour in Geneva (which I still think is a dull city...although I am not passing final judgement), made to the airport, and got back to London just fine. A really good couple of days away. I got rained on last night in London trying to make my way home from the pub after it closed at 11. At some point one has to think that the British will learn a few things about living from the French.


Thursday, June 19, 2003


I am off...

I am leaving in a matter of minutes for France. I have a lot more to say about what is going on in the world, but let me just throw a few links out, and be brief with the rest of the stuff. Talking Points is up with a few new insights on the whole mess in Texas and the WMD in Iraq story. It is looking more and more like Iran is just begging to be given the Iraq invasion treatment. I thought they would have learned from that experience that the US really doesn't give a crap what the world thinks or what kind of a mess the country will be afterward, but I guess they just were not paying attention.

The Bushies also are continuing to practice selective truth-telling with Global Warming data. I fear that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how they are shifting around research priorities and dollars within our environmental science establishment, but I have no real proof of that. Just an inkling from some un-noticed shifts that happen to affect my Dad's research program significantly. After all if you don't fund science programs that might point a finger at industry, then there will be no scientific evidence that industry should be regulated. Seriously though, where does this back-door, crazy ass lying and crap stop. As Krugman said, "I just want my country back." Back from lobbyist, back from short-term interest groups. Is that too much to ask? Maybe sometime soon I will explain why all of this is both against free markets and in the long-term not in the interests of business or US economic competitiveness, but for now I am on to the next thing.

I am going to France to see the Confederations Cup. A football tournament that is trying to be second tier to the World Cup and failing miserably at it. I only paid 15 Euros for each game ticket, less than a Division 2 football match in London. I am sure the quality will be higher, but it does not say good things about a tournament when even the US National Team coach is not looking for results.

So, with my exams over, my hours spent in front of the computer with a strong desire to procrastinate coming to a close, I expect that the pace of my posts will be falling rapidly in the coming weeks. I still hope to get sometime to put together some interesting posts, but in the meantime don't get annoyed if there are few dark days.


Becks...

The saga is over, and perhaps some other news might show up in the British papers within a week. I have already put down my thoughts on the whole thing, so I don't want to repeat myself. What still find facinating is how much this whole thing made the news in the States. The NYT had this large article yesterday on the transfer and the Slate even got in on the act with this piece. The NYT piece is pretty spot-on, they just hit the highlights of the deal, don't go into the details of the team's strategies too much, and get a few quotes from people on the street in England (but North London, that is like getting quotes on a Yankee transaction from people in Boston) and Madrid. By not being too ambitious they don't get themselves in trouble. The Slate on the other hand, goes way over the top and completely misses the point. First off, Becks will not be THE MAN on Real Madrid, but he does merit a place in the starting line-up. He is one of the best outside midfielders in the world, and while a better player in the middle is probably more valuable to a team (like Zidane), that does not mean that a player more skilled in the middle is going to take Beck's spot wide. The the Slate diminishes Man U stature by pointing to their lack of success "in the all important intra-European Champions League." Now this is obviously a hard thing for American's to understand but even though the Champions League is a bigger competition in scale, it is not more important than the domestic championship (at least in England). Club football in Europe is tribal, it is not nationalism, but localism. It is much more important to stick it those Londoners, than beat some people you have never heard of from Italy. There is also the issue that good football does not always win the Champions League. Look no further than the awful display between AC Milan and Inter Milan in this year's final for evidence of that. So while Man U may not be racking up the European Cup titles, they have been dominant in England and that is all that really matters to supporters, even if that supporter is in Japan.

Then the article goes into a bit of the history of the Spanish government subsidizing Real, which seems fine, but I really don't know. The kicker that the article is written by someone who does not really know what he is talking about though...he does not know how to spell the name of the Brazilian that Man U are rumored to be chasing. Now I know there are a plethora of one-named Brazilians out there, and it is hard to keep them straight (Rivaldo, Ronaldo), but come on man...it is Ronaldinho not Ronaldino (at least according to the BBC). So before he goes off saying that it is all about image and fights with Fergie he should at least get that straight. And then maybe pick up a British paper or two and realize that it was more an effort for Man U to get stronger up the middle of the field than a desire for Fergie to get rid of the flash. Fergie may be a complete asshole, but he will do anything to win, including tolerate Becks and Posh if it was consistent with his on the field strategy.

PS: It is probably dripping with irony that I have about a hundred mis-spellings in this post, and I get on the Slate for one, but I bang these things out in minutes, with no editing, I expect a little more from a publication with a payroll...I know I would proof-read my stuff if I was getting paid for it.


Done...

Took the last exam yesterday. And seven weeks of preparation can lead to only one possible outcome: over-prepared. I had to answer 3 of 9 questions and probably could have answered 8 of 9. I had three hours to write those three essays and I probably could have gone on another 2 hours at least without repeating myself. But, if they want to evalute an entire year worth of work on the basis of a three hour exam then that is their choice. I could come up with about a dozen better ways of evaluating students, but the wonder-minds running LSE are quite content to not change a thing, and to minimize any inconvienence the bother of actually teaching might interfere with the real work here.

Anway, OxBlog posted some exam questions, and it seemed interesting, so I thought I would do the same. My first exam was for a class called Managing Economic Development, but the first half would have been better known as Globalisation: Theory and Evidence. On that exam I answered:

2) Are the processes of globalisation and European integration likely to lead to an increase in inequality within the 15 current members of the European Union? In what ways?
5) Large multinational enterprises account for a high share of international trade. Their activities are not limited to engaging in trade in goods, however; they are also responsible for much international transfer of technology and knowledge. What are the implications of this (if any) for the nature of local and national technological policies?
7) Why should we expect more "red-tape" in government than in private firms?

My exam yesterday was for a class called Contemporary Urbanism and I answered:

3) 'Gentrification is too general a concept to be of use in comparative urban analysis.' Critically evaluate this statement.
5) Why do cultural industries cluster in (parts of) cities? Why, if at all, does it matter, and for whom? Illustrate you (sic) answer with an example of one industry.
6) 'Mot theories of urban politics, imagining cities as independent social worlds, fail to offer convincing general pictures of how cities are governed.' Discuss.

Anyway, I would be more than happy to share thoughts on any of these topics, but I have about ten other things that I want to write about this morning, before I head off to France, so I am going to just throw these out there for discussion now. Also, I just want us all to take note of the existence of a typo on the exam. These things are supposed to be poured over by everyone in the department before they go out. Again, let me just give a big shout out to the LSE geography department.


Wednesday, June 18, 2003


Today's the day...

After what seems like an eternity (actually it has only been about 3 months) since my last class I finally have my last exam today. It is in a class called Contemporary Urbanism, and given the huge amount of prep time I am so overly prepped for this exam. But, because I have a morning to get through, I really don't want to read any more, and it is not quite time for me to go out a get a paper and a breakfast sandwich I thought I would just put down some thoughts about the class (the material, not the format or presentation).

Basically this class is about trends in urban studies today, more than trends in urbanism today. This means that there is somewhat of a disconnect with reality. This disconnect has its roots in the early 1970's. At the time there was about 30 years of stability in Western economies, largely governed by a mutual benefit relationship between large corporations, big labour, and the state. For lack of a better term this has been called Fordism. This led to dramatic increases in consumption by average people (wide spread automobile ownership, suburban houses, new home appliances) as well as increasing equality throughout society. It was also a time when services started being provided by the state to the people, such as Social Security and Medicare (as well as more extensive programs in Europe than in America). While these things may be viewed positively, there was a flip side to all of this. The inner cities were being vacated, leading to an isolation of the poor (and especially blacks in America). Women also were not generally participating in the labour force to the degree possible. Coming out of this era some urban thinkers, most prominently David Harvey and Manuel Castells, started to identify the relationships between the state and capital that were limiting the voice of people in the system. These thinkers built from Marxist theory and developed new ideas of the city. Basically they saw the city as a site of contestation between capital and the people. They saw the entire system as just one to allow the continued accumulation of capital.

However, at around the same time that these theories were being developed the Fordist mode of accumulation was breaking down. The world moved off the gold standard, capital markets were liberalised, people started to move back into the cities (gentrification), and the old splits between men and women, black and white, blue collar and white collar started to breakdown. It was new era, one of much greater complexity, and the theories were just not equipped to capture these changes. Marxism is about a duality, a one versus the other, the dialectic, and it was becoming clear that theories that simple could not deal with the new complexity of urban life. Over the next three decades, and continuing today, there has been a desire from one stream of thinkers to analyze the city on an adversarial model. Neil Smith has theorized Gentrification on a model of the Revanchist City, with gentrification being simply a project by capital to reclaim the city.

Also going on through this period was a dramatic increase in what can only be called "globalisation." People were moving more, and more rapidly. Technology was bringing people throughout the world closer together. Trade was increasing and putting places around the world in direct competition with each other. Firms were establishing global reaches of operations. Coming from a legacy of duality there was a huge desire among certain urban theorists to tell this story as one of global capital imposing its will on the city. There was no individual agency in this account of the city, everything was explained by the flows of global capital. This implied a conclusion that the force was the same everywhere, and thus the outcomes would be the same. One of the leading examples of this view is Saskia Sassen with her study of The Global City. A comparison of New York, London, and Tokyo, the essential thesis is that global financial flows are based in nodes in these three key cities. This is leading to a social polarization in these cities which is caused by an economic restructuring dictated by global capitalism, and is felt in similar (if not identical) ways in all three cities. This was a tremendously influential book, and while her accounts of the globalization of capital are interesting, and it would not have been so widely read if it lacked some grain of truth, it opened the door for a new set of criticisms.

The relative simplicity of the model put forward by Sassen and others led many people to step back and realize that it did not explain everything they were seeing in urban areas. Yes, capital was flowing around the world, but it was being actively constituted and reconstituted in different ways in different places. Yes, the global economy was putting some constraints on policies of cities, but each place was able to negotiate its own terms. People essentially realized that they did have a say in the shape and form of the city. Gentrification does not have to be a tale of capital reclaiming the city, but a personal rejection of the suburban lifestyle. It was disempowering for people to see the world as one they had no say in. Into this theoretical gap stepped people such as Michael Peter Smith. His concept of transnational urbanism was that models with a heritage from Marx were just too simple. Globalization was real, but it was a different reality for different people. Bangladeshi immigrants in East London are able to use the tools of globalization in their own way. And not just in a simple Jihad vs. McWorld model. Globalization protesters are using the tools of globalization to organize protests. It was not a story of homogenization but of hybridization. And the hybrids being established are not the same everywhere, but are individually selected. Each person has a different relationship to the spaces and flows of the city. There is no hierarchy of cities around the world, as each one has its own unique processes and a hierarchy implies that each place is aspiring to be New York. Also, the focus on capital flows so prominant in the Global Cities thesis is just describing one type of globalization, there are actually many different types. Global capitalism is constituted in the local due to specific institutional location-based factors, what Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift described as "Institutional Thickness". This is all a reassertion of the local into the discourse, the idea that urban studies cannot be "totalized", but needs to be specific.

Taking this broad arc of the discourse various topics can be inserted and analysed. Specifically I expect to answer questions on the culture industries, labour markets, and politics. I probably can't go into all the details of the interaction of various ideas on these topics, but given specific question on the exam in five hours I think I will be able to. The questions will not be, "Are cities correct in pursuing the cultural industries as an avenue for economic growth?" Instead they will be along the lines of, "Explain how and why cultural industries may be localised in the urban core." It will be interesting, and the whole idea is to put together unique arguments, so I am not spending much time writing answers to questions, just figuring out what are some interesting tensions in cities today that I might want to highlight. Wish me luck!


It was a moment of weakness...

I put my name on a Kerry and a DNC mailing list many months ago. I can't remember why I did it, but given the moderate inconvienence of deleting an email or so a week it has not been the worst decision every. And every once in a while I get something that I notice. An email yesterday from the DNC is the most stupifying (sp?) piece of spam ever produced. You really have to see this flash film to know what I am talking about. Are they trying to convince three year-olds that Bush is bad? Was this someone's high school computer class project? Every time that I start to think the Democrats have a chance because Bush is running this country into the ground they come up with something that makes me realize they can't manage themselves out of a paper bag. Seriously, whose idea was this, and what was the goal? If it was fundraising, then are they really so desperate for money and uncreative that this was the best option? I can just imagine a couple of people with no background in advertising or marketing sitting around brainstorming this one. They probably thought they had a real winner with that line about the heart. And the voice of the justice...my god. Please just watch this, and be afraid that the opposition party in our country is being managed by complete morons.

Now to the Kerry email. It was not nearly as tragic as the one from the DNC. Just a plea to register at MoveOn.org for their online primary. MoveOn seems to think that testing the online organizing power of the different campaigns 16 months before the election is a good way to select a nominee. I can't really agree with that, but at least it will be an interesting project. I am sure that each campaign is working to mobilize people on this thing, and are spending some amount of time worrying about it. It seems like a huge waste. These months should be spent working on messages, getting out and meeting people, allowing those who have an interest to shop around and see who they like (and I hope who would be the best candidate). Personally, I have no idea who I would vote for. I have candidates I like more and less, but there are many months before I feel like I need to make up my mind. As I learned, in 1991 Bill Clinton was a virtual unknown until late in the year, I don't feel like there is any reason to rush to select a nominee so early. The Bush team are in permanent campaign mode, so it is not like getting this thing started early is going to be an advantage for the Dems. I am not even going to bother trying to assess which candidate this whole project gives an advantage to.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003


Again with the inequality...

I just had the chance to see Paul Krugman speak at the London School of Economics. His topic was "the next big problem" and while I was at first afraid that this meant deflation (afraid because I was sure most the talk would go right over my head), it turned out that it was inequality. A topic that I can at least talk about with some intelligence. Anyway, I will be putting up some thoughts on his talk over the next few days, but let me start with an idea I have that he did not touch on. Broadly his talk was in two parts, the first was about the rising inequality in the US over the last three decades and the second was about recent tax policy. During the first part he pointed out, as he had in his NYT magazine piece, that the increase in inequality is disproportionately driven by the super-rich. The kind of rich people that you probably don't know, just because there are so few of them. There was limited discussion of the causes for this rise, mostly because I don't think there are any good theories out there (I will check on this in coming days). But what was clear is that there is an expectation this trend will continue.

Let me throw out a no data theory on what might be driving this trend, and why it might be ending. The last three decades have been characterized by enormous economic change. We have seen the end of what some have called "Fordism" and the rise of a new model of organizing businesses. We have seen the rise of real competition from other advanced economies, such as autos from Japan. We have also seen an enormous increase in globalization, with more companies competing in more markets. Now I spent a few years at a strategy consulting firm and I know that these are changes that firms struggled to deal with. Running a company in a stable environment is a lot easier than trying to change a firm. Getting a firm that was previously just making product to start listening to customers and figuring out what they really want is a huge culture change. But making changes like that were not a choice for firms over the past 20 years, but was a neccesity. And in an environment where change is demanded it stands to reason that a huge premium is placed on getting the best possible leadership. I am speculating that a changing environment led to an increasing willingness from firms and shareholders to pay whatever it took to get the best talent. And while many of these leaders failed, that was never a given, and when these people were recruited it was with the assumption that they were going to be the person to change the culture, increase profits, and preserve shareholder's capital. Compounding this was Globalization and the increase in the size of the market that these firms were playing in. It was possible to increase firm size dramatically as the potential market grew, and along with that it made sense to increase compensation of leaders. Playing in world markets is partly a winner-take-all game, and along with that firms were willing to give winner-take-all compensation packages.

To this story I would also add that I think the period of change is coming to a close. Firms today are working to institutionalize ways of responding to customers. They are getting better at innovating and providing innovations that customers want. While it does not mean that we are going back to the model of "it comes in any color you want, as long as it is black" we are moving towards a new equilibrium where gradual change is the norm. This means that there is no longer the leadership premium for the best talent. A maintainance regime will again be acceptable, and shareholders will quickly realize they don't need to give huge compensation packages for maintainance regimes. I think we are seeing the seeds of this change in the recent corporate scandels. Many of them are CEOs who were trying to grow to justify the expectations inheerent in their compensation. The markets were not ready for their changes, and they tried to cover this up. Now shareholders are starting to pay attention more.

Well, this was just one idea I cooked up during Krugman's talk...more summaries of his ideas, and crazy ideas to come later.


Devil's Advocate...

Thanks go out to Matt Yglesias for noticing my posts on a comparison of 1991 and 2003 (here and here). It is tempting (I couldn't resist) to see two Bushes, two wars in Iraq, and two recessions and automatically just conclude that history is repeating itself. There are several key differences that need to be noted. First, as a comment on Matt's blog note's there are some key differences that show up later on in the election, most notably the rise of Ross Perot in 1992 and the presence of Fox News in 2004. It is my belief that once candidates have acheived relative parity early in the election year they are on their own. Ross Perot did probably help Bill Clinton, but Clinton was also hurt by the fact that his character was constantly in question. Then regarding Fox News, I really don't know what to think about this. I should note that I am immune from the daily barrage that is Fox News by virtue of being in England and not owning a television (the TV thing is not a personal choice, I love TV). Anyway, part of me wants to say that anyone who is watching Fox News is going to vote for Bush no matter what, and that it will not be a factor. But I know that might be wishful thinking, and that as much as I want to dismiss everything that they say, there are times where they do a good job covering the news (as even the New Yorker was forced to acknowledge in the recent profile of Roger Ailes).

The other thing that I ignored previously was that America changed after 9/11. The entire idea that attacking the President is somehow unpatriotic is new. Winning an election depends on being able to debate with the current President. If that is not possible then beating him is impossible. But how long will Bush's fine job at leadership in the weeks after 9/11 be remembered. Everything possible has been done to protect his image as a strong, confident, independent leader. That image may spoil with time, or it may not. The current Democratic candidates are constantly testing out new messages to see what resonates (check out this new story on Kerry), and I have to think that eventually someone will find something that sticks.


My new effort...

I have made a passing effort to get my posts comparing the two Bush noticed. So if you are here for the first-time, then hello, look around, and let me know what you think. Anyway, I do think that they add some information to a discourse that is kicking around on blogs around the US. Following from this post by Matt Yglesias, I found this post by Jake Rosenfeld. Both are highlighting the unneccesarily pessimistic view of Democratic chances in 2004. They are coming from this story in the Washington Post, which basically says that Hillary is the only hope, so you might as well wait for 2008 (BTW: skip all the stuff at the end...it is just about Hillary's book.) I noticed the tone in this Talking Points column, but I would welcome anyone who wants to point to real optimism from Dems on 2004. Again, I just want to point out that it is exceedingly early to be making any predictions and that almost no one had heard of Bill Clinton at this point in the 1992 election cycle. Just read this and this if you want to get the whole story.


Monday, June 16, 2003


Problem...

I just read this passage "There remains then a frequently puzzeling ambiguity regarding just how much Marxism remains in the discourse, but it is clear that the totalizing metanarrative that dominated the radical school of urban and regional political economoy is no longer as all-encompassing and inflexible as it once was"...and I knew what it meant. Does this mean I will never be able to speak with a normal person again?


The Second Chapter...

Last week I started a comparison of the pre-election year media accounts of the two Bushes. I was just curious why there was so much being written about how GWB was unbeatable. What I found was that there was a very similar take on the first George Bush, and that lasted up until about late October, 1991. This is where we pick up the tale, and how things went from looking so good to so bad for Bush.

After the October 24 headline, "Economic gloom hits Presidents Popularity" the next story was a week later about the key stories in the election of 1991. Problem number one for Bush was the candidacy of David Duke for governor of Louisiana, which put him in the position of having to back a Democrat. Perhaps more significant was the poor performance of former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh in the race to fill a vacant Senate seat from Pennsylvania. Somehow in the course of this campaign Thornburgh managed to turn a 40 point lead into a tight race with Harris Wofford (a far less well-known figure in Pennsylvania politics at the time). All this said nothing good about what people in a key swing state thought about Bush's domestic policies.

A week later and while Bush was saved the embarrassment of a former KKK leader representing his party at the Louisiana state house, Thornburg also lost (and by 10 points). This caused the President to cancel a trip to the Far East in order to "pay more attention to domestic affairs." As an indication of the mood of the nation, the story on Nov. 7 starts, "It was the T-shirt that did it. 'George Bush went to Rome,' it read, 'and all I got was this lousy recession.'" Just a day later was another story (they are coming a lot more frequently now), with the headline "White House Blues" The story says that while Bush has cancelled a trip, he was still ahead of "norm" for this stage of the electoral cycle. Also, the story mentions that no Democratic Candidate is seen as a credible alternative (this is also the first time that the Times) started paying attention to the Democrats. The story also notes that while domestic problems were weighing heavily on the nation, Congress was controlled by Democrats and they were at least sharing the blame. Quite interestingly the story says that while people expect something from the White House, Bush was constrained by the federal deficit (the whole concept of balancing the books is not one that has weighed heavily on the minds of his son.)

The bad news was piled on a few days later when a poll was released that a "ghost rival" would beat Bush in an election. Of course these ghost rivals often lack negatives that can make a big difference in an election. The same poll showed that an election between Bush and any named contender would be a Bush victory. Also interestingly in this poll was that Clinton was running behind both Cuomo and Jerry Brown for the Democratic nomination.

Another parallel to this year is also drawn from a November 26th story about Iraq. The story is basically about how the Bush Administration really wants to find a way to demonstrate that Sadaam is not a problem anymore. By this time it was clear that Sadaam had managed to consolidate power after brutal defeat just a few months earlier. One has to wonder how messages coming from Sadaam or Bin Laden would play next year for the President. Or how will a continuing inability to find WMD damage him. It will certainly be more difficult for GWB to paint the picture that he is leading a winning war against terror when his two main enemies are still out there, and a major goal of a huge military invasion has not been achieved. Of course a lot can change between now and then, but what looked like a victory in both cases is not an unconditional victory.

Amid continuing stories about the struggling economy and how that was hurting Bush's standing, came another parallel to this year. Bush the elder was pushing for talks between Israel and Arabs to lead to a settlement before the elections. But the Israeli government (led at the time by Shamir) was not just following Washington's cues. This was manifest on this occasion by haggling over where to hold further meetings. And in response to his falling polls, Bush was able to maintain confidence, reassuring the nation that, "he would be re-elected despite the economy because 'I'm a good president'".

The most significant sign of Bush's growing weakness did not show up in The Times until December 11, 1991. This was a profile of Pat Buchanan who declared he would challenge the President in the primaries. In launching his campaign Buchanan said that Bush had betrayed Republican prinicipals, namely by signing a racial quotas bill, not defending America's interests abroad, and being a globalist not a nationalist. Inspite of Buchanan's defending of Nazis, Apartheid, and Pinochet he was still expected to be a significant challenger in conservative, recession ravaged New Hampshire. This indicates the resentment felt towards Bush from the right, that GWB has been very conscious to avoid. It is uncertain how GW's running to the right might also backfire on him, but it is clear that he will do everything to ensure he is not challenged from the right. The most recent evidence of this is GW's refusal to engage in dialogue regarding finding a Supreme Court nominee that will not lead to a divisive fight. I would guess that GW might even want a fight that will enable him to embrace a right-wing agenda.

The story of 1991 concludes with two more pieces of bad news for Bush. The first was that the White House was forced to admit that the US economy was still in a recession. I am pretty sure that this recession ended in the midst of 1992, but by that time it was too late to be noticed by Americans in a way that would change their impression of Bush's economic management plans. A more significant blow came on December 20th when Mario Cuomo announced that he would not be running for President. Throughout 1991 he was the presumed Democratic candidate, which the Bush team was eager about because they felt it would be easy to paint Cuomo as a liberal. The first line of the story read, "America may yet face a real fight for the White House." Cuomo backed down because he did not want to take on the pressure of the campaign. Meanwhile Clinton was positioning himself as a moderate who could beat Bush (something Democrats were desperate for, given they had not won the White House since 1976). Clinton had just won a straw poll in Florida, and in the process had impressed almost everyone with his charisma and intellect. That win for Clinton, combined with the departure of Cuomo opened the door for a huge fundraising boost for Clinton. Clinton was also the only candidate to fully support Bush through the Gulf War. By the end of 1991 it was emerging that not only was Bush a very vulnerable incumbent, but that a formidable, if largely unknown challenger had been found.

After reviewing 1991 I think it is clear that it is premature to see the 2004 election as a forgone conclusion. Of course, GW has been careful to avoid some of the pitfalls of his father. He has maintained a focus on domestic issues while waging a war overseas and he has been careful not to alienate the right. However, the big wildcard is the economy. For Bush the elder it just did not turn around quickly enough. He also felt hamstrung by a desire to work towards a balanced budget which prevented introducing large spending programs or tax cuts. It is unclear if the policy approach chosen by his son will have any impact on the economy, but if it does turn around you can bet that he will be taking credit for that. And if it does not turn around Americans might not blame him, and give him credit for making an effort (no matter how misguided).

For the Democrats the opportunities are clear. GW is running to the right, and while that will cover him through the primaries, there is a huge opportunity to exploit that with a centrist campaign. A candidate who is strong on defence can both limit the advantage that a sitting Commander-in-Chief has in that regard, and can make selected attacks on the failures of the Bush Administration in winning the War on Terror. While no politician can control the economy, it is quite clear that Bush's economic plan has been the same for sunny and rainy days, reflecting a lack of responsiveness to the changing situation of our economy. Finally there are the issues that should be core to any Democratic candidate, namely policies that are oriented towards everyone, rather than the rich, and a government that will at least think about how services can effectively be provided, rather than cutting everything in sight.

For me the uncertainties to watch in the coming months are what signs of progress in Iraq and the broader War on Terror we see, what does the economy do, and how much are people affected by state budget cuts and if these are being linked to federal government policies.


In case you were curious...

Being a Jew and someone who likes thinking about economics I found this story on the Slate pretty interesting. If you are too lazy to click over it says that Jews don't farm because their religion places too much value on literacy. While throughout history there has been a poor economic return to education if you were required to get an education for some reason (like God and that stuff) then you were better off going into a business where you could use that knowledge. The demands for education also led to a self-selection of who would remain Jewish over the centuries. Population growth should have indicated a rising number of Jews, but instead the number was relatively stagnant, probably due to conversions to Islam and Christianity. The theory is that those who enjoyed education were more likely to remain Jewish. I am not exactly sure what I think of all this, but it is an interesting analysis.


Amazing...

I had not known about this story until a link from the Talking Points Memo to this story in the Washington Post. Seems that days before the war in Iraq a senior member of the administration's counter-terrorism team just up and quit. At the time Ari Fleisher said it was for "personal reasons", but it seems those personal reasons were that he was convinced the Bush Administration was going to kill him with the direction-less worrying about the threats posed to our nation. Anyway, just a few weeks later this man committed treason and joined the enemy (The Iraqis?, Al Qaeda?, Hamas?, Hezbollah? you ask....no, worse, the Democrats.) So he is now working for John Kerry's campaign, and this man has a critical word or two about the Bush Administration policies against terror. I am inclined to beleive him. The scariest line in the article is a quote from his wife about the Administration, "It's a very closed, small, controlled group. This is an administration that determines what it thinks and then sets about to prove it. There's almost a religious kind of certainty. There's no curiosity about opposing points of view. It's very scary. There's kind of a ghost agenda."


Again with the Cricket...(and other sport)

I swear I was not trying to find this, but I have stumbled upon a blog with more intelligent writing about Cricket then I am able to muster. Considering that I didn't know the rules of the game two years ago that is not too surprising. Anyway, via a link from OxBlog, I came upon this Aussie in London writing about Cricket. So once you have perused my take on the strange game, you can read more over here.

Continuing with the sport, the big news here this weekend was the England win over New Zealand in Rugby. Something like the second time in a century that the English have beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand. England is currently the number one team in the world, and looking strong in the run-up to the World Cup that is taking place this (northern) fall in Australia. Next week the English play the Wallabies and it will be interesting to see how that goes. As a disclaimer let me note that I really don't care much about Rugby, nothing against the sport I just can't follow everything.

But a pretty easy sport to follow is Formula 1 racing. There is something very relaxing about watching those cars fly around a race track,and it only takes 1.5 hours every two weeks, so limited time committment. I have made it a point for the last few races to save my laundry time for F1 race time. Yesterday was the Grand Prix in Montreal and it had one of the closest finishes I have ever seen. There were four cars in a line heading towards the finish line. Unfortunately there was little chance that any car was going to have a real chance at a pass during the end stages of the race. In this regard F1 is inferior to NASCAR, but in most other ways it is more exciting (like especially the part where they have to turn left and right in the same the race). But that does not take anything away from the skill of the F1 drivers. In the last two weeks Juan Pablo Montoya stopped off at Indianapolis to meet up with Jeff Gordon and swap cars for a few laps. According to the ITV commentators Montoya was amazed at how much sooner you have to brake to stop those hulking beasts of NASCAR. He was also amazed at how quickly Jeff Gordon was able to get around the track in last year's Williams F1 car. Apparently in his first time Gordon was able to clock within a second of the times Montoya was doing. Montoya was very impressed, and thought that there were not many people outside of the top F1 drivers who would be able to do better. So even if you think NASCAR is full of in-bred red necks, you have to acknowledge that they know how to race cars.

Finally, you may have noticed a counter on the side of this page. I put this there out of curiousity, but based on early returns I would guess that I have a readership in the high single digits. I am pretty pleased with that. Feel free to pass on news of this blog to others if you think they will be interested, and let me know what you find interesting and I will try to be responsive to my readership. Also, I have had very limited feedback on the name the best ambassodor gig contest. But some feedback on the story about the Navy versus the communists in Ultimate Frisbee, which included this more complete account of the game (written by one Dan Cogan):

"Last game of the day. Cross-over. Hampshire College. They take the field, donned in red shirts with hammers and sickles on the front. They post a communist flag on the sidelines. My team brings it in and insists that we cheer "USA!" One of the sailors demands to know how our opponents can be allowed to wear such offensive uniforms. We're psyched. Strong wind. We go downwind. One of the sailors lays out fully and catches the goal. He comes up and spikes it. He receives a "mellow out, man" warning from Hampshire. The sidelines grumble. Hampshire zones. We score upwind. And again. 3-0. They storm back to take half, 7-6. On one goal, the sidelines yell "drop it!" as a Hampshire player reaches to catch it. He does, and objects to the violation of spirit. The sidelines tells him to go screw. I tell everyone to calm down. One sailor suggests we all hold hands at the end of the game and sing "cumbaya." I decide he must be kidding. Eventually it's tied at 8-8. They zone downwind. Tom Matthews hucks it to me. I catch it. We win. Navy storms the field."


Sunday, June 15, 2003


Another one...

The Washington Post continues their profiles of Democratic Presidential contenders with this profile of Joe Lieberman. I will continue my comparison of Bush elder and younger soon. I am just enjoying studying too much to spend the time on it today.


Saturday, June 14, 2003


This again...

I thought that I would just let the "where are the Iraqi WMD" story run its course without worrying about it much. But the more I hear, the more I read, the scarier the story is to me. There is a really good Op-Ed in the NYT today about the issue, basically wishing that the spirit of challenging intelligence was embraced in all circumstances by Adminstration Hawks and not just when it suits them politically. I can't disagree with that. The main argument about why potential lies and/or misdirection about intelligence matters is because it undermines the credibility of our intelligence in the world community. And if you don't think that is something important, then just check out this story about the seizure of a huge amount of radioactive material in Thailand. Scary stuff, and think if the Thai government just dismissed this as a political fabrication.

But while not sleeping last night a new, threatening implication of this story came to my mind. The war in Iraq was about setting a precedent more than anything else. It was to prove to the world that if you pursue weapons that threaten America then we are going to stop it. It doesn't matter if we are doing it alone, we will not allow nations to threaten us. People can argue with this, but I kind of agree. I think that setting this policy, and backing it up quickly will establish a credible threat that will deter other nations from pursuing WMD, and in the long-run do more to provide security to America. I will not pretend that this is a policy without risk. And let me run through one very dangerous scenario where a very different precedent could have been set. Let's say that the Iraqi WMD program was much less than we were led to believe. However, our government did not have faith in our own intelligence estimates, and was instead perceiving threats based on statements from Iraqi dissidents and exiles. Now, I don't want to pretend that these people did not have real reason to loathe Saddam and that our leaders did not have the best intentions in mind in protecting Americans when believing these accusations. But, what this does is create a condition where US government policy can be highjacked by a bunch of fear-mongering exiles. Now if it plays out in Iraq that the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi and his cronies emerge with power in Iraq we have strengthened the incentives for small groups to do just that. Where could this happen? Well, let's start with Iran and Syria. If we are not careful with the rebuilding of Iraq, and it turns out that a false impression of the Iraqi threat was led by information from Iraqi exiles, then the conditions are set for more invasions. So what should we do now? Well, for a start being honest about intelligence mistakes and correcting any problems in the system (especially in trusting potentially unreliable, politically motivated exiles) would be a good start. And let's also make sure that there is no link between pre-war planning help and power in post-war Iraq. On the first, the administration's policy leaves a lot to be desired. On the second, things are looking pretty good so far. Check out this story about Chalabi's frustrations with the US rebuilding effort.

PS: I am trying to get some work done to day, so chapter two on the fall of George Bush the Elder will be delayed


Friday, June 13, 2003


Over a year away...

Yesterday, I read in the Washington Post Talking Points column this: "the 2004 presidential campaign might actually be a race. Maybe." The story was about the missing WMD, something that I have taken some notice of. Anyway, it was this tone that President Bush is a prohibitive favourite that got me thinking. What was the situation at this point in the Presidency of the first President Bush, and what went wrong and when for him. So, with access to the greatest database of news stories ever, LexisNexis, I decided to get the scoop. I did a search of stories in The Times (the UK version) for articles that included Bush and Election and Polls for the period of Jan 31, 1991 until Dec. 31, 1991 and then another that included Bush and Clinton and Election for the period from June 12, 1991 until March 31, 1992. This was not highly scientific, but I choose the Times because if anything they might have a bias towards Bush, and it was a good way to avoid getting thousands of results. There were a few stories about Russia electing Yeltsin, and some about John Major taking leadership in England, but I got a good sample of articles.

Anyway, the Brits first started writing about the upcoming election around about March. This was just after the victory in the first Gulf War. A story about the impact of this stated, ", the president himself intends to greet members of the military at patriotic celebrations that will help his re-election campaign...''By God, we kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all,' Mr Bush said yesterday after polls showed his public approval rating had surged to the highest of an American leader since Harry Truman moved into the White House in 1945." The story did mention that prior to this victory the mood in the nation was grim, on account a suffering economy. This is similar to the situation today, except one cannot ignore the leadership that GW demonstrated after September 11th.

The post-war glow continued for several months, with nary a mention of the economy in relation to the upcoming election. During this time, a story that should not go unnoted also pops up. On March 30, 1991 Lee Atwater, master Republican strategist passed away from a Brain Tumor. This was undoubtly a huge blow to Bush's team. The election pops up again in the news in early May. At this time President Bush was hospitalized very briefly for an irregular heartbeat. This cast attention towards Dan Quayle and his complete unsuitability to serve as President of the US (I would contend that opinions of Dick Cheney are not much higher). Open criticism was direct towards Quayle from the Dems, but Republicans kept quite because..."When President Bush is at his desk, his obsession with the loyalty of his subordinates prevents the tension becoming too strained, at least publicly... And he has to ask, too, if the fear of a Quayle succession is sufficiently genuine, deep and widespread to hamper, even slightly, his own chances of re-election." Clearly the tone in this article in early May is that the issue is nothing more than a potential chink in his armour of an almost inevitable re-election.

On June 4th or 5th (hard to tell when exactly) there was a parade in Washington to "Welcome Home the Heroes". And here the strength of Bush is seen as leading to a more pragmatic candidate selection from the Democrats"President Bush, who will host the parade, is still a formidable figure. The war has united his party after the debacles of the 1990 budget negotiations and forced divisions on his opponents. But while in early March 37 per cent of electors polled by Gallup declared themselves Republicans and 30 per cent said they were Democrats, the latest figures, published at the weekend, showed the two parties neck-and-neck, the position they had occupied for most of 1990. The war has also increased the likelihood that President Bush will face a conservative Democrat candidate for the White House." As we know that candidate ended up being Clinton, a man conservative enough to blunt many of the attacks that were seen in previous years on Mondale and Dukakis. The situation this year is pretty similar as most of the leading candidates are not people who are easy to portray as soft on defense or radically liberal.

At the start of July the President nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. This was not only to please the right, but also to acknowledge the rise of a newly noticed political being, "the Black Republican." After all Colin Powell had just burst onto the national scene and was quite the national hero. At the start of August the stories about Bush started taking a more balenced tone, with this passage in an August 4 story about how Bush was taking some cues from the domestic policies of John Major, "Thanks to the Gulf war, Mr Bush is riding high in the polls, but his Achilles' heel is his perceived neglect of America's pressing domestic problems in favour of international ones. Political cartoons show the country's oppressed holding placards saying ''Welcome to the United States'' as the president's plane touches down after yet another foreign trip. Mr Bush's advisers claim that he has an extensive domestic agenda and that the problem is one of presentation. His domestic programme is misunderstood because it rejects entrenched old notions that big government is the remedy for all problems." It seems pretty much the case that the same thing could be written today. I am missing out on the debate about tax cuts in the US, but I would have to imagine that among many Americans there is not a strong sense of how exactly this will help them out.

The first full-blown profile of Bush's re-election did not appear in The Times until the start of October. The tone generally indicated that Bush was in a commading position with the headline reading, "President stands tall among Democrat dwarfs." The article continued to note that after defence cuts approved by Bush, "Everybody was happy except the Democrat leaders in faraway Washington, who may find it harder now to hack at the Pentagon budget and present the president as a Cold War spender in an age of peace." The article continued to speculate about Democratic chances:

"The half-dozen candidates who are trying to dislodge George Bush from the White House know they have to focus not on his foreign policy (which is approved by 71 per cent of those polled), but on his handling of the home front (which is approved by only 41 per cent). The president's tactic is to blunt this domestic assault before it has a leader. That is the real reason for his trip to America's most popular tourist attraction: to celebrate his crusade for what in 1988 he called ''the thousand points of light'', the nation's voluntary workers in hospitals, schools and homeless shelters whose encouragement he hopes will signal a new era in welfare without state dominance. To Democrat critics, this Disney visit is just empty showbusiness. It closely follows another much-derided ''photo-opportunity'' last week at the Grand Canyon, where the president paraded his environmentalism before the cameras, while keeping silent about his increasingly lonely opposition to enforceable international targets for reducing the output of greenhouse gases. Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, whose views are backed by many in the president's own administration, commented that ''anybody who sees George Bush as the environmental president at the Grand Canyon ought to watch for Elvis, alive and well, floating down the Colorado River''. All this sounds pretty familar, with candidates chipping away at the domestic situation, only launching guarded criticism of foreign policy, and getting pretty annoyed about the President's use of photo-ops. But later the article notes that the other key phrase of the 1988 campaign was, "Read my lips, No New Taxes" which was broken several years ago, more to the ire of conservatives than the general public (but watch later for the significance of this later). The other thing is that this was Bush's first speech on domestic policy in almost a year and a half. His lack of attention would be noted later, but it has also been noted by GWB, who has made a point of giving speeches on domestic issues even immediately after the war in Iraq.

A few days later another interesting parallel shows up. Bush took a hardline on loans to Israel for housing for Soviet Jews who were emigrated by the thousands. While it may have been the right thing to do, it did not endear him to the pro-Israel lobby. Again, GWB's policies, while probably right, also risk the same thing, and I would speculate with much higher stakes. In late October the economic situation started to get some attention from the White House. This is the entire story in The Times on October 23:
"THE White House unexpectedly raised the prospect of new tax cuts yesterday, revealing President Bush's worries about lingering recession. On the day that the Democrats made a key bid in the 1992 presidential campaign by offering a $72.5 billion (Pounds 42 billion) cut in family income taxes, the White House said that it was also preparing tax relief for the middle classes as part of a package ''to generate economic activity''. President Bush's cabinet has been riven with dissent over whether the economy needs a kickstart. On Sunday, John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, rebuffed the proposal by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats. But yesterday, the reaction to a mixture of child tax credits and increased relief for pensions received a warmer welcome from the White House. Both sides are attempting to blame their opponents for the recession. The Democrat plan would require new cuts in defence spending. According to opinion polls, twice as many Americans disapprove of President Bush's handling of the economy as approve it. Would I be alone is detecting a strange similarity in policy with GWB.

But the very next day, remember this is already late October the first story really skeptical of Bush's re-election chances shows up. The headline, "Economic gloom hits president's popularity". The story continued, "47 per cent expressed an inclination to vote for the president, down from 68 per cent in March after the Gulf war. Fifty-one per cent agreed with the statement that ''after four years of George Bush we need a president who can set us off in a new direction.'' The story included quotes from the White House down playing the significance of the polls. It also included quotes from the leading Democrat (Mario Cuomo) being critical of the President's economic record.

OK, I need to get some studying in today. Consider this the first part of the story, how the President started to get in trouble. The next chapter will be about why that trouble got so much worse for Bush. So far from this I have learned that the focus on poor economic performance did not really gain the public's attention until October or so, leading me to say that perhaps our conclusions on the 2004 race are a bit premature. Another interesting thing to me was the lack of attention on the Democratic candidates throughout the summer of 1991. There was not a single article that mentioned Bill Clinton, even though he was definitely out there raising money. The early attention on the race that we are seeing today could be a good or bad thing for a challenger. It might increase recongnition of challengers, but it also could sharpen GWB's attention on potential weaknesses. Alright, stay tuned for a continuation of this review of history.



Around the world...

I have some interesting things on my mind today, but first the basics. I took my first exam yesterday, after a mere 7 weeks of preparation, and it went fine. To read a sample of what this exam was on, check this out. Also, I am thinking about writing another interesting, original piece on next year's Presidential election. After my previous failure to profile the Democratic contenders, I thought I would give a shot at a comparison between the two President Bushes. So far it looks like it has potential.

OK, I read Dan Drezner because he reads things that I don't. And his latest link is to a pretty impressive blog/column from the Columbia Poltical Review. The odds that I would have found this on my own are close to nil. But it is great. This guy has a review of all the crap that is going on in Africa today (well not all, but some of the highlights...after all what about Zimbabwe). And a dissection of the rhetoric from Bush on tax cuts and the absence of any real justification in his speeches. He tops it all off with a link to the Christian Science Monitor on why there is no outcry for regime change in Africa (not that anyone really expects there to be one)

Also today, Krugman catches wind of the fact that Tom DeLay is a baaad man. Not having a TV, or being in the US, I am unsure if mentioning this is just being repetitive, but it seems that significant fighting has resumed in Iraq. This will tie in to my information on the comparison of the Bushes.

In lighter news, here is a story on how Posh is wearing the pants in the Beckham household. There is still no verdict on where he is going to end up next year, but it is increasingly looking like Becks is (wisely) prefering a move to Real Madrid over Barcelona. However there is no word on what Posh has to say. The new gossip of the day (which will probably lead to nothing) is that Juventus are preparing to swap either Edgar Davids or Lillian Thuram with Man U for Veron. I love watching Davids play as he is as intense as any player in football and is absolutely everywhere on the field. But bringing in Thuram is probably a better move because it will remove any doubts about the shakiness of the Manchester defenders. However, I am not exactly sure if Rio and Thuram will be able to play well with each other. Another thing to keep in mind is that moving Veron for Thuram makes Beckham all the more meaningful for Man U. But this is all idle speculation as the entire move is just unsubstantiated gossip.


Thursday, June 12, 2003


Picking this one up again...

A while back I was all over the question of the missing WMD in IraqI dare you to try to follow all the links back. But, I pretty much made my point which to remind you was that it does not matter if the war was justified on other grounds, promoting false or mistaken intelligence undermines our national security in significant ways. If this was a poltical decision it should be investigated and if it was just an itelligence error than the CIA should get better. Anyway, the story has been picked up by the mainstream press pretty seriously in the last few weeks, so I also don't feel a need to just say, check out this story in the Washington Post. But I am saying that, but because I have a new point to make. This story seems to indicate that there was some pretty shoddy fact checking going on in the White House in writing the State of the Union address. I just find it ironic (or mostly just pathetic) that the same conservative bloggers that were all over the NYT for this same problem are directing little to no criticism at the Bush Adminstration. Is it just me, or is the State of the Union address just a tad bit more important than an article in the NYT. It is not that either should go unnoted, I just want us all to bask in the warm glow of conservative hypocrisy Another aside: If it wasn't for the hypocrisy I think I would find conservativism somewhat appealing

I think I should go down to my locally bookmaker By which I mean I will choose from the seven options within a 10 minute walk from my flat and find out what kind of odds they are taking on this story bringing down the Bush Adminstration, and what is the over/under on when the press will find a smoking gun showing the administration's complicity in the bad intelligence on Iraq.


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