Yankee Blog

Thursday, July 31, 2003


Entered a contest...

Thesis stuff did not go so well today. So I put together that long Promotion post I have been promising and entered a contest for new blogs. Check out my entry and vote for me here. And let me know what you think about my crackpot idea for US sports leagues. I will put up all queries and stuff and see what people think.


Could it work in the US…

I am a sports fan. In the US I follow Baseball, Football, and Basketball. When I moved to Australia I found that I could enjoy Australian Rules Football and even Cricket. In England I have become a fan of Soccer, or yet another kind of football. Getting to know all these new sports has made me think about the differences between how sport is organised in different countries. I tend to think that things work pretty well in the US, but there is one big thing I think would make sports more interesting for the fans and bigger overall. This is the system of promotion and relegation used in most football leagues around the world and in the English Cricket league. Let me use the English Football system as an example since it is the example that I know best.

In England every team is essentially part of the same competition. From the lowest level of players sponsored by a pub, to players getting paid millions and playing on the English National team are essentially in the same competition. I think this alone is pretty darn cool. The level that a team plays at is determined by how they did the previous year. The highest league, the English Premier League (EPL) has three teams relegated a year, and three new teams promoted from the First Division, while the First Division gets the three relegated teams from the EPL, as well as three teams from the Second Division, while it loses the three promoted to the EPL, and three teams are relegated to the Second Division. The same is true all the way down the ladder. I have no idea how many levels there are, but I know it goes down far into all kinds of regional levels. Theoretically you could start a club with your mates, and then about 10 years later be playing Manchester United if you are able to get promoted every year.

Now, as you might expect this leads to some real changes in both the dynamics of competition and the economics of the sport. For competition, it creates an incentive for every team to do as well as possible. In baseball if a team has a bad start and is not in playoff contention they don’t really have anything to play for. But if there was a danger of relegation the season stays interesting for a long time. It also makes the lower level leagues a lot more interesting. While the minor leagues in the US are just playing to be best of the rest, the teams in lower leagues in England are playing for a chance to move up. I followed the campaign for promotion of a Second Division team this year, and I can say that it was exciting. Much more exciting than I think any minor league baseball is in the US.

The entire motivations of the minor league teams are changed as well. In Baseball the minor league teams are run with the interests of the big league club in mind. They are always going to play the promising young player over the better veteran. This is sometimes interesting, but from my experiencing watching an experienced vet bust his ass all over the field just because he loves the game is really exciting (see Queen’s Park Rangers Steve Palmer for what I am talking about here). Having lower division teams also playing to win gives the fans a chance to see the scrappy players who are never going to make it big, but are just fun to watch (remember Duke’s Wojo a few years ago?)

The real changes though are in the economics of the game. Here I have to say that part of what I am writing here is from two academic articles that I found on the web. They are dense, and I am not going to pretend that I read them all, but you can find them here and here. The first big thing is that with a danger of relegation each team has an incentive to be as good as possible, and thus spend as much on players as they can afford. Because only teams in the top flight get to play against the real superstars and get big TV money there is a huge incentive to stay in the top division. One of the issues in the baseball strike last year was that for many teams there was a feeling that owners were not spending what they could to support the team. This is not an issue when you have promotion and relegation. If someone is not going to support the team, they are not going to be around long.

It also removes a lot of the leverage that teams have over cities. The Raiders have repeatedly been able to threaten that they move to get sweeter stadium deals. If there was a danger that the Raiders might not be in the NFL next year then they have much less leverage. If a city gets really annoyed at an owner, they could just build a stadium for another team. Because of this you see much less public financing of stadiums in England than in the States.

Studies have shown that leagues with promotion and relegation have higher player salaries (as a percentage of total revenues) and also have higher attendance. Apparently the increased interest from a chance to move up for lower division teams, the real boost from promotion, and the interest that relegation maintains all outweigh the lost attendance for teams that are actually relegated. This says that Promotion and Relegation go a long way to increasing overall fan interest.

So I have been thinking about if this could work in the US and how it might happen. I think that Basketball is the sport where I could see it working it most easily. Basketball is a cheap sport to play, there are a lot of very competent players out there, and there is not a real established minor league structure. I think it would be great if all the CBA and USBL teams were playing for a chance to get a shot in the NBA. It would make Basketball so much more exciting all over the US. Also, it would give all these players who really don’t want to play college ball a chance to keep their careers going and still make a bit of money playing basketball (I should say here that I think Division I basketball is interesting, but clearly exploits the players).

In Baseball I think that it might be harder to put in place promotion and relegation because the relationships of teams with farm clubs would have to be partially untangled. But the system would still work well; it would just require some serious adjustments to the economic structure of the game. It would also address the biggest problem with baseball, which is that the season is so long that many team’s fans lose interest later in the year.

Football is probably the trickiest. I think the huge numbers of people packing college football stadiums every Saturday show that there is an appetite for more football. This is something others have noticed as well, with the launches of the USFL and XFL being misguided attempts to access this untapped market for more football. However, I think that college football is so established that it would be hard to actually access the market. The NFL also does a really good job establishing parity in the league, which helps address some of the competitive issues that make promotion and relegation attractive. The fact that so much of Football revenue comes from TV, which is all national contracts, is what really complicates things. The number of games in a season is limited, which really limits the ability of team’s to increase local revenues from becoming a better team.

Now I think this is a good idea for most leagues, it makes sense for fans, and players generally do pretty well from it as well, but there is one group that will lose. These are the owners of the teams which are already in the top league. These teams essentially have monopoly positions due to anti-trust exemptions, and the nature of sport to almost require collusion from competitors to get any value from their product. If their position in the top league were no longer guaranteed the value of their franchise would fall immediately. Because of this it would probably be almost impossible to convince a league to make this change, but it seems that a legal case could be made to force them to make this change. Their ability to keep out new competitors seems unfair and exploitative, so why should it be allowed? I know that Baseball has an anti-trust exemption granted by Congress, if this was repealed perhaps then they would be forced to change.

There are some real logistical barriers to overcome as well. In England a third division team that draws 2,000 fans a game can still afford to pay salaries and travel to play games all over the nation. This would probably not be the case in the US where travel expenses would be so much higher just due to the size of the nation. To overcome this problem the leagues would have to have consistent geographic divisions all the way through the ranks. This is already sort of the case, but divisions like the American and National league would just further add to the complexity (unless you want to have six teams moving down every year).

Things like Salary Caps, revenue sharing, and free agency would have to be adjusted as well. No trade clauses would be impossible since a team would have to be able to unload expensive players if they were relegated. Salary caps would limit the ability of teams to guarantee that they stay in the top division, thus meaning that many teams in large markets would be against them. Revenue sharing is the significant barrier in the NFL where it is so entrenched it is not even clear if another way of allocating revenue is possible, in other leagues I think it is not as large a part of total revenue.

So, while I think that changing the structure of Basketball and Baseball would really help their sports, there is not enough competition to these leagues overall to force them to do it. But I think a sport looking to get more attention around the nation would really benefit from this. I don’t know a lot about Hockey (but I am sure I will learn if I ever live in Canada) but it seems like Promotion and Relegation would really help them grow fan interest. Everyone says that Hockey is a sport that is 100 times better in person, so why not have more teams in more places, playing for something that really matters. Soccer in the US is another candidate. They need something to get fans around the country more interested in the sport, and I think that promotion and relegation would be a great gimmick that would get the attention of the US media. There are already teams all over the country that could be organised as part of a single structure.

So what do you think? Am I smoking crack thinking this could really happen? Are there barriers that I am just not considering? Anyone know something about the legal stuff and how to force this to happen


You have to wonder...

I was crusing some blogs and message boards (and one does when there is work to do that can just as easily be put off), and I found this story of GWB's military service. I almost don't believe it is true, but this being the Internet I can put up whatever I want. Check it out, via this site:

The other day a media person called Bush a "war hero." You might think so, watching him strut around the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, but it's worthwhile to remember what he really did during Vietnam.

In 1968, instead of joining the Air Force, he used family connections to get into the Texas Air National Guard. He committed to 4 years of reserve duty and 2 years active.

He scored 25% on his pilot exam, but because of his connections, he was jumped over hundreds of more qualified applicants to enter flight training. He began training on the F-102, a plane already obsolete and not in regular use in Vietnam. He explained why he received such preferential treatment in 1988: "They could sense that I would be one of the great pilots of all time."

He transferred to Ellington AFB in 1970, where he joined the "Champagne Unit," a unit filled with the sons of rich families. He was used as a poster boy for the TANG, and flew ANG aircraft to Washington DC for a date with Tricia Nixon, to Florida to deliver personal goods, and other questionable uses of ANG aircraft.

He never completed his flight duty hours. In mid-1972 he requested a transfer to a small base in Alabama which had no aircraft; he was denied the transfer, but went to Alabama anyway (to work on a family friend's political campaign) and never flew again.

In August 1972 he missed, or refused to take, his mandatory physical. He was suspended from flying, and should have been the subject of a Flight Inquiry Board, but the board was never convened. He was instead assigned to a post in Montgomery, Alabama, but never reported for duty. He was declared AWOL in October 1972, and should have been listed as a deserter afterwards, since he never showed up for duty for well over a year. He says he learned from his Guard duty, "There was a sense of shared responsibility.... The responsibility to show up and do your job." Except he deserted his post instead of doing his job!

In May 1973 he was ordered to report to summer camp at Ellington; he never showed up for duty. Somehow, that summer he was credited with 35 gratuitous inactive Air Force Reserve points without ever reporting for duty.

In October, he was prematurely discharged, with honors, from duty in the TANG. He was discharged while still owing over two years of reserve duty, two years of active duty, and after deserting his post for over a year. Yet in 2002 he claimed he had actually been to war.

He isn't a hero. He is a coward who ran when his country called for his service. He is a deserter. He is even less fit to be Commander-in-Chief than the last guy we had as President.

Guess that explains why he dared the Iraqis to "bring it on" against our troops over there. He's free to talk tough and strut around pretending to be a warrior and a man. His butt has never been on the line, and it never will be. You'll never see George W. Bush put himself in harm's way. Just like on 9/11, when he ran like a coward and hid in a bunker for almost 12 hours before popping up like a gopher after he was sure it was safe to come out, then he jumps out and starts strutting around and talking like Clint Eastwood.

He's a disgrace to himself and to this country. He is unfit to lead this country's military into anything. He deserves nothing but our contempt.


Timmy...

I posted yesterday about the football. Today another article about Howard, but this time from the BBC and not from the US. Check it, "Howard has been impressive in training". Good stuff. It seems that he is going to get the start in the game against Juve at the Meadowlands. The way Fergie describes it this is not a gift, but something Howard has earned already. I really can't communicate what a huge deal it would be to have an American as the starting keeper for Man U. Mostly it is huge because it would give Man U something to market in the US, and they will market the crap out of it. The largest economy in the world is just waiting to be conquered by an EPL team, and that is Man U. My sources are telling me that Nike stores across the US are all about the football this summer. Definitely a good thing, got to imagine that Nike sells a fair number of football boots, and are finally realising that some celebrity marketing in the US could help that along.


Making friends...

You know what I like to do to my friends? I like to tell them that I heard someone is out to get them. I am really popular, at least I think I should be, but for some reason even my best friends like to do a lot of talking behind my back. I think that I am going to start a support group for people like me. It will be myself and the United States of America chatting about how we can't figure out why we are losing friends.

Except I know why the US is losing friends. Front page of the Age newspaper in Melbourne today: US admits bungling terror warning. It seems that the hijacking threats have been passed around the world to Australia. Maybe someone figured that since Terrorist warnings are good for the government in the US, they are good for everyone. Except that most places feel that leaders are successful if they avoid warnings and attacks, and they don't just keep the threat level high while claiming victory everyday they get lucky enough to not experience an attack.

The cavalier attitude of the US towards our allies is disturbing. I have been a bit bothered by all the references lately to the UK as our only ally in Iraq and the war against terror. That is just not true, as John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister took significant political risks and backed the US because he thought it was the right thing to do. Australia sent troops to Iraq, and while the numbers might not be large, one has to understand that Australia is a much smaller country (19 MM people) and is also responsible for stability in their region. A responsibility that led them to send Peacekeepers to East Timor a few years ago, and to the Solomon Islands a few weeks ago. These are the kinds of conflicts that in other regions beg the US to get involved, but Australia is able to play the role of big kid on the block there in a way that nations in other areas are not willing or not able to.

In reality it seems like in the case of the terror warning people just did not realise that throwing in the name of an ally would actually get attention from the citizens of that country, and cause some level of concern. A mistake. The quote from Alexander Downer (Australian Foreign Minister) really gets to the heart of the problem, "It is far-fetched to imagine that someone would hijack a plane in Australia and fly it all the way to the east coast of the United States or to Great Britain, landing it a couple of times along the way to refuel, in order to launch a terrorist attack." Indeed. I have been on these flights a few times, and they are really long, and not a whole lot of fun. They are also really secure. For flights to the US in late 2001 and 2002 they had random bag checks before check-in, standard metal detector screening, and then an entire secure gate area where each carry-on bag was gone through by a person, with every piece in the bag removed for inspection. If it is true that terrorists are considering this a good way to attack the US, then it shows that they are just not doing a whole planning more than anything else.


Wednesday, July 30, 2003


A response...

Matt Ygelsias posted something about Dean and Free Trade. Anyone reading my stuff for a while knows that I am kind of a fan of free trade, as long as nations like the US play fair. So I put the following in his comments section and thought I should put it here as well.

Ahh...a good old fashioned free trade debate. Nothing warms the heart like people going head to head trying to figure out if a high-paid union job in the US is worth protecting if it means less opportunity for subsidence farmers in China.

To join the fray, it seems that most conceptions of free trade being tossed about here are only focused on comparative advantage, which as a theory explains only a small portion of world trade. Most of the trade in the world is not between developing and developed nations, but among developed nations. It is hard to understand why Germany and Japan are good at making cars, while the US is good at making pharmaceuticals using only Ricardian theories. Krugman, in his other life where he does more than fillet GWB on a twice-weekly basis, has done a lot of work to explain this type of trade. It is worth checking out some of his work on Economies of Scale and International Trade.

Without going through the details, the US does very well in trade, especially in products where innovation is a key input. The US has advantages in production of innovation in many sectors due to good institutional structures and economies of scale in these activities. But, while we do better and better at somethings, we also do worse in others, like making steel. While the two are not automatically linked, it seems unfair to other nations to have them inport our software, media, and other high-value products, while we say no thanks to their cheaper steel and simple manufactured goods.

This does lead to some structural changes in our economy that it sounds like Lieberman is closest to recongnizing and addressing. Steel is made by thousands of workers, all of whom are critical to the process. You have to pay these people a wage that will keep them coming to work everyday. Thus you see a lot of equality in a business like that. Innovation on the other hand depends on a small number of workers and often one big breakthrough. The structure of this kind of business resembles winner take all.

Given that this is a shift in our economy, which is leading to overall benefits I don't think we should turn out back on it. However, at a time when we are experiencing this shift it seems counter-productive to have the government giving even more back to the winners while reducing service provision to those who are not winning. It seems like there is an even greater burden to have the government provide support through a transition time, and for those people who are benefiting from the institutional structure of the US to pay for that.

I realize this is all pretty vague, but what I am trying to argue for is free trade, elimination of agricultural subsidies, no tax cuts that favor the rich, and support for displaced workers that will allow them to find a place in a new economic structure.


Huge profile...

There is a big profile of Howard Dean in the NYT today. Basically the same stuff as has been written in other places, he's liberal, but not that liberal. He is an outsider becoming a front-runner. He is leading the left-wing Democrats, but can he be elected. And so on. No stunning insights in the piece, and the entire thing kind of makes me wonder if this is the first time people at the NYT have paid any attention to Dean. I have not been following their coverage of the race specifically, but it would be suprising if they were that asleep at the wheel.


Football stuff...

I am still hurting over the loss of my great post, but here is some football news I have found in the past few days. Here is an interesting article about Tim Howard adjusting to being on Man U and the experience of the Man U players in the US. I especially like Rio's thoughts on NY compared to London.

Then there is this piece on Reyna's thoughts about his upcoming season, wherever that might happen. No matter how much talent Donovan and Beasley have they still need to prove themselves overseas before I will view either of them as being able to take the place of this man on the National Team. I think that the Howard article underscores the difference between playing in the MLS and a European league.

Then there is the relatively shocking news that Veron might be moving from Man U to Chelsea. It is quite surprising that Man U is the team selling high-profile players and bringing in lower-profile and cost players. They are the most profitable team in England, and are in a position to buy whoever they want, and not be forced to sell anyone. I wonder what is going on there, but figure that eventually they are going to pick up some midfielders to replace what they have lost. Combined with the rumour that Chelsea might also be picking up Vieri and their other signings this summer, they are certainly shaping up as one of the more interesting teams to watch this year. I figure they will be bankrupt within five years.

Finally there is the not too good news that QPR is again hurting for cash. I have really come to like the Hoops, but really guys, lets get it together and manage this team a bit better. Now, Loftus Road is the perfect place for Australia to play, being right by Shepherd's Bush that centre of antipodean life in London, and seating a very respectable 16,000, but why QPR should need the cash that bad when they are already getting 12,000 a game and sharing the ground with Fulham is beyond me.




I'm pissed...

Well, I wrote about 1,500 words on the merits of promotion and relegation for US sports leagues, and then lost it all when I hit the wrong button. I really should write some of my longer posts in Word first. Anyway, I am kind of annoyed about it, so I probably will not rewrite the bloody thing right now. It was really good too...I swear.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003


That didn't take long...

As expected the entire concept of the Policy Futures Market has been abandoned. That is kind of a shame because even though it was doomed for failure, the failure would have been interesting (assuming that no one got hurt). I guess it is just a matter of time before some academic institution gets the code and plans for the program and launches it independently of the government. I assume that no money will be involved, but I think that the other experiments in virtual markets show that people play pretty well without money being involved (weird, isn't it).


Good idea in the abstract, disturbing in practice...

There is an article in the NYT today about a proposed online policy futures market, and the story is being picked up by the BBC and probably everyone in the world by the end of the day. Basically this thing will allow you to buy futures on things such as terrorist attacks and assasinations. I seem to recall kicking around this idea after reading a New Yorker article a couple of months ago about intelligence failures. I am not sure if what the New Yorker that was proposing that a market model might work well for intelligence, or if I was just entertaining it in my own head (boy I wish I had a blog back then so I could go back and check). Anyway, I remember think that it was a really good idea, and that someone really should try it. And it seems that there are those in the blogoverse that agree with me.

However, as it has now been actually proposed I am realising that there are so many flaws with the idea that I can't believe the government actually launched this thing. While I think it is a very interesting experiment there are some serious flaws that don't seem to be discussed in either the article or the Oxblog take on the market. Markets do work great at pricing and allocating goods. But only under certain conditions. One of the first such conditions discussed in any Economics 101 class is perfect information. In a market where so much information is secret it is hard to see anything approaching perfect information to be found. We have seen how markets fail when information is concealed recently in the collapse of the stock prices of companies like Enron. While markets are very good at pricing a stock when there are all kinds of rules regarding the disclosure of past financial information, future strategy, and key challenges, the Enron experience shows how failure happens when these rules are broken. An essentially random event, like Enron breaking the rules or 19 people deciding to hijack planes and fly them into buildings, are not going to be predicted with any reliability by any public market.

For people with information about all the "chatter" and really plugged into the intelligence apparatus then perhaps a market could have some predictive power. But simply by making the information widely available the opportunites to take advantage of it are presented. A simple example is that if someone planning an attack sees that there are lots of indications that someone might know about the attack, then it can simply be postponed. This would probably be called insider trading on a stock market, but you think that is a crime that the terrorist is really afraid of committing?

There are other challenges with the market, like how to keep trading honest when there is not real money on the line, or how to get people to participate in a system that will probably lead to every person who is successful on the market being questioned by the FBI about terrorist links (in fact I am wondering how many hits I am going to get just based on some of the words that I have used in this post). While the market is just an experiment, it seems like it would be much better to test this thing inside the government, rather than launching it to the public and watching it crash and burn. Of couse there is also the issue with how grisly it looks to be proposing bettting on people getting killed. The NYT article already shows Republican's wondering what the heck were people thinking in launching this thing, and the government scaling back the program description with the first sign of attention.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time that virtual stock markets have been used to try to predict events. There is a market for futures on Presidential candidates, the Iowa Electronic Market. This market is failing miserably today as they don't have futures available for Dean, Edwards, and a host of other legitimate candidates. Seems that unexpected events might also be a problem on th policy market. There is also a market for forecasting the success of Hollywood movies, the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I tried playing around with that for a while, but it just required too much time and attention (that was a time when I didn't have the time to write long blog posts about just about anything). It seems that a detailed analysis of these programs could have replaced a half-baked launching of an experimental policy trading site. My bet is that this thing will never really see the light of day.


I should be paying more attention...

I got pretty turned off from the Kaus Files blog on the Slate during the entire NYT/Jayson Blair scandel thing. I just thought he was a bit too eager to see heads roll, and I was not too engaged in the entire story as I thought that a journalist lying was a distant second to a President and an entire administration lying. But, I tuned back in today to see what he is up to. He is still harping on the NYT, but much more interestingly he is also all over the California governors race.

I think this is one of the more interesting stories that is going to be kicking around for the next several months. It is probably a really big deal to Californians, but unless I move back, I don't think that it will have much impact on me. I mentioned earlier that the Green Party might want to be getting involved in this case...mostly because I would love to see a huge backfire on the radical right that spearheaded this campaign, and hopefully to distract the Greens from the Presidential race.

But really the entire race is going to be very interesting and will probably have several twists and turns. It creates opprotunities from things to happen in politics that might not happen otherwise. My hunch is that it will not lead to a fundamental reshaping of the political landscape in the largest state, but is more likely to teach some Republicans that playing with the "rules" or politics rarely works to one's own advantage and can often come back to bit you on your ass.


Not so Independent...

For some strange reason I decided to buy the Independent this morning. I guess the reason is pretty obvious, there was an article by a pretty darn good American mystery writer, Walter Mosley. Well, if you are interested in a really simplistic take on international relations and the politics of the Islamic world then look no farther than his piece. While I may not disagree with some of what he says, his ability to boil all of world politics down to America wronged people and they are angry about it is just too simple. To think that slavery and institutional racism is equal to a few interferences in domestic policies of independent nations is the same is just naive. I think that not only in his argument insulting to America, but it is also insulting to Arabs and especially African-Americans. BTW: Mosley still writes some damn good mysteries. I just throughly enjoyed, The Little Yellow Dog, and would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed a Chandler novel.

I was entertained by an ironic juxtoposition on the front page. One "article" (which was really an opinion piece) was absolutely skewering the American Military presence in Iraq, the other was celebrating the life of Bob Hope. Was there ever a bigger supporter of the Military than Bob Hope? I am just saying that I don't think he would agree with the entire article, I know nothing if he would be annoyed about sharing space with it.


Monday, July 28, 2003


The idiocy of Cricket announcers...

I have been passing time while writing over the last few days listening to the BBC commentary of the Cricket match between England and South Africa. It is quite dull, so not so distracting. There have been two complete lowlights. First was yesterday when the lone black on South Africa was bowling one of the announcers went on a long monologue about how it is just like he is hunting in the bush with a spear. The other announcer realised the implication of all this, and just refused to comment when asked what he thought. A wise move. Then just now they got the news that Bob Hope has passed away. This was greeted with the line, "well, he was a hundred and I guess that is what people do at 100 years." Yeah, Cricket really is home to the last great humanists.


Read this...

I have been beating the "Did Bush lie to bring the US to war?" story to death. Now, many people who are better at that then me are doing so. I turn you over to the Talking Points Memo for the best accounts of this saga. Read it and be afraid.


A show worth watching...

Man U won another match on their tour of the US. It seems they are not just winning game, but scoring goals with style and winning fans. Meanwhile Real Madrid has been banished to western China. Think David Beckham is meeting many big name producers and product sponsors there? Good move David...we look forward to finding new heros to help football conquer America.


It was closer than many thought...

In Cricket the Aussies completed their expected rout over Bangladesh, winning both tests by more than an innings. They were pushed into a third day though, which was a bit more of a fight than predicted. England meanwhile is still hoping that the bad weather will help them salvage a draw with South Africa in their first test which ends today. Tell me you care, and win a prize.


Again, shocking news...

Who would have expect that total government spending (including states and localities) would have an adverse effect on the economy. Is there any chance that Bush's "economic plan" was not that well thought through? I mean there has been almost complete turnover in his economic team and their tax cut strategy has been pitched as the answer to prosperity and recession. Perhaps this is a sign there is some ideological component going on rather than sound financial management? Nah...seems to far-fetched.


Congrats...

Lance Armstrong is amazing. There is nothing more to say. I am already looking forward to the Tour de France next year, but expect to pay no attention to cycling between now and then. Is it good or bad that an entire sport is all about one event? It keeps my life simpler as July is kind of a slow sports month.


Gift horse...

Well, the phrase, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" comes from Troy or Kentucky. One friend told me that it has to do with being able to tell how old a horse is by the number of teeth, and it would be rude to do this when being given a horse. Another told me that it has to with Trojan Horses. I have no clue still, as most of my friends are people who will make stuff up in order to make me look silly later on.


Shocking...

I was absolutely shocked and completely unsurprised to find that Bush is ignoring the NAACP. I always wondered what it was that 90% of African-Americans were able to see in Bush that a majority of white Americans were not able to see. Perhaps that he is a wanker, a liar, or just someone who will kiss the ass of every ultra-right group in the nation? Who knows?


Different strokes...

There are several types of blog posts. First is the long catalogue of random thoughts. This is the one I have preferred for the last few days. Second is the long single topic post. That was my post yesterday. The preferred style of many bloggers though is the short, check out this item post. That is going to be my style today. Tomorrow I think I will try to put together something long and thoughtful...perhaps about why promotion and relegation would be a great thing for all professional sports leagues in the US.


Sunday, July 27, 2003


You're not in Kansas anymore...

After yesterday's post, when I gloated over the Yanks win, karma returned and the Yanks bullpen blew the game. Anyway, in place of normal programming today I am putting up the account of my trip to the Ukraine. Regular blogging (whatever that means) will resume tomorrow:

After numerous emails details trips to such exotic locales as New Zealand, Melbourne, Sydney, Tasmania, England, some places in Europe, and Kuala Lumpor I finally met my match. And that is Uzhgorod, the western-most city in the Ukraine (incidentally, it is apparently not grammatically correct to refer to “the” Ukraine, with simply Ukraine being preferred, but I am going to ignore that because it sounds wrong). Operating under the theory of “when am I going to know someone in the Ukraine again?” Tom and I set out to visit Sam Walsh, Peace Corps volunteer and do-gooder extraordinaire. Let me start by saying that the adventures from this trip put the rest of the places I have been to shame. It may be due to the near-complete lack of ability to communicate with people or the devastated post-Soviet economy, or something I just missed, but this place is tough to get by in. I would put the over-under of how many days Tom and I would have gotten by without Sam’s help at about three days…after that we probably would have been making a run for the border.

Our trip started with a flight from London to Budapest. Budapest is a beautiful town, with beautiful women. It has the layout of many other European cities I have seen in the last year. There is a river (in this case the Danube), a hill with a palace or castle on top, a lovely pedestrian district on one side of the river, and a central square surrounded by historical buildings. It is the same basic layout as I found in Lyon, Prague, and Heidelberg. Incidentally, Uzhgorod and Lviv both had a similar set-up, but lacking the “j’ne sais quo” that makes the others so damn charming. In any event Budapest is lovely, and proof that some parts of what we once called Eastern Europe are doing just fine. We had a couple of days to check out the sites in Budapest (or Pest-Buda as we liked to call it, since Pest is really where the action is) and saw the Palace, the National Gallery, the main church, the main synagogue, the bridges, the view, and all the stuff that sightseeing in European capitals entails.

The unique hook of Budapest is the presence of thermal baths, which I think are a natural phenomenon, but also a left-over from the time of Turkish rule and their, I assume long-forgotten, love of bathing. There was a bath in the hotel we were staying, so we checked it out. It was one of those encounters with strange customs that is made so much more awkward by not knowing what level of clothing is accepted or tolerated. The bath gives you a “modesty cloth” which is about half the size of a handkerchief with a string attached. Thinking this the required attire we set off towards the bath feeling a bit exposed. After the shower room and upon entering the bath it quickly became apparent that most people are perfectly fine with bathing suits and only the old men actually wear the modesty cloth. After beating a path back to the locker room to put on our bathing suits we returned to the bath. It was quite nice with a viciously hot mineral steam bath, a tub of cold water, and two large pools of hot water. It was really relaxing once the right level of clothing was found.

We were in Budapest because it is the closest major airport to Uzhgorod. The train ride is only six hours to the border, and the train leaves at 6 am. These are all signs that we were not heading towards a premier tourist destination. Aside from the stench of a few people on the train it was pretty tolerable. We were a bit nervous about the border crossing because of reading in a guidebook about “additional visa charges.” I already had my fill of visa hassles, with two visits to the Ukraine Embassy in London, each one taking 2.5 hours, and having to pay 66 pounds for the visa. At the border the passport control people (not immigration, since there is not a whole lot of that in the Ukraine) boarded the train and took our passports. This was a bit concerning, and there was no explanation because…well…no one spoke English I guess. But the passport people stayed on the train so we were not too concerned. When we reached the last stop we got off the train and were greeted with a 45 minute wait to get our passports back and enter the country. I wish I could say this was because they were busy or something, but it appeared that they just took our passports, sat around for 45 minutes, and then gave them back. Yes, thank you for coming and spending money in our country.

Fortunately by this time we had met up with Sam and she assured us this was just standard operating procedure, and like most things there was no point trying to understand why things were done this way. The highlight of our first day was a trip to the market. It was mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, and they mostly looked pretty good. The buildings might be run down, the water might only work half the day, there might be no care for landscaping, and the cars might be a bit run-down, but there is plenty of food around. The most interesting food item was the slabs of fat for sale. I assume this was lard, but really have no idea. We got a whole pile of food (no lard), and it cost about 8 dollars. Things are cheap in the Ukraine. We also got some vodka to celebrate our arrival Ukrainian style. This ended up being a mistake.

We went back to Sam’s apartment, a cozy place with a TV, VCR, a pile of tapes of “Must See TV” sent from the US, and a bathroom sink that doesn’t work for a round of vodka. After that we headed out to check out the old town. Sam’s neighbourhood is a collection of Soviet era apartment buildings that no sane person would describe as charming or quaint. But the older part of the city is really quite nice. It is not that large, and not really as lively as what you will see in the rest of Europe, but a nice place nonetheless. We took a walk around, including the new landmark, an almost complete Russian Orthodox Cathedral that is clearly not the second biggest in Europe as claimed by locals (according to Sam one of the charming local customs is to describe something as second because being first is clearly not believable, but second seems more believable). Then we headed back to Sam’s place, picking up another bottle of vodka, and on our way playing some Frisbee with some local kids who were about 10. They were really cool, taking turns throwing, making sure everyone got a chance, and generally being good sports about chasing down the Frisbee when their throws were off.

Our first night was pretty forgettable, as it consisted of drinking far too much vodka. I wish I could say that we went out and hung out in local bars, but that would be a lie. There was really no point anyway, since there are no charming local places, and we could not talk with locals, and we were happy to catch up with Sam. After finishing the first and then second bottle of vodka most people would have said that was enough. For some reason I thought we should get some more “just in case”. Well, drunk and stupid, we went out to get some more. I remember little of this trip, except that they don’t have street lights, it was dark, you could see lots of stars, and I walked into a post. I have a big bruise as evidence of my stupidity. For some reason we got two more bottles of vodka, and even stupider, we actually finished one of them. It goes without saying that we did not do much the next day.

After the day that never happened, we got on the train to Lviv. Lviv is over the Carpathian Mountains, and was a part of Poland until 1945. It is a bigger city than Uzhgorod, with a larger old city, and is quite nice. It was still annoying not being able to communicate with anyone, but there were some cool things to see in Lviv including an opera house, some big statues, and a few tourist markets. We were only spending one night in Lviv, and decided that living it up was in order. We stayed in the Presidential Suite in the Grand Hotel. It was about the price of a regular room in a half-decent hotel in London. It was definitely worth it, especially since everything else was pretty darn cheap. It included breakfast and free entry to a disco. I think the highlight of the sights in Lviv was the Historical Museum. It had a sign outside in English which was promising, but it was all downhill from there. The entry smelled like cat piss, the museum was just two rooms, all the exhibits were in Ukrainian, and we were followed by a guard who seemed very annoyed that we actually wanted to see the museum. So after about 10 awkward minutes we decided to see some other things. The other great thing about Lviv is that it is a centre for Peace Corps volunteers in Western Ukraine. We met up with one of Sam’s friends, and ran into several others around town. I think the big attraction of Lviv for them is the presence of a McDonald’s. I cannot describe how excited Sam was about McD’s, but after seeing life in the Ukraine I do understand it. They are not so good on the customer service thing throughout the country, so the standards of McDonald’s are welcome.

That night we had a really good meal at a restaurant that I think was Georgian. We had far too much food, a few beers, and I think it cost about 35 dollars, for four people. We then decided to check out the disco. I guess I was thinking it would be a nice place, with lots of nice looking Ukrainian girls eager to meet Americans. I was partially right. Apparently “disco” in the Ukraine means “strip club.” Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth (where does that saying come from anyway?) we stuck around for the show. And there were Ukrainian girls eager to meet Americans (both men and women), so after we played, “avoid the lap dance”, for a while they realised we were not the best patrons of the club. The entire experience was a good addition to our collection of awkward Ukrainian moments.

The next day we checked out some more of the city and then got a car back to Uzhgorod. The train ride was about six hours and tickets cost about $2 each, but you really don’t get a chance to see the countryside, so we hired a car for $60 total for the four hour drive. Except for when we almost skidded into the back of a truck that cut us off, it was worth it. The mountains are more like hills, but the countryside is really nice. We only got stopped by cows in the road once. We didn’t stop and see sights along the way, but still got to see some of the towns, which was interesting. The countryside seems like life is pretty similar to what it was in the US in about 1900 (not that I really know what that was like, so let me stop before I make up too much stuff).

On our last day in Uzhgorod we checked out the tourist highlights of the city, the fortress and the folk museum. The fortress looks like it was rebuilt in about 1950, and is not nearly as nice as some other castles on hills that I saw. They did have some pictures of the city from before WWII and it really looks like it was a nice place. The folk museum is a collection of houses in the style of different regions in the area. It was well-done, but the remarkable thing is that these “folk” houses were not from 1500 or something like that, but were from around 1850-1900. You kind of get the sense that this was not the wealthiest region in Europe. The highlight of the museum is the church that is built without nails. I guess this is supposed to show how they used to build things, except that the entire building is covered in nails. They are sticking out of every board on the walls and ceiling. Sam was amazed that that biggest attraction in the city is just a lie. I thought it was kind of funny, and Tom thought that maybe it was a prank that locals come and put nails into the church without nails.

The next day all we were planning to do was catch a train back to Budapest. That didn’t exactly work out though, as the train was 20 minutes earlier than Sam thought (unfortunately schedules for these things are not really handy). We would have made the train except that we were waiting at a train crossing for 5 minutes for a train to show up, and then another 5 for the train to pass. So we arrived at the station just as the train was leaving. Of course Sam felt real bad about this, which was pretty cute. We ended up getting a car across the border and meeting the train at the first station in Hungary. Because of border control the train takes over an hour to reach a station about 5 km down the road. It was fun jumping in a car to make a run for the border, Tom said it was like many spy novels he read, I haven’t read enough spy novels but have to agree. It is remarkable that as soon as you pass the border into Hungary, the roads, houses and stores all get nicer. It is not a mystery why Hungary is going into the EU and the Ukraine is not.

So, after a night and morning in Budapest we headed back to London. It was a pretty interesting trip, one I am very glad I went on, but not one that I am going to do again. I have heard that the Black Sea coast (Odessa, Crimea, etc.) is a lot nicer and more welcoming to tourists, so I guess if I find myself in the Ukraine again it will probably be there. It is a big world, with lots to see, but I think I will be settling down for a while.

For the rest of the summer I am finishing my thesis in London, and will be returning to the US, probably on a pretty permanent basis, on September 10th. I am going to be trying to find a job, with several things being considered. I think that eventually I want to get involved in something that helps create jobs and businesses that benefit urban areas in America. I am not sure how to do that, so am considering several things in the short term, including a return to business consulting, getting some experience in journalism, and working in a local economic development operation. I will see how the job search goes and figure out what kinds of things I am qualified and suited for. I would like to move back to Boston, but am also going to look for opportunities in New York, DC, and other big cities for a job that is really interesting. I will pass on my new contact details when I get settled in somewhere.


Saturday, July 26, 2003


Feel that...

I feel it. It is a huge series of entirely unrelated random thoughts about to come streaming down in one single blog post that will allow me to close the book on the blog for the day and get down to serious stuff, like working on the thesis, following the Tour de France, and seeing just how badly England can lose a Test match. That said, buckle your seatbelts, and hang on for the ride.

I mentioned in my last post the Green Party, and that I would check on their "strategy". Well most of the blogs that seem to be Green Party biased also seem to have poems about flowers and not being able to sleep. I kid, I kid (read in voice of Triumph the Insult Dog), but there is not a lot of serious discussion out there on the Green Party. The best I found was this post and comments about strategy for '04. Not really enlightening, but gives some insight onto their anger and feelings. Anyway, I just want to throw this out...with the California govenors race shaping up to be a complete mess, isn't this a great chance for the Green Party to play their role as a real alternative. It seems possible that if the Democrats don't throw Gray Davis overboard with heavy weights attached his campaigning could backfire. Enough people vote against keeping him in office in the recall vote, but don't ahve to agree on a better option. So if the GOP can't get behind a single candidate either (in an effort to not give Davis a real opponent), then the Green's could get all the left vote in Cali and take the State House. I am writing out loud here people, but it seems possible. They do have this dude as a Candidate, but perhaps they would be better with someone people have heard of...

Hang on while I jerk the wheel and we all do a 180 in traffic to switch topics to... Cricket. That's right, there are two tests matches going on now. In the "more competitive" one South Africa is putting an absolute beat-down into England. The only thing that will save England now is a massive rain storm for the next several days. You have to love a sport where an exceptional performance can be made irrelevant by rain. In the David v. Goliath match Australia is facing Bangladesh. The Bangers (or Bengalis...please someone let me know how to say Bangladeshis in a shorter way) put together a good show in their first innings, but the Aussies battled back in the second day to assert control of the match. The Aussies are still on track for a win, but even a draw would be a huge upset...along the lines Tyson-Douglas. To give you a sense of how big, one set of Cricket rankings predict that Australia should win 90% of the Test's between these teams...not too exceptional, until you consider that draws are fairly common due to rain.

Hear that...it's gears grinding. Abrupt stop, and we're off...for me to mention the book I am reading now. A few months ago I noticed an ad in the New Yorker for a collection of short stories edited by Michael Chabon called "Thrilling Tales". He wrote one of the best novels in recent years, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay". I was intrigued, and willing to overlook that it was being put together by McSweeney's, the publishing shop started by Dave Eggers. While I absolutely loved Egger's first book, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" (AHWOSG), everything he has done since has rubbed me the wrong way. He comes off as a total ego-maniac, more concerned with inside jokes, and letting the reader know that the writer is always better than the reader, than producing anything worth reading. Check out an issue of McSweeney's sometime if you want to know what I am talking about. I digress...the short-story collection is all genre stories from really good writers. Many of the pieces are just plain freaky, and all are well-written. Authors include Stephen King, Nick Hornby, Michael Crichton, Sherman Alexie, Elmore Leonard, and my English 101 prof Jim Shepard. Each story is different, some Western, some Sci-Fi, some Mystery. I can't really describe go into detail, except to say that it is a really enjoyable book to read.

The clock strikes noon...and nothing has been done. Fine by me...fine by you? Good. Moving on to...more sport. I can't follow baseball the way that I would like while I am in England. That is OK, I have been able to enjoy football, get all the Cricket news I really want, and discover the hidden joys of F1 and the Tour de France. But every once in a while I notice a baseball game that really sums things up. And yesterday's Yanks-Sox game seems to do that. Pedro going as far as he could, pitching against a 39 year old party boy who should probably be a bouncer at a roadhouse. Sox take the lead, can't hold it. They put their new reliever on the mound who has been traumatized by the Yanks in postseasons past, surprisingly it does not work out. Yanks bring in their new reliever, another fossil from a different era, he does good. Yanks star releiver can't hold the lead, the Yanks still win it in the 9th. I mean really, there is a curse, it is on the Sox, and their fans should just adjust expectations for it. From the set-up the Sox should have won this game...but they didn't.

Just discoverd I can listen to Cricket commentary on the Internet. I wish there were adjectives for the mixed feeling of pride and embarrassment where you are kind of glad you know something, but really kind of ashamed when you think that it matters.

Did you know that according to proper English the word, "Internet" should always be capitalised? I didn't know until yesterday. Was I the last to know?

The NYT put together a really interesting series on the question of if Japan will be able to change. It was in the paper this past week. For me the most interesting story was about the relationship between Japan and immigration. The entire subject just highlights how capitalism makes racism a burden for society. There seems to be an emerging awareness that in the next century we are going to see some real rebalancing of world power away from Europe and Japan. Where the power will go besides China is really unclear. While global population continues to explode, it is stagnant or falling in Europe and Japan. The US is really in a special situation not just because of a higher birthrate, but also because relatively large flows of immigrants continue. The US has an attitude towards immigration where it may not be welcomed, but is at least accepted, and does not pose any real threat to our definition of our nation. Japan and Europe are really threatened by it due to a very different historical basis for their nations. How these nations respond to diminishing importance is probably one of the biggest questions for the next century (a time scale that probably makes it impossible to follow in a lifetime). Does anyone envision France or Britain giving up their permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Will anyone be willing to add more nations to the Security Council? As the US forms new bilateral trade relationships with nations like Brazil how will that alter the role of Europe in the world? Will the EU just respond by growing into Asia, North Africa? Is China going to ever start to seek influence in the world outside of East Asia? What happens then? Interesting questions, and with that I close this blog entry. Expect to see more about TDF later.


Friday, July 25, 2003


Their not gone yet...

The Filibuster blog has a really good run-down of rational people absolutely skewering the Green Party. You can read my take on this here, but let me just say that I like to make things a lot more personal. I am not aware of some large Green Party organisation that is deciding on candidates and choosing who to endorse. It seems like it goes more like some individual with extremely liberal credentials and a penchant for fighting unwinnable battles chooses to run for President and then the Greens are willing to lend a label. I doubt that we will hear much from the Greens if Nader decides to not undermine the planet and his goals for personal ego reasons. Perhaps this is something that I should pay some attention to? I am sure there are some absolutely terrifying blogs out there from people who are all about the Green Party and the end of capitalism in America. I'll get right on that.

BTW: My favourite parts of the Filibuster post are those that call the Greens fundamentalists, and dream about the Christian fundamentalists in America choosing similar tactics to the Green fundamentalists. Oh...what good times that would be.


Booming economy...

I thought that the picture of Bush posing in front of a giant Treasury Dept. check with the phrase "jobs and growth" on it was just too stupid not to mention. It not only has a vague stench of bribary, but is so disingenuous that it almost hurts to look at. Seriously, our nation is entering a period of severe deficits because Bush cannot cobble together any semblance of an economic policy that does not have giving money away as a central premise. This might not be so horrible if it wasn't the case that the money is going to the wealthy, and the service cuts will be felt by the poor and middle class. I wish that the national budget and economy was as simple as a half hour sitcom, so everybody could see how ridiculous this situation is.

The other ironic thing about the picture is that it was taken at the check-writing factory. Well, at least the people working there are busy, busy giving money that could be used for valuable public goods back to the wealthy to spend on...well whatever people with $100 million dollars spend money on. Perhaps Bush can visit a few more workplaces that are booming these days. There are probably some repo men who have a lot of work on their hands. Perhaps the people in charge of sending out overdue notices are also particularly busy these days. I am sure that unemployment offices have a lot of work on their hands, and might even be hiring. Then there are the airport security screeners, I am sure that everyone is pleased as punch that this has become our nation's most obvious way of keeping safe after 9/11. If anyone else has some recommendations for high priority places to illustrate the success of Bush's economic policies I would love to hear about them.


Thursday, July 24, 2003


I'm back...

The trip to Budapest and the Ukraine was pretty special, and I will be putting together a good and long recap of the trip soon. But there are a number of things that I thought I should have been writting about over the last several days which I just have not been able to get to. In all honesty, I really did not spend a lot of time thinking about most of this stuff (the exception being the Tour de France), but now that I am back at my desk with work that I want to put off I feel like I should turn my attention to them. Towards that end, this post is a catelogue of stuff with no links, and limited literary merit. Here goes:

So, first thing to mention here is the Tour de France. I think this is a great sports event, and I only wish that I had a good place to watch half hour nightly reviews of the race. If you are not following what is going on you are just missing out. It is still close and the time trial on Saturday should be something worth watching. It will only take about 1.5 hours max to see the stuff that matters, and I would really recommend finding a good place to do that.

Second thing is the on-going story about the lies told leading up to the war. I have been harping on this story for what feels like months now (and is just about two months). It is something that matters. I am not plugged in enough again to put together links on who is writing about what in the blog-o-verse and what are the latest news stories. But this leads into my third thing...

The dents are starting to appear in the Bush armour, and right on schedule for a Bush presidency. I know I keep going back to this, but it really is interesting. It seems that the tone of stories about Bush are turning at just about the same time as they did about his father. The exact story lines are a bit different this time, but the result is the same. A President who was seen as unbeatable 18 months before the election is looking fairly vulnerable 12 months before the election. The nicks this time are from the on-going problems with security in Iraq (and I really don't think Americans really care how many sons of Sadaam are dead, just that people in Iraq stop killing American troops...it remains to be seen if the death of Uday and Quesay will help with that), the mishandeling of the first near-scandel of the Presidency, and the permanent stupor of the economy.

Along these lines is the emerging shape of the Democratic field. My question of the day is who will be the first to pull out? I am ignoring the small time candidates because they were never in it for the win in the first place (I am talking to you, Carol Mosley Braun, Dennis Kuchnich, and Al Sharpton). Of the rest I would have to guess that Gephardt will be first out. He seems to be getting no traction, no funds, and his "base" is almost wholly owned by Dean. Another candidate for first loser is Lieberman. I thought he would do something, but just is getting nothing. Kerry is still looking strong, Dean is nothing short of astonishing, and Edwards has money. I am also wondering how much attention to pay to General Wesley Clark. Thoughts?

Fifth thing to mention, mostly out of obligation is the Australian Cricket team's demolition of Bangladesh. It was not quite as record-setting as it could have been, but it was a match that was never in doubt. A new test starts tonight, and we will see if a different pitch will lead to a different result (measured in magnitude, not direction).

Sixth thing to throw out, just because I need to ask the question...Just how stupid is Kobe Bryant? Without judging his innocence or guilt of the legal charges, he is still coming off looking worse than bad. OK...tree stump vs. Kobe Bryant...whose dumber? How about Kobe vs. Tyson? Is there another super-star athlete who managed to so royally throw away everything? Oh yeah...there was that OJ guy, are they up to jokes on late night TV comparing OJ and Kobe? If not, it is just a matter of time.

And finally, the last item for this first stage of return to blogging diarrhea (I have never been able to spell that word...just looked it up) is the Manchester United tour of the states. I have been predicting that this will be a wake up call for those in the US who have been ignoring soccer. Now I am not sure exactly how it is being covered over there, but the coverage here is focusing on what a big deal it has been. Attendence records are falling, fans are coming out of the woodwork, big time columnists are writing stories about it. And let's just wait for this travelling circus to gather some steam for a few days and then hit New York. This is going to be big...like morning TV show, late-night TV, all kinds of big. And I am going to miss out on the hoopla, but it will be fun to go back a few days after and see the detritus of the party. At least that is what I think is going to happen. And the same thing will happen next year, but probably Real Madrid will be on tour and probably another big time Premiership side. It is going to be fun watching this international football thing blow-up all over the place in the US. In three years we will be seeing a nightly world football wrap-up show on ESPN2, in less than four ESPN will realise that 10 am is a fine time to schedule the Premiership game of the week live. And pretty soon the best US players will be in England, not just because they deserve to be, but because the teams will want the US fan base. When that happens we are talking huge steps in US production of real talent and skill. Which is just one short step from being a periennial World Cup favourite. The tide is changing people...watch this development of soccer for the next couple of years, and then look back and say "I remember when..."


Sunday, July 13, 2003


Housecleaning...

This will be my last day posting to the blog for a little while. Tomorrow morning I am off to Budapest and Ukraine. It should be very interesting, and I fully plan to put up some stories from the trip when I return. But today there are a number of things that I have been meaning to bring up, so I might as well get them out of the way today.

First is I wanted to write about the interesting ways people find this site. I wrote a post about one of the searches on google, "Ultimate Frisbee and Creative Class." That was one of the best searches. I get a few hits from my post where I pointed out that a columnist misspelt Ronaldinho's name. I guess I am near the top of web sites that include the misspelling. I also get a number of hits from people doing strange searches about Landon Donovan. I have no idea why, but there are people who do searches trying to find out if one of the best soccer players ever to come out of the US is either gay or is out drinking a lot. I have no idea what would possess someone to search for stuff like that...perhaps a soccer fan who is really into Landon Donovan. I also learned that while I tend to read Dan Drezner more than Matthew Yglesias, that a link from Yglesias on the 2004 Presidential election drives a lot more traffic than a link from Drezner on Botswana.

Second, is my annual sports facination. I wrote before about my facsination with Formula 1 racing, but have generally avoiding writing much about the sport (I am still on the fence on the is auto racing a sport debate, but it is on the sports page of the BBC web site.) But, in July I am captivated by the Tour de France. I will avoid getting into this too much, but I have to say that it is really interesting to follow on the web. The official site has a great running log of the race, while the BBC has really good overviews of each stage. The NYT has good daily stories about the race, with a focus on American hero Lance Armstrong. And, let me just note that today is probably going to be the day where Lance asserts control of the race. It is interesting how his dominance is so predictable, yet still so incredible. Kind of the same deal with Michael Schumacher, although his brother Ralf has had a pretty darn good run for the last few races. I am sorry I will not be in England for the British Grand Prix next weekend.

Third on the agenda is the Wesley Clark for President story. A friend sent me the transcript of his interview on Meet the Press last week. It was good stuff, aside from the awkwardness as he tried to dodge questions about his status in the race. I tend to agree with him on most issues, and think that he would be a great alternative to Bush. However, I would be afraid that he would make a few naive mistakes in a Presidential campaign, and play into the Bush team's hands on a few things. I think they are probably afraid of him as a candidate, but that doesn't neccesarily make him the best candidate. The draft Clark movement was noted on OxBlog today in a link to this Washington Post op-ed. It highlights why Clark is an appealing candidate to me, but does not address if Clark is ready for the media pressure cooker of a campaign for President.

Fourth thing to clear out of the inbox is to point readers towards a much more thorough and articulate expression of my idea to create a new national/military service division dedicated to peacekeeping and nation-building. I like the case put together by OxBlog, and I just want to hear some commentary by people who really know about these things, like military officers, career diplomats, and those who have served with the UN on Peacekeeping missions.

There are lots of other things going on in the world that deserve attention, but time is short and I need to get on with enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Football in Hyde Park yesterday was a great London day, and I am excited for the summer here. Get out and enjoy it yourself.


Saturday, July 12, 2003


Beating a dead horse...

If I was not clear enough in my account of the lead-up to the 1992 election, let me repeat. It is too early to make any statement about what the election in 2004 will look like. Need some more proof? Check out the results of the latest poll on the President and the War in Iraq in the Washington Post.


What's that I hear hitting the fan...

Well, the "did Bush lie?" story is finally taking off. Yesterday the White House blamed the CIA for failing to ask that the offending passage about Iraqi efforts to get Uranium from Niger removed from the State of the Union Speech. And, as if it was planned, George Tenet stepped up and acknowledged that the CIA was at fault. But is this the end of the story? Hardly. While the Uranium claim was the one that seemed to be most patently false, it was far from the only pre-war accusation hurled that has not come true. Have we forgotten that it was claimed that not only did Iraq have chemical and biological weapons, but that "we know where they are"?

The NYT editorial on the issue puts it well. They say that this is only the start of the truth-telling that our nation is owed from the Bush Administration. How did the line get in the speech in the first place. Where was the pressure coming from to prove a point from shoddy intelligence. And why did the CIA let this one by? Was there too much pressure being placed on them to come up with intelligence and conclusions that would help the administration make a point? I said at the outset of this story that there are two possible outcomes, neither of which is good. First is that a campaign of lies was executed by the administration to convince the nation that invading Iraq was not only right but neccesary. The second option is that our intelligence services are failing.

Unsurprisingly the Rasputin's in the White House have selected the second option as less harmful to the adminstration (at least in the short term). But wasn't there a big intelligence failure almost two years ago that we should be looking into. What is going on with that investigation, and why are members of that bipartisan commission complaining about lack of cooperation from the executive branch? If the CIA failed on the uranium claim, failed on the WMD claims, and failed on 9/11 then isn't it time for a real public inquiry into what we can do to correct this. I believe that the head counter-terrorism official resigned a month ago over these questions.

Of course, blaming the CIA can also get pretty dirty. It is not like they are putting the blame on an unsuspecting bunch of foreigners (like how the claim itself held the Brits accountable). This is the CIA, the home of dirty tricks. And if there are some in the CIA who don't like seeing their agency set up for a fall, expect to see some pretty damning stuff about how the Adminstration pressured the agency and manipulated data to meet their own goals. If this happens, then things could get really interesting. But before any of that happens it seems likely that Tenet's days are numbered. Anyone want to suggest an over/under on days until his resignation is tendered?

Meanwhile, one has to be amazed at the ability of the White House to put out a fire just as it seems ready to engulf the house. Just as the Trent Lott situation was put out just as it heated up, the White House has found their fall guy just in the knick of time. And just as the Democrats produced an ad directly dealing with this issue. The ad itself is quite good, but was probably obsolute within minutes of being posted on the web. They do a good job turning this not into a question of if the war in Iraq was right or wrong, but is Bush trustworthy enough for our nation to follow into war.

Anyway, it is July, the 2004 election is really miles away, and things are starting to get interesting. Anyone who thinks there is not going to be some drama in the next election is just not paying attention. But I know I will be. "Bring it on!"


Friday, July 11, 2003


A rant...

I have been promising a rant against Nader voters for a while, and this story from the NYT today seems as good as any to set me off. First, I hate Nader. I hate him with a passion. I am completely convinced that the main reason that Bush is in the White House is because Nader is an egomaniac with a limited grasp on reality. The numbers are right there for anyone to see. What tipped the election? A few hundred votes in Florida. What did Nader take from Gore? A few thousand votes in Florida.

All Nader had to do was to say on election day, "Hey, this thing is close, and there is a difference between Bush and Gore, even if its marginal. So let's show our strength, but not ruin the environment, destroy our tax system, and leave our government run by big business. So, if you live in New York, California, Massachusetts (and many other non-contested states) please vote for me to send a message to Gore that there are people who care about these issues. And if you live in Florida, Tennessee, Ohio (and some others), then please vote for Gore, because the actual winners matters more than a few percentage points on my tally"

But he did not say that. He insists even today that there is no difference between most of the Democratic party and Republicans. Well, you know what, he is wrong. And if in a few years there is a woman who can't get an abortion, then she should blame the ego of Ralph Nader. If there is a forest that dies from air pollution, we should blame the ego of Ralph Nader. If there is an island in the Pacific that is no longer an island because of rising sea levels, we should blame the ego of Ralph Nader. And, when I see the world looking skeptically at the goals of the US, I blame Ralph Nader.

So, please, just go away. Apologize for what you and your egomaniac campaign did to the United States of America, and then just shut your face.

I know Nader voters and I ask them about this. Most of them plead innocence, due mostly to them living in states where their vote, "didn't matter." Or they didn't realize it would be so close. There are a few who are unapolgetic. These are the true beleivers in "the revolution." For these people each step our nation takes closer to the brink of self-destruction, is a step closer to when real change can happen. Well, I probably don't need to say it, but, "keep dreaming." It is just not going to happen. No matter how bad things get in the US, we are not going to see a socialist system put in place. In fact it almost seems like the opposite is happening. The worse things get, the bigger the lies that can be told. So for all you Nader supporters, as far as I am concerned you have no right to complain about any policy that Bush has put in place that Gore wouldn't have. Don't like tax cuts to the rich? Shut up, you have no right to complain. Don't like conservative judges? Shut up, you have no right to complain. Don't like the economy? Shut up you have no right to complain.

OK, it felt good to get that out. Have a nice day.


I doesn’t happen often…

Every once in a while a real blogger will notice my story and put up a link. Yesterday Drezner noticed my reply to his relaying of the Fraser Institute on Economic Freedom and Botswana. He mostly agrees with what I said, but has one point to add, “First, Botswana's ample natural endowments make an excellent model for much of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The problem with these countries is not a lack of resource endowments, but the ability to exploit them in a way that leads to sustainable economic growth.” In principle the idea that nation needs to properly exploit their natural resources is spot-on, and it is certainly true that much of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East are not doing a great job on this account. But I continue to be curious if Botswana is a shining model to hold up on this account?

Now in taking on this question, I should first note that I know next to nothing about Botswana. I know the President was their yesterday, and that according to the NYT it, “embodies much of the promise of Africa, having posted a solid record of economic growth that has enabled it to build a middle class and considerable political stability.” But, they also note that, “Botswana also suffers from one of the world's highest rates of H.I.V., with 39 percent of adults infected, making it not only home to an enormous human tragedy but also a laboratory for initiatives to bring the pandemic under control.” So before we start encouraging the developing world to be more like Botswana (just as we tried to get the lead of Japan and South East Asia followed), let’s at least look at some of their data in comparison.

I guess the best place to start would be with the Millennium Development Goals. These are from a UN declaration in September 2000. There are Eight Goals: 1)Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2) Achieve universal primary education; 3) Promote gender equality and empower women; 4) Reduce child mortality; 5) Improve maternal health; 6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7) Ensure environmental stability; 8) Develop a global partnership for development.

And, as these thing matter in the world, there is a web site that tracks the progress towards these goals (although data is incomplete, I used the CIA worldfact book when possible as replacement data). I thought I would run down the goals, and see how Botswana is doing (if things are so great there, it would stand to reason they should be doing pretty well at these goals). For comparison purposes I thought I would compare Botswana (26th on list of economic freedom, highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, above France) with: Tanzania (a very poor nation and 69th on list of of economic freedom), Nigeria (a nation with loads of resources and 91st on list), China (a previously poor nation, and 100th on list), Ukraine (because I am going there, and because it is 117th on the list), and finally with Bahrain (a rich nation in the Middle East, tied for 26, and mostly selected because Saudi Arabia is not even on this list…which seems like an oversight that some rich ambassador might have paid for, but I digress.)

Now what did I learn from this exercise (which should have involved some real statistical analysis, but didn’t, you can check below for a copied version of the spreadsheet I put together)? It seems clear that the ranking of economic freedom actually has little correlation to the development goals in this sample. Botswana might have economic freedom, but things are not good when over a third of the population have HIV and the life expectancy is near 35. Botswana has a poverty rate only marginally different from Tanzania and Nigeria, and no where near as low as China and the Ukraine, which both have per capita incomes lower than Botswana. Botswana does have a lower infant mortality rate than Nigeria and Tanzania, but not near the levels of the other nations, and the same is true of maternal mortality. In fact, after looking at this data it is really not clear what aspects of life are better in Botswana thanks to their per capita income which is almost 10 times that in Nigeria and Tanzania. Meanwhile, China and the Ukraine are doing much better according to these criteria, even though they are near the bottom of the list in economic freedom. And Bahrain has so much economic freedom that they don’t even have data on some of these metrics (including some pretty important things like poverty and infant mortality).

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Botswana because I still have no clue about the specific issues facing the nation, but I think I do want to pick on the Fraser Institute (and the Cato Institute which is releasing the same report in the US). I want to ask them, based on their rankings, what is one to do with their “findings”? Is it just to get a list out there so that nations can aspire to be at the top of a list (any list)? That is what it seems like. I am not saying that economic freedom is bad, just that for a poor nation it seems like not the most important thing to aspire to. Aren't there many situations in the world where economic freedom is a secondary goal, that comes after living, eating, and reading?

Botswana Tanzania Nigeria China Ukraine Bahrain
1)Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (% below poverty line) 47% 51% 45% 10% 29% N/A
2) Achieve universal primary education; (total literacy rate) 70% 68% 57% 82% 98% 89%
3) Promote gender equality and empower women; (female literacy rate) 59% 57% 47% 73% 97% 84%
4) Reduce child mortality; (infant mortality per 1000) 65 78 72 27 21 19
5) Improve maternal health; (mortality per 100,000 births) 480 1,100 1,100 60 45 N/A
6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (HIV prevelance) 36% 8% 5% 0.20% 1% 0.15%
7) Ensure environmental stability; (% with Access to improved Sanitation) 61% ('90) 90% 63% 38% N/A N/A
Life Expectancy (Years at birth) 35 52 50.6 72 66 73
Per capita income 7,800 610 840 4,600 4,200 13,000


You should read this...

Josh Marshall at The Talking Points Memo is all over the various sources and quotes coming together on the "Did Bush lie in the State of the Union Story." He is a good journalist and is worth reading as he follows the breaking wave of this story.


Thursday, July 10, 2003


Interesting...

A news analysis in the Washington Post today gets right to the heart of somethings that are going on in the Democratic Party (i.e. the party you are stuck with if you don't like Bush). The argument is that the left is where the soul of the party is, and is where the energy to beat Bush is coming from. Hence the rise of Dean, and the stagnation of Lieberman and Edwards.

From my point of view it does seem correct that there are not enough moderates in the country fed up with Bush to really justify a centrist candidate. But that could change, the worst thing that could happen is if the moderates (who decide elections) see Bush not as someone they like, but the least of evils between candidates that are too right or too left respectively.

If Bush continues to garner support from moderates though, then a bold choice like Dean might be the only way to get Bush out of there. My logic here is that a candidate who doesn't have to parse words in attacking the President on a variety of issues would be the only way of getting a real debate going about just how far right Bush has been in his governing the country. A line about how tax cuts are bad might work better than some tricky wording around tax cuts going to the wrong people, etc. If there is anything the Bush tax cut has demonstrated is that people will support a good idea to the extreme, even if it is no longer a good idea.

Then, what do I think about this? Well, I certainly prefer Dean to Bush. I don't like any talk about limiting free trade, and I don't like it when candidates get too close to unions. Unions should be given freedom, but should not have disproportionate influence (just as corporations should not have disproporate influence). I continue to beleive that capitalism is good, but policies that cater to business are not pro-Capitalist. America does have the wealth to provide more public goods to its citizens, and there is no reason that we should be afraid of that. Tax rates circa 2000 were not a hinderance to investment, and did not limit incentives for people to get really stinking rich, so why did we need to change them. If the objective was really stimulation of the economy, then they should have been done differently.

Finally, the big issue...national security. America is in a unique position in the world, and perhaps world history. We should maintain our significant lead in military capability...perhaps with some modifications that I suggested yesterday. We should not be afraid of getting involved in the affairs of other nations, especially when they might directly threaten us. But we need to do this very carefully, and with the maximum possible international support. The only way that we can be secure is if we are part of the international community rather than a renegade, either against the will of the world or not capable of properly articulating our position to convince the rest of the world. I would find it hard to support a candidate who fundamentally disagreed with this view (which is not to say that Dean or anyone else does).


Liars...

I seem to have drifted away from my fascination with how the US people were led to war on the basis of lies and half-truths. Well, that doesn't mean that the story has gone away. Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo is all over it, and absolutely skewers the Bush Administration. His interview with Kenneth Pollack seems to lead to the conclusion that no one saw the State of the Union. Meanwhile a later post indicates that White House sources are directing blame towards the State Department and CIA for not highlighting the error. His entire coverage of this story is some pretty good reporting.

Meanwhile, our "straight-shooting" President dodged a question on the allegations that false intelligence was used. But that is par for the course in an administration that rarely will volunteer any information that would paint any decision in a poor light. I defended Rumsfeld the other day, but this is one area where he is at his gory worst. On the same day that it was revealed that the Military Budget for Iraq is twice projected in April, he also defended the administration’s use of bad intelligence. The entire tone that is set by these leaders of our government bothers me.

Also, while Bush and team are sticking to the line that the weapons will be found, the BBC is reporting that Whitehall (i.e. the Brits) are increasingly sceptical that any weapons will be found. The plot thickens.

Now, I am deeply concerned that lies can be the basis of proof for an invasion of another country, and an ongoing endangerment of American military lives. But there is not a real outcry about this coming from the troops or people in Iraq. And this is because getting rid of Saddam Hussein was still the right thing to do. However, just as I hold Bush accountable for not having the skill to get world opinion behind him, I also hold him accountable for not being able to make the case for an invasion of Iraq on the real merits. Bush and team created an atmosphere in the intelligence community where there was real pressure to find certain things. This undermines the entire intelligence project, and ultimately puts our nation in danger. (grave danger? Is there any other kind?)

Eventually someone will have to be held accountable for this fraud, which is far greater than any lie about any personal affairs. I think the blame should go all the way to the top, because that is where the tone was set, and that is who should really be in charge of making sure our nation works in a fair, just, and democratic way.


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