Yankee Blog

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Football news...

Some interesting stuff went down leading up to the transfer deadline. First is that Reyna signed for Man City, meaning that he will be playing in Europe as well as on a mid-level Premiership side. He is not a first division player, and deserves to be playing with the big boys. It will be interesting to see where he plays and how he performs with Man City.

Also there was news that Bobby Convey of the US national team and DC United was denied a work permit. This means that his transfer to Tottenham is out. This is a disappointment, but I have always felt that he would not be a starter just yet. Give him a chance to play in the US for a little while longer, and earn a few more National Team Caps (if he has that quality...I was less than impressed at the Confederations Cup) and then re-appy for the work permit.

Finally, in an item that I have not seen picked up anywhere, American U-19 player Daniel Karbassiyoon has been bought by Arsenal. I have never heard of this guy, so I think it is a pretty safe bet he is a few years away from a spot on the first team at Highbury. But it is still a good thing to see young American talent being noticed by the top clubs. Hopefully training and being around the Arse will help him become a future star performer for the MNT. I am assuming that this guy has some kind of EU citizenship, which is why a work permit is not an issue.

I will have a weekend run-down of the news, including the QPR win, tomorrow.

Damn Liberal Media...

The NYT has a huge article (which is probably on the front page, but I have no idea) about the Democratic contenders in 2004. It seems that for some reason Labor Day weekend is a chance to take the temperature of a race for elections four and a half and 15 months away respectively. This I don't understand...but I digress. So the tone of the article is that even though things look good today, it is just a mirage, and they really don't look good. Among the challenges the NYT thinks are significant (most of which seem bogus) are:

1. "all this infighting is going on in the Democratic Party" - courtesy of Walter Mondale. - Umm...I have to say that the entire race has been very benign so far. Most candidates seem to recongnize that this is a race to beat Bush and are behaving as such. Maybe there is some behind the scenes stuff, but from the grassroots I don't hear a lot of, "if we nominate [person x] I am not going to vote for them." The tone is more, "if we nominate [person x] we are not giving ourselves the best chance of winning." In the end someone will get the nomination, and everybody in the party will quickly realise that person is better than GWB.

2. "He [Bush] will have more money than any candidate in history" - courtesy of Tom Harkin. - Yes...whine, whine, whine. I have suggested two strategies to help reduce that money gap in the last two weeks (here and here). And I am some guy who has never worked in politics, doesn't live in the US, and spends a limited amount of time thinking about this stuff. There are professionals who should be able to do something about this, rather than whine about it. Sure a Union Man like Harkin might only see a part of the picture, but there is money out there to run a campaign against Bush, you just have to access it by being a little creative and a little nasty in your fundraising. The other thing worth mentioning is that there is a diminishing marginal return to money spent on advertising. After you have spent enough to make sure everyone has seen your ad a few times, then you just start annoying people. And sure you can pay your people more, but there is also a point where the complexity of an organisation outweighs the benefits of more people working on a problem. This could be especially problematic in an organisation that is growing rapidly without established processes.

3. It is a weak field, and "aides to most of the other candidates say he [Gen. Clark] is too late to have a good shot" - It is true that no candidate has locked up the nomination, but it is still August of 2003. Come on...it is wide open now because people feel that Bush is beatable. I know that some people say the opposite, but many people are waiting to make up their mind because they want the best candidate to beat Bush, and figure that will sort itself out over time. And then the dismissal of Clark is just horrendous. The source for it being too late..."aides to most other candidates." You think they might have an interest in this thing? Perhaps even an incentive to discourage Clark from joining the race? The big surprise is that aides to ALL other candidates didn't agree that he is too late. I bet that aides to Bush are especially "skeptical" to the press about Clakr's chances. If I were them I would be afraid of him...unless they know something I don't.

4. Regarding Dean - "his poor chance of beating Mr. Bush, given his lack of foreign policy experience" - Yeah, and the foreign policy experience of Bush in 2000 was so impressive. And since then he has been so effective in foreign policy...what with alienating most of our traditional allies, leading the US to be the occupying power in a country that is far from universally stable today, and introducing more volatility into what was already the most volatile region in the world. If only Dean had a record like that to run on he would be a much better candidate. [There is also a bunch of stuff about Dean being vulnerable in the primaries, but I don't care because if he doesn't get the nomination then they are not issues. Only relevant are issues related to beating Bush]

All of this is in the wake of an article in the NYT that moved the Oxblog to write a post about how biased they were against Dean. Seriously, with friends like these... But I don't want the NYT to become the Fox News of the Dems, I like that they will write critically about both sides. I just take issue with several of the statements in this particular article.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

More advice for the Dems...

Last week I proposed that the Dems get moving on some efforts to convince CEO's that there coziness with the GOP is not in their or their companies' long-term interests. Today I have a new one for the Dems to get moving on.

Since they are always complaining about not being able to get money, and since there is a huge level of resentment at Bush in certain quarters, it seems that a fund-raising music tour would go along way to getting a lot of money. Sell tickets at high prices, put on the show in a number of big cities, get people to volunteer their time to perform, and watch the money roll in. I think there are enough people who would be willing to at least look the other way on the politics of the event to sell out large stadiums. Some back of the envelopes: 60,000 people, 5 cities, 10 shows, $100 average ticket gives a $60 MM gross. Not sure how much it costs to put on these events, and how many other resources could be donated, but I would guess this kind of thing could clear at least $30 MM...not a bad start to narrowing that funding gap.


The big news in Britain was the resignation of Alastair Campbell. To understand his role from an American perspective think Karl Rove with a boss who also had an opinion. Anyway, the responses to this news from the right and left are very interesting. The partnership of Bush and Blair on Iraq has trumped all other ideological beliefs when it comes to trans-Atlantic commentary (i.e. Democrats in the US attack Blair, Republicans defend Blair). But from within England things are all confused, and in the end Blair seems to have very few friends. Conservative supporters in the UK attack Blair (even though they were for the war), while Labour thought leaders continue to be mad at Blair for leading the UK into a war they never supported.

Personally it is very confusing. I tend to agree with Blair's policies, as his lean to the right-side of the Labour party is something that I really support. While there are many quirks of the ways things are funded in Britain that I don't agree with, in the scope of politcal debate in Britain I think there are few positions where I am not closest to Blair. I also liked that Blair stood by the US. I am very critical of Bush today, but I did beleive that there was a threat from Iraq and that we needed to do something about it, I also beleived that removing Sadaam could be a start to remaking the Middle East. I was wrong on the former and increasingly overly-optimistic on the latter. And I guess that I should blame Blair as much as Bush for both, but I do see him as following the Bush lead. My lack of anger towards Blair is probably coloured by partisan feelings...and I don't like that.

Terrorist act of the day...

There was another bombing in Iraq yesterday. This one taking the most lives yet, but also being directed at internal Iraqi targets, a Shia Mosque and a leading cleric. It goes without saying that it is not a good thing. But I really had no idea what else it meant. The situation in Iraq is so confused at this point that I had no idea what to think the implication might be. I was pretty sure though that the US was going to be blamed. At some level this is correct, in that we are in charge of the nation, and as such should be able to supply some level of security to the citizens. At the same time, we were being sensitive to the locals by not imposing our security methods on their holy sites. It is a can't win situation... and one that we will have to deal with.

I was not going to write anything about this event, but then I found a lucid and fair post on Oxblog about it. As a blog that has continued to support Bush moves regarding Iraq it is nice to see that they did not ignore this. It is also nice to see them starting to acknowledge that things could be better in parts of Iraq, and that to some degree there is a need for action from Bush. I think the action proposed, mainly a speech from Bush to the people of Iraq, will not achieve the desired result. But it is a sign that supporters of the administration are at least starting to cast a critical gaze at Bush, and hopefully from that some productive changes in policy will result.

Friday, August 29, 2003

The Sport...

A few items on the sport that have been kicking around the last few days.

There was mid-week football here in England this week. I took the time to watch Man U against Wolves. Wolves have been the worst team so far this year, and the Red Devils either the best or close to it. I was expecting to see lots of goals, and even considered putting down a wager for United to win 5-1 to keep the game exciting. I was sorely disappointed. United won 1-0, with the only goal coming in the 9th minute before I started watching. United just did not look that good, they controlled the ball, but were not able to put together effective attacks. Wolves actually had a number of chances on the counter attack, but could not put their shots on net.

Tim Howard looked very confident in the course of recording another clean sheet, and ensuring he will remain in net for another week. But, while he looked like he belonged on the field, he did nothing special. Wolves were not able to put any of their shots on net, with several slipping just past Howard's fingertips and then just wide. Either he had the net covered, or United were inches away from losing 3-1. It was good to see an American flag hanging along the touchline at Old Trafford. There are football fans in the US, and they are going to come out to support Howard and United. Hopefully the EPL teams will start paying attention to US field players now, instead of just the goalies.

On that note, there have been more rumours regarding where Claudio Reyna is heading this week. Last week his transfer to Fulham was supposed to be complete by the weekend, but some delays, some nonsense, and he is still on Sunderland's list (although not playing). The latest is that he is going to be headed to Manchester City. They are certainly a higher profile club than Fulham, but it will be interesting to see what role he is able to play at City. Without knowing their roster situation, I would be surprised if he was able to win a spot at centre midfield. Seems that on the wings, or in the back is more likely. But City is in the UEFA cup, and have had a good start to the season, so perhaps outside the middle at City is better than being the man at Fulham.

Continuing with the transfer rumours, I saw one today that said this: Everton are hoping to beat Manchester United and Liverpool to sign US rising star Danny Szetela (Daily Star). This is the first I have heard of this guy, but I am going to look into it. Probably an U-17, but I could be wrong. Doesn't matter, it is a sign the US is being recongnized as a source for talent.

Over the last few weeks the BBC has been running a vote on the greatest team ever. They have selected teams from different sports and different eras for people to vote on. The fact that there were no New York Yankee teams nominated means the survey was flawed, so let's just consider it the greatest team in a sport that Brits care about poll. Well, the winner was the 2003 Australian Cricket team. I have written about this squad many times, but I think I still fail to capture their greatness. They have won every significant match this year. They won the World Cup with the most crushing score I have ever seen for a one-day match. They scare other teams. They have a culture of winning that I have not seen on any other team. I wish I went to the West Indies to write a book about their tour to try to explain all this stuff better to Americans...oh well.

Another blackout...

It was not as big a deal as the blackout in the northeast of the US a couple of weeks ago, but we had our own blackout in London last night. I was on the Jubilee line trying to get to Canary Wharf when the train stopped. Fortunately it was at the Bermondsey station, and after about 10 minutes of waiting I realised that I was going to miss the start of the film anyway. So I left the station and started walking. Well, I was pretty lucky as I was only a 30 minute walk from home, and by the time I got there the lights were back on within about two minutes.

I did think it was somewhat ironic that London was hit with a blackout just weeks after the (really) liberal media here was practically dancing in the streets over the NY (and that is where reporting was limited to) blackout. They saw it as some kind of fatal flaw in American society that people would be without lights for a day. They don't get America, and I don't get them.

Urban design...

I weighed in with some comments on the City Comforts blog regarding the difference between urban design and architecture. I think that I am either stating the obvious or getting it completely wrong, but I wanted to get the issue of the society at large into the debate. Anyway, here it is:

I don't want to propose this as a solid line between the two disciplines, but an important distinction I have noticed between architects and urban designers is their consideration of social conditions. Architecture is a technical discipline that sometimes moves into art (in rare cases). Urban design (not planning), is a technical discipline that sometimes moves into social science.

Some of the best architects are able to blur the line. But there are also other great architects who couldn't care less, and design great buildings. I think it is currently trendy (at least in what I pay attention to) for architects to broaden their focus. However, many of them just don't have the skills to do so. Understanding the city as a whole, the economic and social trends, the life of all the people interacting with an urban space is a very different challenge to designing a building for a client (Put on fire suit to prepare for flaming by architects now). I am not sure that urban designers get it right either, as there are very few places to get good training that straddles this line, but I think it is more a central part of an urban designers

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I'm so proud...

I got my first hit from Fox News today. What did I do to join the reactionary media?

Off the deep end...

I read the Animal House article in the NYT. I liked it. But it never would have prompted me to write this political dissection of the film...wow...

Read this...

Talking Points Memo gets right at the issue...they will lie until they can't lie anymore. If you are not convinced then read this.

BTW: Am I the only who gets up in the morning wondering if I will see either news of another terrorist attack or the newspaper scoop that will put Bush in a class of shame only Nixon can compare to? I am serious about this.

The drama unfolds...

In the absence of any huge new bombing campaign in Iraq there has still been some very interesting evolution of views and thoughts on the issue. The first item on this front that caught my eye was a story about Richard Perle speaking in France (Perle you will recall was a leading hawk in the lead-up to the war, and was forced out of his quasi-public official position on the Defense Policy Board due to some questionable conflicts of interest.) Perle is sticking with the line that it was the right thing to invade Iraq because of the weapons they had and were developing. It is nice to see that he is sticking with that line, but we will see later that others are starting to jump ship.

Perle also said that he thought mistakes were made in the aftermath of the war and that we should hand over power to the Iraqis as soon as possible. This statement is more legit, and it is nice to see someone admitting some mistakes. One of the more disturbing aspects of the post-war period has been the continued assurances from the adminstration that everything is alright. It is one thing to get something wrong, but it is another to insist that you are right. This started with the essential condoning of looting right after the war by Rumsfeld. Apparently people should be allowed to "blow off some steam." Well, it was that initial failure to provide law and order that set the infrastructure reconstruction back, and made many Iraqis sceptical about just how much we cared about their nation. It was not a good precendent to set. Then, more recently, there was the release of the sunshine and flowers report regarding the aftermath of the war. Sure, there are good things that have happenend, but to not talk about the bad things, the things that we really should be paying a disproportionate amount of attention to, is disturbing.

It is my hope that Perle is the leading edge of a new approach among those in charge to emphaisize that we need to get this right...and fast. Another story today is about Bush perhaps asking for more money for Iraqi reconstruction. Excepting the debate about the lead-up to war (which I promise I am getting to) this is a good sign that Bush is at least not going to make things worse in the future by failing to be honest with Congress and the American people today (in constrast to his approach to the deficit and economic issues). Regardless of the feelings about the war, it seems an imperitive that we get this right, otherwise we will be dealing with the tragic aftermath for a long time. And while I have made it a policy to argue against there being "a" reality in Iraq, from what I have read a good portion of Iraqis want the US to hang around, they just want some things done faster and somethings done differently (sorry for no links on this...just an impression that I have from lots of stuff).

Now to the continuing debate regarding the lies (and yes I am comfortable using that word) that led us into this mess. There are a number of great posts put up by Josh Marshall at the Talking Points Memo on this. The first is about the emerging consensus that we have been misled by Iraqi defectors regarding the scope of the weapons programs. This speculation has been around for a while, and it is good to see that it is getting some attention again because unless we are ready to admit a problem, then this whole mess will be repeated again (another thing that I have argued in the past...check it). It is part of a situation that is going to become increasingly dangerous on many fronts in the next couple of months, which is that things are not going well for Bush and he is faced with a choice of admitting it sooner to political harm, or doing nothing, hoping the situation fixes itself, and avoiding political damage. One of these will bite us all in the ass.

The other post by Marshall is about the inherent problems with the bait and switch drive to Iraq (i.e. the line that we were at risk before the war, to the line that Iraqis were suffering after the war when no WMD were found). Marshall is quite right to be critical of a situation where war was approved for one rationale and then support needs to be continued for another. It should be the job of Congress to make informed judgements on what we can afford to spend on what projects, but when they are being led by poor intelligence and misleading statements from the White House then they are not able to do that well. Then there is the additional problem of public support, which might be fading for staying in Iraq, but that does not make leaving now the right thing to do. So we are stuck, and all we can do is blame Bush for getting us stuck, not change course now. This sucks.

And it begins...

An article in the NYT today puts the question of Wesley Clark running for President as one of when not if. I have said before that this man interests me a great deal. The article runs down why he is so interesting: National Security criticism of Bush like Dean, Decorated Veteran like Kerry, Southerner like Edwards, Integrity like Lieberman. It is a great lists of credentials that are not balanced by proven negatives at this point. The main negative is the question of experience. He could prove to be a great campaigner and candidate, he could suck at it. Apparently there is no way to predict these kinds of things until you see the person actually doing it (and then everyone knows...strange, I don't understand it, but anyway).

I am not going to be supporting any single candidate until I feel that I have to. Which is the point when I either have a job and can donate money, when I decide I want to work for one of these guys, or when I am able to cast a vote. Until then I am going to watch to see what happens. And in case you are wondering the most important thing to me is that the candidate be able to beat Bush.

Which leads me to another story. Over the last few days Dean has been "zooming" around the country on his so-called "sleepless summer tour." A lot of people have wondered why the heck he is doing something like this so early in the campaign. He is travelling to states that aren't critical to a primary campaign until later, he is focusing his speeches on attacking Bush and not his opponents, and is just plain wearing himself, his staff, and reporters out. But I think it is a genius move on the part of his campaign. Like me, many Dems are inclined to support the candidate they think has the best chance of taking down GWB. One of the advantages that Dean has is that he was able to connect with students, anti-war protesters, and others ready to go out to support someone over a year before the election. If he deserves the support of all these people is another question, he has managed to take their energy and make it a part of his campaign. People like me are looking at Kerry and saying he has the profile to beat Bush, but Dean is showing that he has the energy to beat Bush. The articles include quotes from the crowd that get many people on the sidelines excited about Dean. It is just a great way to help translate a Dean strength into an area where he is not as strong (i.e. support from pragmatists). I give kudos the campaign, which is yet another encouraging sign.

Final point on this issue...it seems that the insurgency campaign of Dean is quite similar to that "ran" by Jeb Bartlett in the fictional West Wing. He is a governor from a small state in New England, he is building from motivating the Democratic base to trying to show the establishment candidate he is legit, and he is coming out of no where (I wonder if there are other behind the scenes similarities). Anyway, does it just seem a matter of time before the campaign brings on board some West Wing producers, writers, and stars to leverage the similarities? Image is what matters, and to build from an established image might be a lot easier than trying to construct your own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

It becomes more clear...

One of the things in politics that I have been wondering about is why the pro-business wing of the Republican party has continued to go along with some Bush policies that are clearly not in the interests of business (see faltering economy, anti-American sentiment in Europe, moving goalpost environmental regulations) as well as policies on things that business really couldn't give a rat's-ass about (see Conservative judicial nominees, Patriot Act). There is the start to an answer in this quote from an article in Washington Monthly that was quoted by Drezner. The key gist of what he is quoting is that the GOP has managed to take control of the lobbying industry. So rather than lobbyists being entirely loyal to their employers (big business) they are loyal to the GOP hands that got them their job.

This goes a long way to explaining the complacency of the business lobby as our country decends into a situation of chronic deficits and enternal fighting overseas. Neither of these things are good for business (unless you are selling weapons...but that is a special case). Eventually CEOs will look around and realise they are being duped by their GOP lobbyist, and there will be a change. But there are certainly several structural barriers to that happening, most notable of which is that the main source for information on potential policies and their impact is the lobbyist. But CEOs are a saavy bunch, and they will not buy a damaged bill of goods forever. It may not unravel before the next Presidential election, especially if we get a bit of a cyclical boost to the economy, but certainly before 2008 I think that there will be a backlash. And when that happens you can expect to see the GOP being led back into the wilderness by their social conservative wing. Hopefully the world will not be too f***d up then.

Now, the article goes on to detail how the GOP managed this trick of taking control of the "K-street gang" and turning a previously pragmatic, bi-partisan group into an arm of the Republican party. It seems though that a concerted effort by some high level people in the Democratic party could go a long way to turning this around. I see this as a crucial project for Bill Clinton. Have him start to make house-calls on key CEO players in the largest lobbyist groups and tell them the way it is. Something along the lines of, "the policies the GOP are pursuing are pulling the nation apart. The dissatisfaction among the American public is rising and the strains are starting to show in the form of a growing deficit. If you want to hitch your wagon to these guys and fight like hell to keep them in power that is fine, but if you choose that path don't expect that we will be keeping a seat warm for you at the table. We will make gains with or without you, it might take longer without, but eventually the balence of power will shift back. Now you can either do what is right for your business and continue with a pragmatic approach to lobbying, i.e. making sure that both sides understand your views and your business, or you can ignore us, and be ignored by us in the future. The choice is yours." Can someone get on this ASAP? If not you, then me, I need a job.

One of the best posts in weeks...

I have been very down on the entire, "what is the situation in Iraq?" debate, and the accompanying, "Are we winning or losing?" and "Is this a quagmire?" My line for the last week has been to emphasize the complexity of the situation and say that anyone even trying to provide a simple answer to any of these questions is probably missing at least part of the story. Now, the Oxblog has been among the worst in this debate, with a series of generalisations about the situation. But, even when I think the Oxblog is missing the point, they are fair and willing to engage in a reasonable debate. Into this environment come this Oxblog post with a series of quotes from letters they received on the issue. The letters are almost all great, here are a few of my personal favs:

There's no evidence either way that the US is "winning" or "losing," just that the occupation is difficult and probably requires a lot more resources than the Bush administration initially earmarked.

and: Isn't it entirely possible for an Iraqi to despise both Saddam and America? Just because someone hates the Ba'athists doesn't mean they accept the occupation.

In the end, what matters is not whether the people of Iraq accept American rule, but whether they accept democracy.

The problem with establishing a benchmark in social science, as opposed to the physical sciences, is that success is also measured against alternative "universes" defined by paths not taken...it's not enough to establish benchmarks to measure a policy; you must also argue that the path the administration has taken is better than what might have occurred had the administration taken alternative paths...a long-winded way of saying what Dan Drezner has been saying all along: it's not that pre-emption is a good policy, it's that it is better than the alternatives.

Also, the Oxblog is especially in my good graces today, not just for the great post on Iraq, but this one not about Iraq. I sure miss American television.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

When I stop blogging...

At some point in the future I will have a job and other committments in life. When that happens I will probably write on this blog a lot less. But even then I will still read the stuff that Michael Jennings writes (whether on his site, ubersportingpundit, or Samizdata) because he is very interesting about all kinds of stuff. His post on English beer measures is great. Check it out. I felt like weighing in with a comment, and as is my practice I will put it up here as well:

My favourite thing about the English system is that every glass used in pubs has a seal saying it is Royally approved. Does this mean that Queen is sampling each glass and seeing if it has the right amount of booze? I always wonder about that.

I also was quite amazed when I learned that a pint of beer in England is 20 oz. A standard pint of beer in the US is 16 oz (which I think is the usual pint in the "english" system, which is the one thing that we did not get rid of along with King George). Anyway, that combined with the fact that beer is about 50% stronger in England than the US answered all my questions about why I was staggering home after "only" four pints.

I do continue to be disappointed though by the insistance on measuring out the booze in each mixed drink. Only a few private clubs I have been to in England allow the bartender a free hand on this...Perhaps this has something to do with the limited tipping that goes on in English bars.

And again...

My recent post on the merits of pre-fab housing was picked up by the City Comforts blog, and along with a thanks, I added a comment to his really well thought out post. Seriously, if you are at all interested in why the housing industry is structured how it is, then take a look. My comment was very limited, as his post was very thorough, but here you go:

The reasons, taken together make a lot of sense. There are some reasons which involve the state skewing the market (regulations being at a state level) and some are just market forces. I always assumed that a factory would be cheaper, but you are right to point out that the flexibility in the construction labour market is of huge value to keeping costs low on site. Another thing to add is the cost of transportation. Due to the size of modulars they do not lend themselves to easy transportation (see the need for an escort pick-up), while wood, sheetrock, pipes, wires, etc. are all easily transported on rail or on truck.

And while variety in housing stock can make a neighbourhood more interesting over time, I don't think anyone has ever gone broke over-estimating the desire of Americans to sacrafice the integrity of their built environment for some short-term gain in convience (see the mini-mall, the mega-store, the subdivision, the parking lot, etc.)

Another one...

In case you hadn't noticed I have been moving a lot more of my web writing to comments on other blogs. I think these are looked at a lot more than my site. But, I still like the record of a blog (the merits of which are discussed on the OxBlog today). so I put them up here. Here is my response to a Drezner post, and more specifically the comments to that post. It is a note that I have struck before (and was noted by Just One Minute...thanks)

The need to label everything a universal success or failure is problematic. In reality life could certainly be better in Afganistan and Iraq, and it could also be worse. Life is better in parts of Afganistan and Iraq than it is in others.

Solutions for these nations are more likely to be found at the micro-level than at some high-level pronouncement, "throw more troops at the problem." But, it is into this environment (which he has certainly played a hand in creating) that Bush is forced to make decisions. It seems he caught between the rock of events and accounts of life in Iraq that demand more resources or at least attention and the hard place of not wanting to seem weak or indecisive on any issues.

The change in Bush in the last three years is highlighted in a different context in an article in the NYT today about his compassion agenda. Bush is quoted by a minister as saying while President-elect, "I don't understand how poor people think," ...calling himself "a white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." This GWB is one who appears willing to change, be honest, and take a risk of violating his no-shades of gray view of the world. But it seems that Bush has disappeared.

Dr. Compassion (or how I learned to stop hating and start loving Mr. DeLay)...

The NYT catches on to the failures of Bush's so-called compassion agenda in a great article that gets into the reasons for the failure of programs. It goes beyond Bush's rhetoric, which is at least respectable, to what bills are really getting passed, and which ones are really getting funded. It is at this level where the truth becomes a bit painful for Bushies and those who want to believe that he is doing good by the country.

It was noted around the blogoverse in the last week or so that Bush's compassion agenda on his website mostly consists of pictures of Bush reading and listening to minority children. Real moving stuff, but I weighed in with what it says about the way politics is conducted today. The NYT does not address this, but does get right into the challenges that Bush has getting his "compassionate" agenda funding thanks to opposition from real conservatives like DeLay who don't approve of compassion.

This is what I like about DeLay. He is smart enough to rise to a position of power, largely based on the fact that his district in Texas seems to be in mourning that there is no Facist party candidate. And yet he is stupid enough to reveal the dark side of the GOP. Tax cuts are fine with him, but he actually seems to believe that there should be program cuts along with that. A reality that Bush and Rove and co. are going to dodge as long as possible, perhaps DeLay didn't get the memo.

The article also highlights the fact that Bush is left with no friends on the Democratic side. In the early days of his administration Bush was able to work with Dems to get his education bill passed. However, his double dealings, and inability to stand up to the Republican leadership on other such issues has meant that they are not going to dance with the White House only to be left standing alone when the music stops. Just one such example of this is the failure to fund Americorps. See my thoughts on this travesty here. I think this is a prime issue that can be used to hammer the Bush priorities because he was so vocal in support, and has now failed to back up his words with action.

The last thing I wanted to note about this great article is the hearsay quote from Bush (via the leader of Call for Renewal): "I don't understand how poor people think," ...calling himself "a white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." Now there might be some who will hammer Bush on this quote, but I think that is wrong. He is being honest, he is admitting his short-comings and trying to fix them. In reality there are very few politicians who "get" it. Others might have better programs, and put the needs of the poor higher on the agenda, but very few can point to a past like Bill Clinton, and really feel other's pain. Al Gore couldn't, John Kerry can't, and I doubt that Dean can either. The failure is Bush's inability to follow through, not the thought expressed by this quote. I am going to cringe when I see all the pots calling the kettle black on this one.

Monday, August 25, 2003

The Sport...

The weekend has ended (at least in most of the world, except in England where we have a three-day "Bank Holiday" weekend), and it seems like a good time to review the sport as I noticed it.

I actually went to a sporting event this weekend. On Saturday I got over to Shepard's Bush to check out my first Queen's Park Rangers game of the year. Toiling away still in Division 2, QPR is one of the few football teams in London that are easy to get to, exciting, and easy to get tickets for. So, of course, they are my favourite football team. They were playing AFC Bournemouth (which I have been informed is on the south coast of England). Bournemouth was promoted from the Third Division last year, so it was not clear if they were going to be good. They were able to put up a fight, but it was clear that QPR was the class of the field. However, without their main man in the middle, Kevin Gallen, on the field QPR was struggling to create really good opportunities and to finish the chances that they did get. For the first quarter of the game QPR dominated play, but to no result. After that they went into an extended hibernation, with Bournemouth being unfortunate to not net a couple of goals. The QPR defense was mostly solid, with Shittu and Carlisle having good games with only a few lapses. QPR then turned the tables in the second half and took control of the pace. New signing Kevin McLeod was able to create great opportunities on the right wing, and finally Richard Furlong was able to net one of them about half way through the second half. As usual the Pirate (Gino Padula) was a crowd favourite, Steve Palmer and Marc Bircham were all over the middle of the field, and Chris Day was solid in net. Last year only Cardiff City had more talent than QPR, and this year with Cardiff in Division 1, and QPR upgrading at a couple of spots them look even better. They do need Gallen though as without him they seem a bit lost in the middle. Fortunately Gallen came on as a sub towards the end of the game, so I guess will be back full-time soon.

In other sporting news the F1 championship got about as close as possible. Alonso won the Hungary GP, but with Raikonnen coming in second, Montoya third, and Schumacher 8th the three are within two points of each other. A fair bit more exciting down the stretch than last year.

England lost the fourth test this morning to South Africa. They looked like they had a good chance to win after the first day, but squandered it with some blown chances. Most unfortunate was the dismisall of the Yankee Blog's official favourite Cricketeer ET Smith on the first ball of the second day. I would have guessed he would be dropped for the next match, but with Nasser Hussain out with a broken toe, it seems that he will live to bat another day. The fifth test is this coming weekend at the Oval. I am going to try to get a ticket, just so I can say that I saw a test cricket match. I also found a site that has really good commentaries on Cricket and Aussie Rules football. Check out the ubersportingpundit.

In the Premiership Manchester United showed that even without their A game, they can still beat close contenders with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle. I saw a bit of the match on TV, and have to say that Alan Shearer is still a spectacular player. Arsenal beat-up on middle of the pack contenders Middlesboro, and some other matches happenend between teams that dream of winning rather than play with a chance of winning.

The Yankees lost a couple of games, and gave a few games back to the Sox. But the lead is still comfortable, and with the starting rotation looking solid for the rest of the year it will take an exceptional performance by the Sox to challenge. Steinbrenner also hedged his bets of getting into heaven, on the off-chance that God is a Red Sox fan, but donating money to the Jimmy Fund.

Finally, there seem to be reports that Pete Rose is going to be reinstated into baseball. Can I just say I think it is a bad idea. This guy bet on baseball, he deserves to be banned for life. If they want to let him into the Hall of Fame that is a different story, but he should not be allowed back into the game of baseballe

Book review...

I sent the story of my trip to Ukraine to a friend who is actually from Ukraine (although a different part, which is very important). Over lunch a couple of weeks ago he said that I had to read a book called "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer. He said it was one of the best books he had ever read, and one that I would be able to relate to better after having just returned from Ukraine. I really respect his opinions, so I figured the book would at least be worth reading. And I was not dissappointed.

"Everything is Illuminated" is the story of a young American (also with the name Jonathan Safran Foer, but this is a work of fiction) who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the holocaust. In the process the book tells several stories: the American's trip to the Ukraine, the story of his grandfather and the town history, his Ukrainian translator's personal struggles with family and identity, and his Ukrainian translator's grandfathers experience during the war. These stories are told in different voices, in different chapters interspersed throughout the book. Some of these work better than others, as Foer seems to have a desire to stretch into literary gimmicks that are not always neccesary. But when he gets it right the passages are as moving as anything I have ever read. His variety of voices allows a reflection on certain elements of the story that reinforces their meaning. Writing about love, personal history, death, and living on allows ample opportunity to take on issues that go to the heart of what it means to be human. It also creates the possibility of falling into a bottomless pit of reflection, over-analysis, and huge failure. This book flirts with those pitfalls at times, but never falls in. It creates scenes of incredible trauma, and manages to tell the story in a way that seems real (a significant achievement for a writer born in 1977).

I am struggling to even describe the book, which speaks the complexity of the story and the skill in telling it. I am sure that my enjoyment of the book was enhanced by witnessing first hand some of the absurdity of life in Ukraine, but that is only part of the story. I also probably related in a more personal manner to the stories of the holocaust, being Jewish myself, but I think that anyone with a heart will be able to understand the feelings that Foer is conveying. Regardless of where you are coming from, if you are looking for a moving, literary novel the best (and perhaps only) thing to say about this book is, "read it."

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Too much...

The headline on this article is: "Nearly half of Americans wouldn't vote for Bush again." Which is ironic because over half of Americans didn't vote for him in the first place.

Sticking my beak in...

There has apparently been a debate raging on a variety of transport and city oriented blogs regarding the merits of eminent domain. Deciding to get involved in something where the future peace of the world was not at stake seemed appealing so I decided to weigh in with some comments to this post on Samizdata (which really is a site I should be reading more). I was directed towards this site from the City Comforts Blog thoughts on this issue, that are significantly more skeptical regarding alternatives to eminent domain. The issue has also been discussed extensively on the Transport Blog. Anyway, I decided to throw some economic theory on the fire. Check it:

A world without compulsary purchase is exactly what was envisioned by Coase in his argument that an optimal outcome can be found simply by assigning property rights. But even Coase acknowledged that this only works in certain situations. The most notable limitation is transaction costs. And in most of the visions of an alternative to eminent domain transaction costs seem to also be a major barrier.

The proposal that a system be established where people put a price on selling their land would have huge transaction costs as the complexity of the contract involved would be enormous. I say this because the permutations of what you would sell what portion of your property for what usage are near endless.

Then there is the assertion that hold-outs are being irrational. Well, considering the sale of a property from a game theory perspective holding out is actually a perfectly rational action, and one where no sale might be an equilibrium outcome, even if it is not a socially optimal outcome.

Imagine a situation where you know that you own property on a high value route. If you price your property at normal market rates you know that it will be sold. But you know that the value to the developer is higher than that. So you price to capture the surplus produced by building the road. But, you don't know what portion of that surplus is yours, so you try to price to capture the highest amount possible. Now each person does this, and the price of all the land is now too high for the road.

The point is that optimal pricing requires coordination among all of the parties, and acheiving this coordination is very, very expensive. In the face of these costs, we have found a solution that does not rely on property rights reaching the optimal outcome, but rather a central body decision. The goal is to make this central body as responsive to the values of society and the property owners as possible.

It is my belief that as we see technology and information technology advance there is a vision that we can reduce transaction costs, and thus overcome the barriers of the past that made eminent domain neccesary. There might be some truth in this assertion, but it is my belief that we are not there yet, as we still don't have people able to construct precise algorithms for their thinking that allow some computer to produce the optimal solution that meets the needs of all parties.

The importance of space...

An obvious, indisputable reality of the world is that there are differences in the world across space. This is so obvious that very few people comment on it, but is also important that it should not be ignored in any analysis of the world. An overly simple example of this is the difference in life prospects for someone raised in Scarsdale vs. the South Bronx. Another increasingly relevant example to the world is how we speak of the state of affairs in Iraq. In many places in Iraq the situation is chaotic and Coalition soldiers are under threat. In other places Coalition soldiers are successfully working to restore Iraqi society to a form of normality that has not been seen in a long time. The NYT takes the time to venture away from where the trauma is to a place of a less hot story. It is a town where the Americans are still welcome and with peace lives and infrastructure are returning to normal.

In a world of a mass media that is serving a large space and a world of increasingly complexity, it is hard to convey the differences across space accurately. Thus we fall into a trap of generalisation of a situation. Everyone wants to pronounce the situation in Iraq as "x" based on what they are seeing in a particular space. But in reality there is no situation in Iraq, there are many situations in Iraq. Numbers and polls are generalities, events are specific to certain locations, reality is complicated and is not going to be conveyed in a newspaper or magazine or blog. So the chances are that every assessment of a situation is both correct and incorrect depending on the space and time it is applied to.

But does any of this matter? Well, to the extent that our stories of a place are shaping our evaluation of options for the entire space it does. But probably the people on the ground are more aware of the variety of realities that exist than our newspapers convey. Bremer is quoted, "I don't accept the definition of a country in chaos, Most of this country is at peace." As long as we are responding to the different situations differently than there is no problem. This does not mean that there are not real problems in Iraq, but there is a significant uncertainty if the areas in chaos are going to grow, or the areas in peace are going to grow. In the future I am going to try to make sure that my thinking about Iraq takes this reality into account more, because I feel like different opinions are not talking to each other because of this disconnect about what they are talking about, and the belief that both sides cannot be right at the same time.

The Good of Rumsfeld (part II)...

I have said there are good aspects of Donald Rumsfeld before, but I want to say it again because I constantly repeat my criticisms and I don't want to seem unfair. He is a great person for reshaping the military. The military is a highly institutionalised environment, and change is very difficult to affect. It takes a leader who has a willingness to question assumptions, challenge traditional thinking, and propose radical options. This is the what Rumsfeld is engaged in at the Pentagon. An article in today's NYT speaks to this mission, and I think that witnessing what is going on in Iraq today is leading us all to realise the stakes in remaking the military. So I wish him the best of luck in this mission, if he can't do it I wonder who can. And again, I wish that he would just shut up about America's relations to other nations and the missions that we should and should not engage in.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

And then...

To the shock and surprise of the two people who awoke from a two-year long coma yesterday Bush revealed himself as more a friend of industry interests than the environment. Don't know what I am talking about...check it! While a lot of what Bush does pisses me off, the worst is the pandering to industry interests. A government that is friendly to business is one thing, that should entail making rules and being consistent with those rules. But a government that is friendly with certain segments of industry is just wrong. Sure, this change will help power companies make more money (otherwise why would they ask for the change) and there is nothing wrong with just that. But the moving target of rules means that businesses are more apt to lobby for changes than just go along with the rules the way they are. This is wasteful, as there is nothing inherently productive about lobbying. Further, it is not just a matter of power companies making more money, but also environmmental and construction companies making less. I would like to see a true pro-business administration. One that engages in careful consideration of all regulatory changes, makes it clear that the decision will not be influenced by lobbyists, and simply maintains a stable environment for all business interests. But I am a very strange kind of dreamer...

First edition...

A few days ago I got on board in the criticism of Oxblog's assessment of the bombing of the UN in Iraq. Well, today there is a response to the critics (not me in particular, but a general, and lengthy, elaboration of views). And I have to say that I am not swayed. I am beginning to think that all analysis is missing the point of what is going on in Iraq, not that I think I could do better. The basic problem is that bombing the UN clearly indicates an enemy for whom reasonable analysis of what do they hope to accomplish is going to be fruitless. And even if one maintains that there is a lunatic fringe executing these attacks in Iraq, it seems it is impossible for someone to store and transport a 500 lb munition without either some cooperation or fear from locals. Which it is does not matter, if it is fear than the US has failed to provide either enough safety that people are willing to go to authorities with their information, or if it is cooperation than the US has managed to become an even greater enemy than those willing to blow up the UN.

In any event I think that the desire to put a positive spin on a bombing like that simply provokes a skeptical reaction. In an environment where our government is not giving what comes off as an accurate assessment of progress in Iraq (see statements by Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and that 100 days report), it is the large events that are going to be seen as telling the story. And a bombing is not a positive. Even if life in Iraq is better than the news reports indicates (which seems to be the line of those less fair in analysis than Oxblog) the large events are not speaking to that. Infrastructure still seems to need work, law and order is still not there, and there are still significant protests against the US. I am a patient person, but I am also afraid that if we screw this up lots of people will suffer. And it seems we are on the road towards screwing it up, and partially because those leading this effort are not being honest with Americans, or themselves, about what it takes to do this right. And putting a positive spin on a bombing is just another example of that.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Another angry blogger...

Democratic Veteran is a well-done blog that fully conveys the anger that many people feel at GWB. One of the things that I love about the Internet is that if you have enough anger there is nothing to stop you from venting it. Beneath the rapid fading veneer of civility and debate about issues in American poltics is a seething soup of anger. This is true on both sides. Many times it is downright scary to read, leaving me with the feeling that the rule of law is not quite as strong as we might think it is. Then I think about all the interests in America that are invested in stability, and believe that things can't really get that bad. But it seems that we are approaching a cross-roads of sorts, a time when there is a distinct danger that all civility and sense of common purpose could disappear from American politics. Bush won election in 2000 with a minority of voters, and after a few months of attempting to lead a coalition of interests in projects we could all agree on (see education) he quickly put keeping his base happy over winning over the majority of Americans. With a coalition of business interests, ideological conservatives, and the religious right he has a formidable base. But trying to keep them all happy is destroying the fiscal integrity of our treasury. This should be a cause of great concern, but in an age of image dominated politics this is able to be concealed in an environment of fear-mongering and photo-ops.

It is unclear if a Democrat would have established a different tone of politics, or responded differently to the events of 9/11. It is entirely possible that we would be in a situation similar to Britain where the leader of the nation is the ally of the opposition, and the no alternative leader of the Democrats. Rather than seeing a split in the nation, we might be seeing a near dis-empowerment of a significant minority. But that is just speculation. What I do know is that I am not satisfied with the current state of affairs, I think that an increasing number are not satisfied, and I am going to see if the alternative is any better.

Interesting idea...

When I was back in the states a few weeks ago a friend and I were discussing the merits of modular housing. Now there is a post in the City Comforts Blog about this, linking to a story that appears ready to appear in the London Sunday Times. The article is mostly about a block of flats built in Hackney, and as such does not concern me much. But the idea of pre-fab is what is interesting. According to the article these pre-fabs are not really that, and are not cheaper. So I will ignore them.

What I wonder is why is that pre-fab is not more common. We all know that when you are going to buy a car, a dishwasher, a fridge, or most any durable good you go to a store, pick out the model designed by the manufacturer and produced in a factory with precise division of labour. It has been this way since Henry Ford started rolling cars off the assembly line. It has changed a bit since then, with cars being available with lots of options, lots of models, and lots of colours as opposed to Henry Ford's "any colour as long as it is black." But the fact is that it is cheaper to do manufacturing in a central location with each person doing a specific task repeatedly. It is also produces goods of a higher quality. Yet, the housing market has never adopted this model.

It seems that there is no reason why housing can't be done like this. You could have mix and match pieces of houses assembled on site, overcoming the issues with every house looking the same, as well as transportation. It has to be cheaper than having everything done custom. There are developments where the building process is standardised, but they still are limited by size of development, doing all manufacturing on site. On the surface this seems like an industry ripe for a revolution. In fact, I recently went to an exhibit of projects by City Design students and the key element of one project was a factory to manufacturer housing. They just could not resist the temptation to include this business which would provide jobs and cheaper housing into a project that had little to do with changing the local economy. I have asked architects why they don't do more modular housing and the reasons have not been particularly compelling. One is that putting the house together can be challenging, and leave marks that it is pre-fab. But it seems this would be overcome with an increased sophistication in design. The other is that people want their own house. But again, most of what makes a house a home is on the inside, and with the availability of options as well as a much cheaper cost it seems that more people would choose prefab.

So why aren't they? Why has this been a business of the future for a long time?

Blogging around...

In my quest to not finish my thesis, even though it requires not much to be done, I have been spending a good bit of time cruising around the web. I found some cool stuff which is worth passing on. Most of this stuff is just from clicking on links from blogs and links off that, and all that kind of stuff.

Most interesting was a site called Lights Out Films that I found from a link from Hi, I'm Black. This site is almost what I hoped that my one-time movie site "Cin-nip-ma" would become. It is a collection of movie reviews by a dude who just likes movies. It passes my test as he thought that "Old School" was just short of greatness, an assessment that I totally agree with, and he likes those indie films where it is all about characters just talking to each other, like "Swingers". So I give Lights Out Films two thumbs up, and think that it is a far better source for information about movies than almost all movie critics, who seem to take more joy from criticizing, than finding joy in films.

Second interesting site is called, "The Hamster" and is a fairly typical blog. You know, reviews of news, opinions, a clear political bent. All good stuff that is approved of, and he does a good job with it. But what caught my eye was this excerpt from Al Franken's new book (the one that he is getting sued by Fox News over the term "fair and balenced"...which I just have to say is such a crock of crap...come-on people who think Fox is fair and balanced are so far right that they should not even be worried about by anyone who objects to what Fox says...but I digress). Anyway, I doubt that I will read the book because I don't need to get angry about the political nonsense of Bush while reading, but the excerpt is entertaining.

The last thing worth mentioning is a fellow named Michael Jenning's blog that seems remarkable similar to mine. His description: "I'm an Aussie presently living in London. This blog consists of my random thoughts on a variety of subjects, ranging from politics to telecommunications technology, movies cricket, urban design, and whatever else comes into my head." I would accuse him of ripping me off, except that he probably has been doing this longer than me. But he has good stuff about cities and Cricket, so I think I will make a point of reading his stuff more often.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Sport...

Time for another update on the sport. I am a bit low on energy so this will be brief.

The Yankees continue to win games and pull away from the Sox. Is there a fixed date on the calender this happens like the Groundhog coming out, or is it just sure that it will happen at some point every year, like a Basketball player getting arrested for something really bad?

The England National team played Croatia last night and put on their typical mix of very inspired and very mediocre football. If this group could ever just maintain their brillance for an entire game it would be awsome. But they were stuck relying on their keeper for a few brilliant saves before taking total control of the match in the second half. Is there some way football can be structured so we can see teams like this at their best...at least for the World Cup.

The fourth cricket test between South Africa and England started today, and after an inspired beginning taking 4 quick wickets England let SA back in the match. ET Smith is back in the line-up, but is going to have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest to get his chance with the bat. At least they got Graham Smith out for less than 200.

I am going to be in the US for almost the entire football season. First time in 2 years. I am excited about that.

Anyone know a bar in the Boston area that shows English Premier League matches live? I think that is something I would like to check out. Nothing like bloody marys and football...except in California where those lucky buggers get American football at 9 am.

What ever happenend to The National, the experiment with an American sports daily, and their column, "The Three Dot lounge"...that was good stuff

Credit where credit is due...

I have been rather harsh on the Oxblog lately, and I kind of feel bad because I generally do enjoy reading what those three guys have to say. So, I thought I would just give some credit for what is a great post that gets at all that is good with the Oxblog. Josh Chavetz rightly flames a National Review column on the London Congestion Charge. The kicker is that the columnist calls the congestion charge socialist, and Josh points out that is the actually the farthest thing from it.

The congestion charge came about before I started blogging, so I have not written about it much. But I have to say it is probably one of the best ideas to come out of any city government in a long time. It uses to principles of economics to make central London a much more pleasant place. I live just inside the congestion zone, and I have noticed a decrease in traffic. In addition the cash generated by the congestion charge is being used to put better buses on the streets, and I have noticed that the bus service is better as well, with newer buses on the street, less full buses passing by stations, and (due to less traffic) buses getting around quicker. People that drive in Central London on a regular basis should pay for that priviledge, and the Congestion charge forces them to do just that.

Now this new proposal for increasing tube fares uses the same principle, but this is the first that I have heard of it, so I don't really have an opinion. Ken maintains that most people using the tube in zone 1 are higher income. I could see how this is true, but it is not true for the section of zone 1 that I live in. In the short-term I think it is really just a fund-raising scheme rather than a behaviour adjustment plan (like the congestion charge). The reason for this is that the increases are small, most people will continue to travel using travelcards (whose price will probably still be the same relative to single trips, and thus people will not ration usage), and there is no alternative to the Tube (otherwise it would not be so crowded inspite of its shortcomings). There are some possible long-term implications of changing the fare structure, associated with the difference in value between close-in accomodation and outer areas, but I think that any fare change is not going to be significant enough to really alter locational preferences. It is worth noting that Ken's claim about wealthy people living in zone 1 is only true after several decades of gentrification (and is still not universally true, as my neighbourhood can attest to)


This is a great post on Daily Kos highlighting the way Bush "reaches out" to minorities. At first it is more a laugher than deep criticism, did you really think that Bush hangs out with minorities a lot except in photo-ops? But after actually looking at the photos it is really emblematic of how our politics is dominated by images and not substance. Is compassion really an issue? Compassion is defined as, "a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering." Which actually raises two questions, first, what leader would we elect who was not compassionate? Does Bush think that any of his potential opponents are not compassionate, or more likely, is he afraid that because of his policies people will think that he is not compassionate. Well, the real test is if he is compassionate for the suffering caused by him...I actually think he probably is.

The second question is why does Bush think that minorities are the only ones that suffer. Many minorities certainly do suffer in America, but so do lots of other people. Does Bush think minorities are victims? Does he think that just having compassion is the answer? What programs does he have? He might have compassion, but that does not mean that I will give him a free pass on something like not funding the Americorps program that he has previously defended.

Let the uncertain lead them...

In the aftermath of the aftermath of the bombing of the UN building there is much being written about what it means. However, the fact is that no one really knows why this was done, and certainly no one knows what it will mean for the future. The Talking Points Memo has a semi-attack on the view of the Oxblog regarding the motivations and reasons for this attack (which I addressed yesterday). The point at the end is one that I would agree with, "I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ..." But I think that it is not so simple. Rebuilding a nation is really, really tough stuff. The British government is renknown for trying to put metrics on everything, and they are doing something relatively simple like running a National Health Service, trying to do the same with Iraq is near impossible. All I am saying is that each action needs to be examined, and evaluated. I don't trust most of the people who were advocating invading Iraq because they have been so one-sided in the past.

But the real problem is that no one knows what is going on. The Talking Points post is filled with so much uncertainty that it hurts
(and TPM is probably the most fact-driven blog around). So this is not unique, Matthew Yglesias has a great review of Rwanda, but it was prompted by other speculation about the motivation for the bombing in the National Review Online. Now from all this speculation about causes comes speculation about reaction. It all strikes me as endlessly unproductive...but perhaps I am just feeling pretty powerless sitting in front of a computer while the world spins out of control, and wondering why others don't feel the same. I am eagerly awaiting OxBlog's promised response to all this.

In the midst of all this speculation, there is some real news about reaction. The US is preparing a UN resolution to seek help from more nations in rebuilding Iraq. I can't imagine this is a bad thing. It is bad that Rumsfeld is sticking with his li(n)e that troop levels are sufficient. I am no expert, but it does seem like I have been reading a lot about how it would be good to increase the levels of certain kinds of troops, but we just don't have them available. Perhaps we can finally get the world on board. Even if the rest of the world did not support the US-led invasion, they should be able to get over that, and acknowledge that what is done is done, and the goal should now be creating the best future for Iraqis, rather than seeking a mea culpa from the US government (because we know Bush and Co. can out-stubborn most opponents and lie with the best of them).

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

A real cities blog...

When I started this blog I thought I would be writing about things I knew about...like cities, business, and sports. In reality I have ended up writing about poltics, interntational issues, and sports while not doing enough on cities. But there is a blogger who really gets into the issues of cities, or at least the New Urbanism side of issues. It is pretty interesting, and definitely a source of news that you are not going to find on the front page of the NYT too often. So check out the City Comforts Blog when you get a chance.

Can't buy it...

David Adesnik of the OxBlog rightly points out that both bombings yesterday are no different in terms of moral depravity. That automatically puts him a step above those that I wrote about yesterday. It also eliminates him from contention for the whacko hall of fame, but there was not much danger of a bunch of Rhodes Scholars joining that group anyway (even with the sliding standards I have chosen to adopt). But I would like to take issue with two of David's points: The first is his comment on Friedman's piece in the NYT today. He quotes Friedman: "The bad guys in Iraq have been gaining so much momentum in recent days -- with their attacks on pipelines, US forces, and UN headquarters -- that they are steadily eroding the sense of partnership between US forces and the Iraqi people." Adesnik then proceeds to call this view "absurd" because the bombing only demostrates "Ba'athist forces...total disregard for the welfare of the Iraqi people." But it seems to me misguided to be calling the view of Friedman, who is on the ground in Iraq, absurd from the comfort of a desk chair. It seems to me that it is almost more likely because it is so absurd. I am sure it is obvious to Adesnik that the US is working (perhaps not successful, but still working) to put Iraq on the road to peace and prosperity. However, from what I read it doesn't seem like this is obvious to the Iraqi people. They seem to hold some absurd views on what the US is doing in Iraq. So while it is rational that the bombing of the UN compound should ally the Iraqi people with the US and the UN, I will not be convinced until I see evidence of it.

The other point Adesnik makes is that "the President has his critics in a rhetorical vise. There is no way they can advocate the abandonment of the Iraqi people without coming across as retrograde isolationists. " To this I would say that there is no single group of the President's critics. I for one have no problem with my criticism of the President. Before we invaded I thought it was the right thing to do. I was a guest at dinner in a decidedly anti-war German household when the question I was dreading was asked, "Are you pro-war?" Not wanting to be rude to my host, I thought for a second and said something like, "No one is pro-war, it is just that there are situations when dangers are present and there is no other course of action available, that war becomes the least of all possible evils." It was about as diplomatic as I could be when faced with what I thought was a situation where most of Europe was ignoring the threat that Sadaam faced to his own people and the rest of the world.

Looking back on this I feel lied to by the President, as well as angry for the way the overall mission has been botched. A key part of my support for the war was based on the threat that Sadaam presented to America. It now seems this was dramatically over-blown (and I don't feel like going into the variety of ways here). However, removing Sadaam from power still might have been the right thing to do, to either create an example of peace and democracy for the Middle East or to just stop the suffering of the Iraqi people. Perhaps if this was the case being made we would have had a different debate, perhaps a different coaltion supporting the US would have emerged, and perhaps the situation in Iraq would be different today. But I am going to blame Bush for misleading me to war, even if I might have still supported his effort if a different case was made.

Now, I also feel completely free to criticise the Administration for the state of affairs in Iraq today. Rumsfeld was right that we could defeat the Iraqi army with less troops than his Generals thought were required. But he was wrong about how many troops would be needed in the aftermath. We immediately lost a lot of goodwill by allowing a few days of looting, this did not demonstrate that we cared about the future of the country. We were relying too much on unknown and unpopular dissidents to help establish an interim government for Iraq. And we were not able to provide troops trained to maintain civil order and protect key infrastructure. All of this is hindsight for me, but I was not the one telling people that Iraq could be invaded, Sadaam removed from power, and a relatively smooth transition to a new government enacted. Those who were saying that should have been able to forsee the current course of events, or be judged and criticised for failing to.

So, to speak of a rhetorical vise, I certainly don't feel like I am in one. I feel naive for believing my President's lies, I feel like perhaps those anti-war Germans knew something about rebuilding a nation that I didn't, but I certainly don't have any difficulty criticizing Bush and his team for their lies and failures.

Useful stuff from the Bush Campaign...

There is a suggestion by Not Genius, found via Matthew Yglesias, that proposes using the Action Center on the Bush Campaign web site for sending around "lefty" views. The tone of the proposal is pretty sinister sounding, and is made out to be more of an effort to get back at Karl Rove than engage in any semi-substatial discourse. But as I said in Yglesias' comments section:

It seems that this whole scheme is only taking some "tools of democracy" developed by the Bush campaign and using them for both sides of the political debate. It should not be about crippling the web site, or putting Bush out of the internet game. It is just that the Bush team seems to have put together some darn information, and there is nothing to prevent that from being used by both sides.

One might even say that the Bush team did a really good thing making these available. To not use them because they are on the Bush web site is one step short of not using the White House web site or House of Reps phone lines because they mail and messages goes to a Republican. Perhaps their mistake is that they did not do this with tax payer dollars and put up a government web site with this information. So just keep it civil, not make it a crusade, and send out those letters which Bush has made it easier for everyone to send. Heck...that site is even useful for someone looking for a job with a newspaper.

So I say, please, take advantage of this information, send out letters, it is becoming easier to do, and make your voice heard (even if that will be harder over the din the Internet has made possible).

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Not a good day...

I am sure you have all seen the news that a UN building in Baghdad and bus in Jerusalem were both bombed today, and with significant loss of life at each. This is tragic, there really is no other word for it. Who knows what the future will hold for Iraq. And it is likely that the tentative steps towards peace have been set back significantly in Israel. But you know all of that.

Here is some stuff, less important, that you don't know. Earlier today I mentioned that I accidently clicked on Instapundit. In case you don't know, this is a right-wing blogger and law professor from Tennesee by the name of Glenn Reynolds. He is gets the most traffic of any blog, mostly because he puts up so many links that he is a bit of a hub for lots of stuff. He even made a bunch of those love-in lists that I mentioned a couple of days ago. Well, earlier today he actually clicked over to my site, only to find this pretty lame post passing on that new F**ked Company Site. So no link for me. But, I am glad, because this post of his in the aftermath of the UN bombing of Iraq means that he is added to my whacko hall of fame.

Now in the process of reading the comments off a much more sane and reasonable post by Matthew Ygelsias I found an even bigger whacko blog. Now Instapundit is kind of out there, but he probably would not make the list if it wasn't for his high profile. This dude on the other hand, and the readers in his comments section are just dangerous. Dangerous in the way that Timothy McVeigh is dangerous, not dangerous in the way that GWB is dangerous. Like this guy and his readers sound like if you disagreed with them about the merits of the UN they might just take out the AK-47 (which they believe is their right to carry anywhere) and blow your head off because you are a real threat to the independence of the United States of America. Seriously.

A great web site...

I actually clicked on Instapundit by accident just now (it was next to a site I wanted in my bookmark file), but while there I decided to hang around. A few posts down I got to this link of a site of Internal Corporate Memos. These are just great. There is a post about not using the visitors bathroom at the Commerzbank building, and a post about the rationale behind removing the AOL from the AOLTimeWarner corporate name. I am just getting started, but the entire site is worth a browse for a quick chuckle. The only bummer of the site is a good portion of the content you have to pay for. What happenend to the good old days when everything on line was free?

The Sport...

I like writing about sport more and more as the rest of the stuff becomes increasingly depressing. So here is the run-down of the last few days...

For some bizarre reason the Division 2 super-heros QPR were on Sky Sports 1 last night. This is usually reserved for Premier league match-ups and National team exhibitions, but I was not going to complain. They were playing Brighton, in Brighton, which is incidentally one of the few locations of a Division 2 team that I can easily find on a map. It was good to see the R's back in action. Steve Palmer is still busting his ass all over the field. Gino Padula (The Pirate) is still making runs from his right back position. Shittu and Carlisle are in central defense. And Mark Bircham still has a stupid blue coloured mohawk type thing that he seems to have convinced Chris Day is a good look. Anyway QPR scored early to go up 1-0, but then just as quickly gave a goal back on what looked like a missed defensive assignment. QPR seemed to have the better chances and the run of play for the rest of the first and start of the second half, but they were not able to get a goal. At about 60 minutes though the new left back (something Forbes) head-butted a guy after a hard-challenge and was sent off. That was pretty stupid and Brighton scored a go-ahead goal not too much later. For the rest of the game Brighton soaked up the pressure from QPR, and held their lead. The R's looked good, but it was a stupid loss.

Also yesterday was the exciting conclusion to the third Test between England and South Africa. At last update it looked like England had blown there chance at a win with an epic batting collapse. It turns out that the wicket was just in really bad shape, and England was able to get through the South Africa line-up pretty smoothly. So England was able to secure a win and even the series at 1-1 (with one draw). I was surprised as England definitely looked the worse team at Lord's a couple of weeks ago. There is another test starting on Thursday and conventional wisdom is that, "it will be hard for the tourists to bounce back." But I don't buy that, the only way England won is that they won the toss and were lucky enough to put together on good innings. Other than that SA have been been the better team, and I am not sure what losing one test has to do with the next...but what I don't know about Cricket could fill an ocean. Also we are hoping for more from ET Smith, official favourite English cricketeer of the Yankee Blog.

The last sports news is the Yankees winning streak. They are winning ugly, with a pretty pathetic bullpen, but they are still winning and are now five games ahead of the Sox. Can't be a good scene in Beantown, especially since the A's are putting together there typical late season run, making a wild card berth a challenge as well. I can't say that I want to see the Sox in the playoffs, but I do think they deserve it.

Another one for the files...

Apparently the American public were misunderstanding GWB when he said "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." The Washington Post points out that in a recent interview Bush is not revising his statement, but is clarifying its meaning. It seems that us idiots (the American public) were not aware that "Actually, major military operations [have ended]. Because we still have combat operations going on...It's a different kind of combat mission, but, nevertheless, it's combat, just ask the kids that are over there killing and being shot at." So, let me get this straight, it is an impeachable offence to mince words when the topic is sex, but when it is kids being shot and killed, then being imprecise with definitions is OK.

I really wish that when GWB was on that aircraft carrier he had said...

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. But that does not mean combat operations have ended. These will continue for at least the next three months. And while major combat will be over, there will still be kids getting killed and shot at. But don't say that is major combat operations, because that means major military operations, and merely 130 troops being killed does not qualify as major military operations, that is a different kind of combat mission. Just so I am clear, as I promised I would be with the American people; major combat operations are over, meaning major military operations; but now is a different kind of combat, with kids getting shot and killed, but that is not major. Thank you, God bless America"

Monday, August 18, 2003

My two cents...

I have read a couple of things recently on the improving state of the US economy, and yet how that economy will not be helping me or others without jobs for a while. Via Drezner, I found this article that appeared in the Washington Times. The overall point of the article is one that I tend to agree with, namely outsourcing is not that bad. We are a very productive nation on the whole, and should not be wasting our resources producing cloth, T-shirts, and other low value goods. But there are two caveats that I want to add to this opinion piece. First is to take issue with this passage:

"The best measure of comparative productivity levels is real GDP per employed person. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002 the United States continued to lead the world in this category. All U.S. workers produced $71,600 in output each (in 1999 dollars). The next highest country was Belgium, where each worker produced $64,100. Japanese workers — renowned for their productivity — produced just $51,600. Korean workers produced even less: $34,600 each"

The issue I would argue is that the best measure is not real GDP per employed person, but might be real GDP per hour worked. This doesn't really matter in comparisons to nations like Korea, or Mexico and China where most outsourced goods come from. But if you are getting ready to give the US economy a victory lap for being number one, you should make sure we are number one in what matters. And what matters is largely about personal preferences. Americans work more than Europeans, and accordingly produce more. But from some data (which I have seen recently, but am not about to dig up now) we do not produce more per hour than Europeans. It is speculated that the reason for this is the difference in structure of labour markets between the US and Europe. In the US it is "easy come, easy go" as getting rid of excess employees is relatively easy. In Europe it is much more difficult to shed workers, so firms are much more cautious in hiring people. What this means is that firms in Europe put more pressure on workers to produce more while they are at work, as they are less likely to hire a new worker for what might be a temporary time of increased demand.

The second issue with the piece is not so much with what is said, but what is not said. Specifically, in a condition where productivity in the US is rising, and we are moving low-value jobs to other places, we should be making explicit investments in meeting the needs of workers who are losing in the transition. There is a need to find jobs for those who were doing lower value activities. I have argued before about the reasons why the Bush tax cut was the wrong idea for our time, and this is just another reason. The unprecendented rise in productivity that is exceeding the rate of GDP increase is explained very thoroughly in this post by Brad DeLong (the blog source for good economic information).

This whole issue ties into an article I saw today in the NYT regarding Bush's vulnerability in South Carolina. The story focuses on how Bush is not doing enough (or anything really) to protect Textile workers and mill owners from competition from China and Mexico. I really hope that this story does not lead to Dems falling over each other to win over this vote on the basis of their simplistic reasoing. It is (at least increasingly) Bush's fault that the economy is not strong enough to provide new jobs for the former textile workers, and that we are not doing enough to retrain these workers and (perhaps) create incentives for new businesses to move to the area to employees. But as for the owners of the Mills, I really could not careless. They made money when times were good, and now that someone is producing goods much cheaper than they can, they are going to have to adjust. A better manager would have seen this coming and found a way to differentiate production or find a new business to compete in. These people did neither, and really have only themselves to blame. Just like farmers, and myself, they are not entitled to protection from the government, and I really don't feel like paying more for clothes or furniture just so a bunch of Republican donors can have factories to run.