Yankee Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

More from the Drez...

At the start of this Wilson affair I said I admired the hardline that Dan Drezner has taken on this issue. He gets a bit softer today, buying the first attempt at damage control from Bush. Josh Marshall on the other hand pokes a huge hole in this first attempt at defence. I think you have to expect a few attempts at damage control from Bush before he gets it right, but so far he has always properly punished those who have made him look bad. We'll see if the same holds true in this case. If not I think that it hints to some deeper involvement by Bush or someone who really matters to Bush. Anyway, here is the comment I make regarding Dan's post:

The issue is not if Josh Marshall is sated. It is not his opinion that matters, he is only relevant because he has done some of the best reporting on this issue.

Now I do not want to paint all Republicans with this, but it is remarkable how some(including Bush) are using criticism of congress and Clinton as a defense. Bad stuff is done by a lot of people, Clinton was certainly no exception, but that is not defense for yourself, unless you think being impeached is a normal thing to happen in the course of a Presidency.

Bush has claimed a moral high ground on integrity and national security, and while I have been somewhat skeptical, I have never seen evidence that he has not had what he believes are the nation's interest in making policy.

This story is the first time that I am seeing evidence that he is putting his political career ahead of national security. Regardless of what Teddy Kennedy says attacking Iraq was a huge political risk (and one that looks like it might go bad at this point).

Bush has done everything with certainty and confidence. When he uses this attitude on something (such as protecting members of his White House from this investigation) that is not in the interests of this country things can look very bad.

As of right now I doubt Bush had any involvement with this. But as each day goes by when he does not flat out say "this is wrong, members of my staff (might) have done some thing wrong, and those people will be punished if anything is discovered" is a day when I get closer to concluding that he is not protecting others, but really protecting himself.

Another thing...

In addition to the Brooks thing today there is another interesting item on the Op-Ed page. The Editorial Board of the New York Times rightly takes the current crop of Democratic Candidates to task for turning their back on some of the most intelligent of Clinton's polcies. Why are these candidates running from free trade? Bush is already running from free trade, why not just wait and see if he hangs himself on that rope as well internationally. Why can't we just get a candidate who will fully embrace Clinton's policies?

Is that a fully formed thought…

I have been watching with a passing interest the rise of David Brooks as a new New York Times voice from the right. So far I have to say that most of his efforts have been mediocre at best. His most notable topic has been discrimination against conservative academics in hiring. I don’t have direct evidence that he is wrong on this, but I have a gut feeling that he is kind of missing the boat. A letter published today got me a bit farther to realizing my discomfort. It pointed to the fact that the conservative/liberal dichotomy that might work well in politics holds up much more poorly in academics. The spectrum is so broad that to say that “liberals” stick together is ignoring a wide variety of differences among academics who all might have, let’s say, voted for Gore in 2000. There are Marxists in the academy; in fact for many in the academy “liberal” as in “neo-liberal economic policy” is as much a dirty word as “conservative”.

What I really wanted to write about though was Brooks’ column today on Bush-hatred. According to Brooks the discourse of the “President wars” is poisonous to our democracy and is now much more of a threat to Democracy than it was when Clinton was the target. Why this is so is not explained by Brooks. In fact his argument seems to be essentially, “Some people who hate Bush say things that are very appalling. Of course these things are not true, so I do not need to provide any evidence these things are not true. When important politicians say that make the haters feel good, those things must be false. Some people hate Bush for superficial reasons, so all reasons for disagreeing with President Bush must be invalid. Conservatives did the same thing to Clinton, so I am not just picking on liberals.”

Well, the situation with Bush is different to Clinton. Sure there are some people who hate Bush on a visceral level, but there are many people who have some very serious concerns with Bush’s policies and the way he runs his administration. The attacks on Clinton were largely of a personal nature because Clinton was governing from the center. The attacks on Bush are directly related to policy because he is not governing from the center. In fact the political center of the nation is so far to the right that the left’s equivalent of those who were pursuing Clinton are entirely disillusioned with the nation’s political parties. I do not mean to criticize this situation, I think it reflects the will of our nation quite well, but I do think it is a reality that should be considered when saying that Bush-hatred and Clinton-hatred are the same thing.

He starts his piece by saying that we have moved from some kind of noble discourse on “culture” to actual criticism of Presidents which is inferior somehow. But I wonder if we are seeing criticism of Bush because his agenda is so radical that no single issue oriented approach begins to encompass the scope of the problems people have with Bush. There are not foreign policy groups dedicated to fighting specific sides of issues. There is no established group that stands for telling the truth to the American people when we are considering invading another country. The issues that we are dealing with are new, and the response should be expected to be new as well.

Perhaps Brooks was just laying the ground work for a theme that he is going to develop over the coming months. Perhaps he will establish why people who hate Bush because of his policies are threatening democracy. Perhaps he will help me understand better why Bush-hatred is the same as Clinton-hatred. Perhaps he will convince me that the pervasive criticism of Bush is inferior to the “culture wars” he looks back on nostalgically. But somehow I doubt that those arguments will be any more convincing than the broad outline we have received today from his desk.

Sports Update...

I haven't done one of these in a while. I think it is because I am just not as absorbed into non-American sports. But that is not entirely true. I have to tip my hat to Fox Sports World for their great coverage of football around the world. Let me lead with their Friday night special, the Australian Rules Grand Final. I tried to watch this, but the game didn't start until about 1 am and I was asleep not too long after the first bounce. They did have a lot of the pre-game stuff on though, and that was just excellent. I think I might have forgotten how great Australia can be. Watching Melbourne's pride in their game, and the currently diminished MCG still filled with 90,000 made me remember.

Anyway, before I finally gave up on the game it was apparent that Brisbane was going to march to a third straight premiership crown. The game was not close and their is a lot being written about how this Brisbane team will go down as one of the best teams of all time. I am not so knowledgeable about the history of the game, but the nature of the game and the turnover in teams that I have seen in just three seasons of following the sport still allows me to appreciate the accomplishment of the Brisbane Lions.

Fox Sports World is at its best in its coverage of the English Premier League. They don't have a huge number of live games, but seem to have a series of games to run on deal as the week goes on. The big news in the EPL though was a game that I did not see...the Arsenal- Man U game last week. The game was highlighted by a Ruud Van Niesterooy miss on a penalty kick in extra time and the celebration of Arsenal in the face of Ruud after the game. I saw the clips of this and the display by Arsenal was just disgusting. They were in Ruud's face and also hitting him. It was pure class on the part of Ruud to not strike back. I understand that Arsenal were excited to get out of Old Trafford with a draw, but their behaviour has no excuse. I never did care for the Gunners (mostly because they have been front-runners in the time that I have been following the league) but now I actually have a good reason to dislike them.

Following QPR from another country is going to be a challenge. But thanks to the Internet it is really not too hard to get information on them. They put on a good show last week beating Sheffield United to make the third round of the Carling (League) Cup. They drew Manchester City at home in the next round. A fixture that I wish I could be at Loftus Road for. But the best QPR news item of the last couple of weeks was this quote from Ian Holloway, the manager:
To put it in gentleman's terms, if you've been out for a night and you're ooking for a young lady and you pull one, you've done what you set out to do. We didn't look our best today but we've pulled. Some weeks the lady is good looking and some weeks they're not. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She may not have been the best looking lady we ended up taking home but it was still very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much and let's have coffee

That is the quick rundown on the non-American sports. England's tour of Bangladesh, South Africa's reinstated tour of Pakistan and Zimbabwe's tour of Australia will be providing some cricket news in the next couple of weeks. Stateside I expect to watch the baseball playoffs and continue to see great things from my fantasy football team. The Women's World Cup has not really caught my attention yet, but the competition is just getting going.

Monday, September 29, 2003

The Big Story...

The cable news networks this morning were treating this as just another story, but it is clear at this point that the revelation of a covert CIA operative by an "administration official" is going to be a big deal. The blogs are blowing up with this thing, and have been since the story in the Washington Post yesterday. The best coverage of this story is being done by the Talking Points Memo, while the most damning criticism is coming from Drezner (his ability to rise above partisan bickering is the primary reason why he is my favorite blog). The angle of why this is so bad has been covered and recovered, and all I can say is that I agree. I was on the story of the lies leading up to the war a long time ago, and it has surprised me that it has taken so long for a real scandel to come out of this. I think it is clear that eventually heads will roll over some part of the planning or aftermath of our Iraqi adventures, the only questions are who, when, and under what circumstances.

The angle of this story that is clearly not resolved at this point is the why? The speculation seems focused on political operatives in the White House. I have no evidence if this is true or not, but my gut tells me that it is the case. And my gut comes from my feeling about why this would happen. I think this is just an outgrowth of the dirty tricks and smears that have been a way of life for Rove and crew for a long time. Without going into a long history, I think it is safe to say that Rove is a ruthless political operative. He will not think twice about hitting a rival in the knees from behind for political gain. This kind of no holds barred politics has served Bush well, and perhaps even assured his rise to the White House (see South Carolina, McCain).

But a danger with this kind of politics is that it does not work when you are dealing with issues of national security and classified information. When you dig up some dirt on someone's personal life and use it to raise questions about integrity that is just dispicable. But when you dig up dirt about someone's personal life from a classified file and use it to undermine national security that is illegal. It seems unlikely that there was an orienation class on this when Rove showed up in the White House. For him and his team it is instinct to attack threats, and I don't think that instinct is turned on and off like a switch when dealing with different types of issues.

Of course it is not rational to do something illegal in an effort to dismiss a criticism of misjudgement. But I am doubting that the rational part of the mind even entered into this decision. A threat was identified and an attack was made. Now I think a question that will come up in the following days is when did it become clear that this attack was a fumble, what has been done to cover-up the fumble, and who else has been implicated. In reality I think that it probably was not Rove who unleashed this attack, but he was probably involved in some way. I similarly think that it is doubtful that Bush has had any direct involvement in this. I think this probably became too hot too fast for them to risk getting Bush involved. Which then just raises questions not about Bush's integrity, but about his capacity to control his staff.

One of the more revealing stories of the past week was that quote from Bush on his Fox interview where he said that he does not rely on the news for information, but rather on more "objective" sources like his staff. Given this piece of information it is very easy to understand how he could be entirely out of the loop on this story. But it raises serious questions about his "leadership" when all it seems to consist of is being led in different directions by different advisors and then choosing which one to follow. When only certain voices are represented he can very easily go down the wrong path. I actually think that there is decent balence in the foreign policy team, and that there is some discussion of the merits of the choices that are being made. I have far less confidence that this is the case regarding domestic policy and in political affairs. It is when the political meets the foreign policy that this shortcoming of the Bush administration might be exposed in all its gory detail.

And yes, I stand by my assessment that they are all liers.

A Wolf in Sheep's clothing...

I have come out on the record as being a pro-Clark Democrat. There has been nothing to make me question my position. In fact the dominant stories of the race for the past few days have only solidified my choice. The most persistent criticism against Clark is that he is not a "real" Democrat. Now, let me first say that anytime that the term "real" is used about anyone or anything it makes me uncomfortable. It is usually a critique of last resort, when there is nothing substansive to say, try to discuss the past. It is used about immigrant Americans and about fans of sports teams new to the scene and is in all cases mostly nonsense.

Not being a "real" Democrat could be a problem for Clark if he is a wolf in sheep's clothing, or namely a Republican trying to get the nomination of the Democratic party. But no one has said that, and it is completely nonsense to think it. Sure there will be some Democratic primary voters for whom this will matter, but I think the number is few, and those people are probably not going to be Clark supporters anyway in the primary.

In reality I think this whole line of questioning Clark is part of the reason that I find his candidacy so compelling. It shows that he is not a part of the Democratic party special interests (yes, they exist just as the GOP has their special interest groups). I like the fact that Democrats stand opposed to Republicans, I like their fundamental values, but I feel that Unions, Environmental groups, and others sometimes do not represent my views as well as the core Democratic values do. The other thing this critique reveals is that Clark is more vulnerable in the primaries than in the general election. These lines about Clark are coming from the GOP dirty tricks division with the hope they will get some traction among Democrats. In a Bush v. Clark campaign they will be meaningless because all it shows is that Clark is the politician Bush once claimed he was. Namely someone who can rise above the partisan fray and actually stand for the things that he beleives rather than just winning over the other guy.

The release of this information from the GOP also reveals that they are most afraid of Clark. The fear with Clark is that there is some deep dark secret that will be exposed come general election time. But the fact that the GOP is working against him at this stage of the campaign shows that they are afraid of him. While I disagree with the Bush people I rarely think they are stupid, and this is one situation where I totallly agree with them; Clark is the candidate with the best chance of beating Bush. And that is the core reason that I am backing Clark for the nomination. Now if only the campaign will get back to me about my offer to volunteer perhaps I will be able to do more than just give my vote. I am also still hoping for a spot on their blog-roll, but with my recent blog performance (or lack there-of) maybe I am asking for too much.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Pavers and Concrete...

One thing that always bothered me in Melbourne and London was that it took forever to redo a sidewalk. This was because instead of just pouring some concrete they would lay down large blocks called pavers. The City Comforts blog suggests that using bricks should be more widespread in the US. I cannot agree:

I shudder at the thought of bricks (or as in Britain and Australia Pavers) being used more widely in the US. Sidewalk projects in London seemed to take about five times the length expected in the US because of their use of pavers. No one could ever answer the question of why they used pavers instead of just pouring concrete. It might be marginally more aesthetic, but in the end it is just a huge waste in all but the most scenic areas.

As far as the cost of reconstruction, it is still a huge pain in the a** with pavers. Perhaps a good comprimise is to just find ways of making poured concrete marginally better looking.

In the end my best guess of why they used pavers in Australia and England is that there was a huge amount of institutional momentum from the construction industry, labourer's unions, and city officials. Let's not get ourselves in the same situation in the US.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Thought of the day...

I am feeling bad that my blogging has been slow lately, and today is going to be no exception. Even though there is plenty to comment on today (Clark's rise, Bush's speech, California Recall, Iraq bombings), I am just going to comment on something in the New Yorker from two weeks ago. John Cassidy wrote a book review of the new book by Paul Krugman and another upcoming volume by Joseph Stiglitz. The summary of Krugman is a familiar one to readers of this blog, namely that Bush and Co. have an unpublicized, but very public agenda to undermine the financial stability of the nation and thus dismantle our already limited social safety net.

However, there is another line that reoccurs in Krugman's writing and other writing about the administration which is that there is no real policy agenda of this administration. Based on this, I am wondering if the real agenda of the Bush Administration is to just get the chance for another Bush Administration. This is of course the goal of every administration, but I think that our current regime takes this to the next level. There is no room for long-term realities of our nation's situation intrude on current policy making. The deficit is just one example. But let's look at tax cuts as well. These are not permanent. It seems assumed that they will be made permanent, but that is years away (most notably after the 2004 election). If the financial situation of the nation is still really shaky then it seems dubious that these tax cuts would be continued.

The war on terrorism is another short-term strategy. There is the money that we are spending, which is becoming less sustainable. But there is also the level of fear in the population. Eventually it seems that people will become immune to the alerts and warnings in the absence of real attacks. Perhaps the adminstration has miscalculated how long they could keep the nation clinging to what is familar. Additionally people will eventually expect results in the war on terror. Continued warnings will raise questions about the success of our war on terror. The world has always been dangerous, but constantly reminding people of this does not seem sustainable forever.

For me the real question is what happens if these short-term strategies work and there is another Bush term. What will be the goal of the next term. Will it be a radical agenda that we have seen hints of. What will be the implication of that for the future of the Republican party. Who will become the Republican party heir apparent in 2008. Cheney is clearly not the man, so how will the administration handle the infighting in the party for 2008 that will start on the day after the 2004 election? What will be the response of Bush to a real fiscal crisis? What will they be able to do to avert that crisis?

There are almost enough interesting questions there that make me think finding out the answers will be a silver lining to a Bush victory in 2004.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Not first, but independent...

First is that I (kind of) apologize for being a bit remiss on the blogging lately. My excuses are that I have been doing other things and my internet access really sucks.

Now on to the real point of this post. Today in the NYT is an article about Warren Buffett's move into manufactured housing. I was big on this a couple of weeks ago, and got into a bit of a discussion with the City Comforts Blog (both of which I would link to if my internet was a bit better). Anyway, it seems that Buffett is looking at this industry and sees that it has a future. Even if it is not going to be a revolution it does seem like something that will get better rather than worse in the future and owning the leader should provide some good cash flow. Mmm...cash flow.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Why does he always do this...

Drezner will not let the inequality thing lie. And I am just along for the agenda that he is setting. Here are my thoughts on his clarification of why Krugman is overly fixated on income inequality:

I share the setiments expressed in this post. Specifically, we should pay more attention to income mobility and that Krugman is fixated on this issue. However, he is a columnist entitled to a pointed world view, not a politician who needs a balenced one. I also feel that some key aspects of the story that Krugman is trying to tell are missing here.

The mobility story is inspiring, but limited. There is a huge amount of income mobility attributed to getting older and more experienced. My current situation is that I will likely earn less than $10,000 this year. However, I think I was in the top quintile of earners the previous year, and expect to return to that level in the next several years. The snapshot data is only a part of the story. More significant is the number of people who are entrenched in the lower income brackets with limited skills and ability to earn more. If you don't know what I am talking about read the New Yorker piece from about a month ago about the program to encourage marriage in a poor community in Oklahoma. It is those low-income people that are the issue, not me, but there is no statistical differentiation between us in most quoted data.

Second is that Krugman is not concerned with the top 1%, but the top .001%. It is not how those people acheived that position, but that they are able to exert an entirely disproportionate influence on our nation's policies. It is the increasing ability for these people to not contribute any part of their income or wealth to maintaining the public goods that make our nation that is the concern. To understand this point check out Warren Buffet's op-ed in the Washington Post a couple of months ago coming out against the Bush tax cut program. I personally am willing to accept that some people are getting absurdly wealthy, but it does bother me that at a time when economic trends are making this more common we are simultaneously passing policies that allow the super-rich to do less to support society.

Finally, the point that relating rising inequality and social cohesion. The point is not that reducing income inequality will alleviate all causes of social polarization and fragmentation. There are other potential causes of social discord that also should be managed and addressed, but income inequality is one of them. We are doing a good job paying attention to some of the other factors. To see the effect that extreme income inequality can have on society see the situation of Brazil, where there has been a tremendous rise in gated communities. Here I want to ask the question if those gates do more to imprison their residents than to keep people out. Income inequality is leading people to sacrafice their freedom of movement.

Friday, September 19, 2003

It's about time...

Well, finally I am able to post a comment about something that I really know about. Drezner links to a story about the recent economic turnaround of Northern Berkshire County. Having just written a thesis about that I could not resist putting up a fairly extensive comment to his post. As soon as I figure out a good way to do it I will put up a link to said thesis. Here is the comment:

Having just written a Master's thesis about local economic development on Northwestern Massachusetts I feel like this is one topic I am qualified to comment on.

The area in question is (finally) doing a good job adjusting to economic change. There has been a lot of pain in North Adams in particular, but it is finally starting to turn around. MassMoCA is one part of that story, but there are other things going on in the area as well that are helping in the economic change.

I think the key to successful change is the ability to form connections to other areas. In the past (Fordist if you would like) economic regime a large corporation could be relied upon to support a local area. That regime broke down for a variety of reasons, and in its place we have an economy where outsourcing is more common, work is more flexible, and connections are more important to the success of a local area.

MassMoCA is one example of the new connections that are being created in the area. The existence of Williams College in the area is another incredibly rich source of connections to the broader economy. Through its active and successful alumni base Williams is able to bring both people and money into the area to be spent on building projects and other cultural events (including the construction of a new performance art centre that will be utilized by the Williamstown Theater Festival). Williams also brings with it a well-educated faculty, many with well-educated spouses who need jobs.

Connections are also being formed by the presence of a Venture Capital business in the area and the start-up of several successful Internet related businesses. While not the major engine for jobs in the area it is still a growing part of the local economy.

All of these elements work together to create an environment that is more competitive with other local economies. The presence of MassMoCA and contemporary artists, Williams College and its faculty, Venture Capitalists and entrepreneurs form an environment that is appealing to a growing segment of knowledge workers.

As best I can tell from my reading of the Creative Class argument there is no causality determined in the link between cultural industries (and the bohemian index) and economic productivity. I would speculate though that the link is that more creative, bohemian locations attract intelligent labor which is also more productive.

The Northwest corner of Massachusetts is becoming a differentiated competitor in the quest to attract highly skilled workers. It is not an environment which is going to appeal to everyone, but it is starting to appeal to some people, and enough people to get something started in that otherwise sleepy, isolated corner of the world.

But I would definitely caution that the approach that works in one location is not a turnkey solution for all areas. Each local economy has to determine their own advantages and the best way of creating new or deepening existing connections to the global or national economy. This often depends on the hard work and initiative of local people, and a government program cannot make it happen.

Clinton and Clark...

There is an interesting article from the AP regarding the role of the Clintons in the Clark campaign. I am not doubting this is real. Clinton is a lot of things, and one is very smart. He knows that the Democrats best chance of winning back the White House is with Clark. His friends are also smart and can see that he thinks that. So it is not really surprising that some Democrat advisors are moving to support and work for Clark.

This idea of "establishment" Democrats as a perjorative label bothers me. I question the whole idea of an "establishment". This is a party that is out of the White House, and in the minority in both houses of Congress. The leadership is fragmented, there is no national party direction, and it is anybody's guess who is going to emerge as the Democratic candidate. It stands to reason that an "establishment" would be making the nomination process a bit more clear.

Now, if an establishment (or just a respected leader) is able to assert some order on this chaos, why would that be a bad thing. Democracy is messy, but party politics does not have to be ugly. If this is seen as a bad thing, it is just an example of the Democrats penchant for wanting to be pure and right rather than winning. Politics is about winning, and then letting the policy follow from that. If they don't want to play the game that way, then expect to have a long period in the wilderness because Bush is certainly willing to play the game that way.

The article ends with the absurdity of floating the idea that Clinton is supporting Clark because it will clear the way for a 2008 bid by Hillary. I think it would be equally absurd that Clinton is supporting Clark to spite his wife. Neither is true. Clinton is a Democrat. It pains him that all that he accomplished is being undone. He wants to have someone in the White House who he can speak with. Someone who he can advise on how to continue his vision for America and the world. This is a good thing. Clinton could have been a great President, if he did not derail his own Presidency. It might take a few years longer, and have a very painful interlude for our nation, but hopefully a Clark Presidency can lead the transformation of our nation from the leader of the 20th century to the leader of the 21st century.

Wesley Clark...

There is a Clark for Prez blog. It is a good source of news on the candidate. I want to get on that blogroll, but I am not exactly sure how to do that. I would guess that a lot of links would do the trick. So, here is a link to his web site, and here is a link that will allow you to contribute to his campaign.

Here is another blog that runs down all the other blogs which are friendly to Clark. And finally, here is a link to my post on why I am on the Clark bandwagon.

The Politcs of Homeland Security...

One of the issues that has started to interest me is the way that politics is playing a role in directing our nation's funding away from the cities that need them. Via the new DNC blog (which is worth checking out) I found this post by Nathan Newman. Here is my comment regarding the issue:

This is definitely a scary development in the short term, but not surprising. In the long-run it will backfire on Bush though. First, the idea that any part of suburban or rural America will be target of a major terrorist attack is pretty silly. Look at the targets in the past, they are not targets to kill people (although that was not a concern) they were targets with huge symbolic value.

It is only the fear mongering of the Bush White House that leads people in most of the nation to be afraid of terrorism. Let's face it, your local mall is a more likely target of domestic terrorism than any threat from Al Quaeda.

Now, directing money to these relatively safe areas is couter-productive for several reasons. First is that it will not make people feel safe, and eventually they will expect that from the President and his war on terror. Seeing an armed guard does not make people feel safer. If, god for bid, there is another attack all of this direction of funding will be questioned. Finally, Cities are where our nation's power and strength lies. If Bush continues to isolate these areas he will find that winning national elections in the future will be much more difficult without some level of (at least financial) support from urbanites.

But in the short term it is still damn scary that politics is allowed to enter into these decisions and protecting our nation is not the highest priority.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Why Clark is exciting to me...

There is a lot out there, both on the cable news, the NPR, and the blogoverse about Clark since his announcement as a candidate. I said the other day that I am jumping on to his bandwagon now. I am not completely convinced that he will be a great candidate, but I think it is clear that all the other candidates are flawed. Clark did not look or sound universally great yesterday at his announcement or in interviews, but that is fine with me at this point.

The real reason that I am supporting Clark is that I think he has the best chance of winning. The Democrats hate Bush. He has managed to piss off all parts of the Democratic party. Next year there will be very little talk about Bush winning over any part of the Democratic base. Environmentalists, Peace activists, civil libertarians, minorities, social liberals, veterans advocates, fiscal conservatives all have been burned by his lies, and they are not going to forget that. I think they are all going to take the pragmatic position that it is better to have a Democrat they can at least talk with than Bush and his pack of lies. So while Dean might energize that base more during the primaries I think that any candidate will energize that base for the general election.

The past has demonstrated what the Democrats have to do to win a Presidential election. It is pretty simple, and it is run a Southerner who is capable of carrying his home state. Gore "lost" in 2000 for a variety of reasons, but one is that he lost Tennessee. He was four electoral votes from winning that election, and Tenn. would have won it. Next year Clark will force Bush to fight for a handful of southern states, including Arkansas. That would also win the election for Clark. In fact winning any southern state would tip the election, unless Bush is able to make inroads in a state that Gore won. I think that will be a real challenge for Bush, regardless of who the Democratic nominees is.

I think that Clark would be a very difficult candidate for Bush to attack. Most attacks would simply highlight his own failures. Sure Clark does not have much experience with politics, but wasn't Bush the outsider who would rise above partisan politics (failed at that). Clark lacks experience with domestic issues, but Bush is not going to want to draw attention to his record there. Clark has not had to make budget trade-offs, but Bush has not done that either. Clark has not set foreign policy only executed it, but Bush's policies have not been too successful. In reality the biggest Bush success has been his leadership in the direct aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. When people are not feeling secure they want a leader they can trust in times of crisis and Bush is that (now). But I think most people would also trust a four star general who fought and ran wars to keep a cool head in times of crisis.

Democrats often want to have their cake and eat it too. There is often an unwillingness to comprimise on somethings that matter to get what they want. The truth is that to get a candidate with a great foreign policy resume and gravitas as a leader means sacraficing some other things. Among those things is a strong history as a crusader on domestic issues. It is just hard for anyone in a position short of President to build a credible resume in both areas. They also want someone who has "earned" the nomination. But Bush has shown that past experience is mostly meaningless in determining the success of a candidate. If experience was what mattered than the 2000 election would have been a mere formality.

Clark will also be less of a target for the right-wing. One of the theories about the next election is that it will not be a battle for the middle, but a battle to energize the base. But there are two aspects of energizing the base, one is to beleive in what your candidate stands for and the other is to stand against what the other candidate stands for. For Bush the first method will be challenging as being President has required him to take stands on issues that are going to annoy some portion of his support. But selecting Clark as the Democratic nominee is going to make the second task more difficult. He simply does not have a track record that can get a lot of Conservatives angry at him. The "non-ideological" conservatives are also going to be pre-disposed to at least trust and respect Clark because of his resume.

Now, the question is can Clark win the nomination. I don't think it will be easy, but I think it is very possible. Most people in the nation have paid very little attention to this process thus far. I think the voters can be won over. It has been charged that organization will be a barrier. I think that the web makes the process of organization a lot easier and quicker. A single person can now maintain regular and rapid communication with far more people thanks to email and the internet. Funds will be another potential problem, but I think that there is a significant segment of Democratic supporters who are not terribly comfortable with Dean. They don't hate him, but they feel (as I do) that a more moderate candidate will have a better chance of winning the general election, which is what really matters. These people may have been supporting other candidates, but I don't think there is a depth of support. I think there will be money available to Clark and he will be able to access it.

I am very excited to see how things evolve over the next several months. I will be intrigued to see how Clark's fund raising goes, how he is able to connect with voters, what positions and proposals he defines, and he he fares in the polls. I am more than willing to acknowledge he is an empty vessel into which I am ready to pour my hopes, but I will believe he is the real deal until I am proven wrong.

Modes of Mass Transit...

The City Comforts Blog speculates about the merits of mixed rail/bus mass transit vehicles. I think there are already better single mode options available.

I think it is actually cheaper to install rail tracks in the street or build a non-rail dedicated right of way than to put together custom cars and switch modes. There are many cities that have trams which travel for part of their route on dedicated rights of way and then on roads the rest of the time. The Muni in San Francisco and the 96 tram from St. Kilda to the Melbourne, Australia CBD come to mind.

The new Silver Line in Boston is what is called Bus Rapid Transit, which means that it is a bus running underground on a dedicated right of way (at least in part). I think this makes a lot more sense for new transit. I am not sure of the specifics, but it seems that with so many buses already running on overhead electric wires it is a lot easier to build a system without rails than with. Sure rail has less friction, but the cars are heavier so if they are both using a central energy source I would question the actual difference in energy efficiency.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Federal government dependence....

Building a theme today, Calpundit puts up a map of states that are net payers or receivers of money from the federal government. I responed with a comment that relates to the point I made in my previous post today, essentially that the areas that vote for Republicans are going to be the areas that will be hurt the most if those programs are taken to their logical conclusion.

Sure demographics, location of government facilities and some other things can be seen on this map. But I think it really highlights which states are home to the most productive parts of our economy. The finacial services in New York and the high-tech industry in California and Mass. It is always going to be the case that these industries (and their employees) are going to give more to the rest of us than they receive.

But I think the significant implication of this is that the conservative project to dismantle goverment is ultimately going to be more harmful to their homes in the heartland than the liberal elitists on the coasts. America's cities require a certain level of economic and political peace to continue to prosper. If the federal government withdraws from the provision of services to maintatin that peace, then the state and local governments will step in (California is already starting to see that with the child care and health care initatives).

These states will be able to afford to this, but other states that are net recipients of federal services will not be able to do the same. It will be the farmer in North Dakota and the rancher in Wyoming who will feel the effects of limiting medicare, social security, and farm subsidies. But I would not even bother to try to make this case in an election, it just will not be accurately communicated and be derided as "class warfare".


It is amazing how Paul Krugman is able to piss people off. He had an excellent article in the New York Times Magazine article about the Tax Cut Con. Basically making the point that supply side arguments are a trojan horse to mask the real agenda to dismantle the federal government. It is, of course filled with fire and brimstone, predictions but I think the assessment of the past is pretty accurate. However, a point that is not made in the article is that I think the effort is doomed to failure. Something that is missed is that while the federal goverment provides a lot of money for services, there are other levels of government that are also providing services. It is my view that an effort to eliminate these services is somewhat doomed because there are so many other levels of government that will step in.

Cities are such a huge productive engine of our economy today. These engines depend on a certain level of political peace, and people in these areas will be willing (if forced) to pay for this peace with higher taxes. This will result in a fragmentation of our nation, but the places that will suffer more are rural areas rather than the urban areas. I think that in the end the radical Republican agenda that we have seen in the last few years, if taken to a conclusion (which I doubt) will actually be more destructive to the areas (the blue states) that tend to support it. I will do more with this in the future.

Anyway, Drezner's post on this prompted a huge number of comments for his site. I weighed in with a few more points, but if you want to get a sense of the divisive anger in our political discourse (even in normally sane circles) then check out the comments:

I am surprised that this post prompted so much hideous rhetoric on a site that is usually sane and reasonable.

A few things: Krugman is not a Marxist, read some of his significant articles and it is clear that he has an amazing understanding of how markets work. All economist's work from models of markets, and Krugman's work has led a dramatic improvement in those models.

Krugman also takes his economic insights to an extreme conclusion in his popular press writings. There are times that I cringe when I read his columns, mostly because he is playing out a story to such an extreme conclusion. But there are also many times where his understanding of the current situation is spot-on.

If one beleives that Bush's tax cuts are divisive and fiscally ruinous, there are still other outcomes than a future with no government services and no elections. Sure that is one possible scenario, and it might be useful to consider. Similarily some Krugman critics like to consider "why America itself is evil to leftists".

History has shown the public to be a moderating voice to both extremes. But I would maintain this moderation is partially due to the extreme views of both sides, so why try to stop Krugman, acknowledge his extreme as part of this tug of war.

Finally, on the point of tax cuts vs. government waste. Yes, there is waste, but there will always be waste in an organization as large as the federal government. But to eliminate the federal government to get rid of the waste is perhaps the finest example of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Waste is annoying, but don't make the mistake of believing it can be eliminated. Here is an example of where Krugman is correct, you will not get rid of our current deficit without radical (federal government) service cuts or increasing taxes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Hopefully only the first...

I just got this email from Draft Clark 2004. That is a great job done by an on the fly organization and hopefully only the first of many Clark associated victories. That's right, as of now I am officially on the bandwagon. I will hang on until I see another candidate with a better chance of removing Bush from office (which might only be when someone else gets the nomination).

Draft Clark 2004 Declares Victory
Draft Movement Succeeds in Recruiting Clark - "Mission Accomplished"
Little Rock, AR - September 16, 2003 - The entry of General Wesley Clark into the presidential race brought celebration to the Draft Clark 2004 headquarters and to volunteers across the country.

"We have created a new force in American politics based on the idea that a group of committed patriots can determine the future of our great nation," said John Oeffinger, one of the founders of the Draft Clark 2004 movement. "We are proud to say 'mission accomplished' for the draft phase, and it is our hope that all of our dedicated volunteers will help Gen. Clark's campaign."

The Draft Clark 2004 for President Committee will close its doors shortly according to the movement's founders.

"Everything accomplished by Draft Clark 2004 supporters and volunteers was done with an eye toward the day Gen. Clark would announce," said Michael Frisby, Communications Director for Draft Clark 2004. "This organization will end as expediently as possible. While it was unusual to have no contact with the candidate, we have worked in every way to reflect Gen. Clark's leadership, integrity, and vision for our country. We are honored by his willingness to serve and hope that our volunteers will work even harder for his election than they did to draft him into the race."

Draft Clark 2004's accomplishments include:

Field organizations in all 50 states and several territories
252 Regional Coordinators, mobilizing support and executing outreach projects
A campaign office in New Hampshire
A national headquarters in Little Rock
200,000+ visitors and 500,000+ page views to DraftClark2004.com
A Draft Clark 2004 National Day of Service with 300 hours of community service provided in 17 cities
Tens of thousands of bumper stickers, buttons, and flyers distributed

Playing Tennis with the Moldovans Book Review...

Tony Hawks is a British comedian who previously wrote “Around Ireland with a Fridge”. His latest book is “Playing Tennis with the Moldovans”. As with the Ireland book the story is based on a bet, the bet of this book is that Tony can beat the starting 11 of the Moldovan National Football (soccer) team at tennis. Tony is apparently a decent tennis player, a former British junior player who was not good enough to succeed in a country that has not been successful as a whole at producing great tennis players. And the Moldovan National team, while not exactly World Cup contenders are still among the best athletes in their country. But more significant than the challenge of beating the national team is the challenge of finding the national team players, this is where most of the action of the book takes place.

Hawks’ writing is straight-forward, except when he goes on a detour for a joke. It is not artful writing, more the type that leads one to believe anyone could write this book. But the beauty of this book is not in the writing, rather in Hawks’ sense of adventure. Hawks is always up for a beer in a bar, a solo trip to a historical site, and an approach to a stranger for help on his quest. In the Ireland book this was interesting and helpful because Irish people are friendly and intrigued by strange quests. In Moldova it is only interesting, which is fine because it just makes his quest more difficult and thus more interesting.

The better part of this book takes place in Moldova as Hawks attempts to find the various members of the national team. You might have thought that Moldova was a made-up place, but it is a real country (and Moldovan is the correct term for the people, even if Microsoft thinks it is Moldovian). It is a former Soviet Republic that is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. The primary language is Romanian which is makes travelling there slightly easier because it is a Romance language and uses the Roman alphabet. That is about the only thing that makes travelling in Moldova easy. Moldova is infected with the virus that comes from having limited historical association with capitalism. People are surly, there is no concept of customer service, and there is no concept of a can-do attitude. The situation can be summed up by the fact that Moldova is the only former Soviet Republic to have elected a Communist as President, yes, those were the good old days to most in this land. The silver lining of all this is that the contrast between a British comedian trying to win a ridiculous bet and the grim Moldovan outlook on the world sets up many interesting situations.

Hawks has a series of adventures and misadventures in Moldova trying to find the national team members. He finally makes a break-through when he starts pretending that he is making a BBC program on Moldovan football. While this opens doors, not all of those doors are friendly. But he is able to find most of the Moldovan based players, eventually. During his time in Moldova he is staying with a local family, and it is through getting to know this family that his perception of Moldovans softens, and he sees the goodness behind the ugly exterior that most people present to foreigners. The passages where he is learning from his host family and they are learning from him are the best portions of the book. When his writing does not strive for humor in every other line and he is more than capable of conveying real feelings in a meaningful manner.

After his trip to Moldova he still has a few more players that he needs to find. His determination to win the bet then takes him to Northern Ireland and Israel. More adventures ensue in each place, but I will not go into them for fear of ruining the conclusion. The prize at stake in the bet is that the loser has to sing the Moldovan national anthem nude on the street. The last chapter is at a suburban London pub where the winner will be revealed and the loser publicly humiliated. Trust me; it is a funny conclusion with a twist in the end.

Anyone looking for a light read which will also educate about a strange place in the world could do worse than this book. It does have its fair share of specifically British pop cultural references and a few jokes at the expense of Americans (funny how those can be squeezed into a British book on any subject) but is still a readable volume for Americans. “Playing Tennis with the Moldovans” takes the prize over “Round Ireland with a Fridge” mostly because a trip to a strange land sets up much funnier situations than a trip to a friendly neighbor like Ireland.

Changing Flags...

City Comforts has put up the Rem Koolhaus proposed EU flag. I have nothing good to say about it:

Besides the flag being ugly and impossible to reproduce as a simple symbol I think it also sends the wrong message. A flag should be a symbol of unity. This flag is just an assembly of individual elements, giving no indication that individuals sacrafice something to be a part of a group. Europe can try to find a common symbol, but I doubt that will be possible given all the history between different regions. They somehow were able to agree on the current flag, so what is the problem with just putting some more stars on that flag. Perhaps they could do with a bit more creativity in the design, as the simplicity element will disappear with 25 stars, but the idea still works.

BTW: When I first saw that flag design in Wired I just assumed that it was a joke, not a real proposal. If you want to see a real interesting proposal for a flag redesign then check this out:


Monday, September 15, 2003

Calpundit comment...

Kevin Drum thinks conventional wisdom is starting to agree that Bush and team lie. I could not agree more:

After being abroad for a while I was struck with the Sunday morning march of the Administration to talk shows for the purpose of lying. Maybe this has been going on for a while, maybe it is more intense now, or maybe it is new. Regardless it seems that "spin" does not exist anymore and it has been replaced by out and out lying.

A new era...

I don't know why, but I have less to say when I am in the US. I guess the saturation of the news somewhat puts me off from throwing just another voice into the fray. So I find myself drawn more to topics that are buried in the paper rather than on the front page.

Along those lines, there is a story in the NYT today about the connection between athletics and "mainstream" student life in selective colleges. Now it has been over five years since I was in college, but Williams College is definitely a testing ground as a very competitive athletic college (best in Division III just about every year) and a very selective. My first response to the article was that the study's findings are spot on. It is easy to get an impression that athletes are isolated at a place like Williams. But I think there are a few things to add to the simple story told in the article.

First is that as the percentage of athletes gets higher than essentially they become the mainstream. If one did a study of people participating in drama programs or music program or the Science Fiction club you would probably also find that they are also isolated from the "mainstream". This then made me realise that there probably is no "mainstream". Colleges today are not recruiting to have a student body of equals, who are all well-rounded individuals. Instead they are looking for people who are "pointed" that is people who excel in particular areas, and are also very good students. This is actually a new thing too. In the past colleges like Williams were only looking for males who were from the background of selective New York and New England private schools. These people defined the mainstream, and because there was no diversity athletes were right in the mainstream. Today colleges have realised that people actually learn from people who are different from themselves. It may not seem like Athletes are an example of this diversity, but their divergence from the "mainstream" is at least partially a function of a greater diversity of the student body as a whole.

The other thing is that sports have become more competitive. Schools used to be recruiting from a limited pool of students, and along with this competition for admissions was less. As the potential student body of selective colleges has expanded (to people other than New England WASPs) competititon in all areas has become greater, including athletics. Schools still want to win, so they have become more competitive in athletic recruting. But the classical model of a student-athlete is still alive and well, it is just not in the sports that the school promotes. Williams (and most of the other selective colleges in the Northeast) field teams in sports such as Rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, and Water Polo. These are club sports and don't have coaches who are recruiting. It is in these sports that you find the "mainstream". When I was at Williams the majority of the student government leadership was involved in one of these sports.

As with many things that you see in the world today, the story is complicated by the fact that was looks like the average actually represents nothing, and is just an easy summary of a very diverse story.

In the end I think that selective colleges are hurt through their attempts to field the best football and hockey teams. Not so much because the individuals on these teams are all not qualified to be at the school, but because these teams create a social dynamic that isolates their students from the rest of the school. That said, I would also speculate that the average athlete on these teams is just as qualified to be at the school as the average athlete a generation ago, it is just that the rest of the student body has become more diverse and more academically qualified.

The truth is out...

Sieg Heil indeed der Furher Bush.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Cricket and Ultimate…

I just wrote what I think is a straight forward book review on “Beyond a Boundary”. There were a few things that struck me during reading this book that are not really about the book, but other stuff. What I thought most interesting was the parts about the organization of sport. Cricket is organized according to a pretty careful hierarchy of levels. There are local clubs that play on weekends. I don’t know much about this level of cricket, but my understanding is that these are just local clubs that join a league and play each other. Then there are the county teams. These compete in an organized league in most countries. They are the best players in the country and are pretty much the major leagues. But the thing is that these are also clubs. So the administration is done by the members, rather than an owner. Now these clubs pay the players, but that has not always been the case. There is also still a strong local element in county cricket (or first-class cricket). Many of the players are local products who worked their way up through a variety of teams in the county club to make the big time. Finally there is international cricket. Here the selectors of the national cricket board select the best players in the nation to represent the players against other nations in test cricket.

The precise rules are different at each level (probably due to the time available to the players or the time required to get players of different skill levels out). But what struck me about the entire system was that it was both so organized and yet, especially in the era that James was talking about, so recently or self-organized. It is a hierarchical system, but one that makes sense, seems to work, and somewhat resembles what we know in US professional sports.

When I started thinking about this I contrasted it with the organization of Ultimate Frisbee. This is a young sport that is probably still in the process of organizing itself. Given the newness of the game, what I found most remarkable is the quality of the organization and the uniqueness. There is a national ultimate championship. It is run by a national federation. But the competition to win more closely resembles a Soccer Cup Competition than the leagues that cricket has organized. Teams that compete in the championship are not organized by local area or city. They are entirely self-organized. A player or group of players decide that they want to compete and form a team. In many cases the best players in a city, or even region, will cluster and form a team that keeps the same form from year to year. But even though this team might be acknowledged as the best in the area, it is not representing the area. If a player is unhappy they can just form their own team. There are local Ultimate Frisbee organizations as well, but these are in charge of organizing local leagues where the teams are also formed by individuals (or if it is a beginner’s league than by draw). In the US there are essentially no clubs, or ongoing organization of teams.

I am not sure what this says about Americans. It either says that they are so good at organizing that teams can come together on the fly, stick together, and often stay together for a while. Some teams are able to recruit enough new players to stay together for extended periods of time, but many teams, even good ones, fall apart when the leadership retires or is just not good enough to hold together a team any more. When this happens another “elite” team will form, often with the same players, but differences in leadership. It is a remarkable ability to form, dissolve, and reform coalitions. But, it can also be seen as indicative of a short-term focus. A club, rather than a team, would have a clear leadership that is likely to be removed from the team. It will look out for the long-term interests of the club, such as growing talent, and creating a positive reputation in the community. This is not often done by US teams because of their focus on winning this year. I think that the sport as a whole might benefit from the formation of on-going clubs with a clear leadership structure removed from the on-the-field team.

It was also interesting to me that in the state of Victoria in Australia they have evolved an entirely different organization for ultimate Frisbee. It more closely resembles the Cricket organization. There is a state federation, but in addition to organizing leagues it also organizes teams for the national competition. So each year the board of the state federation (who are often not the best players in the state) appoint a number of selectors for state teams. They organize try-outs and then select the teams. These players are representing the state, rather than themselves, which leads to a very different sense of camaraderie and feeling in the local scene. The first team is very much supported by the second team, who all believe that if they are able to get good enough they could make the first team in the future. There is a belief in fairness and a denial of the political. In the US system you will often have players who will not be on the best team in the area because they don’t “fit in”. Which is just a way of saying that politics rules over fairness.

Another big difference between Ultimate and Cricket is the type of competition. In Cricket teams play in leagues (for the most part) and in Ultimate they play tournaments. Leagues are cumulative while tournaments are knock-out. Leagues are definitely better for sports where there is a high degree of randomness in performance (such as baseball. cricket, and auto racing). Tournaments work better when performance is more stable (or the skill differential is high). I think one could go on a while about the determinants of this difference, but I will save that for another day. Ultimate is like basketball and tennis where performance is seen as more stable. Teams don’t win tournaments on a fluke. But there is still randomness. While a bad team will not win a tournament, the best team will not always win (especially when the quality gap is small).

Many sports have a league and a tournament competition. In US sports they have a league which is followed by a play-off tournament. I have a friend who is convinced this is silly. I tend to agree. Why is it that the winner of the postseason tournament is the champion, while the team with the best performance over an extended period is nothing? Perhaps it would be better to just acknowledge them both in prestige, like they do in English Football with the Premiership champion (the league) and the FA Cup (the tournament).

Ultimate is not just played in the year-end tournament to determine the national champion, but there are many other tournaments. These are self-organized and teams are either invited or just ask for a place. However, these are entirely detached from the national championships. Very few tournaments have the best field possible, and many are not even organized to promote competition. Cricket in the early 20th Century West Indies closely resembled this, where players would show up and form teams on the fly. It leads to the game being about fun and personal performance rather than just winning, and is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the game to less competitive players. These tournaments are a barrier to forming a league as players are doing other things. There are two other things that make it hard to see a real league getting off the ground. One is the money and time. Without money people are unable to travel the distances required to have a league in the US, as well as give up a lot of time for the sport. I think that they do have a national weekend league in the UK, where it is much easier given the smaller distances required. Leagues are also very common in local areas in the US. The other barrier is the lack of established clubs. A league is hard to organize. It is not easily done on the fly each year, but requires an ongoing structure. This is much more likely to be provided by clubs. A club would have teams but would own the spots in the league (hopefully to be allocated by a promotion and relegation system).

Beyond a Boundary Book Review…

The best blurb endorsing Beyond a Boundary is “To say ‘the best cricket book ever written’ is piffingly inadequate praise.” It succinctly conveys this is a great book, is about cricket, is about other things as well, and is written in language you don’t use that often. Beyond a Boundary was published in 1963, but was written over most of the previous 35 years or so. The author, CLR James, was a West Indian Cricket fan, journalist, and patriot. The book is organised according to his reminisces of other Cricket players, most significantly better players than James (although it sounds like James was a quality player, just not an international class player). Now, any American thinking about reading this book already knows there is no such thing as a “famous cricket player”. These people may be national heroes in other places, but one of the most famous cricket players, WG Grace, was to me just a name that reminds me of a floor wax company. So be forewarned that James is prone to using phrases like “the story of which is known to all” when for me little was known.

It is either fortunate that there is so much else beside cricket in this book or unfortunate that there is so much cricket in this book. There are many chapters where James goes on about the role of cricket in a boy’s life, role of cricket in society, and the role of cricketers in society. These are the best parts of the book, especially if one is able to substitute the word “sport” for “cricket”. These chapters do not dwell on the detailed points of the game, but simply need the reader to acknowledge that cricket is a game that people care about. Any sports fan should be able to make that leap. He does a great job describing how sport got organised in the West Indies, and the meaning of that organization.

Perhaps the single best section of the book is about how sport came to be prominent a prominent feature in society and how those that dismiss sport as a part of culture are basically being snobs. The rise of cricket and sport in Britain was the avant-garde of a cultural shift that came to the US just a shade later. We adapted our own sports, but aggressively so to be differentiated from the Brits who were doing the same. James is able to describe the changing role and position of sport in society with a keen social historical eye, as well as do a lengthy analysis on the aesthesis of sport (which unfortunately aggressively privileges cricket).

James lived through a period of tremendous political and social change in the West Indies. He played a central role in the movement for independence and in breaking down class and racial barriers. He labels himself a Marxist early in the book, and I am not one to argue with his assessment of his politics, but from the stories in this book he sounds more like a democrat (little d). Through great skill he manages to give the reader a sense of West Indian society and its changes while always making sure that Cricket is his main subject matter.

But, the flaw of the book, for an American, is that Cricket is the subject matter. I have a better than average knowledge of cricket for an American, but the references in the book were still far over my head. I was lost when he went on about the interactions between batter and bowler, not even understanding the terminology. I think a reader would be even more lost if they didn’t even understand the basic rules of cricket, including the scoring system. This is a great book. It is a satisfying read, and one that demonstrates a tremendous command of language and structure on the part of the author. I would almost say it is worth learning the basics of cricket to make all this accessible. But the key word in that sentence is almost. But by all means, if you know cricket then read this book, but then you probably already have.

Next book review: Playing the Moldovans in Tennis by Tony Hawks…should be up in a couple of days

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Leaving London...

I am leaving London this morning. Over two years since I moved to Australia my overseas living is coming to a close. I am going to miss it. But I will continue to see the world. I was not so keen on London a few months after arriving here, but since I have come to appreciate it. Going to the City of London Museum and then riding the bus through the city right when offices were closing made me remember this is a pretty special place. A place where history is written on the landscape and the people. A place that has always been innovative in its institutions. It is often said that the future is lived in LA, but I think that is as much true in London.

I don't know what my future will be. If you know me, expect to get an email soon with a new mobile phone number and a deep expression of angst about my future. This blog has been a bit of a try-out of writing. I will probably go through what I have written and try to turn a few pieces into clips. But I am not sure being a writer is what I want to do either. I am not going back for a job, and my continued unemployment will mean this blog will stay active for the time being. I probably will not be writing as much, or as regularly, but hopefully quantity will be replaced by quality. If past experience is anything to go by, I will probably say less about politics and more about other things. I should stick with the sports, and I hope to keep up with my new favourite teams (the St. Kilda Saints, Queen's Park Rangers, Manchester United, and the Australian Cricket Team).

My morning thought...

I was up early, due to a fire alarm. I was having trouble falling asleep and the BBC was on in the background. So I started thinking: We are fighting a war on terror. It seems that there are two ways of fighting this war. First is to kill or imprison all the terrorists. Second is to minimize the conditions that breed terrorism. In a perfect world (there are no terrorists)...OK, in a perfect scenario we could do both. Unfortunately some of the actions that are done to attack terrorists have the side-effect of pissing off other people who then become terrorists. But if we just sit back and play nice-guy and try to "develop" the world out of terrorism, not only is there no guarantee of success, but progress is likely to be slow in some places. Slow progress would give the current terrorists time to make attacks.

What prompted my thought was Bush's line about making sacrafices in the war against terror. A real sacrafice would be to only fight terror with law enforcement and espionage while doing everything possible to not create more future terrorists. The sacrafice is acknowledging there might be some attacks in the short-term (an assumption here is that military action actually reduces current terrorist action, something I believe to have some truth to). At first I thought this sounded good. But there are some important concerns that make this entire issue far more complicated than the black and white rhetoric we are getting used to.

First is the complication of religion. People are not doing horrific terrorist actions to the US just because they hate the US, but because of what they believe about God. When an outsider looks at this logic it does not appear that change will come from better schools and more opportunity. The system of producing terrorists looks self-replicating without stimulation from the outside environment. Thus people don't trust that even with "development" the future will be different.

Second is the uncertainty. Places in the world have been trying to development for centuries and have gotten no where. It is just another crap shoot, with no timetable even on when it might pay-off.

On the otherhand the belief that all the terrorists can be caught or killed is also fraught with dangers that are not acknowledged. There no guarantee of success here (who would have believed that almost 2 years after 9/11 Bin Laden would still be at large). In addition there is the problem of creating as many terrorists through our actions as we stop.

I am not trying to say that what we are doing today is wrong, just a lot more complicated than we make it out to be. I was also thinking of the parallel situation of Israel dealing with terrorists. It seems they are pursuing a similar strategy to the US, namely take the fight to them. They have been doing it longer, their battle is closer at hand, and the situation is hotter. And I would say they are failing. But the situations are different, what is right for the Israeli situation is not neccesarily going to be right for the US situation.

I would have more confidence in our approach if there was even an acknowledgement by our government of the difficulties and complexities of the problem, rather than the simplisitic rhetoric that is stated by the President and repeated by everyone on down.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A comment...

City Comforts blog has been on fire over the last few days. There was a post mostly about BIDs (Business Improvement districts), and an assignment at MIT regarding them. The key line for me: This assignment requires you to take a firm stance with respect to the topic. You will argue that "the BID movement is fundamentally good" --or-- "the BID movement is fundamentally bad." I wrote a paper about BIDs and could go into the topic in some detail, but I think the more important point is my comment:

Wow, what a tragic failure of an assignment.

Is it perhaps possible that there are good aspects of BIDs and bad ones? Maybe even something can be learned by understanding both? Perhaps the manner of the implementation matters? And maybe, call me crazy, but the management of the BID can have an impact on the answer?

No wonder planners have been subject to such criticism over the years. Teaching like this looks like it would lead to faddish chasing of the latest trends.

Dictators and architects...

The line about Mussolini is that he got the trains to run on time. It goes to a certain truth about building and running things, which is that for big projects democracy can make things really messy. But people don't tend to complain about this much because there are certain things like freedom that democracy provides and sacraficing a bit for that is generally pretty acceptable. There are somedays where I think architects don't agree with that.

Let's start with the example of Rem Koolhaas (as portrayed in a fine New York Observer piece, which was found via the equally fine City Comforts Blog). Apparently Rem has had a few project fail in NYC and has directed attention to China. The article suggests that Rem's domineering personality is better suited to building in China because there is less process involved. I don't know Koolhaas, but there was a bit of architect hero-worship in my studies this year. And I have to say that my basic opinion of architects is that they suck. Not that there designs suck, but that there is an inherent premise in their profession which is that they know how you should live better than you do. A building is a machine for living. It does not control your life, but it is a part of your life. Good architecture makes your life better, bad architecture makes your life harder. But I question the idea that there is a good architecture. I also question the idea that good architecture is anything more than a technical practice like designing a good software program.

The confluence of art and architecture leads to a failure to codify good general priniciples of building. This makes many buildings, especially those designed by famous architects dysfunctional. I am pretty sure I have referred to this before, but let's take the London School of Economics Library, designed by Norman Foster as an example. It has a great open space in the middle of the building. I do like the space, but in a effort to create this space there are insufficient toilets and the worst staircase ever built. While it allows more natural light, it limits the number of isolated, quiet places available for study. This building is a failure, I know because I used it, and if someone tells me how great the space is I will laugh in their face. That is irrelevant to the mission of the building.

I am not for functional box architecture, within the realm of buildings that work there is lots of freedom for innovation. But putting the "art" or even "theory" aspects of building ahead of function is not fulfilling the mission of architecture as I see it. By creating a monopoly on "vision" and "aesthetics" architecture fails to serve the public.

More on the football...

I have been getting a lot of hits because of my posts on Danny Karbassiyoon. It is an interesting story, and if you really are into it, then here (and here and here) are a few more links from stories about the lad. It is a good story, and I wish him the best at the Arse. It will be a tough run, but all the articles say good things about Danny's character, so he should be able to get the best from the experience.

But all these hits have got me thinking about why people are ending up on my blog when looking for information about American footballers in England. I write about this stuff a bit, but I am just repeating what I find on other sources, this is not a real reporting job. So I tried to find some real sources for this kind of information. The first place that I go is Soccer 365. They are a professional looking site, and have weekly updates on Americans and follow the main stories. However they are not following rumours and unproven talent, which is where things are more interesting. Today I found a few more sites that are perhaps not as established as Soccer 365, but also have interesting stories. First is Tribal Football. They are big on little stories, but don't have everything indexed so well. But they are great for rumours, like this one linking Eddie Gaven, a US 17 year old signed by the MetroStars, to Newcastle United. Not a lot of detail, but a great rumour that I saw for the first time.

Another site is Top Drawer Soccer. They are an American site (as you might have guessed from the name) thus are better for stories that are relevant to Americans. I am still busy trying to get through all their content, but an example of their work is this very complete run-down of evolving situations among US youth team players.

And before I drown in new football sites to kill time at let me throw one more out there. 90:00 minutes Soccer is also a US site (funny about those names). It looks like a web site for a magazine that has recently been launched. The magazine covers soccer around the world, but they manage to get some good stuff in there about young Americans. They actually do reporting, which is nice. For a sample check out this piece on the aftermath of Bobby Convey's rejection from England. Hopefully I will actually check all these sites again because they are quite interesting if you care about the future of US soccer.


I don't think anyone really thought that the NYT editorial page was big on Bush. But they must have been saving up some anger for the complete savaging of Bush that they lay down today. I don't disagree with what they say, but I doubt that it will change many minds. It is more a trial balloon of arguments that Presidential candidates should be throwing at Bush. The main point: Bush is alll tough talk, and no tough choices (especially tough choices that might jeapordize his own political future). I don't have much to say about the piece except read it!

Monday, September 08, 2003

My question for the Secretary...

There is an article on the NYT web site where Rumsfeld implies that critics of the administration are helping the terrorists. This is ridiculous, and I will not even bother to put together the argument why. Rumsfeld says a lot of stupid things, and there will be ample response to this one. But there is another passage:

"He has insisted that the administration's decision to seek a new United Nations mandate for operations in Iraq did not represent any kind of policy shift."

Well, then my question for you, Mr. Secretary, is that if this is not a policy shift then why did we not seek and obtain that mandate months ago. It has been months since it was announced "major combat operations have ended". If this is not a policy shift then how do you explain the time lag between our actions then and our actions today?

The Cricket...

On the final (and perhaps most glorious) day of the summer for English Cricket I got to see a match. It was the fifth day of the fifth test between England and South Africa. The match was at the Oval in Kennington, which is about a half hour walk from my house. To see a report of the match, check it on the BBC. Yesterday, thanks to a great batting performance from Andrew (Freddy) Flintoff and some good bowling England was in a good position to win the match. The odds were first that England would win, then close behind that the match would be a draw, and then there were long odds against SA winning. I got there just after play started, and right when I was settling in England took two wickets that essentially sealed the match for them. Then after another hour or so of bowling they finished off the Proteans. England had a target of about 110 to win. Barring a total collapse victory would be theirs. The scored runs slowly until lunch, then lost Michael Vaughn right after lunch. After that they picked up the pace a bit and won the match at around 2:15.

It was a big win. But you know what, it was not that exciting to be there. Granted it was a weekday morning, and the fate of the match was not really in question, but I have to say that watching cricket in person is kind of boring. I understand there is a lot of strategy going on with how the field is set, and how they are bowling, and that stuff. But you really can't see that from the stands (at least I can't). Then there is the issue of time. With fast bowlers it seems that they only get a ball off about every minute. Then it takes about two minutes for everyone to reset between overs. There are a lot of overs with no runs, meaning that minutes go by with what looks like nothing happening.

I was very excited about seeing Cricket, and really wanted to like it. I just finished "Beyond a Boundary" (book review pending), and thought I would be really moved by seeing a match in such a historic location. No such luck. I think that Cricket is just the right speed to follow while you are doing something else. Sitting at my computer it is nice to have the scorecard open and get the updates. I can click over every once in a while, and chances are not much has changed in the match. I completely understand why they get such small crowds at county cricket. The fun has to be in the crowd, and if there is not a crowd, it probably would get really dull. I guess watching Cricket is like drinking in that way, it can be fun, but not so much when done alone. From the looks of things at the match I am probably not the first one to associate Cricket and drinking.

The highlight of the match for me was seeing the South African fast bowler Makhaya Ntini's ability to interact with the crowd. When not bowling Ntini was stationed out near our stand. In this way Cricket is a lot like baseball (and in many other ways, but that is another story). The field is vast, many fans are far from the action, but can be very close to a player who has little to do. In baseball the player will almost always do everything possible to ignore the fans, especially if they are from the opposing team. But Ntini was great. It didn't take much, just a few waves, a thumbs up sign, and some raising of the roof. He team was clearly losing the match at this point so it was all in good fun. By the end of the match the entire stand was backing Ntini, even rooting for him to be a "man of the match" award that he clearly did not deserve. Just a little effort by Ntini won him the award of my favourite Cricket player ever.

Hopefully I will get to that book review and some other posts I have been mulling over soon. But soon probably won't be before tomorrow.

A war that didn't need to be fought...

I didn't see the speech last night. I live in London and I don't have a TV. But I woke up this morning and I read about it (then I went to the Cricket, but that is another post waiting to be written). And I am amazed that anyone can be "proud" of Bush after this mess he has gotten us into. That was the general tone of this commentary on the Oxblog about the speech. The main push of the speech (according to BBC Today show, of so much attention lately) was that Iraq is now "the central front" in the war against terrorism. Let me be clear here, I am not critisizing the policies suggested in the speech. I still think that we need to get things right in Iraq, and spend what it takes to do that. Perhaps I am naive, but I think that most people agree with that.

But I think we do need to keep in mind how we got into this place, and hold those responsible accountable. We invaded Iraq. That is right, it is an ugly word but that is what we did. It was not the first time a country has been invaded by the US. We invaded Panama, Grenada, and Germany. So that is not the problem. We invaded Iraq to acheive several things, but I think the foremost thing was, no matter how it is said, was to make US citizens safer. We have failed. Even excepting the soldiers who are in danger in Iraq (one can quite legitimately argue that is their job) I don't think that anything has been done to make Americans safer. We were supposed to find WMD and get them out of the hands of terrorists. Either such weapons didn't exist, or our invasion led to them being in the hands of terrorists. We were supposed to set an example for other nations. The only example was to encourage them to get nuclear weapons before we muster up the will to invade. And democratic Iraq was supposed to be an example for the rest of the Middle East. Instead it is now a "central front" in the War against Terror.

I recently read a piece in the New Yorker about North Korea. It is a very, very scary place (and the subject of a different post). Helping people suffering under the rule of dicators is also noble. This was not a stated objective of the invasion of Iraq, but many people now point to it as a major outcome. Well, life is probably better, but it seems that there are policies other than invasion that could have gone farther to improve the life of Iraqis without causing chaos in parts of the nation. I am not sure what those policies are, but I do believe they exist.

In the course of our march to war we also managed to alienate several traditional rivals. If we were actually correct about our rationale for war I think they would have come around and supported the US. But we were wrong. And when you are wrong you have to admit it, work to mend rifts, and move on. We are skipping step number one. US efforts will be hampered until we admit that we did things wrong. Iraq will suffer until we admit that aspects of the march to war were wrong. And I cannot be proud of a President who does not admit he was wrong. Our justification for invading Iraq was wrong. We have not acheived our primary objective. And now we have to pay for those mistakes (to the tune of $80 plus billion dollars). When a CEO makes mistakes like this, he is fired. When a President makes mistakes like this he should not be re-elected. It is not about finding a differentiated policy from what is the right path forward. It is simply about holding people accountable for their actions.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Another piece of advice...

I am getting into a trend of putting up some ideas for the Dems (not that anyone is really listening). Well this speech by Retired General Anthony Zinni (via Daily Kos) gives me another idea. If the Dems are concerned about being perceived as soft on National Security (a near consensus) and there is an increasing realisation among military officers that the GOP is not really on their side, then why doesn't the DNC start organizing these voices. This could be a very valuable new group to the Democratic party. For years there would be a piece at election time about how the military is supporting some Republican. I am sure this will not completely change, but there could be an alternative voice available to the media.

I also think there are huge issues associated with serving military officers engaging in partisan politics. So I think the focus should be on retired officers, and especially the most senior officers. I am hoping that Clark gets in the race, but if he doesn't this seems like an ideal job for him. After all he has recently announced that he is a Democrat. And I am sure that every GOP pundit will start accusing these former Generals and military leaders of just serving their own interests. But, when their interests are protecting a strong military and ensuring peace for the US, aren't their interests America's interests. Yes, this can go too far. I have said before that some level of military change is not a bad thing, and that will make the military establishment uncomfortable. But I think the more pressing and important issue is not the structure of the military, but how the military is being used and abused in the absence of good policies that encourage peace and partnership.

So, as of right now we have: Clinton and senior Democrats lobbying CEO's to change their approach to lobbying, we have the Rock Tour for Democrats, and the Democratic Retired Military Officers Movement. This seems exactly the kinds of things that a well-run politcal party would be doing. Unfortunately I don't see any news of these kinds of iniatives from the DNC.