July 31, 2004

5000m out of Byzantium

In a previous post I noted the byzantine selection policies that meant that in some athletic events the Olympic Trials winners were left hoping that people they beat would not run faster in the future ...

At least in the case of the men's 5000m, it's all resolved happily with the Trials winner Tim Broe running 13.18, well under the A-standard. Now both he and the second place finisher, Jonathan Riley will go to Athens.

The women's 1500m is still up in the air. Jen Toomey (2nd at the Trials) missed the B standard by 0.3 seconds, while Tollefson and Rudolph couldn't improve on the times they ran in Sacramento in 96F heat.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:41 PM

July 30, 2004

Outsourcing and foreign policy

I didn't watch the big speech last night. Along with about 400 odd other Minneapolitans I went to Carmen at the Jeune Lune Theater. I don't imagine too many votes were won or lost for Kerry by people missing out on the speech. Not a lot of swing votes at the opera I imagine ...

But listening to the speech on the radio today [and even more than Matthew Yglesias, I am not the intended audience] today I was struck by the disconnect between the rhetoric about bringing foreign countries into Iraq, and rebuilding our foreign alliances ...

We need a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden .... that won't happen until we have a president who restores America's respect and leadership -- so we don't have to go it alone in the world.

And we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us.


All well and good, but how does it connect to the ideas encapsulated in this section

What does it mean in America today when Dave McCune, a steel worker I met in Canton, Ohio, saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up, and shipped thousands of miles away along with that job? What does it mean when workers I've met had to train their foreign replacements?

Instead, we will reward companies that create and keep good paying jobs where they belong - in the good old U.S.A.

We value an America that exports products, not jobs - and we believe American workers should never have to subsidize the loss of their own job.

Next, we will trade and compete in the world. But our plan calls for a fair playing field - because if you give the American worker a fair playing field, there's nobody in the world the American worker can't compete against.

Perhaps all the hysteria about outsourcing is just campaign palava, but what if it's not? What happens when there's a conflict between international economic policy and "foreign policy" traditionally conceived?

Is Kerry expecting that the countries we're asking to send troops will be countries unaffected by "fair trade" proposals?

And what specific elements of international trade are "unfair"? That wages in some countries are lower than in America? That it will take other countries sometime before workers there are willing to trade higher wages for a lower chance of dying at work, or trade higher wages for a little more of a weekend.

And the notion that good paying jobs belong in the U.S.A, and nowhere else? Won't the prospect of a good job keep young men in Pakistan and Jordan and Iran, to say nothing of Iraq, from "hating America"? Wouldn't it be a better thing if there were good jobs in other countries, so those countries could afford to buy stuff America makes well (and cheaply!)?

To be sure, the benefits from free trade in improving the lot of people in developing countries come relatively slowly, but come they do. There's a real and important difference between countries that grow at 3% a year and countries that grow at 5% a year.

What if the "price" of getting more foreign troops to help in Iraq (say, from Brazil and India) was free trade in agriculture, and the abolition of agricultural subsidies?

Would Kerry, to say nothing of Bush, go for that deal, however implicitly it was put?

[I put "price" in quotes because actually this would be one of those times when the benefits all around would be huge, even if a concentrated and politically powerful U.S. voting bloc was temporarily disadvantaged?]

It's a mystery why the U.S. electorate is still so rhetorically protectionist, when the U.S. economy is still relatively closed, and few people's jobs are actually at risk of being outsourced. In other words, even if you focus just on the job losses free trade is something the U.S. can well afford.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:21 PM

July 29, 2004

who would have thought?!

It's being reported that Pakistan has captured Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian Al Qaeda operative wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Who would have thought?! on the day of John Kerry's speech to the Democratic National Convention.

Would the Republicans turn national security into a partisan issue?

What's interesting is that if you search for "July Surprise" on Google News you get 19 hits.

Which means this story didn't break through into the national media. It did get a lot of discussion on blogs, for what it's worth. That, I think, will shape the coverage this story gets. People who don't read TNR may think this some mysterious coincidence.

If the public are suspicious about the timing, that bodes ill for Bush, as it would indicate public trust in him is diminishing.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:20 PM

Left right out

Daniel Drezner is a perceptive scholar (you don't get a tenure track job at Chicago without some smarts!), and I love his support for free trade (go New Zealand agriculture exports!).

His latest column at TNR is a bit limp, in buying into the tired, cliched descriptors that political journalists use to place people in the spectrum of ideas; left and right, liberal and conservative.

How, for example, is "equality of opportunity" a conservative trope?

More substantively, though, how does calling to expand the size of military make one "right wing" or "conservative". In the context of the current debate, all the Democrats are saying is that we should cut our cloth to fit our needs, not pretend that we can get by with a size 4 army when we have size 16 on steroid needs for that army.

If there were no major external threats or military responsibilities then calling for an increase in the size of the military might qualify as right wing, but not now.

My point, differently put but similar to Matthew Yglesias', is that you can only evaluate these things in context.

In 1940 the Democratic party was more martial than the Republican party, so does that make a strong military a left wing issue the Republicans have co-opted?

Posted by robe0419 at 2:38 PM

John and Elizabeth Edwards, the Vice King and Queen

John Edwards was probably the best VP pick Kerry could have made (tho, how I wish Wesley Clark had been a little better on the stump ...), but after watching his speech last night I have to agree with Chris Suellentrop in Slate, once you've seen his winning smile, and heard his winning lines a couple of times, it all seems "rote and mechanical, so practiced that it's a little bit creepy". But it really matters how it played in Toledo, not to a non-voting foreigner. In fact, I gave up on Edwards speech, except for the part on foreign affairs, and read the John Cassidy article in the New Yorker expressing some skepticism about free trade.

What I did take away from the evening's coverage was if the founders were alive they really would be pleased that the monarchical element in the American system -- the presidency -- is working as intended.

Let's gloss over the fact that without his father's good name George W. Bush would never have got far in politics (Jeb would have on his own), or the allusions to restoring another dynasty in the Democratic candidates initials, and just look at three things; the wives, the kids, and the women.

First, the wives and children. I agree with Andrew Sullivan that " ... we won't be electing her [Teresa Heinz Kerry] and I have no interest in her half-baked political pablum," which is true as far as it goes if you believe that we're just electing a president who exercises the political powers of the executive branch

But we're not, we're electing a person to carry out all the ceremonial, monarchical, spirit-of-the-nation type activities as well. This is why with presidential campaigns the families come out, and are as much a part of the campaign as the candidates.

Walter Bagehot wrote about the English monarchy in the 19th century that:

The women--one half the human race at least--care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry ....
[R]oyalty is a government in which the attention of the nation is concentrated on one person doing interesting actions ....
Monarchy strengthens our Government with the strength of religion ....
.... The Queen is the head of our society. If she did not exist the Prime Minister would be the first person in the country. He and his wife would have to receive foreign ministers, and occasionally foreign princes, to give the first parties in the country; he and she would be at the head of the pageant of life; they would represent England in the eyes of foreign nations; they would represent the Government of England in the eyes of the English.

Make the obvious substitutions of "President" for "Monarch" and "Royalty" and what's surprising is that they could apply to how Americans view the Presidency.

Part of the president's function as 'monarch' is to represent the nation to itself, to act as a mirror on society, but also to represent the nation's ideals to itself.

This all works imperfectly, of course, since people have different ideas about the ideal family, but it's why more than with senatorial or congressional candidates, and certainly more than with anything at a state or local level, Americans care that the President professes a belief in God, and has a semblance of a traditional family life.

At a deep, subconscious level this is why we'll be waiting a long time for a black president, even longer for a woman president, and a long, long time for a black woman president.

Americans are somewhat more conservative about gender roles and women holding political power than in other western countries. Combined with the monarchical elements of the presidency this means we'll continue to see white men running for office for a long time, with their wife and children acting out the role as latter day Queens and Princesses.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:24 PM

Crazy, like a fox?

It's good that, as this Strib piece reports, the Kerry team is thinking a little [but privately] about a possible transition, and I'm sure there's more than a little home state boosting here:

Sen. Mark Dayton said such speculation was premature, but said that Jim Johnson, a former Minnesotan and business executive who headed Kerry's vice presidential search, is thought to be on the short list for either Treasury secretary or White House chief of staff.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, one of Congress' most powerful voices on transportation issues, likely would be on the short list for Transportation secretary.

He said he'd certainly consider an offer. "But I'd rather run the Department of Transportation from [Capitol] Hill," he said, if Democrats were to reclaim the majority in the House. Oberstar mentioned Rep. Collin Peterson as a possible Agriculture secretary.

I said this about Kerry's VP pick as well, and I'll say it again, if you can pick a candidate or cabinet secretary who does not reduce your Senate majority, or cause a special election he should do so.

The DFL might not win Peterson's seat in a special election; they would have a better chance of retaining Oberstar's. At any rate both would be close. If the Democrats have a House majority and Patty Wetterling picked up MN-6 then this would be OK, but not otherwise.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:58 PM

July 28, 2004

low mpg and the 'war'

I've always wondered how people who own and drive vehicles that get 10mpg rationalize the purchase [It's the tax breaks. Ed]. In the northern tier of the country isn't it just miserable to need to stand outside in the cold for 5 minutes filling up your tank again ... and again ...

But this statistic quoted in the Guardian by George Monbiot and Michael Meacher seems to put it all in geo-political perspective.

It has been calculated that a mere 2.7 miles-per-gallon improvement in the fuel economy of American cars and light vehicles would be enough to do without the need for oil imports from the Persian Gulf entirely ....

Is that true?

If it is, why aren't we funding the war with an increase in the gas tax?

Why is it that people who drive these vehicles seem more likely to have American flags on their trucks? Shouldn't they have a Saudi Arabian flag instead?

Posted by robe0419 at 12:11 PM

July 27, 2004

the aesthetic value of religion

When I worked in retail we used to say that the only problem with the job was the customers. In a similar vein, my only problem with religion is it's organized faith in a god.

I used to think the best things about religion that even the atheist and secular could appreciate were the architecture and the music.

But after watching Bill Clinton's speech last night you could make a case that it also provides a well of language to draw on for inspiring speeches. That's not precisely what Amy Sullivan says, over at Political Animal, because she is just thrilled about the religious 'code' in the speech.

Leaving aside the religious phrases, what I thought was most effective about Clinton's speech was the use of more standard oratorical devices: repetition of key phrases, rephrasing of a couple of big ideas, and framing the Democrats as the party of national unity.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:50 PM

the aesthetic value of religion

When I worked in retail we used to say that the only problem with the job was the customers. In a similar vein, my only problem with religion is it's organized faith in a god.

I used to think the best things about religion that even the atheist and secular could appreciate were the architecture and the music.

But after watching Bill Clinton's speech last night you could make a case that it also provides a well of language to draw on for inspiring speeches. That's not precisely what Amy Sullivan says, over at Political Animal, because she is just thrilled about the religious 'code' in the speech.

Leaving aside the religious phrases, what I thought was most effective about Clinton's speech was the use of more standard oratorical devices: repetition of key phrases, rephrasing of a couple of big ideas, and framing the Democrats as the party of national unity.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:50 PM

not predicting elections

James Taranto, who usually sees Republican leaning signs in the tea leaves, has an unusually perceptive column about the way pundits read mysterious things into the historical electoral behavior of different states, and what that might mean for the election.

.... Mr. Bush was the first Republican since James Garfield in 1880 to win the White House without carrying California. That record would not have fallen had Al Gore received a few thousand more votes in Florida--but in that case, Mr. Gore would have become the first Democrat ever elected without carrying Missouri.

As it was, the Show-Me State became the most durable bellwether in America, having last backed a loser, Adlai Stevenson, in 1956. Missouri took that torch from Delaware, which voted for Thomas Dewey in 1948, then backed winners from 1952 through 1996 before falling to Mr. Gore in 2000.

The problem is that we have so few presidential elections, and few people have demonstrated an interest in expanding the effective sample size for making inferences.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:44 PM

State of the race

Martin Kettle in the Guardian thinks that the consistency of Kerry's small leads is an indicator that Kerry could win relatively comfortably in November.

Yet the reality is that the polling numbers in the Bush-Kerry contest have been saying something strikingly consistent ever since Kerry emerged as the Democratic contender in March.

That something is that Bush is losing and Kerry is winning. Every national poll this month has had Kerry ahead. Yes, his leads are often narrow and they are frequently within the 3% margin of polling error, but they all show Kerry leading Bush. All the polls show Kerry is between 47%-49%, with Bush around 44%-46%. That's neither commanding nor impregnable for Kerry, but it is very consistent and very bad for Bush.

The other important point is that many of Kerry's strongest gains are in the all-important battleground states. Again, the leads are often within the margin of error, and not every poll says the same thing in every state - notably Florida - but the overall picture is consistent. In a mid-July battleground states poll by Zogby International, Kerry led in every state Gore won in 2000; but he also led, or was within the margin of error, in every battleground state won by Bush. On that basis, Kerry had a 322-216 vote advantage in the electoral college.

This will change many times before November, but it is all taking place within a context. That context, again as expressed in the polls, is that a small but clear majority of Americans consistently say that their country is heading in the wrong direction or that it is time for a change. Last week's Los Angeles Times poll had this figure at 54%, which is fairly typical.

If Kerry can tap deeper into the undecideds among these voters when he addresses the Democratic convention here on Thursday, then he should win in November. It all comes down, many analysts believe, to whether socially conservative, lower middle-class voters in the swing states feel reassured by Kerry. "This election will be decided by Cincinnati housewives," is how Boston College sociologist Professor Alan Wolfe puts it.

And over at the Iowa Electronic Markets, the winner takes all market has Kerry ahead, while the vote share market has them pretty much tied.

Kerry is also the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:44 AM

I like the Star Spangled Banner

Over at the Whiskey Bar, Billmon in one of his now less-frequent, but no less thoughtful posts writes:

I've never liked our national anthem much. I usually wince every time I have to listen to it, and if I'm listening to it on TV I always fumble for the mute button. I've often said that if I were dictator (which, as Shrub has noted, makes things easier) my first decree would be to change it to This Land is Your Land, and let the bombs burst and the rockets glare in some other country.

Respectfully, I disagree, but perhaps that is after growing up with the dirge that is God Defend New Zealand, about which the standard joke is that you have to ask God to defend the country because no one else will.

In any case, I do like the Star Spangled Banner, even though I think it is overplayed. National anthems should be played for national celebrations (July 4, Memorial Day), political ceremonies, state funerals, and international sporting events.

They should not be played at the start of local running races, high school football games, or every major league baseball game (unless between an American and Canadian team).

If I were dictator, I would keep the anthem and just decree that people did not play so often.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:26 AM

July 26, 2004

Economic debate in NZ

So, it's the Democratic convention, but according to The Note the most interesting news is that Christie Vilsack commented in the mid-90s about regional accents. Interesting stuff.

This news, about the formation of the "New Zealand Institute," (no website yet, apparently) led by David Skilling is good. Whatever the economic [dis]advantages of being a small country are, one thing NZ does seem to suffer from is a rather thin economic debate. There are few groups whose interests are not closely tied to a particular economic sector, so that the debate about public policies is often more informed by rent seekers.

[UPDATE. 27 July 2004. They do have a website.]

Posted by robe0419 at 10:25 AM

July 23, 2004

Allawi 'execution' watch, day 4

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the Allawi 'execution' story:

The most complete version of the story appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper. Two anonymous sources claimed that they had witnessed Allawi executing six handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners in a Baghdad jail. The executions were said to have taken place shortly before the Americans returned sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government June 28.

And Tony Blair, quoted in The Australian, says the claims are not true.

But there's been little high level U.S. acknowledgement of the claims, whereas Blair has commented on the story.

What's interesting to me is not so much the truth of the story, which I'm certainly in no position to know, but what it says about the relatedness of the media and politics of three Anglophone countries even over the Iraq issue, in which they are all tied up. [For the simple reason that they didn't participate in the invasion, Iraq has affected Canadian and New Zealand politics slightly less]

Even if the mainstream press did not really acknowledge the story -- the SF Chronicle story indicates it was on page A-12 of the print edition. The original SMH/Age stories were page 1 stories -- blogs did pick it up. For example, The New Republic mentioned the story in it's Iraqd blog -- not in the main magazine pages. And leading blogs like Political Animal did mention the story. Twice actually.

Thanks to Google, I can carry on this monitoring with little more than two minutes worth of checking my hotmail every morning ... but don't expect any more comments unless the story gets legs.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:49 PM

July 22, 2004

why is the best U.S. political coverage in the Guardian

Case in point: Sidney Blumenthal's comment on John Kerry's political consistency.

(And in Salon)

In answer to the self-posed question, I think it's because the Guardian is writing for an audience that is not necessarily familiar with the domestic 'script' the campaign settles into in the U.S. media. So, they go into more detail and explanation of the stories. The domestic media more often does one of two things, (1) repeats campaign talking points without digesting it, or (2) parses it to the most ridiculous degree.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:11 PM

best Berger I've ever had

The best thing about the Berger 'scandal' and the worst thing about this post is the free license it has given to only competent, because so obvious, puns with the man's name. My own entries are in this post, and below.

Others include
Jack O'Toole: A Berger to go
RoadtoSurfdom: Berger takeout
MaxSpeak: Berger in for Grilling
Fred Kaplan in Slate: Berger With a Side of Secret Documents

It's probably for the best that punning with the President's name seems to be beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:03 PM

Berger in perspective

If you think that the Berger 'scandal' is a little overblown, check out this tempest in a teapot from New Zealand:

Helen Clark has raised the prospect of a prime ministerial aircraft after the furore about her motorcade.

She has been under fire since a cancelled flight prompted Saturday's motorcade dash from Waimate to Christchurch airport.

Police are investigating a complaint about the speed of the motorcade, estimated at having averaged as much as 147km/h.


Helen Clark said she had no fears for the safety of others as her motorcade sped from to Christchurch so she could fly to Wellington for the Bledisloe Cup rugby test.

The convoy -- two police cars and a ministerial limousine -- travelled 209km in less than two hours.

Discussing the issue during an engagement in Levin yesterday, Miss Clark described herself as "the meat in the sandwich" and said she would not interfere in a police investigation into the matter.

She said she was working in the back seat and did not look at the speedometer.

"I didn't give any instructions to drive fast," Miss Clark said.

Asked whether she feared for her safety or the safety of others, Miss Clark replied that she had not.

She said she attended the rugby match out of "public duty" and would not have gone if she were not prime minister.

Beehive sources tried to turn the focus on National leader Don Brash, saying his crown car also travelled to the rugby test on Saturday night at high speed accompanied by police on motorbikes.

Dr Brash's spokesman told NZPA yesterday the Beehive was "spinning lies".

It was absurd to compare a short trip by Dr Brash with the long dash through Canterbury by the prime minister, he said.

There were reports today that Dr Brash was in a motorcade which ran red lights and drove on the wrong side of the road.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Dr Brash should have walked to the test in the rain like other people.

"We can understand why the Prime Minister might travel in a motorcade but someone in Don Brash's position should have called a taxi, caught a bus or walked to the stadium," he said.

"We in New Zealand First are happy to rough it with ordinary Kiwis even if that means a walk in the rain because, after all, rugby is a winter game."

nb: Divide by 1.609 to get the speed/distance in miles

Posted by robe0419 at 8:10 AM

July 21, 2004

Kansas, class, sex and race

I haven't read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas, but that won't stop me commenting on the comments ...

Matthew Yglesias writes:

It's always worth pointing out that the conservatism of the working class is often exaggerated. If you look at the 2000 exit polls or any general election poll today you'll see that people with low incomes support the Democrats more than do people with middling incomes who, in turn, are more supportive than people with high incomes. What the "working class conservatives" analysis misses out is that outside of Kansas a really large proportion of poor people are black or Hispanic, and those people certainly feel that the Democrats stand for working class interests and they, in turn, support the Democrats. Another large class of poor people consists of single working white women who, again, support the Democrats.

The upshot is that Democrats don't have a "working class problem" it's a white working class problem and, to a large extent, a problem with white, working class men.

That ought to make us at least prima facie suspicious that the problem is really that the Democrats don't support an economic program that's in the interests of the working class. Non-white working class people think they do, and many working class white women think they do, and it would be odd if the Democrats had somehow come up with economic policies that work for working class blacks and working class Latinos and single working class white women, but not for working class white men or married working class white women. It's hard to imagine what policies like that would be.

And I think Matthew's identified something in his detailed breakdown of just which poor people do and don't vote for the Democrats.

(1) people are probably pretty sensitive to perceptions of their relative status amongst their own socio-economic group, and
(2) Let's not go back to pretending that class, race and gender can be separated when we pursue voters.

Real wages haven't moved up much for people in the bottom quintiles in the last 20-30 years, but they have moved up somewhat for women and for blacks. Not much, but they have. The real stagnation has been amongst white men in the bottom quintiles of the income distribution.

Now, that's unquestionably a good thing, but if you're a working class white man in a culturally conservative place, of course that erodes your sense of power within your family and in your community.

It's easy to look at BLS statistics and say that white working class men should feel more outraged at the growing inequalities at the top end of the income distribution, and the increasing share of the national income that goes to profits and not to labor, but it's also not the way many people understand their world.

It's harder to feel outrage against wealthy people you don't see everyday. Compared to the Gilded Age or the 20s, wealth is less conspicuous since the wealthy now tend to reside in the suburbs or out in the country, not in a mansion down the street.

It's easier to feel an inchoate sense of diminishing power as other people's incomes catch up to yours.

And the Republicans have been pretty skilful at exploiting these resentments.

Absent somewhere for poorer blacks and women to go, the Democrats could tack right and acknowledge the subconscious anger at how working class white men are no longer much better off than blacks and women. But to do would also be to go against believing that decreasing sexual and racial earnings differences is a good thing, and something modern-day Democrats don't stand for.

Democrats are just going to have to suck up the fact that white working class men who are genuinely angry at their eroding prestige in society won't vote for them. But there are probably a sizeable core of uneasy white, male working class voters whose unease does stem from their declining prestige and earnings, but who are open not to silly populism, but to real, effective policies that improve the lot of people in the bottom half of the income distribution (the EITC, for example); and policies which increase the chances of social mobility (college scholarships and the like).

Buying off peoples concerns about the decline of specific industries like farming and textiles -- if this is what 'populist economics' means -- is bad on the merits, and just makes the inevitable adjustments to a changing industrial structure harder when they eventually come.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:00 PM

can anyone explain this?!

Can anyone explain the way the Olympic Trials selection policies work?

In the the sprints it's easy. Lots of people make the IOC qualifying times, the top three from the trials go.

In the distance events it's bizarre. Not many people make the times, people drop out of finals, and it all becomes byzantine.

I think what's happening is that line by line, the rules that USATF has laid down are pretty clear and hard to argue with. But when you put them together, and add reality, they are revealed as somewhat inconsistent with the goal of getting the best, uninjured people on the line at the Olympics.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:57 PM

Berg[l?]er in the archives

Whatever the political motivation for the Sandy Berger documents story hitting the airwaves now, my interest is whetted by a "scandal" that involves National Archives reading room regulations!

At its root this 'scandal' seems to be one which would never have happened if Sandy Berger had taken notes on a laptop instead of note cards!

As for the political dimension, is this the best the Republicans can bring up to distract the Democratic convention next week. This story will be gone by Friday lunchtime it has so little substance.

[what about that Allawi execution story ...]

You may or may not believe Berger's lawyer's claim that this was all an inadvertent mistake, but having once not returned a document to its proper folder at the Archives, I can attest to the ease with which it can be done inadvertently.

You're packing up your photocopying and putting stuff back in the archive boxes, and the last document you were working on can easily get swept up in the pile of notes and copies to be removed.

In my experience the Archives staff are unusually thorough about checking what you're taking out of the building, so it seems strange that they didn't check the copies thoroughly.

But, as his lawyer says, Berger was allowed to have a leather portfolio in the reading room with him; something not allowed to normal visitors who cannot take any bag that is not transparent.

Also, note cards! note cards! Can somebody please buy Sandy Berger a laptop for taking notes on. Please. It's much neater and quicker.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:49 AM

July 20, 2004

allawi 'execution' watch, day 2

Just to make it clear; I don't know whether Iyad Allawi shot six people, but I know that the Sydney Morning Herald is a credible newspaper, and that claims with much less veracity have made it to the front page of, oh, the New York Times.

So, it'll be curious to see just when and how this story breaks into the U.S. news media. And not just in an offhand editorial comment in the New York Daily News.

Actually, that editorial closed with the following line:

Might we find in Allawi occasional touches of ruthlessness as time goes by? Could be. That's Iraq for you, after all. But everybody's better off doing business with this man than the last guy [emph. added]

Do they mean Bremer?!?

[UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman mentions the story at Iraqd, on TNR.]

Posted by robe0419 at 1:20 PM

July 19, 2004

less inter-related politics

Why is this story, first reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, not breaking through into the U.S. press. If Allawi really did summarily execute six people, wouldn't we want to factor this into the prospects for some form of Iraqi democracy?

... Except for mentions in Salon and Cursor, and some blogs?

Posted by robe0419 at 4:51 PM

July 16, 2004

Governors and the presidential race

Or, one more thing that won't affect the presidential race

Now that we're past the season on speculating about who will be the vice-presidential nominee ... oh wait, maybe not ... let's take the time to think about another dynamic that will receive press coverage out of proportion to its known impact: the impact of governors on the presidential race.

As we get closer to November there will be media discussion about the ability of governors to "deliver" the state for their party's presidential candidate. Expect to hear this a lot about Jeb Bush in Florida, and Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania.

But what evidence is there that governors exert much, if any influence, on the presidential race. There is definitely evidence that presidential approval ratings [in the off years] or votes, influence state-level races but not the other way round.

I suspect that these gubernatorial influences are small, and that much of what passes in the media for a governor's influence merely restates the already known information on partisan strength in a given state.

Still, let's consider some of the ways in which holding the governorship could help "deliver" a state for a presidential candidate.

positive factors

  • Holding a state's governorship is at least an indicator of relative party strength, and a governor may be able to command through his/her own personal following that some party activists get to the polls.
  • Control of the state government's budget may allow state governors to stimulate some kind of political business cycle in time for the presidential race. But (1) most state governments can't run deficits like the feds can, so there is no printing money at the state level and (2) this is probably only possible in states where a party has unified control of the executive and legislature -- and those probably aren't swing states anyway.
  • A governor could be a useful campaigner, and organizer of an election campaign in a particular state, alerting the candidate to what issues might play well here and there.
  • Influence over the state justice and law enforcement system. Here we get to gubernatorial influence which is decidedly malign. Yes, a governor could presumably purge the rolls of blacks but not Cubans, and even with a vigilant media and opposition, such things may have some impact at the margins. But to admit that this is how governors might "deliver" states is to admit of rank corruption in state governments.
  • Governors also presumably influence some influence over the election machinery, but this will probably be limited since the Secretary of State is a separately elected office in many states, and county governments also have substantial influence over the election-day mechanics of a race.

neutral or informational factors

  • As mentioned, holding a state governor's office presumably provides some indication of relative party strength, but this is really information about partisan prospects.
  • A governor's approval ratings may have some coattail effects, but if the governor is not actually on the tickets it's harder to see how this would work on many voters. Voters are, for the most part, capable of separating their preferences about different candidates and voting accordingly.

negative factors

  • Though I mentioned above that voters were capable of distinguishing between different offices and voting accordingly, it's possible that if a governor is truly, horrifically unpopular and the presidential candidate has been associated with him/her, the presidential candidate could lose votes. I suspect that the effect here could be asymmetric -- the losses from association with a bad governor outweigh the gains from a good one.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:56 PM

July 14, 2004

Democratic chances in the Senate

First I pre-empt TNR by two days; now I find I have pre-empted the National Journal by several months.

Chuck Todd is also skeptical the Democrats could take back the Senate:

we're not saying Democrats have no chance to regain control, but we do think it's much harder for the party to do it than some of the recent press clippings suggest .... The challenge for the Democrats is to get to the magic number of 50 seats (51 if Kerry wins the presidency; click here for more on that scenario).

as was I in early May ... I'm not waiting by the phone for the calls to join the columnists at either of these august periodicals ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:36 PM

July 13, 2004

the new upper class

two excellent posts by Billmon pointing out something I always meant to get up here ... that people whose parents are foreign service officers are not upper class (John Kerry), not at least when compared with someone related to the House of Morgan.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:09 PM

Cheney's experience (again)

Ryan Lizza in The New Republic confirms what I said about Dick Cheney's experience it's all for nought if people think you're doing a sucky job. Actually, it's a net negative, which just proves my point.

In other news ... light blogging this week, I'm teaching and trying to stay up-to-date with the Olympic track and field trials. Back with more next week!

Posted by robe0419 at 4:58 PM

July 12, 2004

political inkblots

Gregg Easterbrook writes :

... it's important to know that before the American-led invasion to subjugate Iraq for sinister oil interests, this invasion staged as part of America's gruesome campaign to lay waste the world, daily life in Iraq was smiling and laughing and flying kites! According to Michael Moore, at least, until March 2003, Iraq was a land of happy kite-flyers, without any oppression. .... Fahrenheit 9/11 does well to remind us that U.S. forces have killed the innocent in Iraq; unlike the attackers on 9/11, it was not our intent to kill the innocent, but kill them we have, and to the dead it's all the same. That innocents have died in Iraq is rarely being mentioned in American debate, and Moore is right to find this an outrage.

I think the above well illustrates Kevin Drum's point that

that the real value of Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it serves as a pointedly political Rorschach test: you see in it primarily a reflection of yourself.

The part of the movie where Moore shows children flying kites has little commentary. Nowhere does Mooore directly say that life in Iraq is free of oppression, and all about happy kite-flying. Nowhere!

When I saw the movie, I took the sequence with the kites juxtaposed with the bodies of the dead to primarily be an indictment of the killing of innocent people. For all the attention on the 900 odd American deaths in Iraq, there's very little acknowledgement of the Iraqi death toll that's 10,000 times higher.

A strange moral calculus when you're going in there to liberate people and set them free, but I suppose that just shows how much Iraqi lives are worth in the American media.

As for Moore eliding over the story of oppression in Hussein's Iraq; it seems to me that you could view the movie as adding to what we know about our involvement in Iraq the last 2 years; the story of Hussein's oppression has been often told that it's hardly necessary for Moore to repeat it.

And the contrast with 9/11! Whether or not you think the invasion of Iraq was merited or not, contrasting American intentions in Iraq with the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers, conflates two entirely distinct moral questions.

Even if the 9/11 attacks were justified, the justification for invading Iraq would still be an entirely distinct issue, to be decided on its own strategic or moral merits.

The wrongs (9/11) others do to us (broadly conceived) are done by other people, and the people who died then are dead forever. What we do in response is done by us, is our responsibility, and cannot bring the original victims back.

Iraq can be judged in relation to 9/11 on a strategic level, but there's no way in which the immorality of others makes our actions moral or immoral. Not in a world where we believe, or claim to believe, that the taking of another human life is absolutely and always, a moral wrong.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:27 PM

outlasting other dictators too!

James DiBinetto writes:

... any journalist, opinion writer or public figure who utters the phrase "Fidel Castro has outlasted (x number of) U.S. Presidents" will be banned from all public discourse for, say, a year. For the first offense. .... We've had 10 Presidential elections since Castro took power and installed himself as President for life. It just isn't all that clever to say that good old Fidel has outlasted American leaders; it's about as clever as saying that you've outlived your last dozen goldfish. [emph. added] Yes, and who the hell cares?

Perhaps the comparison with U.S. presidents who are elected democratically and term limited is not apt, but Castro has been going longer than most other dictators ever have. That's the point. The policy is ineffective because in that time such thugs as Hussein, Noriega, Idi Amin and the like have risen and fallen. But Castro's still there!

Posted by robe0419 at 12:28 PM

July 11, 2004

loaves, fishes and songs

Via Matt Yglesias a link to an Opinion Journal column that cites teenagers acceptance of "music piracy" as evidence of the "moral breakdown of American culture" and a "theological implosion that now pervade[s] the thoughts and actions of believing teenagers."

I'm no Christian, but didn't Jesus do some reproduction and distribution of loaves and fishes at one point in his career? Doesn't the Bible actually sanction the notion of copying and sharing?

Posted by robe0419 at 11:54 AM

July 10, 2004

inter-related politics

It used to be a canard of Labo[u]r Party politics, and probably still is, to welcome the election of another Labour government elsewhere in the world, because it portended forthcoming electoral success for one's own party.

The English-speaking Labour parties (Australia, Britain, New Zealand) have been particularly prone to this flowery rhetoric, even though in most cases the electoral results were coincidental, and the electoral cycles so nearly as to be completely independent.

[The only exception might have been the 1972 elections in Australia and New Zealand. An aside to those who know]

But now with the Iraq war, the domestic politics of Australia, the United States and Britain really are inter-connected. Look at the pages of the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Sydney Morning Herald when reports are issued about the intelligence estimates and use of intelligence before the war. What is written by the Senate in Washington about Nigerian uranium has direct ramifications for British domestic politics, and likewise what is said in London has an effect in Washington.

To be sure, this is no equilateral triangle of influence; what happens in Washington has a larger effect in London than vice versa, and what happens in both those cities has a larger effect in Canberra than Canberra will ever have elsewhere.

I suspect that this degree of inter-relatedness is higher than in previous conflicts, precisely because the reasons for the war, and its conduct have become so controversial.

After all, if it had been a rousing success (a la WWII), the war itself would not be such a domestic political issue.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:23 PM

July 9, 2004

Electoral interference

Not satisfied with it's stellar track record in ensuring that the party it opposed won the German, South Korean and Spanish elections, the Bush administration is now wading in, boots and all, to the Australian election, with Richard Armitage saying that "It looked to me like the [Australian Labor Party] was rent down the middle [about Iraq]."

What precisely is the difference between the Bush administration interfering in Australian politics, and their claim that

This election will be decided by the American people -- not by unnamed foreign leaders.

I can't follow the logic here: It's not OK for unnamed foreign leaders to have an opinion about the American election, which will be decided by the American people. But it is OK for American leaders to openly express their opinion about foreign elections?

Posted by robe0419 at 1:30 PM

July 8, 2004

the American Revolution and cricket

All this talk about whether the cause of liberty and the abolition of slavery would have been retarded, or whether World War I would never have happened, if the American Revolution had not occured ventures so far into the speculative that everyone is ignoring the one safe counterfactual prediction we can make ...

Without the American Revolution, the national pastime would be cricket.

Random thoughts on this alternative world

  • The Canadians would also play cricket ... and matches between Canada and the U.S. would have the fervor of the India-Pakistan series.
  • With a large population, the American cricket team would generally do pretty well.
  • While the world is better off with both cricket and baseball, if we had to lose one, it would be less worse to lose baseball.
  • Cricket would rival soccer as a true world sport, rather than the present situation where cricket and baseball divide up the global audience.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:35 PM

don't change horses in midstream?

When you think about it this way it starts to make some sort of sense (or make your head spin).

Bush, or people in the administration, know more about the mistakes they've made than Kerry will when he takes office.

So, given that, doesn't it make more sense to let the people who made the mistakes carry on and fix them up? Who knows more about the fuck-ups than the people who fucked it up?!

Steady leadership in times of change.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:15 PM

Suicide in the Washington Post

... Phelps Tops Himself at Trials: Sad story in the Washington Post. Apparently this guy set a world swimming record and then killed himself.

His coach then said "He was so far ahead I don't think I pushed him at all," which suggests that the coach also wanted to kill him, but didn't get the chance.

But then the article goes onto say that he'll be racing later in the week.

Which is it? Did he really top himself, or is he still alive?

Posted by robe0419 at 6:19 PM

the American Revolution in an Antipodean mirror

Never in the history of blogging has New Zealand history so wrongly informed American views of their own history.

Tyler Cowen argues that New Zealand was a "nanny state" from the beginning.

No. There was a good 40-50 years before the government got into the business of social insurance and assuming individual risks in the 1880s and 1890s. Government actions in New Zealand before that point was largely of four kinds (1) Police and military action and (2) Actions establishing the British legal system over the whole country. i.e; the New Zealand wars, (3) Internal transportation developments (railways), and (4) Sponsored immigration.

Only the last distinguishes NZ government actions from what federal and state governments did in the U.S.

Cowen has been to New Zealand [and written a contract report about the electoral system], so he has some understanding of the history, but his argument here is misleading:

3. The United States was founded on the pro-liberty ideals of the eighteenth century; the nineteenth century might not have provided such propitious foundations. For instance New Zealand was conceived as a nanny state from the beginning [emph. added]

"Nanny state from the beginning?": What on earth does this mean? To be sure, New Zealand was not formed as some sort of libertarian ideal; but where does Cowen get the idea that there was some sort of nanny state there. Let's review the beginnings of the colony ...

  • The early (pre-1840) settlers were principally whalers, sealers and traders, with some being escaped or released convicts from Australia. The British government, which had sent these convicts to Australia, was motivated to negotiate the Treaty of Waitangi, because

    1. It accepted the responsibility of bringing some form of legal system to cover the transactions of Maori and settlers, many of whom the British government was responsible for bringing to the area [as convicts]
    2. Officials in the Colonial Office perceived that some settlers were unscrupulous and would not pay a fair price for Maori land, or renege on agreements they had made. Hence the Crown prerogative to buy and sell land with Maori. Whatever your views of whether Maori understood European views of property, the point is that the Colonial Office perceived the issue as being establishing a functioning market and legal system, not guaranteeing the outcomes for individuals in that market. Establishing the legal and civil society mechanisms that support a market economy is not the same as providing social insurance; even libertarians will acknowledge that the former is a proper role of government.
    3. Rightly or wrongly, the British government in NZ initially tried to protect the interests of Maori; and there was no "nanny state" for early settlers, who thought they would do better without the Colonial Office protecting Maori.

  • At the time the Treaty was signed, the Wakefield's New Zealand Company was establishing four settlements, and plans were afoot for the churches to sponsor settlements in the South Island -- the organization of the church settlements informed by NZ Company ideas.

    The NZ Company, and Edward Gibbon Wakefield in particular, espoused [if not always practiced] ideas that could nowaday be called communitarian, as a response to the problems of establishing a new outpost of British settlement, far from its original locations.

    To be sure, there were aspects of the NZ Company's organization that might be termed "nanny state"ish, such as the idea that land-owners would find a job for any unemployed laborers in the community. But this was a concept closer to noblesse oblige, since it was the responsibility of private individuals to look after other individuals -- not the governments.

    As it happened, of course, there was periodic unemployment in the NZ Company settlements, but the unemployed were not picked up by the landlords -- they often moved out of the community.

  • Whatever demands there were for the government to provide some form of social insurance, it took until the 1880s before they were enacted. This is hardly the beginning of the colony -- it is some way into the period of responsible government. What's more it only predates American state governments social insurance and labor market regulation efforts by a decade or two.

  • The development of the "nanny state" was a significant break with previous practice; a point more than adequately made by David Thompson's book A World Without Welfare.

In response Matthew Yglesias writes

Free marketers would do well to avoid mentioning New Zealand, however, whose welfare state was producing sub-par economic growth, provoking a major bout of neoliberal reform after which they started doing even worse (interestingly, New Zealand and Argentina provide just about the only historical examples of rich countries becoming un-rich and they don't seem to have much else in common).

... which takes us forward to the twentieth century. Using NZ economic history to inform an understanding of the American welfare state is strange; as New Zealand is a very open economy, with trade being a major share of GDP, whereas in the United States it was and is not.

In both New Zealand and Argentina the terms of trade turned against them, and it took decades to unwind the political-economic structure that had previously redistributed the gains from being efficient producers of protein from grass (i.e; selling meat to the world), but which were ill-equipped to cope with a world where people weren't prepared to pay monopsonistic prices for meat anymore.

As for the success of the "bout of neo-liberal reform", well yes, the late 1980s and early 1990s saw particularly slow growth in New Zealand, but growth since the mid-1990s has been relatively strong.

Again, however, there's substantial debate about whether this is just a favorable terms of trade, or whether it really is the long-awaited results of neo-liberal structural change.

In any case, Matt would do well to salute the New Zealand lesson in getting rid of agricultural subsidies. Just remove them and be done with it.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:33 PM

July 7, 2004

what good is Cheney's experience?

The RNC talking points rap on John Edward seems to be that he lacks "experience," specifically in the area of national security, and that Cheney will clean him up in the debate for not knowing much about security.

Two points in response to this.

(1) Cheney is experienced ... in fucking things up (see Josh Marshall here and here).

In essence, the message of the Bush campaign is that "with the experience we got making these huge mistakes, we are the best people to fix them."

Experience means nothing if are persisently misguided, and persistently misjudging the situation.

This is the kind of point that Edwards should hammer in the much-anticipated debate with Cheney ...

(2) Notwithstanding Josh Benson's argument in TNR, one of the most important times people will compare Cheney and Edwards is in the debate.

Edwards seems nothing if not a quick study, and the most important thing for the campaign is that Edwards can convey knowledge about national security, even if he forgets it at the end of the night.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:18 PM

what happened to Nike?

Back in the 1990s Nike had a whole range of solid running shoes, that covered all the bases: stability (Air Stab), cushioning (Air Max), neutral (Air Pegasus), lightweight trainers (Air Skylon), and a fine line-up of racing shoes (Mariah and Duellist) and spikes.

For whatever reasons the spikes and racing shoes are still going strong, but the training shoes have veared off the road or trail, and I don't see many serious runners wearing Nike anymore (unless they have sponsorship).

Take a look at the lineup. Any problems loading the site? That sort of encapsulates whats wrong with the shoes too. Lots of flash and a diminishing amount of substance.

For whatever reason, Nike is catering to the cool kids out there who probably don't actually run in the shoes, but merely have them hidden underneath their baggy pants (if baggy pants are still in).

It seems like most of the major shoe manufacturers have been through this phase at some point in their careers. There was a point in time when Adidas had basically opted out of making serious sports shoes, and Reebok appears to have done the same for some of the 1990s, though both are back now. Adidas in particular is once again nearly synonymous with track and field.

Asics and New Balance, having never been adopted by the cool kids on the street, have just on plugging away at making dependable sports shoes for people who are somewhat serious about what they're doing.

What's somewhat strange is Nike's persistence in making high quality competition shoes at the same time as making flashy, frivolous training shoes. Adidas and Reebok pretty much gave the game away in spikes and racing shoes during their flirtation with being a youth-fashion footwear manufacturer.

One supposes the answer is that there's money to be made, and Nike must surely be aware of the substantial brand loyalty they have amongst runners who first pulled on a pair of zoom spikes at age 14.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:58 PM

Colonial relations

Matthew Yglesias writes:

British policies in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, however, demonstrate that there were approaches that the United Kingdom could have taken to the thirteen colonies that would have led to a workable form of political association. Indeed, even without any formal structure, after World War II the British settler states share a set of fairly close ties.

The key point in response to this is that British policies in C/A/NZ were informed by the failures of colonial policy in the 13 colonies that became the United States. New Zealand gained effective self-government in the 1850s, and Canada of course became independent relatively rapidly in the 1860s. The Australian colonies with penal settlements had somewhat more oversight from London. It took the American Revolution to work out a workable form of settler colonialism, and as Brad De Long points out the democratic example in the U.S. forced democratic reforms in Britain too.

One might also point out that New Zealand and Australia were democratic innovators themselves; the secret ballot was an Australian innovation, women's suffrage and guaranteed representation in parliament for indigenous populations New Zealand ones.

C/A/NZ had enough effective sovereignty that the granting of actual formal independence from Britain (Statute of Westminster) was seen as a matter of no great urgency in the 1930s and 1940s, as the prerogative of the British parliament to pass legislation affecting life in the Dominions had never been exercised in a long time.

There was a formal structure for maintaining associations after WWII -- it's still going, and it's called the Commonwealth.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:51 PM

July 6, 2004

why the VP pick is like The Bachelor

Having apparently created the widespread belief that it was going to be Gephardt, picking Edwards creates drama and excitement as Kerry picks the man with whom he has less chemistry, but thinks he has a better long-term future with.

Anyone who watched the now stale ABC show The Bachelor will be familiar with the storyline, exemplified in the Trista and Ryan Bachelortte series.

For weeks, it appeared that Trista's heart was set on Charlie, and there were many shots of Ryan being prepared for the inevitable Rose Ceremony/Garden (see, it is just like politics) disappointment where he would be rejected.

Underlying all this was the cultivated sense that Ryan would be the better choice, probably the audience's choice.

All of which kept you watching until the final episode where surprise, surprise ... you found out that it was just clever editing that made you believe Trista was choosing Charlie, she chose Ryan all along, and by all recent accounts they're still together.

Not only this, but Charlie/Gephardt was the safe, older man whereas Ryan/Edwards was the younger, tousle haired babe.

No doubt Daniel Drezner can come up with his own pop-culture interpretation of the choice ...

Posted by robe0419 at 11:13 AM

finding VP nominees

One of the other interesting things about the Edwards nomination is that it breaks five presidential election cycles in which the VP nominee[s] was/were not part of the presidential nomination campaign.

In part this is another way of looking at Josh Marshall's point that you have to go back to 1980 to find the last time when the VP nominee was obvious and widely predicted at the time.

If something happens five times in a row that suggests something structural rather than random, such as

  • changing balance of the two parties at the state level
  • greater perceived need to balance tickets with an "outsider" and an "insider" than there was prior to 1960.
  • greater perceived demand for unexpected choice.

Edwards pick doesn't necessarily invalidate this observation, since

  • The Democrats have been out of power in most of the large states for the 1990s, leaving them with a relatively thin bench to pick from.
  • Although "Senator" doesn't connote "outsider", Edwards' profile as a new Senator previously uninterested in politics does. And his campaign story was about the inside/outside Two Americas divide.
  • Having set us all up with the little Gephardt media boomlet the last few days people Edwards now does appear to be the unexpected choice.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:59 AM

the VP has little impact ...

according to Larry Sabato:

Just about all the research in the elections field has concluded that vice presidential candidates rarely make much difference at all. True, in an extremely close election such as 2000, a VP-nominee may add or subtract enough votes to make the difference--along with a hundred other factors. But in the end, as always, the election of 2004 will come down to a choice between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. The two candidates for Number Two will be an afterthought for most voters, and as the Veep Hullabaloo unfolds over the next few weeks, we all ought to keep this in mind.

as seen here first!

Posted by robe0419 at 9:08 AM

July 5, 2004

the vice-president as a campaigner

Matthew Yglesias is unconvinced that Gephardt would have a neutral impact on the Kerry campaign. And while I agree with Yglesias that Gephardt's stance on trade (defending specific, existing jobs and ignoring new ones not as easily identifiable) would be all bad, bad, bad for economic and foreign policy, I'm not sure that overall Gephardt would be all bad.

He would bring a solid, workmanlike approach to campaigning that would sort of fit in with Kerry's apparent low-risk approach to this race.

But as I noted about the Canadian Conservative party you can never say "good campaigner, poor results" more than once without starting to sound stupid.

Gephardt has demonstrated zero ability to win significant anything outside (1) his St. Louis congressional district, and (2) the position of minority leader in the Democratic caucus.

Winning Iowa in 1988 means nothing now.

To be sure, the Democrats seem to have a relatively poor slate of candidates to pick from this year, and that's a long-term problem.

In the absence of anyone with a sustained track record in winning votes you have to go on something else. Edwards seemed to win a fair share of independent votes in the open primaries which is a good indicator that he is a better campaigner than Gephardt.

In any case, as Josh Marshall noted the other day, all this energy spent debating the merits and demerits of Gephardt and Edwards may well be wasted. We haven't had a widely foreseen VP pick since Reagan picked Bush in 1980!

Posted by robe0419 at 5:13 PM

July 4, 2004

happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to any American readers, for whom the sentiment is more meaningful, and happy 4th of July to everyone else, because I wish you all a happy day every day.

America gets the 4th of July pretty much spot on as a festival of positive patriotism. As I noted on Friday history plays a prime role in constituting a country, and every nation needs a day for uncomplicated celebration of its achievements as a community. Other countries could learn a lot about saving the arguing for the other 364 days in the year.

To be sure, American pride-in-country has its insular, reactionary side too, but there's none of that on the 4th. It's all good celebration, with firecrackers too!

Posted by robe0419 at 6:53 PM

more thoughts on American distance running

Further to yesterday's comments on the uneven state of American [men's]distance running; by comparison the Australians (PDF) have no A qualifiers in the 1500, 1 in the 5000, none in the 10000 (where the Americans are surprisingly strong with 6 A qualifiers), 5 in the marathon (8 U.S.), and 1 in the steeples (2 U.S.). New Zealand has 1 1500m qualifier, a 10,000m qualifier and 2 in the marathon.

Now obviously, in small countries these things are somewhat more random, you just don't get exceptional athletes turning up all the time in small populations.

Australia is a good comparator though, precisely because it's smaller than the U.S. but not really small (like New Zealand). 5 qualifiers in the marathon with a population 1/15 the size is a pretty good indicator of the relative strengths of distance running in the two countries.

The real contrast, in both Australia and the U.S. has to be with the swimming programs which are phenomenal. In fact the contrast with swimming suggests that some of the problems are structural -- get a good development program going and keep young people coming through the system and you get lots of people contending for the Olympics, which tends to lead to some of them winning medals and making finals. That just isn't happening systematically in American distance running, but developments like Team USA MN have to be a step in the right direction, with a lot of the athletes involved making pretty rapid downward progress in their times.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:42 PM

July 3, 2004

the uneven state of American distance running

The U.S. men have just two A-standard qualifiers in the 5000 metres, six in the 10000, and eight in the maraton (where the A qualifying times have been relaxed from previous Olympics), and just two A-qualifiers in the 3000m steeples.

By contrast there are 27 A-qualifiers in the 100m and 38 in the 200m.

Things are pretty much the same for the women, a few A-qualifiers in the distance events and 20-odd in the sprints.

Are the sprint times too easy? Are the distance times too hard? Are there more sprinters who are drug users?

Hopefully the trials will produce some more A qualifying times, but anything being held in Sacramento in July is not designed to produce a quick 10000m time.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:18 PM

July 2, 2004

abnormal is as abnormal does

Atrios and others have got themselves into a lather about this Steven Waldman article in Slate (which when I just retrieved the URL was receiving undeserved on its merits top billing on Slate) that says

if Kerry's uncomfortable with religion then he's uncomfortable with Americans .... If Kerry's really secular, he's abnormal.

Depends what you mean by "abnormal", "really" and "secular" I suppose.

Let me get my own beliefs upfront first, so you know where I'm coming from. I am generally an atheist, though occasionally I'm agnostic or apathetic about the question of whether a God exists. More importantly, I think that whether people believe in God is their own private question, and that religious belief should be a private matter. My Quaker upbringing predisposes me to believing that organized religion, in the sense of priests/ministers/rabbis etc. mediating between God and its flock is a bad thing.

Abnormal: Evan allowing for the self-presentation aspect of the responses where people say they're religious because they think that's what's socially acceptable, it's probably still true that a majority of Americans believe in God and attend church regularly, even if that's declining.

[here's an academic article idea for someone to follow up on, and please acknowledge my suggestion if you do this: look at the General Social Survey questions on religion, and compare them to the Time Use survey data from 1965,75,85 and 95]

So yes, in a vaguely statistical sense people who don't attend church at all, don't believe in God and believe religion should be kept out of public life probably are abnormal in the United States. (The question of why America is so much more spiritual than the rest of the wealthy Western world, yes, including Japan, is a good one, but irrelevant for this discussion).

Really: What does Waldman mean by "really secular"? Does he mean "really" in the sense of authentically or truly; or does he mean really in the sense of strongly?

In a way it probably doesn't matter because Kerry does not appear to be truly or authentically secular. If he was truly secular he wouldn't go to church at all, even for the appearances. There was a more secular candidate in the race, and look where he's gone.

Secular: If by secular Waldman means that Kerry believes that public effusions of religious belief should be moderated in a political campaign, again, it's just not true. Kerry has talked about his religion, but he doesn't liberally sprinkle references to his faith, and code worded waves to the religious right, throughout his speeches like the president.

American beliefs about how much religious piety they demand from their presidents has waxed and waned in the past century. No-one really cared much about FDR or Truman's religious beliefs, because there were much bigger issues to worry about at that time. Roosevelt was a man of [to quote Waldman] "real strength" but he didn't lard his speeches with references to how faith would get us through.

If Waldman thinks that talking more about religion will help in the war on terrorism he's totally misguided. The last thing America needs to do when there is an increased risk of terrorism from people who are typically of another religious faith is to start relying on their own faith more. Some more scepticism about the role of religion in public life would go a long way to making things better in America and the Middle East.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:13 PM

what is a nation

Simon Upton's latest online musings about how history constitutes once-colonial nations in the 21st century is well worth reading.

Upton tends to infrequent but detailed and considered writings, so it's not worth checking his website for new posts -- subscribe to the e-mail instead.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:40 PM